Tuesday, March 22, 2011

UN slams Israel's killing of children

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the killing of four Palestinian children by an Israeli tank shell in the Gaza Strip.

Ban's spokesman issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that the UN chief is "very concerned at an escalating situation in Gaza."

At least 10 Palestinians, including four children, were killed and dozens injured after an Israeli tank fired shots at a home in the Gaza Strip, medics reported on Tuesday.

"He calls on all to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law," the statement added.

Israel regularly carries out attacks on Gaza, killing and injuring Palestinians. Tel Aviv launched a deadly war on the coastal enclave at the turn of 2009.

More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the three-week Israeli land, sea and air offensive in the impoverished sliver. The offensive also inflicted $1.6 billion damage to the Gazan economy.

Some 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip are being denied their basic rights, including freedom of movement, and their rights to appropriate living conditions, work, health and education.

Poverty and unemployment rates stand at approximately 80 percent and 60 percent in the Gaza Strip respectively, reports say.

Obama said he doesn’t mind criticism in Latin America for Libya mission

In his first reaction to Latin American criticism of the U.N.-sanctioned military action in Libya, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was not disappointed with the reaction and stressed that there was “strong international support” for enforcement of the no-fly zone.
In an interview with The Miami Herald, in which he talked at length about U.S. relations with key countries in the region, Obama said that the allied military action has “saved lives” and that it has caused “few, if any, civilian casualties.”

Asked whether he was frustrated that Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have reacted with various degrees of criticism to the military action, Obama said that “politics internationally are always complicated. You have a lot of countries that have a lot of interests.”

But he added that “you have to keep in mind that we are initiating this under U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973. This is not my judgment, this is the international community’s judgment that when a leader turns his own army against his own people, and threatens to unleash them on a city and shows no mercy, then the international community has to act.”


Referring to the strident criticism by Venezuela and its closest allies, he said that “there will always be the very few usual suspects who are going to be very critical of what the United States or Western countries do, no matter what. But here you have a situation where you had not only the Security Council calling for intervention, but the Arab League calling for intervention, you have the Gulf Council calling for intervention.”

Colombia, Chile and Peru have supported the mission.

During the interview, Obama expressed hopes that the pending free trade deals with Colombia and Panama will pass the U.S. Congress, but refused to say whether it will happen this year.


He also expressed concern about a recent incident in which Argentina seized part of the cargo of a U.S. military plane that was carrying supplies for a joint military exercise, and said he follows events in Cuba and Venezuela closely, including Venezuela’s alleged aid to Iran’s nuclear program.


On a lighter note, while talking about U.S. ties with Latin America, Obama disclosed that his two daughters have chosen to take “fairly intensive Spanish” at Sidwell Friends, the Washington, D.C., school they attend, and said he regretted not having followed up himself on the Spanish classes he took in school.

Obama said his 12-year-old daughter, Malia, told him, regretfully, during their stop in Santiago, Chile, “You know, Daddy, when we go to a country, everybody speaks English. But we don’t speak their language.”

He added, “Absolutely. I told her, the biggest regret I have is that I was too lazy in Spanish. I took Spanish, but I didn’t apply myself, and as a consequence, I can understand a bit, and my pronunciation is pretty good when reading from a script, but I am not able to communicate effectively in that language.”

It’s going to be “important for Americans” to speak Spanish at a time when Latin America is increasingly important on the global economic and diplomatic stage, he said.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/22/v-print/2129175/obama-said-he-doesnt-mind-criticism.html#ixzz1HO7d5Jmi

Gadhafi remains defiant

As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi crowed, "I do not scare," the United States Tuesday got back two crew members whose F-15E fighter jet malfunctioned and said it will be able to hand over command of the coalition that has hammered loyalist military positions over four days.Gadhafi vowed Tuesday to emerge victorious in his battle with international forces seeking to impose a no-fly zone in his country and to halt his forces from attacking civilians.
"We will not give up," he said to a crowd of supporters, many of them waving green flags in a speech broadcast on state television. "They will not terrorize us. We are making fun of their rockets. The Libyans are laughing at these rockets. We will defeat them by any method."
He said Libyans "are leading the international war against imperialism, against despots and I tell you, I do not scare."

In Bahrain, anti-regime protests rage on

Thousands of Bahraini people have taken to the streets of the capital city of Manama despite the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters by the regime.

Protesters chanted anti-regime slogans on Tuesday during the funeral ceremony of a woman who died of gunshot injuries to her head. She had disappeared in Manama during violence last week.

Bahrain's main opposition party, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, has said more than 100 people are still missing.

The UN Human Rights office says dozens of people have been detained or threatened for talking to media, revealing facts about brutal suppression of protesters.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of the country's workers have reportedly launched a wave of strikes to join the protesters on the streets.

However, the regime forces, backed by troops from some Persian Gulf countries, have intensified their attacks on opposition figures and human rights activists. Reports say they attacked the office of the Islamic Action Association in the village of Bani Jamra.

Security forces have also attacked ambulances and hospitals trying to help the wounded demonstrators. Several doctors at Salmaniya hospital have reportedly been arrested.

Bahraini demonstrators maintain that they will hold their ground until their demands for freedom as well as a proportional voice in the government are met.

At least 16 people have so far been killed and about 1,000 others have been injured since anti-government protests in Bahrain.

Balochistan mine tragedy

The tragedy that has unfolded at the Sorrange mine in southwest Balochistan is a glaring — and heartbreaking — reminder of just how dispensable human life has become in Pakistan. Three mega explosions tore through the mine because of the presence of large amounts of methane gas and little to no ventilation. There were some 50 miners inside when the blasts occurred; now there is the same number of dead bodies. What is worse is the fact that this horrific incident could have been prevented. The mine belonged to the Pakistan Mineral and Development Corporation (PMDC) and had been leased to a contractor. The contractor had been issued warnings some two weeks before to shut the mine down as there was a high level of methane gas accumulation in the mine. However, these warnings were not heeded and the PMDC and their contractor now have the blood of 50 Pakistani miners on their hands.

Juxtapose this horrific incident with the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for some 64 days in a mine in northern Chile a few months back. No effort was spared and no resource was left unused to rescue the men. At the end of the day those miners and the Chilean nation at large were made to feel as though they mattered to their government, to their country and to the world. On the other hand, these 50 miners were left to endanger their lives by working in perilous conditions, conditions that were known as being deadly to the concerned authorities. People in Pakistan are made to feel like worthless scum and the cost of a life does not even warrant concern.

A thorough judicial inquiry must be made to determine exactly how deep in recklessness and irresponsibility the PMDC really is. If it was known to any official that the mine was dangerous yet still operating, they must be hauled in by the courts along with the heartless contractor who, reportedly, took no action. This is not the first instance of this kind. The coal mines of Balochistan regularly take a toll of human lives because safety standards are conspicuous by their absence. After every accident of this nature, ritual inquiries are announced, which never see the light of day, let alone lead to remedial measures. It is of paramount importance that these mines be modernised and safety regulations be implemented and respected. At the same time, an inquiry under a judge of the Balochistan High Court should be ordered, responsibility fixed, and punishment meted out under the law as a deterrent to the repetition of such all too frequent tragedies. *

Zardari invites all political parties for national dialogue

President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday the government would not bow before terrorists and reiterated that all political parties would be taken on board over national and economic issues of the country.Addressing the joint sitting of parliament for the fourth consecutive year, the
president called for building consensus on resolving issues like energy shortage, circular debt, taxation reforms, restructuring of public sector entities and documentation of the economy.
“I invite all political parties for a national dialogue; sooner rather than later,” he said as he read out a quote from the last book of Benazir Bhutto, “It is time for new ideas. It is time for creativity. It is time for bold commitment. It is time for reconciliation.”
The president said, “We will not permit anyone to usurp the powers that rightly belong to parliament.” “It showed that if all political parties rise above politicking, they could deliver. Let us strive to keep our egos aside. Let political forces stop challenging each other merely for point scoring. It only weakens democracy in the long run,” he said referring to the restoration of the constitution.The government, the president said, believed that all state organs should work within their parameters as laid down in the constitution. “We will fight terrorists until their elimination. We will not back down,” he averred.
Zardari pronounced that the country could not allow terror activities on its soil or against any other country.
He expressed the resolve for a modern and moderate Pakistan – the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
The president warned that the fight against terrorism might be long and bitter. He said the government had no option but to fight and win the ongoing war against terrorism.
Zardari said the government would take all adequate measures to provide full security in Karachi and take action against all criminal elements there.

The president informed the parliamentarians that reforms in FATA and amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) had been finalised, adding that recently, major political parties had joined hands to endorse the reforms and demanded their immediate implementation.
Zardari also said the UN commission had finalised its inquiry into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and submitted its report, adding that a new challan had also been submitted before a trial court.
“The family of Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan People’s Party do not believe in revenge,” the president said.He said while the individuals involved would certainly not escape punishment, “we aim at defeating the mindset that was behind her assassination”. The president also stressed for settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN resolutions while respecting the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Zardari condemned the murders of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities and Religious Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti. “The government will avenge the martyrdom of these heroes,” President Zardari resolved.

Tribesmen to boycott Pakistan Day function

To express anger over killing of 49 tribesmen in a recent US drone attack, the tribesmen in North Waziristan Tuesday announced to boycott the Pakistan Day celebrations.

Tribal elders in North Waziristan said they had decided not to attend the celebrations scheduled for Wednesday at Miramshah and Mir Ali, the two major towns of the militancy-hit tribal region.

The decision, they said, was taken unanimously by all prominent tribal elders and the purpose was to lodge their protest over killing of innocent people in the US drone attacks and Pakistan government’s failure to protect its citizens. Some of the elders, pleading anonymity, told The News that the tribal chieftains had been advised through pamphlets, believed to be circulated by the local Taliban, to avoid attending the government-sponsored functions.

The March 17 drone attack on the tribal jirga in the remote Dattakhel area in which 49 tribesmen, including children, lost their lives and around 50 others sustained injuries, has strained relations between the government and the tribal militants. The government has signed a peace accord with the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militants in North Waziristan, but the militants have been questioning the government’s silence over the drone attacks. Tribal sources said the drone attack had provoked the tribesmen and militants to attack a military convoy on Monday but some members of the peace committee intervened and persuaded them to refrain from doing so.

Peshawar hospital chief arrested on corruption charges

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) arrested Dr. Muhammad Saleem, medical superintendent of City Hospital in Peshawar, in connection with corruption charges March 22, media reported.The NAB has charged him with possessing Rs. 40m (US $468,000) in assets, far out of proportion to his income.

Saleem worked as medical superintendent of Khyber Teaching Hospital and director general of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department before taking his current post.

Who are the Libyan rebels? U.S. tries to figure out

When a U.S. Air Force pilot ejected from his crashing F-15 Eagle fighter jet and landed in rebel-held eastern Libya overnight Tuesday, he soon found to his relief that he was in friendly hands.
"He was a very nice guy," Libyan businessman Ibrahim Ismail told Newsweek of the initially quite anxious American pilot. "He came to free the Libyan people." Rebel officials dispatched a doctor to attend to the pilot and presented him with a bouquet of flowers, according to Newsweek.
But the U.S. government, now engaged in a fourth day of air strikes against Libyan regime military targets, does not know very much about the rebels who now see it as a friendly ally in their fight to overthrow Muammar Gadhafi.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a 45-minute, closed-door meeting with Mahmoud Jibril, a leader of the newly formed Libyan opposition Interim National Council in a luxury Paris hotel earlier this month. But in a clear signal of America's wariness about all the unknowns, Clinton gave no public statement after their meeting and did not appear in photographs with the rebel leader. (By contrast, a week earlier French President Nicholas Sarkozy bestowed formal diplomatic recognition on the Council and was photographed shaking hands with its emissaries Jibril and Ali Essawi on the steps of the Elysee Palace.)Middle East policy watchers note a glaring disconnect between the buoyant expectations of some rebel supporters that the international military coalition will provide direct air support and the insistance of U.S. military commanders that their mandate allows for no such thing.
The coalition mission doesn't include protecting forces opposed to Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters Monday. His mission, Ham said, is narrowly confined to preventing Gadhafi forces from attacking civilians, getting Gadhafi's forces to pull back from rebel-held towns, and allowing civilians humanitarian access to food, water, and electricity/gas supplies, Ham said.
So who are the Libyan rebels with whom we now seem (for better or for worse) to be joined with in a shared fight against Gadhafi?
One view has it that the Libyan rebels are basically peaceful protesters who found their demonstrations against Gadhafi met with bullets and had no choice but to resort to violence.
"The protesters are nice, sincere people who want a better future for Libya," Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director Peter Bouckaert told South Africa's Business Day. "But their strength is also their weakness: they aren't hardened fighters, so no one knows what the end game will be."
"This is not really a civil war between two equal powers--it started as a peaceful protest movement and was met with bullets," Bouckaert continued. "Now you have a situation where you have a professional and heavily equipped army fighting a disorganized and inexperienced bunch of rebels who stand little chance against them."
Still, the rebels are largely unknown to the American government, despite initial tentative meetings such as Clinton's and some meetings held by U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz with opposition representatives. (Cretz is now working out of the State Department, as the United States has withdrawn its diplomatic presence.) Last week, President Barack Obama appointed an American diplomat, Chris Stevens, to be the U.S. liaison to the Libyan opposition.
"We don't have the comfort level with the rebels," said the National Security Network's Joel Rubin, a former State Department official. "We certainly know some things about them, had meetings. It's not as if there's complete blindness. But I don't think at this stage the comfort level is there for that kind of close coordination."
But the Libyan rebels seem to have found western consultants who have offered advice on words the West wants to hear. On Tuesday, the Interim National Council issued just such a reassuring statement from their rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
"The Interim National Council is committed to the ultimate goal of the revolution which is to build a democratic civil state, based on the rule of law, respect for human rights including guarantying equal rights and duties for all citizens," the Council said in their statement. "A state based on the rule of law and good governance where people live in a safe and secure environment and promotes equality between men and women."
The Interim National Council also "reaffirms that Libya's foreign policy will be based on mutual respect and common interest and reaffirms its respect for all Libya's previous bilateral and multilateral commitments," the group said. "Libya will be a state that fully respect the International law and International Humanitarian Law and participate in the international relations responsibly and constructively in good faith."

United States begins a new war, what happens to Afghanistan?

The United States has said the scope of its military intervention in Libya is limited, but it nevertheless raises questions about what happens to the two other wars that it is waging, especially in Afghanistan. The last time Washington took the eye off the ball in Afghanistan was in 2003 when it launched the Iraq war and then got so bogged down there that a low level and sporadic Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan grew into a full blown insurgency from which it is still trying to extricate itself.

The question then is will the U.S. attention again shift away from Afghanistan and to Libya and indeed other African and Middle East countries where revolts against decades of authoritarian rule are gaining ground, and unsettling every strategic calculation. Already U.S. Republicans are saying they are concerned that U.S. forces may be getting drawn into a costly, long-running operation in Libya that lacks clear goals. If it ends in a stalemate – a possibility recognized by Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen – how focused can America be on Afghanistan where you can argue that the stakes are arguably less now that al Qaeda has largely been pushed out, and the fight is almost entirely with the Taliban.

Just by way of recap, here’s broadly what happened to Afghanistan when America’s attention and money were drained toward Iraq. Militant groups reconstituted themselves, more safe havens sprung up, and they were financed by a resurgent opium economy . Post-war reconstruction was curtailed as blood and treasure was invested in the war in Iraq. In some ways, it was a throwback to another U.S withdrawal from the region when it almost overnight lost interest following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 after a decade of arming and financing the insurgents against its former Cold War foe

The other unintended consequence of the U.S. military action in Libya is the anger it will stoke in countries such as Afghanistan where many see it as an attack on an Islamic nation, the latest of a string of nations so targeted. Regardless of its good intentions, the intervention will be depicted as aggressive, predatory and anti-Muslim, as Edward N. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the Los Angeles Times.-

Indeed the war may have just become hotter for the troops in Afghanistan, with the Taliban seizing on the intervention in Libya as the latest onslaught in a broader war on Islam. The Taliban in a statement said the Western intervention was aimed at weakening the Islamic nation and seizing its oil reserves through a full scale invasion. For good measure, the Taliban scolded the Libyans for fighting among themselves and thereby giving an excuse to the West to intervene.

General David Petraeus 'appalled' by abuse of Afghan civilians

The head of US forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has condemned the conduct of some American soldiers who were photographed posing alongside civilian corpses.

Several photographs appeared in the German news magazine Der Spiegel. General Petraeus said the images would be used as evidence in ongoing courts martial hearings.

UN worried about Yemen, Bahrain

The UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed deep concerns over the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in Yemen and Bahrain."We remind the Yemeni government that fundamental rights, such as the right to life, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be derogated from under any circumstances, even in a public emergency," OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville said.

He also called for an independent probe into the killings of Yemeni protesters, especially the Friday carnage in front of Sana'a University that led to the death of dozens of people, the UN news center reported on Tuesday.Anti-regime protests in Yemen gained momentum on Tuesday as some top military generals deserted the government to join the country's popular revolution. Opposition groups once again called on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down immediately.
The situation has remained “very worrying” in Bahrain, where up to 100 people have been reported missing, Colville said. Two of them have reportedly been found dead.The Bahraini government has also detained or threatened people, including political and human rights activists and hospital staff, who have spoken to media and given information about the killing committed by the government, reports said.
"It is vital that the authorities scrupulously abide by international standards. People should not be arbitrarily arrested and should not be detained without clear evidence that they have committed a recognized crime," the spokesman stated.
Bahraini people also continued demonstrations on Tuesday, as they held mourning ceremonies for the death of a woman shot dead by security forces.
More than 70 people, at least 20 in Bahrain and 50 in Yemen, have been killed during anti-government protests.

Germany Pulls out of NATO Operations in Mediterranean

The German Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that Germany has pulled out of NATO operations in the Mediterranean.

A spokesman of the ministry told DPA, the local news agency, that Germany has regained the command of two frigates and two other ships with a total of 550 crew in that area.

Some 60 to 70 German troops who have joined in NATO airborne surveillance operations in the Mediterranean might also be included in this withdrawal action, he said.

Those affected ships and troops have been involved in three NATO operations in the Mediterranean, including the anti-terror mission Active Endeavour.

Earlier on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called for a full-scale oil and gas embargo against Libya, but ruled out again that Germany will join in the military actions against Libya, saying Germany was determined not to become a military partner in this operation.

Last week Germany also abstained in a UN Security Council vote to permit "all necessary measures," including air strikes, to impose a no-fly zone and protect civilians in Libya.

Oil interests muted Bahrain criticism: Analysts

Saudi Arabia's massive oil wealth and Sunni solidarity against Shiite Iran is the main reason Arab states remained muted over repression in Bahrain, while loudly protesting over the crushing of a popular revolt in Libya, analysts say.

"Riyadh has traded Bahrain for Libya, because what happens at its borders is vital for the kingdom," said Burhan Ghalioun, director of the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris.

He said "the allied military intervention in Libya is secondary for Gulf countries, because their relations are very bad with Moamer Gadhafi," the Libyan leader facing a revolt at home and air strikes by an international coalition to prevent his brutal crackdown on civilians.

On March 14, Saudi Arabia sent 1,000 troops across the causeway into Bahrain, and two days later police cracked down on protesters who had been camped in the centre of Manama for a month, killing three demonstrators.

"Nobody is interested in showing hostility to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Westerners and Arab states alike need their oil and huge financial resources," Ghalioun added.

Nearly half of the world's oil reserves are owned by the Gulf monarchies, which since 1984 have been linked through the "Peninsula Shield" defence pact.

It has been conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, and the looming shadow of Iran, that has been instrumental in coalescing support behind King Hamad, the Sunni monarch who rules over a Bahrain population that is 70 per cent Shiite.

"The Arab position, especially that of the Gulf countries, was expected because of sectarian polarization in the region and the ambitions of Iran," said analyst Ibrahim al-Sumaidaie.

"Washington, together with most Arab countries, is convinced of Iranian involvement in the revolt in Bahrain, and nobody had any intention of seeing a powder keg ignited a few steps from the world's main oil reserves," said Sumaidaie, a professor of international relations in Baghdad.

For Saudi Arabia, the sectarian issue is ultra-sensitive. Only 10 per cent of Saudi Arabia's population is Shiite, but they inhabit the oil regions of the kingdom.

By contrast, virtually all of Libya is Sunni, and Saudi King Abdullah's dislike of Gadhafi is no secret. The two have occasionally exchanged pointed insults, sometimes publicly.

Even Syria, Iran's main ally in the Arab world, said on Sunday through its foreign minister, Walid Muallem, that the intervention of Gulf forces in Bahrain was "lawful."

"The Syrian regime wants to avoid a hostile position toward the Gulf countries, especially after what happened to Moamer Gadhafi who found himself abandoned by his Arab peers," said Hamid Fadhil, a professor of political science at Baghdad University.

"After the beginning of the unrest in their country, authorities in Damascus totally changed their attitude to Bahrain, to avoid being isolated in case they themselves use force against demonstrators," he said.

"This turnaround has been a surprise to (Syrian ally) Iran, but the Syrians believe it is better to have the backing of Gulf countries against a possible Western intervention should the situation worsen," he said.

In fact the only Arab leader who openly took a stand in favour of Bahraini protesters was Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: "We saw how they dealt with the tyrants who claim their rights peacefully in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain," he said on Saturday.

That statement, analysts said, jeopardises the possibility of a planned Arab summit in Baghdad in May.

Bahrain opposition: Remove GCC troops

Bahrain bans Lebanon travel, sectarian tension rises

Bahrain warned its nationals on Tuesday not to travel to Lebanon for their own safety, after Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah came out in support of weeks of protests by mainly Shi'ite demonstrators.
The warning highlights growing tensions in the world's largest oil-exporting region between Sunni-ruled Arab countries and non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran, just across Gulf waters.
Bahrain has already withdrawn its top diplomats from Iran in a protest over the Islamic Republic's criticism of last week's crackdown on mainly Shi'ite protesters in the island kingdom.
The crackdown has also drawn sympathy protests in countries with Shi'ite populations, including Lebanon, where Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah criticized Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya.
"Due to the threats and interference that Bahrain has faced from terrorist elements, it warns and advises its nationals not to travel to Lebanon because of the dangers they may face that may affect their safety, and it advises nationals in Lebanon to leave immediately," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The ferocity of the crackdown, which banned protests, imposed martial law and called in forces from Bahrain's fellow Sunni-ruled neighbors, has stunned its majority Shi'ites.
More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy; but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran, separated from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain by only a short stretch of Gulf waters.
Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, has complained to the United Nations and asked neighbors to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw forces from Bahrain.
Bahrain also complained to the Arabsat broadcaster Sunday over "abuse and incitement" on Iran's Arabic-language Al Alam television, Hezbollah's Al-Manar and Shi'ite channel Ahlulbayt, which are all carried by Arabsat.
Bahrain's political crisis has been the subject of a media war between pro-Iranian channels and Bahraini state television. Both have accused the other of incitement.
Bahrain also condemned a protest outside the Saudi consulate in Tehran, after reports Saturday that some 700 demonstrators broke windows and raised a Bahraini flag over the gate.
One Lebanese resident of Bahrain said Tuesday he had initially been denied entry to the country when he tried to return from a brief business trip.
At least 1,500 Lebanese live in Bahrain and a group of expatriates issued a statement Sunday, distancing the community from Nasrallah's comments.

Protesters march in south Syria for fifth day

Hundreds of people marched in southern Syria for a fifth straight day on Tuesday, protesting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad and shouting "Freedom, freedom. Peaceful, peaceful."
Protesters gathered near the Old Omari mosque in Deraa and in the nearby town of Nawa in the strategic Hauran plateau, close to the border with Jordan, catching a wave of Arab unrest that has toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.
"We want bread, but also freedom," said a resident of Deraa, where wheat yields fell by a quarter last year due to a drought that has hit the rest of the country of 20 million people.
Security forces killed four protesters when the demonstrations erupted in Deraa on Friday, and an 11-year-old child died after inhaling tear gas.
On Tuesday authorities arrested a leading campaigner who had supported the protesters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Loay Hussein, a political prisoner from 1984 to 1991, was taken from his home in the Sehnaya district near Damascus, the independent rights group said in a statement.
"His house was broken into. The door was smashed. His fate is unknown," the group's statement said.
Vice President Farouq al-Shara said on Tuesday that Assad was committed to "continue the path of reform and modernization in Syria," Lebanon's al-Manar Television reported, adding he "cannot be against any Syrian citizen." It gave no details.
In Geneva, the United Nations Office for Human Rights said the authorities "need to put an immediate halt to the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, especially the use of live ammunition."
A main demand of the protesters is an end what they term repression by the secret police, which is headed in Deraa province by a cousin of Assad, who faces the biggest challenge to his rule since succeeding his father Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
Syria has been under emergency law since the Baath Party took power in a 1963, banning any opposition and ushering in decades of economic retreat characterized by nationalization.
Limited economic liberalization in the last decade has been marked by the rise of Rami Makhlouf, another cousin of Assad, as a business tycoon controlling key companies.
Makhlouf, who is under U.S. sanctions for what Washington deems public corruption, has been a target of protesters' wrath. They describe him as a "thief." The tycoon says he is a legitimate businessman helping bring economic progress to Syria.
Assad has ignored rising demands to end emergency law, curb its pervasive security apparatus, develop the rule of law, free thousands of political prisoners, allow freedom of expression, and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissenters who disappeared in the 1980s.
"The revolution is at the door and the regime is still flirting with change," said Haitham al-Maleh, an 80-year-old lawyer and former judge who has spent his life peacefully resisting the ruling Baath Party's monopoly on power.
The protests have demanded freedom and an end to corruption and repression, but not the overthrow of Assad. The authorities appeared to adopt less heavy-handed tactics on Tuesday, choosing not to intervene against protesters, although activists said hundreds have been arrested across Syria in the last week.

China Calls for Libya Cease-Fire


Tuesday called for an immediate cease-fire in Libya, where a United Nations "no-fly zone" is being enforced. After abstaining last week from the U.N. Security Council vote on military action, the Chinese government says it wants immediate talks to end the violence.

Ever since it abstained from the U.N. Security Council vote on military action to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, China has been voicing its disapproval of the bombing raids launched by the United States, Britain and France.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu says China is deeply concerned about civilian casualities caused by the air strikes and warns of a humanitarian disaster.

She says the original intent in passing the Security Council mandate was to protect the safety of the Libyan people.

But she says Beijing opposes was she describes as an abuse use of force and the unnecessary use of violence that could result in additional civilian casualities.

Jiang says the military action will cause a bigger humanitarian crisis and says China has serious reservations about parts of the U.N. resolution.

Western powers began strikes against Libya, last Saturday, in a U.N.-mandated campaign to target air defenses to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilians from Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

But the Chinese government, which abstained from the U.N. vote along with fellow permanent Security Council member Russia, has kept up a critical commentary of the military action.

China's official state media accuses nations backing the strikes of breaking international rules and courting new turmoil in the Middle East.

When pressed by journalists, Jiang refused to say why exactly China did not use its veto power to block the U.N. mandate.

She said the Beijing government took into consideration concerns among Arab countries and what she described as the special conditions in Libya.

She refused to elaborate further and would not say if China views the military actions by the other Security Council members as a breach of the U.N. rules.

Jiang said China always opposes the use of force in international relations.

And, she said the United Nations is still considering what long-term actions to take on Libya.

China's Middle East envoy, Wu Sike, is to visit the region later this week.

American Warplane Crashes in Libya as Ground Fighting Continues

Ground fighting raged in Libya on Tuesday and an American fighter jet crashed overnight in the first known setback for the international coalition attacking forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

After three days of strikes authorized by the United Nations Security Council, however, disputes within the allied coalition over the future of the mission seemed unresolved, while China added its voice to demands by opponents of the intervention for an immediate cease-fire.

According to the United States military, an F-15E Strike Eagle warplane

went down late Monday “when the aircraft experienced equipment malfunction.” The aircraft, normally based in England, was flying out of Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy when it crashed. “Both crew members ejected and are safe,” an American statement said.

But Channel 4 News in Britain said that six villagers were shot by American troops during the rescue operation. None of the villagers — who were interviewed by a Channel 4 reporter in a nearby hospital — were killed, though a small boy could have a leg amputated. The United States military said it was investigating the reports.

A photograph shows its charred wreckage surrounded by onlookers in the middle of what looked like an empty field.

American officials said on Monday that military strikes to destroy air defenses and establish a no-fly zone over Libya had nearly accomplished their initial objectives, and that the United States was moving swiftly to hand command to allies in Europe.

But divisions persisted on Tuesday over how the campaign should continue and under whose command.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has said responsibility for the no-fly zone would be transferred to NATO. But France objected to that, with its foreign minister, Alain Juppé, saying: “The Arab League does not wish the operation to be entirely placed under NATO responsibility. It isn’t NATO which has taken the initiative up to now.”

Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Tuesday that the United Nations should be the umbrella for a solely humanitarian operation in Libya, Reuters reported, insisting that his country, a NATO ally, “will never ever be a side pointing weapons at the Libyan people.” The dispute raised concerns that American plans to hand over command of the operation could be delayed by disputes among its partners over who should take control.

The White House released a statement Tuesday saying that President Obama had called Mr. Erdogan and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, to impress upon them the need for “a broad-based international effort, including Arab states,” in the military campaign in Libya.

Outside the Western alliance, divisions seemed to deepen on Tuesday, with China joining Brazil and Russia in calling for a cease-fire, while India said there should be no foreign presence in Libya. India, Brazil, Russia, China and Germany abstained from the United Nations vote last week that authorized the intervention.

American, British and French warplanes have been flying sorties since Saturday, stalling a ground attack by pro-Qaddafi forces in the east and hitting targets including air defenses, an airfield and part of Colonel Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.

But the firepower of more than 130 Tomahawk cruise missiles and attacks by allied warplanes have not yet succeeded in accomplishing the more ambitious demands by the United States — repeated by President Obama in a letter to Congress on Monday — that Colonel Qaddafi withdraw his forces from embattled cities and cease all attacks against civilians.

Ahmed Khalifa, a rebel spokesman in Benghazi, said on Tuesday that there was still heavy fighting in the western rebel-held cities of Misurata and Zintan, which have been under siege by pro-Qaddafi troops for weeks. Government snipers and artillery in Misurata killed 40 people and wounded 189, he said, adding that rebel fighters were “combing” the city for Colonel Qaddafi’s troops. “Snipers are everywhere in Misrata, shooting anyone who walks by while the world is still watching,” a doctor in Misurata told The Associated Press. “The situation is going from bad to worse. We can do nothing but wait. Sometimes we depend on one meal per day.”

Government shelling of Zintan had demolished a mosque, Mr. Khalifa said, adding that Colonel Qaddafi’s talk of a cease-fire was “meaningless.” He said that the allied airstrikes “did in fact prevent further death and destruction.”

“The front lines are still very fluid,” he said, saying there was no movement in the standoff between rebel fighters and Qaddafi forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya. The rebel fighters are no match for the firepower of the pro-Qaddafi forces dug in around the city, which rests firmly in their control. But a correspondent for the Guardian, a British daily, said he had heard loud explosions around the city and had to “assume coalition aircraft are attacking Qaddafi forces around Ajdabiya.”

State television in Libya said on Tuesday that there had been more attacks by what it called the “crusader enemy,” Reuters reported, but the broadcaster struck a defiant tone, saying, “These attacks are not going to scare the Libyan people.”

But the airstrikes seemed to have emboldened the citizens of Tripoli, the capital city that is considered a pro-Qaddafi stronghold. On an officially supervised visit to the Old City on Tuesday, foreign reporters who work under close government scrutiny said people seemed noticeably readier to voice criticism.

Almost within earshot of official minders, one person approached a reporter to say, “It will be a beautiful country once we change the system.” But no one wanted to be identified by name in a city where retribution has long been the price of rare dissent. “They have killed a lot of people here. People here are very afraid,” one Libyan said. Referring to official shows of support for Colonel Qaddafi, he said, “This is not the real Libya.”

Pentagon officials are eager to extract the United States from a third armed conflict in a Muslim country as quickly as possible. But Qaddafi forces were holding out against the allied military campaign. Rebel fighters trying to retake Ajdabiya said their advance was halted on Monday by tank and rocket fire from government loyalists still controlling entrances to the city. Dozens of fighters fell back to a checkpoint about 25 miles north of Ajdabiya, in Zueitina.

By the early afternoon, the fighters said at least eight of their confederates had been killed in the day’s fighting, including four who were killed when a tank shell struck their pickup truck.

In the western city of Misurata, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi were still at large and were using civilians as human shields, Reuters reported, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

At the Pentagon, officials said that the intensive American-led assault unleashed over the weekend was a classic air campaign, chosen by Mr. Obama among a range of military options, which was intended to have coalition aircraft in the skies above Libya within days and without fear of being shot down. “You don’t do that piecemeal,” a United States military official said. “You do it all at once, and you do it as fast as you can.”

The targets included radar installations, fixed and mobile antiaircraft sites, Libyan aircraft and hangars, and other targets intended to make it safe for allied aircraft to impose the no-fly zone. They also included tanks and other ground forces engaged with the rebels around the country, reflecting the broader aim of pushing Colonel Qadaffi’s forces to withdraw from disputed cities. Communications centers and at least one Scud missile site were also struck.

Explosions and antiaircraft fire could be heard in and around Tripoli on Monday in a third straight night of attacks there against Colonel Qadaffi’s forces.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the United States Africa Command, who is in charge of the coalition effort, said that there would be strikes on Colonel Qaddafi’s mobile air defenses and that some 80 sorties — only half by the United States — were flown on Monday.

General Ham also said he had “full authority” to attack the regime’s forces if they refused to comply with President Obama’s demands that they pull back from Ajdabiya, Misurata and Zawiya.

In Santiago, Chile, Mr. Obama restated that the United States would soon turn over full responsibility to the allies to maintain the no-fly zone. He also sought to distinguish the stated goals of the United Nations-authorized military operation — protecting Libyan civilians, establishing a no-flight zone and forcing Colonel Qaddafi’s withdrawal from the cities — with his own administration’s demand, not included in the United Nations resolution, that Colonel Qaddafi had to leave office.

“It is U.S. policy that Qaddafi needs to go,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with the Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera. “And we’ve got a wide range of tools in addition to our military effort to support that policy.” Mr. Obama cited economic sanctions, the freezing of assets and other measures to isolate the regime in Tripoli.

United States military commanders repeated throughout the day that they were not communicating with Libyan rebels, even as a spokesman for the rebel military, Khaled El-Sayeh, asserted that rebel officers had been providing the allies with coordinates for their airstrikes. “We give them the coordinates, and we give them the location that needs to be bombed,” Mr. Sayeh told reporters.

On Monday night, a United States military official responded that “we know of no instances where this has occurred.”

'Yemeni pres. seeks Saudi asylum'

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reportedly requested asylum from Saudi Arabia after announcing he will step down by the end of the year.

On Monday night, Saleh told Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz during a telephone conversation that he will be forced to give up power and requested him and his family's asylum to Saudi Arabia, nahrainnet reported.

Earlier Tuesday, Saleh had expressed his willingness to step down by the year's end to prepare a peaceful transfer of power in the impoverished Arab nation.

The announcement came as a reversal of Saleh's recent comments in which he had said he would remain in power until the end of his term in 2013.

During talks with the Saudi officials, Saleh discussed the deflection of senior military officials to the opposition and the resignation of many other officials from their posts.

A senior Saudi official is expected to visit Sana'a in the next 24 hours to plan Saleh and his family's departure to Riyadh.

Saleh has been in office for more than three decades, with several opposition members arguing that his long-promised reforms have not materialized.

Protests began to sweep Yemen in January. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more have been injured in a brutal crackdown by security forces.

Some 40 percent of Yemen's population lives on under $2 a day or less, and a third is wrestling with chronic hunger, reports say.

Yemen leader willing to step down this year

Karzai: Afghan forces to take control in 7 areas

President Hamid Karzai

said Tuesday that his security forces will soon take charge of securing seven areas around Afghanistan — the first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers protecting the entire nation by the end of 2014.
In a speech peppered with criticism of the international effort, Karzai said the provincial capitals of Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, Herat in the west, Mazer-e-Sharif in the north and Mehterlam in the east are slated for transition from NATO-led forces to Afghan soldiers and police beginning in July.
In addition, all of Bamiyan and Panjshir provinces, which have seen little to no fighting, are on the transition list. Also slated for transition is Kabul province except for the restive Surobi district, which is along a main route to the Pakistan border and in proximity to dangerous areas of neighboring provinces, he said.
"The Afghan nation doesn't want the defense of this country to be in the hands of others anymore. ... This is our responsibility to raise our flag with honor and pride," Karzai told hundreds of dignitaries and Afghan police and soldiers at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in the capital.
The NATO forces currently in the lead or partnered with Afghan forces in these areas will thin out, take on support roles such as training and mentoring, redeploy to other areas or go home. President Barack Obama has said that he wants the U.S. to start withdrawing troops in July if conditions allow. Karzai's goal is to have his forces responsible for protecting and defending their homeland in about three and a half years.
Coalition forces have seen heavy fighting in parts of southern, northern and eastern Afghanistan as they intensified their campaign against insurgent groups following a surge of troops last year. NATO said that two of its service members were killed on Tuesday in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. Their nationalities and other details were not released.
So far, 90 coalition troops have been killed in combat this year, 23 this month alone.
Karzai also struck a nationalistic chord in his speech, reiterating his call for the Taliban to join the peace process. He complained about the international community, saying its development effort in Afghanistan was disjointed and night raids, civilian casualties and irresponsible arrests have bolstered the insurgency.
A series of recent airstrikes that have lead to the death of numerous civilians have seriously eroded relations between Karzai and the U.S.-led military coalition. The death of civilians must end, he said.
He emphasized that the war against militants should not be fought in the villages of Afghanistan, but should be directed at the "roots and safe havens" — a veiled reference to neighboring Pakistan, where insurgents take refuge and plot attacks out of reach of Afghan and coalition troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Karzai's speech was merely symbolic because the nation remained occupied by thousands of foreign forces. In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Mujahid said that only time will tell if Afghan forces can secure the transition areas.
"We will fight until the last foreign soldier is gone," he said. "Any place where there are foreign troops will be under attack."
Karzai said the international community should provide financial assistance for vital infrastructure projects even as he argued that the provincial reconstruction teams, meant to train government officials and assist their activities at the local level, should be phased out.
"The PRTs, the private security companies and militias, and night raids should be ended as soon as possible, and by putting an end to these things will of course strengthen the central government," Karzai said.
He also said all international assistance should be handled through the Afghan government's budget.
At an international conference in Kabul in July, donor nations approved a 10-page communique that restated strong support for channeling at least 50 percent of development aid through the Afghan government within two years if the government reforms, reduces corruption and strengthens its public financial management systems.
"There should be more cooperation between Afghanistan and the U.N offices working in different areas throughout the country," he said. "We have asked for a report about the expenses of the U.N."
Karzai's speech reflected his desire not to be dependent on foreign forces forever although the Afghan security forces have yet to overcome the lack of training and equipment, illiteracy, corruption and shortages of top officers and international mentors. Karzai's delivered his speech at a ceremony marking the graduation of a third class of Afghan army officers.
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Karzai's announcement.
"This represents the next stage of Afghanistan's journey, not the destination," he said in a statement. "And every step of the way will be determined by conditions on the ground."
But Fogh Rasmussen warned the transition is not a sign the allies can start withdrawing from Afghanistan, stressing it was vital that NATO keep up training Afghan forces "in order to ensure that transition is irreversible."
"I understand that as this transition gets under way, political leaders are facing pressure to bring their troops home for good," he said. But NATO's principal approach remains "in together, out together."