Friday, August 5, 2011

Four People Killed During Anti-NATO Protest In Afghanistan

Afghan officials say Taliban fighters opened fire on Afghan police at an anti-NATO rally in southern Afghanistan today, sparking a gunbattle that killed three civilians and a police officer.

Officials said the insurgents infiltrated the protest in the town of Qalat in the southern province of Zabul and fired at police.

Police responded by firing at the insurgents in the crowd.

The demonstrators had gathered to protest the reported deaths of civilians during a NATO operation overnight.

2011 is bloodiest year for Karachi since 1995

At least 800 people have been killed in ethnic clashes and politically linked violence in Karachi this year, the bloodiest since 1995, Pakistan's human rights commission said Friday.

Zohra Yousuf who heads the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the 800 people were victims of often targeted and violent shootings in the last seven months.

“The figures are a cause of great concern for every law abiding Pakistani," she said.

Previously the HRCP had put the figure of those killed in the violence in Karachi in the first six months of the year to around 500 but in one of the bloodiest months witnessed by the city another 300 people were killed in July.

Yousuf said the figures compiled by the HRCP staff also through police records showed that around 300 people were killed in July.

The figures represent a big challenge for the government which has already deployed an additional force of 1000 Frontier Constabulary (FC) soldiers in the city to assist the police and para-military rangers to control the violence.

'Baloch madrassa students cultivating poppy in Afghanistan'

Hundreds of madrassa students from Chaman and the adjoining tribal regions of Balochistan are reportedly being engaged by Afghan farmers for poppy cultivation in the two major heroin-producing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar for the past three months.

Local sources said these Pakistani madrassa students make a beeline for Taliban strongholds to make some money during their summer holidays, which start from the first week of June.

“It is a source of easy money for madrassa students,” a local social worker of Ziarat who is well acquainted with many in the poppy harvesting workforce, said, adding: Each student makes around15 to 20 dollars a day. They are being paid in the local Afghani currency which has gained strength against the Pakistani rupee in recent months.”

“Most students returned home with 1,500 to 2,000 dollars after the harvesting season last year,” The Express Tribune quoted him, as saying.

Gunman killed near Saudi prince's palace

Saudi security forces killed a gunman on Saturday morning after he fired at a checkpoint near the Interior Minister's palace in Jeddah, the state news agency said.

"At 1 a.m. on Saturday, a person carrying a gun fired at a checkpoint in Abdulrahman Al-Malki Street in Jeddah. He was dealt with swiftly and was killed. The event is still under investigation," the statement said.

Around the same time two years ago the Interior Minister's son, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Al-Saud, who oversees the country's counter-terrorism program, survived an attempt on his life by a suicide bomber posing as a repentant militant.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Mansour al-Turki referred a call for comment to Jeddah police spokesperson Mesfer Aljoayed, who was not immediately available.

The world's biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, is an absolute monarchy without an elected parliament or political parties.

Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who is believed to be in his late 70s, was appointed as second deputy prime minister in 2009. He spearheaded the country's crackdown on al-Qaeda militants who aimed to destabilize the country between 2003- 2006.

US urges citizens to leave Syria immediately

State Department warns that given the "ongoing uncertainty and volatility" American citizens are urged to leave immediately while transportation is still available.
Americans in Syria are encouraged to leave and travel to the country should be postponed, the US State Department said on Friday following widespread violence that has pitted thousands of protesters against the government.

The State Department warned that given the "ongoing uncertainty and volatility" US citizens are urged to leave immediately while transportation is still available. The advisory also encouraged Americans who remain to limit any nonessential travel within the country.The advisory expands a travel warning issued in late April that ordered eligible family members of US government employees and certain non-emergency personnel to leave.

Syrian security forces on Friday killed at least 18 protesters in attacks on tens of thousands of protesters who poured into the streets to demonstrate against the rule of President Bashar Assad on the first Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.The four-month-old uprising has grown increasingly violent in recent days as tanks have launched an attack on the central city of Hama in an effort to quell pro-democracy protesters. An estimated 300 people have been killed since the military assault began on Sunday on the city of 700,000 people in central Syria.

The Syrian protesters are defying a bloody military crackdown on uprisings that began in March against some 41 years of Assad family domination.

The White House said US President Barack Obama and leaders from France and Germany have agreed to take measures to pressure Assad over his crackdown, but so far they have not outlined what those steps might be.

Israel braces for Saturday demos

Israelis are planning to stage massive protests against Tel Aviv's housing and economic policies over the weekend, the organizers have announced.

The organizers say they hope the demonstrations will bring over 200,000 people onto the streets on Saturday, The Jerusalem Post reported on Friday.

On Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of people protested against the parliament's approval of a new housing bill, saying the new law will not resolve the housing crisis in Israel.

The demonstrations were held in the cities of al-Quds (Jerusalem), Tel Aviv, Kiryat Shmona, Beersheba, and Haifa, with angry protesters blocking a total of 10 major junctions across Israel.

The protesters said that the new law will only favor the rich by encouraging big developers to build luxury projects rather than affordable housing.

They have also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli protesters are calling for measures to curb the high cost of living, which has jumped by 50 percent in recent years.

United States loses AAA credit rating from S&P

The United States lost its top-notch AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's on Friday in an unprecedented reversal of fortune for the world's largest economy.
S&P cut the long-term U.S. credit rating by one notch to AA-plus on concerns about the government's budget deficits and rising debt burden. The move is likely to raise borrowing costs eventually for the American government, companies and consumers.
"The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics," S&P said in a statement.
The decision follows a fierce political battle in Congress over cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the government's debt burden and allow its statutory borrowing limit to be raised.
On August 2, President Barack Obama signed legislation designed to reduce the fiscal deficit by $2.1 trillion over 10 years. But that was well short of the $4 trillion in savings S&P had called for as a good "down payment" on fixing America's finances.
The White House maintained silence in the immediate aftermath of S&P downgrade.
The political gridlock in Washington and the failure to seriously address U.S. long-term fiscal problems came against the backdrop of slowing U.S. economic growth and led to the worst week in the U.S. stock market in two years.
The S&P 500 stock index fell 10.8 percent in the past 10 trading days on concerns that the U.S. economy may head into another recession and because the European debt crisis has been growing worse as it spreads to Italy.
U.S. Treasury bonds, once undisputedly seen as the safest security in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as Britain, Germany, France or Canada.
As the focus for investors shifted from the debate in Washington to the outlook for the global economy, even with the prospect of a downgrade, 30-year long bonds had their best week since December 2008 during the depth of the financial crisis.
Yields on 10-year notes, a benchmark for borrowing rates throughout the economy fell as far as 2.34 percent on Friday -- their lowest since October 2010 -- also very low by historical standards.
"To some extent, I would expect when Tokyo opens on Sunday, that we will see an initial knee-jerk sell-off (in Treasuries) followed by a rally," said Ian Lyngen, senior government bond strategist at CRT Capital Group in Stamford, Connecticut.
The outlook on the new U.S. credit rating is "negative," S&P said in a statement, a sign that another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months.
"The long-term implications are daunting. Short-term, Treasuries remain a premier safe-haven refuge," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.
The impact of S&P's move was tempered by a decision from Moody's Investors Service earlier this week that confirmed, for now, the U.S. Aaa rating. Fitch Ratings said it is still reviewing the rating and will issue its opinion by the end of the month.
"It's not entirely unexpected. I believe it has already been partly priced into the dollar. We expect some further pressure on the U.S. dollar, but a sharp sell-off is in our view unlikely," said Vassili Serebriakov, currency strategist at Wells Fargo in New York.
"One of the reasons we don't really think foreign investors will start selling U.S. Treasuries aggressively is because there are still few alternatives to the U.S. Treasury market in terms of depth and liquidity," Serebriakov added.
S&P's move is also likely to concern foreign creditors especially China, which holds more than $1 trillion of U.S. debt. Beijing has repeatedly urged Washington to protect its U.S. dollar investments by addressing its budget problem.
Obama administration officials grew increasingly frustrated with the rating agency through the debt limit debate and have accused S&P of changing the goal posts in its downgrade warnings, sources familiar with talks between the administration and the ratings firm have said.
The downgrade could add up to 0.7 of a percentage point to U.S. Treasuries' yields over time, increasing funding costs for public debt by some $100 billion, according to SIFMA, a U.S. securities industry trade group.
S&P had placed the U.S. credit rating on review for a possible downgrade on July 14 on concerns that Congress was not adequately addressing the government fiscal deficit of about $1.4 trillion this year, or about 9.0 percent of gross domestic product, one of the highest since World War II.
The unprecedented downgrade of the nation's AAA credit rating by a major ratings agency comes only 15 months before the next presidential election where the downgrade and the debt will be top issues for debate.
Bitter political battles remain over the ideologically fraught issues of spending cuts and tax reform.
The compromise reached by Republicans and Democrats this week calls for the creation of a bipartisan congressional committee to find $1.5 trillion of deficit cuts by late November, beyond the $917 billion already identified.

Pakistan's Deadly drinks

Editorial:The News

The rise in sales of bottled water is no surprise given the poor quality of tap water where it is available. Bottled water is a big business – unfortunately some of it is as unsafe as that which comes out of our taps. The Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) has announced that 12 out of the 77 brands of bottled water on sale are unfit for human consumption. Arsenic and sodium have been found in greater quantities than are deemed safe. Sodium is a cause of hypertension and there is a linkage between arsenic and a range of cancers. Bacterial contamination by human bodily wastes was also present in some of the samples. The only way such a contaminant could have got into the bottle is by poor hygiene at the point of production, and that the contaminated bottles have not been picked up by a quality controller before it reaches the retail market. This amounts to an act of criminal irresponsibility on the part of the producer – not that producers are likely to care or do much about remedying things.

People buy bottled water because they believe it to be safe. It is worth reminding ourselves that 45 percent of infant deaths occur as a result of diarrhoea, and overall 60 percent of infants that die, die of infectious water-borne diseases. Any infant fed with water from a contaminated source is at risk of illness and perhaps death. The bottled water industry needs to look closely at how it regulates itself and exercise considerably more corporate social responsibility. Bottled water is an essential part of our lives today and the public has a right to expect that it is purchasing a safe product – but this is not a ‘safety-first’ culture. Unsafe production practices are rife and not just in the bottled water sector. The PCRWR report is a timely reminder that we should be careful about what we drink, and that some of what is in the market may be deadly.

Arabs gripped by Mubarak trial

The dramatic images of ailing Hosni Mubarak in the defendants' cage has captivated the Arab world, where the murder trial of Egypt's former president has been hailed as a lesson for those clinging to power.

Footage of the ailing 83-year-old, lying on a hospital bed behind the wire mesh of the cage on Thursday, was broadcast across the Arab world. From Morocco to Jordan, Arabs were fixed to their television screens or following the live updates of the trial on Facebook and Twitter, dumbfounded.

"This day has transformed into what feels like a dream because no one imagined that an autocrat would sit behind bars answering the judge's questions and listening to a long list of charges," said Palestinian newspaper 'Al Quds' in an editorial.

"Each and every Arab hopes that this historic case will be a lesson for all those clinging to their chairs to listen to the demands of peoples who ask for freedom, democracy and social justice," it said.

In Damascus, the state-owned press avoided commenting on the trial, except for Al Baath, the ruling party's mouthpiece, which only made brief mention of the fact that the hearing was adjourned until Aug.15.

"We will probably not witness a (Ben Ali trial) and Tunisia still hasn't suspended relations with Saudi Arabia," said Tunisian activist Amira Yahyaoui in a tweet.

There was no official reaction from Riyadh, but the Saudi press, which usually reflects the kingdom's official stance, welcomed the "civilised" proceedings.

Under the headline "The rule of the judiciary", daily 'Al Jazira' wrote that "there are no exceptions" to justice.

"Illness does not prevent the defendant from being held accountable for his mistakes, neither does his long national work and public service," the paper said.

'Al Riyadh' daily described the trial as "a civilised trial in which conditions were met by both prosecution and defence, in addition to the presence of witnesses," hailing Egypt's judiciary as "independent and impartial."

"The historic trial of Mubarak is great proof that the people of Egypt have defeated dictatorship," wrote Taher Adwan, in the independent Jordanian daily 'Al Arab Al Yawm.'

"The trial will give Arab revolts a great boost to overcome obstacles," wrote Mohammed Abu Rumman in Jordan's 'Al Ghad' independent daily.

In Morocco, the press described the trial as a triumph.

"This trial is a victory for the will of the people in the region who want democratisation," said Moroccan daily 'Al Tajdid.'

But some commentators were more tempered in their enthusiasm.

"It's very nice that the people were able to remove and prosecute a whole regime, but it should be done without vengeful feelings that will cause future grudges," wrote Hafez Al Barghuti in the Palestinian 'Al Hayat Al Jadida.'

‘High dropout rate among Emiratis studying nursing’

There is a high dropout rate among Emiratis studying nursing as many people perceive the profession as inferior, a recent study from the Emirates Nursing Association (ENA) has pointed out.

Long hours, few financial returns and low levels of education are some of the reasons that citizens do not perceive nursing as an ideal career choice, the study noted.

Seventy-five per cent of all the nurses working at the Ministry of Health hold nursing diploma and 24 per cent hold bachelor of nursing degree, while only five graduates have master and one PhD degrees.

The study highlighted the challenges in the nursing field, including low salaries and financial incentives, inflexible shifts, transfer of majority of citizen nurses to administrative jobs, while the foreigners occupy leadership positions.

The study recommended that students in high school should be encouraged to take up nursing courses in school and thereafter in university as a specialised course.

It suggested that males be encouraged to go to nursing schools of the Ministry of Health, and given financial help through scholarships.

Fresh graduates should also be offered better financial incentives, it noted. The study pointed out that there is a shortage of nurses globally and many states bring in immigrant labour to meet this need.

However, it added that a shortage of nurses locally can result in a gap in the medical sector and closure of medical wards and sections.

The increasing need leads to dependence on foreign and unqualified workers to cover the shortage, which affects the level of nursing care and medical services.

It pointed out that some youngsters are reluctant to take up nursing as a profession due to lack of courses at public universities and also because students lack awareness about the profession.

Apart from the low salary, the study found that there is a perception among men that it is a profession of women, and it hinders them from joining the field.

Why get after Ms Hina Rabbani Khar

Naeem Tahir
Daily Times

A handshake is no flirtation. It is a gesture of goodwill. Women politicians avoid even normal courtesies because men have scared them. It is the macho man who makes it hard to respect a woman in a position of authority. Such men see women as objects required for procreation only

Pakistanis and Indians saw the recent goodwill visit of our foreign minister as a success — generally. But a TV anchorperson in Pakistan got carried away. Some years ago, male chauvinists got after Ms Nilofar Bakhtiar in the same way. It seems to be Ms Khar’s turn now. Is this a continuity of criticising efforts in building foreign relations or undermining women working on important assignments?

It was hard to believe the way a known anchorperson, Dr Danish did everything possible to find fault with Ms Khar and prompted his programme participants to follow his thinking although Mr Mujeebur Rehman Shami, a very senior journalist and a sombre person also, did not oblige. Dr Danish has been conducting his programme for some years. He is loud, and sometimes waves papers in his hand at the audience to convince them that he has some sort of documentary evidence. Who knows?

In the case of Foreign Minister Ms Khar, he got carried away and repeatedly recalled that she represented the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. What does this mean? Was he trying to say that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan forbids women to take positions of responsibility? Was he trying to appeal to and activate an extremist ‘right’ lobby? Does he believe in male superiority? Incidentally, the concept of male superiority comes from the Aryans. It is not Islamic. Our religion teaches respect for women.

Ms Khar is a well-educated, well-groomed and politically experienced person. She conducted herself with grace and received a good response from Indian diplomats. So what if Kashmir was not mentioned in the talks? What have those who have mentioned Kashmir again and again ever achieved? She was more successful in the sense that her Indian counterpart mentioned Kashmir and agreed with Pakistan’s proposal.

In my experience, I have found Ms Khar to be very businesslike and efficient. Maybe she is a little too businesslike but that is an asset in a ‘man’s world’. She also has administrative know-how, which is why Mr Mujeebur Rehman Shami acknowledged her experience at the ministerial level. No fault could be found in her personal conduct. She dressed elegantly and also kept her head covered with a dupatta. Mr Shami found only the handshake with the Indian minister unusual because women politicians in Pakistan avoid shaking hands with men. So what? A handshake is no flirtation. It is a gesture of goodwill. Women politicians avoid even normal courtesies because men have scared them. It is the macho man who makes it hard to respect a woman in a position of authority. Such men see women as objects required for procreation only.

Also what is this hullabaloo over the cost of the apparel and accessories? Have a heart, how do you know the prices? Mr Shami rightly refused to venture a guess. It is irrelevant if the ‘state’ did not buy the dresses and accessories. In the present cabinet, Ms Khar is one of the few well groomed, educated and competent individuals. Irrespective of anyone’s political alliances, we must learn to be fair. It is maturity that is needed, not just grey hair.

This attitude towards women needs to be seriously examined. More loose talk is carried on about women than men, particularly working women. Jokes about wives are always present. All this speaks of an unhealthy state of mind. Particularly, an anchorperson must bear the social responsibility of maintaining a balance. It would be fine if a person’s work output were examined objectively but targeting the individuality of a person is totally unfair.

I hope that these comments are taken in good spirit and some introspection is done. It is a laudable attitude to look at one’s own shortcomings and shed prejudices. Was Dr Danish pressurised by some lobby? He generally conducts his programme efficiently.

I hope Ms Khar has the strength to brush aside negative comments. The Indian lobbies did not sabotage the talks this time. Historically, Indian extremists have been sabotaging these talks by acts of terror. A Samjhota train-like blast or the Mumbai issue were not used this time to block steps towards peace. Some concrete and positive measures have been agreed upon. These include improved trade facilities and people to people contact by reviewing visa regimes. We do need to support the just cause of Kashmir but our foreign policy cannot be so highly Kashmir-centric that it becomes a hostage. India and Pakistan must live as neighbours who respect each other and work for the welfare of their people. There are challenges for both countries, and perhaps more so for Pakistan.

This is the time when a serious review of our foreign policy should be made. Our traditional ally, the US, has been unhappy about some issues. Pakistan, too, has some reservations. The US’s popularity in the masses is at its lowest and it is unfair because a lot of good is also being done by the support of the American people. Our relations with Iran, China, Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries are important and must be seen in correct perspective. Foreign relations are closely tied to economic strategy. Ms Khar has that background and hopefully she should be able to make a significant contribution.

Generally, it is a strange thing that the media gets after our foreign ministers. The former foreign minister was not spared either and the media enjoyed insinuating his intentions during his visit to the US. The foreign office has, indeed, a very serious responsibility towards the country. It needs support to improve our image. Their work is made hard when we, the people of Pakistan, belittle them or treat them as show persons. Mr Shami correctly said that we should not expect our foreign ministers to be dressed poorly. The key word is ‘decently’ not ‘extravagantly’. Let us all try to create a good environment for the women and men who are contributing towards national well being and avoid pulling their legs.

The writer is a culture and media management specialist, a researcher, author, director and actor

Karzai has wounded himself politically: Crisis Group

Afghan President Hamid Karzai “shot himself in the foot and wounded himself politically” at the first place by forming special tribunal and cutting off communications with the parliament. ”Karzai has shot himself in the foot and wounded himself politically by cutting off his communications with parliament, by building the special court in order to prosecute people who may or may not have committed crimes along the way with the election process,” Candace Rondeaux, a senior analyst to Crisis Group based in Kabul, said.The International Crisis Group analyst based in Kabul warns that if disputes between executive and legislative branches continue, Afghan President Hamid Karzai would announce state of emergency.State of emergency would even add to the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan and then international troops should come up with a decision whether to support the president or the House of Representatives, she said.Candace Rondeaux called the special electoral tribunal unconstitutional saying it has stopped the parliament to carry out it obligations.”We all know, I think even Karzai understands that the special court is an unconstitutional body, it is an illegal body and should have never been formed to the first place. Now the problem is that you have 62 people who are waiting for seats, that may never be given to them and parliament could not do its work. The country is at a standstill, because the government is unable to work,” Candace Rondeaux said.She said that the work of the special tribunal has produced obstacles to the parliament.”I think if this paralysis continues, it could end up with a high state of emergency declared by the president and that is very dangerous, because it will eventually force, I think, Isaf to make a choice between backing the president and backing the parliament and that is the last thing anybody wants to see,” she said.Meanwhile, Speaker of the Afghan House of Representatives has said the special tribunal has accepted that its final decision should be announced by President Karzai.House Speaker Abdul Raouf Ebrahimi recently said that President Karzai had promised him to bring an end to parliamentary disputes.President Karzai’s Office and the government’s media and information centre could not be reached for comment.

International Beer Day

Sure, it's unlikely that Ben Franklin ever really said “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” but that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true. Virtually anywhere you go in the world, even where they only have the non-alcoholic kind, you won't have a problem finding a cold one. So International Beer Day probably isn’t necessary, strictly speaking.
But it sure doesn’t hurt.
International Beer Day is the brainchild of Jesse Avshalomov and established by Avshalomov, Evan Hamilton, Aaron Araki, and Richard Hernandez. It’s billed as a “celebration of beer and the people who provide it.” There’s even an International Beer Day web site detailing the hundreds of events taking place at bars and restaurants worldwide.

Syria claims progress in crushing Hama uprising

Syria's government proclaimed Friday that it was succeeding in crushing the uprising in the city of Hama, the epicenter of anti-regime protests, showing TV images of burned buildings and rubble-strewn streets. Under a suffocating siege, residents of the city warned that medical supplies were running out and food rotting after six days without electricity.
Across the country, tens of thousands of protesters marched through cities, chanting their solidarity with Hama and demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad. They were met by security forces who opened fire, killing at least 13 people, activists said.
Their numbers were lower than previous Fridays, when hundreds of thousands nationwide turned out for protests — likely because this was the first Friday in the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and go outside less, particularly in the summer heat. That could augur disappointment for protest leaders, who had hoped to escalate the uprising during the month and even mark a turning point in the quest to topple the 40-year Assad family dynasty's rule.
Government forces began their siege on Hama on Sunday, cutting off electricity, phone services and internet and blocking supplies into the city of 800,000 as they shelled neighborhoods and sent in ground raids. It appeared to be an all-out attempt to take back the city — which has a history of dissent — after residents all but took over, barricading it against the regime. Rights group say at least 100 people have been killed so far while some estimates have put the number as high as 250.
The tolls could not be verified because of the difficulty reaching residents and hospital officials in the besieged city, where journalists are barred as they are throughout Syria.
Tanks shelled residential districts starting around 4 a.m. Friday, just as people were beginning their daily fast — mirroring a round of bombardment the evening before at sunset when they were breaking the fast, one resident told The Associated Press.
"If people get wounded, it is almost impossible to take them to hospital," the resident said by telephone, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Syrian state media on Friday proclaimed that army units are "working to restore security, stability and normal life to Hama" after it was taken over by "terrorists."
For the first time since the siege began, government-run TV and the state news agency aired images of ravaged streets in the city, strewn with debris, damaged vehicles and makeshift barricades set up by protesters. One image showed a yellow taxi with a dead man in the driver's seat and bloodstains on the door. A tank cleared away a large cement barrier and a bus with shattered windows.
There were no reports of protests in the city during the day Friday — a contrast to previous weeks when hundreds of thousands in the city participated in the biggest marches in the country.
A citizen journalist from Hama working with Avaaz, an online global activist group with a network of activists inside Syria, told AP that people were now too afraid to go to the mosques, which were being targeted by the military.
The man who identified himself as Sami described the humanitarian situation as "catastrophic." Everything was closed, including bakeries and pharmacies, he said.
"There are sick people, people with diabetes who have run out of insulin ... the food has spoiled because there's no electricity," he said. "You cannot imagine how tired and terrified people are," he said.
Hama has seen government crackdowns before. In 1982, Assad's father, Hafez Assad, ordered the military to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement there. Hama was sealed off and bombs dropped from above smashed swaths of the city and killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.
Although there has been a near-total communications blackout in Hama, witnesses have painted a grim picture of life in the city. "People are being slaughtered like sheep while walking in the street," a resident said Thursday, speaking by phone on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
There were also fears of an intensified assault on a second city, the oil center of Deir el-Zour in the east, where tanks have been deployed at entrances since earlier this week. Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Observatory for Human Rights in Syria, said a quarter of the city's population of 600,000 have fled recently.
Friday has become the main day for protests in Syria, despite the near-certainty that tanks and snipers will respond with deadly force. Protests on Friday spread from the capital, Damascus, to the southern province of Daraa, the central city of Homs and in Qamishli, near the Turkish border. Some 20,000 people protested in Deir el-Zour, lower than the hundreds of thousands of previous weeks, likely due to the flight of a large part of the population.
"Hama, we are with you until death," a crowd marching through Damascus' central neighborhood of Midan shouted, clapping their hands as they chanted, "We don't want you Bashar" and "Bashar Leave," according to amateur videos from Friday posted on line by activists.
In another district of the capital, Qadam, protesters carried a banner reading, "Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent."
Security forces opened fire with live ammunition and tear gas in several cities, activists said. At least ten people were killed in the Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, Moaddamiya and Dumeir and three others in Homs, according to the London-based Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, a group that tracks protests.
One man who had been arrested earlier was found dead outside his home in the Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun with torture marks on his body, the Observatory said.
Activists also said about 50 people were wounded in Friday's protests.
State-run TV said reported that two policemen were killed and 8 wounded when they were ambushed in the northern town of Maarat al-Numan.
The uprising, now in its fifth month, has proved remarkably resilient, continuing daily and even expanding despite a bloody crackdown that has killed at least 1,700 people. But protesters have so far failed to mobilize the middle class and Muslim Sunni elite to form a real threat to Assad's minority Alawite rule. Organizers had hoped to garner the increased religious fervor of Ramadan to give the protests a further boost. But so far that has yet to materialize. Since the start of Ramadan on Monday, many anti-government protesters were choosing instead to stage nightly protests, usually numbering in the thousands, following special Ramadan nighttime prayers.
Assad has largely brushed off international pressure on his regime.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday he has warned Syria's leader that he will face a "sad fate" if he fails to introduce reforms in his country and open a peaceful dialogue with the opposition.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, returned to Damascus on Friday after several days in Washington holding confirmation hearings at Congress and meeting with President Barack Obama. Some lawmakers had urged the administration to recall Ford permanently as a further show of displeasure with the Assad regime. Italy this week recalled its ambassador and urged others to do the same.

Yemeni troops clash with powerful tribe in capital

Yemeni government forces clashed with supporters of a powerful tribe in central Sanaa on Friday, forcing residents to flee the area in fear of further fighting, witnesses said.
The clashes in the Hassaba district reflect the still tense standoff between forces loyal to ailing President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen's most powerful tribal confederation, the al-Ahmar clan. Fighting between the two side in late May threatened to escalate into all-out war.
Witnesses said the government's elite Republican Guards were heavily deployed in Hassaba, positioning armored vehicles on one of the district's main roads and taking over the Communication Ministry. Supporters of the powerful tribal chief Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar were also on alert.
The al-Ahmar family has come out in support of the protest movement calling for Saleh to step down after 33 years in power. The protests began in earnest in February, but Saleh has clung to power.
The fighting erupted late Friday afternoon and lasted about half an hour. Residents reported hearing the crackle of machine-gun fire and a few explosions. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Fathi al-Azab, a district resident, said many families fled the area as clashes began at sundown, when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
A government official said the country's vice president, Saleh's powerful son Ahmed, who heads the Republican Guards, and the U.S. ambassador immediately made contact to mediate a troop pullout and prevent the violence from escalating. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
In late May, the government and al-Ahmar fighters battled in Sanaa's streets for nearly two-weeks after government troops were accused of attacking the compound of the al-Ahmar's leader. A negotiated truce brought an end to those clashes.
But relations remain tense. A June attack on Saleh's presidential compound left the Yemeni leader badly injured, and the government initially blamed al-Ahmar. Saleh is still recuperating from his injuries in Saudi Arabia.
Saleh's absence and the continued street protests calling for his ouster have dealt a serious blow to security in Yemen. Further aggravating the tense relations between al-Ahmar and the president's supporters, al-Ahmar announced last week a new tribal alliance that includes members of another powerful tribe, and is supported by a senior defecting military general, who was once one of Saleh's closest aides.
Al-Ahmar said the alliance no longer accepts Saleh as Yemen's ruler , and said the tribal forces will fill the security void in everyday life the has opened up as Saleh's forces focus on maintaining the regime's grip on power. He also said the tribes will provide protection to the protesters against the government crackdown, pitting the tribes against the government forces.

Egypt military police break up Tahrir 'iftar'

Egyptian military police used force to break up an "iftar" traditional evening meal for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, witnesses said.
Activists and families were taking part in the iftar which breaks the daytime fast during Ramadan.
"We were about 150 people, gathered near Omar Makram mosque, when military police with batons dispersed us and started hitting us," a participant, Ahmed Fares, told AFP.
"After the iftar, some people started calling for the hanging of (ousted president Hosni) Mubarak. The police intervened with batons, forcing us to run away down into the metro station," said activist Ahmed Naim.
A woman also at the scene said an officer told her that security forces took action because some participants had hurled rocks.
According to another militant, Nur Nur, several arrests were made.
On Monday, security agents fired shots in the air and used their batons in a clash with dozens of protesters who had refused to leave Tahrir Square, a day after most activists suspended a daily sit-in.
The government said "several thugs" were arrested.
Activists have said they will return in large numbers to the square, which was the epicentre of mass street protests that toppled Mubarak in February, to push for reforms once Ramadan is over.

Wall Street retreats again in wildly volatile day

Stocks slipped back into the red late on Friday after fluctuating between big gains and losses in a wildly volatile session with trading volume in equities and options on track to set another record.
That was a turnabout from early afternoon, when investors saw a buying opportunity following the sharp sell-off that took the S&P 500 down 10 percent over the last 10 sessions.
In early afternoon trading, the stock market had extended its rebound after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said his country will introduce a constitutional principle of a balanced budget, adding that: "We will accelerate measures" in an austerity program, with the "aim of a balanced budget in 2013."
Helping the market during that rebound, sources said the European Central Bank was ready to buy Italian and Spanish bonds if Berlusconi commits to bringing forward specific reforms.
"We've had a correction, but it's not a huge correction at this point. If we have a very large correction, that might push us into a double dip," said Natalie Trunow, chief investment officer of equities at Calvert Investment Management in Bethesda, Maryland.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 5.83 points, or 0.05 percent, at 11,377.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 5.32 points, or 0.44 percent, at 1,194.75. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 29.84 points, or 1.17 percent, at 2,526.55.
At Thursday's close, the S&P 500 was down about 10 percent for the last 10 trading sessions.
Trading volume was at 12.7 billion shares by late afternoon trade, significantly higher than the daily average of about 7.5 billion.
Trading in options through mid-afternoon was about 25 million contracts -- nearly twice the expected pace and putting it on track to set a daily record near 40 million contracts, according to Trade Alert President Henry Schwartz.
Exchange-traded funds tracking Italian and Spanish stocks rose. The iShares MSCI Italy Index jumped 4.6 percent, while the iShares MSCI Spanish Index advanced 6.1percent.
Stocks had been lower for much of the day as worries about slower global growth remained firmly intact despite stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs data.
Thursday's intense selling -- taking both the Dow and the S&P 500 down 4 percent and the Nasdaq down 5 percent --
reflected frustration with politicians' inability to address pressing concerns over high public debt in Europe and the United States as growth in the world's large industrial economies shows signs of stalling.
Slower growth in manufacturing and services in the United States also have renewed concern about another U.S. recession.
U.S. non-farm payrolls data showed a gain of 117,000 jobs in July compared with a forecast for an increase of 85,000, while the country's unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent last month from 9.2 percent in June, the Labor Department reported.
Also affecting stocks was talk of a possible S&P downgrade of U.S. debt after the close.
The recent steep sell-off has put all three major indexes in negative territory for the year.
Credit Suisse on Friday reduced its year-end view on the S&P 500 to 1,350 from 1,450, citing weaker-than-expected growth.
Reflecting the market's volatility, the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX rose 7.3 percent to 33.97. The index had touched an intraday high at 39.25, its highest level since May 2010.

Unemployment rate dips, economy adds 117K jobs

Hiring picked up slightly in July and the unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent. The modest improvement may quiet fears of another recession after the worst losses on Wall Street in nearly three years.
Employers added 117,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said Friday. That's better than the past two months, which were also revised higher.
The gains gave the stock market a small lift one day after the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 500 points. Stock future turned positive Friday after the report was released. The report "should lessen fears that the recovery is truly faltering," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief economist at MF Global.
Still, the economy needs twice as many net jobs per month to rapidly reduce unemployment. The rate has topped 9 percent in every month except two since the recession officially ended in June 2009.
Businesses added 154,000 jobs across many industries. Governments cut 37,000 jobs last month. Still, 23,000 of those losses were almost entirely because of the shutdown of Minnesota's state government.
The unemployment rate fell from 9.2 percent in June partly because some unemployed workers stopped looking for work. That means they are no longer counted as unemployed.
As a result, the number of unemployed people fell to 13.9 million, down from 14.1 million. Still, that's nearly double the total before the recession.
The participation rate, which measures the percentage of people working or searching for jobs, fell to 63.9 percent, the lowest in 27 years.
The report follows a string of gloomy data that shows the economy has weakened since last year.
The economy expanded at a meager 0.8 percent annual rate in the first six months of this year, the slowest pace since the recession officially ended. Manufacturers are barely growing. Service companies are growing at the weakest pace in a year and a half. Consumers cut spending in June for the first time in 20 months, and they saved more.
High gas prices and scant wage increases have squeezed U.S. consumers this year. And consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.
Businesses have responded by cutting hiring after a strong start in which they added an average of 215,000 jobs a month from February through April.
But the government revised the previous two months' totals to show hiring wasn't as weak as first estimated.
The economy added 53,000 in May, up from an earlier estimate of 25,000, and 46,000 in June, up from 18,000. June's total was still the weakest in nine months.
Hiring in July was broad-based. Manufacturers added 24,000 jobs in July, as auto companies laid off fewer workers in July than usual. Retailers hired a net total of 26,000 employees. Employment in health care grew 31,000. Hotels and restaurants added 17,000.
Workers did see some pay gains last month. Average hourly wages rose 10 cents to $23.13.
The number of people working part-time who would prefer full-time work declined, while those who've given up looking increased. Including both groups, the under-employment rate declined to 16.1 percent.