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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yemen opposition to join Gulf-brokered talks

Opposition delegation heads to Saudi Arabia to discuss transition of power with Gulf ministers as protests continue.
Yemen's opposition has said it would send a delegation to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss with Gulf Arab ministers the transition of power in their country, as thousands rallied to demand Ali Abdullah Saleh, the embattled president, to step down.

"We have requested this meeting with the GCC states' foreign ministers to explain our points of view on the Gulf initiative," opposition leader Yassin Noman told Reuters, adding that former foreign minister Mohammed Basindwa would head the delegation.

Opposition leaders previously refused to join Gulf-mediated talks with Saleh's representatives, saying they wanted to force him out within two weeks, because the Gulf plan did not include a quick or clear timetable for the transition of power.

Stalled talks

The Gulf plan announced a week ago appeared to promise Saleh immunity from prosecution, an issue that had proved a stumbling block in earlier talks that stalled. Saleh accepted the Gulf talks framework the next day.
Noman said the opposition was concerned about the existing Gulf initiative, as it suggested that Saleh transfer powers to a deputy, and did not mention him actually quitting his post, a key demand for the opposition.

Saleh, who has warned of civil war and the break-up of Yemen if he is forced out before organising an orderly transition, has urged opponents to reconsider their refusal to join talks.

He has said he wants to handover power to what he calls "safe hands".

But he also struck a defiant tone, and called the opposition liars and bandits. He also appealed to religious sensitivities in the conservative Muslim country by criticising the mixing of unrelated men and women among Sanaa protesters.

The remarks enraged many Yemeni women, who took to the streets in their thousands in across the country on Saturday to protest against his comments, saying women's participation in protests was a religious duty.

Violence has also erupted in several parts of the country on Saturday. A local official said gunmen tried to storm a police station in the southern port city of Aden, and a soldier was shot dead in the southern province of Abyan, medical sources said.

More than 116 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces since late January, and there are fears that the violence could escalate in the country, at least half of whose 23 million people own a gun.
Source:
Agencies

Injuries in Jordan clashes

Jordanian security forces have arrested 70 Islamists after violent protests in which nearly 100 people were injured, most of them policemen, a security official told Agence-France Presse on Saturday.

The suspects, members of the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Salafist movement, were detained during raids on Friday in the town of Zarqa and nearby Rassifeh, hours after Islamist protesters attacked police, the official said to AFP.

According to AFP, Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit of Jordan accused the Islamists of belonging to an armed organization, and said his government would take a tough line against rioters.

AFP said that initially 120 people were detained but 50 were later released. Seventy were quizzed about their involvement in the violence in Zarqa, a northern industrial town, said the official, who declined to be named.

Those found guilty would be prosecuted, he told the AFP.

On Saturday, the premier visited members of the security forces wounded in the Zarqa clashes, state news agency Petra reported.

It said Prime Minister Bakhit laid the blame on a “band of obscurantists belonging to an armed and trained organization that seeks to torpedo the democratic process.”

He warned that his government would be “firm and unhesitating in attacking the very roots of this armed group that sows sedition, in order to protect the security of the country,” according to Petra.

The news agency said that Mr. Bakhit called on the security forces to “pursue all those terrorized the people and attacked police in Zarqa, and bring them to justice.”

Police Chief Lieutenant General Hussein Majali said 83 policemen were injured in the clashes with Salafis, who are demanding freedom for detainees in the impoverished town of Zarqa, which has been a traditional fertile ground for militant Islamists.

He said teargas was used only after hundreds of the Islamic hardliners went on a rampage against residents. According to the Associated Press, demonstrations turned violent when a supporter of King Abdullah of Jordan came under attack.

General Majali said there had been a “premeditated plot” to stir unrest in the densely populated urban center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

“We foiled their plot and we prevented a catastrophe by not storming their sit-in, but they were hiding weapons to use at the last minute,” he said.

General Majali said the Salafis, some of whom hid weapons in their cars, used batons, knives and sharp tools to attack police officers. Seventeen of their followers were arrested following the troubles while others were being chased, he added.

Salafi sources said at least 20 people had been arrested in a wider crackdown on their leading figures, including Sheikh Saad Huneiti and Munif Samara.

Initially, 120 people were detained but 50 of them were later released. The remaining 70 were questioned about their involvement in the violence in Zarqa, an anonymous Jordanian security official told Agence-France Press.

Jordan’s Salafis—whose push for global jihad, or holy war, has resulted in their ban in the country—have staged protests in recent weeks calling for Sharia law to be enforced in the kingdom, and for an end to curbs on their movement.

Sheikh Abdul Qader Tahawi, who witnessed the clashes, blamed the violence in Zarqa on plainclothes security officers. He said the security personnel attacked supporters after they headed to their cars at the end of the rally attended by more than 2,000 people in the Omar Bin Khatab mosque in the city.

“They want us to stop our sit-ins to demand the release of our brothers in prisons,” Sheikh Tahawi told Reuters. “Our demands are peaceful and they wanted to provoke us.”

Zarqa is the birthplace of slain “al-Qaeda in Iraq” leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Salafis have no factional ties with al-Qaeda, but consult with and follow instructions from well-known al-Qaeda advocates such as Jordan’s Abu Mohammad al-Maqdisi.

(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya

Libyan rebels, NATO in joint military operations against Qaddafi forces

Libya’s rebels and NATO forces have established a joint operations room, said the spokesman of the National Transitional Council, Abdul Hafiz Ghoga. This was reported Saturday evening by Agence-France Presse.

“There is a joint operations room,” Mr. Ghoga told a news conference in Benghazi. He was replying to a question on coordination between NATO and the council’s forces that are fighting the troops of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. He declined to give more details.

Meanwhile, Libyan rebels are engaged in a fierce battle in the strategic oil town of Brega, and are hopeful of capturing the oil port soon, their military spokesman told Al Arabiya television late on Friday.

“Our situation is very good, thank God. Today we began advancing toward Brega, and there is now a big and fierce battle in Brega, and we have high hopes that Brega will be ours in the coming few hours,” a rebel spokesman, General Abdel Fattah Younes, said to Al Arabiya.

“We are in a not-too-bad state of preparedness and our army fighters, youths and rebels are now doing a good job—and in the morning there will be good news,” General Younes added.

Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post reported that, less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.

“The shortage of European munitions, along with the limited number of aircraft available, has raised doubts among some officials about whether the United States can continue to avoid returning to the air campaign if Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi hangs on to power for several more months,” they wrote.

Separately, it was impossible to independently verify the claim about insurgent gains on the fluid eastern front of Libya’s civil war.

But General Younes said the fighters had received supplies of what they needed in terms of weapons from nations supporting the uprising against the Libyan leader, Muammar Qaddafi.

Meanwhile, Colonel Qaddafi’s regime denied it was using cluster bombs in clashes with fighters in residential areas following reports published in The New York Times, and by human-rights activists.

“Absolutely not! We can’t do this. Morally and legally we can’t do this,” a government spokesperson, Moussa Ibrahim told journalists when questioned on the issue. “We have never done it. We challenge them to prove it.”

Journalists and human rights groups said on Friday that Mr. Qaddafi’s forces were using the banned bombs in the besieged city of Misrata, as medics there reported that at least eight were people killed while waiting in a queue for bread.

“Last night it was like rain,” said Hazam Abu Zaid, a local resident who has taken up arms to defend his neighborhood, describing the cluster bombings.

However, Mr. Ibrahim countered this by saying, “If we use this bomb, the evidence will remain for weeks and we know that the international community is coming to our country soon.”

“So we can't do this. We can’t incriminate ourselves as criminals” he said.

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, said it believed the weapons were being used. Investigators affiliated with the group examined evidence such as remnants of bomblets. They also spoke to Misrata ambulance drivers who had seen them being used in attacks.

“Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the El-Shawahda neighborhood in Misrata on the night of April 14, 2011,” the group said in a statement.

The New York Times first reported the use of the banned munitions. A reporting team for the newspaper photographed MAT-120 mortar rounds that explode in the air and scatter deadly, armor piercing sub-munitions below.

“It’s appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Ibrahim branded these reports as “surreal.”

“We invite these people to come and witness things from the other side,” he said. “They only choose the rebel side or listen to phone calls that come to their offices in European capitals.”

“We are asking Human Rights Watch, which is a very active organization, to please come visit us. Come to Tripoli. We will take you to all cities, to Misrata. So they can see for themselves that we haven’t done it,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

Cluster bombs have been banned under international law since August 2010 because of the indiscriminate civilian deaths they can cause.

(Sara Ghasemilee of Al Arabiya 

Were tapes part of Amar Singh stash?

NEW DELHI: Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh has said the CD of anti-corruption crusader Shanti Bhushan telling former UP chief minister that his son Prashant could manage a judge for Rs 4 crore was part of the set of his conversations that were illegally intercepted on the basis of a forged authorization letter.

"Earlier, I had only a suspicion, but the findings of a forensic investigation that I am privy to has convinced me that the CD is part of the same stash," he said.

The statement of Singh, who going by the CD arranged the conversation between Shanti Bhushan and Mulayam Singh, is significant as it can be interpreted as attesting to the authenticity of the purported conversation.

He said that he knew Shanti Bhushan, and thanked the former law minister for advising him gratis on how to save his Rajya Sabha seat after his expulsion from the Samajwadi Party. "I am thankful to him," he said.

However, the MP, till recently Mulayam Singh's chief troubleshooter, refused to comment on the veracity of the CD. "I will not like to comment because I don't wish to confer legitimacy on an illegality. Shanti Bhushan's CD is not the same as Radia tapes as the conversations of the lobbyist were intercepted lawfully. Having been a victim of illegal tapping myself, I feel obligated not to do so," said Singh who fell out with Mulayam, and has since launched his own political outfit.

"It's a different matter though that Prashant Bhushan paid no need to my repeated pleas in the Supreme Court that illegal tapping of my phones were a blatant breach of my privacy and would set a bad trend," he added.

Prashant Bhushan had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, contesting Singh's plea for an injunction against the publication of the contents of what are called "the Amar Singh tapes". The celebrated PIL lawyer had argued that Singh's tapped conversations showed an attempt to maneuver institutions, including the judiciary and, therefore, constituted a matter of public interest.

"For five years, he carried on a sustained campaign for the release of the tapes, brushing aside the fact that they had been intercepted fraudulently. That now he is at the receiving end of the same kind of thuggery gives me no special pleasure, but I do hope that the Bhushans from now on will show more sensitivity to instances of intrusion into privacy and support him in demanding foolproof safeguards against unauthorized tapping. Again, I am saying this only because of the sense of hurt I felt when I was mocked for protesting against the violation of privacy. I was admonished even by the court for dropping Sonia Gandhi's name from my complaint. Justice G S Singhvi said I had wasted court's time. I decided to amend my petition after Attorney General and Solicitor General said that the tapping of my phone was a rogue operation," Singh added. 
curtsy-Times Of India

Ivory Coast: Gbagbo party urges 'end to war'

The party of deposed Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian Popular Front, has appealed for an end to fighting by armed groups.
Party leader Pascal Affi N'Guessan said the "war" had to end in order to allow Ivory Coast a chance to rebuild.
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who won November's presidential election, captured Mr Gbagbo this week.
Shooting erupted on Saturday morning outside the main city, Abidjan, between Gbagbo and Ouattara supporters.
Pro-Gbagbo fighters had sought refuge in the sprawling Yopougon neighbourhood and pro-Ouattara fighters were trying to disarm them, local residents said.
Fears of reprisals among Gbagbo supporters have been stoked by reports of atrocities committed in the days before pro-Ouattara forces advanced on Abidjan.
At least 1,500 people have been killed in violence since the election while a further million have been forced from their homes in the west African state, which was once seen as a model of development for Africa.
'Chaotic situation'
Pascal Affi N'Guessan: "We hope to finish this quickly so the country can return to normal"
"In many places, some of our compatriots are still fighting," said Mr Affi N'Guessan, reading out a statement to the nation, at the Abidjan hotel used as President Ouattara's headquarters.
"The FPI [Ivorian Popular Front] is devastated by the chaotic situation and presents its sympathies to the families of all those who have died."
Standing alongside former Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje, he called for a halt to "the escalation of violence".
"In the name of peace, let us end the war," he said. "Let us put an end to all forms of belligerence and confrontation. We must give our country the chance for restoration and reconstruction."
International journalists initially were prevented from hearing the FPI leader's declaration by a pro-Ouattara military officer, an Associated Press news agency correspondent reports.
Only Mr Ouattara's Ivorian Radio and Television, known by its French acronym RTI, was first allowed to film the declaration.
However, after journalists telephoned ministers in Mr Ouattara's cabinet complaining, they were allowed to record separately Mr Affi N'Guessan's statement.
Gbagbo under guard Mr Affi N'Guessan is a former prime minister in the Gbagbo government and was seen as a hardliner, so his appeal reflects an acceptance that the struggle for power has been lost, and a feeling that Ivorians now need to get on with restoring normal life, the BBC's John James reports from Abidjan.
The call coincided with the release this weekend of around 70 prisoners held by the Ouattara government - mainly members of Laurent Gbagbo's family and household staff who were arrested when the presidential residence was stormed.
The Ouattara government has told civil servants to return to work from Monday morning, though most have not received their salaries for several months and the banks remain closed.
Many moderate members of Mr Gbagbo's government have now pledged allegiance to President Ouattara, whose victory was recognised by the UN.
The former president is believed to be living under UN protection in a town in northern Ivory Coast, where Mr Ouattara has his power base.
Mr Ouattara has said he wants his predecessor tried by both national and international courts for alleged crimes.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it is conducting a preliminary examination into crimes perpetrated by all sides in the conflict.
curtsy-BBC

Hazare's revised draft to be taken on board

Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition to be on Selection Committee
At their first meeting, the government nominees on the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill on Saturday agreed to take on board the latest version of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill tabled by Anna Hazare.
At the same time, it was decided that wider consultations with people, political parties and leaders would be held. Various drafts of the Bill, including the one with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, would also be discussed.
The meeting, described as a “historic step'' by Union Human Resource Development and IT Minister Kapil Sibal, got off to a smooth start. Although the National Advisory Council comprising civil society members is in place, this is the first time civil society members have formally become part of a governmental process in formulating legislation.
Valuable: Sibal
Talking to journalists after the 90-minute meeting, Mr. Sibal said the latest draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill was “valuable” and would be given “serious consideration.'' At the same time, civil society members were also asked to look at the government Bill.
“It was an amenable meeting and valuable suggestions were made on how to move forward,'' he said, adding that everyone agreed on bringing a comprehensive Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament. The salient features of all drafts would be discussed at the next meeting scheduled for May 2.
From all accounts, the major demands of civil society members were “largely'' accepted by the government nominees headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. It was agreed that the meeting would be audio-taped and the minutes of important decisions made public.
At the outset, Mr. Hazare said the Lokpal Bill would be an important step for society and the nation in tackling corruption. “The Bill will put the brakes on corruption in the country and help reduce the gap between the poor and the rich.''
Emphasising the need for transparency, he requested the government to videograph all meetings, but sources said the Ministers pointed out that all discussions would then “make headlines'' which may not be conducive for smooth functioning.
The latest version of the Bill has two major changes. One, there would be a Search Committee comprising the former CAG and the former CEC who would suggest three times more the number of candidates than the vacancies. In the previous draft Bill there was no provision for a Search Committee.
The other change is that the Selection Committee which would select the Lokpal and other members would comprise the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition instead of the Rajya Sabha Chairperson and the Lok Sabha Speaker.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said while modalities of consultations would be discussed at the next meeting, civil society members would begin public consultations “right away.'' He wanted weekly or even twice weekly meetings held on the draft Bill.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Hazare described the meeting as “preliminary.''
Asked about allegations that he was surrounded by people close to the BJP, he said, “I have never been close to any side or party or RSS or Shiv Sena.''
To another question on the various allegations being made against members of the civil society on the panel, he said: “This will happen. This is our trial. Stones will be thrown at a tree that is loaded [with fruits], not the one that is barren.'' 
curtsy-The Hindu

Raul Castro proposes term limits in Cuba

Communist leader says politicians and other officials should be restricted to two, five-year terms, including himself.
Raul Castro, the Cuban president, has proposed term limits for Cuban politicians -- including himself -- a remarkable gesture on an island ruled for 52 years by him and his brother.
Castro said politicians and other important officials should be restricted to two, five-year terms, including "the current president of the Council of State and his ministers" -- a reference to himself.
The proposal was made on Saturday at the opening of the congress where delegates are meeting to ratify sweeping economic reforms proposed last year.
The 79-year-old president lamented the lack of young leaders in government, saying the country was paying the price for errors made in the past.
Castro told delegates to a crucial Communist Party summit that he would launch a "systematic rejuvenation" of the government.
The proposal was made the latter stage of a two-and-a-half hour speech in which the Cuban leader forcefully backed a laundry list of economic changes to the country's socialist system, including the eventual elimination of the ration book and other subsidies, the decentralisation of the economy and a new reliance on supply and demand in some sectors.
Economic woos
Castro said that economic changes would not allow the accumulation of private property.
He said some proposals along those lines had been rejected for being "in contradiction with the essence of socialism".
The 1,000 delegates will, over four days, vote on economic reforms proposed by Castro and officially relieve
Fidel Castro, Raul's brother and former president, as party leader.
The congress will elect a new 100-member Central Committee, as well as the more elite 19-member Politburo and 10-member Secretariat.
The government has said the congress will formally enshrine many economic reforms the government has adopted over the past year.
Reforms are desperately awaited in a country where the average salary is $17 a month, domestic food production is a problem and corruption widespread.
Among the moves put on track in 2010: Havana is eliminating 20 per cent of state employees.
To help pick up slack on the unemployment front, it is expanding the categories of legal self-employment to 178, decentralising the food distribution system, expanding allowable areas of foreign investment, slashing
subsidies and imposing a tax system.
"Let's see what comes out of all this. It is unbelievable that this country does not produce what it eats," said Ana Rosa Rodriguez a 28-year-old worker in Havana.
"Raul is trying to improve the economy and he's started to approve some steps, but you don't see results yet."
Source:
Agencies

Serbia anti-government protesters demand early election

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have massed in Belgrade to call for early elections, amid growing anger over the economy and corruption.
Opposition leader Tomislav Nikolic told the crowd he was going on hunger strike until an election was called.
The rally comes three months after a similar protest in the capital.
President Boris Tadic has said Serbia needs stability and dismissed opposition ultimatums about election dates as "totally inappropriate".
The next election is scheduled for 2012.
But the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says the resurgent opposition, combined with news of the hunger strike, may make the call for a fresh poll hard to ignore.
'Veiled threats' Mr Nikolic's Progressive Party is seen as the strongest challenger to the Democratic Party, which leads the governing coalition.
"This is my personal act, I am no longer taking any food or water. Serbia deserves sacrifice," Mr Nikolic told the crowd.
Protesters carried party flags and banners with the slogans "Down with thieves" and "People want justice, work and progress".
Serbia's Progressive Party leader Tomislav Nikolic speaks during a protest rally in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, April 16, 2011 Tomislav Nikolic's hunger strike threat may help force the government's hand
They are demanding higher wages, early elections and a crackdown on corruption.
The protesters were watched by riot police, lining back streets and armed with shields and clubs, ready to deploy in the case of violence.
"I fully sympathise with these people. They are poor and hungry and the government is to blame," a policeman called Vidoje told Reuters news agency.
Mr Tadic, who met Mr Nikolic on Thursday, said it was not possible to fix an election date until Serbia became an EU membership candidate.
"Elections should be part of our European agenda... not an obstacle," said the president's office in a statement released after the meeting.
"Rather than instability and constant veiled threats of violence, Serbia needs exactly the opposite."
curtsy-BBC

Syria's Assad addresses his cabinet

President says emergency law to be lifted "by next week" and vows to hold dialogue with trade unions.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has addressed his new government in a speech being aired by Syrian television after they swore the constitutional oath to him.
Al-Assad chaired the first session of the new council of ministers on Saturday.
In his speech, the president said "the laws to lift state of emergency will be enacted by next week".
He said he realises there is a gap between citizens and the state institutions and that the government has to "keep up with the aspirations of the people".
"We have to focus on the demands and the aspirations of the people or there will be a sense of anger," he said.
Adel Safar, the prime minister, unveiled the new cabinet on Thursday, and it is expected to carry out broad changes, including lifting the emergency law and replacing it with new anti-terrorism legislation.
But the government has little power in the one-party state dominated by Assad, his family and the security apparatus.

Protests against his rule have intensified despite the use of force and mass arrests mixed with promises of reform and concessions to minority groups and conservative Muslims.
Reuters reported that more than 1,000 women marched on Saturday in the coastal city of Baniyas in an all female pro-democracy protest.
"Not Sunni, not Alawite. Freedom is what we all want," the women chanted, according to a rights campaigner quoted by the news agency. The city and surrounding villages have many Alawite residents, belonging to the same religious minority as President Assad.
Earlier in the day, thousands of mourners in the city attended the funeral of a man who witnesses said had died from his wounds after being shot by gunmen loyal to President Assad during protests on April 10.
Osama al-Sheikha, 40, was among a group of men armed with sticks guarding a mosque in Baniyas, where the army has since been deployed to contain protests. Pro-government gunmen shot at them with AK-47 rifles, witnesses said.
Protesters also marched in Daraa on Saturday, chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime", according to Reuters.
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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies

Libya strategy splits Britain and France

France says overthrow of Gaddafi is beyond scope of UN resolution but Britain says no new resolution is needed
Gérard Longuet, the French defence minister. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Britain and France, close allies in the Libyan campaign, are at odds over whether the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi could be achieved without a new resolution by the UN security council.
The sense of diplomatic disarray was underlined when France also made clear that it was pushing for wider Nato strategic strikes on Gaddafi regime military targets – even though there is no sign that more members of the alliance are prepared to take part in combat missions.
The urgency was underlined by reports from the coastal city of Misrata in western Libya, which was hit by more than 100 rockets on Friday. Hundreds of civilians have died there during a six-week siege. Libyan TV said Nato planes had hit targets in Gaddafi's birthplace of Sirte and al-Aziziyah, south of Tripoli.
Gérard Longuet, the French defence minister, agreed in an interview that removing the Libyan leader appeared to be beyond the scope of UN resolution 1973, which was passed to protect Libyan civilians. Britain's Foreign Office insisted, however, that no new resolution was needed and that there were no plans for one. Russia and China would almost certainly veto anything that smacked of explicitly authorising regime change.
Worries about "mission creep" in Libya were fuelled by a joint statement by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy, warning that it would be "an unconscionable betrayal" if Gaddafi remained in power. "Our duty and our mandate under UN security council resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that," the three leaders said. "It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gaddafi in power."
Analysts suggested that personalising the issue by focusing on Gaddafi was a subtle but deliberate shift towards regime change, as was a reference to the suffering of the "Libyan people" rather than the "civilians" mentioned by the UN.
British MPs, including the senior conservative David Davis, called for a recall of parliament because the military mission in Libya had changed. But Foreign Office officials said the leaders' statement was a reiteration of existing policy, not a new one. Differences from the UN language were "stylistic rather than substantive".
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato's secretary general, was forced on to the defensive to argue that operations to protect Libyan civilians were in line with what the security council had approved and not an undeclared policy of regime change.
Rasmussen, chairing a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin, was responding to criticism from Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, who had claimed that the situation in Libya had "spun out of control". Rasmussen said Nato was acting "in strict conformity with both the spirit and the letter of the resolution, and authorised member states to take "all necessary measures... to protect civilians and civilian areas under threat of attack".
France was meanwhile leading a push, which diplomats said was backed by Britain, to hit more strategic military targets in Libya, beyond tactical airstrikes on Gaddafi's armour in the vicinity of cities such as Misrata and Ajdabiya.
Officials in Paris and London say they believe it will prove more effective to destroy Libyan regime command and control centres than to arm the poorly-organised Benghazi-based rebels, as several other countries are demanding.
Yet efforts to drum up more military resources are not working. Rasmussen admitted he had not yet had any firm offers from other allies to "step up to the plate" and offer the precision planes which Nato's commander for Libya requested.
Only 14 of Nato's 28 members are actively participating in the operation – joined by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Sweden – and only six of those are striking targets on the ground in Libya.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the Libya crisis needed a political solution that should be led from the region, particularly by the African Union, rather than outside it. "There is no magic bullet," he said. Asked about whether Nato should boost military operations to oust Gaddafi, Lavrov said: "The UN has not authorised regime change.
guardian.co.uk

Egypt dissolves former ruling party

Administrative court orders funds and property of the National Democratic Party to be handed over to the government.
An Egyptian court has dissolved the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and ordered its funds and property to be handed over to the government.
The Higher Administrative Court issued the order on Saturday, meeting one of the key demands of the protest movement that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in February.
"The administrative court issued a ruling to dissolve the NDP and seize its money, and its headquarters and buildings will be handed to the government," a judicial source said.
Lawyers had raised a suit demanding the party's dissolution, accusing it of corruption.
The NDP dominated Egyptian politics since it was set up by Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat, in 1978.
Much of its senior leadership is now behind bars on suspicion of embezzlement.
Rebranding efforts
Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Cairo, said that to the protesters the NDP symbolises people who had misused their excessive powers.
However, she said there had been efforts recently to rebrand the party: "The new secretary-general is Talat el-Sadat, an outspoken opposition figure and nephew of Anwar el-Sadat.
"There's a statement coming out from the new figures in the party which is now to be called the New National Party. What they're saying is that they're going to rid the party of corrupt officials and that there were some honest people who would run as independents but had no other choice but to join the party because of the situation in the country."
The move to dissolve NDP was the latest concession by Egypt's military rulers to demands of the protest movement, coming days after Mubarak and his sons were put under detention for investigation on allegations of corruption and involvement in the killing of protesters.
Protesters had suspected that the party could have become a powerful contender in the first post-Mubarak parliament elections due in September.
The party's headquarters were torched during the protests that led Mubarak to step down, and its supporters were blamed for attacking pro-democracy demonstrations.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies

China's green progress leaves US red-faced

China pushes ahead with an emissions trading scheme, while American initiatives remain sunk in Congressional quicksand
A power plant in Pinghu, China. A cap-and-trade system would help China to reduce carbon emissions by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to responding to climate change, the contrast between China and the United States is stark.
It has been clear for some time that the Asian powerhouse is moving more rapidly on renewable technologies. A recent report by Pew Charitable Trusts shows China led the world last year with a $54.4bn investment in clean technology, about 40% higher than third-placed America.
More surprisingly, the Communist government in Beijing is also showing a greater willingness to adopt market-based approaches that were once considered preferable only by capitalist economies.
On Monday, a senior Chinese official said mandatory emissions trading systems will be rolled out in six of the country's most advanced regions by 2013. After the pilot schemes in Guangdong, Hubei, Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing, the government has promised to ramp up the use of carbon-based financial instruments to a nationwide level by 2015.
It is a sign that China is both desperate and ambitious enough to try almost anything. The widely trailed move towards a cap-and-trade system will provide an extra tool for China to achieve its Copenhagen commitment to reduce carbon emissions relative to economic growth by 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2020.
Cap-and-trade initiatives in Washington started much earlier, but have sunk in Congressional quicksand. The first US experiment in emissions trading came to an end four months ago with the closure of the Chicago Climate Exchange, though California's scheme (the world's second largest) is reportedly in talks to expand by joining with Europe's.
Critics of emissions trading will undoubtedly say the US is better off without it. Europe currently has the world's biggest carbon market, which has channelled billions of dollars towards projects in developing nations that are designed to reduce emissions. China has been a major beneficiary, accounting for about 60% of the world's carbon credits.
But the United Nations mechanism for evaluating credits has been plagued by allegations of fraud and misallocation of resources. In the latest scandal, Chinese officials denied this week that the country's factories were manipulating production of hydrofluorocarbon-23 - a powerful greenhouse gas - to qualify for huge quantities of carbon credits. The European Union is unimpressed and will ban such credits when its new emissions trading system starts in 2013.
Existing schemes are clearly flawed. But by opting out, the US is losing its ability to influence reform, just as China begins to establish what could become a rival trading system. Beijing has positioned itself cleverly.
In the years ahead, its influence will grow in both renewable technology and climate finance. This has prompted the analyst Søren Lütken to talk of an emerging Grand Chinese Climate Scheme.
It is far from certain that this will be successful. Corruption, imprecision and inexperience are major hurdles that China has yet to overcome in establishing a cap-and-trade scheme. Lobby groups could water down plans that will cost industry money. As in the US, the economy will remain dependent on fossil fuels for many decades.
Yet compared to the US, China seems to have a clearer sense of direction, greater flexibility and a willingness to move.
In a testimony last month to a congressional energy committee, Deborah Seligsohn, the Beijing-based representative of the World Resources Institute, spelled out the long-game that is underway:
"Chinese economic strategists recognise that China was late to the industrial revolution and even late to the IT revolution, but it believes it can be a leader in a green revolution."
Frustration among US environmental groups has been building up for some time, evident in these blog comments last year from Jake Schmidt of the National Resources Defence Council:
"The signals today on clean energy coming from China and the US are pointing in complete opposite directions - one country on hold and the other moving forward. Sad but true."
Expect more of the same in the coming years. The world's red and green lights are not where they used to be.
guardian.co.uk

Nigeria presidential election: Polling stations open

Polling stations have opened in Nigeria for Africa's biggest presidential election, with incumbent Goodluck Jonathan seen as frontrunner.
His main challenge is expected to come from ex-military leader Muhammadu Buhari, who has strong support in the mainly Muslim north of the country.
Mr Jonathan is counting on opposition divisions to win outright, avoiding a run-off election.
Voters have begun registering, and voting will start at 1230 (1130 GMT).
Everyone intending to vote is required to register for accreditation before midday.
'Model for Africa' Mr Jonathan has staked his reputation on the conduct of the election, repeatedly promising it will be free and fair.

Election season

  • 20 presidential candidates
  • 74 million registered voters
  • Parliament, president and local elections on three consecutive weekends
  • Ruling PDP dominated every vote since end of military rule in 1999
  • Previous elections plagued by corruption and violence
  • New election commission head has promised clean vote
The two main opposition parties - fielding Mr Buhari and Mr Ribadu - had tried to agree a formal alliance for the presidential poll, but talks broke down.
The relatively successful conduct of the parliamentary election has increased confidence in the ability of the electoral commission, Inec, to ensure a fair presidential vote.
However, bomb blasts and other attacks have killed dozens in the run-up to the polls.
With 74 million registered voters, Nigeria has the biggest electorate on the continent.
"If Nigeria gets it right, it will impact positively on the rest of the continent and show the rest of the world that Africa is capable of managing its electoral processes," said Mr Kufuor.
"If Nigeria gets it wrong, it will have a negative influence on the continent with dire consequences."
curtsy-BBC

Joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill meets for first time PTI

Eight days after Gandhian Anna Hazare called off his fast demanding a stronger Lokpal law, the joint committee to draft the bill met here on Saturday for the first time amid a controversy over a CD allegedly involving eminent lawyer and panel co-chairman Shanti Bhushan.
The meeting chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was held at North Block and attended by Ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, M. Veerappa Moily and Salman Khurshid and Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan from the civil society side.
The deliberations came in the backdrop of a controversy over a CD in circulation which purportedly has conversations with senior Bhushan, a former Law Minister, and politicians Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh. Mr. Bhushan has termed the CD as “clearly fabricated“.
Mr. Hazare had on Saturday last called off his fast-unto-death agitation after government conceded his demand for a Joint Drafting Committee on the legislation.
Both the sides had fine-tuned their strategy during separate meetings on Friday evening.
Government said it had an open mind on the proposed legislation and hoped that discussions will pave the way for a convergence of ideas. The activists on their part said they would want the Jan Lokpal Bill to be the base for the discussions and would press for videographing of the proceedings.
The activists’ side also made it clear that they would press for bringing within Lokpal’s ambit Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and bureaucrats. They, however, added that the government’s objections were negotiable.
Though Mr. Hazare was of the view that the higher judiciary should not be under the ambit of Lokpal, the activists rejected his argument and decided to argue for pressing its inclusion in the legislation.
Mr. Kejriwal said only criminal misconduct by the judges is being sought to be probed under the Lok Pal bill and not professional misconduct.

Suicide bomber kills NATO and Afghan troops

Attack at base in eastern province claims at least lives, a day after the assassination of an Afghan police chief.
A suicide bomber wearing an Afghan security-forces uniform has blown himself up at the entrance to a military base in eastern province of Laghman, killing five foreign soldiers and at least four Afghan soldiers, according to sources.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed in a statement on Saturday the deaths of five soldiers. It is the highest toll of foreign soldiers in a single incident in several months.
General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, an Afghan defence ministry spokesman, said a man on foot detonated his vest packed with explosives about 7:30am local time at the entrance to the base, which is shared by Afghan and international forces.
"The attacker had the Afghan security force uniform on and that gave him the opportunity to reach the entrance to the base and carry out the attack," Azimi said.
Baz Mohammad Sherzad, the director for health in nearby Nangarhar province, said the bodies of the four Afghan soldiers were brought to a hospital in Jalalabad. He said many others were wounded in the blast.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
In an e-mail to reporters, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the bomber was from Day Kundi province in central Afghanistan.
Police chief assassinated
The attack comes a day after Khan Mohammad Mujahid, the police chief of Kandahar, the capital of the southern Kandahar province, was killed in a suicide attack.
Afghanistan's interior ministry confirmed to Al Jazeera that at least two other senior police officers were killed in the attack, one of them an anti-terrorism officer, which took place just outside the heavily guarded police headquarters.
A suicide bomber penetrated the defences of the police headquarters in Kandahar city, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor said.
"Initial information shows that the police chief and two other policemen were killed inside his office," Zalmay Ayoubi, the spokesman, said.
Shir Shah, the province's deputy police chief, said: "The suicide attacker had strapped explosives to his body.
"He detonated himself at the gate of Kandahar police headquarters. Police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid has been martyred, [and] two policemen have been injured."
Yusuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said one of its members was behind the fatal attack.
"He had disguised himself as a policeman and shot the police chief with his pistol, hugged him and then detonated himself," Ahmadi said.
Dangerous province
Mujahid was one of the most prominent government targets in Kandahar - one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces and the spiritual heartland of the Taliban.
He had survived two previous attacks, one on his home and one on his motorcade as it travelled through Kandahar city.
"[Mujahid] was appointed by [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai about a year and a half ago, particularly to put an end to the rise of the Taliban. And he managed to make some successes, particularly in the Arghandab district," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported from Kabul.
Source:
Agencies

Peru election: No country 'left' behind

If Ollanta Humala wins a run-off vote in June, he could align Peru with Latin America's political left.
Last week, in Peru's presidential election, Ollanta Humala, a 48-year old former military officer, pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory.
Beating his four main rivals with over 30 per cent of the vote, Humala, who has called for a fairer distribution of Peru's enviable economic growth, scares Washington and Wall Street.
Peruvians have committed "political suicide", declared a former US ambassador to the country following the vote.
Equally unnerved is Peru's Noble Laureate, Mario Vargas Llosa, who often uses his considerable descriptive talents to render in subtle hues the anxieties of Lima's upper-class whites.
Since Humala didn't get 50 per cent of the vote, he will face Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori, in a June run off a choice Vargas Llosa describes as akin to one between "AIDS and terminal cancer".
Many Peruvians, though, have worse fates in store for them than those two diseases. Despite Peru's impressive macroeconomic performance, including low inflation, over the last decade, well over thirty per cent of Peru's thirty million people live in poverty, and eight per cent in extreme poverty.
In the countryside, particularly the indigenous countryside, more than half of all families are poor, many desperately so.
Chavez soup
Central areas in Lima, the capital, are booming. Profits skimmed off the high price of precious metals – silver, zinc, copper, tin, lead, and gold make up sixty per cent of the country's exports and finance the rise of luxury condos and malls.
But the city is also sprawling outward. Mining and other high-capital, low-labour export industries – among them, logging, petroleum, natural gas, and biofuels plantations are ripping up the Andean highlands and Amazonian lowlands, throwing a steady number of families into Lima, where they add block after block to its perimeter.
Terminal cancer might be a concern among Vargas Llosa's condo constituency, but these economic refugees, particularly their children, are more likely to suffer shantytown diseases, including malnutrition, protein deficiency, dysentery, and drug-resistant tuberculosis. Peru ranks 23rd out of 26th in Latin America for access to waste treatment.
While all the other candidates offer variations on a theme of "more of the same", Humala promises mild reform. He pledges to improve health care for the poor and implement a means-tested pension plan for the elderly.
To pay for it, he said he will raise the taxes on mineral exports. This is hardly a radical program, but those who have grown fat off of Peru's unsustainable model of economic development view it as catastrophic.
News of Humala's first-round victory sent Peru's currency and bond prices sharply down. Opinion and policy makers in Lima and the US rushed to their keyboards to warn of "class warfare", as did the former US ambassador cited above.
The "outcome", he said, "could not have been worse". There is a saying in Latin America to describe the hysteria that overcomes elites when they hear someone suggesting a more equitable distribution of wealth: "when they sit down to dinner, they see Hugo Chavez in their soup."
Power relations 
Can Humala win in June? According to The Economist, polls taken before last week's election found that "more than 77 per cent of voters expressing an opinion wanted to modify the country's development model". And 37 per cent wanted radical change.
But Humala also ran strong during Peru's last election in 2006, only to have the country's entire political class join forces against him.
Recently released WikiLeaks cables reveal that establishment politicians beat a path to the door of the US embassy, asking for help in smearing Humala as an extremist and unifying his opponents. In the 2006, election, Humala won the first round but went on to lose to Alan Garcia by about five points.
This time though Humala will face the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, herself a polarising figure.
Peruvian historian Gerardo Rénique notes that an "important sector of the centre-right with democratic credentials in the struggle against her father" will have a hard time pulling the lever for Keiko, especially since she has promised to pardon her father, convicted for "crimes against humanity".
Third and fourth place candidates, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Luis Castañeda, will either endorse Fujimori or remain neutral.
But there is a possibility that former president, Alberto Toledo, who came in fifth with sixteen per cent of the vote, might throw his support to Humala in exchange for influence in the next government.
The rise of the populist left
For his part, Humala will have to walk a fine line in the coming campaign, demonstrating that he can govern responsibly so as to capture the centre while keeping his base of poor supporters mobilised and inspired.
Like other places in the Andes, Peru has seen the reemergence of a strong, diverse social movement comprised of environmentalists, students, peasants, indigenous activists, and progressive religious folk in recent years.
In 2009, widespread indigenous protest broke out against legislation that would have opened up the Amazon to even more logging, mining, and oil drilling.
The government responded brutally, killing a number of demonstrators. But it was compelled to table the legislation.
More recently, the run up to the presidential election witnessed a number of strikes and protests, including one that forced the government to cancel a large copper mining project due to environmental concerns.
Humala points not to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela as a model but rather Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's Brazil. And indeed, Brazilian political consultants have played a large role in his campaign.
So far, the strategy seems to be working, for even Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Laureate, has said he would consider voting for Humala in the second round if he could be convinced he would govern more like Lula than Chavez.
If Humala does win, it will provide even more evidence that the ongoing threat of an in-your-face populist left in Latin America has shifted the terms of the debate, making a trade-unionist social democrat like Lula suddenly acceptable to a free-market ideologue like Vargas Llosa.
All hail the populist left
But the question as to whether Humala will be a Peruvian Hugo Chavez can best be answered by those most worried about the possibility, that is, those who hold most of Peru's wealth.
After all, Hugo Chavez, the outsider who won Venezuela's 1998 presidential election, was not Hugo Chavez, the confrontationalist, until Venezuelan elites made it clear they would be willing to destroy their country (through, among other tactics, an ill-conceived oil strike that crippled the country's economy) if it meant preserving their privilege.
Peru doesn't have much foreign debt, so holders of Peruvian bonds and credit default swaps probably don't have to worry about Humala following Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa's lead, who in 2009, successfully "repudiated" a portion of his country's debt. Correa ingeniously bought back Ecuador's discounted bonds on the secondary market, thus avoiding the kind of lawsuits that Argentina, following its default, continues to face.
And aside from trying to raise taxes and collect higher royalties on mineral exports, Humala won't move to nationalise the mining sector (unless, of course, elite obduracy provokes greater political polarisation, as it did in Venezuela).
He has, though, campaigned on a promise to convene a constitutional assembly to adopt a new charter that would prevent the privatisation of public services and resources, like water.
However moderate a program he pursues, a Humala win will have international repercussions, aligning Peru with other left Andean countries, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Like Evo Morales in Bolivia, Humala counts among his constituents Peru's cocoleros, peasant coca growers hard hit by Washington's militarised and pointless "War on Drugs".
And like Morales, and Correa in Ecuador, he would probably seek some middle ground with the US, continuing to support anti-narcotics efforts to limit the cocaine trade while trying to minimise their more punitive impact on small scale coca producers.
Humala will undoubtedly tread lightly in areas of foreign policy as well. But here too he can take cover behind the more powerful Brazil, which regularly opposes Washington's positions on a range of issues, including climate change, Iran, Libya, Palestine-Israel, and Venezuela.
Even if disagreements with the US remain reasonable and minimal, the idea of yet another small country taking the ideal of sovereignty seriously is a big deal, leaving Washington alone with Colombia as its primary collaborator in the region.
The left turn that Latin America took-off a decade ago with Chavez's 1998 election in Venezuela, and which continued most recently with Dilma Rousseff's victory in Brazil last year, succeeding Lula, might still be going strong.
Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including most recently, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan 2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Algerian president 'to amend constitution'

Abdelaziz Bouteflika vows "to reinforce representative democracy", tackle unemployment, and help the poor.
The Algerian president has pledged reforms after weeks of simmering protests.
In a televised address to the nation, Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he had decided to amend the constitution "to reinforce representative democracy" in Algeria, and that he will also launch other legislative reforms.
"I will urge the parliament to review all the legislative framework," he said on Friday.
Bouteflika, who has not spoken in public for at least three months, also vowed to take steps to tackle unemployment.
He said Algeria is moving to achieve the demands of the people, especially the young and unemployed, and outlined a number of measures to help the poor.
He said the government will subsidise housing to make it more affordable, "so that everyone have the ability to enjoy their citizenship and no one has more privileges than the others".
He also pledged a new programme to develop the administration system and "stop any embezzlement of national wealth".
Sporadic protests have been held in Algeria in recent months.
In response, Bouteflika lifted a 19-year old state of emergency in February.
Source:
Al Jazeera

Revolutionary music: Singing and marching in Yemen

By NOORA FARAJ
Al Arabiya
Tagheer Square in Sana’a, Yemen, has become a stage for musical expression.

A song about the revolution is now the new national anthem. In the chorus of the song, the singer jubilantly repeats “Revolution, revolution.” Crowds eagerly join in and sing along.
Many Yemenis say they have tolerated enough from Ali Saleh’s regime.(File photo)
Many Yemenis say they have tolerated enough from Ali Saleh’s regime.(File photo)
One protester said he used to be ashamed to sing Yemen’s official anthem, but he is proud now to sing the songs of revolution that he feels are now more properly the song of his country.

Another protester agreed. “When we heard the (official) anthem, we did not join in,” he said in an interview with Al Arabiya television. “We found that it reflected stagnation and corruption.”

These new anthems—the songs of revolution—better reflect the lives of everyday Yemenis, they said. The lyrics tell the oppression Yemenis have been enduring, the need for a change in the regime and the desire for a more positive future.
Slogans expressing Yemeni frustration.(File photo)
Slogans expressing Yemeni frustration.(File photo)
“Revolutionary songs all seek freedom, social justice, combating poverty, solving all the social issues in Yemen,” said Dr. Abdul-Moamen Shoga’a Aldeen, professor at Sana’a University and a youth activist advocate.

The citizens at Tagheer Square chanted in unison calling for the overthrow of the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Previously, only a few members of the public would have memorized the official anthem, as normally, one would only hear it in certain events. But Tagheer Square’s anthem, born of revolutionary fervor, is repeated morning and night.

This song represents the wants and needs from the society as a whole, and they say they won’t stop singing until justice has been settled in the country.

Mubarak may face death penalty

Former President Hosni Mubarak was rushed Friday to a military hospital in Sharm el Sheikh, even as it was reported that he could face the death penalty if a pending probe proves that he ordered the crackdown against demonstrators that left at least 385 dead, state media said Friday.

Zakaria Shalash, head of Cairo’s appeals court, was quoted by the state-owned newspaper al-Ahram as saying that the former president may face the death penalty after a trial he expects will last at least one year.

While official figures state that the 18-day revolution that began on January 25 left a total number of 385 dead and injured 5,000, AFP places the death toll at 800.
Earlier this week, the 83-year-old Mr. Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, were remanded in 15-day custody after prosecutors launched the probe.

The former president was detained after his Interior Minister Habib al-Adly stated that Mr. Mubarak himself ordered the use of violence against protesters, said Mr. Shalash.

Mr. al-Adly also faces charges of ordering the shootings and can be made an accomplice to Mr. Mubarak’s alleged crime.

“If proven, Mr. Mubarak will receive the same punishment as the person who carried out the orders,” said Mr. Shalash.

Al-Ahram reports a corruption panel will start questioning Mr. Mubarak and his sons next week on suspicion of graft. The former president could face between three to 15 years in prison if proven guilty.

Protests in Egypt intensified over the demands that Mr. Mubarak be put on trial for his alleged crimes. Opposition groups suspended a planned demonstration on Friday after the detention of the former president and his sons.

According to public radio reports on Friday afternoon, Mr. Mubarak was transferred to a military hospital where he will continue to be treated for a heart ailment, while his sons are being held in a Cairo prison.

(Dina al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya

Obama admits ‘stalemate’ on the ground as France seeks fresh UN resolution

Nato mission in disarray as criticisms mount

The international mission in Libya appeared to be running out of momentum yesterday as Barack Obama admitted the situation on the ground had reached a military "stalemate" and France conceded a new UN resolution might be necessary to oust Muammar Gaddafi from power.
As the regime's rockets continued to hit the beleaguered rebel town of Misrata and Nato forces struck Colonel Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, France and Britain were still struggling to persuade other members of the organisation to provide additional warplanes. A meeting of member countries in Berlin yesterday broke up without any guarantee that military leaders would get the new resources they have asked for.
President Obama insisted that Colonel Gaddafi would ultimately be forced from power. But France's call for attacks to begin on strategic logistical targets that have previously been off-limits emphasised that parts of the coalition have become resigned to the idea that the status quo offers no prospect of the rapid victory that had been hoped for.
The French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet's suggestion that a new resolution would be necessary to achieve Nato's goals threatened further to anger opponents of the conflict. Arguing that ousting Colonel Gaddafi would "certainly" be beyond the scope of the current resolution, Mr Longuet said that the position outlined in a joint editorial by Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Mr Obama, insisting that they would fight until Colonel Gaddafi was forced out, required a new agreement.
"I think that three major countries saying the same thing is important to the UN," he said. "Perhaps one day the Security Council will adopt a resolution." But British officials reacted coolly to the French proposal. They insisted that the purpose of the operation had not shifted to one of "regime change".
In Britain, Downing Street rebuffed a call by five MPs for Parliament's three-week Easter recess to be interrupted for a debate on the stalemate on Libya.
"I feel that the mission in Libya has changed quite significantly," said John Baron, the Conservative MP. "When it was put before the House, the emphasis was very much on humanitarian assistance. This has changed into a mission of regime change."
David Davis, a former shadow home secretary for the Conservatives, said that he supported the Government's actions, but they went beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone approved by Parliament. "The simple truth is that Parliament did not authorise the next phase," he told the BBC.
Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour MP, added: "Britain and Nato are making a habit of wars with questionable legality or justification. The West seems to have no interest in a political solution and is prepared for a military campaign which now clearly focuses on regime change."
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has the power to recall Parliament, but only at the request of a minister. Before the House rose last week, Sir George Young, the Commons Leader, said the Government would do so "if circumstances require it".
In Libya, in contrast, a trickle of military supplies and fresh evidence of a long-term commitment to the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi appeared to be encouraging rebel leaders. As the missiles rained down on Misrata, rebel militiamen appeared to be receiving European-made Milan anti-tank missiles, to judge by the packing cases, as well as hand-held radios. There are also signs that they are more closely in touch with Nato and better able to call on Nato airpower to aid the bands of militiamen on the road out of Ajdabiya.
Additional military supplies for the rebels are not going to change the military balance in the short term. Their militiamen are ill-trained and few in number. The military effectiveness of their fighters entirely depends on Nato. Without air strikes, pro-Gaddafi forces could probably take Benghazi without too much difficulty.
The rebel enclave centred on Benghazi also faces shortages, but can look to relief in terms of supplies and money. For the moment life looks normal, but government offices, schools, construction sites and many businesses are shut.
In Tripoli, Colonel Gaddafi's daughter Aisha told a demonstration that "talk about Gaddafi stepping down is an insult, because Gaddafi is not in Libya, but in the hearts of all Libyans". 
curtsy-The Indipendent

Bolivia protests challenge Evo Morales

Protesters in Bolivia have blocked main roads and clashed with police, on the ninth day of nationwide demonstrations against the government.
Police used tear gas to clear the main road south of La Paz, and protesters fought back with stones and slingshots.
Teachers and health workers are on strike to demand a 15% pay increase.
The unrest is the worst yet faced by President Evo Morales, who once led similar protests that forced two previous presidents from power.
There have also been street protests and road blockades in cities across Bolivia, including Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Tarija.
The biggest clashes happened 45km south of La Paz, Bolivia's main city, where around 2,000 rural teachers used rocks to block the main road to the rest of the country.
Several people were reported injured as riot police moved in to reopen the road.
The protests are being led by Bolivia's main trade union federation, the COB, which is demanding a 15% pay rise for all workers.
'No truce' The government has already approved a 10% increase for teachers, soldiers and police, and says it cannot afford any more.
"The president and government have always been prepared for dialogue with all sectors, and so the means of pressure they have adopted are not justified," Information Minister Ivan Canelas said.
The COB is demanding direct talks with President Morales rather than his ministers.
""The mobilisations will continue, there will be no truce," COB leader Pedro Montes told reporters.
Mr Morales has been visiting the southern city of Tarija, but pulled out of a public appearance there because of protests.
Bolivia's trade union movement was until recently a close ally of Mr Morales, and helped him win election in 2005 and 2009.
The left-wing Bolivian president is himself a trade union leader, and some of his ministers are former leaders of the COB.
But his popularity fell sharply last December when he attempted to cut fuel price subsidies, only to back down in the face of nationwide protests.
Since then, rising transport and food prices and shortages of some basic goods, such as sugar, have caused rising discontent.
Bolivia's last two presidents were forced from office by mass demonstrations and road blockades which Evo Morales helped to lead.
curtsy-BBC

Rights group: Gadhafi forces firing cluster munitions

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have fired cluster munitions into residential areas in the besieged western city of Misrata, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
A spokesman for the Libyan government denied the charge.
The organization said in a statement that it had seen three cluster munitions explode over the el-Shawahda neighborhood of Misrata on Thursday night. Researchers inspected debris from a cluster submunition and interviewed witnesses to two other apparent cluster munitions strikes, the statement said.
HRW inspected the submunition, which it said had been discovered by a New York Times reporter, and determined that it was a Spanish-produced MAT-120 120mm mortar projectile, which opens in the air and releases 21 submunitions across a wide area.
The submunitions explode on contact, disintegrating into molten metal that can strike people and penetrate armored vehicles, it said.
"It's appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area," said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. "They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about."
Most nations have banned their use through the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which became international law in August.

"Libya needs to halt the use of these weapons immediately, and take all steps to ensure that civilians are protected from the deadly remnants they have left behind," Goose said.
Human Rights Watch said cluster munitions were used about a kilometer from the battle line between rebel and government forces and appear to have landed about 300 meters from Misrata Hospital.
But the organization, citing security concerns, said it could not inspect the impact sites and had not determined whether any civilians were hurt.
A spokesman for the Libyan government said the charge was not true. "We would never use such weapons against Libyan people," Musa Ibrahim said. "Also, the world is watching, so we just could not do it."
The charge came as Western leaders described a "medieval siege" Friday on Misrata, which has been pounded for days by Gadhafi's mortar and artillery rounds.
Some 1,200 of the more than 8,000 migrants stranded in the besieged city were rescued Friday by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The group chartered a boat to pluck them from the war-torn port city and deliver them to the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the eastern part of the country.
The aid group said the migrants were from various nations and included women and children. All were weak and dehydrated. Medical agencies set up a small hospital on deck.
The IOM identified 8,300 migrants living in the open around the Misrata port without adequate food or medical care as the city came under regular fire. The group hopes to send back the chartered boat to evacuate a second round of people if it receives enough donations.
"This is a terrible situation," said Pasquale Lupoli, the group's Middle East representative. "They are the forgotten victims of the crisis and shouldn't be."
In Benghazi, about 2,000 anti-Gadhafi demonstrators held up signs and shouted slogans that made it clear they are still fighting for Gadhafi's removal. "Gadhafi Go to Hell," read one. "Thanks for USA and NATO and France and UK," read another.
But several participants voiced concern that the NATO efforts were not enough, telling CNN that without more support, they may fail.
"They didn't do anything, the NATO," one man said.
"We want more support from the United States of America, more power, more support for our people," said another.
The military deadlock in Libya between Gadhafi's forces and rebels shows little sign of resolution.
Western powers have said repeatedly that airstrikes were intended to fulfill a United Nations mandate to protect civilians. However, in a joint opinion piece that appeared Friday in three European newspapers, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote about better times once there is a regime change.
"Our duty and our mandate under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that," they wrote. "It is not to remove (Gadhafi) by force. But it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with (Gadhafi) in power."
"The International Criminal Court is rightly investigating the crimes committed against civilians and the grievous violations of international law," they wrote. "It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government."
The leaders likened the fighting in Misrata to a medieval siege and called on Libyan troops to return to their barracks.
"We are convinced that better times lie ahead for the people of Libya," they wrote.
Opposition forces kept up the fight Friday, saying they had pushed west from Ajdabiya to the town of al-Brega, which has changed hands several times and appears to remain under the control of Gadhafi loyalists.
Warplanes were heard Friday over Ajdabiya, but CNN could not independently verify the rebel advance.
The debate over NATO's strategy in Libya buzzed at high-level meetings this week in Europe as well as in Qatar, host of the first gathering of the international Libya Contact Group, charged with mapping out peace for Libya.
With the conflict at a deadly impasse, Britain and France have been pressuring NATO to step up airstrikes.
At a NATO summit in Berlin on Thursday, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that NATO has the necessary assets to continue aerial strikes, but the tactical nature of the fight has changed.
"Now they hide their heavy arms in populated areas, where before many targets were easier to get to," Rasmussen said. "To avoid civilian casualties, we need very sophisticated equipment. So, we need a few more precision fighter ground-attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions."
curtsy-CNN