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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wall Street protests spread worldwide, violence rocks Italian capital


Anti-greed protesters rallied globally on Saturday, denouncing bankers and politicians over the international economic crisis, with violence rocking Rome where cars were torched and bank windows smashed.

Galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, protests began in New Zealand, touched parts of Asia, spread to Europe, and resumed at their starting point in New York with 5,000 marchers decrying corporate greed and economic inequality.

After weeks of intense media coverage, U.S. protests have still been smaller than G20 meetings or political conventions have yielded in recent years. Such events often draw tens of thousands of demonstrators.

The demonstrations by the disaffected coincided with the Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where finance ministers and central bankers from major economies were holding talks on the debt and deficit crises afflicting many Western countries.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has gathered steam for a month, culminating with the global day of action. It remains unclear what momentum the movement, which has been driven by social media, has beyond Saturday.

While most rallies were relatively small and barely held up traffic, the Rome event drew tens of thousands of people and snaked through the city center for miles (kilometers).

Hundreds of hooded, masked demonstrators rampaged in some of the worst violence seen in the Italian capital in years, setting cars ablaze, breaking bank and shop windows and destroying traffic lights and signposts.

Police fired volleys of tear gas and used watercannon to try to disperse militant protesters who were hurling rocks, bottles and fireworks, but clashes went on into the evening.

Smoke bombs set off by protesters cast a pall over a sea of red flags and banners bearing slogans denouncing economic policies the protesters say are hurting the poor.

The violence sent many peaceful demonstrators and local residents near the Colosseum and St John’s Basilica running into hotels and churches for safety.

Not as large as hoped

This generation – and this does begin, I think significantly with the Arab Spring – is starting to tell the world that we cannot be controlled by fear anymore and we will not be denied
Sean Penn
American protesters are angry that U.S. banks are enjoying booming profits after getting massive bailouts in 2008 while average people are struggling in a tough economy with more than 9 percent unemployment and little help from Washington.

In New York, where the movement began when protesters set up a makeshift camp in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 17, organizers said the protest grew to at least 5,000 people as they marched to Times Square in midtown Manhattan.

Some were disappointed the crowd was not larger.
“People don’t want to get involved. They’d rather watch on TV,” said Troy Simmons, 47, who joined demonstrators as he left work. “The protesters could have done better today. ... People from the whole region should be here and it didn’t happen.”

The Times Square mood was akin to New Year’s Eve, when the famed “ball drop” occurs. In a festive mood, protesters were joined by throngs of tourists snapping pictures, together counting back from 10 and shouting, “Happy New Year.”

Police said three people were arrested in Times Square after pushing down police barriers and five men were arrested earlier for wearing masks. Police also arrested 24 people at a Citibank branch in Manhattan, mostly for trespassing.

At about 8 p.m., police arrested another 42 people for blocking the sidewalk. Protesters complained they had no place to go with a wall of police in riot gear in front of them and thousands of demonstrators behind them leaving Times Square.

In Washington, between 2,000 and 3,000 people assembled at the National Mall on the eve of the inauguration of a memorial to slain Nobel peace laureate Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We have bailed out the auto industry, and we should have. We bailed out Wall Street. Now it's time to bail out working Americans. That's what this is about,” Martin Luther King III, the civil rights leader's son, told the crowd.

“I believe that if my father was alive, he would be right here with all of us involved in this demonstration today.”

Veteran activist Al Sharpton chimed in: “Occupy Wall Street, occupy Washington, occupy Alabama! We've come to take our country back to the people.”

The reference to Alabama was over a recent strict anti-illegal immigrant law that has been slammed by rights activists..

Hollywood actor Sean Penn became the latest celebrity to offer his backing to the movement, saying on CNN late Friday: “I applaud the spirit of what is happening now on Wall Street.”

“This generation – and this does begin, I think significantly with the Arab Spring – is starting to tell the world that we cannot be controlled by fear anymore and we will not be denied,” he said.

Small and peaceful rallies got the ball rolling across the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums.

In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.

Hundreds marched in Tokyo. Over 100 people gathered at the Taipei stock exchange, chanting “we are Taiwan’s 99 percent” and saying economic growth had only benefited companies while middle-class salaries barely covered basic costs.

In Hong Kong, home to the Asian headquarters of investment banks including Goldman Sachs, over 100 people gathered at Exchange Square in the Central district. Students joined with retirees, holding banners that called banks a cancer.

Portugal was the scene of the biggest reported protest action, with more than 20,000 marching in Lisbon and a similar number in the country’s second city Oporto, two days after the government announced a new batch of austerity measures.

Hundreds broke through a police cordon around the parliament in Lisbon to occupy its broad marble staircase.

“This debt is not ours!” and “IMF, get out of here now!” demonstrators chanted. Banners read: “We are not merchandise in bankers’ hands!” or “No more rescue loans for banks!”

Around 4,000 Greeks with banners bearing slogans like “Greece is not for sale” staged an anti-austerity rally in Athens’ Syntagma Square, the scene of violent clashes between riot police and stone-throwing youths in June.

Many were furious at how austerity imposed by the government to reduce debt incurred by profligate spending and corruption had undermined the lives of ordinary Greeks.

In Paris, around 1,000 protesters rallied in front of city hall, coinciding with the G20 finance chiefs’ meeting, after coming in from the working class neighborhood of Belleville where drummers, trumpeters and a tuba revved up the crowd.

“The indignant ones”

We can’t carry on any more with public debt that wasn’t created by us but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don’t give a damn about us
Nicla Crippa
The Rome protesters, who called themselves “the indignant ones,” included unemployed, students and pensioners.

“I am here to show support for those don’t have enough money to make it to the next pay check while the ECB (European Central Bank) keeps feeding the banks and killing workers and families,” said Danila Cucunia, a 43-year-old teacher.

“We can’t carry on any more with public debt that wasn’t created by us but by thieving governments, corrupt banks and speculators who don’t give a damn about us,” said Nicla Crippa, 49. “They caused this international crisis and are still profiting from it. They should pay for it.”

In imitation of the occupation of Zuccotti Park near Wall Street in Manhattan, protesters have been camped out across the street from the headquarters of the Bank of Italy for days.

The global protests were a response to calls by New York demonstrators for others to join them. Their example has prompted similar occupations in dozens of U.S. cities.

At a small protest in Dublin, Ireland, Gordon Lucas, an unemployed software developer said “We don’t have economic democracy anymore. ... I don’t feel I am being represented.”

In Madrid, around 2,000 people gathered for a march to the central Puerta del Sol. Placards read: “Put the bankers on the bench” and “Enough painkillers -- euthanasia for the banks.”

“It’s not fair that they take your house away from you if you can’t pay your mortgage, but give billions to the banks for unclear reasons,” said 44-year-old telecom company employee Fabia, who declined to give her surname.

In Germany, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

Demonstrators gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in the Swiss financial center of Zurich.

In London, around 2,000 people assembled outside St Paul’s Cathedral, near the City financial district, for a rally dubbed “Occupy the London Stock Exchange.”

Joe Dawson, 31, who lost his job as a product developer at Barclays Bank, said he had taken his two children aged 10 and 8 to the rally to show them people had a voice.

“I’m not passive anymore and I don’t want them to be. This is their future too,” Dawson said. “I work four jobs part-time, I take whatever I can get.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told the crowd: “I hope this protest will result in a similar process to what we saw in New York, Cairo and Tunisia,” he said, referring to revolutions in the Arab world.

Outside of New York, similar protests were held in other U.S. cities and Canada. A thousand people gathered near Toronto’s financial district as well as in Portland, Oregon.

A protest in Los Angeles drew about 5,000 people.
Al Arabiya

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Goons attack Prashant Bhushan in chamber

Ram Sena activist held for brutal assault

Senior lawyer and Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan was violently attacked by activists of the Shri Ram Sena and a previously unknown outfit, Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, in his chamber located opposite the heavily guarded Supreme Court premises on Bhagwan Dass Road here on Wednesday. The organisations claimed that the assault was in retaliation for his recent statement on Jammu and Kashmir, purportedly supporting the demand for withdrawal of security forces and a referendum to gauge public opinion.

While one of the thugs was overpowered by lawyers and handed over to the police, the others ran away. During interrogation, the captured assailant identified himself as Inder Verma, president of Shri Ram Sena's Delhi unit. He purportedly revealed the name of another assailant as Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, president of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena.

Tajinder had earlier disrupted Arundhati Roy's book release, climbed on the bonnet of a car in which Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had arrived at the Foreign Correspondents Club recently, and had once tried to disrupt Syed Ali Shah Geelani's speech at a seminar in the Capital, said a police officer.

Mr. Bhushan was being interviewed by a Times Now news channel crew in his chamber located on the third floor of the New Lawyers Chamber building when the assailants barged in around 4.15 p.m. shouting slogans on Kashmir. “We are questioning Inder to ascertain if the outfit had informed any media group as part of their plan before assaulting Mr. Bhushan,” said the officer.

The accused have been booked for entering into a conspiracy to commit house trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint and voluntarily causing hurt. The attack sparked off a protest against “communal and divisive forces” by India Against Corruption activists outside the Tilak Marg police station.

Instant attack

Pranav Sachdeva, the senior lawyer's assistant, said: “They did not have any word with Mr. Bhushan and instead attacked him instantly.” Even as the television camera kept rolling, the miscreants slapped Mr. Bhushan, hurled blows, tore off his shirt and kicked him as he lost his balance and fell in the melee.

Mr. Bhushan's juniors and colleagues, who came rushing in as they heard the commotion, pounced on the assailants and managed to catch hold of one of them. The others fled but not before throwing around pamphlets which they brought with them.

The pamphlets accused the senior lawyer of attacking the country's unity and integrity in the name of human rights. The outfits accused him of pushing his “hidden agenda” by associating himself with India Against Corruption.

They also accused him of opposing the death sentence to Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru and Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab.

Statement to police

The lawyer, who sustained injuries in the leg and head, was taken to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

Later, on being discharged from the hospital, Mr. Bhushan gave his statement to the police.

Thereafter at a press conference, Mr. Bhushan called on the government to think of banning and socially ostracising organisations like Shri Ram Sena, which, he said, were “known for goondaism and unprovoked assault on several people who have been caught off-guard by the attacks.”

“Today [on Wednesday] around 4 p.m. when I came back to my chamber, a team from Times Now channel was waiting to interview me. A group of three young men then assaulted me with fists and kicks and a couple of my clerks, juniors and other lawyers tried to stop them. Two of them ran away. One of them was caught. He said he was from Shri Ram Sena and was shouting something about Kashmir.”

Mr. Bhushan exhorted his supporters not to react violently to the assault on him.

“I received calls from my friends and supporters and many of them were agitated. None of Shri Ram Sena people should be attacked. Violence should not be met with violence. There will be legal proceedings against the three men who attacked me. One person is already under arrest,” he added.

THE HINDU

Tens of thousands rally in Damascus to support Assad as he again promises reforms


Tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated in central Damascus on Wednesday in show of support for President Bashar al-Assad, who is battling a six-month uprising against his rule, as more deaths were reported by security forces fire across Syria.

“America, out, out, Syria will stay free,” chanted the crowd, many of them carrying pictures of Assad and Syrian flags. They also shouted slogans warning the European Union not to intervene in their country.

“God, Syria and Bashar,” they sang.

State television described the government-backed rally as a “million-strong march ... supporting national independence and rejecting foreign intervention.”

At the start of the demonstration a man holding the flags of Russia and China -- which both vetoed a European-drafted resolution against Syria at the United Nations last week -- flew over the crowd, suspended from a helicopter by rope.

It was the biggest demonstration for months in the center of the capital, which has been relatively untouched by the protests which have rocked Damascus suburbs and other parts of the country.


As many as 10 people were killed by Syrian security forces during protests across the country on Tuesday, activists told Al Arabiya. “Seven people were killed in Homs, while three others were killed in Aleppo, Duma and Idlib,” activists said.

Assad’s crackdown on protesters against his 11-year rule has killed about 2,900 people, according to U.N. estimates. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions and are seeking a U.N. resolution against Damascus. The government routinely blames “terrorists” of being behind the violence dominating the country.

In the first interview with Al Arabiya, the economic adviser of Syria’s National Council, Osama Qadi, warned of the economic impacts on the country and said that the foreign currency reserves has been decreasing rapidly since the start of the revolution.

President Assad, meanwhile, plans to create a new constitution, a top ruling party official said on Tuesday, as China joined long-time ally Russia in pressing for prompt reforms in a country riven by a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

Mohammed Said Bkheitan, a senior official in the ruling Baath party, said Assad will “decide within two days the creation of a committee to prepare a new constitution,” according to AFP.

The committee will complete its work by year end, with the new document requiring a two-thirds approval of the Assad-dominated parliament and then being submitted to a referendum, Bkheitan was quoted by the pro-government al-Watan newspaper as saying.

China on Tuesday urged Syria to move faster to implement reforms, a week after Beijing and Moscow infuriated the West by blocking a proposed UN Security Council resolution against Assad's deadly crackdown.

“We believe the Syrian government should move faster to honor its reform pledges and swiftly start to push forward the inclusive political process with the broad participation of all parties in Syria,” foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

This was the first time that China has veered from its long-standing policy of non-interference in the affairs of Syria, which has been rocked by anti-government protests and violence since mid-March.

Liu’s comments came as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Beijing.

Reform or resign

On Friday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had told Assad either to reform or resign, while warning the West that Russia will fight outside attempts to oust him.

Medvedev said he wanted to see an end to the crackdown as much as Europe and the United States.

“Russia wants as much as the other countries for Syria to end the bloodshed and demands that the Syrian leadership conduct the necessary reforms,” Medvedev said.

“If the Syrian leadership is unable to undertake these reforms, it will have to go,” he said in one of his strongest public comments on the crisis.

But he quickly reasserted Russia’s earlier position by saying that the best the West could do was support talks and not meddle.

“This is something that has to be decided not by NATO or individual European countries but by the people and the leadership of Syria,” Medvedev said.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow and Beijing were ready to propose a new U.N. resolution on Syria that would condemn violence carried out both by Assad's regime and the opposition.

The Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Tuesday warned Syria, one of its 57 members, about the consequences of its continued use of force.

Secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said this would “only lead to more violence and bloodshed, thus exacerbating the crisis and making it more complex.”

On Sunday, Assad again renewed a pledge of reforms, having made numerous promises since the unrest broke out.

“Syria is taking steps focused on two main fronts – political reform and the dismantling of armed groups” seeking to destabilize the country, he said.

He said that the “Syrian people had welcomed the reforms but that foreign attacks intensified just as the situation in the country began to make progress.”

Michel Kilo, a leading activist based in Syria, said on Tuesday that Syria’s opposition must avoid divisions that play into the hands of President Assad, particularly between campaigners inside and outside the country, Reuters reported.

During a visit to Paris, Kilo, a writer who spent six years in jail for opposing Syria’s leadership, said his group, the National Committee for Democratic Change, did not want foreign intervention of the kind seen in Libya.

The United Nations should instead adopt a resolution allowing observers to monitor and protect civilians, he told reporters.

“The regime is betting on the differences between those inside and outside, and we are trying to not serve that,” said Kilo.

Kilo’s group has organized demonstrations in Syria and appears increasingly keen to bridge divisions with opposition groups outside the country.

Some figures inside the country privately criticize the opposition in exile for being too ready to seek outside intervention in Syria.

Other issues dividing the opposition include ethnic and sectarian differences, disagreement over the role of religion in the state and a generation gap between veteran opposition figures and the youthful street activists.

The 71-year old Kilo said he would meet the Paris-based leader of the National Council, a broad opposition group formed earlier this month, including academics, grassroots activists, the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissident signatories of the so-called Damascus Declaration.

National Council facing criticism

The National Council’s chairman Burhan Ghalioun has called for his movement to be recognized as representative of those ranged against Assad. But he has faced criticism for failing to unite all strands of the opposition.

Kilo said that while ready to meet Ghalioun in Paris it was not “logical” to be guided from outside when millions were protesting on the streets inside Syria.

Kilo, whose group includes Syrian nationalists, Kurds, socialists, Marxists as well as independents, said he did not support foreign military intervention in Syria because it would raise questions over the country’s independence.

“It’s not Libya,” he said. “We have extremely sensitive relations with Turkey, Iran and Israel as well as minorities such as the Kurds, Allawites and Christians, so we have to handle the situation carefully,” according to Reuters.

Kilo, a Christian from the Mediterranean city of Lattakia, pointed to difficulties in other countries caught up in a wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, citing the escalation of a protest by Coptic Christians in Egypt that led to 25 deaths in recent days.

“This will leave a very negative impact (in Syria),” he said. It will frighten the people, who are already extremely frightened.”

Since Monday night, the Syrian Observatory said that the al-Khalidiya district of Homs has been the scene of a “vast security operation” with electricity and telecommunications cut off and 115 arrests, AFP reported.

It added that people had beaten and insulted in front of their families, and that heavy gunfire and caused injuries and damage to shops.

In Vienna, meanwhile, several hundred people demonstrated calling for an end to Assad's regime.

Around 20 people had stormed into the Syrian embassy overnight on Saturday, demonstrating on the balcony while people outside cheered. Some damage was caused and police detained 11 people.

AGENCIES

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chicago street protests target financial industry

CHICAGO, Oct 11 : Thousands of protesters, including teachers and religious leaders, converged on downtown Chicago to rally against economic inequality, with two financial industry events in their crosshairs.
Some demonstrators yesterday gathered outside a meeting of the Mortgage Bankers Association, while others came together near a luxury hotel where a US futures exchange trade association was holding a conference.
The protests were inspired by, but not formally affiliated with, the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month.
Police estimated 3,000 protesters at the events organized by the ''Stand Up Chicago'' coalition, which includes teachers, trade union officials and religious leaders. The group said on its website that its goal was to reclaim ''our jobs, our homes and our schools.''
Chanting ''we are the 99 percent,'' hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank.
They carried signs demanding ''Liquidate the Fed'' and ''Repeal Bush tax cuts.'' Another read: ''I smell a general strike.''
''We really want to highlight the role the financial industry has played,'' said Adam Kader of ''Arise Chicago,'' an interfaith workers' rights group that is part of the coalition.
''They're here in our backyard, so this is the time to send a message about how we're really hurting.''

He said the demonstration would focus on foreclosures, unemployment and lack of municipal funding for key services. Police arrested 27 demonstrators, many wearing Chicago Teachers Union T-shirts, who linked arms and sat down in the middle of the street as they chanted ''Save our schools, save our homes!''
One demonstrator faces a charge of battery on a police officer. Nearby, a crowd chanted ''Shame on you!'' to members of the Futures Industry Association who peered out from a balcony of the Chicago Art Institute, where they attended a party.
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED
Several protesters each paid 2,245 dollar to gain admission to the Mortgage Bankers Association event, organizers said. One protester got to a microphone during a panel discussion and asked Michael Heid, president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, a top national mortgage lender: ''How do you sleep at night?''
MBA CEO David Stevens had warned Monday's conference that protesters were expected at the hotel and advised attendees not to ''engage or confront'' the demonstrators.

In a statement, the MBA said those attending its meeting in Chicago were focused on sustainable home ownership and ensuring access to affordable mortgage credit for qualified homeowners.
''We all recognize that our industry faces a trust deficit with policymakers and the public, and that people in our industry contributed to the events that led to the financial crisis,'' the Association said in a statement. More demonstrations were planned over the next three days. Other groups participating in the protests included the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at an evening event on social trends, said: ''There is a major economic restructuring going on where the middle class in this country are feeling an angst they haven't felt.''
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, speaking at the same event, said the anti-Wall Street protests were tied to a lack of attention on jobs by Washington politicians. ''It grows out of the anger people feel. People want focus and attention and passion on jobs,'' Reed said.
Chicago has already seen weeks of daily protests outside the Federal Reserve Bank by ''Occupy Chicago,'' an echo of the much larger Wall Street protests. ''Occupy Chicago'' demonstrators planned to join the ''Stand Up Chicago'' demonstration.
''Some people say we are the Tea Party for the Democratic Party,'' said Emilio Baez, a 17-year-old high school student, referring to the U.S. conservative political movement that had a major impact on the 2010 congressional elections. ''We are the working class, for a mass movement of democracy,'' he said, his voice hoarse.
ganashakti

Wen, Putin open talks in China

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders opened two days of meetings on Tuesday aimed at boosting relations amid strains over declining military sales and stalled talks over energy deals.

Mr. Putin said after a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that political relations between the countries were good, but hinted that tough negotiations over a massive natural gas deal still had a distance to go.

“Those who sell always want to sell at a higher price, while those who buy want to buy at a lower price. We need to reach a compromise which will satisfy both sides,” Mr. Putin told reporters. He is to meet President Hu Jintao on Wednesday.

Mr. Putin’s two-day visit follows his recent announcement that he plans to swap jobs next year with President Dmitry Medvedev, returning to the top position he held for eight years. Many observers say that transition could see Russia turning eastward after years of close ties with the West under Mr. Medvedev.

One area of cooperation in which China and Russia appear closer is international policy. Last week, both vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its brutal crackdown on pro-reform protesters that has killed nearly 3,000 people since March.

The vetoes drew heavy criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Russia and China are also seen as key to how the G-20 group responds to renewed fears that the global economy is headed toward a new recession.

Bilaterally, the two have worked to overcome mutual distrust from the Cold War and have increased two-way trade volume to $35.9 billion in the first half of the year, up 39.6 per cent from the same period last year, according to official Chinese figures.

Efforts to finalise the natural gas deal have stalled mainly because of pricing disagreements. Russia is eager to link gas prices to oil prices as it does in Europe, but China says that is too expensive.

Comprehensive partnership

Mr. Wen told reporters China wanted to push ahead a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Russia that would safeguard world stability and development.

Russian and Chinese officials say deals worth $7 billion are to be signed during the visit in fields ranging from mining to biotechnology and space exploration.

The sides are looking for even more cross-border investment, and on the eve of Mr. Putin’s visit, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan called for more financial cooperation and accelerated construction of cross-border highways, railways, bridges, power grids, telecommunications links, and oil and gas pipelines.

AP

Monday, October 10, 2011

Suicide bombers in U.S., UK and France ready to strike if Syria attacked: Grand mufti


Syria’s Grand Mufti Shiekh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun in a video posted on YouTube, said suicide bombers were present in the United States, France and Britain and ready to strike if Western powers launch a military strike on his country.

“I say this to all of Europe, and I say this to America: We will prepare suicide bombers, who are already in your country, to strike you if you strike Syria or Lebanon. After today, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and the initiator is the aggressor.”

“After the first rocket hits Syria, Lebanese and Syrian children will set off for Europe and Palestine where they will be martyrs.”

Last week, a son of Shiekh Hassoun was shot dead near Ibla University on the Idleb-Aleppo highway. Authorities said he was killed by “terrorist groups,” but independent observers suspect either extremists dissidents or regime loyalists.

Ahmed al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasa, played down the threats by the grand mufti. “The Syrian regime lives in a state of despair and its ambitions are far from is abilities and its potentials.”

“Hassoun is not the first who has warned or threatened; before him, Bashar al-Assad threatened to burn the Middle East in six hours and control oil sources in the Gulf, and foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem warned countries against recognizing the opposition National Council,” Jarallah said.

Formed in Istanbul at the end of August, the Syrian National Council unites all the major known factions opposing Assad’s rule, both inside and outside Syria.

It includes the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network spurring protests in Syria, the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood as well as Kurdish and Assyrian groups.

The formation of the council has been welcomed by Western countries including the United States and France. However, unlike the transitional council set up by Libyan rebels who overthrew Muammar Qaddafi, they have not offered it any formal recognition.
Al Arabiya