May 15, 2013

Clashes Erupt Around Aleppo Prison

Syrian government troops and rebels have clashed around a prison in the flashpoint northern city of Aleppo.

Reports suggest the rebel fighters may have tried to blow up the walls of the prison, which holds some 4,000 inmates.

Activists said government forces had counter-attacked using tank shells and air raids.

Meanwhile, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) vowed to punish criminals after a video appeared apparently showing a rebel biting a dead soldier's organs.

In Aleppo, rebels appear to have detonated car bombs outside the walls of the prison on Wednesday morning, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based activist group.

Government sources claimed to have fought back, injuring and killing opposition fighters.

Clashes were still continuing early on Wednesday afternoon, according to a BBC reporter in Damascus.

The FSA put out a statement saying its field commanders had been instructed to "to begin a prompt investigation" into the video in which a well-known insurgent from the city of Homs, Abu Sakkar, is shown apparently cutting out the soldier's heart.

"Any act contrary to the values that the Syrian people have paid their blood and lost their homes to will not be tolerated, the abuser will be punished severely even if they are associated with the Free Syrian Army," the FSA said, according to AFP news agency.

"The perpetrator will be brought to justice," it said.

In the video, which cannot be independently authenticated, Abu Sakkar is shown standing over the soldier's corpse, saying: "I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog."

US-based Human Rights Watch said his actions were a war crime.

Also on Wednesday, a US-based web monitoring company said that Syria appeared to be experiencing a nationwide internet blackout for the third time in six months.

Renesys Corporation said that Syrian internet services had gone offline at 10:00 local time (07:00 GMT).

The UN says nearly 80,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011, and millions have fled their homes.

Brazil Paves Way For Gay Marriage

The authorities in Brazil have ruled that marriage licences should not be denied to same-sex couples.

The council that oversees the country's judiciary said it was wrong for some offices just to issue civil union documents when the couple wanted full marriage certificates.

Correspondents say the decision in effect authorises gay marriage.

However full legalisation depends on approval of a bill being examined by the Congress.

Tuesday's resolution by Brazil's National Council of Justice was based on a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that recognised same-sex civil unions.

However, notary publics were not legally bound to converting such unions into marriages when asked by gay couples.

This led to some being denied marriage certificates at certain places, but being granted the document at others. That would be illegal, according to the new resolution.

"If a notary public officer rejects a gay marriage, he could eventually face disciplinary sanctions", NCJ judge Guilherme Calmon said.

The ruling brings Brazil one step closer to its neighbours Argentina and Uruguay, which have legalised gay marriages.

But opponents could still challenge it at the Supreme Court.

And the same-sex marriage bill being examined by the Congress faces strong opposition from religious and conservative lawmakers.

Brazil is the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation and has an estimated 60,000 gay couples.

Mayan Pyramid Destroyed In Belize

Officials in Belize say a construction company has destroyed one of the country's largest Mayan pyramids.

Head of the Belizean Institute of Archaeology Jaime Awe said the Noh Mul temple was levelled by a road-building company seeking gravel for road filler.

The Mayan temple dates back to pre-Columbian times and is estimated to be 2,300 year old. Only a small core of the pyramid was left standing.

Police said they were investigating the incident.

Archaeologists said this was not the first incident of its kind.

"Bulldozing Maya mounds for road fill is an endemic problem in Belize," Prof Normand Hammond told the Associated Press news agency.

Archaeologists said they were alerted to the destruction late last week.

The Maya complex lies on private land but under Belizean law, any pre-Hispanic ruins come under government protection.

Dr John Morris of the Belizean Institute of Archaeology said the workers would have been aware of what they were doing.

"It is incredible that someone would actually have the gall to destroy this building out here," he told local TV channel News 7.

"There is absolutely no way that they would not know that these are Maya mounds," he said about the ancient structure.

Prosecutors said they were considering bringing criminal charges against the construction company.

Manila Sends Envoy Over Taiwan Row

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has sent a representative to apologise for the death of a Taiwanese fisherman, his spokesman said, amid a deepening row.

The envoy would convey "deep regret and apology" over the incident, spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

The move came hours after Taiwan suspended hiring Filipino workers and recalled its envoy from Manila.

Taiwan said the move showed President Ma Ying-jeou's "strong dissatisfaction" with Manila's handling of the case.

Taipei had earlier rejected an apology from the Philippines' top diplomat in Taipei.

The fisherman, Hung Shih-cheng, was shot by the Philippine coast guard last week in waters both sides claim.

Mr Aquino had sent Manila Economic and Cultural Office Chairman Amadeo Perez as his personal representative to "convey his and the Filipino people's deep regret and apology" to the fisherman's family, Mr Lacierda the president's spokesperson said in a statement late on Wednesday afternoon.

There was no immediate response from Taipei. A Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesperson had earlier suggested that the envoy was ""not sufficiently authorised" and would not be met, Taiwan's state-run news agency CNA reported.

Taiwan rejected an apology early on Wednesday from Antonio Basilio, head of the Philippine Representative Office in Taiwan.

Mr Basilio, whose apology came after a three-day deadline set by Taiwan expired, said that Manila had agreed to compensate the fisherman's family and conduct a joint investigation into the incident.

However, Taiwan's president felt the apology did not come from a high enough authority and lacked "sincerity", his spokeswoman said.

He suspended the processing of work visas for Filipinos and asked Mr Basilio to return to the Philippines to "help properly handle" the case.

Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah also told reporters that he was dissatisfied with the apology because it came from the representative office, not the Philippine government, and because the statement had been changed several times.

Taiwan instead demanded a "formal apology" from Manila, compensation for the victim's family, investigation and punishment for those responsible for the shooting, and the commencement of bilateral fishing talks.

It threatened more measures if such an apology was not forthcoming, including issuing a travel warning to discourage Taiwanese people from visiting the Philippines, stopping all high-level exchanges and carrying out a military exercise in the disputed waters.
'Honest living'
In Manila, Mr Lacierda said that government had "already started" an investigation, and was committed to a "thorough, exhaustive, impartial and expeditious investigation".

"We understand the grief and hurt of the family and of the people of Taiwan over this unfortunate loss and we empathise with them," he added in the statement.

He urged Taiwan not to involve Filipino workers in the country, saying that were "there working for an honest living".

There are about 88,000 Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan, most of whom work in the manufacturing sector, the BBC's Cindy Sui in Taipei reports.

Taiwan's labour office receives around 3,000 work applications from the Philippines each month, our correspondent adds.

Mr Hung, the 65-year-old fisherman, was shot dead on 9 May when the coastguard vessel opened fire on his boat.

He was in waters south-east of Taiwan and north of the Philippines, an area considered by both countries to be their 200 nautical mile-from-shore exclusive economic zone.

The Philippine coast guard said its crew believed he was trying to ram their vessel - claims the Taiwanese fishermen have denied.

Maritime tensions in the South China Sea have been heightened in recent months. China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei have competing territorial claims in the region.

These disputes have existed for years but in recent months China has been taking a more assertive stance - prompting a robust response from some nations.

Source: BBC News

Bangladesh Orders Cyclone Evacuation

Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated from coastal areas of Bangladesh threatened by Cyclone Mahasen.

The Bangladeshi authorities have raised the danger level to seven out of 10 for low-lying areas around Chittagong and the coastal district of Cox's Bazar.

The cyclone, heading north-east through the Bay of Bengal, is estimated to reach land on Thursday.

Burma is also threatened and evacuation efforts are under way there.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in camps in low-lying areas of Burma's Rakhine state are feared to be at risk.

They were displaced by ethnic violence last year and many are reluctant to move from the camps.

Damaging winds, a storm surge and torrential rain.

Hla Maung said he lost his mother and two young daughters during the clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.

I lost everything ... I don't want to go anywhere. I'll stay here. If I die, I want to die here," he said.
The country's National Planning Minister, Tin Naing Thein, said more than 150,000 people had been relocated to higher ground. The government said a fifth of those were Rohingyas.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department said the storm could create a surge 2m high in coastal districts and residents are being urged to make for cyclone shelters.

The airport in Cox's Bazar has closed and Chittagong airport is to shut over the next few hours.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Cyclone Mahasen appeared to have weakened to a Category One storm.

But the UN still described it as "life-threatening" for 8.2 million people in Bangladesh, Burma and north-east India.

At least 50 Rohingya Muslims were feared drowned on Tuesday when boats evacuating them from the path of the cyclone capsized off western Burma.

More than 100,000 people died in 2008 when Cyclone Nargis devastated many of Burma's coastal villages.

Source: BBC News


Nigeria President Declares Emergency

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in three states after a series of deadly attacks by Islamist militant groups.

The military will take "all necessary action" to "put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists" in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, he said.

Mr Jonathan also ordered more troops to be sent to the north-eastern states.

Militants from Boko Haram have been blamed for most of the violence, which has left 2,000 people dead since 2010.

The Islamist group, whose name means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa language, is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state in the north.

Nigeria - a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people - is also affected by a spate of conflicts over land, religion and oil.

In the latest violence, 53 people were killed and 13 villages burnt in central Nigeria's Benue state on Tuesday.

The conflict, which started last week, is said to have been caused by a dispute over land ownership between cattle herders and farmers.
'We will hunt them down'
In a pre-recorded address broadcast on Tuesday, President Jonathan said: "What we are facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity."

Referring to recent attacks on government buildings and killings of officials and other civilians, he said that "these actions amount to a declaration of war".

"We will hunt them down, we will fish them out, and we will bring them to justice," the president said.

"The chief of defence staff has been directed to immediately deploy more troops to these states for more effective internal security operations.

"The troops and other security agencies involved in these operations have orders to take all necessary action... to put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists."

At the same time, he stressed that - despite the state of emergency - politicians in the three states would remain in their posts.

The president has the power to sack local politicians and install a caretaker government in emergency circumstances.

"Already, some northern parts of Borno state have been taken over by groups whose allegiance are to different flags than Nigeria's," he said.

Later, a spokesman for the president, Doyin Okupe, said the governors of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa had been "very well briefed" and were "in full support" of the decision to declare a state of emergency.

 "There's a need for the government to step in and do the necessary to once and for all find a way out of this quagmire," he said.

On Monday, the Nigeria Governors' Forum, which represents the leaders of the country's 36 states, warned Mr Jonathan against imposing emergency rule.

It is not the first time that the president has declared a state of emergency, but this is a clear admission that far from being weakened by the army offensive, the threat of the Islamist militants is growing.

And it is the first time that Mr Jonathan has admitted that parts of the country are no longer under central government control, says our correspondent.

Last week, Mr Jonathan had to cut short a trip to South Africa to deal with the growing violence.

Source: BBC News

EU To Pledge 520m Euros For Mali

The European Union will pledge 520m euros (£442m; $673m) to help rebuild Mali, at a conference of international donors in Brussels.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the money would help the West African state become "stable, democratic and prosperous".

The conference is the first since France sent troops to oust Islamist rebels from northern Mali in January.

Mali's government has a 4.3bn-euro plan for "a total relaunch of the country".

It includes rebuilding government institutions and the military, repairing damaged infrastructure, organising presidential elections, holding dialogue with rebel groups in the north, and stimulating the economy.

After meeting the European Commission chief in Brussels on Tuesday, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore said he hoped about 2bn euros would be raised at the donors' conference.

I think that's a good start," he told a news conference. "Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, in a week or in a month, it is clear that the international community, the European Union, will inject a lot more than that."
Mr Barroso said the aid would benefit Europe as well as Africa.

"The support of the international community is essential to establish a Mali that is stable, democratic and prosperous," he added. "But the principal actors in this transition are the Malians themselves and their government."

He said the EU welcomed the Transition Roadmap, aimed at establishing a full return to democracy and stability in the country, and the Plan for the Sustainable Recovery of Mali, which Malian officials will present at the conference on Wednesday.

Officials say 103 international delegations, including 10 heads of state and government, will attend the meeting, which was organised by Mr Barroso, Mr Traore and French President Francois Hollande.

Since the French-led military intervention at the start of the year, the Islamist rebels have been pushed back from the main urban centres of northern Mali. However, some fighters have retreated to hideouts in the mountains and desert, from where they launch isolated attacks.

Tens of thousands of refugees also remain in neighbouring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger.

France nevertheless began withdrawing the first of its 4,500 troops in the country last month. It hopes to have only 1,000 remaining by the end of the year.

They are due to work alongside peacekeepers from the United Nations' Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (Minusma).

Mr Traore also told Tuesday's news conference that Mali's presidential elections would take place on 28 July, after months of speculation about the date. He said neither he nor any member of the transitional government would stand in the poll.

BBC international development correspondent Mark Doyle says the Islamists were only able to occupy large parts of Mali in the first place because of because of a weak and corrupt central government.

Rebuilding state institutions is therefore a priority, but it is also an enormous task, our correspondent says.

Source: BBC News

France Back Into Recession

Official figures show France has entered its second recession in four years after the economy shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter of the year.

Its economy shrank by the same amount in the last quarter of 2012. A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

France has record unemployment and low business and consumer confidence.

German figures, also released, showed its economy, the eurozone's strongest, grew by just 0.1% in the first quarter.

France entered its worst recession since World War II in 2009. Although it was thought to have been in recession in 2012, these figures have now been revised to show only one quarter of negative growth.

The news comes on the first anniversary of Francois Hollande being sworn in as president.
Earlier this month, the European Commission warned that France would enter recession this year and said the eurozone's economy would shrink by 0.4%.

The European Central Bank cut interest rates at its last meeting to a record low of 0.5% in an attempt to stimulate growth.

In France, the rate of unemployment is running at 10.6% and is forecast to rise further next year.

Its deficit is also expected to rise sharply, the commission says, to 3.9% of GDP - well above the EU deficit target of 3%.

But French unemployment is below the eurozone average, which was 11.4% in 2012 and is expected to hit an average of 12.2% this year. In both Greece and Spain, it is expected to peak at 27%.

France this week passed a range of measures aimed at stopping the rise in unemployment by reforming the country's labour laws.

These include measures to make it easier for workers to change jobs and for companies to fire employees.

The French economy has performed better than other eurozone members, including Spain and Italy, but it has not moved as quickly to reform its economy.

One of the new bill's main measures is to allow companies to cut workers' salaries or hours temporarily during times of sluggish economic performance, something that is common in Germany.

The figure for German growth, the largest and still the strongest economy in the 17-strong eurozone, was far weaker than expected. Economists had expected to see growth of 0.3% in the first quarter.

Annual figures from the Statistics Office also show the German economy has shrunk by 1.4% when compared with a year ago.

But in a statement it said this was partly due to severe winter weather: "The German economy is only slowly picking up steam. The extreme winter weather played a role in this weak growth."

Source: BBC News

May 13, 2013

Cubans March Against Homophobia

Hundreds of Cubans have staged a protest against homophobia and for gay rights, in the capital, Havana,

The march was led along Havana's central streets by Cuban gay rights campaigner Mariela Castro.

Ms Castro is the head of Cuba's National Sexual Education Centre - an organiser of the march - and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro.

Before Raul Castro came to power in 2008, no gay rights marches had been allowed in Cuba.

Forming a long line and dancing the conga, the marchers wound their way through Havana. Many were carrying rainbow banners and chanting "Homophobia, no! Socialism, yes!".

One marcher, 29-year-old Jesus Rios, told the Associated Press news agency that Cuba "had made great progress over the past years".

"I've noticed it with my father, who has accepted me step by step, and now also with the neighbours and colleagues. I feel more included," he said.

Mr Rios credited Mariela Castro and the work of the National Sexual Education Centre for that change in what he referred to as Cuba's "macho culture".

Ms Castro said she was optimistic that Cuba would eventually legalise gay marriage, but that the hardest part would be overcoming prejudice.

In the 1960s and 70s, gay men and lesbians in Cuba were fired, imprisoned or sent to "re-education camps".

Ms Castro's uncle, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, has claimed responsibility for the persecution suffered by homosexuals on the island after the revolution of 1959.

In a 2010 interview he said they had traditionally been discriminated in Cuba, just as black people and women.

There has been a growing acceptance of homosexuality in Latin America, with Uruguay last month becoming the second country after Argentina to legalise gay marriage.

Source: BBC News

WHO Says New Coronavirus May Be Passed Person To Person

The World Health Organization says it appears likely that the novel coronavirus (NCoV) can be passed between people in close contact.

This comes after the French health ministry confirmed a second man had contracted the virus in a possible case of human-to-human transmission.

Two more people in Saudi Arabia are also reported to have died from the virus, according to health officials.

NCoV is known to cause pneumonia and sometimes kidney failure.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have expressed concern over the clusters of cases of the new coronavirus strain and the potential for it to spread.

Since 2012, there have been 33 confirmed cases across Europe and the Middle East, with 18 deaths, according to a recent WHO update.

Cases have been detected in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and have spread to Germany, the UK and France.

"Of most concern... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

"This pattern of person-to-person transmission has remained limited to some small clusters and so far, there is no evidence to suggest the virus has the capacity to sustain generalised transmission in communities," the statement adds.

France's second confirmed case was a 50-year-old man who had shared a hospital room in Valenciennes, northern France, with a 65-year-old who fell ill with the virus after returning from Dubai.

"Positive results [for the virus] have been confirmed for both patients," the French health ministry said, adding that both men were being treated in isolation wards.

Meanwhile, the Saudi deputy minister of health said on Sunday that two more people had died from the coronavirus, bringing the number of fatalities to nine in the most recent outbreak in al-Ahsa governorate in the east of Saudi Arabia, Reuters news agency reports.

The Saudi health ministry said that 15 people had died out of the 24 cases diagnosed since last summer.

WHO officials have not yet confirmed the latest deaths.

In February, a patient died in a hospital in Birmingham, England, after three members of the same family became infected.

It is thought a family member had picked up the virus while travelling to the Middle East and Pakistan.

Novel coronavirus is from the same family of viruses as the one that caused an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that emerged in Asia in 2003.

However, NCoV and Sars are distinct from each other, the WHO said in its statement on Sunday.

Coronavirus is known to cause respiratory infections in both humans and animals.

But it is not yet clear whether it is a mutation of an existing virus or an infection in animals that has made the jump to humans.

Source: BBC News

May 12, 2013

Pope Francis Proclaims 800 Saints

Pope Francis has proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony at the Vatican - a list which includes 800 victims of an atrocity carried out by Ottoman soldiers in 1480.

They were beheaded in the southern Italian town of Otranto after refusing to convert to Islam.

Their names are unknown, apart from one man, Antonio Primaldo.

Within two months of taking office, Pope Francis has proclaimed more saints than any of his predecessors.

Among those canonised on Sunday were two Latin American nuns - Laura Montoya from Colombia and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala from Mexico - who both died in the 20th Century.

Colombia's first saint, Mother Laura Montoya dedicated her life to helping indigenous people while the woman named by Pope Francis as Mother "Lupita" sheltered Catholics during a government crackdown against the faith in the 1920s.

The Italian "Martyrs of Otranto" were executed after 20,000 Turkish soldiers invaded their town in south-eastern Italy.

There was no hint of any anti-Islamic sentiment in the homily that Pope Francis delivered before tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St Peter's Square, the BBC's David Willey in Rome reports.

While it was Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict, who gave the go ahead for their canonisations, the new pope is continuing the process of honouring a new generation of modern as well as historic martyrs, our correspondent says.

Later this month an Italian priest, Fr Giuseppe Puglisi, who was murdered by the Sicilian mafia 20 years ago will be beatified - the last step before being declared a saint.

Source: BBC News

Syria Denies Role In Turkey Blasts

Syria has denied being responsible for two car bombs which killed 46 people in a Turkish border town.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi told a news conference on Sunday his country "did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that".

Turkish police say that nine people have been arrested in connection with Saturday's attacks in Reyhanli.

Ankara has said that it suspects the involvement of Syrian intelligence.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not be dragged into a "bloody quagmire".

He called on Turks to be "extremely careful, extremely vigilant... in the face of provocations".

"We will not be trapped. The aim of these attacks is to pit Turks against each other and create chaos. So I call on all my citizens to keep calm."

The Turkish government said on Sunday that the number of people killed in the blasts had risen to 46 and that more than 50 others were still being treated in hospital.

All nine of those arrested in connection with the attacks were Turkish citizens, officials said.

"This incident was carried out by an organisation which is in close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and I say this very clearly, with the Syrian Mukhabarat," Interior Minister Muammer Guler told Turkish TV.

Turkey, a Nato member, is a strong supporter of the opposition in Syria's civil war and a vocal critic of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The US and Nato have condemned the bombings and expressed support for Turkey.

Hundreds of mourners have been attending the funerals of the victims in Reyhanli, which is home to many Syrian refugees.

Mr Zoubi said that "it is not anyone's right to hurl unfounded accusations".

"We were saddened by the martyrs' deaths" [on] Saturday in the town of Reyhanli," he said.

"It is [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan who should be asked about this act. He and his party bear direct responsibility."

Mr Zoubi also launched what correspondents say was one of the harshest personal attacks on Turkey's prime minister by an Syrian official so far. He demanded that Mr Erdogan "step down as a killer and as a butcher".

It was a robust response from Damascus, throwing responsibility for the blasts firmly back on the Turkish authorities.

Mr Zoubi said it was the Turkish government that had facilitated the flow of arms, explosives, vehicles, fighters and money across the border into Syria.

He said that this had turned the border areas into centres for international terrorism and the Turkish leadership had to take political and moral responsibility for it.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has vowed to catch those behind the attack. On Sunday he said that he believed fighters loyal to Syrian President Assad were responsible.

The Syrian opposition coalition has added its voice to the Turkish accusations that Damascus was behind the bombings, saying it was a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between Turkey and the thousands of Syrian refugees who have been given shelter on the Turkish side of the border.

Mr Davutoglu said that the attacks "have nothing to do with the Syrian refugees in Turkey, it's got everything to do with the Syrian regime".

He said that it was "not a coincidence" that the bombings occurred as diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis were intensifying.

"There may be those who want to sabotage Turkey's peace, but we will not allow that," he said.

"No-one should attempt to test Turkey's power. Our security forces will take all necessary measures."

He said those behind Saturday's bombings were believed also to have been behind an attack on the Syrian coastal town of Banias a week ago, in which fighters backing President Assad in the civil war were reported to have killed at least 62 people.

Reyhanli is an entry point for refugees fleeing violence in Syria and local people attacked Syrian refugees and cars with Syrian number plates after the attack, according to local media.

The Turkish government said the bombings were intended to pit Turks against Syrian refugees in Reyhanli, adding that refugees had no role in the attack.

Mr Erdogan's policy on Syria has always been to support the Syrian opposition but not become involved in the war, but the attacks now make it very difficult for him to carry on staying out of the conflict, our correspondent says.

He is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama in Washington on Thursday with the US currently considering its options over Syria.

There has been some speculation that the bomb attacks may strengthen the hand of those urging the creation of a no-fly zone and safe haven for the Syrian opposition inside Syrian territory.

Source: BBC News

Sharif In Pakistan Government Talks

Pakistani ex-PM Nawaz Sharif has been holding talks with party colleagues on forming a government, after claiming victory in parliamentary elections.

Unofficial results suggest a big lead for Mr Sharif's Muslim League (PML-N), though he may need support to govern.

Former cricketer Imran Khan, who could be the main opposition leader, said he was pleased with the high turnout but disappointed about reports of rigging.

US President Barack Obama and India's prime minister congratulated Mr Sharif.

The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) seems to have been badly beaten.

It was one of several secular parties unable to campaign freely due to Taliban attacks.

Most of the remaining PPP seats look likely to be in its heartland of Sindh province.

Saturday's election should pave the way for the country's first transition from one elected government to another.

The poll was generally seen as having passed off successfully, but violence on Saturday claimed at least 24 lives.

An election commission spokesman said turnout had been around 60%. In 2008 it was 44%.

President Obama congratulated Pakistan on successfully completing the election and said he looked forward to working with the government that emerged.

He welcomed the "historic, peaceful and transparent transfer of civilian power" but stopped short of naming Mr Sharif.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hoped for a "new course" in relations between the two countries.

"PM extends his congratulations to Mr. Nawaz Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan's elections," he said on his Twitter account.

He invited Mr Sharif to go to India "at a mutually convenient time".

Mr Sharif is expected to become prime minister for the third time, his last period in office ending 14 years ago in a military coup followed by his trial and exile.

He is already getting down to business, starting work on putting together a government.

PML-N officials said he was holding talks with some independent MPs to work out cabinet positions.

Our correspondent says that he is set to take over the reins of power at a time when most Pakistanis are preoccupied by the challenges of daily life amid lengthy power blackouts.

His strategy for tackling militant violence will be closely scrutinised at home and by international partners, he adds.

Even if his PML-N does not have an outright majority, its projected margin of victory suggests it will be in a much stronger position than the PPP was at the head of the outgoing coalition.

Mr Sharif should at least not need to seek the support of his main rivals, the PPP and Imran Khan's Movement for Justice (PTI), analysts say.

Soon after polls closed, he claimed victory and joined supporters celebrating in his stronghold, the north-eastern city of Lahore.

Muslim League voter Asma Usmani in Islamabad praised the poll.

"I was expecting that PML-N would win because I voted for them. These were very fair elections and the election commission did very well," she said.

Meanwhile Mr Khan spoke publicly for the first time since the election. He is in hospital with a fractured spine after a fall at an election rally last Tuesday.

"I congratulate the entire nation for taking part in such a massive democratic process. We are moving forward on the path of democracy," he said.

"Now there is awareness among the people of Pakistan that their fate is in their hands."

He praised Pakistan's women for voting in unprecedented numbers, and said he would "issue a white paper" in response to allegations of vote-rigging by members of his party.

But some of Mr Khan's supporters said the vote was rigged against them.

A PTI spokesman said the PML-N had been involved in large-scale rigging in parts of Lahore, and many women were not allowed to vote.

"These can't be called fair elections," said one supporter, businessman Bilal Saleem.

"PTI should have got more seats in Punjab. It was Imran Khan versus Punjab political machinery."

But PML-N's election officer denied the allegations.

"We don't go to these levels," Amna Malik said. "We are here to create change in Pakistan and rule out corruption."

Meanwhile Election Commission head Sher Afghan denied that anyone was intimidated, threatened or prevented from voting, adding that any formal complaint would be investigated.

Source: BBC News

Ghanaian Held After Italy Pickaxe Rampage

An illegal immigrant has gone on the rampage with a pickaxe in the Italian city of Milan, killing a passer-by and wounding four others, police say.

A suspect has been arrested and named as Mada Kabobo, a 21-year-old Ghanaian.

A 40-year-old man was killed in the attack in a northern suburb of the city. Two of the four people injured are said to be in a critical state.

Correspondents the incident has revived a long-running debate over illegal immigrants in Italy.

Milan is located in Lombardy, where the Northern League party is calling for tougher policies on immigration.

The motive for Saturday morning's attack remains unclear.

Police say Mr Kabobo was in the country illegally, and had previously been arrested over a variety of alleged offences including theft and robbery.

Source: BBC News

Gunmen Lift Libyan Ministry Siege

Gunmen demanding the expulsion of Gaddafi-era officials from Libya's new government appear to have lifted their siege of two ministries in Tripoli.

Justice Minister Salah al-Marghani said the siege had ended at both his ministry and the foreign ministry.

The gunmen blocked the buildings two weeks ago, parking pick-up trucks with anti-aircraft guns outside.

Parliament passed a law last week barring Gaddafi-era officials from political office.

About 1,000 civilians came to demonstrate outside the foreign ministry on Friday night but some were attacked and beaten, their placards torn down by the gunmen, the BBC's Rana Jawad reports from Tripoli.

Mr Marghani said his ministry was back under the control of the judicial police and staff had been at work on Saturday "for a couple of hours".

"We hope this does not happen again and that lessons have been learnt that state institutions should not be touched," he added.

"The use of weapons should not be on the table. It causes all sorts of problems for this emerging democracy."

He said an agreement had been reached that the foreign ministry would be handed back to officials on Sunday.

The gunmen were calling for a political isolation law to be passed banning officials who served under the late Muammar Gaddafi from senior government posts.

Since Gaddafi's death, Tripoli and other Libyan cities have been plagued by violence and infighting.

The government has recently tried to dismantle militias that formed during and after the war that toppled the long-time leader.

The bill passed by parliament has been criticised for being too vague, but as it stands, would likely affect several currently serving officials.

Source: BBC News

Africa Plundered By Secret Mining Deals

Tax avoidance, secret mining deals and financial transfers are depriving Africa of the benefits of its resources boom, ex-UN chief Kofi Annan has said.

Firms that shift profits to lower tax jurisdictions cost Africa $38bn (£25bn) a year, says a report produced by a panel he heads.

"Africa loses twice as much money through these loopholes as it gets from donors," Mr Annan said.

It was like taking food off the tables of the poor, he said.

The Africa Progress Report is released every May - produced by a panel of 10 prominent figures, including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Graca Machel, the wife of South African ex-President Nelson Mandela.

African countries needed to improve governance and the world's richest nations should help introduce global rules on transparency and taxation, Mr Annan said.

The report gave the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example, where between 2010 and 2012 five under-priced mining concessions were sold in "highly opaque and secretive deals".

This cost the country, which the charity Save the Children said earlier this week was the world's worst place to be a mother, $1.3bn in revenues.

This figure was equivalent to double DR Congo's health and education budgets combined, the report said.

DR Congo's mining minister disputed the findings, saying the country had "lost nothing".

"These assets were ceded in total transparency," Martin Kabwelulu told Reuters news agency.

The report added that many mineral-rich countries needed "urgently to review the design of their tax regimes", which were designed to attract foreign investment when commodity prices were low.

It quotes a review in Zambia which found that between 2005 and 2009, 500,000 copper mine workers were paying a higher rate of tax than major multinational mining firms.

Africa loses more through what it calls "illicit outflows" than it gets in aid and foreign direct investment, it explains.

"We are not getting the revenues we deserve often because of either corrupt practices, transfer pricing, tax evasion and all sorts of activities that deprive us of our due," Mr Annan told the BBC's Newsday programme.

"Transparency is a powerful tool," he said, adding that the report was urging African leaders to put "accountability centre stage".

Mr Annan said African governments needed to insist that local companies became involved in mining deals and manage them in "such a way that it also creates employment".

"This Africa cannot do alone. The tax evasion, avoidance, secret bank accounts are problems for the world… so we all need to work together particularly the G8, as they meet next month, to work to ensure we have a multilateral solution to this crisis," he said.

For richer nations "if a company avoids tax or transfers the money to offshore account what they lose is revenues", Mr Annan said.

"Here on our continent, it affects the life of women and children - in effect in some situations it is like taking food off the table for the poor."

Source: BBC News

May 10, 2013

Bangladesh Workers Find Survivor In Factory Rubble

A woman has been pulled alive from the ruins of an eight-storey building that collapsed in a suburb of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, 17 days ago.

Rescuers said the woman, named Reshma, was found in the remains of the second floor of the Rana Plaza after they heard her crying: "Please save me."

She has been taken to hospital, but is not thought to have serious injuries.

The dramatic news came after the army said more than 1,000 people were now known to have died in the disaster.

The death toll is expected to keep climbing, as work crews using heavy machinery have begun removing rubble from the worst-damaged areas.

Tunisian Held In New York Over Canada Train Bomb Plot

A Tunisian man who allegedly met one of the men suspected of plotting to bomb a Canadian train was charged with visa fraud in New York, prosecutors say.

Ahmed Abassi allegedly met Chiheb Esseghaier and attempted to radicalise him, New York prosecutors said.

He came to the US in March and kept contact with an undercover FBI agent before his 22 April arrest, they said.

Mr Esseghaier, 30, and Raed Jaser, 35, are charged with conspiracy to carry out an attack and kill people.

An indictment against Mr Abassi, unsealed on Thursday, alleged he came from Canada and was fraudulently seeking a US work visa in order to "facilitate an act of international terrorism".

US Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara said: "As alleged, Ahmed Abassi had an evil purpose for seeking to remain in the United States - to commit acts of terror and develop a network of terrorists here, and to use this country as a base to support the efforts of terrorists internationally."

In recorded conversations between the two men, Mr Abassi expressed his desire to "engage in terrorist acts against targets in the United States and other countries", the justice department said in a statement.

He was arrested at John F Kennedy International Airport, authorities said.

Mr Abassi was also recorded talking about his desire to aid militant groups, including the al-Nusra Front.

That group has been described by the US as a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq, and has gained support in rebel-held parts of Syria.

Canadian media have reported the investigation into Mr Esseghaier and Mr Jaser was launched after a tip-off by a concerned imam in the Toronto Muslim community.

Authorities had been tracking Mr Esseghaier for two years before beginning to investigate the alleged plot in August 2012.

Source: BBC News

Sailor Dies As America's Cup Boat Capsizes

A sailor has died after a Swedish catamaran capsized during a practice session for the America's Cup in San Francisco Bay, local media report.

The San Francisco Fire Department said the man was one of two people injured when the Artemis Racing catamaran capsized near Treasure Island.

They were brought ashore and one was pronounced dead a short time later.

Artemis is a Swedish team due to race two boats in the America's Cup being held in San Francisco this summer.

Reports said one of the crew had been trapped under the capsized 72ft (22m) boat for about 10 minutes.

The America's Cup website did not confirm the death but said support boats were at the scene to help in the recovery.

San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the two brought to shore were taken to the St Francis Yacht Club where paramedics performed CPR on one of them.

The other person's injuries were not life-threatening, she said.

The rest of the crew from the capsized boat were transferred to a support boat operated by Oracle Racing, which is defending its America's Cup title from last year, officials said.

Lt Jeannie Crump of the Coast Guard said it was not yet clear what caused the boat to capsize.

The America's Cup race is due to run from July until September.

Source: BBC News

May 9, 2013

Gunmen Abduct Pakistan Ex-PM's Son

The son of former Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen during an election rally.

Mr Gilani told the BBC his son Ali Haider - a candidate for the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP) - was seized in the central city of Multan.

He accused his political opponents of being behind the attack, which came ahead of Saturday's elections.

One person was reportedly killed when the attackers opened fire at the rally.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.

Eyewitnesses say the gunmen arrived at the gathering in a black Honda car and on a motorbike.

"A couple of them started shooting," a teenager at the rally told Pakistan's Geo TV.

"A man standing in front of Gilani was hit and fell down. Then they grabbed Gilani, put him in the car and sped away."

Reports say the person who died in the shooting was one of Ali Haider Gilani's aides. Another five people were injured.

Some of those who saw the attack say there was also blood on Ali Haider. Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper quotes eyewitnesses saying he was hit by a bullet, but this is not confirmed.

Ali Haider - the youngest son of the ex-prime minister - is contesting a seat in the Punjab provincial assembly.

"We want our brother back tonight. If we don't get him, we will not allow elections to be held in our area," his elder brother Ali Musa - who was in tears - later told reporters.

Police have now sealed off all entry and exit points in Multan, and a massive search operation is under way, local media report.

Yousuf Raza Gilani served as prime minister until June 2012, when he was forced out of office by the Supreme Court over his refusal to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

But the Gilanis are still a powerful political family, with the two sons standing in elections to the provincial and national assemblies, the BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad reports.

Who was behind Thursday's attack, and their motive, remains unclear.

Kidnapping is a tactic frequently used by militants and criminal groups across Pakistan. Ransom is an important revenue stream for the Pakistani Taliban and hostages can be used as bargaining chips in negotiations with the authorities, the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says.

Among the most prominent Taliban hostages is Shahbaz Taseer, the son of assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was snatched in Lahore in 2011 and remains in captivity.

Source: BBC News

Nigeria Cult Ambush Kills Police

At least 30 police officers in Nigeria have been killed in an ambush by a local militia in the central Nasarawa state, officials have said.

They were on their way to arrest the leader of the outlawed Ombatse "cult" when gunmen opened fire, a state spokesman told the BBC.

Sani Musa Mairiga said they were forcing local villagers to swear an oath of allegiance to the group.

The state police chief said that 17 officers were still missing.

One source at the hospital where the bodies were taken told the BBC dozens more policemen were killed in the attack.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan has cut short his visit to South Africa and cancelled a state visit to Namibia to oversee the response to the latest violence.

Nasarawa police chief Abayomi Akeremale said about 60 police officers came under attack on Tuesday.

"We decided to send our men to the area to arrest members of Ombatse, including their priest," he told the AFP news agency.

"[They] have been going to churches and mosques initiating people into their cult by forcefully administering an allegiance oath to unwilling people."

The police were attacked near the shrine to the traditional deity of the Eggon people, in the village of Alakyo, near the state capital, Lafia.

The ambush came after 55 people were reportedly killed in the north-east of Nigeria in co-ordinated attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist militant group.

The Nigerian army said 105 prisoners were freed in Tuesday's pre-dawn raid in Bama, Borno state.

Bama's police station, military barracks and government buildings were burned to the ground, said the military and witnesses.

A statement from the president's office said Mr Jonathan was returning to Abuja "to personally oversee efforts by national security agencies to contain the fresh challenges to national security which have emerged this week in Borno, Plateau and Nasarawa States".

Oh his arrival back in Nigeria, Mr Jonathan is set to head a meeting reviewing Nigeria's security situation with the country's military and police chiefs.

The Ombatse, which means "the time has come" in the Eggon language, say they are fighting against social vices such as alcohol and adultery.

The Eggon community are a microcosm of Nigeria - they are said to be evenly divided between Christians and Muslims but many people continue to follow traditional religions.

There are about 250 different ethnic groups in Nigeria, some with their own traditional belief systems.

Source: BBC News

Ohio Kidnapper Could Be Executed

Ohio prosecutors have said they plan to seek aggravated murder charges that could carry the death penalty, against the man suspected of imprisoning three women for about a decade.

The charges relate to alleged forced miscarriages suffered by one victim.

Ariel Castro, 52, was arraigned in court earlier for the kidnap and rape of Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 23 and Michelle Knight, 32.

Ms Berry escaped on Monday and was able to raise the alarm.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said the murder charges were based on evidence from one of the women held captive in Mr Castro's house that he had impregnated her, then physically abused and starved her in order to induce miscarriages.

"I fully intend to seek charges for each and every act of sexual violence, rape, each day of kidnapping, every felonious assault, all his attempted murders, and each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies that the offender perpetuated against the hostages during this decade-long ordeal," Mr McGinty told a news conference.

"My office will also engage in a formal process in which we evaluate to seek charges eligible for the death penalty.

"The reality is we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life. The law of Ohio calls for the death penalty for those most depraved criminals who commit aggravated murder during the course of a kidnapping."

"This child kidnapper operated a torture chamber and private prison in the heart of our city," he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Castro appeared in court in Cleveland, handcuffed and dressed in blue overalls. He did not enter a plea.

He is charged with four counts of kidnapping, covering the three initial abduction victims and Jocelyn, Ms Berry's six-year-old daughter, who was apparently conceived and born in captivity.

The former school bus driver also faces three counts of rape, one against each woman.

Source: BBC News


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