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02.17.12 Suicide bomber kills eight in Pakistan
February 17 - A suicide bomber on a motorcycle has blown himself up close to a mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing at least eight people, officials say. The motive for the blast in the town of Parachinar, close to the Afghan border, was not immediately clear but in the past, Sunni militants have attacked civilians who do not support them or members of different Muslim sects. Dr. Habibullah Khan said his hospital received eight bodies and was treating close to 50 wounded in the explosion, which happened as noon prayers ended and worshipers were streaming out of the local mosque. State-run Pakistan TV reported that 15 people had been killed but that figure could not be immediately confirmed. The blast destroyed shops in the market, trapping some people, said local government administrator Wajid Ali. Bombings have killed thousands of Pakistanis over the past five years. Most of the attacks have been carried out by Sunni Islamist militants based in the northwest.  The army has responded with several offensives, with only limited success.   [>news.com.au; See also indianexpress.com, February 17, "21 dead, 45 injured in suicide attack outside Pakistan."]

02.17.12 Bombardment of Syrian city 'intensifies' after UN vote
February 17 - Syrian troops have resumed heavy shelling of the city of Homs, activists say, a day after the UN General Assembly called for an end to violence. One opposition group said the bombardment was the heaviest since troops launched attacks on anti-government strongholds 13 days ago. A senior Chinese envoy is meanwhile due to meet President Bashar al-Assad. China and Russia voted against the UN resolution, which also called on Mr Assad to hand over power to his deputy. The two countries also vetoed what would have been a legally binding UN Security Council resolution two weeks ago. Parts of Homs have been battered by mortars and rockets fired by Syrian government troops for nearly two weeks, as they try to dislodge hundreds of rebels from the Free Syrian Army. On Friday, shells were hitting the districts of Baba Amr, Inshaat, Bayada and Khaldiya, opposition and human rights activists said. "The shelling is continuous. They are using rockets and mortars, which are falling on people's houses," Homs resident Abu Abdah told the BBC. "The damage is so huge, and the city has been isolated." "We have no support. We have a lack of medical supplies and food. The Assad forces have prevented people leaving the city."   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.16.12 China to overtake India as top gold market
HONG KONG (AP) February 16 -
An industry group says China is poised to become the world's biggest gold market this year as demand surges for the precious metal. The World Gold Council said in a report Thursday that China's gold demand rose 20 percent in 2011 over the year before to 770 metric tons. That put it behind only first-place India with 933 metric tons. The council said it's "likely that China will emerge" as the world's largest gold market for the first time in 2012. Rising incomes in China have resulted in a surge in demand for gold jewelry and other luxury goods. Gold is also a popular investment and hedge against inflation because there are a lack of other investment options in China.  [>arabtimesonline.com]

02.16.12 Syrian forces 'launch Deraa assault'
February 16 -
Southern city comes under attack as Homs and Hama endure ongoing bombardments, with UN assembly set to discuss violenceSyrian troops have attacked the southern city of Deraa, bordering Jordan, in the latest escalation in its violent crackdown on an anti-government uprising, according to activists. The attack came as the United Nations General Assembly was due to vote later on Thursday on a new resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government after the UN Security Council failed to reach agreement earlier this month due to Russian and Chinese opposition. Ban Ki-moon, the UN general-secretary, said on Thursday that crimes against humanity had probably been committed by Syrian forces, echoing concerns of Navi Pillay, the organization's human rights chief, who has called for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court. "We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately, hospitals used as torture centers, children as young as 10 years old killed and abused. We see almost a certain crimes against humanity," Ban said during a visit to Austria.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

02.16.12 European parliament votes to create safe corridors in Syria
February 16 -
The European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday voted with majority to create safe corridors in Syria that would act as a shield for dissidents and defectors.  The parliament also urged European countries to withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus and said it will work to give political and technical support to the Syrian opposition.  In related news, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has confirmed she will attend the first meeting of the "Friends of Syria" in Tunisia on February 24.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.16.12 'Drone raid' kills fightters in Pakistan
February 16 -
Officials say six fighters killed in tribal area believed to be sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Missiles fired by a suspected US drone have killed at least six fighters in Pakistan's North Waziristan province, near the Afghan border, security officials say. The attack targeted a compound used by fighters in Spalga village near Miranshah on Thursday, the officials said. The US says Pakistan's tribal belt provides sanctuary to Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda groups plotting attacks on the West, Pakistani Taliban fighters and other armed groups. A salvo of missiles hit a house in Spalga about a week ago as well, killing nine people, including some Pakistani Taliban fighters, intelligence officials said. The area is dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent  commander focused on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama last month  confirmed for the first time that US drones target Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert program.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

02.16.12 Qaeda leader killing sparks deadly clashes: Yemen tribesmen
SANAA, Yemen (AFP) February 16 -
The killing of a local Al-Qaeda leader by his half brother sparked vicious tribal infighting in his stronghold southeast of Yemen's capital Sanaa on Thursday which left 17 people dead, tribal chiefs said. The clashes erupted after Tarek al-Dahab was shot dead by his half-brother Hizam in the town of Al-Masaneh, a family fiefdom in Bayda province, several tribal chiefs said, adding that the killer and his brother were among the 17 killed in the gunfights. "Al-Qaeda gunmen fired rockets at the house of Hizam killing him and his brother Majid, as well as their nephew Ahmed," one chief said. Eleven armed tribesmen were killed when the vehicle transporting them was also targeted, the sources said. Clashes continued throughout the afternoon, tribesmen said. "We will cleanse Al-Masaneh of al-Qaeda after the killing of Tarek al-Dahab," Basil al-Salami, a member of Al-Qaifa tribe which is involved in the battles against al-Qaeda in the town, told AFP.  [More>>koreaherald.com]

02.16.12 G.M. reports big profit; Europe lags
DETROIT, February 16 - General Motors reported a big annual profit on Thursday, but losses in Europe dragged down fourth-quarter earnings. G.M. said it earned a quarterly profit of $472 million, or 28 cents a share, down from $510 million, or 31 cents a share, a year ago. It was the eighth consecutive quarterly profit for the carmaker, which cleansed much of its debt in bankruptcy years ago, but also the smallest during that stretch. For all of 2011, G.M. earned $7.6 billion, nearly all of it from North America. That was 62 percent higher than the $4.7 billion it earned a year ago and more than G.M.’s previous record of $6.7 billion in 1997 (in today’s dollars, the 1997 profit would be about $9.4 billion). [More>>nytimes.com]

02.14.12 Iranian boats shadow US aircraft carrier in Gulf
ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (AP) February 14 - Iranian patrol boats and aircraft shadowed a US aircraft carrier strike group as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, ending a Gulf mission amid heightened tensions with Tehran that include threats to choke off vital oil shipping lanes. But officers onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln said there were no incidents with Iranian forces and described the surveillance as routine measures by Tehran near the strategic strait, which is jointly controlled by Iran and Oman....Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has said it plans its own naval exercises near the strait, the route for a fifth of the world’s oil supply. But Iran’s military has made no attempts to disrupt oil tanker traffic — which the US and allies have said would bring a swift response. Two American warships, one in front and one in the rear, escorted the Abraham Lincoln on its midday journey through the strait and into the Arabian Sea after nearly three weeks in the Gulf. The narrow waterway is only about 30 miles (50 kilometers) across at its narrowest point. On one side, the barren, fjord-like mountains of Oman were visible through the haze. Iran’s coast was just beyond the horizon on the other side of the ship, but too far away to be seen.   [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.14.12 Syrian forces renew assault on rebel-held parts of Homs
AP) February 14 - Syrian troops launched a new assault to retake rebel-held areas of Homs on Tuesday, a day after the UN rights chief warned that crimes against humanity "are likely to have been committed" since the anti-regime uprising began in March last year.  Syrian government forces renewed their assault on the rebellious city of Homs on Tuesday, activists said, as the UN human rights chief raised fears of civil war. Troops loyal to President Bashar Assad have been shelling Homs for more than a week to retake parts of the city captured by rebel forces. Hundreds are believed to have been killed since last Saturday, and the humanitarian conditions in the city were worsening. Homs was under "brutal shelling" on Tuesday, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said, citing its network of witnesses on the ground. With diplomatic efforts bogged down, the conflict in Syria is taking on the dimensions of a civil war, with army defectors clashing almost daily with soldiers. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned on Monday that the Security Council’s failure to take action has emboldened the Syrian government to launch an all-out assault.  [More>>france24.com]

02.14.12 Arabs open way for arming Syrians, civil war feared
CAIRO, February  14 - After a bruising meeting in a five-star Cairo hotel, Arab foreign ministers led by Gulf states hinted to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that unless he halts his violent crackdown, some Arab League members might arm his opponents. The message was folded into Article 9 of a League resolution passed on Sunday that urges Arabs to "provide all kinds of political and material support" to the opposition, a phrase that includes the possibility of giving weapons to Assad's foes. Diplomats at the meeting confirmed this interpretation. Arabs are striving to unite the world around their drive to push Assad to end the killing, but have gained little traction. They had to scrap a floundering Arab monitoring mission to Syria. When they sought UN Security Council support for a transition plan under which Assad would step aside, Russia and China vetoed the Western-backed UN draft resolution.  [More>>timeofinndia.indiatimes.com]

02.14.12 China's Wen Jiabao: 'No protection' for Syrian government
February 14 -
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says Beijing will "absolutely not protect any party" in the conflict in Syria. Speaking after talks with EU chiefs in Beijing, he said China would "continue to play a constructive role". China and Russia vetoed a UN resolution on Syria 10 days ago, sparking claims from the UN rights chief that action against protesters has intensified. Meanwhile activists say the city of Homs, under heavy attack for more than a week, is suffering fresh bombardment.  [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.14.12 Syrian regime used poisonous gas under Iranian, Russian supervision: dissident officer
February 14 - A Syrian dissident military officer, Capt. Abdul Salam Ahmed Abdul Razek, said the Syrian regime is using internationally prohibited poisonous gas against protesters under the supervision of both Iran and Russia. "The Syrian army used nerve gas to facilitate the invasion of Homs and was planning to do the same in Jebel al-Zawia and al-Zabadani," Abdul Razek told Al Arabiya. According to Abdul Razek, who worked in the Syrian army’s Chemical Warfare Division, the army has in its possession large quantities of a poisonous asphyxiating substance that is banned internationally. A little amount of this is enough to carry out a mass extermination,” he said.

The gases, Abdul Razek added, are used under the supervision of both Russia and Iran. "Russia is the source of those gases and Iran provides advice on how, when, and where they are to be used," he said. Abdul Razek explained that prohibited gases were made available only for the Fourth Battalion of the Syrian army and the Presidential Guard. The use of those gases and other brutal measures taken against civilians, Abdul Razek said, demonstrate that the Syrian army has one purpose in mind: killing the Syrian people. "For example, what happened in Rif Dimashq was genocide."

This, he added, is what drives many officers to defect. "Now security forces are very alert and they watch closely anyone suspected of not being loyal to the regime," Abdul Razek said. "Some officers have not been given one day off for the past few months for fear they would defect." Other officers, he said, were interrogated just for watching satellite channels that cover the ongoing protests in Syria, such as Al Arabiya. Abdul Razek said that his plight has been made easier because of the help offered to him by the Free Syrian Army.  "They transferred me safely from Damascus to the Syrian borders."  [>alarabiya.net]

02.14.12 Iranian man wounded by own bomb in Bangkok blasts
February 14 - An Iranian man was seriously wounded in Bangkok on Tuesday when a bomb he was carrying exploded and blew one of his legs off, after an earlier blast shook his house in the Thai capital, authorities said.  The explosions came a day after an Israeli diplomatic car was bombed in India - an attack Israel blamed on Iran. "The police have control of the situation. It is thought that the suspect might be storing more explosives inside his house," Thai government spokeswoman Thitima Chaisaeng told reporters. Police later said they had apprehended another suspect at Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi airport, one of two men they were looking for who had been living at the house where the initial blast took place. "We discovered the injured man’s passport. It’s an Iranian passport and he entered the country through Phuket and arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the 8th of this month," Police General Bansiri Prapapat told Reuters. A passport found at the scene of one blast indicated the assailant was Saeid Moradi from Iran, Pansiri said. Authorities in Tehran could not immediately be reached for comment. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the explosion "proves once again that Iran and its proxies continue to perpetrate terror."  [>alarabiya.net]

02.13.12 Homs under fire after Arab League vows to aid rebels
(Reuters) February 13 - Syrian forces launched a new assault on the restive city of Homs on Monday, a day after the Arab League called for the first time on its member states to aid opposition fighters seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.  Syrian forces resumed their bombardment of the city of Homs on Monday after Arab countries called for UN peacekeepers and pledged their firm support for the opposition battling President Bashar al-Assad. Opposition campaigners said tank fire was concentrated on two large Sunni Muslim neighborhoods that have been at the forefront of opposition to Assad. They said 23 people were killed on Sunday after a lull in shelling the previous day. The government's assault on Homs has spurred Arab countries to ostracize Assad and promise tougher action. At a meeting in Cairo on Sunday, Arab League foreign ministers pledged for the first time to aid the opposition battling to overthrow Assad. The League also called on the UN Security Council to authorize a peacekeeping force, a challenge to Russia and China which have so far used their veto power to block action by the world body, most recently on Feb 4.   [More>>france24.com; See related story,

independent.co.uk (AP) February 13, "Rebels repel troops in Syrian town"
Syrian rebels have repelled a push by government tanks into a key central town held by forces fighting against President Bashar Assad's regime, an activist group said today. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today's attempt to storm Rastan left at least three soldiers dead. Rastan has been held by the rebels since late January. Calls to town's residents are not getting through. The telephone lines appear to be cut as they usually are during military operations. The attack comes a day after the Arab League called for the Security Council to create a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping force for Syria and urged Arab states to sever all diplomatic contact with Damascus...
02.13.12 Warning over Iran's 'Suicide Boats' in Gulf
February 13 - Iran has built up its naval forces in the Gulf and prepared boats that could be used in suicide attacks, military officials have warned. Small boats have been fitted with warheads which would explode on impact with American battleships, officials said. In a separate development Israel has accused Iran of being behind twin car bombings, targeting diplomats in India and Georgia. Iran has made a series of threats in recent weeks to disrupt shipping in the Gulf or strike US forces if its oil trade is shut down by sanctions. Vice Admiral Mark Fox told reporters that Iran had increased the number of submarines in the Gulf, as well as smaller boats...Iran now has 10 small submarines, he said. Military experts say the US fleet patrolling the Gulf is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran's navy.   [Full story>>news.sky.com; See related story,

nytimes.com, February 13, "Israel blames Iran for attacks in India and Georgia"
JERUSALEM - Bombers targeted Israel embassy workers in the capitals of India and Georgia on Monday, detonating a device that destroyed an Israeli diplomatic car in New Delhi and planting an explosive on an Israeli diplomat’s vehicle in Tbilisi that was defused. Israeli leaders accused Iran of responsibility for the attacks, which left at least two people in the Indian blast hospitalized.  Iran denied responsibility, asserting Israel had committed the attacks itself to smear the Iranians. But if the Israeli accusations are verified they would represent Iran’s first confirmed retaliation for a series of recent attacks in Iran aimed at killing Iranian atomic scientists and sabotaging Iran’s disputed nuclear program, the source of rising tensions between Iran and the West. Iran has said it would avenge those attacks, which it has blamed on Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the bombing in India and attempted bombing in Georgia were part of what he called a campaign of terrorism by Iran and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, aimed at Israel, which Iran regards as an implacable enemy...

02.13.12 Cosmic probe finds strange microwave 'haze'
PARIS (AFP) February 13 - A probe designed to delve into the “Big Bang” that created the cosmos has uncovered an enigmatic fog of microwave radiation in the center of our galaxy, European astronomers reported Monday. Planck, a billion-dollar European space telescope launched in May 2009, found "a mysterious haze of microwaves that presently defies explanation" during a scan of the center of the Milky Way, the European Space Agency (ESA) said. It could be a form of energy called synchrotron emission, which occurs when electrons zip through magnetic fields after being accelerated by the blast of an exploding star, or supernova. But the newly discovered emission is something of a mystery, as its signature lingers far longer compared with other synchrotron sources spotted in the Milky Way.

Several explanations have been offered, ranging from higher rates of supernovae in the galactic center to the annihilation of so-called dark matter particles, ESA said in a press release. Planck, deployed in orbit 1.5 million kilometers (937,000 miles) from Earth, is designed to pick up tiny variations in temperature in microwave energy released after the Big Bang that created the universe some 14 billion years ago. Scientists looking at the data have to filter out a haze of microwave emissions that obscure the precious telltale, known as Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) radiation. The new results are being presented this week at a conference in Bologna, Italy, which is looking at the intermediate results from the mission. Planck has also located concentrations of carbon monoxide among the clouds of cold gas in the Milky Way and other galaxies that are a reservoir for making stars.  [>khaleejtimes.com]

02.13.12 Malaysia deports Saudi in Twitter posts row
February 13 -
Hamza Kashgari, wanted in his home country for posting remarks about Prophet Muhammad, has been extradited. Malaysia has deported a young Saudi journalist who is wanted in his home country over Twitter posts about the Prophet Mohammad that led to calls for his execution, the Malaysian government has confirmed. Hamza Kashgari, who was detained in Malaysia on Thursday while en route to New Zealand through Kuala Lumpur, left the country in the custody of Saudi officials on Sunday, a statement of the Malaysian home ministry said. Kashgari, a 23-year-old Jeddah-based newspaper columnist, fled his home country after making comments on the microblogging site deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, which fueled a surge of outrage in the kingdom. Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. The home ministry statement said: "Malaysia has a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other, and Mohammad Najeeb A. [Hamza] Kashgari will be repatriated under this arrangement. "The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities."   [More>>aljazeera.com]

02.13.12 French draft law aims to ban religious symbols for child minders
February 13 -
The controversy surrounding the Islamic headscarf in France is making headlines again as the French National Assembly studies a draft law that will ban religious symbols in all facilities catering for children, including nannies and childcare assistants looking after children at home. The draft law was approved by the French Senate with a large majority on Jan. 17 and it was sent to the National Assembly to be ratified before being signed it into law by the president. "Unless otherwise specified in a contract with the individual employer, a childcare assistant is subject to an obligation of neutrality in religious matters in the course of childcare activity," reads the text of the draft law introduced by Françoise Laborde, a senator from the Radical Party of the Left. "Parents have the right to want a nanny who is neutral from a religious perspective," the left-wing senator was quoted as saying by ANSAmed news agency.    [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.13.12 Pirates attack cargo ship off Nigeria
February 13 - Official says pirates have shot dead ship's captain and chief engineer in gun battle 125 miles south of Lagos.  A piracy monitoring official says pirates off Nigeria's coast have attacked a cargo ship and shot dead its captain and chief engineer. Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said the attack happened early on Monday morning about 125 miles south of Lagos. Mody said the ship tried to escape but both the captain and chief engineer were shot dead during a gun battle. He offered no other details. Nigerian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts. West African pirates also have been more willing to use violence – beating crew members and shooting and stabbing those who get in the way.    [>guardian.co.uk]

02.13.12 Paramilitary group leader killed in Iraq's Fallujah
RAMADI, Iraq (Xinhua) February 13 -
A government-backed paramilitary group leader and two of his guards were killed Monday by gunmen in Iraq's western province of Anbar, a provincial police source said. Unidentified gunmen opened fire from their assault rifles on the car of Sa'eed al-Shemmari, leader of the tribal support council of the city of Fallujah, killing him and two of his bodyguards, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. The attack occurred when the gunmen intercepted Shemmari's car on a main road west of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, the source said. The attack is the seventh by the insurgent groups against Shemmari, who survived six assassination attempts last year, the source added.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

02.10.12 Greeks rail against cuts as EU demands more
ATHENS (AP) February 10 -
Thousands took to the streets of Athens as Greek unions launched a two-day general strike against planned austerity measures on Friday, a day after the country's crucial international bailout was put in limbo by its partners in the 17-nation eurozone. Police said some 17,000 people were gathering for two separate protests leading to Syntagma Square, outside Parliament. They chanted slogans against the painful cutbacks, which include reducing the minimum wage by 22 percent and cutting one in five government jobs in a country which is in its fifth year of recession. Bailout creditors say Greece has not yet met demands for all the austerity measures, however. Frustrated by days of dithering, they have given political leaders in Athens until the middle of next week to meet the full list of required reforms. Otherwise, the country will lose its rescue loan lifeline, go bankrupt next month and likely leave the euro.

02.10.12 Frozen Danube river is costing shippers millions
February 10 -
European shippers say they are losing millions because a lengthy stretch of the Danube - one of Europe's key waterways - is stuck in the longest freeze in recent memory. Huge chunks of ice floated down the middle of the Danube today in southern Romania while water close to the banks remained iced over, with barges, boats and ships tangled in a wintry web. The Danube flows for 1,785 miles (2,872 kilometers) through nine countries, starting in Germany's Black Forest, before passing through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.  The river began to ice over in early February as temperatures plunged to minus 20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). The freeze followed a drought in the fall in which water levels had dropped so low that it was interfering with shipping along the international waterway. By Friday, ice had halted shipping on 440 miles (700 kilometers) of the Danube in Romania, an official from the Romanian Transportation Ministry told The Associated Press, speaking on the department's customary condition of anonymity.

02.10.12 Blasts in Aleppo as 'tanks mass outside Homs'
February 10 -
Dozens reported killed in northern city as food and medical supplies run short in besieged Homs after week-long assault. Explosions have rocked Syria's commercial capital, Aleppo, with state media reporting attacks on a military intelligence building and a security forces headquarters. Syrian state television said two explosions had taken place on Friday morning and blamed the attack on "armed terrorist gangs." The broadcaster quoted the health ministry as saying that 28 people were killed and more than 200 others wounded, including soldiers and civilians.  "The number of casualties from the two car bombs in Aleppo has risen to 28 dead and 235 wounded," the ministry said. Mangled, bloodied bodies as well as severed limbs lay on the pavement outside the targeted buildings, as shown in live footage on Syrian television. It said one of the blasts targeted a military intelligence center and the other a security forces building. Arif al-Hummoud, a commander of the Free Syrian Army, a name used by various armed groups, told Al Jazeera that opposition fighters had carried out an attack but was not responsible for the bombings. "A group from the Free Syrian Army attacked a branch of the military security and a security unit in Aleppo with only RPGs and light weapons," he said. The General Commission of the Syrian Revolution, an opposition group, said that the attacks were "staged by the regime," in a statement emailed to the AFP news agency.  [More>>aljazeera.com; See related story,

france24.com (AP) February 10, "Free Syrian Army denies implication in Aleppo blasts"
The head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Ryad al-Bashar, has told FRANCE 24 that his forces were not involved in Friday's twin blasts on security buildings in Syria's second city of Aleppo, denying an earlier claim by an FSA colonel. Two explosions targeted security compounds in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, state media reported, saying 25 people were killed and 175 wounded in a major city that has so far largely stood by President Bashar Assad in the nearly 11-month-old uprising against his rule. The blasts were the first significant violence in the northern city, Syria’s largest. Along with the capital Damascus, Aleppo is Syria’s economic center, home to the business community and prosperous merchant classes whose continued backing for Assad has been crucial in propping up his regime. The city has seen only occasional protests. State TV blamed "terrorists" in the blasts, touting the regime line that armed groups looking to destabilize Syria are behind the uprising. Anti-Assad activists accused the regime of setting off the blasts to discredit the opposition and to overt protests that had been planned in the city on Friday. Two earlier bombings in Damascus in December and January that killed dozens prompted similar exchanges of accusations. There has been no claim of responsibility for those attacks or Friday’s...

02.10.12 Ayman al-Zawahiri says Somali militant group joins al-Qaeda ranks
February 10 - Somalia’s militant group al-Shabaab have joined ranks with al-Qaeda, the terror network's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced in a video message posted on jihadist forums on Thursday. "Today, I have glad tidings for the Muslim ummah (nation) that will please the believers and disturb the disbelievers, which is the joining of the al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement in Somalia to Qaedat al-Jihad to support the jihadi unity against the Zionist-Crusader campaign and their assistants amongst the treacherous agent rulers," said a bespectacled Zawahri in the video. "The jihadist movement is with the grace of Allah, growing and spreading within its Muslim nation despite facing the fiercest crusade campaign in history by the West," said Zawahiri in the video released by al-Qaeda's media arm As-Sahab. The video also featured al-Shabaab's leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair.

He addressed Zawahiri, saying: “We will move along with you as faithful soldiers.” "In the name of my mujahedeen brothers, leaders and soldiers... I pledge obedience," Zubair said. "Lead us on the road of jihad and martyrdom, in the footsteps that our martyr Osama bin Laden had drawn for us," he added, referring to al-Qaeda's former leader who was killed last year in a covert US raid on his hide-out in Pakistan. "Our brothers in the al-Shabaab al-Mujahedeen, were the rock... that stood in the face of the joint American-Ethiopian-Kenyan-crusade attack on Islam and Muslims in Somalia," said Zawahiri. Links between al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab have in the past been mainly ideological. While counter-terrorism experts say al-Shabaab has received advice and training from some members of the transnational network, it has tended to see itself more as an ally of al-Qaeda than a direct outpost of the core organization. Security analysts say the move could be a public relations gambit by an al-Qaeda leadership severely weakened by drone strikes in its Pakistan mountain bastions and its failure to carry out a major successful attack in the West since 2005.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.09.12 Syria uprising is now a battle to the death
February 9 - Rockets rain down on towns that residents can neither defend nor leave, as Bashar al-Assad's forces besiege Free Syria Army.  In the heartland of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad a grinding war of attrition has now become an unforgiving battle to the death. The Free Syria Army has held this territory of orchards and farmland since September, during which time loyalist forces have never been closer, nor seemed more menacing. As rockets regularly thundered on Thursday into towns that residents could neither defend nor leave, the three months of freedom they had savored now seemed illusory. There is little left in the town in which the Guardian was based on Thursday, or in the equally deprived and forsaken villages that dot the hinterland near Homs. Electricity here was switched off two months ago, the phone lines were downed last week. And on Wednesday, contact by road was cut with Homs, Syria's besieged third city, whose fate is seen as a dire warning of what lies ahead for the rest of the area. Homs was on Thursday a very difficult place from which to flee. Only three seriously wounded residents are known to have made it out of the devastated opposition held sectors of the city into the relative safety of nearby Lebanon. Two of the wounded are unlikely to survive. [More>>guardian.co.uk]

02.09.12 US drone in Pakistan kills 'al-Qaeda ally'
February 9 -
Second strike in two days kills Badar Mansoor, leader of Pakistani Taliban faction, and four others, officials say. The second US drone attack in two days in Pakistan's North Waziristan region killed has killed four people, including a senior militant commander with links to al-Qaeda, Pakistani intelligence officials and Taliban sources said. Badar Mansoor, leader of a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed on Thursday in the strike in Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. "He was living in a small rented house with his wife and children in Miranshah. He, his wife and two other members of his family died on the spot," a Pakistani Taliban commander told Reuters. He declined to be identified. Pakistani officials painted Mansoor as al-Qaeda's chief in Pakistan. "He died in the missile attacks overnight in Miranshah. His death is a major blow to al-Qaeda's abilities to strike in Pakistan," a senior official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.    [More>>aljazeera.com; See other details,

khaleejtimes.com (AP) February 9, "US kills al-Qaeda-linked militant in Pakistan" : DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - A US drone fired two missiles at a house in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region Thursday, killing five suspected militants, intelligence officials said. The Taleban identified one of them as a prominent commander who has served as a key link to al-Qaeda. The commander, Badar Mansoor, led a group of over 200 Pakistani Taleban fighters in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan, said a fellow insurgent...Mansoor, the militant commander who was killed before dawn on Thursday, was from Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, and migrated to North Waziristan in 2008, said the Taleban fighter who reported his death. The 230 fighters he led were also from Punjab, said the insurgent. The enlistment of Punjabis in the Pakistani Taleban has been a serious concern for the government because it is easier for them to export violence from the hinterlands near the Afghan border to the heart of the country. Mansoor was allegedly involved in many suicide attacks throughout Pakistan...

02.09.12 Iraq tribe blocks memorial for hanged Qaeda member
DHULUIYAH, Iraq (AFP) February 9 - A major Iraqi tribe has prohibited the family of an executed Al-Qaeda member from organizing a condolences ceremony and from burying him in the cemetery in his home town north of Baghdad. Iraq executed 14 people convicted of "terrorism and other crimes" on Tuesday, bringing to at least 65 the number of people executed here this year. According to residents of Dhuluiyah, a Sunni town, the family of Walid Nayef Abboud al-Juburi received his body at 7:00am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday, and wanted to organize a three-day mourning ceremony for the deceased. "His family was preparing to pitch a tent to receive condolences but the leaders of the (al-Jubur) tribe prevented them from doing so." They also said no al-Qaeda members could be buried in the tribe’s area of the cemetery, a witness told AFP, asking not to be identified for fear of retribution.

The family buried him outside the town, according to the witness. A leader of the Al-Jubur tribe, who also asked not to be identified, said the tribe’s decision to block the ceremony was meant to "prevent deadly friction between the family of the murderer and those of the victims in the town and the region." A security official in the town said Juburi had killed four inhabitants of Dhuluiyah, including two policemen, and kidnapped and killed Shiites in Balad, a town 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the south.
Meanwhile, photos and posts praising Abu Talha, who was the main leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq after Abu Mussab Zarqawi was killed by US forces in 2006 and who was also executed on Tuesday, were published on Thursday on the jihadist website Honein.

Abu Talha, whose real name was Mohammed Khalaf Shakar, was arrested in 2005 by US forces "after he was denounced by members of his family," according to posts on the site. Shakar sought refuge in Kurdistan when Saddam Hussein was still in power, and participated in the founding of the Ansar al-Islam extremist group before joining Al-Qaeda. "After the 2003 invasion, he returned to Mosul where he became the head of the organization in north Iraq," according to the site.  

02.08.12 Drone kills 10 suspected militants in Pakistan
February 8 -
A US drone has killed 10 suspected militants in northern Pakistan near its border with Afghanistan, according to Pakistan security officials. The drone program, which is part of US counter-terrorism efforts, had been suspended after a NATO air strike last November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. But attacks resumed last month and two missiles were fired at a house in the village of Thapi, in North Waziristan, on Wednesday. Pakistan security officials said the building was completely destroyed and 10 suspected militants were killed.  A villager who had visited the site said: "Almost all the men were burnt beyond recognition. Dozens of militants arrived later and took over rescue work. They pulled out nine bodies." Security officials and villagers said the dead included foreign fighters but they did not specify their nationalities. Several militant groups have strongholds in the northwestern ethnic Pashtun tribal regions, taking advantage of the porous border with Afghanistan to conduct cross-border attacks. North Waziristan is also an important base area for the Haqqani network, an Afghan militant faction allied with the Taliban. A Pashtun tribal elder said militants usually avoided gathering, limiting groups to three or four people to minimize losses in the event of a drone attack. "It has been freezing cold in the last few days and there were no drones for some time. That's why the militants started living together and suffered heavy losses," he said.   [>news.sky.com; See other details,

cbsnews.com (AP) February 8, "Official: US drone kills 8 in Pakistan" :
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -  US drone-fired missiles hit a house in Pakistan's northwest tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, killing eight people, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The attack occurred in Spalga village in the North Waziristan tribal area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The identities of those killed were unknown, but the area is dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a prominent militant commander focused on fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan...

02.08.12 Japan's current account surplus smallest in  15 years
TOKYO, February 8 -
Japan’s current account surplus tumbled 43.9% to a 15-year low in 2011 as the nation logged a trade deficit due to lower exports and higher energy costs, government data showed Wednesday. The surplus in the current account, the broadest measure of trade with the rest of the world, stood at 9.63 trillion yen in 2011, the lowest level since 1996, the finance ministry said. The figure was down 43.9% from 2010, the sharpest year-on-year decline since 1985. The surplus in returns on overseas investment and other income expanded "but the balance of goods and services trade slipped into the red, reducing the surplus in the current account," the ministry said in a statement. The traditionally export-led economy has shifted to more overseas production as shown by strong figures for earnings from overseas assets held by Japan. Those earnings rose by nearly 20% to 14.03 trillion yen. Analysts say any systemic shift in Japan’s current account numbers could threaten the country’s ability to finance its large government budget deficits.   [More>>japantoday.com]

02.08.12 'Besieged' Homs endures tank assault
February 8 -
Syrian activists report dozens more deaths and movement of tanks deeper into residential areas after days of shelling.  The Syrian military is reportedly moving deeper into residential areas in the city of Homs, a day after the Russian foreign minister said President Bashar al-Assad was "fully committed" to ending the bloodshed.  Activists said the army was firing rockets and mortar rounds to subdue opposition districts on Wednesday, as tanks entered the Inshaat neighborhood and moved closer to Bab Amr.  An activist in Bab Amr told Al Jazeera that the neighborhood had been under fire for several days. The army is "shelling us, using rockets, using mortars, using Russian tanks," he said. "Tanks are trying to break into the neighborhood of Bab Amr." Activist Hadi al-Abdallah said that at least 43 people were killed overnight in the central city, and other activists reported even higher death tolls. "Some areas are completely [besieged]. There is no internet, no landlines or mobile lines," Al-Abdallah said. He said there had been no retaliation by the armed opposition because the government forces were shelling from positions several kilometers away.  [More>>aljazeera.net; See related stories,

haaretz.com, February 8, "Syrian forces kill at least 67 civilians in Homs, activists say"
Three families killed in their homes in Homs by militiamen loyal to Assad regime; violence comes after Russian FM said that Assad wants a peaceful resolution to the unrest.  Syrian forces thrusting into the rebellious city of Homs on Wednesday killed at least 67  civilians, including three families slain in their homes by militiaman loyal to President Bashar Assad, activists said. The onslaught on Homs, one of the bloodiest of the 11-month-old revolt against Assad, has not relented despite a promise to end the bloodshed that the Syrian leader gave to  Russia, which saved Damascus from UN Security Council action on Sunday. A Turkish newspaper close to the government said Turkey, which has taken a strong stand against former ally Assad, planned to organize a conference with Arab and Western  governments in Istanbul. The conference would be part of a broader Turkish initiative that may be outlined on Wednesday...

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) February 8, "Moscow, Turkey to pool efforts on Syria crisis" : MOSCOW -
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on Wednesday to coordinate their efforts in search for a solution to the Syria crisis, the Kremlin press service said. "Medvedev stressed the need to continue the search for coordinated approaches to help the Syrians solve the crisis themselves, without outside interference, with complete respect for Syria’s sovereignty," the press service said. Medvedev and Erdogan discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone conversation initiated by the Turkish side. Medvedev also defended the Russian-Chinese veto on a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. "That resolution would not have been conducive to the search for a peaceful solution to the crisis," Medvedev was quoted as saying. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said earlier in the day that Russia condemns the ongoing violence in Syria but is against outside interference... alarabiya.net, February 8, "Turkey plans conference on Syria, says Assad dares not to use 'Kurds as a card' " :

alarabiya.net, February 8, "Turkey plans conference on Syria, says Assad dares not to use "Kurds as a card' "
Turkey plans an international conference “as soon as possible” with regional players and world powers to solve the Syrian crisis, its foreign minister said on Wednesday. "We are determined to establish a broad-based forum to promote international understanding with all countries concerned" with the developments in Syria, Ahmet Davutoglu said in a televised interview. The planned conference follows on from a series of conferences hosted by Turkey in 2011 to unite various opposition groups into an established coalition opposition movement. Davutoglu, who said that the Assad regime dares not to use Kurdish separatist groups as proxies and as a "card" against Turkey, added that Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would discuss the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev later on Wednesday..

02.08.12 Mogadishu car bomber kills at least nine - police
MOGADISHU, Somalia (Reuters) February 8 -  A suicide car bomber killed at least nine people on Wednesday near a hotel where lawmakers often gather in the Somali capital Mogadishu, police said. Police officer Hassan Ali told Reuters the attacker rammed his vehicle into a cafe by the Hotel Muna, which was also stormed by al Shabaab militants in August 2010 in an attack that killed more than 30 people. "So far we have carried nine dead civilians and 34 others injured. Up to now we have not seen casualties of any legislators. The death toll may rise," said Ali. Police and the spokesman for African Union troops in Somalia said initial reports showed that the attacker first opened fire on people sitting near the hotel before detonating the car.   [More>>thestar.com.my]
02.07.12 Syria crisis: Gulf Arab states expel Syrian ambassadors
February 7 -
Gulf Arab states say they are expelling Syrian ambassadors in their countries and recalling their envoys from Syria. The Gulf Cooperation Council said Syria had rejected Arab attempts to solve the crisis and end 11 months of bloodshed.
The US closed its embassy in Syria on Monday, and several European countries have recalled their ambassadors. The moves came as Syrian government forces continued their fierce assault on the restive city of Homs, and Russian officials visited Damascus. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a solution to the crisis based on Arab League initiatives, days after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution on Syria. After meeting Mr. Lavrov, Syrian media quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying he was willing to co-operate with "any efforts towards stability."

The BBC's Paul Wood
one of the only foreign reporters in Homs says the Syrian army resumed mortar attacks and heavy machine-gun fire after daybreak. He says Russian-made tanks have been seen close to the city center, but there is no sign so far of the ground assault feared by many residents. Hundreds are reported to have died since the shelling of the city began on Friday. At least 95 people were killed on Monday alone, activists say.  A Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) statement said: "Members have decided to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria and ask at the same time for all the ambassadors of the Syrian regime to leave immediately." There was "no point in them staying after the Syrian regime rejected all attempts and aborted all honest Arab efforts to solve this crisis and end the bloodshed," it added. Member states "follow with sorrow and anger, the increase in killing and violence in Syria, which has not spared children, old people or women with heinous acts that at best can be described as mass slaughter."

The GCC said it would urge all other Arab states to adopt "decisive measures" when the Arab League meets next week.  The decision comes a day after the US closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled out all remaining staff. The UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy have also recalled their ambassadors.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.07.12 Kidnapped Chinese workers released in Sudan
(AFP) February 7 -
A group of Chinese workers kidnapped by rebels in Sudan's South Kordofan state 11 days ago were released Tuesday and flown to the Chinese embassy in Nairobi, a foreign ministry statement said.  A group of Chinese workers "kidnapped" by rebels in southern Sudan 11 days ago have been freed and flown to Kenya, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday. "The Sudanese authorities allowed a Red Cross plane to take them from Kauda to Nairobi ... this Tuesday morning where they were given to the Chinese embassy there," the statement said. The statement did not give the number of Chinese freed. The Kauda area in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan state has been the scene of fighting since June between government troops and rebels formerly aligned with the rulers of now independent South Sudan. Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) spokesman Arnu Ngutulu Lodi told AFP he would comment later Tuesday, but the release comes a day after he said he expected the 29 Chinese workers to be released "very soon."   [More>>france24.com]

02.07.12 Iran arrests several for links to BBC Farsi service
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) February 7 -
Iranian authorities have arrested several people over alleged links to the British Broadcasting Corporation's Farsi-language service, Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency reported on Monday. The report said they produced content and reported to the BBC. It said they facilitated training and hiring of some Iranian journalists and arranged trips abroad for them. It quoted an unnamed official as saying they were active since 2009. It did not name them or say how many were arrested. In London, the BBC said in a statement that the report "should be of deep concern to all those who believe in a free and independent media." The British broadcaster said it has "no BBC Persian staff members or stringers working inside Iran." In October, Iran released two filmmakers who were in jail on similar charges. Tehran has accused the BBC of operating as a cover for British intelligence and of hosting Iranian dissidents. Last week the BBC accused Iran of intimidating staff members of its Persian service by slandering them and arresting relatives.    [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

02.07.12 Iran's parliament summons Ahmadinejad
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) February 7 -
Iran’s parliament on Tuesday decided to summon President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for questioning over a long list of accusations, including that he mismanaged the nation’s economy. The summons was the first of its kind for an Iranian president since 1979. It follows a petition by a group of lawmakers for a review of policy decisions by Ahmadinejad, who has come under increasing attacks in recent months from the same hard-liners who brought him to power. It is also part of a power struggle on the Iranian political scene ahead of March 2 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential vote. Mohammad Reza Bahnoar, the parliament deputy speaker, said lawmakers have demanded that Ahmadinejad answer a slew of questions on the economy, including purportedly bypassing a special budget for the Tehran subway and public transportation. He is also to be queried about foreign and domestic policy decisions.
"There is a requirement for the president to answer questions in an open session of the parliament," said Bahnoar, whose parliament speech was broadcast live on Iranian state radio.   [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.07.12 Grand Canyon banning sales of bottled water
February 7 - 
Activists concerned that Coca-Cola might be influencing National Park Service policy were breathing easier Tuesday after the Grand Canyon National Park announced it would eliminate the sale of bottled water inside the park within 30 days. "Our parks should set the standard for resource protection and sustainability," John Wessels, regional director for the park service, said in a statement. "I feel confident that the impacts to park concessioners and partners have been given fair consideration and that this plan can be implemented with minimal impacts to the visiting public." The move came after activists on Dec. 2 released an email from National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in which he stated that "while I applaud the intent (of the ban), there are going to be consequences, since Coke is a major sponsor of our recycling efforts."   [More>>msnbc.msn.com]
02.03.12 Why the GOP should stop invoking Reaganomics
February 3 (By Bruce Barlett, a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan)  In their debates, ads and speeches, the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are vying for the label of most Reagan-esque. On taxes, "I take the Reagan approach," former senator Rick Santorum said at a recent Florida debate. On the economy, "under Ronald Reagan, we had . . . the right laws, the right regulators, the right leadership," former House speaker Newt Gingrich said in a debate before his South Carolina primary victory. Judging from the candidates’ tax proposals, they seem to believe that the most Reagan-like candidate is the one with the biggest tax cut. But, as the person who drafted the 1981 Reagan tax cut, I think Republicans misunderstand the premises upon which Reagan’s economic policies were based, and why those policies can’t
and shouldn't be replicated today.

I was the staff economist for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) in 1977, and it was my job to draft what came to be the Kemp-Roth tax bill, which Reagan endorsed in 1980 and enacted the following year. Kemp and Sen. Bill Roth (R-Del.) proposed cutting tax rates across the board by about a third, lowering the top rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and reducing the bottom rate from 20 percent to 8 percent. (Though when the Reagan tax cut was enacted in 1981, the bottom rate was reduced to 11 percent.) While our aim was to increase growth and employment, we were intent on doing so in a way that did not exacerbate inflation, which was the nation’s top problem at that time. After all, growth was not particularly sluggish in the late 1970s
the economy grew at 5.4 percent in 1976, 4.6 percent in 1977 and 5.6 percent in 1978. (We haven’t seen three consecutive years as good since.)  But people didn't feel very prosperous because inflation and unemployment were high. The unemployment rate was around 7 percent during those three years, and inflation accelerated, going from 4.9 percent in 1976 to an astonishing 13.3 percent in 1979.

...Keynesian economics, which was the dominant theory at the time, said that higher taxes would curb inflation by reducing people’s disposable income and spending, and that any tax cut would exacerbate inflation. Our thinking, by contrast, was that lower taxes would increase the incentive to work, save and invest; if that led to an increase in the supply of goods and services, then the impact would be anti-inflationary...Republicans like to say that massive growth followed the Reagan tax cut. But average real GDP growth during Reagan’s eight years in the White House was only slightly above the rate of the previous eight years: 3.4 percent per year vs. 2.9 percent.The average unemployment rate was actually higher under Reagan than it was during the previous eight years: 7.5 percent vs. 6.6 percent.   [Full story>>washingtonpost.com]

02.03.12 Iran helping al-Qaeda? War 'hysteria' builds
February 3 -
Reported concerns among some US officials that Iran may have essentially freed a group of al-Qaeda militants held for almost a decade under house arrest in the Islamic Republic are adding Friday morning to the escalating war-rhetoric pouring out of Washington and Israel. According to The Wall Street Journal, some government officials believe Iran's move to allow the men greater freedom - which may include permission to leave the country
suggests the nation's hardline rulers are trying to bolster a link between themselves and the radical Muslim terror group as Western pressure mounts on both entities. The report is particularly disconcerting as it follows closely on the heels of America's intelligence chief James Clapper warning US lawmakers that Iran is, "more willing to conduct an attack in the United States" as sanctions hit its economy and talk of Israel attacking its military and nuclear installations gains volume.  Clapper offered no specific evidence in public to suggest Iran is looking to plan further attacks on the US after its highly flawed and failed plot to kill a Saudi official in Texas last year. But the war rhetoric is getting louder. US defense chief Leon Panetta believes, says CBS News national security correspondent David Martin, there's a strong likelihood Israel could strike Iran as early as April if diplomatic pressure fails to convince the Iranians to reveal and dramatically reign-in their controversial and secretive nuclear work.  [More>>cbsnews.com; See related story,

alarabiya.net, February 3, "Iran's Khamenei threatens retaliation against oil embargo, military attack"
: ...“Threatening Iran and attacking Iran will harm America ... Sanctions will not have any impact on our determination to continue our nuclear course ... In response to threats of oil embargo and war, we have our own threats to impose at the right time,” Khamenei told worshipers in a speech broadcast live on state television. "I have no fear of saying that we will back and help any nation or group that wants to confront and fight against the Zionist regime (Israel)."

02.03.12 More deaths reported in Syria as Russia says it cannot support amended draft
February 3 - Protesters flooded towns and cities across Syria defying a brutal government crackdown on Friday to commemorate the notorious 1982 massacre in the city of Hama that killed tens of thousands.  As many as 34 people have been killed by the gunfire of Syrian security forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists. UN Security Council envoys awaited a decision by Moscow on Friday on the latest version of a European-Arab draft resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Syria, and some diplomats said the Kremlin may go along with it. A senior Western envoy said the council’s 15 ambassadors had agreed the new text on Thursday, but that the final decision rested with national capitals. “The Russians said ... on ambassadorial level ... they stand by the text ... and the Chinese said the same thing,” the envoy said, according to Reuters. However, Russia said it cannot support a Western-Arab draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria despite changes that took some of its concerns into account, the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying on Friday.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.03.12 Kuwaiti Islamist-led opposition wins majority
February 3 - Opposition secures 34 out of 50 seats in snap parliamentary elections held after anti-corruption protests in December.  Kuwait's Islamist-led opposition has won a landslide majority in snap polls, securing 34 seats in the 50-member parliament, officials results showed. The snap polls were held after the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state dissolved parliament following youth-led protests in December over alleged corruption and bitter disputes between opposition MPs and the government. Sunni Islamists took 23 seats compared with just nine in the dissolved parliament, while liberals were the big losers, winning only two places against five previously. No women were elected, with the four female MPs of the previous parliament all losing their seats. Sixty-two percent of Kuwaitis cast their ballots on Thursday, up slightly from 58 per cent in the previous election in 2009. Voters punished pro-government MPs, reducing them to a small minority, especially 13 former members who were questioned by the public prosecutor over corruption charges. The opposition scored strongly in the two tribal-dominated constituencies, winning 18 of the 20 available seats.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

02.03.12 Street battle rages near Egypt's Interior Ministry
CAIRO (Reuters) February 3 - Rock-throwing protesters fought riot police through clouds of teargas to within meters of Egypt's Interior Ministry on a second day of clashes triggered by the deaths of 74 people in the country's worst soccer disaster.  A demonstrator and an army officer were reported dead in Cairo and in the city of Suez two people were killed as police used live rounds to hold back crowds trying to break into a police station and fought in front of the state security headquarters, witnesses and the ambulance authority said. Most of those killed in the Port Said football stadium on Wednesday night were crushed in a stampede and the government declared three days of mourning, but protesters hold the military-led authorities responsible. It was country's deadliest incident since an uprising ousted Hosni Mubarak almost a year ago and it gave fresh impetus to regular street protests against Egypt's ruling generals. "We will stay until we get our rights. Did you see what happened in Port Said?" said 22-year-old Abu Hanafy, who arrived from work Thursday evening and decided to join the protest.   [More>>thestar.com.my]

02.02.12 Egypt football riot: Port Said officials sacked
February 2 -
Senior officials in the Egyptian city of Port Said and the Egyptian football association have been sacked in the wake of riots on Wednesday at a football match in which 74 people died. The governor of Port Said resigned, while two senior security officials have been suspended and are in custody. Security forces fired tear gas as thousands of protesters marched towards the interior ministry in Cairo. Three days of national mourning have been declared. Protesters in Cairo chanted slogans against the police and Egypt's military rulers.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.02.12 Philippines: Most-wanted terror leaders killed
Manila, Philippines (AP) February 2 - The Philippine military said it killed Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorist and two other senior militants Thursday in a US-backed airstrike marking one of the region’s biggest anti-terrorism successes in recent years. The dawn strike targeting a militant camp on a southern Philippine island killed Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, a top leader of the regional, al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah terror network, said military spokesman Col. Marcelo Burgos. The US had offered a $5 million reward for the capture of Marwan, a US-trained engineer accused of involvement in a number of deadly bombings in the Philippines and in training new militants. Also killed were the leader of the Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf militants, Umbra Jumdail, and a Singaporean leader in Jemaah Islamiyah, Abdullah Ali, who used the guerrilla name Muawiyah, Burgos said. The strike significantly weakens a regional militant network that has relied on the restive southern Philippines
sometimes called Southeast Asia’s Afghanistan as a hideout, a headquarters for planning bombings and a base for training and recruitment.    [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

02.02.12 US 'no-fly' list of suspected terrorists doubles in 12 months
February 2 - Classified log of individuals banned from flying into or within America as they are considered a threat stands at 21,000.  The size of the US government's secret list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the country has more than doubled in the past year. The no-fly list jumped from about 10,000 known or suspected terrorists one year ago to about 21,000, according to government figures. About 500 are US nationals. The flood of new names began after the failed Christmas 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner when the US government lowered the standard for putting people on the list and scoured its files for anyone who qualified. "We learned a lot about the watch-listing process and made strong improvements, which continue to this day," said Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, which produces the no-fly list. Among the most significant new standard[s] is that a person doesn't have to be considered only a threat to aviation to be placed on the list. People considered a broader threat to domestic or international security or who attended a terror training camp are also included, said a US counter-terrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity. As agencies complete the reviews of their files, the pace of growth is expected to slow, the counter-terrorism official said. The American Civil Liberties Union has previously sued the US government on behalf of Americans who believe they are on the no-fly list and have not been able to travel by air for work or to see family.  [More>>guardian.co.uk

02.02.12 Kidnapped aid workers released in Yemen, 5 militants dead
(Reuters) February 2  - Six kidnapped foreign aid workers have been released in Yemen, the defense ministry said on Thursday, and a military source said separately that five Islamist militants were killed in clashes with the armed forces in the country's south. "The six aid workers were released...after mediation efforts led by Energy Minister Saleh Samee," the defense ministry said in a statement. "They are in good health." It said the aid workers were of Yemeni, German, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Colombian origin. A UN source said the six worked for its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Kidnappings, which come against the backdrop of relentless anti-government protests, have become common in Yemen where hostages are often used by disgruntled tribesmen to press their demands on authorities, and are usually freed unharmed. One of the kidnappers told Reuters the release was under way after a delay earlier when one of the hostages had fallen ill. He said the hostage was now well after receiving medical treatment, adding the government had agreed to release a tribesman in exchange for the hostages.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

02.01.12  Iran says 11 more pilgrims kidnapped in Syria
TEHRAN (AFP) February 1 - Eleven Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped on Wednesday in Syria, in the latest such incident in the unrest-swept Arab state, the state news agency IRNA reported. It said the latest case raised to 29 the number of Iranians abducted in Syria since December. The foreign ministry has urged Damascus "to use all means ... to release" Iranian nationals. Iran’s consul at the embassy in Damascus, Abdolmajid Kamjou, quoted by IRNA, said the latest batch was snatched in the central city of Hama after the mission had warned Iranian pilgrims to avoid road trips in Syria. "Armed people are trying to take advantage of our pilgrims in order to propagate that Iran is sending forces to Syria, but this is just a pretext. All of the Iranians kidnapped so far are civilians," he said. Syria is Iran’s main ally in the Arab world. Anti-regime circles have accused Tehran of aiding the regime’s crackdown on dissent. Last Friday, the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed to have captured five Iranian military officers in the restive city of Homs and urged Tehran to "immediately" withdraw any other troops it may have in Syria. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday warned against US “interference” in Syria’s internal affairs while saying he backed reform for the Syrian people.   [>khaleejtimes.com]

02.01.12 Clashes rage in Syria as Russia delays UN vote
(AFP) February 1 -
The latest wave of violent clashes in Syria left dozens dead on Wednesday as Russia told Western powers and the Arab League that a UN vote on a tough resolution against President Bashar al-Assad would need more time. Fresh bloodshed swept Syria on Wednesday after Western powers and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop the regime's "killing machine" but holdout Russia said any vote needed more time. Wrangling at the United Nations came as fierce clashes raged across Syria's powder keg regions between President Bashar al-Assad's security forces and rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army. At least eight civilians and 15 soldiers were killed during fierce fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Activists said the unrest had killed nearly 200 people nationwide over the previous three days. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts and Qatar's premier, led the charge on Tuesday for a tough UN resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power. "We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end," Clinton told the UN Security Council. "The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?"    [More>>france24.com]

02.01.12 London Stock Exchange bomb plot admitted by four men
February 1 - 
Four men inspired by al-Qaeda have admitted planning to detonate a bomb at the London Stock Exchange. Mohammed Chowdhury, Shah Rahman, Gurukanth Desai and Abdul Miah pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct in preparation for acts of terrorism. The men, from London and Cardiff, were arrested in December 2010 and were set to stand trial at Woolwich Crown Court. Five other men have pleaded guilty to other terrorism offenses and all nine will be sentenced next week. The men, who are all British nationals, had been inspired by the preachings of the recently-killed radical extremist Anwar Al-Awlaki.  [More>>bbc.co.uk]

02.01.12  Iran warns currency speculators as rial continues to fall
TEHRAN, February 1 - Faced with a plummeting currency in the wake of toughened international sanctions, Iran is cracking down on black-market money changers and warning that major speculators could face execution. The crackdown comes as Iranian authorities are struggling to stabilize the rial, which has nosedived amid announcements of new US and European sanctions against Iran’s central bank and oil exports. As a warning to speculators, several money changers working on the streets of central Tehran have been arrested by undercover police officers pretending to be desperately seeking foreign currency. In addition, the hard-line chief of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani, threatened Wednesday to seek the death penalty for major speculators. Speaking about the unrest in the foreign-exchange markets, he warned that “depending on the importance of their crimes, some of the economic corrupted can face execution,” the semiofficial Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying in a meeting with judicial officials on the currency crisis.   [More>>washingtonpost.com]

02.01.12  Taliban 'poised to retake Afghanistan' after NATO pullout
KABUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) February 1 - A secret US military report says that the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are set to retake control over Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw from the country, The Times newspaper reported on Wednesday.  Lt. Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), confirmed the document's existence but said it was not a strategic study of operations.  "The classified document in question is a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions," he said. "It's not an analysis, nor is it meant to be considered an analysis." Nevertheless, it could be interpreted as a damning assessment of the war, now dragging into its eleventh year and aimed at blocking a Taliban return to power, or possibly an admission of defeat.  It could also reinforce the view of Taliban hardliners that the group should not negotiate peace with the United States and President Hamid Karzai's unpopular government while in a position of strength.  The document cited by Britain's The Times said that Pakistan's powerful security agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was assisting the Taliban in directing attacks against foreign forces.  The allegations drew a strong response from Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit. "This is frivolous, to put it mildly,"  he told Reuters. "We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan." The Times said the "highly classified" report was put together by the US military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for top NATO officers last month. The BBC also carried a report on the leaked document.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related stories,

indianexpress.com, February 1, "NATO report rips open Pakistan 'double game' in Afghanistan" :
Exposing the ISI's "manipulation" of Taliban's senior leadership and its "massive double game," a damning NATO report says that Pakistan government remains "intimately" involved with the Afghan-based terror group. The report leaked out on a day when Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar arrived in Kabul on a one-day visit for talks with Afghan leadership. The NATO report contains accusations that Pakistan is playing a massive double game with the West as it publicly claims to seek a political solution to the Afghan conflict, while still supporting fighters who have killed thousands of international troops. Many of the reports most serious revelations concern the scale of support to the Taliban provided by Pakistan and the influence of ISI agency. "The Pakistan government remains intimately involved with the Taliban," The Telegraph quoted the report as saying. The report was first leaked to The Times newspaper and the BBC. Reacting to the report, Khar was quoted as saying, "We can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak... This is old wine in an even older bottle." The report on the state of the Taliban fully exposes for the first time the relationship between the ISI and the Taliban, the BBC said. The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians. It notes: "Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly." It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders. "Senior Taliban representatives, such as Nasiruddin Haqqani, maintain residences in the immediate vicinity of ISI headquarters in Islamabad," it said...

timesofindia.indiatimes.com, February 1, "Cut off ISI-Taliban links, US tells Pakistan" :

WASHINGTON - The US today said it has "long standing concerns" over ISI's links with the Taliban and wants Pakistan to "cut-off" those ties, hours after a NATO report blew the lid off the intelligence agency's "manipulation" of Afghan Taliban's senior leadership. Pentagon  spokesperson  Navy Capt John Kirby told reporters during an off-camera briefing that the facts laid bare by the damning report were "not a new notion" and these concerns have been raised earlier as well.  "This is not a new notion, we made those concerns clear and the Secretary has been very clear about the ongoing problem of safe havens inside Pakistan for these groups," Kirby said referring to a new NATO report on Taliban which says that the ISI continues to help the extremist group, which wants to come back to power in Afghanistan. "We have made it clear already that Pakistan needs to act against safe heavens. We would like ties between some elements of ISI and Taliban to be cut-off," he said.  Kirk said the US had "longstanding concerns" about the ties between the elements of the ISI and the Taliban but did not give details on what elements of the ISI he was referring to.  Without going into the specific of the classified report, Kirby said the US does has information that the Taliban is becoming splintered and is not a monolithic organization.  For instance, he said, a couple of weeks ago about 50 Taliban came in and asked to be reintegrated.  The reason they gave was that they can't sleep at one place for more than a day and that they do not want to kill their own Afghan countrymen, he said. So the US pressure on the Taliban is yielding results, Kirby said. [end]

alarabiya.net, February 1, "Islamabad rejects report it backs Afghan Taliban; Pakistan raid kills 20 militants"
: ...But Pentagon spokesman George Little said: “We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks.” Little said US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "has also been clear that he believes that the safe havens in Pakistan remain a serious problem and need to be addressed by Pakistani authorities." Meanwhile, Pakistani warplanes pounded militant hideouts in the northwestern tribal area before dawn on Wednesday, killing at least 20 Taliban insurgents, security officials said, according to AFP. The jets targeted hideouts in the tribal Orakzai district and at least four compounds were hit, they said, in the latest surge of fighting between government security forces and Islamist militants in the Afghan border areas. "At least 20 Taliban militants were killed in the bombing," a military official in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar said. Local intelligence officials confirmed the air strikes. The hideouts belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders Mulla Tufan and Commander Moheyuddin, a security official said. There are reports that Moheyuddin may have been killed in the bombing, he said. A military official in Peshawar said "four hideouts have been destroyed and the death toll may go up. [end]

thenews.com.pk (AFP) February 1, "Taliban deny plan for Saudi talks with Karzai" :

KABUL - The Taliban militia leading a 10-year insurgency in Afghanistan on Wednesday denied that they would soon hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government in Saudi Arabia. "There is no truth in these published reports saying that the delegation of the Islamic Emirate would meet with representatives of the Karzai government in Saudi Arabia in the near future," the Taliban said on their website. [end]

02.01.12  Threat from new virus-infected emails which take over your PC even if you don't open their attachments
February 1 -  A new class of cyber attack is threatening PCs - emails which infect PCs without the user having to open an attachment.  The user will not even be warned this is happening —  the only message that appears is "loading." The email automatically downloads malicious software into your computer from elsewhere the moment a user clicks to open it.  The mails themselves are not infected and thus will not 'set off' many web-security defense packages.  Security experts say that the development is "particularly dangerous."  "Driveby spam also affects cautious users which would never open an unknown attachment or link. Previous generations of email-borne viruses and trojans required users to click on an attachment often an office document such as a PDF.  The new emails dubbed "drive-by emails" have been detected "in the wild" by computer researchers Eleven Research Team. "This driveby spam automatically downloads malware when the e-mail is opened in the e-mail client," says Eleven Research Team. "Previous malware e-mails required the user to click on a link or open an attachment for the PC to be infected."...The current wave of emails arrive with the title “Banking Security Update.”   [Full story>>dailymail.co.uk]
01.31.12  Pythons wiping out mammals in everglades, researchers say
January 31 -
Burmese pythons have eaten so many small mammals in Everglades National Park that populations of rabbits and foxes have disappeared and numbers of raccoons, opossums and bobcats have dropped as much as 99%, according to a report released Tuesday by researchers at Virginia Tech University, Davidson College and the US Geological Survey. "Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America’s most beautiful, treasured, and naturally bountiful ecosystems," said US Geological Survey Director Marci McNutt in a statement. The massive nonnative snakes have become an established species in the park in the past 11 years, after snakes that were once pets were released into the wild, according to the researchers. Park spokeswoman Linda Friar said earlier this month that there are tens of thousands of the snakes in the park.
  In the remote southernmost regions of the 1.5 million-acre national park, researchers could find no marsh or cottontail rabbits or foxes. In those same areas, the raccoon population has declined 99.3%, the opossum population 98.9%, and the bobcat population 87.5%, the researchers reported. Those animals are often found in the stomachs of Burmese pythons captured in the Everglades, the researchers said.

"The magnitude of these declines underscores the apparent incredible density of pythons in Everglades National Park," said lead author Michael
Dorcas, a biology professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.
..The researchers compared the proliferation of pythons in Florida to that of the brown tree snake on the Pacific island of Guam, where native species have disappeared since the introduction of the snakes. But they said it's happening faster in Florida. "It took 30 years for the brown tree snake to be implicated in the nearly complete disappearance of mammals and birds on Guam; it has apparently taken only 11 years since pythons were recognized as being established in the Everglades for researchers to implicate pythons in the same kind of severe mammal declines," US Geological Survey scientist Robert Reed said in the report.   [Full story>>cnn.com]

01.31.12 House prices continue to fall despite broader signs of ecomic improvement
January 31 - Average prices drop to 2003 levels in 19 out of 20 US cities, with only Phoenix bucking the trend, new survey shows. House prices have continued to fall across the US even as the wider economy has picked up, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday. For the second consecutive month home prices fell in 19 out of 20 cities measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller index, leaving average prices at levels seen in mid-2003. This was the third month in a row that average prices had fallen. The survey found prices in November declined 0.7% on a seasonally adjusted basis, a bigger drop than the 0.5% economists had expected. The decrease followed a 0.7% decline in October. Prices in the 20 cities steepened their year-over-year decline, falling 3.7% compared to a 3.4% decline in October. "Despite continued low interest rates and better real GDP growth in the fourth quarter, home prices continue to fall," said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor's.  [More>>guardian.co.uk]

01.31.12 Report; US deficit falls slightly to $1.1 trillion
January 31 - A new budget report released Tuesday predicts the US government will run a $1.1 trillion deficit in the fiscal year that ends in September, a slight dip from last year but still very high by any measure. A previous estimate was for $973 billion.The Congressional Budget Office report also says that annual deficits will remain in the $1 trillion range for the next several years if Bush-era tax cuts slated to expire in December are extended, as commonly assumed. The CBO is a non-partisan budget analyst for Congress. If the CBO estimate for this year's deficit proves accurate, fiscal year 2012 would be the fourth consecutive year of federal budget deficits topping $1 trillion. The shortfall registered $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2011, up from $1.29 trillion in 2010. It reached $1.42 trillion in 2009, the highest ever.  [More>>msnbc.msn.com]

01.31.12  Yemeni minister escapes assassination bid; Qaeda militants killed in drone strike
January 31 - Yemen’s newly appointed Information Minister Ali Ahmed al-Amrani escaped an assassination attempt on Tuesday as he was leaving government headquarters in Sana's, a government official told AFP.  "Three bullets targeted Amrani's car as he left the government headquarters following a cabinet meeting," the official told AFP, requesting anonymity. The minister, a member of the opposition named to the post in December as part of a deal that will see President Ali Abdullah Saleh officially quit on February 21, was unhurt. Amrani was a member of Saleh’s General People’s Congress who joined the opposition along with several other party members last March in protest over a deadly crackdown on anti-regime protests by the president’s loyalists.

...Meanwhile, at least 12 al-Qaeda militants, including four local leaders, were killed in a drone strike in southern Yemen, a tribal chief said in what he called one of the biggest US strikes against the group. Residents said the unidentified drone attacked the militants overnight who were traveling in two vehicles east of the city of Lawdar in Abyan provice. The tribal leader in the area told Reuters that at between 12 and 15 people were killed in the attack, including at least four leaders or prominent figures in a local Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)...One of those killed was identified by local tribal leaders as Abdel-Munem al-Fatahani, who they said was wanted by the United States for alleged links to attacks on the US destroyer Cole in 2000 and a French oil tanker in 2002.    [Full story>>alarabiya.net; See other details,

news.com.au, January 31, "US air strikes kill 15 al-Qaeda militants" ....
Also today, armed tribesmen from the al-Mahweet province kidnapped six United Nations workers - an Iraqi woman, a Palestinian woman, a Colombian man, a German man and two Yemeni men. The assailants demanded that the government release fellow tribesmen from prison. Tribes in Yemen have historically used kidnapping as a way of getting concessions from the government and hostages are ordinarily well treated before being released...
01.31.12  Barack Obama confirms US drone strikes in Pakistan
WASHINGTON, January 31 - President Barack Obama on Monday confirmed that US drone aircraft have struck Taliban and al-Qaeda targets within  Pakistan
operations that until now had not been officially acknowledged. When asked about the use of drones by his administration in a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube, Obama said "a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA" Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. "For the most part, they've been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we're very careful in terms of how it's been applied," Obama said. "This is a targeted focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on." Explaining that many strikes were carried out "on al-Qaeda operatives in places where the capacities of that military in that country may not be able to get them," Obama confirmed that Pakistan's lawless tribal zone was a target.  [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]
01.31.12  Car bomb north of Baghdad kills 3 Iraqi soldiers
January 31 -
An Iraqi official says a bomb blast north of Baghdad has killed three Iraqi soldiers, hours before the nation's parliament is to reconvene after Sunni-backed lawmakers ended their boycott to protest persecution of Sunni officials. Police spokesman in Diyala province, Maj Ghalib al-Karkhi, says a parked car bomb detonated near a military patrol in Baqouba, killing three soldiers and wounding three others. Baqouba is a former al-Qaeda stronghold, 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad. Al-Qaeda has frequently targeted Iraqi security forces since the US troops left in December.  The group appears to be exploiting a political crisis that has erupted after the Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni vice president on terrorism charges.    [>indianexpress.com]

01.30.12  Syria opposition rejects Russia-brokered talks
(Reuters) January 30 -
Syria's opposition denied Monday that it had received an offer to join talks brokered by Russia with the government, adding that it would decline such an invitation. Russia stated earlier that Syrian authorities had agreed to participate.
  A senior member of the Syrian opposition said on Monday that the Syrian National Council had not received any formal invitation to attend talks with Syria’s authorities in Russia, and would decline if one arrived. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the Syrian authorities had agreed to talks in Russia, and that it hoped the opposition would agree.  "We have not received any offer like that officially and I think, if such an offer exists, it will be no more than an attempt to influence the (UN) Security Council. But I say clearly that our position has not changed and it is that there is no dialog with (President Bashar al-Assad)," Abdel Baset Seda, a member of the Syrian council’s executive committee, told Reuters. He was speaking by telephone from New York, where he was following the Arab League’s bid to win support from the Security Council for its Syria peace plan.  [>france24.com]

01.30.12  Americans barred from leaving Egypt take refuge at US embassy in Cairo
January 30 - Three US citizens move into embassy as tensions mount over Egyptian crackdown on pro-democracy and human rights groups.  Three Americans barred by authorities in Egypt from leaving the country have sought refuge at the US embassy in Cairo, officials say, as tensions between the two allied nations sharply escalated over an inquiry into foreign-funded organizations. The unusual step comes amid a row over an Egyptian crackdown on US-funded groups promoting democracy and human rights that has jeopardized more than $1bn of crucial US aid to Egypt, one of its biggest recipients. The investigation is closely intertwined with Egypt's political turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's fall nearly a year ago. The generals who took power have accused "foreign hands" of being behind protests against their rule and frequently depict the protesters as receiving foreign funds in a plot to destabilize the country.  [More>>guardian.co.uk]

01.30.12  FDA approves Erivedge for most common type of skin cancer
January 30 -
The FDA has approved a new drug called Erivedge to treat basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. PICTURES: Is it skin cancer? 38 photos that could save your life Federal regulators announced Monday the approval of the Erivedge pill, the first drug ever approved for treating basal cell carcinoma. Typical BCC treatments include outpatient procedures such as freezing or surgically removing the cancerous area. The pill is made by Genentech, a unit of Swiss drugmaker Roche. Erivedge is a once-per-day capsule that's intended to treat locally advanced cancer for patients who are not candidates for surgery or radiation, and for patients whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Genentech said the drug will be available within one to two weeks.  [More>>cbsnews.com]

01.30.12  Iran develops laser-guided artillery
MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) January 30 -
Iran has developed smart, laser-guided artillery projectiles capable of hitting moving targets at a distance of up to 20 kilometers, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Monday. The ammunition, designated Basir, is designed to destroy tanks, military vehicles, bridges, and other moving or non-moving targets with high precision, Vahidi was quoted by Press TV as saying. It is also capable of identifying and locating targets. He did not provide details on the shell’s specifications.   [>en.rian.ru]

01.30.12  Iran grain shipments stranded as sanctions bitte
LONDON / HAMBURG (Reuters) January 30 - European Union sanctions have paralyzed food import deals to Iran leaving about 400,000 tons of grain held up on at least 10 ships outside Iranian ports for as long as three weeks, trade sources say. The EU agreed last week to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank as part of further sanctions aimed at stepping up pressure on Iran’s disputed nuclear program. The tougher trade embargo has meant major EU banks have pulled back from financing grain shipments to Iran, a major importer of foodstuffs and animal feed.
"The myriad of sanctions have worked to the point where the Iranian banking system is virtually defunct, thereby not allowing international trade houses to receive workable letters of credit," one European grain trader said. "Their ships are stopped while people figure out how to get payment done, it’s a mess." Industry sources said a number of international trade houses are unable to deliver their grain at the moment.
"The exporters cannot unload without payment as they would face multi-million dollar losses if they do not get their money," another grain trader said.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

01.30.12  Four killed in Peshawar suicide attack
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, January 30 - At least four people were killed and seven injured as a result of a suicide attack in the Pakha Ghulam area.  Among the seven injured two are children. Five of those injured are in critical condition.  The explosion took place at an under construction house belonging to the leader of a banned organization (Ansar-ul-Islam). DCO Peshawar has confirmed that the Ameer of the banned organization was killed during the attack.  Police are gathering evidence from the site of the suicide attack.   [>thenews.com.pk]

01.28.12  'Call to arms' as Syria violence escalates
January 28 -
Free Syrian Army and security forces continue to clash as UN prepares to discuss draft resolution against government. Fierce fighting has escalated between the Free Syrian Army and government troops in the suburb of Damascus, the capital, a day after 60 people were killed across the country, according to reports. Meanwhile, European and Arab nations have pressed for UN Security Council backing for an Arab League plan calling on Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, to stand down, but Russia said their proposed resolution crossed its "red lines." Move comes amid reports of army tanks shelling Homs' Baba Amr neighborhood on Saturday, and growing calls within the Syrian opposition for an all-out armed resistance, sources tell Al Jazeera.  Morocco presented a draft resolution to the 15-nation Security Council, drawn up by Britain, France and Germany with Arab states, that seeks to end months of UN deadlock over Syria. Days of tough talks loom before any vote is held. No action is likely before Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al Thani brief the council on Tuesday.
Backers of the new resolution hope opponents will be swayed by the Arab League's involvement and by a new upsurge in violence in Syria in efforts to end the deadly crackdown on dissent which the UN says has left more than 5,400 dead.  [More>>aljazeera.net]

01.28.12  Syrian rebels capture seven Iranians
January 28 - Syrian rebels are holding seven Iranians, including five military experts, the deputy chief of the dissident Syrian Free Army Colonel Malek al-Kurdi said in remarks published on Saturday. The Iranians were arrested in the restive Syrian city of Homs, al-Kurdi told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat. According to him, five of the arrests are experts from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the other two are civilians. Al-Kurdi gave no details about their whereabouts or what the rebels plan to do with them. The Iranian state news Agency IRNA reported that 11 pilgrims have been kidnapped in Syria. The Syrian opposition has accused Iran, Syria's main regional ally, of aiding the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in quelling unprecedented pro-democracy protests.   [>news.com.au]

01.28.12  'Half of Damascus falls to rebels' as breakaway army slowly seize control of capital from Assad regime
January 28 - The growing power of a rebel army has seen control of the Syrian capital of Damascus split between rival gunmen fighting for or against President Bashar Assad. Two days of bloody carnage in which at least 74 people have died has come as the rebel force
the Syrian Free Army steps up its mission to take control of the streets from government forces. "We had a big battle here earlier this month," a Damascus schoolteacher, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, told The Times. "For the past 11 days this has been free Syria. All they can do now is cut the electricity and the water an disrupt the phone. It just goes to show how weak they are." The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday. A "fierce military campaign" was also under way in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama since the early hours of Friday, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other activists. However, the rebel surge has caused a spike in deaths that has claimed the lives of women and children as well as soldiers. In the besieged city of Homs forces loyal to President Bashar Assad shelled homes and fired on crowds with machine guns in a dramatic escalation of violence yesterday, according to activists.   [More>>dailymail.co.uk]

01.28.12  Bailed-out RBS spends millions on Washington lobbyists
January 28 -
Bailed-out bank has spent over £2.5m of British taxpayers' money to influence politicians reforming US financial law.
The Royal Bank of Scotland has spent more than $4m (£2.5m) of British taxpayers' money on lobbyists in Washington since it was bailed out by the government, documents disclose. Both in-house and commercial lobbyists have been paid to influence American senators and congressmen reforming US finance law since the bank's collapse and government bailout in October 2008. The money has been handed over despite calls from ministers for RBS and other banks that have received taxpayers' handouts to refrain from hiring public affairs firms. It comes amid criticism of the decision to give the bank's chief executive, Stephen Hester, almost £1m in a bonus this year. According to the documents, the bank spent $4.13m from October 2008 to December 2011 on lobbyists as it tried to influence three different areas of legislation.  [More>>guardian.co.uk]

01.28.12 US making more powerful 'Bunker-buster' to hit Iran: report
WASHINGTON, January 28 - The US military has stepped up efforts to make their largest conventional weapon, the 13.6 tonne "bunker-buster" bomb, more powerful and capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground nuclear facilities. The efforts have been speeded up as part of contingency planning for a possible strike against Iranian nuclear sites, the Wall Street Journal reported quoting US officials. The move comes after Pentagon war planners concluded that their largest bomb isn't yet capable of reaching Tehran's nuclear weapon-making facilities buried deep underground. The "bunker-buster" bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, was specifically designed to take out hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear program, the paper said quoting US officials.   [More>>indianexpress.com]

01.28.12  Navy wants commando 'mothership' in middle East
January 27 - The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iranal-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats. In response to requests from US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a "mothership," the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show. Special Operations forces are a key part of the Obama administration’s strategy to make the military leaner and more agile as the Pentagon confronts at least $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade. Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, declined to elaborate on the floating base’s purpose or to say where, exactly, it will be deployed in the Middle East. Other Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer. Navy documents indicate that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route for much of the world’s oil supply. A market survey proposal from the Military Sealift Command, dated Dec. 22 and posted online, states that the floating base needed to be delivered to the Persian Gulf.    [More>>washingtonpost.com]

01.28.12 Afghans blast French plan to withdraw troops early
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) January 28 - France's plans to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan a year early drew harsh words Saturday in the Afghan capital, with critics accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy of putting domestic politics ahead of Afghans' safety. A wider proposal by Sarkozy for NATO to hand over all security to Afghans by the end of next year also came under fire, with one Afghan lawmaker saying it would be "a big mistake" that would leave security forces unprepared to fight the Taliban insurgency and threaten a new descent into violence in the 10-year-old war. Sarkozy's decision, which came a week after four French troops were shot dead by an Afghan army trainee suspected of being a Taliban infiltrator, raises new questions about the unity of the US-led military coalition. It also reopens the debate over whether setting a deadline for troop withdrawals will allow the Taliban to run out the clock and seize more territory once foreign forces are gone. "Afghan forces are not self-sufficient yet. They still need more training, more equipment and they need to be stronger," said military analyst Abdul Hadi Khalid, Afghanistan's former interior minister. Khalid said the decision by Sarkozy was clearly political. Sarkozy's conservative party faces a tough election this year, and the French public's already deep discontent with the Afghan war only intensified when unarmed French troops were gunned down by an Afghan trainee Jan. 20 at a joint base in the eastern province of Kapisa.  [More>>thejakartapost.com]

01.28.12 Yemen 'kills' Islamist fighters, Islamists deny
ADEN, Yemen, January 28 -  Yemeni troops killed four Islamist fighters in a southern town they seized from government control, a local official said on Saturday, but a spokesman for the Islamists denied his side had suffered any casualties. The fighting in Zinjibar, capital of the southern Abyan province where Islamist bands have taken control of swathes of territory in the last seven months, underlines erosion of central authority which fans US and Saudi fears the state may collapse and give al-Qaeda a foothold near oil shipping routes. Those fears are behind their support for a plan to ease President Ali Abdullah Saleh from office after a year of protests demanding he go which has been punctuated with open war between his forces and those of a rebel general and tribal magnates. A local official said Yemeni troops killed four fighters from Ansar al-Shariah in a skirmish on the eastern edge of Zinjibar, which Islamists fighters overran last May. One soldier was killed in the fighting late on Friday, he said. A spokesman for the group said his side had suffered no casualties, but confirmed the account of a soldier's death.  [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

01.28.12  Thousands protest conservative Islam in Tunisia
TUNIS, Tunisia (AFP) January 28 - Thousands of Tunisians angered by the increasing prominence of ultra-conservative Islamists in a country only recently freed from dictatorial rule took to the streets in protest Saturday. An AFP correspondent estimated several thousand activists, professors, artists and other demonstrators flooded the streets of the nation’s capital, including along Bourguiba Avenue, a well-known thoroughfare that became a center for dissent during protests that led to the ouster of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali a year ago. Some in Tunisia are angry by the growing influence of radical Islamists, known as Salafists, who have dominated headlines in recent weeks. Police on Tuesday ended a weeks-long sit-in by Salafists at the university in Manouba, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Tunis. The Salafists were angry the university had banned the full-face Muslim veil, or niqab, over security concerns if students were concealed from head to toe. Journalists have also suffered attacks at Salafist protests. "We are here to speak out against aggression against journalists, activists and academics," said Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, founder of the Democratic Progressive Party. "And to tell the government that Tunisians’ hard-fought freedoms must not be compromised."   [More>>alarabiya.net]

01.25.12  US military raid freed American, Dane held hostage in Somalia
January 25 -
US military forces sent helicopters into Somalia in a nighttime raid Tuesday and freed two hostages, an American and a Dane, while killing nine kidnappers, US officials confirm. American Jessica Buchanan, 32, and Dane Poul Hagan Thisted, 60, had been working with a de-mining unit of the Danish Refugee Council when they were kidnapped in October.  The raid was conducted by a joint team overseen by Africa Command involving Special Operations forces, including Navy SEAL Team Six, the same unit
though not the exact same individuals that killed al-Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden in May, a senior US military source told Fox News. Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters on Wednesday that the major reason to conduct the operation was due to Buchanan's health. The Ohio native had a potentially life-threatening, preexisting medical condition. President Obama authorized the operation on Monday and military commanders finalized the raid on Tuesday.

A US official told Fox News that the rescue team dropped into the area from parachutes off fixed-wing aircraft and from their drop point ran to the encampment. The official said the captors were killed and the hostages secured everyone and left via helicopter. The captors were heavily armed and had explosives on them, Little said. There were no known survivors among the kidnappers. No Americans were injured during the raid, he said. The operation and rescue, which took place before President Obama's State of the Union address, was confirmed by the president early Wednesday in a statement. He said the operation serves as yet another message to the world that the US "will stand strongly against any threats to our people.  
[More>>foxnews.com; See also alarabiya.net, January 25, "US special forces free two hostages held by pirates on Horn of Africa."]

01.25.12 Clashes between Tibetans, government spread in China
BEIJING (AP) January 25 -
Deadly clashes between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese security forces have spread to a second area in southwestern China, the government and an overseas activist group said Wednesday. The group Free Tibet said two Tibetans were killed and several more were wounded Tuesday when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Seda county in politically sensitive Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province. It quoted local sources as saying the area was under a curfew. According to the Chinese government, a "mob" of people charged a police station in Seda and injured 14 officers, forcing police to open fire on them. The official Xinhua News Agency said police killed one rioter, injured another and arrested 13. The spread of violence came after some 30 Tibetans sheltered in a monastery after being wounded when Chinese police fired into a crowd of protesters in neighboring Luhuo county, a Tibetan monk said Tuesday. He said military forces had surrounded the building. The monk who would not give his name out of fear of government retaliation, and the Draggo monastery could no longer be reached by phone Wednesday. The counties have been tense for some time, and at least 16 Buddhist monks, nuns and other Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest in the past year. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.  [More>>thejakartapost.com]

01.25.12 Japan logs first trade deficit in 31 years
TOKYO (Reuters) January 25 -
Japan logged its first annual trade deficit in 2011 for over 30 years as the aftermath of the March earthquake raised fuel import costs even as slowing global growth and the yen's strength hit exports, threatening to erode the country's ability to fund its huge public debt with domestic savings. Few market players expect Japan to immediately run a deficit in the current account, which includes trade and returns on the country's huge past investments abroad, as a steady inflow of profits and capital gains from overseas outweigh the trade deficit. But the trade data underscores a broader trend in which Japan's competitive edge in the global market is eroding and it is increasingly reliant on fuel imports due to the loss of nuclear power, with reactors staying closed after routine checks due to public safety fears following the March disaster. "What it means is that the time when Japan runs out of savings
'Sayonara net creditor country' that point is coming closer," said Jesper Koll, head of equities research at JPMorgan in Japan. "It means Japan becomes dependent on global savings to fund its deficit and either the currency weakens or interest rates rise." Japan logged a trade deficit of 2.49 trillion yen ($32 billion) for 2011,Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday, the first annual deficit since 1980.   [More>>thestar.com.my]

01.25.12 UK economy shrinks by 0.2% in last three months of 2011
January 25 -
UK economic activity shrank by 0.2% in the last three months of last year according to official figures. It marks a sharp drop in economic activity from the third quarter of 2011, when gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 0.6%.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are a preliminary estimate, which could be revised either up or down by 0.2%. The ONS figures also show that the economy grew by 0.9% during 2011. The gain for the year is in line with official targets.  [More>>bbc.co.uk]

01.24.12  Turkey's Erdogan hits out at 'racist' French genocide bill
January 24 -
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blasted French lawmakers on Tuesday for being "racist and discriminatory" after the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw denying that the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Turkey amounted to genocide.
A French bill that outlaws denial of genocides recognized by the state is "racist and discriminatory", Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, promising to implement sanctions against France "step by step with no retreat." The bill, which only needs French President Nicolas Sarkozy's signature to pass into law, includes the massacre of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turk forces in 1915 an event Turkey recognizes but refuses to classify as genocide. Erdogan said the law was "null and void" as far as Turkey was concerned, but added that "we still have not lost our hope that it can be corrected." Earlier, Turkey had promised total diplomatic rupture with Paris, while the country’s press was united in fury and condemnation of the French parliament.   [More>>france24.com]

01.24.12  Israel to United Nations: Take action against Iran
January 24 - Prosor: Never has it been so clear that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon; Israeli diplomat also rebukes Jerusalem mufti for reciting hadith calling "killing Jews" a "sacred goal."
Iran is the single greatest threat to the world and the United Nations needs to take action against it immediately, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor told the Security Council in New York on Tuesday. "Never has it been so clear Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon," said Prosor speaking at a regular meeting debating the "situation in the Middle East and the Palestinians question." "Now is the time to act. Tomorrow is too late. The stakes are too high. The price of inaction is too great," he said.  Prosor cited the last International Atomic Energy Agency report saying it proved beyond all doubt that the Islamic Republic sought to obtain nuclear weapons. He said Tehran’s efforts to enrich uranium to 20 percent-levels at its reactor in Qom could serve no other plausible aim other than to develop an atomic bomb. The Israeli diplomat also rebuked Palestinian religious leader Muhammad Hussein who in a sermon broadcast on television last week told believers that killing Jews was “a sacred goal” for Muslims.” "His comments were deeply disturbing," said Prosor. “But what was even more disturbing is that no one from the Palestinian Leadership stood up and condemned his comments, denounced his actions or dissociated themselves from his message."   [More>>jpost.com]

01.24.12  Video purportedly shows Taliban executing 15 kidnapped Pakistani soldiers
January 24 -
The Taliban released a video over the weekend that purports to show the execution of 15 Pakistani soldiers
punishment, they say, for Pakistan attacks on the militants. The video, according to AFP, which it says obtained a copy, shows the soldiers lined up in three rows, each with their hands bound behind their back and blindfolded. A Taliban leader criticizes the Pakistani government for killing 12 militants, and warns of more revenge killings if the attacks continue, AFP reports.  Then he opens fire, along with the other Taliban. Pakistani officials told AFP that the soldiers were killed in the tribal areas that have long been a sanctuary for the Taliban. They had been kidnapped last month in a raid on a checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan and were found dead earlier this month. The soldier killings and the newly-released video come at a time of tense relations between the US and Pakistan, as the two countries wrestle with how to respond to the continued threat from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US drone strikes in Pakistan have become increasingly unpopular, especially after the mistaken identity attacks in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. But US officials long have struggled to get Pakistan to mobilize against the militant threat.  [More>>foxnews.com]

01.24.12  Egypt parties refuse to protect women's rights
CAIRO (AFP) January 24 -
Many Egyptian political parties have refused to commit to protecting women’s rights and to abolishing the death penalty. Many Egyptian political parties, especially dominant Islamist groups, have refused to commit to protecting women’s rights and to abolishing the death penalty, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. "Most of the biggest Egyptian political parties have committed to delivering ambitious human rights reform in the country’s transition, but have either given mixed signals or flatly refused to sign up to ending discrimination, protecting women’s rights and to abolishing the death penalty," Amnesty said. The London-based rights watchdog had contacted 54 parties running in Egypt’s first post-revolution parliamentary elections to sign a "human rights manifesto" containing 10 key pledges. "It is disturbing that a number of parties refused to commit to equal rights for women," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim director for the Middle East and North Africa. "With a handful of women taking up seats in the new parliament, there remain huge obstacles to women playing a full role in Egyptian political life," said Luther...Ten parties agreed to the majority of the pledges, but stopped short of committing to women’s rights and/or discrimination, Amnesty said.   [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

01.24.12  Bedouin take control of Egypt holiday resort demand $660,000 ransom
January 24 - Egyptian security forces, who have not taken action on the matter, claim they cannot operate in the region without Israeli permission.  A squad of Egyptian Bedouin on Sunday took control of a resort complex in Sinai, for which they are demanding a ransom of four million Egyptian pounds (approximately $662,000). According to reports by Egyptian media, the squad, armed with automatic weapons, took hold of "Aqua Sun," situated about 30 kilometers south of Taba, Egypt. There were no tourists at the site when the squad took it hostage, however, there were Egyptian staff members present. An Israeli source well aware of the situation and with ties to the Egyptian owners of the resort told Haaretz that there were only a handful of security guards present at the time, and that their lives were not in danger. According to the reports, dozens of gunmen are threatening to destroy the site and steal the equipment if their demands are not met. Egyptian security forces have not prevented the action, claiming that they cannot act in the region without Israeli permission.

The resort's owner, who is currently hospitalized in Cairo, has called upon the Egyptian authorities to intercept, free the hostages, and bring an end to the


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