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12.31.11  Arab mission warns Syria as opposition unites
December 31 -
Arab League monitor warns government to remove snipers or face consequences as opposition groups unite against Assad.  Arab League monitors in Syria have expressed concern about the worsening security situation in the country, as one observer reported seeing snipers in the city of Deraa. The observer, in Syria as part of an Arab League mission to oversee the end of a bloody crackdown on  protests, warned the government of President Bashar al-Assad of consequences if the snipers were not removed immediately. "We saw snipers in the town, we saw them with our own eyes," the observer told residents in a conversation filmed and posted online on Friday. "We're going to ask the government to remove them immediately. We'll be in touch with the Arab League back in Cairo. If the snipers are not gone in 24 hours, then there will be other measures taken."  The violence continued in Syria on Saturday, and activists said at least three people were killed as anti-government street protests continued. A day earlier, security forces fired on protesters in Deraa, Hama and Idlib, despite the presence of nearly 100 Arab League observers deployed to ensure the government complies with the terms of the league's plan to end the crackdown on dissent.   [More.>aljazeera.com]

12.31.11  Hot stuff: 2011 was the second warmest year since records began
December 31 - This year has been the second warmest in over 350 years
a year after 2010 was ranked the 12th coldest in the last century. Only 2006, with an average temperature of 9.73C was warmer than 2011's average temperature of 9.62C, according to provisional figures from the Met Office. The high temperatures were a dramatic change from 2010 which was one of the coldest years since records began in 1659. "After a cold start to the year, there’s been a warming trend and 2011 looks to become the second warmest year on record," said Sky News weather producer Joanna Robinson. "This year, we have had some extraordinary warm weather, but unfortunately not through the summer months in fact it was the coldest summer since 1993.

UK temperature records have been broken for some individual days and months, and we've had the warmest spring and the second warmest autumn. There has been a big variation in rainfall. Scotland has been very wet, while parts of eastern England have had very little rainfall, with drought conditions in some counties." All but one of the top 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. This year's warmest day was recorded in Gravesend, Kent, where temperatures reached 33.1C on June 27. The coldest temperature recorded was
13C in Altnaharra in the Highlands, on January 8. Looking to the year ahead, Robinson said: "No year is exactly the same as the last weather-wise, which is clearly demonstrated between 2010 and 2011. We’ll have to wait and see what 2012 has in store - I just hope we have a better summer."   [>news.sky.com]

12.31.11  Ethiopia troops attack rebels in Somalia town - residents
(Reuters) December 31 - Ethiopian troops and clan militia fighters forced al-Qaeda-linked militants to flee a Somali town after heavy clashes on Saturday, residents said. Al-Shabaab rebels were not immediately available to comment after the reports of the attack, but earlier said they had repelled three Ethiopian assaults north of the town. Both Ethiopia and Kenya have sent troops into Somalia to fight Islamist al-Shabaab militants, following a wave of cross-border attacks and kidnappings Nairobi blamed on the rebels. "Ethiopian troops are now in Baladwayne town. Al-Shabaab fighters have run away," resident Osman Farah told Reuters.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

12.31.11  Fifteen killed in car bomb in southwest Pakistan
QUETTA, Pakistan (AFP) December 31 -
The death toll in a car bomb blast in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta rose to 15 on Saturday as rescuers found seven more bodies in the rubble, police said. A car bomb exploded in front of the house of the son of a former federal minister, Naseer Mengal, on Friday and officials gave a death toll of eight. “The death toll is 15 now. Three more bodies were found in the rubble today and [the] rest were dug out overnight,” Nazir Ahmad Kurd, a senior police official told AFP. Some 40 others were wounded and 10 have been released from hospital after treatment, he added. Investigators defused an eight-kilogram local made bomb and found seven hand grenades from the site, Kurd said.

It was still unclear who had carried out the attack and whether the driver died in the blast as there were yet no witnesses, Hamid Shakil, another senior police official told AFP. But a spokesman for rebel group Balochistan Liberation Army Meerak Baluch called reporters in Quetta and claimed that they carried out the "suicide attack to teach a lesson to traitors." Officials did not comment on the authenticity of the claim. Quetta is the capital of the troubled Balochistan province which neighbors both Afghanistan and Iran and is gripped by a regional insurgency for self-determination. It is also a flashpoint for Taliban and sectarian violence.   [>alarabiya.net]

12.31.11  Bomb attack kills soldier in N. Waziristan
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan, December 31-
A soldier was killed and another injured on Saturday in a roadside bomb attack targeting a security forces convoy in the troubled North Waziristan, Geo News reported. According to sources close to security forces, the incident took place in Data Khel area of North Waziristan tribal agency that left a soldier dead and another injured.  The improvised explosive device was detonated by remote control as the convoy was passing the area. The vehicle was also damaged as a result of blast. Security forces imposed [a] curfew in the area after the attack and launched a search operation to trace the perpetrators.  No group has claimed responsibility of the attack.  [>thenews.com.pk]

12.31.11  Soldier killed in Afghanistan blast
December 31 - A soldier has been killed in an explosion in Afghanistan in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province. The serviceman, from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in a blast in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province yesterday, said the Ministry of Defense...Task Force Helmand spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dan Bradbury said: "It is with great sadness that I must inform you that a soldier from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment was killed in an explosion while on a foot patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province yesterday.  [Full story>>telegraph.co.uk]

12.31.11  Boko Haram attacks prompt Nigeria state of emergency
December 31 - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in parts of the country following attacks from the Islamist group Boko Haram. The measure is in force is areas of the Yobe and Borno states in the north-east, Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the west. International borders in the affected areas have been temporarily closed. Mr. Jonathan vowed to "crush" Boko Haram, which killed dozens in attacks across the country on Christmas Day. Announcing the state of emergency in a live televised address, Mr. Jonathan said: "The temporary closure of our borders in the affected areas is only an interim measure designed to address the current security challenges." There is growing concern that Boko Haram has developed a presence across the region.    [More>>bbc.co.uk]

12.31.11  Maldives to shut down luxury spas, massage parlors
COLOMBO, Maldives (Reuters) December31 -
Luxury spas in the Maldives archipelago along with massage parlors in places like the capital Male must close, the government ordered on Saturday, bowing to pressure from opposition parties in a move that may imperil the mainstay tourism sector.  Pristine white sand beaches and turquoise waters attract honeymooners and celebrities from around the world to the Indian Ocean nation, pumping in $1.5 billion to the economy, or 30 percent of GDP, annually by travelers willing to spend as much as $1,000 a night at hideaway resorts. 

The country's president issued the decree, saying the idea came from opposition parties who claimed widespread sales of pork and alcohol in the mainly Sunni Muslim nation of more than 1,200 atolls housing a population of 400,000 were offensive.
"The government has decided to close massage parlors and spas in the Maldives, following an opposition-led religious protest last week calling for their closure," President Mohamed Nasheed's office said in a statement.  "Ironically, the same opposition leaders who railed against spas and the selling of alcohol and pork to tourists are some of the country's biggest resort owners."  [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

12.31.11  We won't eat halal meat, say MPs and peers who reject demands to serve it at Westminster
December 31 - 
The Palace of Westminster has rejected demands to serve halal meat in its restaruants. Muslim MPs and peers have been told they cannot have meat slaughtered in line with Islamic tradition because the method slitting an animal’s throat without first stunning it is offensive to many of their non-Muslim colleagues.  The stance has infuriated some parliamentarians who have eaten meat in the Palace’s 23 restaurants and cafes, having been assured that it was halal.  Lord Ahmed of Rotherham said: “I did feel misled. I think a halal option should be made available.” In 2010, The Mail on Sunday revealed schools, hospitals and restaurants were serving halal meat to unwitting customers. Alison Ruoff, a member of the Church of England, said. “It’s a bit hypocritical that the Houses of Parliament, which have allowed other people to provide halal food, have ruled it out on their own premises.”  [>dailymail.co.uk]

12.31.11  Kurds protest death of 'separatist rebels' in Turkey
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (AFP) December 31-
Hundreds of Kurds staged a violent protest Saturday in southeastern Turkey after police said two Kurdish rebels had been killed in a gunbattle after a raid on their hideout. The protestors demonstrated near where the two alleged members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) died earlier in the center of Diyarbakir, the main city of the majority Kurdish region.  Many claimed that the incident was another blunder by the authorities, after the killing of 35 Kurds in an airstrike on the Iraqi border who turned out to be civilian smugglers and not rebel fighters as the military claimed. ‘They were university students and they did not own any guns,’ said an 18-year-old protestor, contradicting local police who said the pair were rebels and two rifles and three hand grenades had been seized.   [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

12.31.11  US seals $.48b missiles, technology sale to United Arab Emirates
WASHINGTON (AP) December 31 - The United States has reached a deal to sell $3.48 billion worth of missiles and related technology to the United Arab Emirates, a close Mideast ally, as part of a massive buildup of defense technology among friendly Mideast nations near Iran. Pentagon spokesman George Little announced the Christmas Day sale on Friday night. He said the US and UAE have a strong defense relationship and are both interested in "a secure and stable" Persian Gulf region. The deal includes 96 missiles, along with supporting technology and training support that Little says will bolster the nation's missile defense capacity.  The deal includes a contract with Lockheed Martin to produce the highly sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, weapon system for the UAE. Tom McGrath, vice president and program manager for Lockheed Martin's THAAD program in Dallas, said in a statement it was the first foreign military sale of the THAAD system.   [More>>foxnews.com]

12.31.11  Gunmen kill several security guards in Iraq
December 31 - Head of police says deadly attack on checkpoint indicates "al-Qaeda cells" are reactivating across Iraq.  Gunmen have attacked a checkpoint in the Iraqi province of Diyala, killing all five government-backed Sunni guards, security officials have said. The attack occurred shortly after 2am (23:00 GMT) on Saturday in the town of Khan Bani Saad, about 30km northeast of the capital, Baghdad, according to the head of the local security committee and police. "An attack of this size, in which the five killed makes up the total (number of) staff at the checkpoint, indicates that al-Qaeda sleeper cell groups are now reactivating their movements," Saad Abdullah, head of the security committee in Khan Bani Saad, said.  "The government should move quickly to crack down on these al-Qaeda cells." 

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters are still capable of carrying out lethal attacks and there are worries they may may try to regroup following the withdrawal of US troops on December 18, nearly nine years after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.  Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for multiple bombings around Baghdad that killed at least 72 people on December 22. Members of the Sahwa, a Sunni group that took up arms against al-Qaeda and helped stop Iraq's sectarian strife becoming a full-scale civil war, are frequent targets. On Friday, a Sahwa member and three of his bodyguards were killed when a sticky bomb attached to their car exploded in Taji, 20km north of Baghdad, police said. Violence in Iraq is down from its peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks remain common. A total of 187 people died in violence in November, according to official figures.   [>aljazeera.com]

12.31.11  US stock market ends the year where it started
December 31 -
Standard & Poor's 500 index closed 2011 a fraction of a point below where it started the year while Dow is up 5.5 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed 2011 a fraction of a point below where it started the year. The S&P closed at 1,257.60, up 5.42 points or 0.4 percent. It ended 2010 at nearly the exact same level, at 1,257.64. Its loss for the year is 0.04 point. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69 points, or 0.6 percent, at 12,218.

The Dow is up 5.5 percent for the year. The Nasdaq composite index fell 9 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,605. It lost 1.8 percent for the year. McDonald's Corp was the biggest winner in the Dow this year with a gain of 31 percent.  Bank of America Corp was the worst, down 58 percent. The conventional wisdom is the more risk, the greater the potential rewards. But the opposite is proving true this year: Investors playing it safe have gained the most. The most dull and conservative of stocks
  utilities gained 15 percent, the largest gain of the ten industry sectors in the S&P 500 index. Other winning groups are consumer staples and health care companies, up 11 percent and 10 percent in 2011 respectively. 

In Europe, many of the biggest markets ended down for the year. Britain's FTSE 100 lost 5.6 percent, Germany's DAX 14.7 percent. Trading has been quiet this week with many investors away on vacation. Volume on the New York Stock Exchange has been about half of its daily average. Markets will be closed on Monday in observance of New Year's Day. Better news on the job market and home sales lifted stocks Thursday, pushing the Dow up 135 points. On Friday Ford reported that its sales topped 2 million this year for the first time since 2007. Ford fell 0.1 percent. Rising and falling stocks were about even on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was just 2.2 billion shares, about half of the recent daily average.   [>guardian.co.uk]

12.31.11  The rise and fall of the euro, ten years on
December 31  -
As the eurozone marks the 10th anniversary of the euro on Sunday amid growing fears over the bloc’s sovereign debt crisis, FRANCE 24 takes a look back at when the common currency was introduced in 2002, and still seen as a cause to celebrate. Ten years after the eurozone first adopted its common currency, the economic bloc finds itself in the midst of a grave foreign debt crisis. Yet at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2002, 12 member states of the European Union not only celebrated the New Year, but also feted their new currency, the euro. In Paris, people lined up at cash machines, eager to withdraw the crisp new bills. Euro signs were everywhere to be seen
on winter street decorations, projected onto the face of buildings, even lit up on the side of the city’s historic Pont Neuf.The culmination of several years of negotiations and planning, the euro had finally come to fruition in what was the largest cash changeover the world had seen.

"It went very fast. It was quite amazing
financial experts were thinking the shift would be more difficult, but it was so natural," said Philippe Dessertine, a French economist and director of high finance at Paris’ Institut Français de Gestion . The so-called "year of the euro" was even feted by Spanish pop singer Rosa, whose kitsch "Europe is living a celebration" landed her seventh place on the hit TV show Eurovision Song Contest in May 2002. Despite a general atmosphere of excitement and celebration, not everyone was thrilled by the prospect of handing over their sovereign currency in exchange for euros. For some it meant a loss of buying power, for others a loss of sovereignty, and for others still, a change they were unwilling to embrace.

...Despite some initial misgivings, the euro flourished for the first many years of its existence. According to the European Central Bank, in the days following the euro’s debut in 2002, it was pegged at around $0.89. It quickly crept up in value, gaining strength to eventually become one of the world’s strongest currencies. On July 15, 2008 the euro hit a record high against the dollar at $1.599...Despite some initial misgivings, the euro flourished for the first many years of its existence. According to the European Central Bank, in the days following the euro’s debut in 2002, it was pegged at around $0.89. It quickly crept up in value, gaining strength to eventually become one of the world’s strongest currencies. On July 15, 2008 the euro hit a record high against the dollar at $1.599. [Full story>>france24.com; Note that the euro's 
low on 12.31.11 was $1.29.06 matching the price recorded November 14, 2004.]

12.26.11  China's yuan hits all-time high versus dollar
December 26 -
Currency expected to appreciate further next year as China ignores US pressure to devalue its currency.  The yuan has closed up against the United States dollar after hitting an all-time high in intra-day trading, guided by a stronger mid-point by the People's Bank of China (PBOC), and looks set for an over four per cent appreciation for 2011, traders said. The yuan is expected to remain stable or rise slightly in the last week of the year to close 2011 near 6.30 versus the US dollar, in line with market expectations. The currency is likely to continue to appreciate next year as China continues to post big trade surpluses despite a slowdown in exports and amid pressure from the US to let the yuan rise to balance bilateral trade, traders said. But the yuan's appreciation is likely to slow to around three per cent in 2012, with much of the rise seen in the second half of next year as China may keep the yuan relatively stable in the first half to assess the impact of the euro zone crisis, they said. "The PBOC has recently set a slew of strong mid-points and pumped dollars into the market via state banks, giving the market a clear signal that the government won't let the yuan depreciate," said a trader at a major Chinese bank in Shanghai.   [More>>aljazeera.com]

12.26.11  China expects 11 percent industrial output growth in 2012
BEIJING (Reuters) December 26 -
China's industrial output is expected to grow 11 percent for 2012, easing from an estimated 13.9 percent in 2011, China's industry minister said on Monday. The forecast by Miao Wei, the Minister of Industry and Information Technology, will also serve as the official target for China's industrial output, China's state radio reported on its website (www.cnr.cn). Miao was quoted by the radio as saying that China's industrial development in 2012 "would not be optimistic" partly due to an uncertain global economy.  China's industrial sector has lost steam in recent months with annual industrial output growth falling to 12.4 percent in November from 13.2 percent in October and down from the year's high point of 15.1 percent in June. The annual rise of China's industrial output, which covers enterprises with a minimum annual revenue of 20 million yuan ($3.16 million), is closely correlated with GDP growth in the world's second biggest economy. An 11 percent annual expansion in industrial output is regarded by Beijing as appropriate to achieve an annual 8 percent GDP growth rate. Miao's ministry had an 11 percent target of industrial output growth for both 2010 and 2011. China's latest five-year plan targets an average annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent over the five-year period, with industrial output targeted at 10 percent.   [More>>thestar.com]

12.26.11  China launches super-speed test train
QUINGDAO, Shandong, China (Xinhua) December 26 - 
China's largest rail vehicle maker, CSR Corp. Ltd, over the weekend launched its first test train that features speeds reaching up to 500 km per hour. The six-car train with a fairshaped head is the newest in the CRH series. It has a maximum tractive power of 22,800 kilowatts, compared with 9,600 kilowatts for the CRH380 trains currently in service on the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which hold the world speed record of 300 km per hour. The grey-color train carrying testing and data processing facilities was designed and produced by CSR Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., Ltd (Sifang Locomotive), a CSR subsidiary based in the coastal city of Qingdao in eastern Shandong province. Ding Sansan, the company's chief technician, said the concept of the the super-speed train design was inspired by China's ancient sword. The bodywork uses plastic materials reinforced with carbon fiber.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

12.26.11  China, Japan unveil deals to tighten financial links
BEIJING, December 26 - Chinese and Japanese leaders have unveiled initiatives to tighten financial links between East Asia’s economic giants and sometime rivals—measures that could expand use of China’s tightly controlled currency abroad. During a visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the two governments said in a surprise announcement Monday that they will encourage use of their own currencies in bilateral trade, which now is conducted mostly in US dollars. They also agreed to support the sale of bonds denominated in China’s yuan by Japanese companies in Tokyo and foreign markets and by the state-owned Japan Bank of International Cooperation in mainland China’s markets, which are closed to most foreign investors. The pledges were a striking step for China and Japan, which are the world’s second- and third-largest economies and are bound by billions of dollars in trade but whose political relations often are strained over conflicting territorial claims and other disputes.   [More>>japantoday.com]

12.26.11  Brazilian economy 'overtakes Britain'
(AFP) December 26 - Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world's sixth largest economy, a London-based research group said Monday. In its latest World Economic League Table, the Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) said Asian countries were moving up while European countries were slipping down. CEBR chief executive Douglas McWilliams told BBC radio that Brazil's advance was part of a wider trend. "I think it's part of the big economic change, where not only are we seeing a shift from the west to the east, but we're also seeing that countries that produce vital commodities
food and energy and things like that are doing very well and they're gradually climbing up the economic league table," he said.  Brazil's population of about 200 million is more than three times that of Britain. The Brazilian economy grew 7.5 percent in 2010, but the government has cut its growth projections to 3.5 percent for this year after the economy slowed in the third quarter. The CEBR also predicted that the British economy would overtake France ranked fifth this year by 2016 and it said India, the world's 10th biggest economy in 2011, would move up to fifth place by 2020. It says the US economy is the biggest, followed by China, Japan and Germany.  [>france24.com]

12.26.11  Mexico says it captures drug-lord's top lieutenant
December 26 -
Mexican army special forces have arrested a top lieutenant for alleged drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Defense Ministry said Monday. Troops arrested Felipe Cabrera Sarabia on Friday in "a surgical operation in Cuiliacan" in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, said Ricardo Trevilla Trejo, a Defense Ministry spokesman. Cabrera, who was responsible for the activities of the Pacific Cartel in Durango and the southern part of the state of Chihuahua, was detained after fleeing from Durango, Trevilla told reporters.  "The analysis of his behavior permitted (us) to find the building where he was hiding" and Cabrera was taken into custody without violence, Trevilla said. Firearms, computer equipment and other documentation were seized, too, he said. Cabrera, who appeared Monday in the office of a prosecutor who specializes in organized crime, was responsible for Guzman's security in Durango, the state-run Notimex news agency said.

He is charged with possessing firearms reserved for use by the army and falsification of a public document, a spokeswoman for the attorney general said. Trevilla said Cabrera was involved in kidnappings, extortion and arson.  "The violence caused him to rise within the organization," said Trevilla, who predicted that the arrest will affect the cartel's leadership and abilities. Guzman, who is under indictment by US authorities in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, is described by the US Drug Enforcement Administration as one of "the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico." In 2004, the US government announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. He is accused of running a major network that distributes cocaine and heroin. He is worth about $1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine, which began listing him on its billionaires list in 2009. The magazine lists him as No. 55 on its Most Powerful People list and as the only crime lord on its list of Mexico's billionaires
.  [>cnn.com]

12.26.11  Mexican troops in Tamaulipas state discover 13 bodies
December 26 - 
Mexican troops have discovered 13 bodies in an abandoned truck in the north-eastern state of Tamaulipas. The area has seen violence between the Gulf and Zetas cartels, and messages alluding to the rivalry were found in the truck, justice officials said. The murders are believed to be linked to a similar discovery last Friday in neighboring Veracruz state. More than 40,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006. Since then, the government of President Felipe Calderon has been deploying the military to fight the gangs. On Thursday, various attacks on buses and on people in the town of El Higo in Veracruz left 11 dead.   [>bbc.co.uk]

12.26.11  Syria tanks fire, 23 die in fighting as monitors awaited
BEIRUT, Lebanon (Reuters) December 26 - At least 23 people were killed as Syrian tank forces battled opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in Homs on Monday, residents said, ahead of a planned visit by Arab League monitors to verify whether he is ending a violent crackdown on unrest.  Four army defectors were killed by security forces in a town near the Turkish border, an activist network said. Nine soldiers killed in fighting in Homs were buried, state media reported. A day before observers were to have their first look at the city at the heart of a nine-month-old revolt, there was no sign of Assad carrying out a plan agreed with the League to halt an offensive against protests and start talks with the opposition. Amateur video posted on the Internet by activists showed three tanks in the streets next to apartment blocks in the Baba Amr district. One fired its main gun and another appeared to launch mortar rounds. Video showed mangled bodies lying in pools of blood on a narrow street. Power lines had collapsed and cars were burnt and blasted, as if shelled by tank or mortar rounds.

"What's happening is a slaughter," said Fadi, a resident living near the flashpoint Baba Amr neighborhood. He said it was being hit with mortar shells and heavy machinegun fire. An armed insurgency is increasingly eclipsing civilian protests in Syria. Now many fear a slide toward a sectarian war pitting the Sunni Muslim majority, the driving force of the protest movement, against minorities that have mostly stayed loyal to the government, particularly the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs. Fighting in Homs has intensified since a double suicide bombing in Damascus on Friday that killed 44 people. Fadi told Reuters via Skype that trenches the army dug around the neighborhood in recent weeks had trapped residents and rebel fighters. "They are benefiting from trenches. Neither the people nor the gunmen or army defectors are able to flee. The army has been descending on the area for the past two days."    [More>>thestar.com.my]

12.26.11  Five dead in Iraq interior ministry suicide attack
BAGHDAD, December 26 -
A suicide attacker driving a car bomb killed at least five people when he detonated his payload at the interior ministry in central Baghdad on Monday, medical officials said. At least 27 others were wounded in the 7:30am (0430 GMT) attack in the Bab al-Sharji neighborhood. The nearby Neurological Hospital took in five dead and 13 wounded, while al-Kindi Hospital treated 14 injured, officials at the two hospitals said. The attacker took advantage of interior ministry guards opening the compound's main gates to allow in electrical maintenance workers to ram his explosives-packed car through and set it off, a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The blast came after violence across Baghdad on Thursday killed 60 people. Iraq is mired in political dispute with authorities calling for the arrest of Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges he ran a death squad, accusations Hashemi denies. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also called for the sacking of his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak, who has denounced the premier as a dictator "worse than Saddam Hussein." The Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, to which both Hashemi and Mutlak belong, has boycotted the cabinet and parliament.   [>thenews.com.pk]

12.26.11  In family horror, some Canadians see culture clash
TORONTO, Canada (AP) December 26 -
On a summer morning in 2009, in canal locks east of Toronto, police made a grisly discovery: In a submerged Nissan car were the bodies of three teenage sisters and a 52-year-old woman.  A joyride gone tragically wrong, claimed the father, Mohammad Shafia, 58, who reported the disappearance. An ''honor killing,'' prosecutors allege. A murder trial is under way, heating up a national debate about how to better absorb immigrants into the Canadian cultural mainstream. The prosecution accuses Afghan-born Shafia, his wife, and their 20-year-old son of killing the daughters because they dishonored the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socializing and going online. The older victim was Shafia's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, who was living with him and his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, in Montreal.

It was a polygamous relationship, the court has been told, and if revealed, could have resulted in their deportation. The parents and son, Hamed, have pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder. The family had left Afghanistan in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before settling in Canada in 2007. Shafia, a wealthy businessman, married Yahya because his first wife could not have children. The second marriage produced seven children. The months leading up to the deaths were not happy ones in the Shafia household, the court has heard. Zainab, the oldest at 19, was forbidden to attend school for a year because she had a young Pakistani-Canadian boyfriend, and she fled to a shelter, terrified of her father, the court was told.   [More>>indianexpress.com]

12.26.11  Al-Qaeda leadership almost wiped out in Pakistan, British officials believe
December 26 - Senior members of al-Qaeda are feared to be moving to north Africa to open up a new front after being weakened in Pakistan.  Senior British officials believe that a "last push" in 2012 is likely to definitively destroy al-Qaeda's remaining senior leadership in Pakistan, opening a new phase in the battle against Islamist terrorism. So many senior members of the organization have been killed in an intense campaign of air strikes involving missiles launched from unmanned drones that "only a handful of the key players" remain alive, one official said. However, well-informed sources outside government and close to Islamist groups in north Africa said at least two relatively senior al-Qaeda figures have already made their way to Libya, with others intercepted en route, raising fears that north Africa could become a new "theater of jihad" in coming months or years.

"A group of very experienced figures from north Africa left camps in Afghanistan's [north-eastern] Kunar province where they have been based for several years and traveled back across the Middle East," one source said. "Some got stopped but a few got through." It is unclear whether the moves from west Asia to north Africa are prompted by a desire for greater security
which seems unlikely as NATO forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan or part of a strategic attempt to exploit the aftermath of the Arab spring. They may even be trying to shift the center of gravity of al-Qaeda's effort back to the homelands of the vast majority of its members. Since the death of Osama bin Laden in a US special forces raid in Pakistan last May, other senior leaders have also been eliminated, even though the numbers of strikes are lower than last year. The problems for al-Qaeda in west Asia have been compounded by a smaller flow of volunteers reaching makeshift bases in Pakistan's tribal zones. "I think they are really very much weakened," said the official. "You can't say they don't pose a threat – they do – but it's a much lesser one."

British and US intelligence sources have told the Guardian they estimate that there are less than 100 "al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-affiliated" militants in Afghanistan, of whom only " a handful "were seen to pose a threat internationally to the UK or other western nations." Officials dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan say they see al-Qaeda's activity as "effectively marginal" to events there. Instead, local networks, such as that run by the Haqqani family in the semi-autonomous tribal agency of North Waziristan on the Afghan-Pakistan border, are deemed more important. Repeated efforts to push the Pakistani authorities to take military action against the Haqqanis have been rebuffed. Western and international officials said senior Pakistani military officers insisted they needed the Haqqani network, which has not attacked Pakistani targets though it has repeatedly struck NATO and other western targets in Afghanistan, to keep militant groups that make up the Pakistani Taliban network "under control."

These latter have repeatedly struck civilian and military targets within Pakistan.  Western officials dismissed the argument as far-fetched and unrealistic. One international official said, however, that there was evidence the Haqqani family had been acting as intermediaries between the Pakistani secret services and militant groups and described the Pakistani position as "understandable." "To move against the Haqqanis is a no-win option for the Pakistani military. If they suffer heavy casualties and fail to eliminate the group, they lose their authority and a key interlocutor. If they succeed, they lose a key asset," the official said. Though the hunt for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the veteran Egyptian militant strategist who replaced Bin Laden as leader of al-Qaeda, is a top priority, western officials say there is equal emphasis on eliminating those immediately below him in the now somewhat chaotic hierarchy.

These include Saif al-Adel, an experienced operator who may have returned to Pakistan, and Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan in his mid-40s who escaped from a US prison in Afghanistan and has featured in propaganda videos. Adel interests western intelligence services as "he is exactly the sort of low-profile, effective type who you don't want." Some doubt he is in Pakistan at all, suggesting he may be in detention in Iran. "The fact that we can't be sure where someone like [Adel] actually is underlines how problematic dealing with this whole issue still is. There's still a lot we simply don't know," one official said.  Few doubt that al-Qaeda is evolving. "Al-Zawahiri's leadership is transitional and he is handicapped by his own old school background. We are waiting to see what a new al-Qaeda might look like," the official said. Overall, analysts say, the picture is one of fragmentation, with groups in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere pursuing local agendas. One example is the apparent move of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia into humanitarian aid, a departure from the core leadership's past strategies.

In Nigeria, the Boko Haram group has had financial help from the affiliate al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb but is not thought to have any interest in being part of al-Qaeda global. In Europe, security services say levels of radicalization have stabilized. Analysis of a list of "recent martyrs" published by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which shares al-Qaida's ideology and is also based in Pakistan's tribal areas, appears to show that fewer number of Europeans than feared reached the group, previously been favored by German-based extremists. Of the near 100 listed, only one was German and most appeared to be local men.  The move to Libya is seen as particularly alarming. William Hague, the foreign secretary, recently warned that mercenaries driven out of Libya could switch allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. While this seems unlikely, sources in Libyan mainstream Islamist groups say there is evidence of grassroots activism by individuals linked to al-Qaeda that could lead to new cells being formed. In a recent communique, Zawahiri made a particular appeal to Libyan fighters not to lay down or hand in their weapons.  [>guardian.co.uk]

12.25.11  Israeli archeologists uncover first artifact confirming written record of Temple worship
December 25 - Button-sized seal believed to designate ceremonially pure provisions for Temple worship, such as that described in the legend of Hanukkah.  Israeli archaeologists have uncovered the first archeological find to confirm written testimony of the ritual practices at the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. An Israeli Antiquities Authority archaeological survey at the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount yielded a tiny tin artifact, the size of a button, inscribed with the Aramaic words: “Daka Le’Ya,” which the excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, archaeologists Eli Shukron and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, explain means “pure for God." Researchers believe the artifact, dated to the first century, towards the end of the Second Temple period, is a seal similar to those described in the Mishnah. If they are correct, this is the first time physical evidence of the temple  ritual was found to corroborate the written record. The team believes the tiny seal was put on objects designated to be used in the temple, and thus had to be ceremonially pure.  [More>>haaretz.com]

12.25.11  Bomb kills 27 at Catholic Church during Christmas Day mass as series of explosions rock Nigeria
December 25 -
An explosion ripped through a Catholic church during Christmas Mass near Nigeria's capital today killing at least 27 people. A radical Muslim sect claimed responsibility for the attack and a second bomb blast near a church in city of Jos, as explosions also struck the nation's north east. The Christmas Day attacks show the growing national ambition of the sect known as Boko Haram, which is responsible for at least 495 killings this year alone...Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague took time out of his Christmas celebrations to condemn the bomb attacks today.  "These are cowardly attacks on families gathered in peace and prayer to celebrate a day which symbolizes harmony and goodwill towards others. I offer my condolences to the bereaved and injured," he said.  The Vatican has also denounced the attacks as a sign of 'cruelty and absurd, blind hatred' that shows no respect for human life. The assaults come a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos claimed by the militants left at least 32 dead and 74 wounded. The first explosion on Sunday struck St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a town in Niger state close to the capital, Abuja. Rescue workers recovered at least 27 bodies from the church and officials continued to tally those wounded in various hospitals, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).  [Full story w/photos>>dailymail.co.uk]

12.25.11  March turns deadly as thousands clash with army
(Reuters) December 25 - Forces loyal to Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh halted tens of thousands of demonstrators before they reached the presidential compound in Sanaa on Saturday, killing at least nine people. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Saturday he would leave for the United States and give way to a successor, hours after his forces killed nine people demanding he be tried for killings over nearly a year of protests aimed at his ouster. But Saleh, who agreed to step down last month under a deal cut by his wealthier neighbors who fear civil war in Yemen will affect them, did not say when he would depart and vowed to play a political role again, this time opposed to a new government. The bloodshed and political uncertainty hinted at the chaos which oil giant Saudi Arabia and Saleh's former backers in Washington fear Yemen could slip into, giving the country's al-Qaeda wing a foothold overlooking oil shipping routes. Troops from units led by Saleh's son and nephew opened fire with guns, tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators who approached his compound in the capital Sanaa after marching for days from the southern city of Taiz, chanting "No to immunity!" Mohammed al-Qubati, a doctor at a field hospital that has treated protesters during 11 months of mass demonstrations against Saleh, said some 90 people suffered gunshot wounds in addition to the nine killed. About 150 other people were wounded by tear gas canisters or incapacitated by gas, he said.  [More>>france24.com]

12.25.11  Afghan MP among 19 killed in suicide attack
KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) December 25 -
A suicide bomber attacked a funeral in northeastern Afghanistan Sunday, killing at least 19 people including an MP and wounding dozens of others, officials said. The attacker, who was wearing a suicide vest, blew himself up among a crowd of mourners gathered for the funeral of a government official in Taluqan city, the capital of Takhar province. "We have 19 dead including an MP, Abdulmutalib Baig, and more than 40 wounded, mostly civilians," said Takhar provincial governor Abdul Jabar Taqwa. "I was also invited to this ceremony but I didn't go. The target was either me or the MP." Baig was a former Mujahedeen commander and the former police chief of Kunduz province. He was working with opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah in the newly established National Coalition of Afghanistan [>thenews.com.pk]

12.23.11  Twin suicide bombings in Damascus - Syria
BEIRUT (Reuters) Lebanon, December 23 -
Suicide car bombers struck Damascus on Friday, officials said, killing 40 people, gutting buildings and sending human limbs flying in the bloodiest violence seen in Syria's capital since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began nine months ago. The attacks, which state media blamed on al-Qaeda, targeted two security compounds and came a day after the arrival of Arab League officials to prepare for a monitoring team that will check whether Assad is implementing a plan to end the bloodshed. Assad has unleashed tanks and troops to try to crush a wave of street protest inspired by other Arab uprisings this year. Mainly peaceful rallies are now increasingly eclipsed by an armed insurgency against his military and security apparatus. But Friday's blasts in central Damascus signaled a dramatic escalation in violence which Syrian authorities blame on armed groups they say have killed 2,000 soldiers and security force members this year. The United Nations says Assad's crackdown has killed 5,000 people.   [More>>thestar.com.my]

12.23.11  For payroll tax cut, next step is Obama's signature
December 23 - In under an hour on Friday, the House and Senate dispensed with weeks of partisan bickering, passing a bill to ensure a two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. The fight over how and whether to pass an extension was settled Thursday afternoon, when House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio agreedagainst the will of many of the chamber’s most conservative members — to a Senate bill to extend the benefits for two months while a longer deal was hammered out.    [More>>nytimes.com]

12.23.11  Russia ranked 2nd biggest global arms exporter
MOSCOW, December 23 - Russia became the world's second largest arms exporter after the US in 2011, said Igor Korotchenko, the head of the Moscow-based arms think tank Centre for Analysis of World Arms Trade (CAWAT), Friday.  The CAWAT ranking revealed that Russia occupied the second position for world arms sales in 2011 with $11.29 billion in revenues, which accounts for 16.1 percent of all international arms supplies, Korotchenko said.  "The forecast for 2012 is $11.3 billion or 17.3 percent of global arms sales." The US, however, dominates world arms exports, with over 40 percent of trade globally, or $28.76 billion.  Korotchenko also said that Russia had scored high records on arms exports despite the fact that it had lost the Iranian market because of the arms embargoes imposed on Tehran by Washington.   [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

12.23.11  Pakistan Taliban attack fort, kidnap 15 soldiers
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) December 23 -
Pakistani Taliban fighters attacked a paramilitary fort in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing one soldier and kidnapping 15 others, police said. The brazen attack was followed by a statement to media in which the militants said they would kill the abducted troops.  Armed with only assault rifles, at least 35 militants targeted the Frontier Corps fort in Tank district before dawn, said local police chief Ejad Abid. The militants burned down buildings and captured a significant amount of weapons, he said. One soldier was killed and two were wounded in the fighting, said Abid. Another 15 are still missing and believed to have been kidnapped, he said.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to The Associated Press and said it was carried out to avenge the death of a local Taliban commander. He claimed 30 soldiers were kidnapped. But another Taliban commander who said he carried out the attack, Asmatullah Shaheen, told the AP that he had 15 soldiers in his custody.  Ehsan said the Taliban had no intention of bargaining for the soldiers' release and intend to kill them. "We are going to cut these soldiers into pieces one by one, and we will send these pieces to their commanders," said Ehsan. Tank is located near the border with South Waziristan, an important sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani military staged a large offensive there in 2009, but the militants continue to operate in the area.    [>indianexpress.com]

12.23.11  US posts $10mn reward for Qaeda financier
WASHINGTON (AFP) December 23 - The United States on Thursday offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of a key al-Qaeda fundraiser, who is said to be a Syrian operating from Iran. The reward for Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil marks the first time that a "terrorist financier" has been targeted in such a way, said Robert Hartung, assistant director for threat investigations with the State Department. According to US officials, the man also known as Yacine al-Suri was born in Syria in 1982. He was put on a US Treasury Department blacklist in July when he was described as a high-level al-Qaeda figure operating out of Iran. His role, according to US officials, was to transfer funds and to recruit militants from the Middle East who transited via Iran to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The $10 million was posted as part of the program "Rewards for Justice," set up in the 1980s, with the aim of hunting down suspects wanted for terror acts against the United States. The current head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has the highest bounty on his head of $25 million.   [>thenews.com.pk]

12.23.11  US says Iraq forces capable amid 'heinous' attacks that left 100s killed and injured
December 23 - The White House insisted Iraq's security forces were capable of responding to attacks like the "heinous" strikes which swept across the country on Thursday killing scores of people. Al Arabiya correspondent in Baghdad said that the capital Baghdad was hit by two car blasts on Thursday night, leaving three people dead and up to 12 other injured. A wave of 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad early Thursday, killing at least 67 people and injuring as many as 185 others in the worst violence in Iraq for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians that has sent sectarian tensions soaring. The bombings may be linked more to the US withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together, the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.   [More>>alarabiya.net]

12.23.11  Another Soyuz rocket launch fails
December 23 - Russia's recent poor launch record has continued with yet another Soyuz rocket failure. This time, a Soyuz-2 vehicle failed to put a communications satellite into orbit after lifting away from the country's Plesetsk spaceport. Debris is said to have re-entered the Earth's atmosphere near the western Siberian town of Tobolsk. In August, a Soyuz failure on a mission to resupply the space station led to a six-week suspension of flights. Friday's rocket was carrying a Meridian-5 satellite, designed to provide communication between ships, planes and coastal stations on the ground, according to RIA Novosti. It was a Soyuz-2.1b, the most modern version of the rocket that has been in service in various forms since the 1960s. The failure is said to have occurred seven minutes into the flight. Sources being quoted by the Russian media talk of an anomaly in the rocket's third stage. "The satellite failed to go into its orbit. A state commission will investigate the causes of the accident," the spokesman of Russia's space forces, Alexei Zolotukhin, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. August's botched launch involved a Soyuz-U. An inquiry into that incident eventually traced the problem to a blocked fuel line, again in the third stage of the vehicle. But the U and 2.1b Soyuz variants use different engines in this segment of the rocket, so no immediate parallels between the two incidents can be drawn. Friday's failure now puts a major question mark against the next Soyuz launch, scheduled for 26 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This flight is intended to put in orbit six satellites for the Globalstar satellite phone company.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

12.23.11  Gaza Chrisitians long for days before Hamas canceled Christmas
December 23 - Since the Palestinian Authority left the Gaza Strip, festive celebrations and displays of crucifixes have become taboo.  When the Latin patriarch came to Gaza's Holy Family church to celebrate Christmas mass last week, he instructed a full house of Catholic and Orthodox families to pray for reconciliation. As the archbishop, Fouad Twal, stood at the lectern in Gaza City, Fatah and Hamas leaders were meeting in Cairo attempting to mend differences that have divided the Palestinian factions for four years and rendered Gaza a besieged Islamist enclave. Of the 1.5 million Palestinians now living in the Gaza Strip, fewer than 1,400 are Christian and those who can are leaving. The church hopes reconciliation will bring them back. There hasn't been a Christmas tree in Gaza City's main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday.    [More>>guardian.co.uk]

12.21.11  White House: Congress inaction threatens economy
WASHINGTON, December 21 -
A top White House economic adviser said on Wednesday that congressional deadlock on extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance benefits could threaten the US economy. Alan Krueger, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, stressed the economic importance of keeping the 2% payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and emergency unemployment benefits.  Krueger criticized Congress, saying their work is "not always predictable," in a speech to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, a nonprofit affiliated with the University of North Carolina. "Economists from across the spectrum have said that continuing the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits would provide a boost to economic growth and job creation in the coming year," he said. The White House has pounced on congressional Republicans for failing to vote on a Senate deal to extend the payroll tax cut for two months. The Obama administration and both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress say they want the tax cut extended. But they disagree on how to cover the lost tax revenue from a one-year extension, estimated at $120 billion. That deadlock has set the stage for payroll taxes to rise on Jan. 1. The bipartisan Senate package paid for a two-month extension of tax cuts mostly by hiking fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge mortgage lenders, which would likely get passed on to borrowers.   [More>>cnn.com]

12.21.11  Malaki demands return of Iraqi VP Hashimi, threatens to replace opponents
BAGHDAD, December 21 -
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demanded Wednesday that Kurdish officials hand over Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to face criminal charges, and threatened to purge Iraq’s fragile coalition government of politicians who refuse to work with him. Maliki also said he would release what he described as incriminating information about government officials unless they work to stop killings and work to rebuild the country. He said that the county’s constitution gives him broad authority and latitude to run Iraq as he sees fit.  Speaking at news conference on Iraqi national television, Maliki said that if leaders in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region do not hand over the vice president – who is accused of enlisting personal bodyguards to run a hit squad-- "it will stir up problems." In a sign that Iraq’s political crisis is worsening, Maliki struck a defiant tone against political opponents who have boycotted parliament and are accusing him of rushing to consolidate power in the wake of US troops leaving the country. He said he doesn't want to be weighed down by the opinions of various political factions, and insisted the government has the right to replace ministers who boycott their jobs over differences with him.    [More>>washingtonpost.com]

12.21.11  Syria opposition urges action after hundreds killed; Iranians abducted in Homs
DUBAI, December 21 - The opposition Syrian National Council urged the UN Security Council and Arab League on Wednesday to hold emergency meetings after regime forces "massacred" more than 200 people in two days.  Syria, which held war games on Tuesday to test preparedness against an invasion, accused the opposition of pushing for foreign intervention and of trying to sabotage an Arab-brokered deal that allows observers on the ground, but ignoring calls for dialogue. Reacting to reports of hundreds of civilians being killed this week, the SNC called for an "emergency UN Security Council session to discuss the regime’s massacres in Zawiyah mountain, Idlib, and Homs, in particular." It also appealed for an "emergency meeting for the Arab League to condemn the bloody massacres... and cooperate with the United Nations in taking the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians." The SNC, a major umbrella group of factions opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, reported "250 fallen heroes during a 48-hour period." It urged the Security Council to declare the cities and towns under attack "'safe zones' that enjoy international protection; and force the regime’s forces to withdraw from said areas." It also said Jabal al-Zawiyah, Idlib and Homs should be declared disaster areas and urged the International Red Crescent and other relief organizations to provide humanitarian aid. France denounced what it said was the "unprecedented massacre" and urged Russia to accelerate talks for a UN Security Council resolution on the crisis.  [More>>alarabiya.net]

12.21.11  Polish soldiers killed in Afghan blast
December 21 -
Five Polish soldiers were killed in Afghanistan in what was the single biggest attack on Polish forces since their deployment in the country, Polish media reported. A spokesman for the governor of Ghazni province said the soldiers were killed by a mine. Ghazni province lies southwest of the Afghan capital. It was one of "the most tragic events" in the country's mission so far, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Ghazni attack in a text message sent to journalists. Poland has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the US-led mission, which it joined in 2002. The latest attack raised Poland's overall death toll in Afghanistan to 36.  [>aljazeera.com]

12.20.11  Fierce clashes in Cairo, Clinton voices outrage
CAIRO, December 20 - Egyptian police and soldiers firing guns and teargas fought to clear protesters from Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, the fifth day of clashes that have killed 13 people and drawn a stinging rebuke from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Clinton condemned as “particularly shocking” incidents such as one in which two Egyptian soldiers were filmed dragging a woman protester on the ground by her shirt, exposing her underwear, then clubbing and kicking her. "Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago," America’s top diplomat said in a speech at Washington’s Georgetown University on Monday. The United States, which saw Egypt as a staunch ally in the era of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, gives Cairo $1.3 billion a year in military aid. 

Clinton said women had been mostly shut out of decision-making by Egypt’s ruling military and by big political parties. "Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now, women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets," she added. "This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people." Her remarks were among the strongest criticism of Egypt’s new rulers by US official.

...Medical sources say 13 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the violence that began on Friday in Tahrir and nearby streets leading to parliament and the cabinet office. Army generals and their advisers have condemned the pro-democracy protesters, sometimes in extraordinarily harsh terms. "What is your feeling when you see Egypt and its history burn in front of you?" retired general Abdel Moneim Kato, an army adviser, told al-Shorouk daily, referring to a government archive building set alight during clashes. "Yet you worry about a vagrant who should be burnt in Hitler’s incinerators." General Emara said “evil forces” wanted to sow chaos and that soldiers had shown “self-restraint” despite provocation.  [Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]

12.20.11  675 Pakistani women and girls victims of 'honor killings' - report
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AFP) December 20  - At least 675 Pakistani women and girls were murdered during the first nine months of the year for allegedly defaming their family's honor, a leading human rights group said Tuesday. The statistics highlight the scale of violence suffered by many women in conservative Muslim Pakistan, where they are frequently treated as second-class citizens and there is no law against domestic violence.

“Around 450 of the women killed from January to September were accused of having 'illicit relations' and 129 of marrying without permission. Some victims were raped or gang-raped before being killed, he said. At least 19 were killed by their sons, 49 by their fathers and 169 by their husbands”

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report

Despite some progress on better protecting women's rights, activists say the government needs to do far more to prosecute murderers in cases largely dismissed by police as private, family affairs...Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, told AFP that the state's inability to enforce rule of law, leaving matters in the hands of tribesmen and local elders, was a major factor. "We have a system in Pakistan where the state and judicial recourse are absent and the vacuum is filled by local elders," he said. "A combination of legal reforms, exercise of administrative authority and social awareness can greatly help check the honor killings," he added. Earlier this month, a Belgian court sentenced four members of a Pakistani family to prison for the murder of their daughter and sister, who defied them by living with a Belgian man and refusing an arranged marriage.  [Full story>>gulfnews.com; See related story,

thenews.com.pk, December 20, "SA adopts resolution against honor killing"
KARACHI - The Sindh Assembly on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution against Karo-Kari (honor killing).  The resolution was moved by Pakistan Muslim League Functional MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi.  In the resolution it is demanded to approach Federal Government to treat Karo-kari murders as culpable homicide under section 302 of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan said there is need to abide by the law besides removing flaws from it. (end)

12.20.11  Stop killing machine, Syria told
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) December 20 - Gulf Arab states on Tuesday urged Syria's government to immediately halt its "killing machine" and called on Iran to stop interfering in their internal affairs. In a statement issued at the end of their annual summit, held in Riyadh against the backdrop of the Arab uprisings, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members called on Syria to "immediately halt its killing machine." They appealed for Damascus to "put an end to bloodshed, lift all signs of armed conflict and release prisoners, as a first step towards implementing the (Arab) protocol." Syria signed the accord with the Arab League on Monday after weeks of prevarication in the hope the 22-member bloc will lift sweeping sanctions against the regime. "If there was goodwill when the protocol was signed, then these steps must be immediately taken," said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal, adding the initiative was "proposed to prevent a civil war." The GCC also called on Iran to stop meddling in the internal affairs of the group’s members. "Stop these policies and practices... and stop interfering in the internal affairs" of Gulf nations, it said, expressing concern over Tehran’s attempts to “instigate sectarian strife”. The Gulf states called on Iran to “fully cooperate” with the International Atomic Energy Agency, adding that GCC members were committed to a Middle East "free of weapons of mass destruction."  
[More>>khaleejtimes.com; See related story,

haaretz.com, December 20, "Assad forces ambushed by rebels as violence escalates in Syria" :
At least 47 people killed in one day, including 14 members of Assad's security forces; Arab League says monitors could be in the country before end of the month. At least 47 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday including 14 members of President Bashar Assad's security forces who were ambushed by rebels in the south of the country, an activist group said. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said among the dead were 23 people killed in fighting with the army in the northern province of Idlib.  Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League said on Tuesday that monitors could be in Syria before the end of the month to assess whether Damascus is implementing an Arab plan to end a bloody crackdown on protests after weeks of stalling. Galvanized by a soaring death toll after Syria turned troops and tanks on anti-government protests, Arab states have pushed Damascus to let in a team of about 150 observers to witness what is happening on the ground...

12.20.11  Phillippines declares 'state of calamity'
December 20 -
President visits affected areas and authorities ready communal tombs as death toll from floods nears 1,000 people.  A state of national disaster has been declared in the Philippines, and authorities are preparing for temporary mass burials after nearly a thousand people died in recent floods. At least 957 people are confirmed dead so far and 49 others are missing after tropical storm Washi lashed the southern island of Mindanao and surrounding areas over the weekend, said civil defense chief Benito Ramos. Washi brought heavy rains that swelled rivers, unleashing flash floods and landslides in the middle of the night and swept away shantytowns built near river mouths. The death toll rose sharply as the bodies of people who were swept out to sea were recovered. President Benigno Aquino flew to Mindanao on Tuesday to survey the devastation by air, co-ordinate the relief effort, and express his condolences to the victims' relatives, aides said. Aquino said the impoverished nation of 94 million people was now in a "state of calamity," his spokesman Ricky Carandang told reporters.  Iligan and Cagayan de Oro are the worst affected cities, with 279 and 579 fatalities respectively; but other areas were also hit and needed immediate aid from the national government, Carandang said. Aquino, speaking to residents in the city of Cagayan de Oro, said: "Our national government will do its best to prevent a repeat of this tragedy." He said there would be an assessment of what went wrong and why so many people died. "I do not accept that everything had been done. I know that we can do more. We must determine what really happened," Aquino said.   [More>>aljazeera.net]

12.20.11  Foreign student arrested at Brimingham Airport trying to smuggle terrorist document into Britain
December20 - A foreign student has been arrested at Birmingham airport on suspicion of trying to smuggle a terrorist document into Britain. The student was returning to Britain when officials conducted a check of his baggage. He is understood to have been living in the country on a student visa. The man was traveling from Pakistan and the check was a random a routine “port stop” conducted by immigration staff. He was stopped at Birmingham International Airport on his way back into the country via Dubai and his baggage was checked. The 22-year-old was arrested on Monday evening on suspicion of being in possession of a document likely to be of use to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism He is currently being questioned by officers from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit.   [>telegraph.co.uk]
12.19.11  Crew 'left us to drown,' surviving asylum seekers say
(Reuters) December 19 -
The crew of a people-smuggling operation that met with disaster off the Indonesian coast late on Saturday fled the scene with life jackets and allowed hundreds to drown, survivors have told the press.  The crew and captain of an Indonesian boat packed with illegal immigrants grabbed life vests and swam away as it sank during a heavy storm, leaving more than 200 passengers missing, Australian media reported on Monday. Surviving asylum seekers said terrified passengers on the boat that was heading for Australia were left to drown as it broke apart in stormy seas about 90 km (55 miles) off the coast of Java, Indonesia. "The captain and six crew took the life vests and started swimming away," Pakistani Saed Mohammad Zia, 18, told the Daily Telegraph. "They were all from Indonesia. We lost sight of them in the big waves and we never saw them again. We don’t know if they were rescued."

The number of survivors, missing and those feared dead is still not clear, authorities said of the latest of such disasters in recent years for immigrants traveling via Indonesia in search of a better life in Australia. Many of the passengers on the wooden vessel, which sank on Saturday, are believed to be economic migrants from countries including Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those that survived suffered severe dehydration and exhaustion after struggling to stay afloat in the rough seas, some clinging to wreckage for five hours. "We were just praying to God that someone would help us. We thought it was the last of our life story," said Esmat Adine, 24, from Afghanistan. "People were dying in front of us. The bodies were lying in front of us in the water, women and children mostly,"  he told the Daily Telegraph.  [More>>france24.com]

12.19.11  Experts differ over prospect of power succession
December 19 - Some raise possibilities of power struggles among elites. Experts are divided on whether the third-generation power succession in North Korea will be smoothly carried out following the death of its leader Kim Jong-il. Opinions differed over whether the hereditary transfer of power to his third son Jong-un would face any obstacles in the communist state, which Kim had ruled with an iron fist since his father and national founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994. Some argued that the process will proceed as planned given years of “systematic” preparations, while others floated possibilities of power struggles among the elite given his lack of experience and a relatively short grooming period. The North claims that Swiss-educated Jong-un, who was internally tapped as heir apparent in 2009, was born in 1982. Kim Jong-il had 20 years of preparation before taking power, while it has been only several years since Jong-un started being groomed. On the surface, the succession plan appears to be well under way.

Following the announcement of Kim’s death, state media reported that the North’s military and people pledged to follow the leadership of the heir. Jong-un's name also appeared on top of the funeral committee member list, which reflects his position in the power echelon.  After Jong-un was given the newly-created post of vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission and appointed as a four-star general last September, Kim was put at the center of the international spotlight as successor to his iron-fisted father. Experts anticipated that, as his father did, Kim Jong-un may try to solidify his power base in the ruling Workers' Party and the military during a lengthy mourning period, which is expected to be three years
the same period of mourning spent for his grandfather. Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, said that although some degree of instability is expected in the beginning, there would not be any big impediments for Jong-un to take control of the North.

“The North has prepared for the power succession since leader Kim suffered (a stroke) in August 2008. I think a transitional system will lead the country with Kim’s family members and close associates temporarily,” he said. "The fact that the announcement of his death came earlier than thought indicates that the North is confident in carrying out the ongoing power succession. There may not be any serious challenges to the heir apparent." Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, raised the possibility that for the time being, a group of elites from the ruling party may collectively lead the country. "As he is young, a group of elites from the party leadership may lead the country for the time being. However, there would not be power struggles that threaten the legitimacy of Jong-un as North Koreans believe he is in their community sharing a common destiny," he said. Yang also pointed out that the North would have a lengthy mourning period to stall for time for a stable power transition.

Other experts, however, raised possibilities that the power succession process could get bogged down in conflicts among the military and party elites. “The leadership system in the North is not unitary. There are elites in charge of security and those in charge of the military. Jong-un has yet to gain full authority over personnel issues. Without a unitary system for the elites, there is a possibility of conflict,” said Lee Seung-reol, North Korea expert at Ewha Womans University.   [More>>koreaherald.com; See related story,

news.sky.com, December 19,  "Inside North Korea: Cult of the Kim family"
: (by Holly Williams, Asia correspondent)  Nobody goes to North Korea expecting it to be a normal place. But nothing had prepared me for a twilight zone of a country, where the unofficial state religion is worship of a family that functions like the mafia
only with considerably less honor. It is just 250 miles (400km) from the Chinese border town of Dandong to the North Korea capital of Pyongyang. But the train I caught took 12 hours, crawling through villages that looked as miserable and drawn as the faces of their inhabitants. Photos are banned, customs guards are infamous for stealing anything they like the look of in passengers’ luggage, and the dining carriage staff grumpily charge you $100 for a meal of salted meat and rice for three. It is an obvious metaphor for the North Korean state - secretive, ground down by poverty and hunger and run by a gang of vicious kleptomaniacs.

Foreign visitors must be accompanied at all times by North Korean guides and the first
state-enforced  stop for all guests is a glittering statue of Kim Il-sung that towers over Pyongyang. North Koreans dress up in their best and lay flowers at the feet of the man who is still 17 years after his death the "eternal president" of their country. It is a perfect introduction to the bizarre cult that surrounds the Kim family. Pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the rosy-cheeked founder of the North Korean state, and his pugnacious-looking son, seem to hang in every room. Their portraits keep an eye over a people who are not permitted to watch foreign television, listen to foreign radio or surf the internet. What they are allowed to do is celebrate the glorious Kim family. If you like military parades, mass rallies during which attendees are expected to weep hysterically with joy, and excursions to dubious “historical sites” associated with the Kims, then North Korea is the place for you...
12.19.11  Euro hits 11-month low amid European woes, upbeat US data
NEW YORK (Xinhua) December 18 -  The euro tumbled to an 11-month low against the dollar this week as concerns over the European debt crisis intensified and upbeat U.S. economic data helped to stimulate confidence in the American currency. The euro tumbled on Tuesday when German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected a plan to expand the European bailout fund. The results of an EU summit last weekend disappointed investors as they believed the agreement reached at the gathering would be unable to uproot the European debt crisis. Furthermore, Merkel on Tuesday reiterated that she opposes expanding the size of the European Stability Mechanism. The news worried investors because they believe that the 500-billion euro fund is not enough to cover Spain and Italy if those countries need a bailout. The euro tumbled to the lowest level since January against the dollar on Tuesday, approaching the critical psychological level of 1.30. On Wednesday, the Italian government sold 3 billion euros of 5-year bonds and saw yields surged to 6.47 percent, the highest yield at auction since the euro's inception. The surging borrowing costs worried investors and pressured the euro. The shared currency dipped further and broke down 1.30 against the dollar, a level never seen this year.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

12.19.11  Press campaigners say 106 journalists killed in 2011, among them 20 in Arab Spring countries
GENEVA (AFP) December 19 -  At least 106 journalists were killed in 2011, among them 20 who reported on the Arab spring uprisings, a campaign group said on Monday.  More than 100 others were attacked, intimidated, arrested and wounded in countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, the Geneva-based Press Emblem Campaign said. Mexico and Pakistan were the most dangerous countries to work in however.  The PEC said 12 journalists died in Mexico, likely victims of the ongoing conflict between the military and drug cartels in the north of the country. "The casualties could be higher if figures were known for journalists who were victims of enforced disappearances," the group said in a statement.

Pakistan came second with 11 journalists killed, the majority of whom died on the border with Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, Libya and the Philippines. Seven journalists were killed in the conflict which saw the toppling of strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi earlier this year. Two thirds of the journalists killed were intentionally targeted, the PEC said, particularly in Latin America where the body said press freedom was threatened. Others were accidentally killed during demonstrations, in fights, in suicide bombings or in mine explosions.  "There are half a dozen cases worldwide where the causes leading to the death of journalists are still unclear," said secretary General Blaise Lempen.
  The toll was down one on 2010 when 105 journalists were killed.  [>alarabiya.net]

12.19.11  Death toll rises to 14 on fourth day of Egypt protests
CAIRO, December 19 -
Egypt's ruling military questioned the morals of a female detainee, accused a prominent publisher of incitement and bashed the media for allegedly working to destabilize the country in a new effort to crush the pro-democracy movement trying to oust the generals. The criticism, delivered by a member of the ruling military council in a nationally televised news conference, came hours after troops in riot gear swept through Cairo's Tahrir Square, opening fire on protesters and lobbing tear gas into the crowds. At least three people were killed, pushing the death toll for four days of clashes to 14.  Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the council that took power after Hosni Mubarak's February ouster in a popular uprising, defended the use of force against protesters. "There is a methodical and premeditated plot to topple the state, but Egypt will not fall," said Emara. "The media is helping sabotage the state. This is certain," he added. Violence has been raging in Cairo since Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building near Tahrir Square heavily cracked down on a 3-week-old sit-in to demand the ruling generals immediately hand power to a civilian authority. Tahrir was the center of the uprising and remains the base of the democracy movement's ongoing protests. The raid early Monday appeared to be an attempt by the military to keep protesters away from key government buildings near the square, including parliament, the Cabinet headquarters and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the hated police.  [More>>foxnews.com]

12.19.11  Syria signs Arab League peace deal
December 19 - Damascus agrees to an initiative to end its deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters and free political prisoners.  Syria has agreed to allow an Arab observer mission into the country, ending weeks of prevarication that had prompted the Arab League to adopt sanctions over the government's crackdown on protests. Faisal al-Maqdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, and Ahmed Ben Helli, the Arab League assistant secretary-general, signed the document at the League headquarters in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday. Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, said that Syria had only signed up to the deal after making sure it did not infringe on his country's sovereignty. He said the deal was for an initial period of one month, renewable with the agreement of both sides.

"Signing the protocol is the start of co-operation with the Arab League and we will welcome the observers' mission from the Arab League," he said. "Sovereignty is protected in the text of the protocol," he added. "Article eight of the Arab League charter protects existing structures and bans countries from interfering... In this protocol we are talking about protecting civilians from terrorist groups." Syria has consistently rejected the view of Western governments and human rights groups that the protests in the country have been overwhelmingly peaceful, insisting that they are the work of armed groups. Muallem said that he expected the observers' mission to vindicate the government's position that Syria has been battling an armed rebellion.  [More>>aljazeera.com]

12.19.11  Arrest warrant for Iraq Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi
December 19 - An Iraqi judicial committee has issued an arrest warrant for the mainly Shia Arab country's Sunni Arab Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi. The warrant was issued under anti-terrorism laws, interior ministry spokesman Adel Daham said. The decision came after arrested bodyguards of Mr. Hashemi reportedly accused him of links to terrorism. He has been banned from leaving Iraq, and is said to be staying in the Kurdish north. State-run television has reportedly aired what it says are confessions by alleged terrorists linked to Mr Hashemi. Maj-Gen. Adel Daham told a news conference that confessions by suspects identified as his bodyguards had linked him to killings and attacks on several Iraqi government and security officials,  [More>>bbc.co.uk]

12.19.11  Iran reiterates threat to close Hormuz Strait if oil exports sanctioned: report
TEHRAN (Xinhua) December 18 - A senior Iranian lawmaker said Sunday that Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on the Iranian oil exports, the local Mehr news agency reported. Hossein Ebrahimi, the deputy chief of Iran's Majlis (parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said that if the West impose oil sanctions on the Islamic republic, Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz and will not allow other countries to export oil through the strategic waterway, said the report. Parviz Sorouri, a member of the commission, said last week that Iran plans to practice its ability to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important passages for exports of crude and oil products from littoral states of Persian Gulf. "Currently, the Middle East region supplies 70 percent of the world's energy needs, (most of) which are transported through the Strait of Hormuz. We will hold an exercise for closing the Strait of Hormuz in the near future," said Sorouri. "If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure," Sorouri noted.   [More>>xinhuanet.com]

12.19.11  Possible ban on Bhagavad Gita in Russia angers Indian MPs
NEW DELHI, India (RIA Novosti) December 19 -
Indian parliamentarians urged the government on Monday to diplomatically intervene in a Russian trial that might order a ban on one of the holiest Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, local media reported. A court in the Siberian city of Tomsk is expected to announce a verdict on Monday whether to impose a ban on the Russian translation of “Bhagavad Gita As It Is,” written by founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Prosecutors claim that the scripture promotes extremism. During an Indian parliamentary session on Monday, the leader of the Biju Janata Dal political party, Bhartruhari Mahtab, called on the government to ensure the rights of Hindus in Russia in view of the possible ban. "I want to know from the government what it is doing. The religious rights of Hindus in Russia should be protected. The government should impress upon the Russian authorities through diplomatic channels," India Today daily quoted Mahtab as saying.

Mahtab's mention of the issue plunged the parliament into chaos, the newspaper said, with other parliamentarians wanting to speak on the subject. Parliament’s Speaker Meira Kumar was forced to adjourn the session for several hours. The Russian Embassy in India said it is closely following the situation in India and the trial in Tomsk. "The Embassy can not comment on the course of the trial, but it closely follows the development of events, which raised a great public concern in India," Nana Mgeladze, a spokeswoman for the embassy, said. Bhagavat Gita was first published in Russia in 1788 and since then has been republished many times in various translations, she added.  [>en.rian.ru]

12.18.11  The brave women of the Middle East: female protesters brutally beaten with metal poles as viscious soldiers drag girls through streets by their hair in day of shame
December 18 -
After being viciously beaten by a 10-strong mob of Egyptian male soldiers, this woman lies helplessly on the ground as her shirt is ripped from her body and a man kicks her with full force in her exposed chest. Moments earlier she had been struck countless times in the head and body with metal batons; not content with the brutal beating delivered by his fellow soldier, one man stamped on her head repeatedly.  She feebly tried to shield her head from the relentless blows with her hands. But she was knocked unconscious in the shameful attack and left lying motionless as the military men mindlessly continued to beat her limp and half-naked body. Before she was set upon by the guards, three men appeared to carry her as they tried to flee the approaching military. But they were too slow and the soldiers caught up with them, capturing the women and knocking one of the men to the ground. The two other men were forced to abandoned their fellow protestors and continued running, looking helplessly back at the two they left behind being relentlessly attacked as they lay on the ground.

This is just one of the hundreds of shameful injustices seen in Cairo's Tahrir Square where Egypt's military took a dramatically heavy hand on Saturday to crush protests against its rule. Aya Emad told the AP that troops dragged her by her headscarf and hair into the Cabinet headquarters. The 24-year-old said soldiers kicked her on the ground, an officer shocked her with an electrical prod and another slapped her on the face, leaving her nose broken and her arm in a sling. Mona Seif, an activist who was briefly detained Friday, said she saw an officer repeatedly slapping a detained old woman in the face. "It was a humiliating scene," Seif told the private TV network Al-Nahar. "I have never seen this in my life." 

In Bahrain a similar pictured was emerging with a video clip showing a female human rights activist being hit by a policewoman during clashes between police and anti-government protestors. Police fired teargas to break up a demonstration by several hundred people on the outskirts of the capital, Manama where several women staged a sit-in protest trying to block a main road.  After nearly 48 hours of continuous fighting in Egypt's capital more than 300 were left injured and nine dead, many of them shot dead. The most sustained crackdown yet is likely a sign that the generals who took power after the February ouster of Hosni Mubarak are confident that the Egyptian public is on its side after two rounds of widely acclaimed parliament elections, that Islamist parties winning the vote will stay out of the fight while pro-democracy protesters become more isolated. Still, the generals risk turning more Egyptians against them, especially from outrage over the abuse of women. "Do they think this is manly?' Toqa Nosseir, a 19-year old student, said of the attacks on women. [
More w/photos>>dailymail.co.uk]

12.18.11  Leader denies use of violence as Cairo crackdown persists
CAIRO, Egypt, December 17 - Egypt's military rulers escalated a bloody crackdown on street protesters on Saturday, chasing down and beating unarmed civilians, even while the prime minister was denying in a televised news conference that security forces were using any force. In one of the most incendiary developments, video cameras captured soldiers stripping the clothes off women they were beating on the pavement of Tahrir Square. The contradiction in the military-led government’s statements and actions appeared to represent a shift in strategy by the military council. After trying for months to preserve some credibility and collaboration with the Egyptian political elite, the ruling generals on Saturday scarcely acknowledged the demands made by their newly appointed civilian advisory council the night before that the military cease its violence and apologize to demonstrators. Instead, as the crackdown entered its second day, the military council appeared to be playing to those Egyptians impatient with the continuing protests and eager for a return to stability.

Crowds of supporters turned out downtown on Saturday morning to cheer on the military police, hand them drinks of water and help them close off Tahrir Square from demonstrators massing to get in. Protesters, for their part, charged that the military rulers were provoking the clashes to derail or discredit the continuing election of a new Parliament that could challenge their power. “The military council is responsible for everything that happens,” Ziad el-Elaimy, a newly elected member of Parliament who was beaten Friday by the military police, said in a television interview. The prime minister, Kamal Ganzouri, issued his denial that the military had or would use force in a news conference on Saturday morning after more than 24 hours of street fighting in front of the military-occupied Parliament building that left 10 dead from gunshots and hundreds wounded.   [More>>nytimes.com]

12.18.11  Protests spread in troubled Kazakh oil region
AKTAU, Kazakhstan (Reuters) December 18 -
Protests in Kazakhstan’s oil-producing Mangistau region, unprecedented in the Central Asian state’s recent history, spread on Sunday to the regional capital, where hundreds of angry protesters faced reinforced police troops. Late on Saturday, one person was killed and 11 people were wounded in a fresh clash with police in the village of Shetpe, bringing the total official death toll in the western region to 14 and the number of wounded to around 100. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has declared a 20-day state of emergency in the oil city of Zhanaozen, in the same region. Thirteen people were killed there in violence that broke out on Friday, the prosecutor-general’s office said on Sunday. Public protests are rare in Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest economy and biggest oil producer, where the 71-year-old Nazarbayev has overseen more than $120 billion in foreign investment during more than two decades in power, but tolerates little dissent and puts stability before democratic freedoms.

...The riots began on Friday when sacked oil workers and sympathizers stormed a stage erected for an Independence Day party and smashed sound equipment in central Zhanaozen, a city of some 90,000 people. They later set fire to the city hall, the headquarters of a local oil company, a hotel and dozens of other buildings, including trade centers and houses. They also burned cars and buses and plundered cash machines...They later set fire to the city hall, the headquarters of a local oil company, a hotel and dozens of other buildings, including trade centers and houses. They also burned cars and buses and plundered cash machines.  The riots began on Friday when sacked oil workers and sympathizers stormed a stage erected for an Independence Day party and smashed sound equipment in central Zhanaozen, a city of some 90,000 people.
[Full story>>khaleejtimes.com]
12.18.11  Nearly nine years on, last convoy of US soldiers leaves Iraq
DUBAI, December 18 -
The last convoy of US soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday, ending their withdrawal after nearly nine years of war and military intervention that cost almost 4,500 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. The war launched in March 2003 with missiles striking Baghdad to oust dictator Saddam Hussein is leaving behind a fragile democracy still facing insurgents, sectarian tensions and a struggle to define its place in the Arab region. The final column of around 100 mostly US military MRAP armored vehicles carrying 500 US troops trundled across the southern Iraq desert through the night along an empty highway to the Kuwaiti border. "It’s good to see this thing coming to a close. I was here when it started," Staff Sgt. Christian Schultz said just before leaving Contingency Operating Base Adder, 300 km (185 miles) south of Baghdad, for the border. "I saw a lot of good changes, a lot of progress, and a lot of bad things too."    [More>>alarabiya.net]

12.18.11  Grenade attack wounds 20 in southeast Afghanistan
GARDEZ, Afghanistan, December 18 - At least 20 people were wounded when a man threw grenades at a police vehicle in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, an official said. Grenade attacks are relatively uncommon in Afghanistan but it was the second time in less than 48 hours that police have been targeted in such a way. The attacker threw at least two grenades at a police pickup truck in a crowded market in Khost city before fleeing the area, Khost provincial police spokesman Mir Akbar Mangal told AFP. "Twenty people, including several police, were wounded in the attack. No one has been killed,"  he said, adding that police were hunting the attacker. Khost province, which borders the Pakistan tribal areas, is a stronghold of the al-Qaeda- and Taliban-linked Haqqani militant group. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Taliban have said they were behind a grenade attack on a police station in Kabul on Friday night. Police said nobody was injured after a man lobbed at least one grenade at a district police station in the west of the capital.   [>thenews.com.pk]

12.16.11  Russia gains entry to WTO after 18-year wait
(AFP) December 16 -
The World Trade Organization granted its final approval for Russia to join the group on Friday after a record 18-year-long bid for membership. The Russian parliament must now ratify the accord before June 15 of next year. Russia secured the final approval Friday to join the World Trade Organization after a record 18 years of trying. The WTO's 153-members gave their second and final approval for Russia's membership bid, ushering in the last major economy outside the trade club. The Russian parliament will have until June 15 next year to ratify the accord and bring it into force. Moscow's lead negotiator Maxim Medvedkov had said earlier that he expected the deal to be ratified "early next year." "This is clearly a historic moment for the Russian Federation and for the rule-based multilateral system after an 18-year marathon," said Pascal Lamy, director-general of the WTO.   [More>>france24.com]

12.16.11  Russia seizes Iran-bound radioactive material
MOSCOW (Reuters) December 16 -
Russia's customs service said on Friday it had seized radioactive sodium-22, an isotope that is used in medical equipment but has no weapons use, from the luggage of a passenger planning to fly from Moscow to Tehran. The service said in a statement that the material could be obtained only "as a result of a nuclear reactor's operations" but did not say when it had been discovered at Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport. The material triggered an alarm in the airport's radiation control system and a luggage search led to the discovery of 18 pieces of the radioactive metal packed in individual steel casings, it said.  The passenger boarded the plane for Tehran and left Russia, the customs service said. It added that the passenger was Iranian national. Russian law enforcement agencies opened criminal investigation into the incident. Sodium-22 can be used for calibrating nuclear detectors and in medical equipment, nuclear experts said. "There is no weapons aspect to this (material)," said Research director Lars-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defense Research Institute.   [More>>thestar.com.my]

12.16.11  US says Lebanese bank linked to Hezbollah laundered $240 million with used cars
NEW YORK (Reuters) December 16 - Three Lebanese financial institutions linked to Hezbollah laundered over $240 million through the United States used car market, federal prosecutors accused on Thursday. The civil forfeiture claim by US prosecutors in New York accused the Lebanese Canadian Bank and two money exchange companies of buying and shipping used cars from the United States to West Africa. There, the cars were sold and the cash smuggled into Lebanon by people acting as money couriers, often working for Hezbollah, court documents said. Washington considers Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, a terrorist group. US Drug Enforcement Administration officials say that the Lebanese group has become increasingly involved in the drug trade, facilitating the distribution and sale of cocaine in West Africa. In February, the US Treasury department designated the Lebanese Canadian Bank as a "primary money laundering concern." The privately owned bank was subsequently merged with the Lebanese subsidiary of Societe Generale. In February, Georges Zard Abou Jaoude, chairman and general manager of Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) said, "To the best of our knowledge I can confirm that we have no clients related in any way to the crimes mentioned by the American Treasury."   [>alarabiya.net]

12.16.11  Failed Mars probe to crash back to Earth
December 16- A Russian space probe that failed in its attempt to reach one of Mars' moons will crash back to Earth next month, officials have said. The unmanned Phobos-Grunt craft was successfully launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in November. However, the probe got stuck in Earth's orbit after its engines failed to fire up quickly ending its planned journey toward the Red Planet. Russia's space agency said it expects the Phobos-Grunt to plummet back through our atmosphere between January 6 and 19. Toxic fuel from the craft will burn on its fiery re-entry, but several dozen fragments weighing up to 200kg (440lbs) will crash into the Earth's surface, officials said. Where it will all land is not yet known however - with the agency explaining that the rough area where the probe's fragments will fall can only be calculated a few days ahead of its plunge.  [More>>news.sky.com]

12.16.11  Louisiana issues Neti Pot warning after two fatal infections
December 16 -
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has issued a warning about improper Neti pot use, which has been linked to two deadly infections. A 51-year-old woman from DeSoto Parish and a 20-year-old man from St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans, died after using Neti pots containing tap water to flush their sinuses. Both became infected with Naegleria fowleri, a parasite known as the brain-eating amoeba. "If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution," Louisiana State epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement. "Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose." Naegleria fowleri enters the body through the nose to cause primary amoebic meningoencephalitis a brain infection with symptoms similar to those of bacterial meningitis. Headache, fever, nausea and stiff neck swiftly give way to confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations. And if left untreated, the infection can cause death within one to 12 days.    [More>>abcnews.go.com]
12.15.11  US military marks end to nearly nine bloody years in Iraq
December 15 -
US forces formally ended their nine-year war in Iraq on Thursday with a low key flag ceremony in Baghdad, while to the north flickering violence highlighted ethnic and sectarian strains threatening the country in years ahead. "After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the ceremony at Baghdad’s still heavily-fortified airport. Almost 4,500 US soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in the war that began with a "Shock and Awe" campaign of missiles pounding Baghdad and descended into sectarian strife and a surge in US troop numbers. US soldiers lowered the flag of American forces in Iraq and slipped it into a camouflage-colored sleeve in a brief outdoor ceremony, symbolically ending the most unpopular US military venture since the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s. The remaining 4,000 American troops will leave by the end of the year. [More>>alarabiya.net]

12.15.11  Syrian rebels kill 27 soldiers in south
BEIRUT, Lebanon, December 15 - Army deserters killed 27 soldiers in southern Syria on Thursday, an activist group said, in some of the deadliest attacks on forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad since the start of an uprising nine months ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes flared in Deraa, where protests against Assad first erupted in March, and at a checkpoint east of the city where all 15 personnel manning it were killed. It did not say how they broke out, but the high casualties among security forces suggested coordinated strikes by the army rebels who have escalated attacks in recent weeks, raising the specter of slippage towards civil war in Syria. The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world. Assad has denied any orders were issued to kill demonstrators and says gunmen have killed 1,100 of his forces. But a report published by Human Rights Watch on Thursday, based on interviews with dozens of defectors, said army commanders have ordered troops to use "all means necessary" to halt protests, often giving explicit instructions to open fire. One special forces soldier said his brigade was told to "use as many bullets as you want" on protesters in Deraa in April. A sniper in the city of Homs said his commanders ordered that a specific percentage of demonstrators should die. "For 5,000 protesters, for example, the target would be 15 to 20 people," he told Human Rights Watch (HRW).   [More>>thestar.com.my; See related story,

guardian.co.uk, December 15, "Syrian commanders to be named and shamed by human rights group"
Human Rights Watch calls for referral to the international criminal court for abuses such as ''shoot to kill" orders. Scores of Syrian commanders and officials who ordered or condoned killings, torture, and unlawful arrests are to be named, adding to mounting pressure for international action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Human Rights Watch, the advocacy group, calls in a report for Syria to be referred to the international criminal court for abuses including "shoot to kill" orders that it says constituted crimes against humanity. HRW names 74 individuals, from Assad and his brother Maher and the defense minister, Daoud Rajiha, down to brigade and divisional commanders in the Syrian army and intelligence services. Activists and opposition supporters hope that identifying alleged perpetrators will undermine the ability of the Damascus regime to use violent repression and encourage insubordination or defections. Defectors interviewed by HRW revealed that commanders issued standing orders to stop overwhelmingly peaceful protests "by all means necessary"
understood to mean lethal force, since troops had been issued live ammunition. In about half of the cases, commanders followed standing orders with specific orders to "open fire," "shoot," "kill," "destroy,"and the like, the report says...
12.15.11  Tense stand-off continues in China protest village
December 15 - 
A tense stand-off between villagers and local authorities is continuing in southern China's Guangdong province. A BBC reporter in Wukan says villagers held a fresh rally there on Thursday and that both police and villagers have set up checkpoints around the village. The row over village land taken by the local government has been raging since September. A local official said that the land seizures would be halted, but those inciting unrest would be punished. Wu Zili, acting mayor of the city of Shanwei, which oversees Wukan, also promised to investigate village officials for wrongdoing, according to local media reports.   [More>>bbc.co.uk]

12.15.11  Vandals torch West Bank mosque, Jewish extremists suspected
JERUSALEM, December 15 -
Defying a crackdown on Jewish extremists ordered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vandals set fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Thursday and defaced it with Hebrew graffiti after Israeli forces tore down structures in an unauthorized settlement outpost. The arson attack in the Palestinian village of Burqa, near Ramallah, was the latest in a string of similar attacks on mosques in the West Bank. It came a day after an unused mosque was vandalized in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.  The wave of extremist violence, which included a rampage by militant settlers at a West Bank army base on Tuesday, has brought expressions of alarm from across the Israeli political spectrum and prompted a government announcement Wednesday of a series of measures to rein in violent Jewish radicals. The steps include detention without trial and prosecution in military courts, measures normally applied to Palestinians in the West Bank but not to Jewish settlers there. Other measures include banning suspected militants from the West Bank and authorizing soldiers in the West Bank to arrest Israelis.   [More>>washingtonpost.com]

12.15.11  Census data: Half of US poor or low income
WASHINGTON (AP) December 15 -
Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans nearly 1 in 2 have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income. The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families. "Safety net programs such as food stamps and tax credits kept poverty from rising even higher in 2010, but for many low-income families with work-related and medical expenses, they are considered too 'rich' to qualify," said Sheldon Danziger, a University of Michigan public policy professor who specializes in poverty. "The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal," he said. "If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years." Congressional Republicans and Democrats are sparring over legislation that would renew a Social Security payroll tax cut, part of a year-end political showdown over economic priorities that could also trim unemployment benefits, freeze federal pay and reduce entitlement spending.  [More>>cbsnews.com]

12.15.11  New unemployment claims shrink to 3-year low
December 15 - New unemployment claims sank to a three-year low last week. The number of Americans filing new jobless claims fell by 19,000 to 366,000 for the week ending Dec. 10,  according to the Department of Labor. The figure is the lowest the country has seen since May 2008. The number brings the four-week average of weekly unemployment applications to 387,750, a decline of 6,500 from the previous week and the lowest four-week figure since July 2008. New unemployment claims falling below "400,000 is definitely a good sign but part of that is because companies have already shed a lot of jobs, made a lot of cutbacks, so we’re not in that phase anymore," said Stephen Bronars, senior economist at Welch Consulting.  "So now the problem is getting people back to work."   [More>>abcnews.go.com]

12.15.11  Crashed drone was looking at Iran nuclear sites
December 15 - The Sentinel drone that crashed in Iran last week was on a surveillance mission of suspected nuclear sites in the country, US military officials tell CNN. Previously, US and NATO officials had said the drone was on a mission to patrol the Afghan-Iran border and had veered off course. The officials say the Afghan government was unaware of the use of its territory to fly surveillance drones over Iran, and that the CIA had not informed the Defense Department of the drone's mission when reports first emerged that it had crashed.  One official told CNN that the US military "did not have a good understanding of what was going on because it was a CIA mission." In Kabul Wednesday US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta refused to comment directly on the specifics of the drone's mission but did not deny that it had been spying on Iran and said the drone program carried out "important intelligence operations which we will continue to pursue."   [More>>cnn.com; See related story,

msnbc.msn.com, December 15, "Iran hijacked US drone, engineer claims"
: ISTANBUL, Turkey -
Iran guided the CIA's "lost" stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military, according to an Iranian engineer now working on the captured drone's systems inside Iran. Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying to unravel the drone's stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not be named for his safety. Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone's GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.

"The GPS navigation is the weakest point," the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran's" electronic ambush" of the highly classified US drone. "By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain." The "spoofing" technique that the Iranians used
which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data made the drone "land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications" from the US control center, says the engineer. The revelations about Iran's apparent electronic prowess come as the US, Israel, and some European nations appear to be engaged in an ever-widening covert war with Iran, which has seen assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, explosions at Iran's missile and industrial facilities, and the Stuxnet computer virus that set back Iran’s nuclear program.

Now this engineer’s account of how Iran took over one of America’s most sophisticated drones suggests Tehran has found a way to hit back. The techniques were developed from reverse-engineering several less sophisticated American drones captured or shot down in recent years, the engineer says, and by taking advantage of weak, easily manipulated GPS signals, which calculate location and speed from multiple satellites. [end]

12.15.11  Chinese city tries to limit religious fervor by banning veils, long beards
BEIJING, China, December 15 - 
A city district in heavily Muslim western China is trying to tamp down religious fervor by prohibiting people from wearing veils, traditional Arab dress or growing long beards. The notice from the Dunmaili district of Yining disappeared from the Yining government website Thursday afternoon. It was still available on a state-run news website, though the reason for the discrepancy was uncertain. Yining is in the Xinjiang region that is home to the traditionally Muslim Uighur ethnic group. Many Uighurs resent Chinese rule and controls on their religion and culture and the region has occasionally seen violent unrest. The notice said stubborn individuals who refused to give up their veils, Arab dress or long beards should be turned over to judicial departments.   [More>>foxnews.com]


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