Tuesday, 30 April 2013
New Bombing Strikes Central Damascus
New attack one day after prime minister escapes assassination attempt
The latest explosion reportedly hit the Al-Marjeh district in the center of the city, close to the former headquarters of the Interior Ministry.
Syrian state TV channels reported that 13 people had been killed by the blast in Marjeh Square, with 70 injured, while the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 9 civilians and 3 police officers were killed, with more casualties expected.
This is the latest in a series of bombings in and around the Syrian capital. Yesterday, a car bomb exploded in the upscale Mazzeh neighbourhood, in what appears to have been an assassination attempt aimed at Syria’s prime minister.
The bomb reportedly killed 6 people, including one of the Halki’s bodyguards, although the prime minister apparently escaped unscathed. His driver and another bodyguard were reported to have been seriously injured by the explosion.
The Mazzeh district is home to many senior figures in the government, foreign embassies and government offices, and security is reportedly tight in the area. This led some opposition activists to claim that the attack had been staged by the government.
Susan Ahmad, a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Council in Damascus, told London’s Guardian newspaper that the security forces previously sealed off the scenes of bombings, but that this time was different.
“After the explosion took place, helicopters hovered over the area, state TV was there, ambulances rushed to the area. This is usually what happens when the regime fakes an explosion,” she said.
Syrian state TV broadcast a statement from Halki blaming the attack on “terrorists.”
While fighting between government forces and rebels has been largely confined to outlying districts and suburbs, the city has been increasingly targeted by bomb attacks since the beginning of the uprising against the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad two years ago.
A large bomb killed 15 people in the city on April 9, while other government figures have been the subject of assassination attempts. A senior Sunni cleric seen by many as an Assad ally was killed last month, while the interior minister, Mohammed Al-Shaar, was injured in another attack in December.
So far, no party has claimed responsibility for the latest bombings.
Journalists Increasingly at Risk in Libya
Attacks on journalists raises concerns on freedom of press.
Earlier this week, Mahmoud Al-Farjani, a correspondent for the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Arabiya, was kidnapped by armed men following numerous threats.
On April 28, the kidnappers seized Farjani in his Saudi-owned office building, which is situated across the street from the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Tripoli. On the day of the kidnapping, Farjani was covering a demonstration in favor of legislation to ban peoples linked to the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi from involvement in politics.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RWB), he was held for seven hours and was repeatedly beaten and threatened with execution.
This is only that latest of a series of attacks on journalists in the North African state. On the same day, members of an armed militia took over the headquarters of national television network Al-Wataniya.
According RWB, another kidnapping took place on April 22, when Yousef Bargoum, a former journalist and current director of public information for the civil registry of Benghazi, was kidnapped, beaten and tortured by armed militia. This followed a radio broadcast in which he reported the publication of official documents allegedly containing obvious falsehoods. He was released three days later and immediately hospitalized.
Aside from violent assaults, some Libyan reporters have also run afoul of the legal system. Amara Hassan Al-Khitabi, editor of the newspaper Al-Umma, was released on bail on April 21, after being detained by authorities. His arrest followed the publication of a list of 87 judges and prosecutors allegedly involved in corruption and embezzlement.
As well as the RWB, the Free Press Organization has also sought to raise the profile of this issue, and called on Ali Zeidan’s transitional government “to do everything in its power to guarantee the security of local and foreign media workers.”
A centre of trade, commerce, agricultureand rich in marine resources,Kismayo and the surrounding Jubbaland area is of great economic importance to Somalia. The region also has the potential to hold the balance of power in the country, meaning all important actors – indigenous or foreign – want to control it. Strategically located at the southern tip of Somalia on the Indian Ocean coast, it has the biggest working sea port in Somalia and two airports. Kismayo and the surrounding region has been fought over by warlords, radical Islamists in the Shabab and clan militias (mainly from the Darod clan) since the start of civil war in 1991, in the process displacing approximately 500,000 refugees to camps in Kenya.
Since the emergence of the United Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006, Kismayo has changed hands between various groups including theTransitional Federal Government (TFG), Hizbul Islam (HI), the Muaskar Ras Kamboni (MRK) and the Shabab. The Shabab’s capture of Kismayo in 2008 began the longest period of control by one group since 2006. This prompted the TFG to formulate a ‘liberation strategy’ that ultimately sought to mobilize the dominant clans in the Jubba regions against the Shabab by promising to support the creation of a ‘Jubbaland’ autonomous region – akin to those already existing in Puntland, Galmudug, and Khatumo – once the area was liberated.
An alliance of the Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF), the MRK led by Ahmed Mohamed Islam (alias Ahmed Madobe), and TFG forces ousted the Shabab from Kismayo in late 2012. However, the newly created Somali Federal Government, under new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, reversed its earlier position and now opposes the establishment of Jubbaland. This decision has created new political tensions and allegations of bias from clans and figures in Jubbaland as the government has endorsed the establishment of an autonomous regional authority in Hiiraan. As Somalia begins the long-delayed process of state-building, this potential dispute could pose a threat to the country’s current – and almost unprecedented – sense of stability and optimism. Arguments about federalism could also affect the future political shape and stability of Somalia as a whole.
The ‘Jubbaland’ process The process of establishing a Jubbaland regional state consisting of Gedo, Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba regions is not new. It has been under consideration since 2009, when then-president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed affirmed the TFG’s commitment to the process as he sought to mobilize the regions’ political elites against the Shabab, which was then in control of much of region. The plan then was led by then-minister of defense, Mohamed Abdi Gandi, who is from the Jubba region and is Ogaden by clan. At the time, Gandi toured the region with the aim of developing a Kenyan offer to train more than 2,000 TFG soldiers hailing from the Jubbaland regions into an opportunity to also train would-be civil servants to administer a potential Jubbaland regional authority.
Monday, 29 April 2013
Divisions in Syrian Opposition “Frustrating” France
Continuing disagreement between the US, EU and Russia on how to handle the transition period in Syria.
During a phone call, Kerry disclosed to French officials that his unilateral talks with Lavrov did not lead to “tangible” or positive results. This prompted the French officials to stress the need to achieve political progress in terms of the Geneva Statement issued by the Action Group for Syria in June last year.
However, a consensus has yet to be reached on aspects of the statement, specifically when it comes to the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad. While the opposition, supported by Arab and Western capitals, believe that he cannot have a place in the transitional period, Moscow stresses that “the Syrian people [should] decide his fate.”
An official French source told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the negotiations with Moscow are still at standstill,” especially when it comes to compiling a list of Syrians from both the opposition and the regime who would participate in the transition period. The French president, François Hollande, proposed this move to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in Moscow on March 1.
There is a sense of frustration in Paris over divisions in the Syrian opposition that resulted from the resignation of Moaz Al-Khatib, the former president of the Syrian National Coalition, and “reservations” surrounding the appointment of George Sabra, the coalitions’ acting president. There is also an ongoing struggle to cope with the dispersion of the armed opposition and its inability to form a unified front. However, the Al-Nusra Front’s pledge of allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s Ayman Al-Zawahiri was the final straw for France, prompting its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to state that it “does not mind” referring the issue of the Al-Nusra Front to the UN Security Council.
In this respect, Michael Mann, chief spokesperson to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, has refused to comment on talks taking place between Al-Khatib and those opposing him within the coalition, stating to Asharq Al-Awsat that “the EU’s stance is clear as far as working to provide support to them [the opposition]. The EU supports the work of Lakhdar Brahimi and we have already supported Al-Khatib’s call for dialogue in order to find a solution for the status quo.”
Another French source told Asharq Al-Awsat that if the opposition wants to propose itself as a “serious alternative” to the existing regime, it “urgently needs” to stand together.
Paris believes the opposition suffers from an “absence of a clear vision” when it comes to the relationship needed between the coalition and the interim government formed by Ghassan Hitto. It hopes that the coalition’s meeting, which is scheduled for early May, succeeds in naming a new president and defining the relationship between the political authority and the military leadership represented by the Free Syrian Army’s chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Salim Idris.
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The Afghan president has admitted his office received secret payments from the US, but says the amounts were small and used legitimately.
Hamid Karzai was responding to a New York Times report that alleged the CIA sent suitcases stuffed with cash to the president's office on a regular basis.
It said tens of millions of dollars "came in secret" and cash was given on a vaster scale than previously thought.
The president said the money was for projects such as helping the sick.
"It was used for different purposes: operational, assistance to injured people
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LG Electronics says it will begin deliveries of curved OLED television sets next month, making it the first to offer such a product to the public.
The use of organic light-emitting diodes allows screens to be made thinner and more flexible than before.
The 55in (140cm) model will cost 15m won ($13,550; £8,725) and is initially limited to sales in South Korea.
One analyst said that being first to market gave LG "bragging rights", but suggested demand would be limited.
LG Electronics and its rival Samsung Electronics both showed off curved OLED TV prototypes at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, but did not announce release dates at the time.
The two businesses are part of larger conglomerates that have separate divisions manufacturing their own television display panels. Many of their competitors buy in the components from third parties, making it harder for them to claim such an exclusive.'Imax experience'
OLED tech is based on carbon-based materials that convert electricity into light.
While LCD screens need a backlight to illuminate their crystals, OLED does not need a separate light source.
This allows the newer type of TVs to be made thinner, lighter and more energy-efficient than before, as well as offering the advantage of deeper blacks.
In addition, the OLEDs can be fabricated onto a flexible plastic substrate rather than a rigid glass layer, making it easier to manufacture them into a curved screen.
This has allowed LG to market the new EA9800 model as being only 4.3mm (0.17in) thick, weighing 17kg (37.5lb) and offering an "Imax-cinema-like" viewing experience.
"With more than five years research behind developing the optimum curvature, the entire screen surface is equidistant from the viewer's eyes, eliminating the problem of screen-edge visual distortion and loss of detail," the company said in a press release.Marketing tool
IHS Screen Digest, a market research firm used by television manufacturers, said it expected Samsung to follow with a similar product soon, although it noted that teething troubles with making large OLED TVs was likely to keep their prices high and output low in the near future.
The firm's senior analyst Ed Border added that, in the short term, curved TVs were likely to be more valuable as a promotional tool rather than a profit-making product to their makers.
"There's certain content which is great to see in different ways, but for a lot of what's on TV seeing it curved is not necessarily going to improve the experience that much," he said.
"But I think being curved is a good way of pushing the OLED technology to consumers and acting as a marketing tool.
"Looking forward, I think there will still be room for flatscreen TVs, especially if you are thinking of hanging an OLED screen on the wall or just want to buy a cheaper LCD set."
LG said it was now accepting orders for the curved TV set in South Korea, and would announce the timing and pricing of versions for markets elsewhere "in the months ahead".
An Indian Guinness World Record holder who attempted to cross a river suspended from a zip wire attached to his ponytail has died during the stunt.
Sailendra Nath Roy, 48, was performing the feat on the Teesta river in West Bengal when he suffered a heart attack.
Hundreds of spectators watched his last moments in horror.
In March 2011, Mr Roy was named a Guinness World Record holderfor travelling the farthest distance on a zip wire using hair.
He worked as a driver for the police.
Mr Roy was trying to cross the Coronation Bridge over the Teesta river near Siliguri town suspended from a zip wire 600ft (180m) long at a height of 70ft (20m).Hanging for 45 minutes
A large number of people had gathered on the bridge to watch the feat.
Witnesses said that Mr Roy appeared to make no progress after covering about 300ft (90m).
"He was desperately trying to move forward. He was trying to scream out some instruction. But no one could follow what he was saying. After struggling for 30 minutes he became still," said Balai Sutradhar, a photographer, who was covering the stunt.
Police said he was hanging for nearly 45 minutes before he was brought down.
Doctors at the hospital said he had suffered a "massive heart attack".
Mr Roy had arrived at the riverside on Sunday morning and set up the zip wire from the bridge with help from friends.No permission
He was wearing a life jacket, but there were no doctors or emergency services on the spot.
Police said that Mr Roy had not got permission to do the stunt.
A friend, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "His wife used to urge him to quit doing dangerous stunts. Mr Roy convinced her that crossing the Teesta river would be his last. Unfortunately, that became his last stunt."
In 2008, Mr Roy pulled the Darjeeling toy train with his ponytail.
And in 2007, his ponytail tied to a rope, he flew from one building to another in front of television cameras.
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