[The Classic Christian Network] LastGenReport: News From World Mag : "Sy…

Posted: March 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Syria offers concession amid waves of unrest


329damascusFacing an extraordinary wave of popular dissent, Syrian President Bashar Assad fired his Cabinet on Tuesday and promised to end widely despised emergency laws—concessions unlikely to appease protesters demanding sweeping reforms in one of the most hard-line nations in the Middle East.

The overtures, while largely symbolic, are a moment of rare compromise in the Assad family’s 40 years of iron-fisted rule. Security forces monitor and control nearly every aspect of society in Syria, and the feared secret police crush even the smallest rumblings of opposition.

But with the protests that erupted in Syria on March 18, thousands of Syrians appear to have broken through a barrier of fear in this tightly controlled nation of 23 million.

The protests spread from Daraa in the south to other provinces and the government launched a swift crackdown, killing more than 60 people, according to Human Rights Watch. But the violence has eased in the past few days and some predicted the demonstrations might quickly die out if the president’s promises appear genuine.

Syria has long been viewed by the United States as a potentially destabilizing force in the Middle East. An ally of Iran and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, it has also provided a home for some radical Palestinian groups.

On Tuesday, Assad accepted the resignation of his Cabinet in a move designed to pacify the anti-government protesters.

Still, the resignations will not affect Assad, who holds the lion’s share of power in the authoritarian regime, and there are no real opposition figures or alternatives to the current leadership anyway.

Assad does maintain a level of popular support, in no small part because of his anti-Israel policies, which resonate with his countrymen. And unlike leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan, Assad is not allied with the United States, so he has been spared the accusation that he caters to American demands.

So far, few in Syria have publicly called on Assad to step down. Most are calling for reforms, annulling emergency laws and other stringent security measures and an end to corruption.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gunmen kill 56 in Iraq hostage siege


Wearing military uniforms over explosives belts, gunmen held a local Iraqi government center hostage Tuesday in a grisly siege that ended with the deaths of at least 56 people, including three councilmen who were executed with gunshots to the head.

The five-hour standoff in Tikrit, former dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown, ended only when the attackers blew themselves up in one of the bloodiest days in Iraqi this year.

Iraqi officials were quick to blame al-Qaeda in Iraq for the slaughter, noting that executions and suicide bombers are hallmarks of the extremist group.

Tuesday’s attack left 56 victims dead and 98 wounded, including government workers, security forces, and bystanders, said Salahuddin health director Dr. Raied Ibrahim. Many died in the volleys of gunfire and explosions.

Among the dead were councilman Abdullah Jebara, a vocal al-Qaeda foe; the council’s health committee chairman, Wathiq al-Samaraie; and Iraqi journalist Sabah al-Bazi, a correspondent for Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel and a freelancer for CNN and Reuters.

A car bomb exploded outside the Salahuddin provincial council headquarters around 1 p.m., distracting security officials who rushed to put out the resulting fire. That’s when the uniformed gunmen identified themselves as Iraqi soldiers at a security checkpoint outside the compound. Told they would have to be searched before entering, they opened fire on guards and stormed the building.

The provincial council meets at the headquarters every Tuesday, but local lawmakers ended their discussion early because there was little on their agenda, said Ali Abdul Rihman, a spokesman for the governor. As a result, he said, most of the lawmakers had already left the headquarters when the assault began.

Al-Asi, the provincial spokesman, said 15 people were taken hostage on the headquarters’ second floor, where the gunmen hurled grenades and fired at security forces below. The hostages, including the three lawmakers, were each shot in the head, al-Asi said.

Parliament lawmaker Qutayba al-Jabouri said security forces did not try to negotiate with the gunmen since they were under assault. Gov. Ahmed Abdullah described a fierce shootout between the gunmen and Iraqi security forces who surrounded the building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Top diplomats agree that Qaddafi must go


329clintonWorld powers agreed Tuesday that Muammar Qaddafi should step down after 42 years as Libya’s ruler but did not discuss arming the rebels who are seeking to oust him.

Top diplomats from up to 40 countries, the United Nations, NATO, and the Arab League came to that conclusion Tuesday at crisis talks in London on the future of the North African nation.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters the subject of arming rebels simply did not come up.

Hague’s comments suggest that the UN-backed coalition cobbled together to defend civilians from Qaddafi’s onslaught is still hanging back from throwing its entire weight behind the ill-organized rebels, whose exact makeup and motives remain unclear.

But Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr al-Thani seemed to leave the door open to arms sales when he suggested that the issue might be revisited if the aerial campaign fell short of its stated goal of protecting Libyan civilians.

Qatar also plans to help them sell crude on the international market. Yet while there has been talk of using Qatar to market Libya’s oil for days, details have remained thin on the ground.

Libya’s production relies on joint ventures with foreign companies, like Italy’s Eni SpA, that have evacuated employees from the country, and it’s unclear how or when Qatar could help restart the country’s now-paralyzed energy industry.

While diplomats repeated their appeals for Qaddafi to leave Libya, there were few signs that the international community planned to apply any additional pressure on the Libyan ruler. Diplomats are considering more sanctions on Qaddafi associates to send a clear message to Qaddafi that he cannot attack civilians with impunity, Hague said.

In his speech opening the conference, Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain had received reports that Qaddafi was pounding Misrata, the main rebel holdout in the west, with attacks from land and sea, and relentlessly targeting civilians.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international community must support calls for democracy sweeping Libya and its neighbors, but warned that change would not be easily won.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Libyan rebels pushed back from Qaddafi’s hometown


329libyaLibyan government tanks and rockets blunted a rebel assault on Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte on Tuesday and drove back the ragtag army of irregulars, even as world leaders prepared to debate the country’s future in London.

Rockets and tank fire sent Libya’s rebel volunteers in a panicked scramble away from the front lines before the opposition was able to bring up truck mounted rocket launchers of their own and return fire.

The latest rebel setback emphasizes the see-saw nature of this conflict and how the opposition is still no match for the superior firepower and organization of Qaddafi’s forces, despite an international campaign of deadly airstrikes.

The two sides traded salvos over the small hamlet of Bin Jawwad amid the thunderous crash of rockets and artillery shells as plumes of smoke erupted in the town. The steady drum of heavy machine gun fire and the pop of small arms could also be heard above the din.

A UN-mandated no-fly zone and campaign of strikes by the United States and its allies helped rebel forces regain territory lost over the past week, when they were on the brink of defeat by government forces.

In London, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Arab League, the African Union, and around 40 foreign ministers were scheduled to join talks over the future of Libya and to ratchet up pressure on Qaddafi.

NATO has insisted that it was seeking only to protect civilians and not to give air cover to an opposition march. But that line looked set to become even more blurred. The airstrikes are clearly the only way the rebels bent on overthrowing Qaddafi are going to continue their push to the capital.

There was growing criticism from Russia and other countries that the international air campaign is overstepping the bounds of the UN resolution that authorized it. That threatens to hamper the transition from a U.S. to a NATO command, as some of the 28 NATO member nations plan to limit their participation to air patrols, rather than attacks on ground targets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Whirled Views 3.29

Written by ANGELA LU

Good morning!

Random question of the day: What signs of spring have you been seeing?

This is our daily (except for Sundays) open thread, where you can 1) answer my question, 2) talk about something else, or 3) say something truly encouraging to the commenter before you.

Obama broadens policy for military intervention

Written by EMILY BELZ

Emily0328bWASHINGTON—President Barack Obama picked an ambiguous location to deliver a cloudy address to the nation on the Libyan intervention: the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., not the Oval Office, where presidents typically address the nation about its wars.

That’s because the White House has described the United States’ involvement in Libya as “kinetic military action,” not war. Monday night Obama tried to clarify the mission in Libya and his policy for when the United States should intervene militarily—a broader standard than his former self as an anti-war senator might have embraced.

“When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act,” the president said. “We were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. . . . Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” . . . MORE >>

Read Emily Belz’s complete Web Extra report.

Time short, tempers flare in budget showdown


328cantorDespite mounting pressure and a deadline looming, talks about the budget have stalled, with Democrats accusing GOP leaders of catering to Tea Party forces and Republicans countering that the White House isn’t offering serious proposals to cut spending.

Democrats proposed cutting $20 billion from this year’s budget, a party official said, but haven’t yet sent it to House Republicans because it’s unclear whether the House will settle for reductions totaling about that much when $10 billion or so in already enacted cuts are added in.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor accused Democrats of “negotiating off of the status quo and refusing to offer any sort of serious plan for how to cut spending.”

That prompted Democrats to accuse House Republicans of insisting on using House-passed legislation slashing more than $60 billion from the current-year budget as the starting point for talks, pulling back from an agreement with House Speaker John Boehner’s office to work off a baseline essentially set at last year’s levels.

The GOP promised that it would ratchet spending down to 2008 levels and force President Obama to backtrack on generous budget increases made on his watch. To meet the promise, GOP leaders initially pressed for about $35 billion in cuts in a proposal that took account of the fact that the budget year was almost halfway over.

That idea didn’t sell with Tea Party loyalists, who pushed Boehner to almost double the size of the cuts, driving away any potential Democratic support. But that meant the halfway point between the House-passed measure and a proposal advanced by Democrats controlling the Senate was roughly where Boehner started out in the first place.

Last month, House Republicans passed a measure cutting more than $60 billion in domestic programs and foreign aid from the $1.1 trillion budgeted for such programs last year. Democrats in the Senate killed the measure as too extreme, citing cuts to education, health research, and other programs and services.

Next week, House Republicans will unveil a blueprint to attack the broader budget mess and a must-do measure to maintain the government’s ability to borrow money to meet its responsibilities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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