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Defiant Mubarak stays put

(AFP) CAIRO – Egypt’s defiant strongman Hosni Mubarak showed no sign of quitting Saturday after a “departure day” drawing tens of thousands opposed to his 30-year grip on power and international calls for him to quit.
Mubarak defied huge protests in central Cairo on Friday, where brief gunfire was heard in Tahrir Square – the epicentre of the protests – and in Alexandria aimed at forcing his ouster.
Protest rallies gained ground globally with demonstrations on Saturday in London and Paris.
US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, hinted that Mubarak should step down saying the “patriot” should “listen what is voiced by the people,” while EU leaders clearly said it was time for change.
Obama said he understood “some discussions” had begun on a political transition, with details to be worked out by Egyptians themselves, and said violence against demonstrators was unacceptable.
“We continue to be crystal clear that we oppose violence as a response to this crisis,” he said, as Egyptian authorities called for protesters thronging central Cairo to go home but also vowed not to use force.
European leaders were more forthright.
At a summit in Brussels, the European Union’s 27 leaders said Egypt’s “transition process must start now” and condemned this week’s violence, while issuing a veiled threat of suspending aid.
Mubarak himself has said he would like to quit but feared that chaos would ensue.
On Thursday, ABC television’s Christiane Amanpour said that in an interview with Mubarak, he blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the violence of recent days.
Clashes left at least eight people dead and more than 800 hurt on Wednesday and Thursday. According to UN estimates, more than 300 people have been killed since the protests began.
Mubarak was “fed up with being president and would like to leave office now, but cannot, he says, for fear that the country would sink into chaos,” Amanpour said.
Mubarak’s one-time foreign minister and a future possible presidential candidate, Arab League chief Amr Mussa, said on Friday he doubted his former boss would leave any time soon.
“I do not think he will leave. I think he will stay until the end of August,” Mussa told France’s Europe 1 radio before himself later going to Tahrir Square in what his office called a “calming gesture.”
The New York Times reported that Washington has been pushing proposals for Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s veteran intelligence chief and now vice president, to head a transitional government.
But Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq ruled out the possibility that Mubarak would transfer power to Suleiman.
At Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square more than 10,000 people stayed behind in a festive atmosphere after nightfall on Friday, many preparing to camp under canvas.
On the Muslim day of prayers and rest, tens of thousands of people from all walks of life earlier filled the square, which has seen 11 straight days of protests that have shaken the pillars of Mubarak’s three-decade rule.

Protesters hit Yemeni streets

(CNN) – What seemed like thousands of anti-government protesters gathered near Sanaa University in Yemen’s capital early Thursday morning, a clear indication that many in the country were not satisfied with President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s recent announcement that he would not seek re-election.
Protesters of all ages chanted and held signs with messages against poverty and the government. Some proclaimed that Saleh needed to step down.
As the protest quickly grew, there was very little visible security in the area.
About a kilometre away from the anti-government protest, a large crowd of government supporters gathered for a counter demonstration.
Many in that crowd expressed support for Saleh and said he was doing a good job as president.
There were no apparent clashes between the two sides or with security forces.
Later in the day, in an apparent critique of his detractors, Saleh told members of his defense council that he wanted to “thank the Yemeni people who stayed calm despite wrong mobilization over the last months that resulted in social unrest in the Yemeni street,” according to a report from the state-run SABA news service.
He called out the anti-government demonstrators for going ahead with their march Thursday despite his concession a day earlier.
“None reacted positively and parties continued to rallies and protests at a time when the public is nervous,” Saleh said, according to SABA. The president added that he watched the demonstrations Thursday on TV.
Trying to quell a growing discontent in the country, Saleh said he will not seek re-election once his current term ends in 2013, after more than three decades in office. Saleh has been in office for 32 years and was last re-elected in 2006.

Thousands flee Pakistan fighting

(BBC) – At least 20,000 people have fled fierce fighting between troops and militants in the Pakistani tribal region of Mohmand, officials and witnesses say.
Many of the displaced are sheltering in temporary camps, the authorities add.
Troops have been using helicopter gunships and heavy weapons to pound suspected militant positions for a week, according to residents.
Mohmand, on the border with Afghanistan, has long served as a sanctuary for the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
“We are targeting militant hideouts there,” military spokesman Maj-Gen Athar Abbas confirmed.
The army told the BBC that 60 to 70 militants had been killed in what it calls a search and clearance operation.
There is no independent confirmation of the casualty figures – independent media have no access to the area.
A local administration official, Roshan Khan Mehsud, told the BBC that civilians had been displaced from Safi, Pindiali and Baizai districts, close to the border with Afghanistan.
“Most people left the area due to fear of mines and other hazards, and we ourselves moved some of them for reasons of safety,” he said.

Nepal’s new leader begins forming govt
(AFP) KATHMANDU – Nepal’s new leader has begun the task of forming a coalition government that will face major challenges as the country struggles to complete its transformation to a peaceful, secular democracy.
Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the UML (Unified Marxist Leninist) party, is expected to be sworn in as prime minister on Sunday after securing the backing of the Maoists, the largest force in Parliament, in a vote Thursday.
His election ends a damaging seven-month leadership vacuum in the troubled Himalayan nation, which is still struggling to recover from the impact of a decade-long civil war between Maoist rebels and the state.
The conflict ended in 2006 and led to the abolition of a centuries-old Hindu monarchy, ushering in a period of transition to democracy that has not always proved smooth.
Nepal has been without a government since June, with political leaders unable to reach agreement on the formation of a new administration in 16 previous rounds of voting.
A new constitution, intended to reshape the country after the downfall of the monarchy, should have been completed by May last year but has been repeatedly delayed by disagreements between the parties.
Progress on completing the peace process that began when the Maoists laid down their arms in 2006 has also been held up, with thousands of former Maoist soldiers living in camps as they wait for their fate to be decided.
Welcoming Khanal’s election, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Washington hoped it would “give renewed momentum to the peace process and constitutional drafting.”
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, or ‘the fierce one’, said he had decided to back 60-year-old Khanal to “end the political deadlock.”
Khanal, a former science teacher, has said he wants his cabinet to be inclusive and several key posts are expected to be taken by the Maoists.
LeT denies killing sisters in Kashmir

(AFP) SRINAGAR – Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba denied Wednesday killing two teenager sisters in Indian Kashmir in an attack that generated widespread outrage.
The two women, aged 17 and 19, were killed in Sopore town, 55 kilometres (35 miles) north of the region’s main city Srinagar, on Monday night when they were dragged from their house and shot dead.
“The police claim about the involvement of our activists in the killing of the sisters is baseless,” a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) spokesman told reporters in Srinagar by telephone.
LeT is blamed by India for the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 that left 166 people dead and hundreds injured.
New Delhi has consistently called on Islamabad to crack down on the LeT.
Other rebel groups in Kashmir and the chief minister of the region, Omar Abdullah, have been among those to condemn the murders.
Suspected Muslim rebels carried out a grenade attack on the residence of a veteran pro-Indian politician in Sopore on Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported.

6.4-magnitude quake rocks India-Myanmar border

(AFP) GUWAHATI, India – A strong 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the India-Myanmar border region causing panic, but there were no immediate reports of any damage or casualties.
The US Geological Survey said the evening quake struck at a depth of 88 kilometres (55 miles), with its epicentre in a remote, sparsely populated region 85 kilometres east of Imphal in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.
The force of the quake caused frightened residents in Imphal to run into the streets.
“Our building was shaking badly and it seemed to last for more than a minute,” local journalist Pradip Phanjoubam told AFP by phone.
“People ran out of their homes and out of our offices as well,” said Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press, a mass circulation English daily.
An officer in the city’s police control room, T. Singh, said they were monitoring the situation but had yet to receive any specific news from the area around the epicentre.
“For the moment, there are no reports of any casualties or damage to properties,” Singh said.
Strong tremors were felt in Guwahati, the main city in nearby Assam state, about 450 kilometres away.
The Myanmar side of the border is also an area of few people or buildings.

Australia sends in troops after mega-cyclone

(AFP) CARDWELL – Australia has sent in 4,000 troops to help coastal towns left splintered by a monster cyclone, as officials urged stranded victims to stay calm until help arrives.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the move – the country’s biggest domestic military mobilisation in more than 30 years – would aid north Queensland’s recovery after the category five storm roared into the state Thursday.
“It’s a very big deployment,” she said.
The announcement came amid reports of looting following the storm, and following the first death linked to Yasi: A young man who suffocated on fumes from a generator running in an enclosed space.
Canberra sent 1,500 soldiers last month to help clean up after floods devastated Queensland’s state capital Brisbane and surrounding areas, killing more than 30 people.
The biggest storm to hit Australia in a century wrought huge damage to small coastal communities, cutting some of them off completely.
But while two men were reported missing, there were no confirmed deaths caused directly by Yasi.
Hundreds of rescuers were cutting their way through fallen trees, power lines and wreckage to reach towns pummelled by the category five cyclone, while tens of thousands languished without power, water or communications.
“We do understand that many people in the highly-impacted areas are getting anxious about the level of support and contact they are able to have with emergency authorities,” state Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said.
“We just ask them to be patient... There have been significant difficulties in terms of access,” he told reporters.
Aerial photos revealed massive destruction in Cardwell, with splintered boats hurled on top of each other several blocks inland, entire city blocks reduced to mud, and tarmac roadways fractured.

Rwanda journalists sent to jail

BBC – Two Rwandan journalists with the Umurabyo newspaper have been sentenced to long jail terms after being found guilty of stirring up ethnic divisions.
Editor Agnes Nkusi was sentenced to 17 years, while reporter Saidath Mukakibibi was imprisoned for seven.
Among several articles, the judge referred to one saying some Rwandans were unhappy with the country’s rulers.
Prosecutors said this was “meant to stir (up) hatred and fury against the government”.
President Paul Kagame came to power in 1994, ending the genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.
He has recently been accused of intolerance and harassing anyone who criticises him.