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Al-Qaeda vows revenge

Obama decorates team that killed Osama

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Al-Qaeda and Islamic militants vowed to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden by US commandos, declaring him a “martyr” and calling on Muslims to rise up against the United States.
But US President Barack Obama swept aside the militants’ defiant reaction, decorating the team that killed their inspirational leader and pledging the United States would crush Al-Qaeda.
“We have cut off their head and we will ultimately defeat them,” Obama said after meeting in private with the special forces personnel that raided bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan on Monday and shot dead the Al-Qaeda leader.
Confirming bin Laden’s death for the first time, the terror network denounced his slaying urging Pakistani Muslims “to cleanse their country from the filth of the Americans who spread corruption in it.”
The Afghanistan Taliban also joined the chorus of condemnation – as small rallies were held after Friday prayers in several Islamic nations – saying the loss of the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks would only serve to strengthen its resolve in the fight against “foreign invaders.”
“We call upon our Muslim people in Pakistan, on whose land Sheikh Osama was killed, to rise up and revolt to cleanse this shame,” Al-Qaeda said in a statement released by the SITE monitoring group.
The Islamist group proclaimed its Saudi-born founder a “martyr,” adding he had “terrified all the nations of disbelief.” It vowed the jihadist network would survive, but did not name anyone to take over as its leader.
The White House said it was on alert for security threats as Al-Qaeda also vowed to release an audio tape made by bin Laden just a week before he was shot.
The Obama administration, embroiled in a decade-long war in Afghanistan, is keenly aware of the dangers facing US interests and nationals abroad.
US forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks in retaliation for harbouring bin Laden on Afghan soil.
And the Afghanistan Taliban said bin Laden’s death “will give a new impetus to the current jihad against the invaders in this critical phase of jihad,” an email statement released by spokesman Tariq Ghazniwal said.
The leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, also condemned what he called “extrajudicial executions.”

Libya tribal meeting calls for general amnesty

TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libyan tribal leaders meeting in Tripoli called for a general amnesty law for those who have fought in Libya’s ongoing civil war, a statement said.
“The conference will work on a general amnesty law which will include all those who were involved in the crisis and took up arms,” said the statement on conclusions from the National Conference for Libyan Tribes, which ended late on Friday.
“The general amnesty law is a means of laying the path ahead for a new era of peace and forgiveness,” it said, without providing further details on the law, or a timetable for its passage.
Government spokesman Mussa Ibrahim had said the tribal leaders at the conference represented tribes from across the country, including those from the rebel-held east.
However, parts of the statement referred to rebels as “traitors” and pledged not to “abandon” or “forsake” Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, whose ouster the rebels are demanding, raising doubts about both calls for reconciliation and the overall representativeness of the conference. The statement also called for marches to “liberate” rebel-held towns.
“The conference also calls all Libyan tribes neighbouring the towns and cities hijacked by armed groups to move peacefully in popular marches to liberate those highjacked towns, disarming the armed rebels,” it said.
It is unclear how disarming the rebels could be accomplished peacefully, and no further details were provided.

Tanks storm Syrian flashpoint city Banias

NICOSIA (AFP) – Syrian troops backed by tanks swept early Saturday into Banias, a hub of anti-regime protests, as residents formed human chains in a bid to halt the military operation, rights activists said.
Electricity and communications were cut as the tanks entered along three axes heading towards the southern sector of the city on the Mediterranean coast, the bastion of the protesters.
Protesters were resisting by forming human chains, the activists said, reached by telephone from Nicosia.
Tanks also encircled the nearby town of Baida while an army boat patrolled offshore, they added.
The military sweep into Banias in northwestern Syria comes two days after a convoy of 40 military vehicles pulled out of the southern town of Daraa, another protest centre, which the military had locked down since April 25.
On Wednesday, residents of Banias said dozens of armoured vehicles, including tanks and troops reinforcements, had been deployed on the outskirts of Banias.
“It looks like they are preparing to attack the town, like they did in Daraa,” one activist said.
Dozens of people were killed during the 10-day military assault on Daraa, launched with what activists termed “indiscriminate” shelling of the town.
But General Riad Haddad, the military’s political department chief, insisted that troops in Daraa “did not confront the protesters. We continue searching for terrorists hidden in several places. As the army, we never confronted the protesters.”
Human rights groups say that more than 600 people have been killed and 8,000 jailed or gone missing in the crackdown on protesters since demonstrations erupted in mid-March.
The United States warned Friday it would take “additional steps” against Syria if it continues its brutal crackdown on protesters, a week after imposing tough sanctions on the Arab nation.
The White House statement came after rights groups said Syrian security forces shot dead at least 26 protesters Friday during a huge “Day of Defiance” against the regime.

ASEAN’s focus on food, energy security

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia on Saturday called on fellow Southeast Asian states to “give serious attention” to soaring food and energy prices, warning inflation could drive more people into poverty.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the start of the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit that the regional bloc must take steps to ease the surge in consumer prices.
“We must give serious attention and take concrete measures to address the soaring of food prices and world energy, which in turn will negatively affect the prosperity of our people,” he said in his opening speech.
“History shows that the rise of food and energy prices... has always caused the increase in the number of people living in poverty, yet we know very well that decreasing the poverty level is not an easy task.”
Oil prices surged to a more than two year peak last month, driven largely by political turmoil in the crude-producing Middle East and North Africa region.
The increase has sparked fears that inflation could slow down the recovery from the global recession in 2008/2009.
ASEAN groups 10 disparate nations from oil-rich Brunei and high-tech Singapore to impoverished countries like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, as well as major rice producers Thailand and Vietnam and rice-importers such as the Philippines.
Indonesia and Malaysia round up ASEAN’s 10 members.

British referendum strains coalition

LONDON (AFP) – British voters handed the Liberal Democrats a double blow, rejecting their electoral reform bid in a referendum and punishing them in local elections for their role in coalition spending cuts.
Final results released on Saturday showed almost 68 percent of voters had spurned the new system supported by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems.
The Lib Dems also suffered their worst results for a quarter of a century in elections for local councils, even as Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives, which lead the year-old coalition, were left largely unscathed.
The separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) meanwhile secured a historic majority in the devolved national assembly in Thursday’s elections and vowed to hold a referendum on independence within the next four years.
Clegg described the voting reform referendum result as a “bitter blow.”
He said his party had taken the brunt of the blame for the swingeing public spending cuts introduced by the coalition to rein in Britain’s record deficit but insisted the Lib Dems would soldier on in the coalition.
“We’ve clearly had bad results overnight and we now need to learn the lessons, get up, dust ourselves down and move on,” he said.
The Lib Dems insisted on having the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system for electing lawmakers – in which voters rank candidates by preference – as a condition of joining the coalition after elections in May last year.
Final results from the referendum showed that a total of 67.9 percent of voters – 13,013,123 – had rejected a move to AV, while just 32.1 percent had supported the idea. Turnout was 42 percent.

Euro chiefs rule out Greek currency exit
LUXEMBOURG (AFP) – Europe’s inner currency cabal ruled out “stupid” calls on markets for 340 billion euros of Greek debt to be restructured, as speculation soared that the government in Athens could exit the currency area and with it the EU.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker dismissed growing claims a write-down would be needed after late-night talks among G20 eurozone states prompted by worries in the United States and at the IMF that saw Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou summoned for what one EU official described as a dressing-down.
Juncker, the head of the 17-state Eurogroup of currency partners, said during urgent Friday night talks that restructuring was “an avenue we would never take.”
“We don’t want to have the euro area exploding without reason. We were excluding the restructuring option which is discussed heavily in certain quarters of the financial markets,” he said.
With yields on Greek government 10-year bonds having leapt to over 15 percent and on two-year bonds to over 23 percent on the secondary market, the boomerang nature of the Greek crisis suggests deep scepticism among investors that they will be repaid is not going to go away.
Juncker conceded that eurozone finance ministers would discuss a second re-negotiation of repayment terms on its year-old 110-billion-euro ($160-billion) bailout -- likely to stretch well into the next decade at least -- at their next scheduled talks in Brussels on May 16.
The result will leave ongoing EU efforts to close off a sorry chapter at a late-June summit looking ever more complicated.
Athens owes more than a year-and-a-half of its entire economic output, which markets consider unsustainable.
Philippine troops ‘played ball’ with massacre suspects

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine soldiers were accused Saturday of playing basketball with suspects from the country’s worst political massacre, causing acute embarrassment to the military.
An inquiry is under way into allegations made by a relative of one of the 57 people murdered in the November 2009 attack, military spokesman Commodore Miguel Rodriguez said.
“The instructions are, if these people are indeed suspects, we should arrest them, not play ball with them,” Rodriguez told AFP.
“The chief of staff (armed forces chief General Eduardo Oban), was livid and ordered an investigation,” Rodriguez added.
He said the governor of the southern province of Maguindanao – whose wife, sister, and several other relatives were among the massacre victims, had complained to the military over the alleged incident.
The 2009 killings were an attempt to stop rivals of governor Esmael Mangudadatu from running for the provincial governorship.
Six senior members of Maguindanao’s rival Ampatuan clan, including the patriarch Andal Ampatuan Snr, are detained along with 73 other suspects.
But more than 100 others, including three other members of the Ampatuan clan who were supposedly seen by Mangudadatu followers playing basketball with soldiers in Maguindanao, are at large.