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Deaths in Syria despite ‘no-shoot order’
Security forces kill six people across Syria despite an order from President al-Assad not to fire on protesters
Up to six people are reported to have been killed in protests across Syria despite an order from the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to security forces not to fire on protesters.
A leading human rights activist said on Friday three people were killed in Homs, two in Damascus and one in a village outside Deraa, the southern city where the revolt began two months ago. He asked that his name not be used for fear of government reprisal.
“At first they opened fire in the air, but the people continued on their way, and then they shot directly into the crowd,” an eyewitness told the Associated Press news agency by telephone from Homs.
Another rights campaigner said security police fired at a night demonstration in the eastern town of Mayadeen, injuring four people.
The first rallies on Friday erupted in the country’s mainly Kurdish northeast, where protesters demanded an end to military actions that activists say have killed hundreds of protesters.
Demonstrators chanting “Syria for all its sons”, “Long live independent, free Syria”, and “The Syrian people are one”, rallied after noon prayers in towns including Qamishli, Amouda, Ras al-Ain and Derbassieh.
Video posted online also showed protesters in some areas chanting: “We don’t like you!” and “Bye bye, Bashar”.
Organisers estimated 3,500 people, mainly Kurds, protested in Amouda and up to 4,000 marched in Qamishli, including Arabs and members of Syria’s Christian Assyrian sect.
“The Kurds are now expanding their participation in demonstrations calling for freedom in the country, along with other fellow Syrians. The army’s intervention is condemned,” Ismail Hami, secretary-general of the Kurdish Yakiti Party, told Al Jazeera.
Soldiers occupied mosques and blocked off major public areas to head off protests, but demonstrations erupted anyway in several major areas - including cities where the government’s response has been particularly severe, such as Homs and Hama.
The rallies also spread to new areas of the capital, suggesting opposition to the 40-year Assad dynasty remains unbowed despite one of the most violent crackdowns of the Arab Spring.
Still, the turnout appeared to be lower than in previous weeks – something that protesters attributed to the widespread deployment of soldiers and security forces who prevented people from leaving their homes, even to attend Friday prayers.
“The army has transformed major mosques in the city into military barracks where soldiers sleep, eat and drink,” said a resident in the coastal town of Baniyas, where some of the biggest protests have erupted in recent weeks.
“They’ve put up barriers and sandbags around the mosques,” he said.
Three rallies were held on Friday in Damascus – the largest number of protests held at one time there. The Damascus protests are significant because they hit the seat of Assad’s power.
(Al Jazeera)


Indian PM backs Afghan peace talks
KABUL (AFP) – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday backed efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan through negotiations with Taliban-led rebels, delivering a keynote address to the parliament in Kabul.
India has previously been wary of President Hamid Karzai’s policy of talking to the insurgents as it fears that Afghanistan could come under control of a Taliban-influenced government friendly to arch-rival Pakistan.
“Afghanistan has embarked upon a process of national reconciliation. We wish you well in this enterprise,” said Singh, who was given the rare opportunity for a foreign leader to address parliament.
He said that Afghan MPs should make decisions about the country’s future “without outside interference.”
“India will respect the choices you make,” he said. “Our only interest is to see a stable, peaceful and independent Afghanistan living in peace with its neighbours.”
India has been a major donor to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and Singh announced on Thursday a fresh package worth $500 million for new roads, social programmes and health facilities.
Such support meant that Singh was warmly received during his two-day visit to Kabul, but any sign of improving links between India and Afghanistan raises hackles in Pakistan.
“India’s biggest objective is to have a friendly Afghanistan and it does not want to leave it in Pakistan’s hands only,” Pakistani analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since 1947, and Islamabad sees having influence in Afghanistan as a necessary balance to the perceived threat it faces from India.
The US-led coalition in Afghanistan has also backed Karzai’s plan to reach out to the Taliban, who once sheltered Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, but it has insisted fighters first lay down their weapons.
After the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Taliban and other rebel groups in Afghanistan to abandon links to Al-Qaeda and join a peaceful political process.
The United States plans to start reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan from July, with all foreign soldiers due out by the end of 2014.


Gaddafi: NATO bombs can’t reach me

Libyan state television has aired what it says is a statement by Muammar Gaddafi, in which the Libyan leader denies reports that he has been wounded.
In the audio message, broadcast on Friday evening, Gaddafi said he is alive and safe despite air strikes from the NATO military alliance on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound in the capital, Tripoli, on Thursday.
Gaddafi said he is in a place where NATO bombs cannot reach him.
“I want to tell you that your bombing will not reach me because millions of Libyans bear me in their heart,” Gaddafi said, thanking heads of state who had asked about his health after the air strike.
“I tell the coward crusaders – I live in a place where you can’t get to me,” he said.
His address came hours after Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, was reported to have said that he believed Gaddafi had fled Tripoli, adding that the Libyan leader may have been injured during NATO air strikes, the Reuters news agency reported. Speaking in Tuscany, Frattini said he had received information on Gaddafi from Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, the Catholic bishop in Tripoli, adding that it was credible.

Earlier, the minister told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that “I am of the view that he has probably fled from Tripoli, but not from the country.”
(Al Jazeera)


Security forces mass in Yemen ahead of rallies

SANAA (AFP) – Security forces massed in the Yemeni capital on Friday ahead of rival demonstrations for and against the regime of embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, witnesses said.
Heavily armed Republican Guards and military vehicles were seen reinforcing troops already guarding the presidential palace, radio station and other key state buildings in Sanaa, an AFP correspondent said.
Tensions were high ahead of Friday’s demonstrations arranged by both sides as they have done for the past three months on the day of weekly Muslim prayers.
Opposition activists dedicated the protests as a show of solidarity with the people of Saada in the north, where Zaidi Shiite rebels are based, while Saleh’s supporters are due to mark Friday as a “Day of Unity.”
Armed forces led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar have tightened a cordon around University Square, dubbed “Change Square,” to protect camping protesters from possible attack by Saleh loyalists, witnesses said.
On Thursday night, Ahmar issued a statement condemning what he called the “brutal and barbaric” repression and called on government troops to disobey orders and refrain from firing at protesters.
“Do not carry out orders from the regime to attack protesters and their peaceful demonstrations,” he said, adding it was a “heinous crime not approved by any law.”
The statement came after security forces and gunmen loyal to Saleh killed 19 people in a 24-hour period ending Thursday, prompting Washington to say the time has come for a transfer of power.
In Taez, Yemen’s second largest city, protesters have announced more demonstrations.
The latest escalation came after neighbouring Gulf Cooperation Council states urged all sides in Yemen to sign a transition plan aimed at ending the political bloodshed.
Saleh has stalled by refusing to sign in his capacity as a president, insisting on endorsing the agreement as the leader of the ruling General People’s Congress, contrary to the demands of the opposition.
But the United States, a long-time backer of Saleh, has thrown its support behind the GCC plan and urged Saleh to sign a deal “now.”
Washington “is deeply concerned by recent violence throughout Yemen, and joins (the European Union) in strongly condemning these troubling actions,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday.
Around 175 people have been killed in the anti-government protests.


US stops short of recognising Libya rebels

White House calls Benghazi-based opposition “legitimate
and credible”, but fails to grant full diplomatic recognition

The United States has stopped short of granting full diplomatic recognition to Libya’s rebel council, but the White House has said the council is a “legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people”.
Mahmoud Jibril, who serves as the foreign minister of the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC), met Tom Donilon, the US president’s national security advisor, at the White House on Friday.
“During the meeting, Donilon stated that the United States views the [NTC] as a legitimate and credible interlocutor of the Libyan people,” the White House said in a statement released after the meeting.
“In contrast, Donilon stressed that [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi has lost his legitimacy to rule and reiterated [US] President [Barack] Obama’s call for Gaddafi to leave immediately,” it said.
Obama did not meet with the opposition leaders.
“Donilon and Dr Jibril discussed how the United States and the coalition can provide additional support to the [NTC]. Mr Donilon applauded the [NTC’s] commitment to an inclusive political transition and a democratic future for Libya,” the statement concluded.
The recognition stops short of what the NTC had sought. In an op-ed published in the New York Times ahead of his meetings in Washington, Jibril had written that the NTC was seeking to be recognised as the “sole” legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
The White House, however, has signalled that such a move would be premature.
“I don’t anticipate action like that,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said.
Meanwhile, the US has stepped up financial assistance for the anti-Gaddafi rebels, with Obama authorising $25m in non-lethal assistance and $53m in humanitarian aid.
(Al Jazeera)


13 rebels, bandits killed in Philippines

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine forces have killed 13 communist guerrillas and rebels-turned-bandits in separate clashes over two days, police officials said on Friday.
In the latest incident, soldiers and police on Friday shot dead eight former rebels as they were preparing to rob a businessman, said local police intelligence chief Superintendent Rick Villanueva.
The shooting came a day after soldiers and police clashed with fighters of the communist New People’s Army (NPA), killing five rebels and capturing four others, said a police report.
Both incidents took place in regions north of Manila where the communist insurgents remain a serious threat, attacking isolated military and police outposts and extorting money from local businesses.
The NPA is the armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969.
From a peak of over 25,000 fighters in the 1980s, the military and other defence experts believe it currently has fewer than 5,000 guerrillas. Some rebels have turned to robbery and other common crimes.
The government resumed peace talks with the rebels in February after a seven-year lull and both sides said after the first round of negotiations they believed a peace pact could be signed by June, 2012.