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Deaths rise as fresh protests rock Syria
Syrian security forces have shot dead at least 17 people, including a 16-year-old boy, during fresh anti-government protests, activists say.
The Local Co-ordination Committee, a group that documents the demonstrations, said nine people were killed in the central city of Homs, two in Harasta, a suburb of the capital Damascus, and one in the northern city of Aleppo, while a teen died in the southern village of Dael.
Fresh protests were also reported from Hama, Deraa, Der al-Zour, Jableh and other cities after morning prayers on Friday.
An activist said security forces had opened fire on protesters in the coastal city of Baniyas.
“There was intense firing to disperse the demonstrations in Baniyas and there were casualties” among the protesters, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, told the AFP news agency.
Other activists reported that heavy machine gunfire had been heard in the Bab Tudmor area in Homs, and witnesses said security forces had dispersed a protest in Latakia.
Syrian state television reported that a policeman was killed and more than 20 were wounded when “armed groups” opened fire at them.
Six police officers were also wounded in the eastern town of Deir el-Zour when gunmen attacked a police station there, the report said.
Tensions were also reported in neighbouring Lebanon, where about 200 people protested against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in the northern city of Tripoli.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Beirut, the Lebanese capital, said four people were killed in clashes that broke out amid the Tripoli demonstration.
Earlier, Mustafa Osso, a Syria-based rights activist, said a large numbers of soldiers had entered the northern town of Maarrat an-Numan early on Friday morning.
Omar Idilbi, another activist, said troops were in full control of the town, which the army surrounded a day earlier along with nearby Khan Shaykhun on the main north-south road linking Damascus and Aleppo.
The military action came as European Union officials confirmed they were planning to add more firms and a dozen people to a list of targeted asset freezes and travel bans that already includes President Assad and key allies.
“France supports an expansion of the European sanctions against Syria to economic entities,” Bernard Valero, a French foreign ministry spokesman, said.
He said Syrian banks and private firms linked to regime figures could be hit.
Earlier, Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, appealed to the Syrian president to halt the crackdown on demonstrations. - (Al Jazeera)
Radiation spike halts Fukushima clean-up
Operator of Japan’s stricken nuclear power unable to remove pools of radioactive water at risk of spilling into the sea
(Al Jazeera) – The operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant has suspended an operation to clean up radioactive water only hours after it had begun as radiation levels rose faster than expected.
The plan had got under way on Friday after being delayed by a series of glitches.
“The level of radiation at a machine to absorb caesium has risen faster than our initial projections,” a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said on Saturday.
“At the moment, we haven’t specified the reason so we can’t say when we can resume the operation. But I’d say it’s not something that would take weeks.”
The official said teams working at the plant believed the radiation rise could be linked to sludge flowing into the machinery intended to absorb ceasium. Another cause could be pipes surrounding it.
A resumption, the official said, was critical to deal with the highly radioactive water is stored there.
“Unless we can resume the operation within a week, we will have problems in disposing of the contaminated water,” the official said.
“But if this is caused by the reasons we are thinking, we can resume the operation within a week.”
The official said TEPCO foresaw no delay in its overall plan to bring the Fukushima Daiichi plant fully under control by the end of the year. The plan calls for a shutdown of its three unstable reactors by January 2012.
S Korea troops fire at passenger plane

Troops shoot at jet flying from China with 119 people on board after mistaking it for a N Korean aircraft

(Al Jazeera) – South Korean troops have fired at a passenger airliner flying from China with 119 people on board after mistaking it for a North Korean aircraft, South Korean military and aviation officials say.
Soldiers manning a guard post on Gyodong island, off the western coast of South Korea, fired their K-2 rifles towards the jet, which was descending as it approached Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, the officials said on Saturday.
“The firing continued about 10 minutes but the plane was too far off the rifle’s range and it did not receive any damage,” the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted a Marine Corps official as saying.
“When the plane appeared over Jumun island, soldiers mistook it as a North Korean military aircraft and fired.”
The aircraft was flying southeast over Jumun island, 12km south of Gyodong, towards Incheon. Gyodong lies just 1.7km south of the North Korean coast.
An aviation controller told the AFP news agency that the Asiana flight from was following a normal route. Asiana is a S Korean owned airline.
“It was flying normally. It did not deviate from its normal route,” the controller said.
The incident on Friday took place close to the tense sea border between the Koreas amid heightened tensions between Seoul in the South and Pyongyang in the North.
South Korean soldiers had been alerted to possible provocative acts by North Korea amid simmering cross-border tensions.
Don Kirk, from Christian Science Monitor, based in Seoul, told Al Jazeera that S Korean troops claimed the plane was off course, that they couldn’t identify it so fired at it.
“They fired 99 shots, the aircraft was not damaged as it was well out of range,” he said.
Karachi ‘video killers’ in court

(BBC News) – Seven men, six of them soldiers, have appeared in a Pakistani anti-terrorism court in connection with the killing of an unarmed man in the city of Karachi.
The killing of Sarfaraz Shah was filmed by a TV cameraman and widely broadcast by Pakistani channels.
The soldiers belong to a paramilitary unit and are in jail awaiting formal charges. Pakistani prosecutors say they will pursue murder charges.
A security guard from the park where Shah was killed is also in custody.
Police say they have completed their investigation into the incident and the case now rests with the prosecutors.
“We have been handed over the charges against the men by the police,” public prosecutor Arshad Iqbal Cheema told the BBC.
“We are examining them and will present them in court once we have been satisfied.”
The strongest piece of evidence is the video footage recorded by a cameraman for Awaz (The Voice) TV, a local Pakistani channel.
The footage, which surfaced last week, showed Sarfaraz Shah, wearing a black T-shirt, being dragged by his hair in a public park by a man in plain clothes and pushed towards a group of Sindh Rangers who are in uniform and armed.
He pleads for his life as one of the Rangers points a gun at his neck and a little later a Ranger shoots him twice at close range, hitting him in the thigh. The young man is seen writhing on the ground, bleeding heavily and begging for help.
The paramilitaries did nothing to help him. He died from his injuries.
The Rangers say he was caught trying to rob someone. His family denies this.
Police said they recovered a fake pistol, which Shah was carrying, as well as the two bullets which killed him. They have also interviewed 17 witnesses.
The video prompted further widespread criticism of the Pakistani security establishment, which is already under fire for the recent killing of a journalist, Saleem Shahzad.
Journalists, politicians and rights activists have accused the army’s intelligence service, the ISI, of the murder, a charge which the ISI denies.

Libya unrest: Government claims talks with rebels

Libya’s prime minister has said his government has been in talks with the rebels, despite denials from the other side.
Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmudi called for new negotiations between the government and rebel leaders to resolve the conflict.
He also accused Nato of crimes against humanity in its attacks on Libya.
Earlier, Libyan rebels said that 10 civilians had been killed and 40 wounded in a rocket attack by Col Gaddafi’s forces on Misrata.
“Our doors are open to all and we are in contact with all the parties,” Mr Mahmudi said, according to Agence France-Presse.
He said meetings had taken place in Egypt, France, Norway and Tunisia, and that he could “name the persons” who attended from the rebels’ side.
But Mahmoud Jibril, the head of international affairs in the rebel National Transitional Council, said earlier on Friday that there had been “no negotiation” between the council and the regime.
Speaking in Naples after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, he said that were negotiations to take place, the TNC would “announce it out of commitment to our friends all over the world.”
He added: “We pursue every means possible, whether political, whether military, to liberate our country and establish democratic government based on a constitution and equal rights.”
The prime minister’s comments came as Nato planes carried out further raids on the capital, Tripoli, attacks which Mr al-Mahmudi said constituted war crimes.
He called for “an urgent meeting” of the United Nations to examine “these crimes committed by Nato against Libyan civilians”.
On Friday, Libyan government forces bombarded the western rebel-held city of Misrata and territory held by rebel fighters between Dafniya and Zlitan.
These are the next towns on the road to Tripoli from Misrata, as the rebels continued trying to advance westwards following weeks of being besieged by Gaddafi forces.
Ambulances ferried wounded rebel fighters from the front line west of Misrata
The rebels returned fire from the front line, about 32km (20 miles) from Misrata, with their own artillery and rocket launchers.
A rebel commander, Mohammed Ali, said they had been aiming at tanks and munitions stores in Naima, near Zlitan, but the plan had gone awry.
“They shot when they weren’t supposed to shoot and they have ruined it,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Nato military spokesman Wing Cdr Mike Bracken told reporters that there were “some positive signs that civilians are unifying against the Gaddafi regime” in the area.
What started as a peaceful uprising against Col Gaddafi’s 41-year-rule four months ago has grown into a civil war, with the rebels now holding a third of the country in the east and pockets in the west, including Misrata.
Tripoli remains firmly under the control of the government, despite Nato launching more daytime air strikes.
Following fresh air raids on Friday, Libyan state TV broadcast an audio message from Col Gaddafi, in which he shouted: “We are in our country and we are determined to stay and defend it. We are staying, we are staying. Let them even use nuclear bombs.”

Morocco reforms to cut monarch’s powers

King Mohammed VI proposes constitutional changes that will whittle down his powers, but keep his role as power-broker

(Al Jazeera) – Morocco’s king has announced a series of proposed changes to the country’s constitution, including amendments that would strip him of some of his political powers.
The changes, announced by King Mohammed VI in a live address to the nation on Friday, will be put to a referendum on July 1.
“We have managed to develop a new democratic constitutional charter,” the king said, adding that the constitution “enshrines a citizenship-based monarchy”.
The proposed amendments would provide for the strengthening of the authority of the country’s prime minister and parliament.
The prime minister would become the “president of the government”, and would be able to appoint government officials – an authority previously held only by the king.
The new “president of the government” would also be able to dissolve parliament, the king announced, another role previously accorded only to Mohammed VI.
The new constitution ensures the prime minister is selected from the party that received the most votes in election, rather than just chosen by the king.
The reforms also strengthen parliament, allowing it to launch investigations into officials with the support of just one-fifth of its members or to begin a censure motion against a minister with the backing of a third, rather than needing the unanimous approval demanded by the current constitution.
The judiciary, which has long been criticised for lacking independence, would be governed by a supreme council composed of judges and the head of the national human rights council. The justice minister would not be on the council.
“We encourage a parliamentary authority that is ready to make sure that parliament makes final legislative decisions,” the king said. “This parliament has the ability to question any official in the country.”
However, the king would remain a key power-broker in the security, military and religious fields.
The king will continue to chair two key councils – the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council – which make security policy. The prime minister can chair these councils, but only using an agenda set by the king.
Nabila Ramdani, a writer and analyst on North African issues, told Al Jazeera that the address was an attempt by the king to defuse popular anger in the country.
“There are bleak socio-economic conditions in Morocco, as well as a lack of fundamental human rights, and he is trying to avoid an expression of the anger we have seen on the streets of many Arab countries,” she said.
“There is also a gap between how the world views Morocco, and the largely dismissed internal problems of illiteracy, corruption, and unemployment.”
The king’s speech comes in the wake of nationwide pro-reform demonstrations that began in February, inspired by other popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.