|Protests hit new peak in Syria
|DAMASCUS (AFP) –
At least 28 civilians were killed, including 16 in the
capital Damascus and a child, as security forces opened fire
to quell the largest anti-regime rallies in four months,
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Syria cannot now
return to the way it was before anti-regime protests erupted
on March 15.
Rights activist Abdel Karim Rihawi said the deaths also
included two in Kadam and four in Douma, both suburbs of the
capital, in addition to three in the northwestern city of
Idlib and two more in the southern town of Daraa.
Neighbourhoods in Damascus bore the brunt of the violence,
with 12 killed in Qabun, three in Rukn Eddin and another in
Barzeh, said Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League for the
Defence of Human Rights.
The capital’s suburbs also saw the death of a child killed
in Jobar, four adults in Douma and one in Kadam. Three
people were killed in the northern city of Idlib and two
others in the southern town of Daraa, Rihawi added.
More than one million Syrians turned out in just two cities
– Hama and Deir Ezzor – to protest against the regime of
President Bashar al-Assad and demand the release of hundreds
of detainees seized in earlier pro-democracy rallies.
“More than a million people demonstrated today in Hama and
Deir Ezzor,” Abdel Rahman said. “It’s a major development
and a message to the authorities that protests are getting
In the central city of Homs, 15 people were wounded when
security forces opened fire, pro-democracy militants said of
some of the mass demonstrations staged after Friday prayers.
Rihawi added that 15 protesters were wounded in Kiswe, in
Security agents used live ammunition to disperse protesters
in the Qabun and Barzeh areas of the Damascus, while more
demonstrators infiltrated the Madaya, Harasta and Saqba
regions, Rihawi said.
Damascus, which once stood out for its eerie Friday calm and
marginal demonstrations compared with massive pro-regime
rallies, saw the highest death toll on Friday despite
protest centres elsewhere drawing larger crowds.
The official SANA news agency said “armed men fired on
security forces and citizens in the areas of Qabun and Rukn
Eddin in Damascus.”
Syrians had been urged to demonstrate on Friday to demand
the release of people imprisoned in the bloody crackdown on
State television reported “the death of a civilian killed by
armed men at Idlib,” and added: “The military and security
services are protecting demonstrators against armed men in
Activists issued an appeal for nationwide protests to mark a
day of “Freedom for the Hostages” on The Syrian Revolution
2011 Facebook page, a driving force behind the
Like their cousins across the Arab world, Syrians have
adopted Fridays, when they gather for the main weekly Muslim
prayers, as their main outlet for dissent.
|Four dead in gun battle in Indian Kashmir
|SRINAGAR (AFP) – Three suspected Islamist militants and
an Indian soldier were killed in a gun battle on Friday in
the Indian zone of divided Kashmir, a senior police official
The guerrillas, thought to belong to the Pakistan-based
Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, were killed by Indian troops
in the village of Maidanpora, 120 kilometres (70 miles)
north of Kashmir’s main city Srinagar, he said.
Five other Indian soldiers were injured in the fighting,
which lasted for eight hours, police superintendent V.K.
Birdi told AFP.
Virdi said the firefight broke out after soldiers and
policemen encircled a house where some Lashkar-e-Taiba
militants were holed up.
“The house, where the militants had taken shelter, was razed
during the encounter,” Virdi said, adding that an effort was
on to retrieve the bodies of the slain militants from the
“We were tracking the movement of the group for the last two
weeks and finally we trapped them,” he said, adding that the
house owner and his relatives fled the premises before the
Virk identified two of the slain militants as Pakistani
For more than 20 years, militant groups in
Indian-administered Kashmir have fought against New Delhi’s
rule in the highly militarised Himalayan region.
Violence in Indian Kashmir has been stoked by Pakistan-based
groups that send militants over the de facto border that
divides Kashmir between the two countries.
India also believes the Lashkar-e-Taiba and a Pakistani
intelligence service staged the November 2008 attacks in
Mumbai, which left 166 people dead and severely strained
ties between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.
|Philippine colonel calls for
|MANILA (AFP) –
A colonel in the Philippine navy has been stripped of his
post and put under investigation over a video in which he
called for President Benigno Aquino’s overthrow, the
military said Saturday.
Colonel Generoso Mariano was removed as deputy chief of the
Naval Reserve Command on Friday and investigated for
possible sedition and unbecoming conduct, navy spokesman
Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Tonsay said.
“The tape showed him speaking out against the government,”
Tonsay told AFP, adding the footage appeared to show Mariano
laying out scenarios when a president’s removal could be
Tonsay said the tape, copies of which began circulating on
social networking sites on the Internet on Saturday, had
been viewed by some military units. One copy was anonymously
delivered at the gate of navy headquarters.
However, he stressed that the president’s ouster had no
support in the 120,000-strong armed forces.
Mariano, who is set to retire Sunday when he turns 56, must
stay in his navy quarters until the investigation is
completed, Tonsay added.
“The possible offences are conduct unbecoming of an officer
and sedition,” he said. “Sedition is a grave offence.”
A video said to be of the footage and making the rounds on
Facebook showed a bespectacled middle-aged man wearing a
blue shirt with an indistinct but military-style crest
speaking to a microphone while seated behind a table.
“It is the duty, it is the right of every Filipino including
soldiers to replace the government. I repeat, replace the
government,” the man says in the 95-second tape, which was
dated July 3, 2011.
The shared videos on Facebook come from the account of a
group calling itself the “Oust Noynoy Movement!”. Noynoy is
The Philippine military has been wracked by periods of
unrest since a military-backed bloodless “people power”
uprising toppled the 20-year rule of strongman Ferdinand
Marcos in 1986.
Two of the five presidents that followed him survived a
series of military coups, including Aquino’s late mother
Corazon Aquino, who had to seek the help of the US Air Force
in a bloody attempt in 1989.
|Obama warns US ‘running out of time’
for debt deal
|WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama is pressing
polarised lawmakers to avert what he called economic
‘Armageddon’ by quickly forging a deal to prevent an early
August debt default by the world’s richest country.
“We’re obviously running out of time,” Obama warned at the
White House Friday, as Democrats and Republicans in the
House of Representatives met separately to discuss the way
forward and Senate leaders worked on a last-ditch
Obama renewed his call for a ‘grand bargain,’ which would
cut entitlement programmes dear to his fellow Democrats, but
Republicans have flatly rejected his call for higher taxes
on the rich.
The US president, sure to be judged in the 2012 elections
based on his handling of the jobs-poor US economy, signaled
he would not reject a last-minute compromise key lawmakers
were drafting behind closed doors.
“Let’s at least avert Armageddon,” he said after five
straight days of crisis talks at the White House failed to
reach a deal on closing the yawning budget deficit while
raising the US debt limit from its current $14.3 trillion.
Economists and finance and business leaders have warned that
failure to raise the US debt ceiling by August 2 could send
shock waves through a world economy still reeling from the
Ratings agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have warned
they may downgrade Washington’s sterling Triple-A debt
rating, and leading US creditor China, Wall Street titan
J.P. Morgan Chase and the Federal Reserve have also sounded
With time running short, Obama’s top Republican foes in
Congress called for votes next week on their plan for severe
spending cuts on the way to amending the US Constitution to
require cash-strapped Washington to balance its budget.
|4,800 evacuated in Indonesia volcano
|JAKARTA (AFP) – More than 4,800 people have been
evacuated since an Indonesian volcano erupted on Thursday
and its alert status was placed on the highest level, an
Mount Lokon on Sulawesi island spewed grey ash up to 800
metres (2,600 feet) high early on Saturday as it continued
“The evacuees are placed in six shelter points. No one has
died because of the direct impact of the eruption,” disaster
management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
“The disaster management agency has assisted them by
disbursing 300 million rupiah (35,100 dollars) of emergency
funds, logistics, equipment and personnel,” he said.
The 1,580-metre Mount Lokon is one of the most active
volcanoes in Indonesia. It erupted in 1991, killing a Swiss
The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes
and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “Ring
of Fire” between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The country’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central
Java, killed more than 350 people in a series of violent
eruptions last year.
|UN removes 14 Taliban members from
|NEW YORK (AFP) –
The UN Security Council committee overseeing sanctions on
Friday removed 14 Taliban leaders from an international
blacklist in order to encourage peaceful reconciliation in
Germany’s UN ambassador Peter Wittig, who heads the Security
Council for the month of July, said the decision “sends a
strong signal: the Security Council and the international
community support the efforts of the Afghan government to
engage reconciled Taliban in a political dialogue in order
to achieve peace and security in Afghanistan.”
The 14 Taliban on the list include Arsalan Rahmani Daulat,
Habibullah Fawzi, Sayeedur Rahman Haqani and Faqir Mohammad,
all members of Afghanistan’s peace council, Wittig said.
“The international community recognizes efforts made by
member of the High Peace Council to work towards peace,
stability, and reconciliation,” said Wittig.
“All Afghans are encouraged to join these efforts. The
message is clear: engaging for peace pays off,” said Wittig.
Ahead of the Friday decision, 137 members of the Taliban
were on a sanctions list that called for an asset freeze, a
travel ban and an arms embargo.
Wittig did not release the names of the other Taliban
members removed from the list.
The United Nations Security Council on June 17 split the
international sanctions regime for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda
to encourage the Taliban to join reconciliation efforts in
The council unanimously passed two resolutions that set up
one new blacklist of individuals and organizations accused
of links to Al-Qaeda and a second for those linked to the
The two groups have until now been handled by the same
sanctions committee. But the international powers wanted to
separate them to highlight the divide between Al-Qaeda’s
global jihadist agenda and the Taliban’s focus on
The sanctions committee was set up in 1999 when Al-Qaeda had
major bases in the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan until
they were driven out of power by US-led forces.
|Libya rebels breach Brega
|BENGHAZI (AFP) – Libya’s rebels said a light mobile
force had breached the strategically vital oil town of Brega
late Friday, before pulling back in anticipation of a
renewed offensive at daybreak.
Mohammed Zawi, a spokesman for the rebel army, told AFP a
group of reconnaissance troops had entered the city from the
north, then pulled back four kilometres (2.5 miles) before
midnight (2200 GMT).
The probing raid deep into Kadhafi-held territory came
around 32 hours after the rebel command launched a
three-pronged attack to wrest control of the town back from
Moamer Kadhafi’s troops, who were thought to have numbered
While the rebels’ forward position to the north was four
kilometres from the town centre, a second unit attacking
from due east of Brega faced stiffer resistance and was
about 10-20 kilometres (six to 12 miles) from the town.
“Most of Kadhafi’s troops seem to be at the centre,” said
Rebels were trying to dispose of more than 100 landmines
placed around the town, to make way for heavy artillery.
Earlier the rebels said radio chatter from Kadhafi’s forces
in the north showed them asking for reinforcements and for
medics to come and collect the dead and wounded.
To the south of the town, where the rebels had made initial
gains but suffered large numbers of casualties, Kadhafi
forces had pushed back harder.
With fighting in the dusty and windy desert terrain
difficult, Zawi said he expected fighters on both sides to
dig in for the night and for clashes to slow.
“Tomorrow we can take Brega, God willing,” he said.
Brega, nestled at the southeastern tip of the Gulf of Sirte,
has changed hands multiple times during Libya’s civil war,
which soon enters its fifth month.