|At least 14 dead in
Ramadan protests in Syria
|AFP: Security forces shot dead at least 14 people as
thousands of Syrians rallied in the streets against
President Bashar al-Assad on the first Friday of Ramadan to
support the protest hub of Hama, activists said.
Seven people were killed in Irbin, two in Damir, and one in
Maadamiya, all near Damascus, and three in Homs,” Rami Abdel
Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,
told AFP by telephone.
He said more than 50 people were seriously wounded, while
the body of a man with signs of torture was found in front
of his home in the Qabun district of the capital after
having allegedly been detained by security forces.
State news agency SANA, meanwhile, said two members of the
security forces were killed and eight wounded in an ambush
on a road in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, near the
And gunmen on an apartment block rooftop in Duma, near
Damascus, shot and wounded two other members of the security
forces, it said, while assailants also opened fire in Homs.
Communications were completely cut off as the army stepped
up an operation to crush dissent in Hama, north of Damascus,
where security forces killed at least 30 civilians and
wounded dozens more earlier in the week.
“Thousands of demonstrators marched in Deir Ezzor, Daraa and
Qamishli in support of the city of Hama despite the extreme
heat,” said Abdel Karim Rihawi, who heads the Syrian League
for the Defence of Human Rights.
He said they numbered 30,000 in Deir Ezzor alone.
“More than 12,000 people” also marched in Bench, in Idlib
province, “to demand the fall of the regime and express
their support for Hama and Deir Ezzor,” according to Abdel
“Hundreds of people came out of the Al-Mans Uri mosque in
Jablah, chanting ‘God is with us,’” he told AFP.
The call for Friday’s protests came from activists on
Facebook group The Syrian Revolution 2011, a driving force
behind the demonstrations calling for greater freedoms since
The Assad regime has sought to crush the democracy movement
with brutal force, killing more than 1,649 civilians and
arresting thousands of dissenters, according to an updated
list from the Syrian Observatory.
It said 389 members of the security forces had also been
|US loses AAA credit rating
BBC: One of the top credit rating agencies, Standard &
Poor’s, has downgraded the United States’ top-notch AAA
rating for the first time ever.
S&P cut the long-term US rating by one notch to AA+ with a
negative outlook, citing concerns about budget deficits.
The agency said the deficit reduction plan passed by the US
Congress on Tuesday did not go far enough.
Washington was locked in months of acrimonious partisan
bickering over a bill to raise the US debt ceiling.
As rumours swirled about the downgrade on Friday evening,
officials in Washington told US media that S&P’s sums were
Unnamed sources were quoted as saying that a treasury
official had spotted a $2 trillion [£1.2 trillion] mistake
in the agency’s analysis.
“A judgment flawed by a $2tn error speaks for itself,” a US
treasury department spokesman said of the S&P analysis. He
did not offer any immediate explanation.
John Chambers, chairman of S&P’s sovereign ratings
committee, told CNN that the US could have averted a
downgrade if it had resolved its congressional stalemate
“The first thing it could have done is raise the debt
ceiling in a timely matter so the debate would have been
avoided to begin with,” he said.
However the decision by S&P did little to foster bipartisan
spirit, with both Republicans and Democrats using it to
justify their stances.
The Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, said the
downgrade was a response to overspending by the federal
government which he said threatened to send “destructive
ripple effects’’ through the credit markets.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for his part, said the
move made the case for the Democrats’ plan for a “balanced
approach to deficit reduction”.
The other two major credit rating agencies, Moody’s and
Fitch, said on Friday night they had no immediate plans to
follow S&P in taking the US off their lists of risk-free
The S&P announcement comes after a week of turmoil on global
stock markets not seen since the days of the 2008 economic
|Israel strikes Gaza
BBC: Israel has carried out a second night of air strikes
against targets in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians say one of the targets was a training facility
for the military wing of Hamas, and smuggling tunnels along
the Egypt border were hit.
Medical sources say five people were injured in the attacks.
The Israeli strikes took place hours after Palestinian
militants fired rockets at an Israeli town situated 30km
from the Gaza-Israel border.
Recent weeks have seen an increase in mortar and rocket fire
from Gaza after months of relative calm.
Israeli army sources say that since Wednesday Grad rockets
were fired near the towns of Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon and
Lachish. They landed in open areas and no-one was hurt.
However on Monday, an Israeli Bedouin woman was lightly
wounded by shrapnel when a rocket fired from Gaza exploded
|Cuba upholds sentence
on US contractor
BBC: Cuba's Supreme Court has
upheld a 15-year prison sentence imposed on a US contractor
accused of crimes against the state.
The contractor, 62-year-old Alan Gross, was convicted in
March of distributing illegal communications equipment in
He says he was just trying to help Cuba's small Jewish
The rejection of his appeal is likely to further sour
relations between the US and Cuba.
In his appeal hearing last month Gross admitted bringing
satellite equipment into the country, but said he never
intended to harm the Cuban government.
The Supreme Court rejected his argument, saying he was part
of a US government programme aimed at "destabilising" and
"subverting" Cuba's communist system.
Gross's US lawyer, Peter Kahn, said in a statement that his
family was "heartbroken" by the decision, but remained
hopeful that there could be a diplomatic solution.
The case has brought US-Cuba relations to a standstill after
a brief warming under President Barack Obama, says the BBC
Havana correspondent, Michael Voss.
The appeal verdict will make it impossible for Washington to
launch any further initiatives, our correspondent adds.
Gross was arrested in December 2009. He was in Cuba working
as a contractor for the US Agency for International
Development (USAID) on a secretive programme aimed at
promoting democracy in Cuba.
He was found guilty and sentenced in March for "acts against
the independence and integrity of the state".
The White House called the prison term "another injustice"
for Gross and said he had already spent too long in jail.
Gross' wife Judy had already made a separate plea to
President Raul Castro for this immediate release on
Cuban officials have hinted that they are sympathetic to
humanitarian appeals but could not act before the Supreme
Court had ruled, our correspondent says.
|Chavez offers Kadhafi
‘a big hug’
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday he has
written embattled Libyan leader Moamar Kadhafi offering him
"a big hug" and denouncing NATO's "imperial" attacks on
"The proud, gracious and merciful God bless and keep you.
May he bless and protect the heroic and dignified people of
Libya," Chavez read from his letter to Kadhafi during a live
broadcast on VTV, the national news channel.
"Moamar, a big hug with an infinite sense of brotherhood,"
Kadhafi has weathered a rebel uprising against his rule,
backed by an intensive NATO air campaign, and held onto
power despite an International Criminal Court arrest warrant
for crimes against humanity.
"The empire is threatening the people," said Chavez, a harsh
critic of US foreign policy who has said on many occasions
that foreign intervention in Libya is aimed at wresting
control of the country's oil.
Chavez' letter was in response to a message Kadhafi sent
last Monday through Libyan Secretary of Finance and
Planning, Abdul Hafid Al Zleitniun, while he was visiting
"Long live the people of Libya, long life to you, my
fighting brother," said the Venezualan leader, one of the
Libyan leader's closest allies in Latin America.
Chavez, who has ignored Libya's rebel organization, the
National Transition Council, criticized the international
community's recognition of the rebel group last week and
argued the act "destroys the foundations of international
The Venezuelan president, who is being treated for cancer,
has repeatedly demanded an end to military aggression and
the opening of a peaceful resolution to Libya's internal
Separately, Chavez sent a letter to the National Assembly
advising that he intends to return to Cuba on Saturday for a
second round of chemotherapy. (AFP)
|Sonia ‘recovering’ after surgery
BBC: India’s governing Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi is
recovering after undergoing “successful” surgery abroad for
an undisclosed medical condition, a party spokesman has
Janardhan Dwivedi said the “surgery is over [and] the
surgeon had indicated that it was successful”.
He said Mrs Gandhi was recovering in an intensive care unit
of a hospital.
The Italian-born Mrs Gandhi, 64, holds no official
government post but is seen as India’s most powerful
India has some of the best medical facilities and doctors in
the world and speculation is rife as to why Mrs Gandhi chose
to go elsewhere for surgery.
Some reports suggest she may be receiving specialist
treatment not yet available in India, but these are
“As this is a personal matter that pertains to her health
and medical treatment, her family requests that her privacy
be respected,” Dwivedi said.
The news that Mrs Gandhi was abroad, possibly in the US,
came as a complete surprise when it was announced on
Mrs Gandhi was “likely to be away for two to three weeks”,
Mr Dwivedi had said.
Correspondents say her absence comes at a critical time for
the government as it deals with corruption scandals and high
Mrs Gandhi has named a four-member team to run party affairs
during her absence. The team includes her son and MP Rahul
Gandhi, who is tipped as a future prime minister.
The Congress president’s absence from parliament on Monday
was remarked upon in the Indian media, but explained by a
“viral infection” from which she was said to be suffering.
Mrs Gandhi is the widow of former Indian prime minister
Rajiv Gandhi. She nominated Manmohan Singh to the prime
minister’s post in 2004 but is frequently portrayed as being
more powerful than him.
She is at the head of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has
ruled India for most of the time since the country gained
independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
|Sudan blocks South's oil shipment
BBC: Sudan has blocked an oil shipment from the new state of
South Sudan, accusing it of failing to pay customs duties.
The oil was being held at the northern export hub of Port
Sudan, a government spokesman in Khartoum said.
South Sudan has to export oil via the north because it has
no port or refineries of its own.
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since
South Sudan became independent on 9 July, analysts say.
Khartoum's foreign ministry spokesman, Al-Obeid Meruh, said
600,000 barrels of oil was being held.
He said South Sudan had failed to pay the north for the use
of its pipeline, refinery and port.
"When the ship leaves the port, the South has to pay the
customs authorities. This is the first time they didn't
pay," Meruh told the AFP news agency.
In June, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir warned that
pipelines carrying South Sudan's oil would be shut if a deal
over payments was not reached.
Khartoum has been demanding $32 (£19) a barrel, but the
South was pushing for a lower fee, AFP reports.
An official in South Sudan's Ministry of Mines and Energy,
David Loro, said Khartoum's move was aimed at sabotaging the
The two sides have been involved in several disagreements
since South Sudan became independent.