|23 killed as Syria
presses crackdown on protest
DAMASCUS (AFP) -
Syrian forces killed at least 23 protesters as tens of
thousands flooded the streets after Friday prayers,
activists said, despite President Bashar al-Assad’s
assurances that assaults on anti-regime protesters had
Meanwhile, Russia and Turkey dismissed growing calls led by
US President Barack Obama for Assad to quit, offering the
embattled Syrian leader rare support despite a damning UN
report on his “apparent shoot to kill” policy.
On the political front, a group of “revolutionary blocs”
formed a coalition vowing to bring down the regime and paid
tribute to more than 2,000 civilians killed in a crackdown
on protesters since mid-March.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 people were
killed, including an 11-year-old and a 72-year-old, in the
southern province of Daraa, epicentre of the anti-regime
protests that erupted March 15.
Six were killed in the central city of Homs, one in the
Harasta suburb of Damascus and another in the capital’s
suburb of Douma.
The Observatory said security forces opened fire on
protesters, also wounding 25 people, in the Ghabagheb,
Inkhil, Al-Herak and Nawa neighbourhoods in Daraa, but the
official SANA news agency blamed the shooting on “armed
SANA said a policeman and a civilian were killed in
Ghabagheb and six security forces wounded.
People poured into the streets of major towns as they
emerged from the weekly prayers, with the largest
anti-regime demonstration reported in Homs.
Around 20,000 in Al-Khalidiyeh demanded the ouster of Assad,
said the Observatory, which also reported rallies in the
eastern oil hub of Deir Ezzor, and in the northern cities of
Latakia and Banias.
Some 10,000 people marched in the predominantly Kurdish
cities of Qamishli and Amuda, according to an activist at
the scene, while other protests took place in and around
Damascus and in Hama in central Syria.
The Observatory said troops and security forces deployed in
several areas to prevent protests from taking place,
including in Latakia where pro-regime “shabiha’ militias
pounced on worshippers as they emerged from a mosque.
|Thousands protest pope visit to
Madrid, police violence
MADRID (AFP) -
Thousands of protesters marched in central Madrid late
Friday to protest a visit by Pope Benedict XVI and police
violence during previous demonstrations, as the pontiff
presided over a service a few hundred metres away.
“This is not the pope youth!” and “No to police violence!”,
the crowd chanted, waving their hands in the air.
The marchers -- between 3,000 and 5,000 --- left from
Madrid’s main Atocha railway station in the evening heading
for the Puerta del Sol square.
But scores of police blocked access to the square, where
clashes took place on both Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Nine police vans followed the marchers on their route, with
a police cordon in front.
The activists were angry over the cost of the World Youth
Day celebrations led by the pope, and over police crackdowns
on their previous demonstrations.
“No more police brutality,” said one banner.
Just a few hundred metres (yards) away in the vast Plaza
Cibeles square, Benedict, seated before hundreds of
thousands young pilgrims, presided over a Stations of the
Cross service as part of the August 16-21 WYD festivities.
Police tried to prevent the demonstrators from making
contact with groups of pilgrims.
Baton-wielding anti-riot police in Madrid late Thursday
dispersed about 150 protesters from the Puerta del Sol,
birthplace of Spain’s widespread “indignant” protests over
the handling of the country’s economic crisis.
“We don’t want to pay taxes for this man (the pope) to
travel free,” Elsa, a 45-year-old unemployed woman, said at
The pilgrims, “They have their own reductions on the metro,
in restaurants. I have no reductions and I have no work.”
On Wednesday night, thousands of anti-papal protesters and
hundreds of young Roman Catholics in Madrid for the festival
had hurled insults at each other in the square.
Police later dispersed the activists with batons and made
seven arrests. Eleven people were reported slightly injured.
Protesters - including some priests -- are fuming over the
official 50.5-million-euro ($73-million) price tag,
excluding the cost of police and security, of the Catholic
Nationwide unemployment stands at more than 20 percent while
youth unemployment is running at more than 45 percent.
But organisers of the festivities say most of the cost will
be covered by a registration fee from the pilgrims, and the
celebration will be a massive tourist boost for Spain.
|Libya rebels claim capture of two
ZAWIYAH, Libya (AFP) - Libyan
rebels claimed to have taken two more key objectives in
their advance on Tripoli, and that a former prime minister
ostracised from Moamer Kadhafi’s regime had fled to
“Zawiyah is free,” rebels said Friday as they took up
positions in its hospital hours after pounding the centre of
this oil refinery town, the last major barrier before
possibly advancing on Tripoli from the west.
The key refinery is the only source of fuel to the capital,
and could leave it without critical supplies.
Hundreds of rebels armed with assault rifles had marched
from the central square, a stronghold of forces loyal to
Kadhafi, to the hospital decorated with portraits of the
veteran leader, an AFP journalist said.
Kadhafi snipers were staked out on rooftops as the battles
raged, with buildings and streets in the town centre showing
signs of massive damage from the warfare.
Rebels have been seeking to sever Tripoli’s supply lines
from Tunisia to the west and to Kadhafi’s hometown of Sirte
in the east in a move they hope will cut off the capital,
prompt defections and spark an uprising inside Tripoli.
Insurgents also said they seized Zliten from Kadhafi’s
forces, only hours after reporting they were in the centre
of the town, 150 kilometres (93 miles) east of Tripoli.
“Zliten is now under the control of our fighters, but the
fighting is not finished,” the Information Centre For
Misrata Military Council said.
“Kadhafi forces have used tanks to try unsuccessfully to
repel the rebels.”
It said some rebels and 40-50 Kadhafi forces were dead.
Another 12 African mercenaries were captured and 40
insurgents were wounded, 10 of them seriously.
Meanwhile, rebel forces said former Libyan prime minister
Abdessalam Jalloud, who fell out of favour with Moamer
Kadhafi in the mid-nineties, had joined them, though they
declined to provide his location “for security reasons.”
A senior rebel who requested anonymity said Jalloud and his
family had arrived in Zintan, a rebel-held town southwest of
|Three hurt as Gaza rocket hits Ashdod
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Three people were injured, two seriously,
when rockets fired by militants in Gaza slammed into the
coastal town of Ashdod in southern Israel early on Saturday,
“One rocket hit a house, causing damage but no casualties,”
police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP. “The second fell on
open ground, among sand dunes, where it wounded three
people, Palestinians staying in Israel illegally, injuring
two seriously and one moderatately,” she said.
The rocket attacks came after a string of Israeli air
strikes on the Gaza Strip on Friday killed seven
Palestinians, a day after eight Israelis were killed by
suspected Islamist militants near the Egyptian border.
|Shell-shocked Indian govt braces for
NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian
activist Anna Hazare prepared Friday to embark on a two-week
fast likely to fuel an explosion of public anger over
corruption that has left a shell-shocked government grasping
for a response.
Buoyed by an unprecedented wave of mass protests that
followed his arrest three days ago, the 74-year-old, who has
become a symbol of national dissent, warned he was ready to
push his hunger strike to the limit.
“I will not stop fighting,” he said in a video message to
his supporters late Thursday from the cell in Delhi’s Tihar
jail that has become his de-facto campaign headquarters
since he was taken into police custody.
His campaign, denounced as “totally misconceived” by an
increasingly vulnerable-looking Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, demands the re-drafting of a new anti-graft law that
Hazare insists is incapable of removing the blight of
corruption that pervades all levels of Indian society.
|North Korea’s Kim arrives in Russia
MOSCOW (AFP) - North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il on
Saturday arrived in Russia where he plans to meet President
Dmitry Medvedev amid mounting fears of a worsening food
crisis in the Stalinist state.
“He arrived today” in his armoured train, Alexander
Naryzhny, the head of the far eastern Khasan district which
borders North Korea, told AFP.
It was Kim’s first visit to Russia since 2002.
Kim is expected to meet with Medvedev for talks in the
Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal. The Kremlin
meanwhile declined to immediately confirm Kim’s arrival.
North Korea’s nuclear programme and closer economic ties are
likely to be among the top topics on the agenda.
The visit comes as fears mount of a worsening hunger crisis
in North Korea which threatens to affect hundreds of
thousands of people.
The Russian foreign ministry said on Friday that Moscow was
sending up to 50,000 tonnes of wheat to North Korea to help
it cope with an “acute shortage of food supplies.”
The first shipment arrived this week and the rest of the
supplies would be sent next month, the foreign ministry
Officials in the Pacific region, including the governor and
Kremlin’s envoy, held a welcome ceremony for Kim in Khasan,
said Naryzhny who also attended the event.
Kim, who is known to dislike air travel due to security
concerns, arrived in Khasan district after crossing the
Tumangan river at 12 pm local time (0100 GMT), Naryzhny
He said he was unaware of the North Korean leader’s
programme in Russia, adding he did not leave his train upon
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing informed sources,
said Kim was expected to visit a dam in Ussuriysk, a town
near Vladivostok, later in the day.