Arab League deadline
BBC: Violence is
continuing in Syria, as deadline set by the Arab
League approaches for the government to end its
crackdown on protesters.
A Syrian diplomatic source said Damascus would
accept observers to monitor implementation of a
peace deal, but with conditions.
The Arab League formally suspended Syria on
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary announced
that he would meet Syrian opposition members.
William Hague will meet members of the Syrian
National Council (SNC) and the National
Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change in
London on Monday, his office said.
At least 11 people died in clashes on Friday,
activists said, amid growing fears of civil war.
The League says Syria will face sanctions unless it
stops its bloody suppression of anti-government
A Syrian diplomatic source told the BBC on Friday
that Damascus had informed the League of its offer
to allow monitors in, and that a few details were
being worked out. Officials do not want it to be
called an observer mission, but say calling it an
Arab League mission would be acceptable, says our
Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. However, reports
suggest Damascus has said it will accept a
delegation of 40 observers - a much smaller number
than the 500 initially proposed by the League. The
Arab League plan, drawn up earlier this month, calls
on Syria to withdraw tanks from restive cities,
cease its attacks on protesters and engage in
dialogue with the opposition within two weeks.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to the plan
at the time, but has so far failed to implement it.
Correspondents say the invitation for League
officials to visit Syria is a significant concession
by Damascus. Syria is aware that Libya’s suspension
from the Arab League helped persuade the UN Security
Council to authorise the military action which
helped topple Col Muammar Gaddafi.
On Friday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
called for restraint over Syria, after a meeting
with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.
“We are calling for restraint and caution. This is
our position,” Putin told a Moscow news conference,
according to AFP news agency.
Hague’s decision to meet opposition members comes
amid mounting pressure on Damascus. Both the US and
Turkey have warned that the situation could escalate
into a civil war. King Abdullah of Jordan urged
Assad to stand down.
But the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said
she did not expect there to be an international
intervention like in Libya. Some 400 people have
been killed since the announcement of the Arab
League initiative on 2 November, activists in Syria
said. The UN says at least 3,500 people have died
since the unrest began in March, while many others
have disappeared or been jailed.
|Suu Kyi’s party to rejoin
BBC: The party of
Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has
agreed to re-enter the political process and contest
On Friday her National League for Democracy said it
would register to run in the as yet unscheduled
The party boycotted the last polls in November 2010,
the first in 20 years.
Meanwhile the US is to send Hillary Clinton to Burma
next month, amid what President Barack Obama called
“flickers of progress” in the nation.
Mr Obama spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi before deciding
to send Mrs Clinton, who will be the first US
secretary of state to visit in 50 years.
BBC South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says
the developments are being seen as endorsements of
the steps taken by the military-backed but
civilian-led government towards political reform.
The announcement followed a meeting of 100 senior
NLD leaders in Rangoon. But this regulation has
since been dropped, and Aung San Suu Kyi said she
now wanted the party to contest all 48 seats left
vacant in parliament by the appointment of
ministers. A spokesman for the NLD said it was
likely that Aung San Suu Kyi would run for office.
And the pro-democracy leader herself said she would
do what she thought was necessary.
“If I think I should take part in the election, I
will. Some people are worried that taking part could
harm my dignity. Frankly, if you do politics, you
should not be thinking about your dignity,” AFP news
agency quoted her as saying. “I stand for the
re-registration of the NLD party. I would like to
work effectively towards amending the constitution.
So we have to do what we need to do.” The NLD won
elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take
power. Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house
arrest but was freed a year ago by the new
Since then it has entered into dialogue with her and
freed some - but by no means all - political
Aung San Suu Kyi has given a cautious welcome to the
moves, but says more progress is needed.
|Dalai Lama questions wisdom of
BBC: The Tibetan
spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says he is very
worried about the growing number of monks and nuns
setting themselves on fire to protest against
Chinese rule in Tibet.
He told the BBC he was not encouraging such actions
- saying there was no doubt they required courage,
but questioning how effective they were.
There have been 11 cases of self-immolation so far
Most have resulted in death - the latest a
35-year-old nun two weeks ago.
The BBC has obtained graphic footage of the moment
she set herself alight, prompting horrified cries
from onlookers. Later, Chinese security forces
flooded the area.
The shocking video footage was smuggled across the
border to India and shown to the BBC.
Tibetan monks and nuns are using self-immolation as
the latest tactic in their struggle against 60 years
of Chinese rule, says the BBC’s Andrew North.
But it is a sensitive issue for the man they are
dying for - the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual
In an interview with our correspondent, he said he
was not encouraging his followers to sacrifice
themselves - as alleged by China.
“The question is how much effect” the
self-immolations have, the Dalai Lama said.
“That’s the question. There is courage - very strong
courage. But how much effect?
“Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilise
Asked whether he feared the actions could make life
worse for people in Tibet, he said: “Many Tibetans
sacrifice their lives.
“Nobody knows how many people killed and tortured -
I mean death through torture. Nobody knows.
“But a lot of people suffer. But how much effect?
The Chinese respond harder.”
China has condemned the self-immolation campaign as
immoral and inhuman, saying it will never succeed.
The growing number of monks and nuns prepared to set
themselves on fire is a sign of increasing
desperation in Tibet, our correspondent says.
They know while the West has backed the Arab Spring,
with China it talks with a much quieter voice, he
That leaves Tibetans with few options to shine a
light on their struggle.
From inside Tibet, the word is that more monks are
preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice, our
|Protesting Egyptians back in
BBC: Tens of thousands of
Egyptians are holding a rally in Cairo to protest
against Egypt’s military rulers.
Demonstrators from across the political spectrum
have gathered in Tahrir Square after the military
council proposed controversial constitutional
Many Egyptians fear the military is trying to
entrench its power.
Egypt has been ruled by a military council since
President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February.
Parliamentary elections are due this month.
The protest, and another in Egypt’s second city,
Alexandria, are demanding the withdrawal of
proposals for constitutional change by the military
The cabinet wants to declare the military the
guardian of “constitutional legitimacy”. Critics say
the wording suggests the armed forces could have the
final word on major policies even after a new
president is elected.
The document also introduces clauses that would
shield the military from civilian oversight.
Our correspondent says there is also widespread
frustration in Egypt that, despite the overthrow of
Mubarak, life for the majority is not improving.
However, it is the conservative Islamists of the
Muslim Brotherhood who are most vocal in these
demonstrations rather than the young people using
social networks who led the protests earlier this
year, he says.
Witnesses say that Tahrir Square was split between
the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the
more hardline Islamist Salafi rivals, represented by
several political parties.
The two set up separate stages and organised their
own speeches and chants, only joining forces for
|Pope arrives in Benin, ‘home
BBC: Pope Benedict XVI has
arrived in Benin, on his second visit to Africa
which has the world’s fastest-growing Roman Catholic
Huge crowds welcomed the pontiff at the airport in
the city of Cotonou.
Although the number of Catholics in Benin is rising
quickly, the majority of the population follow
Voodoo, which was taken by slaves to the Caribbean.
Upon arrival, the Pope urged Africans to avoid the
“unconditional surrender to the law of the market
“Modernity must not cause fear, but it cannot be
built by forgetting the past,” he said.
The pontiff also spoke of avoiding “exacerbated and
useless nationalism or tribalism that can become
deadly, extreme politicisation, inter-religious
tensions to the detriment of the common good or
finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and
During his visit, the Pope is also likely to face
questions about condoms.
On his 2009 visit to Africa, he sparked outrage
among Aids activists by saying that handing out
condoms could speed up the spread of HIV in the
continent worst hit by the virus.
Pope Benedict was greeted by a 21-gun salute after
he landed in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city, where he
was met by President Thomas Yayi Boni.
Among those waiting for the pontiff at the airport
were several hundred women, wearing dresses adorned
with images of the Pope’s face. Many others had
blue, green, red and yellow headscarves,
representing different parishes.
“It’s a joy for us, we are happy and there will be a
big celebration, which should bring a lot of faith
to all faithful people in Benin,” city resident
Noelle Agboton was quoted as saying by Reuters news
Friday has been declared a public holiday, Cotonou’s
streets have been cleaned and buildings are adorned
with posters welcoming the Pope.
The BBC’s Tomi Oladipo in Cotonou says there is huge
excitement across the country.
Pope Benedict is to visit the city of Ouidah on
Saturday, where there is a Voodoo museum.
Benin is widely seen as the home of Voodoo, and the
religion is followed by some 40% of the country’s
Some 27% classify themselves as Christians and 22%
Muslims, but correspondents say many of these people
combine Voodoo practices with either Christianity or
However, local people say their religion has nothing
to do with sorcery or black magic, or the depiction
of Voodoo in Western films.
Catholic missionaries first arrived in Ouidah 150
years ago and the city boasts the largest Catholic
seminary in West Africa.
The city’s cathedral was built on land which was
originally a Voodoo “sacred bush” - where offerings
are made to the gods. It now overlooks a temple
where the snake-god is worshipped.
High-ranking Voodoo priests have been invited to
meet the Pope.
One of the Voodoo leaders, Dah Aligbonon, said he
hoped the pontiff would urge Roman Catholics to be
more tolerant of Africa’s traditional religions.
“I invite the Pope to tell his followers to stop
acts of provocation against the Voodoo culture,” he
said, Reuters reports.
Some 10,000 pilgrims are expected to travel from
neighbouring countries in the hope of seeing the
The Pope is expected to address the questions of
human rights, justice and reconciliation on the
On Saturday, he is to sign a formal apostolic
exhortation entitled The Pledge for Africa (Africae
Munus in Latin), which covers these subjects.
“May this document fall into the ground and take
root, grow and bear much fruit,” the Pope said upon