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Nation World  


 

Syria defies Arab League deadline
BBC: An Arab League deadline for Syria to allow an observer mission or face sanctions has passed with no response from Damascus to the ultimatum.
The deadline was set for 11:00 GMT. Earlier, the league warned it would meet on Saturday to discuss sanctions.
The league wants 500 observers to enter Syria to monitor the situation amid continuing protests, but Damascus has reportedly agreed to let in only 40.
Meanwhile, new evidence has emerged of protests turning into armed insurgency.
The BBC’s Paul Wood, who travelled without permission to Syria’s flashpoint city of Homs, reports that he saw a small but steady stream of defectors from the official security forces.
At least 11 people have been killed in the latest violence on Friday, say activists.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the UK, says the deaths occurred in Homs, Damascus, Deir el-Zour and in the southern province of Deraa.
Other activists - from the Local Co-ordination Committees based in Syria - say as many as 26 people have been killed.
A United Nations human rights panel has expressed alarm at reports it received of security forces in Syria torturing children.
The Geneva-based UN Committee against Torture says it has received “numerous, consistent and substantiated reports” of widespread abuse in the country.
“Of particular concern are reports referring to children who have suffered torture and mutilation while detained,” said the panel’s chairman, Claudio Grossman.
He also cited reports of “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention by police forces and the military; and enforced and involuntary disappearances”.
The committee said the Syrian authorities had been acting with total impunity while committing what it called “gross and pervasive” human rights violations.
The panel normally reviews each country’s record every four years, but took the unusual step Friday of issuing a spontaneous demand to the Syrian government to explain its actions.
More than 3,500 people have died since protests against the Syrian government began in March, the UN estimates.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad blames the violence on armed gangs and militants.
Syrian state television has also blamed militants for an attack on Thursday in which it said six elite military pilots were killed.
“An armed terrorist group undertook an evil assassination plot that martyred six pilots, a technical officer and three other personnel on an air force base between Homs and Palmyra,” a military spokesman was quoted as saying.
Reports on Thursday suggested that military defectors from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had said they carried out the attack, but an FSA spokesman later denied responsibility in a BBC interview.
The spokesman, Maher Al-Rahmoun al-Naaimi, said the claim had actually been posted on a fake Facebook page set up in the group’s name by Syrian intelligence.
Reports from Syria are difficult to verify as foreign journalists are unable to move around the country freely.
The Arab League set the deadline for Syria to sign the observer deal - which is a part of a broader peace plan - at a meeting in Cairo on Thursday.

 

India MPs in uproar over retail reform plans

BBC: There has been uproar in India’s parliament over the cabinet’s decision to open up the retail market to global supermarket chains.
One key government ally, the Trinamool Congress, joined opposition parties in shouting slogans and unfurling banners.
The lower house had to be adjourned, and Trade Minister Anand Sharma instead held a press conference to spell out details of the policy.
He said the “India-specific” scheme would create tens of millions of jobs.
The cabinet’s move allows 51% foreign direct ownership (FDI) of multi-brand retail stores, allowing groups like Tesco and Wal-Mart to open stores. Such operators currently can only sell wholesale in India and not directly to customers.
The policy is an executive decision and does not need parliament’s approval.
Supporters of the move say it will increase competition and quality while reducing prices, which have been hit by close to double-digit inflation.
Opponents say the multi-nationals will squeeze out India’s smaller and poorer traders and drive down prices paid to India’s farmers.
The Press Trust of India said Trinamool Congress members had rushed forward in the lower house, or Lok Sabha, demanding the decision be cancelled.
Members of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were among those protesting.
Trinamool Congress cabinet member and Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi said he had “registered his dissent” at the meeting on Thursday but “was overruled”.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee reportedly told him: “If you don’t want [foreign direct ownership] in West Bengal, it’s fine, but you can’t prevent other states from getting it.”
BJP member and former state chief minister Uma Bharti vowed a violent response to the move.
She said: “If Wal-Mart tries to open its mall anywhere, I will burn it myself.”
Mr Sharma had been expected to make a statement in parliament but instead spelled out details of the plans at a press conference.
He said: “We have a policy which is distinct and different. This policy is specific to India’s complexities, social structures and needs of our people.”
Mr Sharma said the main concern at present was that because of the poor refrigeration and distribution network, 50% of fresh produce was lost before it could reach retail.
The proposal sets a minimum investment limit of $100m per chain - 50% to go on developing rural infrastructure and establishing a cold-chain system - and 50% on front-end retailing, or stores.
“We also mandated that 30% of entire sourcing by retailers will be from small and medium enterprises,” he said.
The multi-brand retailers will be permitted only in cities with a population of one million or more.
Mr Sharma added: “The step which we have taken is an investment in the present and the future of this country.”
Delhi analysts Technopak Advisors, say modern stores have grown 20% a year for the past four years but there is much room for growth as less than 8% of retail spending in urban areas is in what it terms the “organised” sector.
A decision on the FDI issue had been pending for two years.
The cabinet also decided to raise the cap on foreign investment in single-brand retailing - such as Apple or Reebok - to 100%, from its current 51%.

 

Foreigners attacked in Timbuktu

BBC: An armed gang of kidnappers has abducted three tourists and killed a fourth in the city of Timbuktu in northern Mali, security sources said.
Two of the hostages are Dutch and the third a South African who may have lived in the UK, reports say. The nationalities have not been confirmed.
The dead man, said to be German, was shot dead trying to resist the gang.
It is believed to be the first time foreigners have been abducted in Timbuktu, once popular with tourists.
However, a group linked to al-Qaeda has attacked Westerners in nearby regions.
Following several kidnappings, the UK has warned its citizens not to travel to northern Mali, including Timbuktu.
On Thursday, two French geologists were kidnapped by an armed gang in the eastern village of Hombori.
The Timbuktu gunmen burst in as the four were dining in a restaurant on the central square of the ancient city.
They ordered the tourists there to follow them, a customer at Amanar restaurant told the Associated Press.
The owner of a hotel, where the four have previously stayed during their travel around Mali, told the BBC News website that one of them, a German, had been shot dead when he refused to get into the attackers’ vehicle.
He said he had been told by colleagues in Timbuktu that all foreigners in the city had been gathered at the police headquarters and would be flown to the capital, Bamako, on Saturday.
The incidents are the latest in a series of abductions of foreigners believed to be the work of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).
Correspondents say Aqim has bases in the northern Mali desert from which it organises raids and kidnappings, and traffics weapons and drugs.
French soldiers have joined Mali’s army in the hunt for the French pair kidnapped in Hombori, according to AFP.

 

Give me a chance, Kamal appeals to Egyptians

BBC: Prime Minister-designate Kamal Ganzouri has asked Egyptians to “give me a chance” as tens of thousands rally in Cairo against the military rulers.
In his first public comments since being named, he said he would not name a new government before Monday’s polls.
The protesters in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square want the parliamentary elections postponed.
Not far away, a smaller counter-demonstration was held in support of the military and the elections.
More than 40 people were killed earlier this week as the security forces tried to break up the massive protests, leading to the worst violence since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February.
But the BBC’s Lyse Doucet in Tahrir Square says a truce seems to have ended the clashes and a carnival atmosphere returned to the demonstrations on Friday.
People were letting off fireworks and shouting “Down with the military regime,” she says.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) is overseeing a transition to civilian rule.
Despite promises by the council to speed up the process, some protesters fear it intends to cling to power. They want military rule to end before parliamentary elections are held.
Yet many Egyptians want the polls to go ahead as planned. One influential group, the Muslim Brotherhood - which is expected to do well in the vote - is not supporting the Tahrir Square protests.
At least 10,000 people staged a rival rally on Friday in Abbasiya Square - near the defence ministry, north of Tahrir Square - to show support for the military’s electoral timetable
They chanted “Down with Tahrir” and “Yes to the military council”.
Washington has said power in Egypt should be transferred to civilians “as soon as possible”.
“The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately,” a White House statement said.

 

Basra blasts kill 19

BBC: At least 19 people have been killed in a series of bomb blasts in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, police and medical sources say.
At least 65 people were wounded in three explosions at a market in the centre of the port city.
Two of the blasts - involving a roadside bomb and a motorcycle - happened simultaneously, police said.
The third explosion then killed police and army officers who had gathered at the scene, reports say.
The last bomb caused most of the injuries, officials said.
Noufal Hassan, who owns a shop near the site of the explosions, said the market was a scene of carnage.
“I immediately went out of my shop and saw the blood. The nearest shops were shattered and the cars were burned,” he said.
Basra security official Ali al-Maliki said most of the victims were police and soldiers, including several senior officers.
It is not known who carried out the attacks.
The attack marked the deadliest day in Basra since 2 November, when 11 people were killed in separate incidents.
Basra is the largest city in the mainly Shia south of Iraq and is at the heart of the country’s oil industry. It is hosting a four-day conference for international oil executives and industry officials starting on Friday.
Violence has declined in Iraq since a peak in 2006 and 2007, but attacks on civilians remain common.
The attacks have raised concerns that violence might increase once the US military departs from Iraq.
All remaining US troops are due to leave by the end of this year after Washington and the Iraqi authorities failed to agree on plans to keep a US military training mission in Iraq after that deadline.

 

West Bengal on high alert over Maoist killing

BBC: The Indian state of West Bengal is on high alert amid fears of revenge attacks after police said they had shot dead top Maoist rebel Koteshwar Rao.
Police say they are now certain the man killed in Thursday’s clash is Rao, who is also known as “Kishenji”.
Maoist rebels have called for a two-day protest, saying he was murdered in an orchestrated or “fake encounter”.
Rao was one of the rebels’ most senior leaders and analysts say his death will be a major setback.
The authorities are yet to make a formal announcement as the rebel leader’s family is on the way to Calcutta to identify the body.
But authorities told the BBC’s Amitabha Bhattasali in Calcutta that “we hardly need any more confirmation”.
A picture of a body said to be that of Rao’s was released by the Reuters news agency but the face is not visible. However, several reporters who had regular contact with him were shown the corpse and confirmed that it was indeed that of the rebel leader.
The body has now been taken for a post-mortem.
West Bengal’s Maoist chief Akash said that “Kishenji was murdered in cold blood” and several human rights organisations have also demanded a formal inquiry into the incident.
Police maintain that Rao was killed after a gun battle between rebels and paramilitary forces in the Burishol forest in the Jamboni area of the state’s restive West Midnapur district.
“We had been continuously tracking him for last two days. Finally we got him at Burishol forest,” an officer involved in the operation said.