|Syria defies Arab League
|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
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
“Of particular concern are reports referring to
children who have suffered torture and mutilation
while detained,” said the panel’s chairman, Claudio
He also cited reports of “extrajudicial, summary or
arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention by police
forces and the military; and enforced and
The committee said the Syrian authorities had been
acting with total impunity while committing what it
called “gross and pervasive” human rights
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
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
Reports from Syria are difficult to verify as
foreign journalists are unable to move around the
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
One key government ally, the Trinamool Congress,
joined opposition parties in shouting slogans and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
They ordered the tourists there to follow them, a
customer at Amanar restaurant told the Associated
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’
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
|Give me a chance, Kamal
appeals to Egyptians
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
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
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
|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
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
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
|West Bengal on high alert over
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
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
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
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.