Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Breaking News

Breaking News

UN resolution could spur Syria civil war, Russia warns

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:38 AM PST

The Western-Arab drive to adopt a UN resolution on Syria is a "path to civil war", Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov has warned.

He told Interfax news agency it would "not lead to a search for compromise".

The resolution is set to be discussed at a UN Security Council meeting on the deepening Syrian crisis.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi will be asking the council to back the league's new plan calling on President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

But Russia had already threatened to veto any such resolution.

The diplomacy follows a day of particularly heavy bloodshed, with more than 100 people killed across Syria.

Activists say more than 40 civilians were among the dead in Monday's violence, but their claims cannot be independently verified as the the BBC and other international media are severely restricted inside Syria.

The UN has conceded it cannot keep track of the overall death toll, but estimates more than 5,400 people have been killed since the unrest began last March.

The latest draft of the resolution strongly condemns violence and human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

It calls on countries to stop the flow of arms to Syria, although it does not impose an arms embargo.

But the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN says the core of the plan is an endorsement for an Arab peace plan that would see President Assad delegate power to his deputy to oversee a political transition, our correspondent says.

The Russians have said this amounts to regime change. They have also criticised the document's threat of unspecified further measures if Syria does not comply.

Western nations are still hoping to convince Russia to at least abstain, rather than veto the resolution, our correspondent adds.
Running battlefield

Syria said on Monday the army had regained control of some Damascus suburbs recently held by rebel forces.

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the Arab League plan is ''vitally important''

The interior ministry described the battles of the past three days around the eastern edge of the capital as a "qualitative operation" by security forces, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

Troops had "finished off" a large number of "terrorists" and had arrested others, capturing large quantities of weapons, the ministry added.

Activists say security forces have also moved into the mountain town of Rankous, just to the north of Damascus, which had been surrounded and bombarded for nearly a week.

The city of Homs, further north, saw the highest toll on Monday with 72 dead, activists say.

Parts of Homs have become a running battlefield, with the government unable to restore control over several defiant quarters where armed rebels have been increasingly active, our correspondent says.
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image of Jim Muir Jim Muir BBC News, Beirut

It looks as though the violence in Syria could go on and on as there is nothing much the UN Security Council could do which would have an immediate effect on the ground.

Any resolution that emerges from New York won't involve sanctions - it may not even involve outright condemnation of the government, because the Western powers are very keen to get the Russians and Chinese and others on board for some kind of international consensus.

It's hard to see how anything can come out of the UN - despite all the efforts and good will on the part of a lot of people - which could make much difference on the ground.

    Russia bolsters embattled Assad

Activists say many civilians have died in bombardments and sniping, and have also reported sectarian killings and abductions, with two whole families murdered in recent days.

A Syrian foreign ministry official said of Western diplomatic moves that Syria would "defeat the policies of chaos", state news agency Sana said.

"We regret that those statements are still coming from countries accustomed to making the Middle East a field for their foolishness and failing experiments," the official added.

The plan has been backed by the US, UK and France, but rejected by the Syrian government.

France says 10 of the 15 countries on the Security Council now support the Arab League text. A minimum of nine council members must lend their backing in order for a resolution to be put to a vote.

However, Russia - as one of the five permanent council members - can veto any proposed resolution.

Moscow, which has maintained its ties with Damascus, has resisted moves for a UN resolution condemning the violence in Syria. Russia has a naval base in the country and supplies arms to Syria.
'Syrian' decision
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Where Security Council members stand

US, UK, France, Germany, Portugal, Morocco The UK and France drafted the resolution in consultation with the US, Germany, Portugal and Morocco, which is representing the Arab League

Russia Will veto any resolution imposing sanctions or authorising military intervention; says parts of the Western-Arab draft resolution are unacceptable

China, India, Pakistan and South Africa Diplomats say they have reservations about the draft, but are expected to follow Russia's lead

Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Colombia and Togo French diplomats say the other temporary members are "more convinced of the need for a resolution"

Other world and regional powers The resolution supports the Arab League's "political transition" plan for Syria; Turkey supports the Arab League stance; Iran, Syria's main regional ally, is opposed to any resolution; Brazil, until recently a temporary SC member, is said to be resisting action in Syria

But in comments reported by Interfax, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Moscow had "never said that [President] Assad's remaining in power is a prerequisite for a settlement. We said something else - we said that the decision has to be Syrian," he said.

"Some other external players," he added, "are egging opposition groups on to crawl away from this dialogue. This is wrong."

Mr Lavrov was speaking in Sydney, where he was quoted as saying he had declined a phone call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, explaining that "it was in the middle of my meetings with Australian partners".

The White House said countries weighing their options at the Security Council should take into account that Mr Assad would be ousted.

"The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall," said spokesman Jay Carney.

Earlier, the UK also urged Moscow to reconsider its opposition.

"Russia can no longer explain blocking the UN and providing cover for the regime's brutal repression," said a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Saturday, the Arab League announced it was suspending its month-old monitoring mission in Syria because of an upsurge of violence.
Damascus and suburbs

U.S. set for fourth year of $1 trillion-plus deficit: CBO

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:23 AM PST

(apsenews.com) - The United States is on track for a fourth straight year with a $1 trillion-plus budget deficit as a sluggish economy holds down corporate tax revenues, congressional forecasters said on Tuesday, but they warned that extension of payroll tax cuts would swell the gap even more.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the fiscal 2012 deficit would rise to $1.079 trillion from its previous estimate of $973 billion made last August. The U.S. posted $1.3 trillion deficits in each of the past two years after a record $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal 2009, President Barack Obama's first year in office.

Drones: What are they and how do they work?

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:12 AM PST

President Barack Obama has confirmed the US is 
using unmanned aircraft to target suspected militants in tribal areas of Pakistan. He defended the drone attacks, saying they made precision strikes and were kept on a "tight leash". What are drones used for and how are they controlled?

To the military, they are UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). However, they are more commonly known as drones.

Drones are used in situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. They provide troops with a 24-hour "eye in the sky", seven days a week. Each aircraft can stay aloft for up to 17 hours at a time, loitering over an area and sending back real-time imagery of activities on the ground.

Those used by the United States Air Force and Royal Air Force range from small intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance craft, some light enough to be launched by hand, to medium-sized armed drones and large spy planes.
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Key uses

    Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
    Checking for roadside bombs or devices on landing areas
    Listening to mobile phone conversations
    Helping understand daily routine of locals to see what is normal behaviour
    Close Air Support
    Following or attacking suspected insurgents

Although the US does not routinely speak publicly about operations involving drones, President Obama has confirmed that they regularly strike suspected militants in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The use of such unmanned aircraft in the area began under President George W Bush, but their use has more than doubled under the Obama administration.

Drones are seen by many in the military as delivering precision strikes without the need for more intrusive military action. However, they are not without controversy.

Hundreds of people have been killed by the strikes in Pakistan - civilians as well as militants, causing outrage. One of the deadliest attacks was in March 2011 when 40 were killed, many believed to be civilians at a tribal meeting.
Key drone types

Two of the medium-sized drones currently in use in Afghanistan and Pakistan are the MQ-1B Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper.

These strange-looking planes carry a wealth of sensors in their bulbous noses: colour and black-and-white TV cameras, image intensifiers, radar, infra-red imaging for low-light conditions and lasers for targeting. They can also be armed with laser-guided missiles.

Each multi-million dollar Predator or Reaper system comprises four aircraft, a ground control station and a satellite link.

Although drones are unmanned, they are not unpiloted - trained crew at base steer the craft, analyse the images which the cameras send back and act on what they see.
How drones work

The base may be local to the combat zone or thousands of miles away - many of the drone missions in Afghanistan are controlled from Creech air force base in Nevada, USA - although take-off and landing are always handled locally.

The MQ-1B Predator (formerly called the RQ-1 Predator) was originally designed as an aircraft for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, identifying targets and reconnaissance.

However, since 2002 it has been equipped with two Hellfire II missiles, meaning it can strike at a range of up to 8km (five miles).

By contrast, the newer MQ-9 Reaper was conceived as a "hunter-killer" system.

It can carry four Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs such as Paveway II and GBU-12.

Its cruise speed is 370kph (230mph), much faster than the 217kph (135mph) of the Predator which is more vulnerable to being shot down at low altitudes - although the drones would usually be flown above the range of most of the weapons available to the Taliban.
Future craft

The US Army revealed in December that it was also developing new helicopter-style drones with 1.8 gigapixel colour cameras, which promised "an unprecedented capability to track and monitor activity on the ground".
Taranis Britain's prototype Taranis is designed to fend off attack

Three of the A160 Hummingbird sensor-equipped drones are due to go into service in Afghanistan in either May or June this year.

The drones will take advantage of the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance-Imaging System first or Argus-IS, which can provide real-time video streams at the rate of 10 frames a second. The army said that was enough to track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet (6.1km) across almost 65 square miles (168 sq km).

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also working with the UK-based defence contractor BAE Systems to develop a more advanced version of the Argus-IS sensor that will offer night vision.

It said the infrared imaging sensors would be sensitive enough to follow "dismounted personnel at night".
British capability

British forces also use a variety of remotely piloted aircraft. The British Army has used the Hermes 450 UAV in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller UAVs to help check for roadside bombs ahead of patrols.

The Hermes 450 is being upgraded to the Watchkeeper which, like the Reaper, can be armed. It is due to enter service in 2012.

The RAF also uses the higher-spec Reaper aircraft, with 10 in active service. In May last year, the RAF announced a new squadron of the drones would be controlled for the first time from a UK base. The Reaper had previously been controlled by RAF crews in the US.

In July 2010, the UK Ministry of Defence unveiled Taranis, its prototype unmanned combat air vehicle which is designed to be able to fend off attack as well as perform the intelligence gathering, surveillance and strike roles of other UAVs.

PSUs to invest Rs 1.40 lakh crore next year; PM wants more

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 07:02 AM PST

NEW DELHI: As India looks at "domestic growth drivers" in a difficult global environment, 17 top PSUs will invest a whopping Rs 1,40,000 crore next year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

Asking more investment from the state-owned firms, Singh said, "I would encourage the remaining central public sector units (CPSUs) also to similarly pay attention to boosting capital investment.

"Public investment is needed at a time when the country is facing a difficult global environment and looking to domestic drivers of growth".

Giving away the SCOPE excellence awards to top-performing PSUs, the Prime Minister said, "I am extremely happy to learn that 17 of our largest CPSUs have committed to investment plans amounting to Rs 1,40,000 crore in the coming year".

He also asked these firms, especially in the mining sector to scout for assets abroad for raw material security.

"Notwithstanding the difficulties, we must step up our performance in mining, especially in production of coal, oil and gas," Singh said, adding companies in the mining sector should "seriously explore opportunities for such acquisitions". The Union Cabinet recently approved a policy on acquisition of raw material abroad and the Indian missions have also been asked to chip in the strategic initiative.

Singh said India needs huge investments - both public and private particularly in the area of infrastructure.

Assuring government support, he said, "we are of the clear view that both public and private sector need to work together to meet the demands of our rapidly growing economy".

Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary to the Prime Minister, recently met PSU chiefs asking them to roll out their investment plans to boost the domestic demand.

Afghan police: Man kills wife for giving birth to daughter instead of son

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:58 AM PST

Kunduz, Afghanistan (apsenews.com) -- Police in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz are looking for a man they say strangled his wife after she bore him a third child that was not a son.

Sher Mohammed, 29, married his 22-year-old wife, Storay, four years ago, police said.

The couple had three daughters, the last of whom was born three months ago, said Khanabad district police chief Sufi Habib.

After the youngest daughter was born, Mohammed blamed his wife for not being able to deliver a boy, Habib said.

"Finally on Saturday, the man, with the help of his mother, first beat the woman and then strangled her to death," the police chief said.

Khanabad is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Kunduz city.

Police arrested the mother, Wali Hazrata, and detained her at the Kunduz city jail. But her son fled.

In a jailhouse interview, Hazrata said her son's wife committed suicide out of guilt.

"My son did not commit the crime," Hazrata said. "... But after three daughters, Storay herself felt guilty and committed suicide."

The report comes weeks after Afghan police said they rescued a 15-year-old girl who was locked up in the basement of her in-laws' house, starved, and had her nails pulled out.

The girl, Sahar Gul, was married off to a 30-year-old man last year. Authorities in northern Baghlan province said the girl reportedly was tortured after she refused to submit to prostitution.

Activists say women continue to suffer in parts of Afghanistan despite overall progress since the fall of the Taliban.

In the second quarter of last year, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) registered 1,026 cases of violence against women. In 2010, 2,700 cases were recorded.

In December, gunmen attacked and sprayed an Afghan family with acid in their home after the father rejected a man's bid to marry his teenage daughter.

In another case, a 21-year-old, identified only as Gulnaz for her own protection, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after she reported that her cousin's husband had raped her.

Her plight attracted international attention when it came out that she had agreed to marry her attacker to gain her freedom and legitimize a daughter conceived in the attack. She was eventually freed, following the president's intervention.

Horia Mosadiq, a London-based Afghan researcher for the rights group Amnesty International, said that the abuse inflicted on Storay Mohammed is not an isolated instance.

"Generally the human rights situation, and particularly women's rights, is deteriorating," she told CNN. "I am in constant contact with women's rights groups across the country, and they say they are seeing an increase in violence."

This is in part because the Afghan government does little to implement or enforce the laws that protect women's rights, she said.

She also sees it as a consequence of women across the country gaining greater awareness of their rights, which is leading both to a backlash from men and to more cases of violence being reported.

On top of that, the Afghan government's move toward peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban has led many people to think that the current oppression of women will simply continue as it is, Mosadiq said.

"We need to make sure that we protect the women -- it's so important that women's rights in Afghanistan are non-negotiable," she said.

The alleged involvement of Storay Mohammed's mother-in-law in her abuse is not unusual, Mosadiq added, as women often play a role in violence against other women within the family, as do husbands, fathers and brothers.

And there is a heavy cultural pressure to bear sons, who are viewed as the breadwinners, she said, with the birth of a daughter seen as a burden rather than something to celebrate.

If the situation of Afghan women is to improve, Mosadiq said, a strong political will is needed at the government level, backed up by strong pressure from the international community.

Atlantic Odyssey rowers rescued after capsizing

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:53 AM PST

Six rowers have been rescued from their life raft after capsizing in the Atlantic Ocean during a record attempt.

The crew of the Sara G - five British men and one from the Irish Republic - had been trying to row from Morocco to Barbados in under 30 days.

They were 27 days into their journey when the 36ft (11m) vessel overturned.

President Obama on Richard O'Dwyer extradition case

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:49 AM PST

US President Barack Obama has said he is not personally involved in the extradition case of Richard O'Dwyer, a British student accused of setting up a website that gave people access to films and TV shows for free in violation of copyright laws.
Mr Obama said the administration wanted to ensure that intellectual property is protected ''in a way that is consistent with internet freedom''.
The president made his comments during an hour-long video "hangout" on Google's social network, Google+, which was also streamed live on YouTube.

Supreme Court pulls up PMO, government says ruling not a setback

Posted: 31 Jan 2012 06:37 AM PST

NEW DELHI: Indicting the PMO but letting the Prime Minister off lightly on failure to decide on prosecuting the then telecom minister A Raja in the 2G case, the Supreme Court today set a limit of four months for deciding the issue of sanction for prosecution of corrupt public servants.

Allowing Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy's petition against the Delhi high court judgement refusing to direct the Prime Minister on his plea for prosecution of Raja, the apex court upheld the right of a private citizen to seek sanction for prosecution of a public servant for corruption.

Rejecting Attorney General G E Vahanvati's arguments, a bench comprising justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly held that Swamy had the locus standi to seek sanction.

The apex court blamed the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for sitting on the plea to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for granting sanction to prosecute Raja.

It said that those who were "duty bound" to apprise the Prime Minister about the "seriousness" of the allegations to enable him to take appropriate decision in the matter "failed" to do so. "Unfortunately, those who were expected to give proper advice to Prime Minister and place full facts and legal position before him failed to do so.

"We have no doubt that if the Prime Minister had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant, he would have surely taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for a period of more than one year," the bench said.

The court said sanction should be granted within a time frame and the competent authority shall take action in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the apex court in the Vineet Narain case of 1998 (three months for grant of sanction and additional one month time may be allowed where consultation is required with the Attorney General).

Justice Ganguly, who wrote a separate judgement, agreed with Justice Singhvi and said sanction would be deemed to be granted if the competent authority fails to take a decision within a period of four months.

Further, he said since the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) does not provide for a time limit, Parliament may consider "introducing a time limit in section 19 of the Act for its working in a reasonable manner".

On the handling of the issue by the Prime Minister, who was the competent authority in this case, the bench said "By the very nature of the office held by him, Prime Minister is not expected to personally look into the minute details of each and every case placed before him and has to depend on his advisers and other officers". It said the officers in the PMO and the Ministry of Law and Justice, were "duty bound" to apprise about "seriousness" of allegations made by Swamy.

The bench also set aside the high court order which had refused to direct the Prime Minister to take decision on granting sanction to prosecute Raja saying that it had passed the order on a wrong presumption that it was PM who had ordered CBI probe in the scam.

"The high court had proceeded under a wholly erroneous assumption that PM had directed investigation by the CBI into the allegations of grave irregularities in the grant of licences," the bench said.

The apex court said the inquiry was done by the CVC which had forwarded its report to the CBI for making investigation to establish criminal conspiracy in the allocation of 2G spectrum.

"The material placed on record does not show that the CBI had registered a case or started investigation at the instance of PM," it said.

The bench also thrashed aside the governemnt stand that Swamy had no locus standi and the grant of sanction for prosecution of a public servent arises only at the stage of taking cognisance of the case by the court.

"The argument of the Attorney General that the question of granting sanction for prosecution of a public servant charged with an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 arises only at the stage of taking cognizance and not before that is neither supported by the plain language of the section nor the judicial precedents relied upon by him," the bench said.

"There is no provision either in the 1988 Act or the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) which bars a citizen from filing a complaint for prosecution of a public servant who is alleged to have committed an offence.

"Therefore, the argument of the Attorney General that the appellant cannot file a complaint for prosecuting Raja merits rejection," the bench said while holding that Swamy has right to file a complaint for prosecution of DMK leader under the Act.

'Victory for war against corruption'

Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy today welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on the issue of grant of sanction for prosecution of public servants, saying it has "simplified the issue" in graft cases lodged under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA).

Terming the ruling as a "victory for the Constitution and the war against corruption", Swamy said it has also "empowered all of us who are fighting against corruption."

"It has empowered the citizen to go directly to the court to seek an inquiry against any act of corruption without seeking a sanction," he said.

Swamy also lauded the apex court for fixing a four months' deadline for the sanctioning authority to take a decision on a plea for grant of sanction to prosecute a public servant, failing which the sanction would be deemed to have been given.

"The delay won't be accepted beyond three months as the government has to decide on sanction and if they want to consult the Attorney General, then one month more. So, maximum within four months, it (government) has to decide, else it will be treated as deemed sanction," he said.

He also urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to issue an ordinance amending section 19 of the PCA, which deals with grant of sanction for prosecution of a public servant.

"I urge the Prime Minister (PM) to atone for his past delay by issuing an ordinance amending section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act," he said.

Swamy said that the PM can now be approached directly by any private person seeking sanction. "Anybody can (now) get inquiry conducted by the court without needing any sanction. Sanction is required only at the stage of trial and not at the stage of inquiry," he further said.

PMO reacts:

Minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), V Narayanasamy, on Tuesday said the Supreme Court verdict in the telecom scam petition case was not a setback to the government.

Narayanasamy said the government would give detail comment after reading the verdict.

"After going through the entire judgment we will be able to give our comments on that - the official comment we will give. But before that I would like to say that the Supreme Court has also said that Parliament has to frame the guidelines on that. Already the Lokpal bill is there. In any other area if something has to be done, we will go by what the Supreme Court says. No, it not a set back to the government," Narayanasamy told reporters in New Delhi.

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