Tuesday, 3 January 2012

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How To Get Your Sleep On Track After The Holidays

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:33 AM PST

Have trouble waking up this morning? You're not alone. The holidays are officially over -- and for many of us, it's back to work today.

"I think it's inevitable that we are going to have to pay the piper," says HuffPost blogger Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., sleep specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine. "If we're stealing time from sleep, we're going to have to pay it back."

Those seemingly requisite holiday cheer activities, such as enjoying a day off work by sleeping in, drinking alcohol at a party, traveling to see family and ringing in the New Year at midnight Sunday morning, can really alter your circadian rhythms, making it difficult to readjust to waking up for normal everyday life.

"This is a kind of stationary jet lag," Naiman explains, where you have pushed your internal body clock ahead one, two or even three hours. "We're actually abruptly shifting to another time zone."

And so the interventions aren't unlike those you'd use to adjust to flying from California back to New York -- Naiman says the key is to use light or light substitutes in the morning and darkness or darkness substitutes in the evening to realign your body clock.

Soak up some bright light outside when you first wake up, suggests HuffPost blogger Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., CEO of the Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine and chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation -- even better if you can combine some outdoor exercise. If going outside isn't possible, spend some time in front of an artificial light box. "That will help reset your clock, your circadian rhythms," he says.

During the day, reserve caffeinated beverages for the morning, and avoid them in the late afternoon and evening. "You don't want to start a vicious cycle of not being able to sleep," Rosenberg explains. And, if you work in a place where it's acceptable to grab a quick catnap, go for it (unless you suffer from insomnia, which can only make the problem worse).

At night, Rosenberg says not to worry if you can't snap back into an earlier bedtime right away. "What's really important is to set a regular wakeup time," he explains. "The bedtime will eventually reset itself." If you can't sleep after a few minutes, get up out of bed and do a non-stressful, non-work related activity. "Don't spend hours in bed wondering when sleep is going to happen. It perpetuates insomnia because you're over thinking it."

Rosenberg says your internal body clock should re-sync itself in a few days (if you have problems beyond that, you may want to speak with a doctor).

And Naiman underscores the importance of letting the readjustment happen slowly and naturally -- a "quick fix" of increased caffeine consumption during the day and alcohol and sleeping pills at night should not be the answer. "That can take a challenging situation and make it worse," he says. Instead, he recommends having faith in your body, and taking a small dose of melatonin between 15 and 30 minutes before you go to bed, if it helps.

"One of the things that I think is really important is to remember that the body and the brain are exquisitely resilient," he says. "We're built to take these kind of changes."

Iran Warns U.S. Against Sending Carrier to Gulf

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:28 AM PST

The head of Iran's army warned the U.S. against sending an aircraft carrier back to the Persian Gulf after it passed through the Strait of Hormuz a week ago.

"We usually don't repeat our warning, and we warn only once," Ataollah Salehi was cited as saying by the state-run Fars news agency. "We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf."

The USS John C. Stennis, which Iran said it spotted during naval exercises, passed eastward through the Strait of Hormuz on Dec. 27 on a routine voyage and was operating in the northern Arabian Sea, said the U.S. 5th Fleet, which has a base in Bahrain. Salehi spoke today at a ceremony to mark the completion of 10 days of maneuvers by the Iranian navy on the east side of the strait in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran will block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on its crude exports, as the U.S. and European Union have threatened, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said on Dec. 27, citing Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi. Navy Commander Habibollah Sayyari said the blockage would be "easy," according to the country's Press TV.

About 15.5 million barrels of oil a day, or a sixth of global consumption, passes through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

The U.S. Navy said Dec. 28 that it won't tolerate a disruption to shipping in the strait.

Iran, the world's third-largest oil exporter, is facing new trade restrictions aimed at halting what the U.S. and allies say is a plan to build nuclear weapons. Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to visit Iran soon, the Fars news agency cited Foreign Ministry

Barclays cuts Intel, Applied Materials to equal weight

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:26 AM PST

U.S. semiconductor stocks are in for a "volatile" 2012 as inventory correction extends into the first quarter, and an industry recovery due only in the second half, Barclays Capital said and downgraded five stocks, including Intel Corp.

Barclays lowered its ratings on Intel, Applied Materials Inc, Freescale Semiconductor Holdings Ltd, Microchip Technology Inc and Spansion Inc to "equal weight" from "overweight."

"First quarter should be the trough for semis given the ongoing inventory correction, coupled with supply chain constraints, due to muted end demand visibility," Barclays analyst C J Muse wrote in a note to clients.

Muse now expects U.S. semiconductor revenue growth to come in flat to 4 percent in 2012. He had earlier forecast growth of 2-5 percent.

According to Thomson Reuters' Starmine data, Muse is a four star-rated analyst for the accuracy of his earnings estimates on the companies under his coverage universe, which include Intel and Applied Materials.

Intel, which cut its fourth-quarter outlook citing hard drive shortages, will also see lower demand for its core PC business, Muse said.

Applied Materials is also likely to experience headwinds in its flat panel display and solar photovoltaic businesses, said the analyst.

Barclays' Muse sees volatility in the semiconductor space in 2012 with the emergence of new architecture, new computing platforms, expected refresh in operating systems, more players and the ongoing shortage in hard drives.

The analyst, however, expects semiconductor stocks to outperform end markets in the second half of 2012 and expects a 6-8 percent growth rate in 2013.

Barclays upgraded Cymer Inc, LSI Corp, Micron Technology Inc to "overweight" from "equal weight."

The Philadelphia semiconductor index fell 12 percent since the start of 2011 to end the year at 364.44 points, as the industry was hit by disruptions in supply chains with the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and flooding in Thailand.

Don't come back to Gulf, Iran warns US carrier; oil prices jump above $101

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:21 AM PST

TEHRAN: Iran's army chief on Tuesday warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf in Tehran's latest tough rhetoric over the strategic waterway, part of a feud with the United States over new sanctions that has sparked a jump in oil prices.

Gen. Ataollah Salehi spoke as a 10-day Iranian naval exercise ended near the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. Iranian officials have said the drill aimed to show that Iran could close the vital oil passage, as it has threatened to do if the United States enacts strong new sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

The strait, leading into the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea, is the only possible route for tankers transporting crude from the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf to markets. A sixth of the world's oil exports passes through it every day.

Oil prices rose to over $101 a barrel on Tuesday amid concerns that rising tensions between Western powers and Iran could lead to crude supply disruptions. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for February delivery was up $2.67 to $101.50 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The jump came a day after Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile as part of the maneuvers, prompting Iran's navy chief to boast that the strait is "completely under our control."

Salehi's warning for the US aircraft carrier not to come back seemed aimed at further depicting the strait and the Gulf as under Iran's domination, though there was little way to enforce his warning without military action. The strait is divided between Iran and Oman's territorial waters, and international law requires them to allow free passage through it.

"We recommend to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went to Gulf of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf," Salehi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

He said Iran's enemies have understood the message of the naval exercises, saying, "We have no plan to begin any irrational act but we are ready against any threat."

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and another vessel exited the Gulf through the Hormuz Strait a week ago, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port, according to the US Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The Fleet did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Salehi's warning.

Iran's sabre-rattling over the strait and the Gulf has come in response to US preparations to impose tough new sanctions that would ban dealings with Iran's Central Bank. That would deeply hurt Iran's oil exports since most countries and companies use the bank to conduct purchases of Iranian crude. Iran relies on oil revenues for around 80 per cent of its budget, meaning a cut-off would be devastating to its already weakening economy.

President Barack Obama has signed the sanctions into law but has not yet enacted them. The sanctions would be the strongest yet by the US, aimed at forcing Tehran to back of its nuclear program, which many in the West say is intended to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the claim, saying its program is peaceful.

French foreign minister Alain Juppe said on Tuesday that is country wants Europe to agree on similar sanctions against Iran by Jan 30 to show its determination to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He told the French television station i>TELE that there is "no doubt" that Iran is continuing with plans to build a bomb.

Iran's naval maneuvers took place over a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of water beyond the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, as well as parts of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, according to Iranian officials.

A leading Iranian lawmaker said on Sunday the maneuvers served as practice for closing the strait if the West enacts sanctions blocking Iranian oil sales. Top Iranian officials made the same threat last week.

Taliban say office in Qatar has been agreed

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:17 AM PST

The Afghan Taliban said Tuesday they have reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political office in the Gulf nation of Qatar, and asked for the release of prisoners held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

The Taliban office is seen by Western and Afghan officials as a crucial step to moving forward with secretive attempts to reach a negotiated end to a decade of war in Afghanistan.

"We are right now ready ... to have a political office overseas, in order to have an understanding with the international (community), and in this regard we have reached an initial understanding with Qatar and relevant sites," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement.

Afghanistan's high peace council said in late December Kabul would accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar -- although Saudi Arabia and Turkey were Afghanistan's preferred choices -- but underlined that no foreign power could get involved in the negotiating process without its consent.

Senior U.S. officials told Reuters late last month that, after 10 months of dialogue with the Taliban, talks had reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible.

As part of the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy, the United States is considering the transfer of several high-profile Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.

Mujahid also called for the release of Taliban prisoners.

"The Islamic Emirate has also asked for the release of the Guantanamo prisoners," the statement said, using the Afghan Taliban's own name for its movement.

Afghanistan's leaders have expressed concerns that any office be used only as an address to help negotiators verify the identity of anyone claiming to represent the Taliban, rather than as a base to build political clout.

The call for an address came after a series of failed efforts by Afghans and their Western allies, some of them with interlocutors who turned out to be frauds.

These culminated in the September, 2010, assassination of Karzai's top peace envoy by a man accepted as a Taliban representative, which appeared to destroy the president's appetite for negotiations, but he has recently renewed his support.

Egyptians head to polls again in parliament vote

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:15 AM PST

Party agents flooded the streets with banners and verses from the Koran as the third phase of Egypt's parliamentary election began on Tuesday, with Islamists trying to dominate an assembly that will rival the clout of the ruling generals.

The army faced anger over its handling of protests that left 17 people dead in Cairo last month and an economic crisis has made it harder to meet the aspirations of citizens yearning for a better life since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

In an industrial region north of Cairo where labor disputes over low wages preceded the wider protests that brought down Mubarak, optimism was high as residents lined up to vote.

"I am glad to be alive to witness this - a free election in Egypt," said Ahmed Ali al-Nagar, a carpenter in his late 50s from Mahalla el-Kubra. "Workers had a big impact on the political outcome we are living through these days."

Islamists came late to the uprising that unseated Mubarak in February, but were well placed to seize the moment when Egyptians were handed the first chance in six decades to choose their representatives freely.

The military says the parliamentary vote will not be derailed by the eruptions of violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) led after the first two rounds, and the strong showing by Islamist movements has sown unease among Western powers that only disowned Mubarak when his three-decade rule was crumbling.

Many citizens see the first fair election they can remember as a chance to end the blight of incompetent leadership and a culture of venality among the powerful that enriched a few and left millions in poverty.

The concluding vote to parliament's lower house takes in regions of the rural south, which has the largest proportions of Christian voters, the Nile Delta region north of the capital Cairo, and the restive Sinai desert region to the east.

Turnout has been far higher and the election atmosphere less tense than in Mubarak's day, when ballot stuffing, thuggery and vote-rigging guaranteed landslide wins for his party.

In Mahalla and the wealthier city of Mansoura, queues at polling stations were shorter than in previous rounds but voting appeared orderly.

Streets were dotted with the posters of parties, especially the Brotherhood and hardline Islamist al-Nour party, promising an end to corruption.

"I have chosen to vote for the Freedom and Justice Party as I like its talk and I think it has a long history and experience and I think they will help us the most," said Amany al-Mursy, a smiling middle-aged woman from Mansoura.

"And if it does not do as we hoped, Tahrir Square is still there. If something goes wrong, we will go out and say something is wrong and remove the wrong people and replace them."


Egyptians turned out in unprecedented numbers in the first two rounds and parties ranging from hardline Islamists to liberals and secularists are competing hard for every vote.

Brotherhood banners in Mahalla carried its motto "Islam is the solution" alongside its FJP party logo, in defiance of a ban on religious slogans. In Minya in the rural south, some campaign banners carried verses from the Koran.

Flyers for the hardline Islamist al-Nour party carried names of influential families who had lent their support. Nour drew on the grass-roots influence of the Salafi clerics who founded it to take second spot in the first voting rounds.

Monitors praised the first two rounds as relatively free of irregularities, while noting that many parties had defied a ban on campaigning outside polling stations in election day.

But police raids on pro-democracy and rights groups last week have disrupted the work of leading Western-backed election monitors and drawn accusations that the army was deliberately trying to weaken oversight of the vote and silence opponents.

The government said the raids were part of an investigation into illegal foreign funding of political parties and not aimed at weakening rights groups, which have been among the fiercest critics of the army's rule.

The United States called on Egyptian authorities to halt "harassment" of the groups involved. Egypt's government said some of the groups had no permits to operate in the country.

The U.S.-funded International Republican Institute (IRI) said it was invited by Egypt's government to monitor the election and gave no funding to parties or civic groups.

It urged the government to let staff return to their offices and obtain the official permits they had long requested and said there was no reason to stop it monitoring the vote.

Another U.S.-backed group, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), said it was pressing ahead with monitoring even though police had not returned equipment, documents and money they seized without providing a warrant or an inventory.

"NDI hopes that the confiscated items will be returned promptly," it said, so the group can "resume a constructive dialogue with the appropriate authorities about its work and legitimate efforts to support the democratic process in Egypt."

Fourteen million eligible voters in nine regions were choosing who occupies 150 of the seats in parliament. The staggered lower-house election concludes with a run-off vote on January 10 and 11, with final results expected on January 13.

women terrorists

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:12 AM PST

NEW DELHI: The Lashkar-e-Taiba is raising a group of 21 female terrorists at its training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for carrying out sabotage activities in India, Army sources said on Tuesday.

"We have confirmed reports that LeT is imparting training to 21 selected female terrorists at its training facilities in Muzaffarabad in PoK for carrying out terrorist activities in India," an Army official said here.

They said the new group, named as Dukhtareen-e-Taiba, is planned to be made active in the Kashmir Valley by the LeT.

In the recent past also, reports have suggested presence of female terrorists operatives in the 42 active terror training camps in PoK.

The women terrorists are planned to be infiltrated into India through routes in Uri sector or using the aerial route through some other country.

Sources said the raising of the female terror group was brainchild of LeT senior functionary and mastermind of Mumbai terror attacks Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

They said the terror group has suffered serious setbacks in Jammu and Kashmir with the elimination of their top leadership by the security forces.

They are also working on recruiting local youth in certain areas of the state, including Pulwama, to expand terror network and the task has been assigned to a person, Usman Bhai alias Chhota Rehman, they said.

Meteor shower to kick off 2012

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:06 AM PST

The Quadrantids, named for a now-extinct constellation, will be visible for two hours early Wednesday, from about 3 to 5 a.m. local times.

The shower is likely to produce up to 100 falling stars an hour, making for a good show. People across North America who stay up late enough, and who have a clear sky, should get a nice view, says Conrad Jung, an astronomer at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.

Other than typical January temperatures, the weather should cooperate for watchers: "Viewing should be great over most of the country," reports Weather Channel meteorologist Mark Ressler. The only potentially cloudy spots should be in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes and parts of the Northeast, he says.

It's possible that the East may get a more intense shower because it will go through the densest part of the debris stream first. "But that doesn't mean the West won't see anything," he says.

"There should be a meteor every minute or so at the very least," he says.

The shower is called the "Quads" by astronomers, says Bill Cooke, who tracks "space rocks" as director of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "They're one of the more active meteor showers of the year, but they're not seen by many people" because they occur in early morning hours in winter, he says. "It's very cold around that time, so people don't want to go outside."

The Quadrantids are also less seen because they're short-lived and relatively little is known about them, he says. The Quadrantids are visible for two hours, then are gone for a year.

The meteors will be coming out of the northern portion of the sky, between a somewhat obscure constellation called Bo├Âtes and the handle of the Big Dipper.

As for the somewhat odd name of Quandrantids, it's pronounced Quad-RON-tihds, Jung says. Its name comes from a so-called extinct constellation called the Quadrans Muralis. That doesn't mean the stars have disappeared, only that it's a constellation that's no longer recognized by the International Astronomical Union. It fell by the wayside in the early 20th century, when the constellations were formalized, Jung says.

The shower comes from the remnants of a comet named 2003EH1, which probably broke up in the past 500 years. The tiny particles of rock that remain will enter Earth's atmosphere at 90,000 mph, burning up 50 miles above the surface and creating the falling stars that gazers will see.

"It's possible that 2003EH1 was seen by the Chinese back in the 1490s as a comet, so something the Chinese saw over five centuries ago is probably the parent of the Quadrantids," Cooke says.

Authorities probe cause of Florida women's clinic blaze

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:04 AM PST

Accelerant-sniffing dogs will be at a Pensacola, Florida, women's clinic Tuesday as authorities work to determine the cause of a blaze early Sunday that caused extensive damage to the building, officials said.

"We have determined the fire originated outside the building, but haven't determined the exact cause," said Deborah Cox, spokeswoman for the Florida State Fire Marshal's office.

Agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have joined local authorities in the investigation into the fire at the American Family Planning clinic, Cox said.

Over work

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 07:00 AM PST

two persons who are working 18 hour a day!
VEENA Malik 



Rahman Malik

This statement was given by a famous politician of pakistan

Stephen Lawrence murder: Dobson and Norris found guilty

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 06:52 AM PST

Two men have been convicted of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence - 18 years after the attack.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, were found guilty by a jury at the Old Bailey after a trial focused on forensic evidence seized in 1993.

Scientists found a tiny blood stain on Dobson's jacket that could only have come from Mr Lawrence.

As he was led down, Gary Dobson told the jury they had condemned an "innocent man".

Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville, wept in court as the jury found both men guilty. Duwayne Brooks, Stephen's best friend who had been with him on the night of the murder, tweeted: "Some justice at last".

The original failed investigation led to the Metropolitan Police being branded as institutionally racist.

Stephen Lawrence was 18 when he was stabbed to death near a bus stop in Eltham, south London, in April 1993. Police identified five men who were later named in a damning public inquiry as the "prime suspects".
Continue reading the main story

    Tiny blood stain on Dobson's jacket
    Scientists found DNA and matched it to Stephen
    Clothing fibres matched victim's clothes
    Single 2mm hair matched to teenager

By that time there had already been a catalogue of police errors and two failed prosecutions, one brought by Stephen's parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence.

But in a four-year-long cold case review, a fresh team of forensic scientists uncovered microscopic evidence linking the men to the murder - evidence that the police had held all along.

The material - blood stains, clothing fibres and a single hair belonging to the teenager - were recovered from the clothes of the suspects which had been seized in 1993.

Scientists recovered the material using advanced techniques which were not available to the original case scientists.

Dobson and Norris, who denied the murder, said their clothing had been contaminated as police mixed up evidence down the years. Detectives spent months establishing the movements and handling of the exhibits since 1993 - and the jury were told that contamination was implausible.

Gary Dobson, jailed in 2010 for drugs trafficking, is among a small number of men to have been tried twice for the same crime after the Court of Appeal quashed his 1996 acquittal for the murder.


In an exclusive interview with the BBC's Panorama, Stephen's mother Doreen Lawrence said: "I don't forgive the boys who killed Stephen. They don't think they have done anything wrong.

"They took away Stephen's life and there is nothing in their behaviour or anything to show they they regret what their actions have done and the pain it has caused us as a family."

Acting Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick, who ordered the 2006 cold case review that led to the convictions, said the case had been extremely important for the Lawrence family, the Metropolitan Police and society at large.

She said: "It has been a unique case in policing. Firstly the horrible, horrible nature of the attack on the night. The time in which it has taken to bring anybody to justice and the tireless campaigning of the Lawrences.

"There is no comparable case. All homicide cases are terrible, but for us it is a very important case. Most importantly we wanted to be able to bring people to justice for the killing and try to give Doreen and Neville Lawrence and their family some sense of justice."

Taliban back Western proposal to open Qatar office

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 06:48 AM PST

The Taliban say they have reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political office, possibly in Qatar, as part of Western plans to end the war.

A statement confirmed the move, which has been backed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Both the US and Germany have been pushing for such a representation in an effort to kick-start negotiations.

The office is seen by some as a key step towards ending the 10-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.

The move was welcomed by the Afghan High Peace Council, which is seeking a negotiated end to the war, as "a gesture of good faith".

But it still remains unclear if the insurgents, who claim to be winning the war, are prepared to engage in truly meaningful peace talks - and whether they could take place while international forces continue to kill Taliban fighters and commanders, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul.
Importance of address

In their statement, the insurgents said Afghanistan's "current problem" began with the US-led invasion of 2001 and "the two main sides which were involved in this are the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] and on the other side is the United States and their foreign allies".
Continue reading the main story
image of Quentin Sommerville Quentin Sommerville BBC News, Kabul

The establishment of an office is thought by some to be a critical step in reaching a political settlement to the 10-year long conflict. It would give the group an address where negotiators could meet. Establishing the authenticity of would-be negotiators from the Taliban has been a problem in the past.

It is the US and Germany that have been pushing for this. Earlier preconditions that the insurgents would have to lay down arms before any such representation appear to have been dropped. The push for a peace process, with a reluctant President Karzai falling in line, appears to be under way.

Some senior military commanders here say that the Bonn conference, where the international community gave a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, was a wake-up call for the insurgents. They face the prospect of growing old, as exiles, in the Pakistani city of Quetta, commented one senior Isaf commander.

But it is far from certain that the Taliban truly want to negotiate. They know foreign troops are leaving in 2014. And there will be reluctance from some within the group's leadership to sit down and talk with representatives from countries who are killing Taliban soldiers and commanders.

It said the Taliban movement "always tries to solve the issue or the problem with the opposite side through talks" and warned the Western coalition that they would "never force the Afghans to obey them by force".

"For the sake of a better understanding with the internationals, we have an initial understanding to have a political office - including in the country of Qatar."

The statement added that they wanted prisoners released from the US-run detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, as part of a deal.

And it also rejected as false reports by "Western press and officials" about negotiations.

The agreement to set up the liaison office would give the group an address where negotiators could meet, says our Kabul correspondent, and some see this agreement as a critical step.

Establishing the authenticity of would-be negotiators from the Taliban has been a problem in the past.

Last month, President Karzai gave his first public support to the plan - having previously rejected the idea, angry that the US and Germany had discussed potential locations without him.

Kabul has repeatedly stressed that it will not accept any foreign intervention in negotiations with the Taliban.

Efforts to hold talks have been hit by a string of setbacks, including the assassination in September of Burhannudin Rabbani, the head of the peace council, which had been liaising with the militant group.

The Taliban denied being responsible, but said the attack added to the sense of mistrust.

A senior negotiator on the council, Arsala Rahmani, said the Taliban needed to be in touch with the international community.

We welcome their decision to set up a political office," he told Reuters news agency.

"It is a gesture of good faith. The Taliban are blacklisted by the US so it is very important for them to engage in talks with the US."

US and Afghan officials have also stressed that Pakistan - where the Taliban's leadership are believed to be based - must be involved in the process.

Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 06:45 AM PST

Iran threatened Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.

The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran's rial currency, which has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month.

Queues formed at banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings from the currency's fall.

Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf from because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.

It did not name the carrier, but the USS John C Stennis leads a task force in the region, and the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet website pictured it in the Arabian Sea last week.

"Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf," army chief Salehi said.

"I advise, recommend and warn them over the return of this carrier to the Persian Gulf because we are not in the habit of warning more than once."

Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, said she was not immediately able to respond.

Tehran's threat comes at a time when sanctions are having an unprecedented impact on its economy, and the country faces political uncertainty with an election in March, its first since a 2009 vote that triggered countrywide demonstrations.

The West has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is strictly peaceful but Western countries believe aims to build an atomic bomb.

After years of sanctions that had little impact, the latest measures are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran's oil trade, 60 percent of its economy.

New sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve would cut off any financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for payments for Iranian oil.

The EU is expected to impose new sanctions by the end of this month, possibly including a ban on oil imports.

Even Iran's top trading partner China - which has refused to back new global sanctions against Iran - is demanding discounts to buy Iranian oil as Tehran's options narrow. Beijing has cut its imports of Iranian crude by more than half for January and, paying premiums for crude from Russia and Vietnam to replace it.


Iran has responded to the tighter measures with increasingly belligerent rhetoric.

It spooked oil markets briefly when it announced last month it could prevent shipping through the Straight of Hormuz - a narrow shipping lane through which flows 40 percent of the world's oil trade - if sanctions hurt its own oil business.

It then held 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, test firing long range missiles that could hit Israel or U.S. bases in the Middle East. But Tuesday's apparent threat to take action against the U.S. military for sailing in international waters takes the aggressive rhetoric to a new level.

The new U.S. sanctions law, if implemented fully, would make it impossible for many refineries to pay Iran for crude. It imposes measures gradually and allows Obama to offer temporary waivers to prevent an oil price shock.

The European Union is expected to consider new measures by the end of this month, possibly including a blockade. EU members such as such as crisis-hit Greece are still buyers of Iranian oil, which trades at a discount.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris wants new measures taken by January 30, when EU foreign ministers meet.

"France ... wants sanctions toughened and the president (Nicolas Sarkozy) has made two concrete proposals on that front - the first being the freezing of Iranian central bank assets, a tough measure, and the second an embargo on Iranian oil exports," Juppe told i>tele, a French TV channel.

Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said member states would discuss the issue this week in the hope of reaching an agreement on new steps before the January 30 meeting.

"The ball is still in the Iranians' court," he said.

Although China, India and other countries are unlikely to sign up to any oil embargo, they will be able to insist on deeper discounts, potentially reducing the income Tehran receives from oil.

Beijing has been driving a hard bargain. China, which bought 11 percent of its oil from Iran during the first 11 months of last year, has cut its January purchase by about 285,000 barrels per day, more than half of the close to 550,000 bpd that it bought through a 2011 contract.

The impact of falling government income from oil sales can be felt on the streets in Iran in soaring prices for state subsidized goods and a falling rial currency.

Some exchange offices in Tehran, when contacted by Reuters, said there was no trading taking place until further notice.

"The rate is changing every second ... We are not taking in any rials to change to dollars or any other foreign currency," said Hamid Bakshi in central Tehran.

Housewife Zohreh Ghobadi, waiting in a long line at a bank, said she was trying to withdraw her savings and change it into dollars.

Iranian authorities played down any link between the souring exchange rate and the imposition of the new sanctions.

"The new American sanctions have not materialized yet," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference Tuesday. "It will take a few months until these sanctions are fully implemented."

The economic impact is being felt ahead of a nationwide parliamentary election on March 2, the first vote since a disputed 2009 presidential election that led to the worst unrest since Iran's 1979 revolution.

Tight race in Iowa kicks off 2012 campaign

Posted: 03 Jan 2012 06:39 AM PST

Iowa Republicans cast the first votes of the 2012 White House campaign on Tuesday, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in a high-stakes battle to win the party's kick-off nominating contest.

Voters will gather in schools, libraries and other public spots across the state to render judgment in the frequently shifting Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Santorum, a conservative former senator from Pennsylvania, is the latest candidate to rise in polls in a race that has seen a handful of hopefuls roll through the top spot.

He is battling Romney, the national front-runner and narrow leader in Iowa polls, and libertarian Paul for a crucial win in Iowa that could provide momentum and a surge of new donations as the race moves to next week's contest New Hampshire.

"Get folks and bring them to the caucus with you," Santorum told supporters in Perry, Iowa, on Monday as each of the candidates made a final pitch for votes and tried to bolster their turnout.

Iowa polls showed many voters could still change their mind before Tuesday night, adding an element of unpredictability to an already fluid race.

"I'm undecided, and I'm still in the same boat as when I came," said Zander Morales, a hospital worker in Des Moines after he attended a rally on Monday for Paul, the congressman from Texas. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

Republican voters in Iowa gather for the caucuses at more than 800 sites across the state beginning at 7 p.m. EST. Results should begin to come in within a few hours.

The event is the culmination of months of campaigning in Iowa, and starts a frenzied schedule that will include a half-dozen debates in January and three more state contests -- on January 10 in New Hampshire, January 21 in South Carolina and January 31 in Florida.


The stakes are high for each of the six candidates competing in Iowa. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is aiming for a win that could ease persistent conservative doubts about his record and propel him toward clinching the nomination early.

Struggling rivals like Texas Governor Rick Perry and Representative Michele Bachmann are fighting for at least a fourth-place finish that could keep their flickering White House hopes alive.

And Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who led the race just weeks ago, aims to end his slide and prove he can make a comeback.

Santorum was trying to consolidate fractured religious and social conservatives in Iowa and emerge as the leading conservative alternative to Romney.

But Perry, Paul and Romney criticized Santorum for backing costly spending bills when he served in the Senate, hoping to halt his rise in the final hours of the campaign.

"He spends too much money," Paul told CNN.

Iowa's nominating contest has a spotty track record of picking winners, but has traditionally cleared the presidential field of losers and elevated surprise contenders.

Polls show Romney performs best of all the Republicans in head-to-head matchups with Obama in a general election campaign certain to focus on the economy and high unemployment.

But some voters in Iowa were torn between their urge to reclaim the White House from Obama and their search for a candidate who best meets their conservative principles.

Santorum supporter Peggy Greenfield of Clive, Iowa, said she was drawn by his "consistent family values" and foreign policy knowledge.

"When people see the momentum he has going it gives them the courage to go out and caucus for him," she said.