Posted: 29 Dec 2012 02:25 PM PST
BANGUI, Central African Republic: Rebels in the Central African Republic, defying mediation efforts, on Saturday seized another town in their advance on the capital, forcing an army retreat and putting them just one town away from Bangui.
The rebels, who already have control of four other regional capitals in the centre and north of the country, faced no resistance as they entered the town of Sibut around 150 kilometres (95 miles) from Bangui, a military official told AFP.
The streets of Bangui were deserted on Saturday night, according to an AFP journalist, after a curfew was imposed from 7:00 pm to 5:00 am (1800 GMT to 0400 GMT).
Many shops were being guarded by men armed with machetes. “The bosses fear looting so they are paying guards,” said one guard.
Officials on both sides said the rebels of the so-called Seleka coalition had also repelled army soldiers trying to recapture Bambari, a former military stronghold in the landlocked country, one of the world’s poorest despite vast mineral wealth.
A military official described “extremely violent” fighting over the town, with detonations and heavy weapons fire audible to witnesses some 60 kilometres away.
The rebel advance on Sibut, also a base for Chadian soldiers stationed in the country, forced government forces and their allies to retreat to Damara, 75 kilometres from Bangui and the last major town on the road to the southwestern capital.
“The rebels entered Sibut. There was no fighting, the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) stationed there and the Chadian troops left the town last night (Friday) for Damara,” the military official told AFP.
Djouma Narkoya, a Seleka leader, claimed that the army suffered “losses” in the fighting for Bambari, while the rebel side had “one killed and three injured” in the fighting.
“We are continuing to progress,” he added.
Sibut residents arriving in Bangui said they saw around 60 Chadian and Central African army vehicles converging on Damara late Friday.
One of the towns under the control of the rebels, who launched their offensive in early December, is the garrison town and key diamond mining hub of Biraosince.
Former colonial power France, meanwhile, boosted its military presence to 400 on Friday with the deployment of 150 paratroopers to Bangui airport, and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) announced reinforcements.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed again on Friday that French troops were there only to protect French and European nationals, not fight the rebels.
Regional efforts to mediate a peaceful solution in the landlocked equatorial country were at a standstill.
A day after announcing that the rebels and the government had agreed to hold unconditional peace talks and that more regional troops would head to the country, ECCAS said no dates had been set for either move.
The bloc’s foreign ministers will meet again next Thursday “and that is when they will announce a date for the meeting in (the Gabonese capital) Libreville,” ECCAS’s communications director Placide Ibouanga told AFP, referring to talks between rebels and the government.
The coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka — or the “alliance” in the Sango language — says the government has not fulfilled the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001, providing for disarmament and social reintegration for insurgents, including pay.
Central African President Francois Bozize, who took power in a 2003 coup, has twice been elected into office.
Bozize’s appeals for help from France and from the United States to fight the rebels have fallen on deaf ears.
Neighbouring Chad, which has helped Bozize with rebellions in 2010, earlier sent a contingent to the country, however.
In Bangui, food prices have soared, further spiking tensions and uncertainty.
“I’m afraid of the rebels coming,” said vegetable vendor Euphrasie Ngotanga in the city’s huge Sambo market. “We’re not going to sell our produce if there’s no peace. And then how we will feed our children?”
“We don’t eat properly any more,” said another vendor, Angele Bodero, with her baskets full of condiments before her. “Cassava has become more expensive, everything costs more,” she said, referring to the country’s staple food.
A bag of cassava has risen nearly 50 percent from 13,000 CFA francs to 18,000 FCFA (19.80 to 27.40 euros, $26 to $32).
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 02:14 PM PST
Washington: Former US president George H.W. Bush is on the mend and has been released from intensive care, a spokesman said Saturday.
“President Bush’s condition has improved, so he has been moved today from the intensive care unit to a regular patient room at The Methodist Hospital to continue his recovery,” spokesman Jim McGrath said.
“The Bushes thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes.”
Earlier in the week, McGrath said Bush had taken a turn for the worse, with a “series of setbacks” sending the 88-year-old to the intensive care unit at the Houston, Texas hospital with a “stubborn fever.”
Bush, the oldest surviving former US president, was first admitted to the hospital on November 7 for bronchitis treatment and released on November 19. But he was readmitted four days later after his cough flared up again.
Doctors had hoped to have the elder statesman home for Christmas, but he was instead forced to spend the holiday in the hospital, where he was joined by his wife Barbara, son Neil and grandson Pierce.
Bush, a Republican, served just a single term in the White House from 1989 to 1993, despite sending US troops to victory in Iraq in the first Gulf War and expelling Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.
The decorated World War II veteran served in a number of top government posts, including as vice president to Ronald Reagan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and US ambassador to the United Nations.
He was also chief of the US Liaison Office in China at a time Washington had official ties with Beijing’s foe Taipei. This made Bush the unofficial US ambassador to Beijing.
His son George W. Bush served two terms as president and also went to war with Iraq, this time sending US-led troops all the way to Baghdad to overthrow Saddam, whom he had wrongly accused of hoarding weapons of mass destruction.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 12:50 PM PST
La Paz: Bolivia on Saturday nationalized electrical utilities owned by Spanish company Iberdrola, sending in police and troops to enforce another expropriation ordered by the populist leader of South America’s poorest nation.
President Evo Morales announced a decree targeting Iberdrola-owned utilities in the cities of La Paz and Oruro. They are called Electropaz and Elfeo, respectively.
In La Paz, soldiers later took control of power plants that until now were run by Iberdrola, while police seized corporate offices.
It was the latest in a series of such seizures by the outspoken leftist who is a key member of a group of populist South American presidents led by the now-ailing Hugo Chavez of Venezuela
Back in May, Morales nationalized a subsidiary of another Spanish power group, Red Electrica Corporacion, which distributed electricity.
Since coming to power in January 2006 Bolivia’s first president representing the country’s indigenous majority has nationalized the country’s oil wealth and smelters, in addition to electric power companies.
This time, Morales said he was acting because Iberdrola charged more for electricity in rural areas than it did in cities, and service was also uneven.
“We are forced to take this measure so that utility rates will be uniform” and service will be of the same quality in the country as in urban areas, the president said at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
He said Iberdrola would be compensated after an evaluation of its seized assets. This will be done by a private Bolivian company and can take up to six months.
Morales’ actions over the years have caused friction with Spain.
Spain said after the Red Electrica nationalization that it had been given assurances from Bolivia that there would be no more such expropriations.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said in August that Spanish companies operating in Bolivia needed legal security for their investments.
The May 2006 energy nationalization affected a dozen or so companies, including Spain’s Repsol, Petrobras of Brazil, Argentina’s PanAmerican and British Petroleum.
Morales has also nationalized refineries and telecommunications companies.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 12:38 PM PST
Peshawar: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's Darra Adamkhel faction has reportedly killed 21 of the 23 personnel of Levies kidnapped on Thursday (December 27, 2012).
Frontier Region Peshawar officials have confirmed that all the militiamen were shot dead.
One militiaman, who managed to escape the militants, has reached home, sources said.
Another official has been miraculously saved in the incident and has been shifted to the Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital.
“We found 21 bullet riddled bodies of security personnel a short while ago in an uninhabited area,” local government official Naveed Akbar told AFP.
“One was found alive but wounded and admitted to hospital while another managed to escape unhurt.”
Earlier, the political administration asked elders of the Frontier Region Peshawar to help the government to recover the personnel as it was the duty of the local people to find out the whereabouts of the militiamen.
On Thursday, the militants overrun and destroyed three checkposts at Hassan Khal and Jina Kor areas, killing two and kidnapping 23 militia personnel.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 12:02 PM PST
Moscow: Russia on Saturday acknowledged that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad would not be persuaded to leave power, but nonetheless insisted there was still a chance of finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Moscow’s caution came as forces loyal to Assad seized a district of the strategic central city of Homs after a fierce assault that a Britain-based watchdog said sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The latest diplomatic push saw Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for talks that represented a final end-of-year bid to accelerate moves to halt 21 months of bloodshed.
The talks came amid emerging signs that Russia was beginning to distance itself from Assad’s government and urgent efforts by Brahimi to resurrect a failed peace initiative that world powers agreed to in Geneva in June.
Brahimi bluntly stated that Syria was facing a choice between “hell or the political process” while urging the world to work tirelessly to bring about a diplomatic solution.
“It is really indispensible that the conflict finishes in 2013 and really the beginning of 2013,” Brahimi said after the 90-minute talks.
Lavrov said both he and Brahimi agreed there was hope for a solution as long as world powers put pressure on the warring parties to accept a mediated end to violence that has claimed more than 45,000 lives.
”The confrontation is escalating. But we agree the chance for a political solution remains,” Lavrov said alongside Brahimi.
Moscow has been under intense pressure to urge the leadership of its last Middle East ally to accept a face-saving agreement that would see the rebels assume gradual command as the fighting reaches Damascus itself.
Yet analysts have questioned the actual sway the Kremlin has over Assad, and Lavrov appeared to betray a hint of frustration when revealing that Assad had this week told Brahimi that he does not intend to leave.
“Regarding Bashar al-Assad, he repeatedly said, both publically and in private… that he is not planning to leave, that he will remain in his post,” Lavrov said.
“There is no possibility to change this position.”
‘Hell or the political process’
Brahimi painted a stark picture of Syrian neighbours Jordan and Lebanon being overrun by a million refugees should heavy fighting for the seat of power break out in Syria’s five-million-strong capital.
If this fighting “develops into something uglier… (refugees) can only go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan,” warned Brahimi.
“So if the alternative is hell or the political process, we have all of us got to work ceaselessly for a political process,” Brahimi said.
“The magnitude of the problem that exists now and the magnitude of the problem that exists tomorrow cannot be ignored,” he added.
Lavrov echoed that message by warning that Syria threatened to dissolve into a failed state similar to the Horn of Africa’s Somalia — a nation overrun by militants and warlords.
“Syria must have a stable political process. That is one alternative,” said Lavrov.
“The other alternative is the Somalisation of Syria — and you can only imagine the consequences of that,” Russia’s top diplomat said.
Brahimi’s trip came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in Moscow that this week also saw a rare visit by the Syrian deputy foreign minister as well as Egypt's top diplomat.
Russia also confirmed on Thursday that it had invited the head of the opposition National Coalition — recognised by Western powers as Syria’s representatives — for the two sides’ first formal talks.
The offer was widely interpreted as a bid by Moscow to cement a foothold in a post-Assad Syria — a radical shift from its earlier condemnation of those who recognised the rebel group.
But National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib rejected holding any meeting in Moscow. He also said the Kremlin must apologise for its past support of Assad before any meeting could be held in a third country.
Lavrov did little to conceal his fury at Khatib’s response.
“I understand that Mr. Khatib is not very fluent in politics and maybe he could benefit by hearing our position not from the media… but directly from us,” he said.
Brahimi and Lavrov revealed no details of any peace initiative that may be under discussion and instead focused on urging world powers to convince Assad and the opposition to talk.
But a deal that has Assad remaining in power on an interim basis would have difficulty winning acceptance from rebels who have made major advances in recent weeks.
The Moscow meeting came as forces loyal to Assad seized a district of the central city of Homs that had been under prior rebel control.
“The army launched an offensive several days ago on the neighbourhood of Deir Baalbeh with heavy bombing, and the fighting and attacks continued until the rebels withdrew,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 11:50 AM PST
London: Manchester United preserved their seven-point lead over Manchester City in the Premier League on Saturday, defeating West Bromwich Albion 2-0 as the champions scraped a 4-3 win at Norwich City.
United manager Alex Ferguson was the centre of pre-match attention at Old Trafford for an outspoken attack on Newcastle United counterpart Alan Pardew, but his side got down to business quickly and went ahead in the ninth minute.
The scorer wore a blue and white shirt, however, with West Brom defender Gareth McAuley inadvertently shinning the ball into his own goal after Ashley Young drove a low cross across the face of goal.
Former United goalkeeper Ben Foster tipped a Young shot onto the crossbar, but United were not able to breathe easily until substitute Robin van Persie curled a glorious shot into the top-left corner in the last minute.
United have amassed 50 goals in their 20 league games to date, and Ferguson told the BBC: “We’re in a good position.
“We’re halfway there. We’ve a game on Tuesday away from home at Wigan and we’ve got a few players to freshen it up. We’ll look forward to the next game and try and win it.”
City lost Samir Nasri to a first-half red card at Norwich but edged an open-ended encounter thanks in no small part to Edin Dzeko, who scored twice and might have had a hat-trick.
The Bosnian, who has had to become accustomed to a role on the substitutes’ bench this season, struck twice inside the opening four minutes to put City in control at Carrow Road.
But Norwich hit back through a deflected Anthony Pilkington free-kick and the visitors were then dealt a blow when Nasri was sent off for aiming a head-butt at Sebastien Bassong.
Sergio Aguero’s deft, lobbed finish restored City’s two-goal cushion in the 50th minute and although Russell Martin headed in for Norwich, Dzeko made it 4-2 when his shot hit the post and bounced in off Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
Martin scored again with 15 minutes to go, prodding in from close range after City failed to clear a corner, but Roberto Mancini’s men were able to hang on.
“I don’t know why (Nasri was sent off) as the linesman was there and I don’t know what he saw,” said City manager Mancini, whose side lost 1-0 at Sunderland on Wednesday.
“We saw the video — both players touch heads. With 10 men it was difficult. The guys played very well.”
Aston Villa’s recent miseries continued as they sank 3-0 at home to Wigan Athletic.
Goals from Ivan Ramis, Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Kone put paid to Paul Lambert’s young team, who have now shipped 15 goals in three games after losing 8-0 to Chelsea and 4-0 to Tottenham Hotspur.
Villa would have slipped into the relegation zone had third-bottom Southampton not been denied victory in a 3-3 draw at Stoke City by a sensational 25-yard strike from Cameron Jerome.
Southampton had led 3-1, and played against 10 men following the 71st-minute dismissal of Steven N’Zonzi, but second-bottom Reading did a better job of defending a lead in a 1-0 home win over West Ham United.
Fulham’s dismal form continued, meanwhile, as they lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City.
In the lunch-time game, Tottenham overturned a half-time deficit to win 2-1 at Sunderland, provisionally moving them into third place.
Spurs bossed the first half at a rain-sodden Stadium of Light, hitting the bar through Emmanuel Adebayor, but fell behind in the 40th minute when John O’Shea scored after Hugo Lloris had saved superbly from Steven Fletcher.
However, a Carlos Cuellar own goal saw the visitors draw level three minutes into the second period, before man-of-the-match Aaron Lennon completed the comeback with a composed finish in the 51st minute.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side have taken 19 points from a possible 24 and are now a point above third-place Chelsea, who have two games in hand and visit Everton on Sunday.
Arsenal, who began the day in seventh place, host Newcastle United in the evening game.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 11:32 AM PST
Washington: With the clock ticking toward a New Year’s time bomb of huge tax increases and spending cuts, US lawmakers worked feverishly Saturday to keep America from tumbling off the so-called fiscal cliff.
The stakes in the game of holiday-interrupting brinkmanship are huge. Economists agree the $500 billion in fiscal pain due to kick in as soon as the new year starts will stifle the gathering US economic recovery and send the United States back into recession, spelling bad news for the global economy as well.
Aides to leaders of the Democrat-controlled Senate worked behind closed doors Saturday morning to fashion a deal palatable to both Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, and the Democrats.
A senior Republican aide said “discussions are underway.” He added that details of any deal will not come out until leaders brief their caucuses on Sunday.
Both chambers would need to pass a deal by New Year’s Eve. They thus have three days to get done what has eluded the White House and Congress for weeks, and will interrupt their year’s end vacation in the process.
As negotiations proceeded, President Barack Obama urged Congress to protect the middle class from higher taxes and lay the groundwork for economic growth.
“We’ve got to do what it takes to protect the middle class, grow this economy, and move our country forward,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
“Leaders in Congress are working on a way to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I believe we may be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time,” he added.
Obama met with top congressional leaders Friday and said Senate Democrats and Republicans would work overtime this weekend to try to head off the fiscal cliff.
The president, sensing a mandate from his re-election last month, wants to raise taxes on the rich but exempt the middle class. Republicans want only to close tax loopholes to raise revenue and demand significant spending cuts in return.
But if nothing is done by the deadline, all taxpayers will see an increase.
Following the White House talks, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are leading efforts to seek a deal before Tuesday.
But any agreement would also have to pass the House of Representatives, where there is doubt that any deal signed off by the Democratic president would win favor with restive conservatives in the Republican caucus.
According to The Washington Post, the deal — a “stripped-down” version of earlier proposals dealing mainly with taxes — is within reach.
Citing unnamed people briefed on the talks, the newspaper said it would protect nearly 30 million taxpayers from paying the higher, alternative minimum tax rate for the first time and maintain unemployment benefits for two million people due to lose them, barring a deal.
The plan also would halt a steep cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors and preserve popular tax breaks for both businesses and individuals, such as those for research and college tuition, the report said.
But The Post said the two sides were still at odds over where to set the limits of wealthy — at $250,000 a year or $400,000 a year — and over taxes on inherited estates.
Nor was there agreement on spending cuts so dear to Republicans, the paper said. Hence, a deal will not include either them or an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, setting up another fierce battle over the government’s borrowing limit in the next two months, according to The Post.
Obama warned, however, that if an agreement was not reached in time, he would then ask the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job, and, as he put it, “lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction.”
He did not elaborate.
“I believe such a proposal could pass both houses with bipartisan majorities – as long as these leaders allow it to come to a vote,” the president said. “If they still want to vote no, and let this tax hike hit the middle class, that’s their prerogative — but they should let everyone vote.”
Meanwhile, in a weekly Republican address, US Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, vice chairman of the Senate’s Republican Conference, expressed some optimism Saturday, saying he believed that “going over the fiscal cliff is avoidable.”
But he severely criticized the Democrats’ plan to focus mainly on taxes while setting aside the issue of government spending, arguing that inaction on spending “shouldn’t be an option.”
“The president’s proposal to raise taxes on the top two percent of Americans won’t even pay one-third of the annual interest that’s now owed on this massive $16 trillion debt,” Blunt said. “In fact, the president’s tax hike would only fund the government for eight days. Americans deserve to know: What does the president propose we do for the other 357 days of the year?”
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 11:17 AM PST
Abidjan: The Kora Awards, dubbed “Africa’s Grammys”, will take place Sunday in Abidjan, organisers said, after confusion about when the event would happen and when its star — US rapper Chris Brown — would arrive in Ivory Coast.
“Everything will take place Sunday,” Kora spokesman Ernest Adjovi said late Saturday.
The award extravaganza, which originated in South Africa in 1994, was originally to have been held Saturday in Ivory Coast’s economic capital.
At the last minute, organisers claimed Brown had missed his flight and the show would be delayed until Monday.
But a source close to the ceremony said Brown “is not the real reason” the event was delayed, and blamed the postponement on organisational issues.
Past ceremonies have been attended by South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela and the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson.
Brown is known as much for his virtuoso dance steps as for his tumultuous relationship with singer Rihanna, whom he has admitted assaulting.
He will arrive early Sunday on a private jet and, ahead of the award show, will perform at concert “for peace in Africa” at Abidjan’s main sport stadium on Sunday, Adjovi said.
African artists including the Nigerian duo P-Square, winner of the last top Kora prize in Ouagadougou in 2010, will also take part.
For Ivory Coast, which is still recovering from four months of post-election violence that ended in April 2011 after claiming some 3,000 lives, the event signals a return to normalcy.
However, it has drawn criticism over the price of admission: one million CFA francs (1,500 euros, $2,000) for those who want a seat in the luxury hotel for the ceremony, or 50,000 CFA francs (75 euros, $100) for seats outside.
These prices are far out of reach for most people in the poor west African country, the world’s top cocoa producer.
Brown was sentenced to five years probation, a year-long domestic violence programme and 180 days of community labour after pleading guilty to assaulting Barbadian singer Rihanna on the eve of the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in 2009.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 11:05 AM PST
Abu Dhabi: Novak Djokovic got his season off to a perfect start by defeating Nicolas Almagro 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday in the final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament.
Djokovic had looked in impressive early season form in Friday’s semi-finals, destroying world No.5 David Ferrer in straight sets, while Almagro, a late replacement for the injured Rafael Nadal, was taken all the way by Janko Tipsarevic.
But it was the Spaniard who edged a close first set 7/4 on a tiebreaker, with Djokovic, the winner last year, looking listless at times.
The world No.1 put that setback quickly behind him as he broke Almagro to start the second set, but he failed to turn that into a 2-0 lead as Almagro broke back to level in the next game.
A double-fault from the Spaniard though saw the Serb take back the advantage and this time he held firm to level the set scores.
The decider went with serve until the 10th game when Almagro served up three straight unforced errors to hand Djokovic the win.
“It was a fantastic experience again for me coming to Abu Dhabi. This is a very nice tournament, you always get great matches, very tough matches against top opponents, and great attendance also,” said world number one Djokovic.
Almagro added: “I have had a lot of fun and I have to thank the organisers for calling me in the last minute because it is amazing to be here.”
The match for third place played earlier was won by Spain’s Ferrer as he defeated Tipsarevic of Serbia 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
All four players will head out for Australia to complete their preparations for the Australian Open which gets under way in Melbourne on January 14 where Djokovic will be the defending champion.
Posted: 29 Dec 2012 10:53 AM PST
Islamabad: A 5.8 magnitude earthquake has jolted various cities of Pakistan on Saturday, US Geological Survey said.
No casualties have been reported yet.
The tremors of the earthquake were felt in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Abbotabad, Haripur, Abbotabad, Mansehra, Mohmand, North Waziristan, Parachinar, Mirpur, Battagram, Nowshera, Shangla, Kohistan, Malakand, Mardan, Sargodha, Charsadda, lower Dir and Khyber agency of the tribal belt.
USGS said that the epicentre of the earthquake was Hindu Kash region in Afghanistan, 130 km west of Chitral (Pakistan), at the depth of 115.9 km.
Labels: 2012 exposed