“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)


''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."


“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."



Heads of governments during the opening session of the African Union summit
on January 30, 2014 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa (AFP, Samuel Gebru)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

On tour at Central Africa's presidential palace with rebels

Google – AFP, Patrick Fort (AFP), 30 March 2013

A Seleka rebel holds up a picture of former president Francois Bozize, in
Bangui, on March 28, 2013 (AFP/File, Sia Kambou)

BANGUI, Central African Republic — In Bangui's presidential palace, where Francois Bozize ruled the Central African Republic for 10 years, rebel General Arda Hakouma enjoys posing with one foot on the statue of a lion after seizing the capital.

A wall panel reads: "To Army General Francois Bozize, with God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies. Psalm 60 2:12."

Hakouma, a tall man in his thirties, laughs. "There was no victory. He was defeated. The victory is us."

The rebel general led troops of the Seleka coalition in their offensive on the capital, which fell last Sunday. When they took the presidential palace, Bozize had already fled.

Seleka coalition rebels pose for a photo
 in Famara, 75 km from Bangui, on January
18, 2013 (AFP/File, Patrick Fort)
The palace has been searched, vandalised and turned inside out, but there is no trace of conflict on the walls. There was no resistance. "It took only a few minutes. The GP (presidential guard) fled straight away, with the first shots," Hakouma said as he provided a guided tour this week.

A solitary tank stands guard at the entrance to the palace. Another, inside the compound, is parked next to a dozen luxury cars.

Part of the premises remain inaccessible. "We fear that this area is mined. We have asked for advice from our French friends, who have promised to come," said Colonel Abdel Aziz, Hakouma's deputy.

But it is possible to enter the "inner sanctum", Bozize's personal office in the middle of the building. The cloaked windows do not give on to the outside of the palace. "A security measure, clearly," one soldier says.

The office is an utter mess, with drawers opened and thrown on to the floor, and magazines lying amid heaps of official papers. There is also a notebook entitled "Treasury of the KNK" (Bozize's presidential party Kwa Na Kwa, or "Work, nothing but work"). And there are documents classified "secret" or "top secret".

The president's armchair is comfortable, but no more than that. "It's not for me," says the general, refusing to sit there, but asking one of his men to do so. "We have come to bring democracy," he explains.

Everywhere, people are walking on files and papers and smashed-up furniture scattered over the ground. Anything of any worth has been taken, though many gifts and sculptures remain because they did not interest the looters.

Ousted Central African Republic's President
 Francois Bozize, pictured in Bangui, on
January 8, 2013 (AFP/File, Sia Kambou)
In a second building, where the ousted president used to rest, a number of the many presents he received were also left, some still wrapped up.

Next come the private suites, notably including the master bedroom. "Before, we slept in the bush but I don't want to sleep in this bed. I know that Bozize slept in it," Colonel Abdel Aziz says.

General Hakouma, for his part, regrets that he was unable "to capture Bozize alive".

Before moving on, he recalls the rebel offensive nearly a week ago against the Central African army and South African troops stationed in the country.

"It was at Boali, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) from Bangui, that the fighting was hardest against the South Africans. I lost six men, the South Africans 35," he said. South African President Jacob Zuma announced a death toll of 13 troops.

Hakouma says that the rebel chief of general staff, General Issa Issaka, was wounded in the leg leaving Hakouma to take up the leadership of rebel forces for a final assault that lasted "scarcely two hours" once the "South Africans were no longer fighting."

Asked if he is proud to be the man who took Bangui, the general puts it down to "destiny".

"God willed it," he says. "Soon I'm going to organise a big ceremony to thank all my men. It is thanks to them that we overthrew Bozize."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Can Africa satisfy its hunger?

Deutsche Welle, 28 March 2013


Africa frequently experiences food shortages, although its 900 million farmers could feed the continent, as well as supplying other parts of the world. But for this to happen they need the support of politicians.

The good news first: African governments, donors and the United Nations have rediscovered Africa's agricultural sector. For almost two decades they concentrated on urban industrialization. Agriculture was insignificant.

Politicians only woke up following fluctuations on raw materials markets, coupled with a severe food crisis that began in 2008 and subsequent famine-driven rebellions. As a result the German Development Aid Ministry drew up strategy papers outlining a development policy that put the spotlight on agriculture. In Africa some 900 million people, that's 90 percent of the total population, work in the agricultural sector. It may not be a perfect comparison but who in Germany would come up with the absurd idea of halting the activities of small and medium-scale handicraft businesses which guarantee millions of jobs and are a major factor in the country's economy?

What can Africa's agricultural sector achieve?

 A fruit and vegetable market in Burkina
Faso
Agriculture means life. Every year one in eight people of the world's population doesn't have enough to eat, most of those going hungry live in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa. These figures are alarming. In its multimedia special "Can Africa satisfy its hunger?" DW looks at the opportunities of African agriculture and the challenges it faces. Can Africa feed itself, and then at some point in the future even provide food for a rapidly growing world? More specifically, can Africa in the medium-term feed itself and then become a food exporter? Our research in East and West Africa and in chemical laboratories in Germany suggests this is possible if local politicians and foreign donors work together.

No incentives for investment

But here comes the bad news. In many African countries, commitment to farming is no more than lip-service. Conditions are lacking for farmers which would make it possible for them not only to fulfil their own needs but also to produce a surplus. Take Ethiopia for example: nearly 85 percent of the country's some 90 million people live from the land. But Ethiopia's authoritarian government, in a display of Marxist nostalgia, still bans private land ownership.

Land leases are also not clearly worded. There is little incentive for farmers to invest in small plots of land which they then have to protect from erosion. Instead they use expensive packets of seeds along with pesticides and herbicides, which cause the soil to deteriorate, trapping the farmers in a vicious cycle of poverty. When harvests are lost, debts increase.

 A cabbage plantation in South Africa
Commercial African banks do not give loans to farmers who are then unable to replace old wooden ploughs with modern equipment that would increase their harvest many times over. Even in the 21st century many farmers are denied adequate access to markets, roads to the nearest marketplace are impassable in the rainy season. Studies show that up to 50 percent of African farmers' fresh produce rots on the way to market – a totally unacceptable figure. And so the list goes on.

Industrialization in Africa needs agriculture

The DW reporters' investigations show that little is needed to increase the productivity of farmers and boost crop yields. Drip irrigation, crop rotation, seed refinement and organic cultivation are just a few keywords.

 Cocoa crop in Ivory Coast
To avoid misunderstandings: this is not about playing industrialization off against agriculture. Both are equally important. Industrialization in Africa must be vigorously promoted to ensure, for example, that Ivorian cocoa beans are processed in Abidjan rather than Hamburg. At the same time African countries and their donors must meet to agree on a partnership for Africa's food productivity.

The chances for this are good. After the uprising in Tunisia in 2011 that first ousted politicians, then swept the winds of change across North Africa and the Arab world, Africa's decision makers have been warned. Hunger has become a political tool of the masses. Europe's politicians have seen in refugee camps on Lampedusa and Malta the desperation that hunger in Africa can trigger. The time has come for a new deal for African agriculture.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Syrian National Coalition opens first embassy in Qatar

Deutsche Welle, 29 March 2013


The Syrian opposition has inaugurated its first embassy at a ceremony in Qatar. This comes as NATO declines an opposition request to provide missile cover for rebels and civilians.

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib Khatib, who serves as head of the Syrian National Coalition, attended the opening ceremony on Wednesday for the first embassy of the Syrian National Coalition, which is located at a different site than the former Syrian embassy in Doha. Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Attiya was also on hand. Qatar has repeatedly urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The new embassy opened a day after the Syrian opposition was given the seat formerly held by al-Assad at the Arab League.

Meanwhile, Khatib told an Arab League summit in Doha on Wednesday that he had requested an extension of the umbrella provided by Patriot anti-missile batteries positioned in Turkey to protect rebel-held parts of north Syria but the request had been turned down.

"There is an international will that the revolution does not come out victorious," said Khatib. "But the people that have defied injustice and tyranny will not stop."

Khatib still acts as the head of the coalition despite announcing his resignation on Sunday.

mkg/mz (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)
Related Article:


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kenya Fines Ivory Smuggler Less Than a Dollar a Piece

Jakarta Globe, March 26, 2013

Seized ivory tusks are displayed during a Hong Kong Customs press conference
 on Jan. 4, 2013. A Chinese smuggler was caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory
 was fined less than a dollar a piece, wildlife officials said on Tuesday. (AFP
Photo/Dale de la Rey) 
        
Related articles

A Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar a piece, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said that Chinese smuggler Tian Yi was arrested on Sunday while in transit in Nairobi carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory.

The ivory, cut into finger-length sections and painted brown, was "hidden in a suitcase and mixed with tree bark to disguise it as traditional medicine," Udoto said in a statement.

Tian — who was arrested as he travelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong — was on Monday fined $350 and has since been set free, Udoto added.

Experts suggest a kilogram of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500.

Poaching has spiked recently in East Africa but the courts are hampered by sentencing limits that treat smuggling as a petty crime.

Udoto said that officers had "intensified security operations and surveillance" to curb wildlife related crimes.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fueled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine.

Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants, whose survival is threatened by poaching as well as a rising human population that is causing habitat loss.

Agence France-Presse

BRICS Wrangle Over New Development Bank

Jakarta Globe - AFP, March 26, 2013

Image provided by the South African government shows President Jacob
Zuma speaking in Pretoria on March 24, 2013. (AFP Photo) 
    
Related articles

Durban, South Africa. BRICS emerging powers on Tuesday sought a deal on setting up a development bank that would rival Western-backed institutions, trying to iron out significant differences ahead of a leaders' summit in Durban.

The grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and hosts South Africa are racing to flesh out proposals for an infrastructure-focused lender that would challenge seven decades of dominance by the World Bank.

Just hours before leaders kick off the summit at 17:30 GMT, finance ministers were still working to agree key elements of the plan.

Disputes remain over what the bank will do, with each side trying to mold the institution to their foreign or domestic policy goals and with each looking for assurances of an equitable return on their initial investment of around $10 billion.

Failure to secure a deal would be a major embarrassment for many of the participants and would play into the hands of those who argue the BRICS have little to bind them together.

Xi Jinping, who has underscored the growing importance of the group by making Durban his first summit as China's president, earlier expressed hopes for "positive headway" in establishing the bank.

In a keynote speech in Tanzania on Monday Xi vowed Beijing's "sincere friendship" with the continent, and a relationship that respects Africa's "dignity and independence."

Meanwhile host President Jacob Zuma has lauded the summit as a means of addressing his country's chronic economic problems including high unemployment.

"BRICS provides an opportunity for South Africa to promote its competitiveness," Zuma said in a speech on the eve of the summit.

"It is an opportunity to move further in our drive to promote economic growth and confront the challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment that afflicts our country."

A failure to take concrete steps would raise questions about whether the BRICS grouping can survive.

"Ironically it may be the cleavages within the BRICS grouping that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, India on security, and Russia on status highlight the difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership," said Daniel Twining of the German Marshall Fund.

But if the leaders succeed it would be the first time since the inaugural BRICS summit four years ago that the group matches rhetorical demands for a more equitable global order with concrete steps.

That would send a loud message to the United States and European nations that the current global balance of power is unworkable.

Together the BRICS account for 25 percent of global GDP and 40 percent of the world's population.

But members say institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Security Council are not changing fast enough reflect their new-found clout.

Diplomats say it could start with $10 billion seed money from each country, but the exact role of the bank is up for debate.

Indian officials have pressed for a BRICS-led South-South development bank, recycling budget surpluses into investment in developing countries.

Many developing nations inside and outside BRICS will hope that is a way of tapping China's vast financial resources.

Meanwhile China would no doubt like the bank to invest in trade-multiplying projects.

Aside from the development bank, the group will also try to establish a foreign exchange reserve pool worth as much as $240 billion to be drawn on in financial crises.

China has the world's largest foreign exchange reserves, worth $3.31 trillion at the end of 2012, and establishing currency swap lines could help other BRICS tap that massive resource.

Later on Tuesday Brazil is to sign a bilateral accord with China to promote trade in their national currencies.

BRICS leaders will also establish business and think tank councils.

With Syria's two-year long civil war escalating through the suspected use of chemical weapons, BRICS leaders will also have to weigh a call from President Bashar al-Assad to intervene.

In a message to the summit leaders Assad asked "for intervention by the BRICS to stop the violence in his country and encourage the opening of a dialogue, which he wishes to start," said his senior adviser Bouthaina Shaaban after he delivered the message to Zuma.

Agence France-Presse

This handout photo on March 26, 2013 shows South African Finance Minister
 Pravin Gordhan (C) poses with his counterparts (L-R) Minister Chidambaram 
Palaniappan of India, Minister Xiaochuan Zhou of China, Minister Guido Mantega
 of Brazil and Minister Anto Siluanov of Russia on the margins of the 5th BRICS
 summit held at the Inkosi Luthuli International Conference Centre in Durban,
on March 26, 2013. AFP PHOTO / GOVERNMENT HO/ ELMOND JIYANE

Related Articles:

BRICS reach deal on development bank - New

BRICS urged to integrate financial systems

RMB on way to becoming global reserve currency: IMF official

China, India court Africa for resources


"The U in Kundalini"- Oct 18, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Kundalini, Unification, EU, Nobel Peace Prize 2012, Middle East, South America, Only 5 Currencies on EarthOld Souls, Duality will dismiss, 3D Humanity will melt with Multi dimensional higher self, Global Unity… etc.)

Monday, March 25, 2013

China's Xi vows to 'intensify' ties with Africa

Google – AFP, Ephrem Rugiririza (AFP), 25 March 2013

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) meets members of a welcoming committee in
Dar Es Salaam on March 24, 2013 (AFP, John Lukuwi)

DAR ES SALAAM — China's new President Xi Jinping hailed Monday the strength of ties with African nations, in a keynote speech on his first trip as head of state to the continent.

Hailing resource-rich Africa as a "continent of hope and promise", Xi addressed leaders in Tanzania's economic capital as "my dear friends" and spoke of Beijing's "sincere friendship" with Africa.

"Africa belongs to the African people," Xi said, speaking in a new conference hall built by China.

"In developing relations with Africa, all countries should respect Africa's dignity and independence."

China's First Lady Peng Liyuan (L) presents
gift  of sewing machines in Dar Es Salaam, 
Tanzania, on March 25, 2013 (AFP, John
Lukuwi)
Trade between China and Africa reached some $200 billion last year, he said, adding that China would "intensify not weaken" its relationship and noting a commitment to provide a $20 billion credit-line to African nations over the next two years.

"Whenever I come to Africa two things always strike me the most, one is the continuous progress... I am deeply impressed at the new developments," Xi said, on his sixth visit to the continent.

"The other is your overwhelming warmth, the sincere friendship of the African people towards the Chinese people is as warm and unforgettable as the sunshine in Africa."

Xi and his Tanzanian counterpart Jakaya Kikwete signed 16 trade, cultural and development accords after his arrival in Tanzania on Sunday, including improvements to hospitals and ports, and the building of a Chinese cultural centre.

China is the second-largest foreign investor in Tanzania, with stakes in agriculture, coal, iron ore and infrastructure.

"We have no doubt that the people of China will continue to work with the people of Africa," Kikwete said, dismissing those who still feared Beijing's role "despite the end of the Cold War."

"So far, China has been a dependable supporter and an ally of African countries and other Third World countries...in their appeal for a just and equitable world economic order," Kikwete added.

Tanzania, where Xi arrived from after a visit to Moscow, was the first stop of a three-nation Africa tour that underscores Beijing's growing presence on the continent.

China's first contacts with Africa came with the sea voyages of Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim admiral who led expeditions to the east African coast in the 1400s, but little followed for centuries.

Xi, on his first foreign trip since being anointed president 11 days ago, later left Tanzania for South Africa, where he first visits Pretoria, before heading to Durban to join an emerging economies summit.

He wraps up the African tour with a visit to Congo-Brazzaville.

China, which has risen to become the world's second-largest economy, sources many of its raw materials from Africa. A new Chinese diaspora has seen huge numbers of traders and small business operators establish themselves across the continent, which has higher growth rates than Europe or the United States.

Chinese imports from Africa soared 20-fold in a decade to reach $113 billion last year, according to Chinese government statistics, and China became the continent's largest trading partner in 2009.

But China's presence in Africa has also been accompanied by periodic tensions, and Xi sought to smooth over those who criticise Beijing's role on the continent, noting that there "is no 'one size fits all' development model" in the world.

"We each view the other's development as our own opportunity, and we each seek to promote the other's development and prosperity," Xi added.

"China insists on equality among all countries irrespective of their size, strength and wealth. China upholds justice, and opposes the practice of the big bullying the small, the strong lording over the weak, and rich oppressing the poor."

In South Africa, where two-way trade totalled $59.9 billion last year -- nearly one-third of total China-Africa trade -- Xi will hold talks with President Jacob Zuma and join the leaders of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa at the BRICS summit of emerging economies.

Related Articles:



Xi to ink US$10bn port development project during Tanzania visit

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2013-03-25

Xi Jinping, center, in Moscow on March 22, two days before he is set to arrive
 in Tanzania as part of the Chinese president's first official visit abroad.
(Photo/Xinhua)

China is set to sign a memorandum of cooperation to invest US$10 billion to develop a key port in Tanzania, reports the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.

According to the Tanzania ambassador to China, Philip Marmo, Communist Party general secretary and newly appointed Chinese president Xi Jinping is expected to sign the comprehensive development cooperation memorandum after his arrival in Tanzania on Sunday. The visit is part of a historic tour that also includes stops in Russia, South Africa and the Republic of Congo.

The project will reportedly involve developing the Tanzanian port of Bagamoyo, one of the most important trading ports along the East African coast. Once completed, the port will open up Tanzania's trade with China, as well as with Middle Eastern and European markets.

The project is said to be one of a dozen or so memorandums of cooperation for infrastructure development in Tanzania that will be signed by Xi during the trip.

Bilateral relations between China and Tanzania date back to the late 1960s, when Communist Party leader Mao Zedong provided resources to build the Tazara railway from Zambia to Tanzania's Dar es Salaam.

At a press conference ahead of Xi's diplomatic visits on March 20, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told journalists that China and Tanzania are "all-weather friends" whose 49 years of bilateral relations have yielded "fruitful results" in areas including trade, cultural exchanges, education and public health.

During his visit to Tanzania, Xi will also meet Tanzanian president Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and Zanzibarian president Ali Mohamed Shein, deliver a speech at the Nyerere International Convention Center, and lay a wreath at the cemetery for Chinese experts in Tanzania. 

References:

Xi Jinping  習近平
Mao Zedong  毛澤東

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Arab League gives Syrian seat to opposition

The Daily Star, Abdullah Rehby, March 24, 2013

The seat of the Syrian delegation remains empty during a preparatory meeting
of  Arab foreign ministers ahead of the annual Arab League summit in the Qatari
capital Doha on March 24, 2013. AFP PHOTO/STR
                             
DOHA, Qatar: In a symbolic blow to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, senior Arab diplomats said Sunday that they will transfer Syria's seat in their main regional group to opposition forces.

The Arab League's decision is unlikely to mean much in practical terms to Assad's regime, which has already been abandoned by many Arab states that are siding with rebel forces in the two-year civil war. But it reflects pressure being exerted by key rebel backers - Qatar and Saudi Arabia - for a show of Arab solidarity against Assad at a two-day Arab League summit beginning Tuesday in Doha.

The gathering comes amid a serious shakeup within the opposition force over complaints that international support is insufficient to bring down Assad and turn the tide against his security forces.

The president of the Western-backed Syrian opposition coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, resigned Sunday from the Syrian National Council, blaming world powers for not giving the anti-Assad forces the ability to "defend themselves" against Assad's superior military power.

It was a clear snub of U.S. and Western allies that have resisted calls by regional countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to increase the flow of heavy weapons to rebel fighters. Western governments fear stepped-up military aid could prolong the bloodshed and potentially give greater firepower to Islamic extremists who have

joined the civil war, which has claimed more than 70,000 lives.

The Doha summit could now become a high-profile forum for a newcomer opposition figure, Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-born American who this month became head of the Syrian National Council's interim government. Qatar's prime minister, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, has invited Hitto to the summit.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr Kamel said it was now up to the Syrian opposition to decide on its envoy once the Arab League officially transfers the seat after the summit gets under way.

The Saudi deputy foreign minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, called the decision another "turning point" in boosting international recognition of the Syrian National Council, which has presented itself to world leaders as a political alternative to Assad.

The move, however, also underscores some rifts and reservations among Arab states.

Syria's neighbor Lebanon - caught in a volatile split between Assad backers and opponents - abstained from the vote on switching the Arab League seat, said a diplomat who took part in the discussions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

Other nations are wary about completely cutting ties with Assad. Iraq and Algeria voted in favor of transferring Syria's seat, but urged the Arab League to take a "conservative" approach toward the civil war, the diplomat said.

Only hours before the Arab League decision, the traditional Syrian flag - not the rebel version - was displayed in the meeting hall in a sign of the disputes over how far to back the rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Paris on Wednesday to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for talks that are expected to focus on arming Syrian rebels. The discussion also is expected to touch on the suspected - but still unproven - use of chemical weapons in Syria, according to French officials.


Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, head of the Syrian opposition delegation, at the
Arab League summit in Doha on March 26, 2013 (AFP, Karim Sahib)

Related Article:


Saturday, March 23, 2013

After intense talks, US and Afghanistan reach deal on prison handover

Deutsche Welle, 23 March 2013


The US is set to handover the Bagram Prison to Afghan authorities on Monday, according to a deal the two governments made after two weeks of talks. Technicalities stalled the handover a fortnight ago.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai resolved disagreements on Saturday regarding the transfer of Bagram Prison - also known as the Detention Facility in Parwan - to Afghan officials.

"[Hagel] welcomed President Karzai's commitment that the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

Two weeks ago, talks came to a halt when Hagel refused to finalize the agreement without a guarantee from the Afghan government that it would not release prisoners considered dangerous upon receiving full authority over the facility.

Karzai had said Bagram's detainees were innocent, leading US officials to worry that he would release prisoners who would return to insurgency.

The spat caused embarrassment to the US secretary defense who had only recently assumed the post.

Under the agreement reached on Saturday, Afghan officials are scheduled to assume full authority over the prison at the beginning of next week.

Bagram Prison, which has earned a reputation rivalled only by Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, houses suspected insurgents.

In September, Afghanistan assumed control over some 3,000 prisoners there, while the US maintained authority of several hundred Afghan prisoners and final veto power over the release of prisoners.

It was unclear from initial reporters whether the US would retain veto power under the terms of the new agreement.

The transfer of the notorious prison comes ahead of the 2014 withdrawal of the majority of NATO's 96,000 troops currently serving in Afghanistan.

kms/jlw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Obama visits Jordan's 'spectacular' Petra ruins

Google – AFP, 23 March 2013 

US President Barack Obama tours the Treasury Building at the ancient city
of Petra in Jordan on March 23, 2013 (AFP, Saul Loeb)

PETRA, Jordan — US President Barack Obama strolled among the ancient Jordanian ruins at Petra on Saturday, on the final leg of a four-day Middle East tour dominated by his embrace of Israel.

Obama flew by helicopter to view the rose-coloured stone ruins of the ancient Nabataean city, after winds from a sandstorm abated and allowed him to make the 55-minute trip across the plains and mountains of Jordan.

On Friday, high winds in Israel forced Obama to take his motorcade instead of his Marine One chopper to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and there had been fears his jaunt to Petra would be scrapped.

The US president, on the first foreign journey of his second term, emerged into a sunlit square facing the iconic Treasury building at Petra, carved out of the towering walls of sandstone rocks in southern Jordan.

"This is pretty spectacular," Obama, in a blue windbreaker, sweater, khaki pants and sunglasses said, peering up at the rocky cliffs.

"It's amazing. Spectacular."

Obama arrived at the ruins through a famous tunnel squeezed through rock formations, and was led through the World Heritage Site by Dr Suleiman al-Farajat, a University of Jordan tourism professor.

The visit to Petra, Jordan's most visited tourist site, wrapped up a four-day stay in the Middle East designed to assure Israel he is serious about its defence from Iran and to keep Israeli-Palestinian peace hopes alive.

Obama also warned on Friday that he was worried that Syria could become an enclave of "extremism" as his own policy towards the vicious sectarian war threatening to tear the nation apart came under scrutiny.

"(Extremists) are very good about exploiting situations that, you know, are no longer functioning. They fill that gap," Obama said at a news conference with King Abdullah II.

Obama's reluctance to arm opposition groups in Syria, fearing they are, or could transform into, extremist Islamist foes with links to Al-Qaeda, dogged him during questioning by journalists.

On Friday, a Jordanian reporter asked him why superpower America had no plan to end the killing in Syria, prompting Obama to defend US diplomatic efforts to isolate Syria and to note hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid.

He also said he would ask Congress to provide $200 million in budget support for Jordan this year as it cares for more than 450,000 Syrian refugees.

"This will mean more humanitarian assistance and basic services, including education for Syrian children so far from home, whose lives have been upended," he said.

At least 120,000 Syrian refugees are in the sprawling northern border camp of Zaatari alone, and Jordan has repeatedly complained that the growing numbers of Syrians, expected to reach 700,000 this year, are draining its resources.

Obama also warned during his visit that the use of chemical weapons by Syria's armed forces would be a game changer that would invite international action.

He wrapped up his first visit to Israel as president on Friday by giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had feuded in his first term, a hug.

He also pulled off an unexpected coup, engineering a deal to restore diplomatic relations between estranged US allies Israel and Turkey, concluded in a tarmac telephone call at Tel Aviv airport before he departed for Jordan.

Netanyahu apologised to Turkey and his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla and announced a full resumption of diplomatic ties as well as compensation to end a near three-year row.

Obama cautioned that the deal, though important, should not spark too much euphoria, saying: "You know, this is a work in progress. It's just beginning."

"There are obviously going to still be some significant disagreements between Turkey and Israel not just on the Palestinian question but on a range of different issues."

The centrepiece of Obama's visit to Israel was a powerful direct appeal to young Israelis on Thursday when he declared the two-state peace solution was very much alive and their only hope of true security, urging them to try to see the situation through Palestinian eyes.

He also accepted that Israel had a right to ensure its self-defence, but urged time for his diplomatic push to work to halt Iran's controversial nuclear programme.



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Lebanese PM hands in resignation to president

The Daily Star, March 23, 2013

President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati hold talks at
Baabda Palace on Friday, March 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra)
                              
BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati handed in his resignation to President Michel Sleiman Saturday and stressed that his decision was a personal one.

“I did not consult any side before taking the decision to step down from my position: My decision was a personal one,” Mikati, who formed his 30 member Cabinet in June 2011, told reporters at Baabda Palace, where he formally handed his resignation to Sleiman.

For his part, Sleiman expressed gratitude for the government’s work and called on it to assume the role of caretaker cabinet until a new one is formed, a statement from the president’s office said.

Mikati’s decision Friday came shortly after Hezbollah and its March 8 allies foiled attempts during a Cabinet session to create a body to supervise the June 9 parliamentary polls and rejected the premier’s proposal for the extension of the police chief’s term.

At a news conference following his talks with Sleiman, Mikati reiterated his hope that his resignation would pave the way for a solution to end the political deadlock in the country.

He also reiterated his call for the resumption of National Dialogue under the auspices of Sleiman.

“What is important now is to resume National Dialogue and to form a salvation Cabinet at such a critical phase,” the Tripoli lawmaker said.

Asked about the possibility of being renamed prime minster to form the next Cabinet, Mikati said: “It is too early to address such an issue.”

Mikati’s announcement Friday was praised by the opposition March 14 coalition.

After accepting the resignation of the prime minister and appointing him as caretaker, Sleiman calls for the launch of parliamentary consultations for the naming of a new prime minister-designate.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Oman's sultan pardons dissidents who were jailed for defaming him

Qaboos bin Said al Said issues royal pardon to estimated 50 protesters in effort to salve unrest inspired by Arab spring

guardian.co.uk, Reuters in Muscat, Friday 22 March 2013


Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman has sought to ease public discontent with
a variety of populist policies. Photograph: Stefan Zaklin/EPA

The sultan of Oman has pardoned all dissidents who were jailed for defaming him or taking part in protests, in the latest effort to defuse unrest inspired by the Arab spring.

Oman's state news agency did not say how many prisoners would be freed, but activists say courts sentenced at least 50 dissidents to jail terms of up to 18 months last year.

"His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has issued a royal pardon for those convicted of defamation, information technology crimes and unauthorised rallies," the agency said.

Last week a court freed eight activists who went on hunger strike in February saying they had been sentenced unfairly. The court ordered a retrial.

In recent months the government has sought to ease public discontent by announcing plans to limit the number of foreign workers and sharply raise the minimum wage for citizens in a drive to increase their employment.

Oman, which sits on the Strait of Hormuz through which about 40% of the world's seaborne oil exports passes, has also pledged to create tens of thousands of public sector jobs. But delays in implementing the promises have kept protests simmering, with some anger focused on the 72-year-old sultan.

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