“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)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

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 ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Senegal president facing election defeat

Abdoulaye Wade admits he will fall short of required 50% majority and is likely to be challenged by former PM Macky Sall

guardian.co.uk, David Smith in Johannesburg, Wednesday 29 February 2012

Abdoulaye Wade suffered a humiliating defeat in areas of Senegal that
were once his stronghold. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Abdoulaye Wade, one of Africa's oldest leaders, is facing the prospect of defeat in Senegal after an election that protesters say he should never have been allowed to contest.

The 85-year-old had been confident of gaining enough votes in the first round to secure an outright victory.

But Wade has admitted he will fall short of the required 50% majority. He is now likely to be challenged by Macky Sall, 50, his former prime minister.

Wade's best chance of clinging to power may have gone. In the first round the opposition was split between 13 candidates. They are likely to unite behind one in the runoff.

Senegal's newspapers on Tuesday ran headlines such as: "It's finished," "Wade suddenly becomes a lamb!" and "It feels like the end!"

Critics such as the singer Youssou N'Dour have argued that the constitution should bar Wade, who has been in power for the past 12 years, from seeking a third term. He brushed off the complaint, triggering street protests in which at least six people died, a shock in the usually stable west African state.

Spectators booed and jeered Wade loudly when he went to cast his vote on Sunday, a once unthinkable scene that caused his bodyguards to whisk him away. The polls were otherwise calm and ran smoothly, however.

With results from around half the country's polling stations in, Wade was on 32%, ahead of Sall on around 25% but still well short of the 50% needed to end the contest.

The president suffered a humiliating defeat in areas of the country that used to be his stronghold. In the capital, Dakar, he trailed in third.

With counting ongoing, EU and US observers said they thought a first-round winner was increasingly improbable.

Wade himself conceded as much. Amadou Sall, a spokesman for the Wade campaign, told Reuters: "The results that we have clearly indicate that there will be a second round. We don't need to be told it. We voted peacefully, with dignity and in complete transparency. We don't need to be taught any lessons – we know how to count."

Moustapha Niasse, another ex-premier under Wade, now heading for third place with around 13%, has called for opposition supporters to vote against Wade in the runoff. "Stopping Wade is an imperative, it is a necessity, this is a must," he told French RFI radio.

Turnout was around 60% in the election, with many Senegalese having to queue for hours to vote. In Dakar's working-class neighbourhood of Parcelles Assainies, residents said they were confident in electoral democracy.

Mamadou Diane, an unemployed teacher, told Reuters: "Maybe the president thought that with the force of the state he could push the vote through, but people are determined to make a change."

The 90-member EU observer mission questioned why Senegal's government is not publishing real-time results, saying that in the internet age there is no reason for the delay.

Final results will be announced on Friday, with a second round scheduled for 18 March.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ex-South African Leader Nelson Mandela, 93, Admitted to Hospital

Jakarta Globe, February 25, 2012

This file photo shows South African former President Nelson Mandela in
Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela, 93, was admitted to hospital on Saturday
after doctors advised specialist medical attention for a long-standing
abdominal complaint. (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)
Related articles

Johannesburg. Former South African leader Nelson Mandela, 93, was admitted to hospital on Saturday after doctors advised specialist medical attention for a long-standing abdominal complaint.

“President Jacob Zuma wishes to advise that former president Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital today, the 25th February 2012,” a statement from the presidency said.

“Madiba has had a long-standing abdominal complaint and doctors feel it needs proper specialist medical attention.”

The health of the increasingly frail anti-apartheid icon, who is affectionately known as Madiba, sparked national fears after he was hospitalized early last year for an acute respiratory infection.

“We wish him a speedy recovery and assure him of the love and good wishes of all South Africans and people throughout the world,” the statement from the presidency said.

“We request that all respect the privacy of Madiba and that of his family during this period.”

Mandela returned to his Johannesburg home last month from his rural home village in the Eastern Cape. He last appeared in public at the final of the football World Cup hosted by South Africa in July 2010.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, a year before he was elected the country’s first black president in South Africa’s first all-race vote and served one term before stepping down in 1999.

Agence France-Presse

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hamas ditches Assad, backs Syrian revolt

Reuters, by Omar Fahmy and Nidal al-Mughrabi, CAIRO/GAZA, Fri Feb 24, 2012

Feb 24 (Reuters) - Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad's army, largely led by fellow members of the president's Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi'ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas's future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran's fellow Shi'ite allies in Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

"I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform," Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo's al-Azhar mosque.

"We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs," chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world's highest seats of learning. "No Hezbollah and no Iran.

"The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution."

Contemporary political rivalries have exacerbated tensions that date back centuries between Sunnis - the vast majority of Arabs - and Shi'ites, who form substantial Arab populations, notably in Lebanon and Iraq, and who dominate in non-Arab Iran.

Hamas and Hezbollah, confronting Israel on its southwestern and northern borders, have long had a strategic alliance against the Jewish state, despite opposing positions on the sectarian divide. Both have fought wars with Israel in the past six years.

But as the Sunni-Shi'ite split in the Middle East deepens, Hamas appears to have cast its lot with the powerful, Egypt-based Sunni Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose star has been in the ascendant since the Arab Spring revolts last year.


"This is considered a big step in the direction of cutting ties with Syria," said Hany al-Masri, a Palestinian political commentator. Damascus might now opt to formally expel Hamas's exile headquarters from Syria, he told Reuters.

Banned by deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has moved to the centre of public life. It is the ideological parent of Hamas, which was founded 25 years ago among the Palestinians, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Shi'ite Hezbollah still supports the Assad family, from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, which has maintained authoritarian rule over Syria's Sunni majority for four decades but now may have its back to the wall.

Hamas, however, has been deeply embarrassed among Palestinians by its association with Assad, as the death toll in his crackdown on opponents has risen into the thousands.

In Gaza, senior Hamas member Salah al-Bardaweel addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in Khan Younis refugee camp, sending "a message to the peoples who have not been liberated yet, those free peoples who are still bleeding every day."

"The hearts of the Palestinian people bleed with every drop of bloodshed in Syria," Bardaweel said. "No political considerations will make us turn a blind eye to what is happening on the soil of Syria."


The divorce between Hamas and Damascus had been coming for months. The Palestinian group had angered Assad last year when it refused a request to hold public rallies in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria in support of his government.

Hamas's exile political leader Khaled Meshaal and his associates quietly quit their headquarters in Damascus and have stayed away from Syria for months now, although Hamas tried to deny their absence had anything to do with the revolt.

Haniyeh visited Iran earlier this month on a mission to shore up ties with the power that has provided Hamas with money and weapons to fight Israel. It is not clear what the outcome of his visit has been, though the tone of the latest Hamas comments is hardly compatible with continued warm relations with Tehran.

Rallies in favor of Syria's Sunni majority have been rare in the coastal enclave but on Friday it seemed the Islamist rulers of the territory had decided to break the silence.

"Nations do not get defeated. They do not retreat and they do not get broken. We are on your side and on the side of all free peoples," said Bardaweel.

"God is Greatest," the crowd chanted. "Victory to the people of Syria."

Hamas-Hezbollah relations have been good in the past. But Hamas did not attack Israel when it was fighting Hezbollah in 2006 and Hezbollah did not join in when Israel mounted a major offensive against Hamas in Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.

Anything that divides Hamas and Hezbollah is likely to be welcomed by Israel, which has been watching warily recent moves by Hamas to reconcile differences with its Palestinian rivals in Fatah, the movement of President Mahmoud Abbas.

There was no immediate Israeli comment on Friday's speeches.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Cairo; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

Burning buildings in Baba Amr, Homs, an area heavily
shelled by the Syrian regime. Photograph: Local 
Co-ordination Committees/EPA

Related Articles:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Syrian regime accused of crimes against humanity by UN

A UN list of senior Syrian officials who should face investigation is reported to include the president, Bashar al-Assad

guardian.co.uk, Julian Borger and Peter Beaumont, Thursday 23 February 2012

Burning buildings in Baba Amr, Homs, an area heavily shelled by the
Syrian regime. Photograph: Local Co-ordination Committees/EPA

The UN has accused the Syrian regime of "crimes against humanity" – including the use of snipers against small children – and has drawn up a list of senior officials who should face investigation, reportedly including President Basharal-Assad.

The UN report was delivered as two journalists injured in the attack that killed Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik issued dramatic appeals to be evacuated from the besieged city of Homs, where they are trapped.

A video of Edith Bouvier, a reporter for Le Figaro who suffered serious leg injuries, was released by activists in the city who say she is too badly wounded to be moved without an ambulance and guarantee of safe passage. In a second video released shortly after, Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, who was also injured in the attack, made a similar appeal for evacuation.

Western officials urged Damascus to give immediate humanitarian access to trapped civilian populations in Homs and elsewhere, including the evacuation of the western journalists, but said the lack of a security council mandate meant they were powerless to provide assistance without the regime's permission.

The UN report found evidence that "army snipers and Shabbiha gunmen [from pro-Assad militias] posted at strategic points terrorised the population, targeting and killing small children, women and other unarmed civilians. Fragmentation mortar bombs were also fired into densely populated neighbourhoods."

It said: "Security agencies continued to systematically arrest wounded patients in state hospitals and to interrogate them, often using torture, about their supposed participation in opposition demonstrations or armed activities."

The list of Syrian regime officials claimed to be involved in the crackdown will remain sealed until the alleged crimes can be investigated by an international human rights court. Such an investigation has so far been blocked by Russian and Chinese UN security council vetoes of concerted international action against the Damascus regime.

One commissioner who helped draw up the UN report, Yakin Ertürk, said: "All the crimes we listed came from several consistent witness accounts and showed systematic abuses."

She said the list of the named top officials believed to be involved had been kept sealed because "we are not a court. We could not investigate and sentence like a court.

"So it has been deposited with the UN high commissioner for human rights. When and if these incidents are investigated by a court, it will be made available and provide an input into the investigation."

The UN inquiry said it found "a reliable body of evidence" implicating "commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of government" in the commission of "crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations". Although no names were released, Assad was reported to be top of the list.

The report also says rebel groups, known collectively as the Free Syrian Army, have committed torture and extra-judicial executions, but argues those violations are in no way "comparable in scale and organisation" to the abuses being carried out by the Assad regime, which have led to thousands of deaths.

"I am appalled by the evidence that young children are being targeted by snipers, and that security forces continue to arrest and torture wounded patients in state hospitals," said Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East.

"I am also very concerned at evidence of abuses by the Free Syrian Army, though the report makes clear these are on a far smaller scale than the widespread and systematic violations by the Syrian authorities. I call on all Syrians to respect human rights standards, end the violence immediately and ensure neutral and impartial access for humanitarian organisations to deliver desperately needed supplies and medical care. "

Speaking in London, on the sidelines of a conference on Somalia, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, warned that the Assad regime would be held accountable for its crimes "one day or another". He said: "With every passing day it gets more revolting, scandalous and shameful. The regime is massacring its people."

The minister said he had received reports that the Syrian government had ordered the governor of Homs to lift the siege on the rebel-held parts of the city, but said he could not confirm the news. He said a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Tunis would demand a ceasefire and for humanitarian access to be allowed to besieged civilians, but he warned the international community could not force its way in.

"There is no military option at the moment on the table," Juppé said. "We are hugely frustrated. I can understand the sense of impotence. The dead are piling up. I can't say it's anything but a very deep source of anguish for me. We are doing everything we can, but we can't break the rules and act without the approval of the UN security council."

Syrian forces continued their onslaught against opposition strongholds throughout the country, with heavy artillery barrages against Baba Amr, the district of Homs where Colvin and Ochlik were killed.

Opposition activist Omar Shaker told the Associated Press that food, water and medical supplies were running dangerously low. "Every minute counts. People will soon start to collapse from lack of sleep and shortages in food," he said.

In a separate incident, opposition activists reported that government forces had lined up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one extended family in the village of Kfartoun in Hama province.

Chinese and Russian vetoes have complicated the international response to the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Homs and other Syrian cities in the line of fire as Assad's forces seek to liquidate rebel strongholds.

Western and Arab leaders will meet in Tunis on Friday, without Russian or Chinese participation, in an attempt to unify the opposition to the regime, increase pressure for a ceasefire and prepare humanitarian relief.

The latest developments come amid strong indications that UK and US officials are working behind the scenes to attempt to unify Syria's fractured opposition.

Earlier this week the International Committee of the Red Cross called for temporary ceasefires so it could reach those trapped and wounded in the worst-affected areas.

The UN panel was denied entry to Syria by the government, which accused it of ignoring official information and exceeding its mandate.

The panel instead gathered much of its information from sources outside the country, including human rights activists and Syrian army defectors.

The report claims the ruling Ba'ath party's national security bureau was responsible for translating government policies into military operations that led to the systematic arrest or killing of civilians.

It says the four main intelligence and security agencies reporting directly to Assad – military intelligence, air force intelligence, the general intelligence directorate and the political security directorate – "were at the heart of almost all operations".

The report details how businessmen helped hire and arm informal pro-government militias known as the Shabbiha.

"In a number of operations, the commission documented how Shabbiha members were strategically employed to commit crimes against humanity and other gross violations," it said.

The report also identifies 38 detention centres "for which the commission documented cases of torture and ill-treatment since March 2011".

UN list

A panel of United Nations investigators has accused regime officials "at the highest level" of human rights violations which could subject them to prosecution.

The UN report accuses the regime of systemic attacks on the political opposition, human rights defenders and the media. It also alleges there have been widespread patterns of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and abductions.

The names on the UN list are as yet confidential but they are likely to include the following leading members of Syria's formidable security apparatus, who are alleged to have played prominent roles in the crackdown.

Major General Jumah Al-Ahmad

The commander of Syria's special forces and one of the most influential figures in the country's military. His unit is alleged to have played a key role disrupting rights protests with lethal force across the country.

Colonel Lu'ai Al-Ali

Head of Syrian military intelligence in Dera'a. The south-western city near the border with Jordan was the birthplace of the Syrian uprising last March. Violence started when troops opened fire on demonstrators who had gathered to protest against the detention of children who had been accused of writing graffiti on town walls. Dera'a remained a hub of dissent and regime-led violence throughout last summer.

Lt General Ali Abdullah Ayyub

The deputy chief of general staff (personnel and manpower), who is the officer primarily responsible for moving military forces around Syria. He is seen as a logistical key to the crackdown.

Lt General Jasim Al-Furay

The chief of general staff and one of the most trusted advisers to President Bashar al-Assad. He has supervisory oversight across all of Syria's military operations and is a key strategist and tactician.

General Aous Aslan

The head of a battalion in the Republican Guard. He is also a key adviser to Assad and to his brother, Maher al-Assad, who directs the fourth division of the Syrian Army, the unit that has been at the frontline of most of the country's flashpoint areas, particularly Dera'a, Homs and Hama.

Ethiopia dam project rides roughshod over heritage of local tribespeople

Human rights abuse allegations as tens of thousands forced off traditional lands to make way for Gibe III dam project plantations

guardian.co.uk, John Vidal, environment editor, Thursday 23 February 2012

The Gibe III dam and its accompanying plantations pose a threat to
the serenity of the Omo river valley, home to various local tribes.
Photograph: Remi Benali/Getty Images

Thousands of semi-nomadic tribespeople are being forcibly moved from their traditional lands in southern Ethiopia to make way for European and Indian sugar cane and biofuel plantations, according to testimonies collected by Survival International researchers.

Agricultural developments along the Omo river valley have accompanied the building of the 243-metre-high Gibe III dam, expected to be Ethiopia's largest investment project and Africa's largest hydropower plant. But allegations of human rights abuses have marred both the dam's construction and the creation of a 140-mile-long reservoir intended to provide water for irrigation of industrial-scale plantations.

"Clearance of people and bush has started in earnest in the Omo Valley and violence against tribal people by the military, and tribal resistance, is increasing", says a Survival researcher who has just returned to London from the region.

"The tribes have been told the plan is to resettle them, and that this will happen by the end of 2012. These people are among the most self-sufficient in a country where famine and hunger are prevalent."

New sugar cane and biofuel plantations are already affecting about 10,000 people from the Bodi, Mursi and Kwegu tribes. But as the government clears more land, more people will be affected. Between 20,000 and 40,000 could be affected by one cane project alone, claims Survival.

"The plantations and resettlement of people [into new villages] will destroy their livelihoods and ability to fend for themselves," said a spokesman. "They will almost certainly end up languishing in the villages or 'camps', relying on donor aid [and] having lost all sense of identity and self worth, as has happened with other tribes forcibly resettled in many other countries."

The Omo tribes, who are among the most diverse in the world, have until now depended on the annual, three-month long flood of the Omo river, which flows from southern Ethiopia into Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, depositing fertile silt and allowing them to plant sorghum, maize and other crops. But without land for cultivation or grazing, the tribes will be destitute and foodless, say international observers.

"The government came to take the land for itself for the sugar cane plantations," said one man in a testimony given to Survival. "It never came to ask us. It came, took our land, and told us it wants to move all the people in the Omo Valley to stay in one place like a camp. It took my land. Now it beats us."

A second man said: "The government says cattle and people have to move from the Omo valley to where there are no grass and no crops. We and the cattle will die together. We are not rich people, we are pastoralists."

"There are many machines clearing the bush and the road. The government is coming to clear our houses and throw our sorghum in the river. Now we live in the bush because all the land has been cleared," said a third.

The construction of large dams has a history of insensitive relocations of people and environmental problems. More than 400,000 people have been resettled as a direct result of dam construction in Africa. But the construction of Gibe III could eventually affect more than 1.5 million people, according to watchdog group International Rivers.

Some of the greatest hydrological effects could be seen near Lake Turkana, into which the river Omo flows. When the dam is complete and the reservoir is full, possibly in 2015, the lake could shrink to one third of its present size, jeopardising the livelihoods of up to 300,000 people.

The Ethiopian government in London did not respond to the allegations this week, but late last year it strongly denied accusations of human rights abuses in the valley, saying: "The government is fully committed to rural development to benefit the people and it is equally committed to the rights of all the nations, nationalities and peoples in the country, including those in the Omo river basin. The reality on the ground in the Omo Valley shows a totally different picture to that painted by Survival International. Following consultations, local people have confirmed agreement to the plantation projects, and to the proposed resettlement; the projects, designed for everybody's benefit and well-being, are progressing smoothly."

A spokesman for International Rivers said: "The dwindling of resources caused by the dam would increase local conflicts between ethnic groups. Firearms are already omnipresent among the region's communities. But the dam is just one factor in a perfect storm rapidly descending on the Lower Omo Valley. The government of Ethiopia is exploring the area for oil and minerals and planning large-scale agricultural and biofuel schemes, which could further fuel conflicts over traditional land and water resources."

Related Article:

Dam(ning) the World’s Resources” – 23 Aug 2011 (Gaia channelled by Lee Pepper Lewis) - Is it true that Brasil plans to build as many as 60 dams along the Amazon? Can they do that? Will you allow it?

Afsluitdijk, The Netherlands

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marie Colvin's killing piles pressure on Assad as civilian death toll rises

Nicolas Sarkozy calls death of Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik an assassination, and says: 'This regime must go'

guardian.co.uk, Martin Chulov and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, Wednesday 22 February 2012

Fires burning in the Bab al-Amr district of Homs where Marie Colvin and
Remi Ochlik died. Photograph: AP

The deaths of veteran Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, and the rising toll of civilian dead in Syria, has prompted renewed calls for an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Their deaths came on a day in which, according to activists, more than 80 people were killed in the besieged district of Bab al-Amr in the city of Homs, which has been under daily attack by the Syrian army for the past three weeks.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described the deaths of the two journalists as an assassination, and said that the Assad era had to end.

"That's enough now," Sarkozy said. "This regime must go and there is no reason that Syrians don't have the right to live their lives and choose their destiny freely. If journalists were not there, the massacres would be a lot worse."

The foreign secretary William Hague described the deaths as "a terrible reminder of the suffering of the Syrian people – scores of whom are dying every day.

"Marie and Remi died bringing us the truth about what is happening to the people of Homs," Hague said. "Governments around the world have the responsibility to act upon that truth – and to redouble our efforts to stop the Assad regime's despicable campaign of terror in Syria."

David Cameron paid tribute to Colvin, telling the House of Commons that the death of the "talented and respected foreign correspondent" was "a desperately sad reminder of the risks journalists take to inform the world of what is happening and the dreadful events in Syria."

Colvin and Ochlik were killed in Homs after an artillery shell hit the house in which they were staying.

Three other foreign reporters, as well as seven activists from Bab al-Amr, were also wounded on Wednesday. One of the injured is freelance photographer Paul Conroy, who was travelling with Colvin.

Edith Bouvier, a freelance journalist working for the French paper Le Figaro, suffered serious injuries to her leg in the attack, and activists warned that she was at risk of bleeding to death.

Jean-Pierre Perrin, senior foreign correspondent at the French daily Libération, told the Guardian he had been with Colvin and other journalists at a makeshift press centre in Homs and had left with her several days ago after being warned that the Syrian army were preparing a major offensive and that journalists could be targeted. Colvin waited, decided the offensive against the press centre had not happened, so returned to Homs a few days later.

He said the reporters had discussed concerns about Syrian army deliberately targeting journalists.

Perrin told Libération that the press centre, which had a generator and a patchy internet connection, was the only means of informing the outside world of what was happening in the city. "If the press centre were destroyed, there would be no more information out of Homs."

Perrin said the Syrian army recommended "killing any journalist that stepped on Syrian soil". He said the journalists had been aware of this, and of reports of intercepted communications between Syrian officers that recommended killing all journalists found between the Libyan border and Homs, and making out they had been killed in combat between terrorist groups.

He said of his departure from Homs with Colvin: "We had been advised to leave the town [of Homs] urgently, we were told 'If they find you, they will kill you.' So I left with the Sunday Times journalist [Marie Colvin], but later she wanted to go back when she saw the offensive hadn't happened."

In the deadliest period for the media since the uprising in Syria began, at least three citizen journalists have also been killed in recent days, in an apparent attempt by the regime to prevent news emerging from Homs. The three Syrians had all played prominent roles in chronicling the army's assault on Homs. One of those killed was the video blogger Rami al-Sayed, also known as Syria Pioneer, who had uploaded to the internet at least 200 videos of killing and destruction in his neighbourhood.

Colvin, a decorated foreign correspondent with more than 30 years of experience in conflict zones, and Ochlik, who last month won a World Press Photo award, died instantly when the shell struck the safe house that had been provided for them by local activists just after 9am. Colvin's body, along with Ochlik's, was recovered from the rubble just after 1pm.

Colvin's editor, John Witherow, released a statement that said: "Marie was an extraordinary figure in the life of the Sunday Times, driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered. She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice. Above all, as we saw in her powerful report last weekend, her thoughts were with the victims of violence.

"Throughout her long career she took risks to fulfil this goal, including being badly injured in Sri Lanka. Nothing seemed to deter her. But she was much more than a war reporter. She was a woman with a tremendous joie de vivre, full of humour and mischief and surrounded by a large circle of friends, all of whom feared the consequences of her bravery."

Colvin and Ochlik had been in Bab al-Amr for the past week reporting on the bloody siege of opposition-held parts of Syria's third city, which has claimed hundreds of lives and led to a humanitarian crisis.

The house in which the reporters were based was located next to a hospital and had been the main refuge for all reporters who had made it to Bab al-Amr in the face of a relentless barrage by regime forces.

An activist for the campaigning group Avaaz who witnessed Wednesday's attack said: "I left the house after it got struck and headed to a house across the street. The shelling continues and the bodies of the journalists are still on the ground. We can't get them out because of the intensity of the shelling even though we're only a few metres away from them."

Another witness told the Guardian that rockets were continuing to rain down on the area as the wounded tried to escape the bombed house. A graphic video posted on the internet showed the two-storey house in ruins – a scale of damage that could only be caused by a heavy artillery round. Two bodies were visible in the rubble.

Three of the wounded are understood to be in a serious condition and in urgent need of treatment.

They face a long and perilous drive to the Lebanese border where Red Cross officials are preparing to meet them.

The foreign editor of the Times, Richard Beeston, released a short statement on Twitter that read: "Terrible news about Marie Colvin. First worked with her Beirut 85. Most courageous, glamorous foreign corr I have ever met. Tragic loss."

Colvin used a web forum to make what is believed to be her last post on Tuesday. "I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated," she wrote. "In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."

On Tuesday night, Sayed also lodged a final missive. "Baba Amr is being exterminated. Do not tell me our hearts are with you because I know that. We need campaigns everywhere across the world and inside the country. People should protest in front of embassies and everywhere. Because in hours, there will be no more Baba Amr. And I expect this message to be my last."

Related Article:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Somali Leaders Sign Deal for New Govt Structure

Jakarta Globe, February 19, 2012

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Mogadishu, Somalia. Somalia’s disparate leaders have agreed on the basic structure of a new parliament and government to replace the fragile transitional body that has failed to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Constant infighting, rampant corruption and bloody attacks by Islamist Shebab insurgents have undermined Somalia’s unelected Transitional Federal Government, whose Western-backed mandate ends in August.

Somalia’s president, the presidents of the breakaway Puntland and Galmudug regions, and the commander of the powerful anti-Shebab militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa signed the deal under UN auspices.

The accord proposes a parliamentary system for anarchic Somalia, with both Puntland and Galmudug recognized as states within a federal system.

A new 225-member lower house — including at least 30 percent women — will be nominated by “traditional elders assisted by prominent civil society members,” the agreement reads, released late Saturday after a three-day meeting.

The agreement is the latest among more than a dozen attempts to resolve Somalia’s more than two decade-old civil war, with the country split between rival factions and pirate gangs who hijack ships far across the Indian Ocean.

Al Qaeda allied Shebab fighters, who control large parts of central and southern Somalia where they are battling African Union-backed government forces as well as Kenyan and Ethiopian troops, immediately condemned the deal.

“The agreement is treason because it is part of a master plan of the international community to send Somalia back to colonisation,” Shebab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters.

“The mujahedeen fighters will not accept such conferences and their outcomes — instead we fight against them and, with the help of Allah, we will win the war,” he said.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, and the leadership in the capital Mogadishu is propped up by a 10,000-strong AU force from Uganda, Burundi and Djibouti.

In addition, a 1,000-member upper house — the National Constituent Assembly — will be nominated by agreement signatories “assisted by traditional leaders and civil society” groups. The upper house too must include at least 30 percent women.

“To ensure trust in the federal parliament, members must be patriotic, honest and of good standing in Somali society,” the agreement reads, noting that anyone guilty of “serious crime or crimes against humanity” will be barred.

“They must respect and uphold the rights of all Somalis and demonstrate tolerance towards all,” says the deal, signed in the northern town of Garowe.

Upper house members will be selected from a “cross-section of society” including representatives from the youth, businesses, diaspora, religious and traditional leaders and “existing and emerging regional administrations.”

The deal also recommends “a compensation package” to appease existing lawmakers not selected for the new parliament, many of whom command militia forces.

The deal comes ahead of a London conference on Thursday aimed at mobilizing international players to tackle Somalia’s multiple political and humanitarian crises.

Famine zones in Somalia declared by the UN last August were announced to have improved to emergency conditions earlier this month, but despite massive international aid efforts, conditions remain grim.

A third of Somalia’s population need emergency aid and mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, the UN warns.

Agence France-Presse

Saturday, February 18, 2012

China backs Assad before Syrian forces open fire at funeral

Beijing's deputy foreign minister argues for 'stability' as regime continues to target protesters

guardian.co.uk, Conal Urquhart and agencies, Saturday 18 February 2012 

An image grab taken from a video uploaded to YouTube showing
Syrian mourners coming under fire. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

China has expressed support for President Bashar al-Assad's regime as Syrian security forces continue to target pro-democracy protesters.

The endorsement of Assad by Chinese deputy foreign minister Zhai Jun on Saturday came shortly before Syrian troops opened fire on a funeral procession in Damascus.

Zhai, who met Syrian opposition and government representatives before backing Assad, said China was "deeply concerned by the escalating crisis" but added that "the Chinese experience shows a nation cannot develop without stability".

The Chinese official said his government supported Syria's plan for a referendum on constitutional reform next week. "China supports the path of reform taking place in Syria and the important steps that have been taken in this respect," he said.

A few hours later, Syrian forces opened fire on the funeral of three men killed by security forces on Friday, killing at least one person.

"They started firing at the crowd right after the burial. People are running and trying to take cover in the alleyways," a witness told Reuters by telephone.

The opposition Syrian Revolution Co-ordination Union said the gunfire near the cemetery had killed one mourner and wounded four, including a woman who was hit in the head.

Up to 30,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the capital's Mezze district, near the headquarters of air force intelligence and that of the ruling Ba'ath party.

Footage of the funeral broadcast on the internet showed women ululating to honour the victims. Mourners shouted: "We sacrifice our blood, our soul for you martyrs. One, one, one, the Syrian people are one."

YouTube footage from the Damascus suburb of Douma showed several thousand protesters at the funerals of two people said to have been killed there by security forces. The bodies were carried though crowds of mourners waving pre-Ba'ath Syrian flags.

The Chinese embassy said Zhai held separate meetings with moderate opposition figures Qadri Jamil, Louay Hussein and Hassan Abdulazim, but gave no details.

"We told the Chinese envoy that most of the opposition accept a dialogue if that dialogue is serious and responsible, meaning that the Syrian authorities would implement what is agreed. But the problem with dialogue is that the authorities have lost credibility," Hussein told Reuters.

Fighting has continued across Syria during the envoy's visit. In Homs, there was no let-up in the bombardment of the city by government forces. Rebels set fire to a fuel tank at a refinery in the city.

The state news agency, Sana, said that 10 members of the security forces were buried on Saturday. A soldier and a local councillor were killed by gunmen in Idlib and Aleppo, the agency said.

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Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (L) and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden
 show T-shirts with messages on them presented by students at the
 International Studies Learning Center in Los Angeles, the United States,
Feb. 17, 2012. (Xinhua/Liu Jiansheng)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Anthony Shadid: tributes pour in for New York Times journalist

Journalists and senior politicians have been reacting to the death of 'one of the world's bravest and best journalists'

guardian.co.uk, Ben Dowell, Friday 17 February 2012

Anthony Shadid 'changed the way we saw Iraq, Egypt and Syria over the last,
crucial, decade,' said one former colleague. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images

Journalists and senior politicians have paid tribute to Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times correspondent who died in Syria on Thursday while reporting the uprising.

According to New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks, who was with Shadid in Syria, he died from an asthma attack brought on by an allergy to the horses used by his guides. Hicks carried his body to Turkey, the New York Times reported.

"I stood next to him and asked if he was OK, and then he collapsed," Mr. Hicks said. "He was not conscious and his breathing was very faint and very shallow." His efforts to revive the reporter failed, the paper reported.

Susan E Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, wrote on Twitter that she was "heartbroken" by the loss of Shadid, who had been reporting inside Syria for a week. She called him "one of the world's bravest and best journalists".

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper also took to Twitter to mourn the "terrible loss" and pay tribute to the "brave and smart reporter".

Martin Baron, the editor of Shadid's old paper the Boston Globe told the New York Times that the he "had such a profound and sophisticated understanding of the region". Baron added: "More than anything, his effort to connect foreign coverage with real people on the ground, and to understand their lives, is what made his work so special."

"He changed the way we saw Iraq, Egypt, Syria over the last, crucial decade," said Phil Bennett, a former managing editor of The Washington Post who worked closely with Shadid, told the paper. "There is no one to replace him."

Shadid, a 43-year-old American of Lebanese descent and a fluent Arabic speaker, joined the New York Times from the Washington Post as Baghdad bureau chief at the end of 2009, and became the newspaper's bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, last year.

In 2002 he was shot in the shoulder while reporting in Ramallah for the Boston Globe and in March last year he and three colleagues were kidnapped in Libya and held for six days. Shadid won the Pulitzer prize for his coverage of Iraq in 2004 and 2010.

In 2004 the Pulitzer board praised "his extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended".

Shadid has also been nominated, along with a team of his colleagues, for the 2012 Pulitzer in international reporting, which are to be announced in April.

In its citation accompanying the nomination, the New York Times wrote: "Steeped in Arab political history but also in its culture, Shadid recognized early on that along with the despots, old habits of fear, passivity and despair were being toppled. He brought a poet's voice, a deep empathy for the ordinary person and an unmatched authority to his passionate dispatches."

His eloquence was also praised by Steve Fainaru, a former Washington Post reporter who worked with Shadid in Iraq. "He wrote poetry on deadline," Fainaru told his newspaper, adding that he "was able to somehow find compassion and empathy in everything he touched and wrote about."