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Posted August 4th, 2011 at 4:54 pm (UTC-5)
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Eritrea Returns to Calm After Mutiny

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
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Calm has reportedly returned to the east African nation of Eritrea a day after a group of mutinous soldiers attempted to take over the country's information ministry.

More than 100 dissident soldiers stormed the ministry in Asmara early Monday, ordering state television announcers to read a statement calling for the release of political prisoners and saying the 1997 constitution would be respected.

It is unclear how the situation was resolved, but the soldiers are believed to have left the ministry by late Monday.

In a message posted on Twitter Tuesday, the director of the Eritrean president's office, Yemane Ghebremeskel, said “all is calm today as it was yesterday.”

Diplomats and residents say the situation in the capital is quiet with no military presence seen on the streets.

The U.S.-based Eritrean opposition website, Awate.com, says the mutiny was led by a prominent military commander, named Saleh Osman, in an attempt to restart stalled negotiations for the country's democratization.

President Isaias Afewerki has ruled Eritrea since 1993. His government has kept tight control on the country, allowing little dissent and no independent media.

The government is believed to hold thousands of political prisoners, including journalists and officials who questioned the president's leadership.

The United Nations human rights office has said the country of about six million people holds between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners.

Syria Activists: Car Bomb Toll at Least 42

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 11:40 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights activists say the death toll from a suicide car bombing in the central province of Hama late Monday has risen to at least 42 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack targeted a building used by pro-government militiamen in the town of Salamiyah. It said civilians were among the dead.

Syrian state news agency SANA gave a death toll of 32 people and blamed the bombing on terrorists whom it says are behind a 22-month rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

The Observatory also reported deadly battles between mostly Sunni anti-government rebels and minority Kurdish fighters in the northeastern town of Ras al-Ain, on the border with Turkey.

It said at least 56 fighters have been killed in a week of fighting in the area. Syria's minority Kurds have largely remained on the sidelines of the majority-Sunni led rebellion, but have long sought greater autonomy from Damascus.

The Observatory said pro-Assad troops and rebels engaged in more battles in Damascus province on Tuesday.

Dozens of Russians boarded buses from Syria to neighboring Lebanon in the first evacuation organized by Moscow since the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

The Russian government had sent two planes to the Lebanese capital Beirut to fly the Russians back home. Syria's main international airport outside Damascus has been largely devoid of traffic in recent weeks due to fighting along the road to the capital.

Russia is one of the few remaining international allies of Mr. Assad's government. But, it has been distancing itself from the Syrian leader, acknowledging that he may be ousted by the uprising.

Separately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on U.N. members to send senior delegations to an international donor conference for Syria, to be held in Kuwait on January 30. He said the international community must do everything it can to help Syrians in need.

The UNHCR reported Tuesday that it is dramatically scaling up its operations for Syrian refugees. The agency says it is hard to keep pace with the increasing numbers of people fleeing Syria into neighboring countries.

Japan Moves to Stimulate Its Stalled Economy

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Japan's central bank is embarking on an American-like plan to stimulate the country's stalled economy by pumping more money into it.

The Bank of Japan, under pressure from the new government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, agreed Tuesday to double its inflation target to 2 percent and stimulate the world's third largest economy for an indefinite period through asset purchases. The economic boost is similar to that undertaken in recent years by the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve.

Japan's economy has been long stalled, restrained by deflation, with falling prices. Mr. Abe said the new policy marked a significant change.

“In terms of making a bold review of monetary policy, I believe (the agreement with the bank) is a ground-breaking statement. A macroeconomic regime change clearly is under way.”

A governor for the Bank of Japan, Masaaki Shirakawa, is optimistic that the stimulus will boost the country's economy.

“They (the government) have again pledged to take concrete steps towards a sustainable fiscal structure. We have high expectations for the government's measures.”

Car Bombs Kill 16 in Iraq

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 6:30 am (UTC-5)
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A wave of car bombings in and around the Iraqi capital has killed at least 16 people.

The blasts Tuesday included an attack near an army base in Taji, 25 kilometers north of Baghdad, which killed six people and wounded at least 20 others.

Another car bomb killed five people, including two soldiers, near a security checkpoint in Mahmudiyah, south of the capital.

A third attack hit Baghdad's Shula neighborhood, killing five others.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.

Last week, a string of attacks across the country killed at least 59 people.

Charles Taylor Appeals War Crimes Case

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 4:55 am (UTC-5)
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Former Liberian president Charles Taylor is appealing his war crimes conviction and 50-year sentence for acts of terrorism, murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

The U.N.-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone in The Hague began hearing two days of oral arguments Tuesday. Taylor's lawyers argued for eliminating or shortening his sentence while prosecutors push for a harsher punishment.

The court convicted Taylor in April 2012 on 11 counts, saying that while he did not command and control rebels who committed atrocities, he was aware of their activities and provided them with weapons and other supplies.

Taylor said his actions were “done with honor” to bring peace to neighboring Sierra Leone, and that without that peace “Liberia would not be able to move forward.”

Prosecutors want the court to impose an 80-year sentence on the 64-year-old Taylor.

He is the first former head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international war crimes court.

British Women Gets Death Sentence for Drug Smuggling in Bali

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 4:25 am (UTC-5)
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An Indonesian court has sentenced a British woman to death for attempting to smuggle drugs into the resort island of Bali.

Fifty-six-year-old Lindsay Sandiford cried when she heard the sentence Tuesday, but did not comment as she was escorted back to jail.

Although Indonesia has notoriously strict drug laws, the sentence was harsher than expected. Prosecutors had recommended only 15 years in prison.

A panel of judges at the Denpasar District Court said there was no reason to lighten Sandiford's sentence, saying she had damaged the image of Bali as a tourist destination.

Sandiford was arrested in May at Bali's international airport with 4.8 kilograms of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase. She says a criminal gang threatened to hurt her children if she did not transport the drugs, which had a street value of $2.5 million.

Her lawyer says she will appeal the verdict.

Two other British citizens have received lighter sentences for their role in the case. A fourth is expected to be sentenced at the end of the month.

Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy says Indonesia has 114 prisoners on death row, although no executions have taken place since 2008.

Condemned criminals there face death by firing squad. But death sentences are sometimes commuted to lengthy prison sentences.

Japanese Lawmaker in China for Talks on Island Dispute

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 2:45 am (UTC-5)
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A Japanese ruling party envoy is in China for talks aimed at reducing tensions over a bitter territorial dispute.

Natsuo Yamaguchi arrived Tuesday in Beijing, where he is delivering a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Yamaguchi hopes to meet with new Chinese leader Xi Jinping and other senior leaders during his four-day visit.

Earlier, he expressed hopes the visit would help normalize relations and lead to a bilateral summit.

Yamaguchi is the first Japanese lawmaker to visit China since the hawkish government of Mr. Abe came to power in December.

Both sides have given recent indications they are ready to de-escalate the dispute over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

Last week, Jia Qinlin, who heads China's top political advisory body, called for talks. He said China places “great importance” on its ties with Japan.

The dispute worsened considerably after Japan last year nationalized some of the islands, known in Japanese as Senkaku and in Chinese as Diaoyu.

But although the dispute may be cooling, there are no signs that either nation intends to back down from its claim to the islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential energy deposits.

Yamaguchi, the Japanese envoy, told reporters Japan still views the islands as its own territory, and that it does not formally recognize that a dispute exists.

Chinese state media Tuesday quoted a foreign ministry spokesperson as saying “Japan's so-called existence or control” of the area is “illegal and invalid.”

Although there have been no clashes, both countries have sent fighter jets to the islands in recent weeks, raising fears of a conflict between Asia's two largest economies.

Japan annexed the islets in the late 19th century. China claimed sovereignty over the archipelago in 1971, saying ancient maps show it has been Chinese territory for centuries.

17 Die from Cold in Afghan Refugee Camps

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 2:40 am (UTC-5)
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The rights group Amnesty International says 17 people have died from cold weather conditions in Afghan refugee camps, and it warns against a repeat of last year, when 100 people died in the camps due to a lack of assistance.

Amnesty made the announcement Tuesday, saying that most of the 17 who died in the first two weeks of January this year were children.

A spokeswoman called the deaths “a preventable tragedy” and blamed “inadequate coordination of winter assistance” to the hundreds of thousands of people living in displacement camps across the country. She said the deaths demonstrate the need to protect the most vulnerable groups — children and the elderly — from the harsh winter weather.

Amnesty is calling on international donors and the Afghan government to make sure aid is delivered to those in need. It says that in one incident in the western province of Herat, the provincial government had not delivered aid to internally displaced people because officials feared the aid would encourage them to stay in the area rather than to return home.

Israelis Vote in Election Favoring Netanyahu

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 1:40 am (UTC-5)
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Israelis are voting Tuesday in a parliamentary election that is expected to bring a third term for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Opinion polls leading up to the vote have shown an alliance of Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party winning the most seats.

The centrist, main opposition Labor party and the far-right Jewish Home party are projected to finish far behind.

Mr. Netanyahu needs a coalition to retain control of the 120-seat parliament, where no party has ever held a majority on its own.

The next government faces a number of challenges, including increasing diplomatic isolation over Israel's policies toward Palestinians, a slowing economy and the threat of Iran developing possible nuclear weapons.

US, China Reach Deal on Tightening UN Sanctions on North Korea: Diplomats

Posted January 22nd, 2013 at 1:30 am (UTC-5)
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Diplomats at the United Nations say the United States has reached a deal with China on tightening international sanctions against North Korea for its December rocket launch.

The diplomats say the U.S. circulated a draft resolution to the 15-member U.N. Security Council. It could vote as early as Tuesday to punish North Korea for the launch.

They say the resolution would condemn the launch and expand existing sanctions. But it is not clear if it would add any new sanctions – a step that China, Pyongyang's only major ally, has been reluctant to accept.

Washington has been pushing Beijing to accept strong measures following the rocket launch, which was widely condemned as a disguised missile test banned under U.N. sanctions.

China, which has previously agreed to U.N. sanctions against North Korea, has said it wants the Security Council to take a “cautious” approach that will not further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Following a failed launch in April of last year, the Council was able to pass only a “presidential statement” condemning the move. But this time around, Beijing apparently has agreed to a resolution, which carries more authority.

Diplomats say any resolution likely would have the support of the other members of the 15-member Security Council.

North Korea denies that the December 12 launch was a ballistic missile test, saying it was a peaceful mission that placed a weather satellite into orbit.