Opposition Unseats Socialists in Portugal

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 7:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Portugal's opposition has unseated the ruling Socialists in the troubled country's parliamentary election.

With all votes counted except those cast by Portuguese living overseas, official results give the conservative Social Democrats 105 seats and the Socialists 73 seats.

Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Socrates conceded defeat earlier Sunday after television exit polls gave the Social Democrats an insurmountable lead. He says he will also step down as Socialist Party leader.

Social Democratic leader Pedro Passos Coelho will likely become the new prime minister and form a coalition government with the conservative Popular Party.

Mr. Socrates triggered Sunday's early election after announcing his resignation in March, when parliament rejected his economic reform plans and more spending cuts.

The country was then forced to turn to the European Union and International Monetary Fund for a $110 billion bailout — a move Mr. Socrates was trying to avoid.

Portugal is burdened with a huge debt, a shrinking economy, and massive unemployment.

It is the third troubled EU economy, after Greece and Ireland, to need a bailout in the past year.

China Seeks to Placate Neighbors In Disputed Waters

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 7:05 pm (UTC-5)
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China claims it is committed to peace and stability in the South China Sea as its smaller neighbors protest Beijing's activity in the disputed waters.

Defense Minister Liang Guanglie told a regional forum in Singapore Sunday that China is not seeking dominance and is not a threat to any country.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the Chinese embassy in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, demanding that China stay out of waters claimed by Vietnam. The rare demonstration came after Vietnamese officials said a Chinese patrol vessel last month intentionally cut a submerged cable towed by a ship operated by the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group. The survey ship was conducting seismic tests in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned the forum in Singapore Friday of the danger of a conflict in the region unless nations with conflicting claims adopt a mechanism for a peaceful solution of disputes.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all claim overlapping South China Sea territories, which are thought to hold untapped oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam's Foreign Affairs Ministry accused Beijing of violating Vietnam's sovereignty right to its continental shelf, while China responded that it opposes Vietnam's exploration for oil and gas in what Beijing called China's jurisdictional area.

The Philippines accused China Saturday of undermining stability of the region by sending its naval vessels to disputed waters.

The 10-nation ASEAN group has been working with China to reach an agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea.

Death Toll from Violence in Northwest Syria Rises to 35

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 6:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Syrian rights groups say the death toll in a two-day government crackdown on protesters in the northwest has risen to 35 as exiled opposition figures called for the isolation of authoritarian President Bashar al-Assad.

The violent clashes began Saturday and continued into Sunday, after thousands of residents turned out for the funerals of other anti-government protesters killed in the crackdown. The updated casualty count includes six members of the Syrian security forces killed during operations in the towns of Jisr al-Shughour and nearby Khan Sheikhoun.

Residents and activists said the Syrian military withdrew Sunday from the central city of Hama and from southern villages but that the situation in those areas remains tense.

Rights campaigners say at least 65 people died Friday, mostly in Hama. Witnesses say security forces used live ammunition to disperse tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after Friday prayers, demanding Mr. Assad's resignation.

The reports cannot be independently confirmed as the Syrian government has severely restricted the media and expelled foreign reporters, making it nearly impossible to verify events on the ground.

At a meeting of Syria's mostly expatriate opposition in Brussels Sunday, leaders renewed calls on foreign governments and the United Nations to increase pressure on Mr. Assad. Opposition leaders also said they are working to compile legal cases against the Syrian government in several U.S. and European courts and the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The United States and the European Union have already imposed sanctions on Mr. Assad and his inner circle.

Syrian activists have been protesting almost daily since March for democratic reforms and an end to President Assad's 11-year rule.

Rights groups say at least 1,100 people have been killed in the continuing crackdown and more than 10,000 arrested.

Despite official denials, protest organizers say at least 25 children are among the dead. The victims include a 13-year-old boy who was reported to have been tortured and killed by security forces – an accusation Syrian authorities dispute.

Opposition groups have issued calls to denounce the growing number of casualties among children in recent weeks. But the central neighborhoods of the capital, Damascus, and most of Syria's second city, Aleppo, have remained largely quiet as authorities tighten security there.

Slovenians Reject Raising Retirement Age

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 6:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Voters in Slovenia have soundly rejected plans to gradually raise the retirement age.

Unofficial results show 72 percent voted against the referendum while just 28 percent voted in favor of it.

European Union officials had urged Slovenians to support raising the minimum retirement age from 60 to 65. They say the country's aging population is putting a strain on the Slovenian economy.

Slovenian opposition leader Janez Jansa calls the referendum's defeat a no-confidence vote in the left wing government.

Parliament passed the law raising the retirement age in December. Unions and the opposition demanded it be put to a public vote.

Bomb Blasts in NW Pakistan Kill 24

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 5:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Officials in northwestern Pakistan said Sunday two separate bomb attacks killed at least 24 people and wounded more than 45 others.

In the first incident, a bomb ripped through a passenger vehicle at a bus terminal in Matani, a town near the city of Peshawar, killing six people and wounding at least 10 others.

Hours later, a bomb explosion at a bakery in the town of Nowshera left 18 people dead and more than 35 others wounded. Local authorities warned the death toll could rise as many wounded were in critical condition.

There are conflicting reports about what caused the blast at the bakery. The Associated Press quoted local police as saying a suicide bomber was responsible. But Agence France Press quoted provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain as saying a remote-controlled bomb was planted at the entrance of the bakery.

The attacks came after the reported death of al-Qaida operative Ilyas Kashmiri in a U.S. drone strike in the South Waziristan tribal region Friday and a month after U.S. special forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.

Peruvians Voting in Presidential Contest

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Early exit polls in Peru's presidential run-off elections Sunday show former army officer Ollanta Humala has a narrow lead over the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.

Participating in elections is mandatory for Peru's nearly 20 million eligible voters.

In the first round of balloting in April, Humala won 32 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent margin needed for an outright win. Keiko Fujimori, a conservative candidate, took 24 percent.

Some voters are concerned that as president, Keiko Fujimori would try to free her father, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for his role in death squad killings in the 1990s. Keiko Fujimori has apologized for mistakes and crimes committed while her father was president from 1990 to 2000.

Humala led an uprising against Alberto Fujimori in 2000, but lost a run-off election to current President Alan Garcia in 2006. Humala was outspoken during that campaign about his admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but he has since distanced himself from the leftist leader.

Much of the current presidential campaign has focused on continuing Peru's rapid economic growth of recent years, while ensuring that the poor also see some of that increased prosperity.

Hackers Attack Nintendo

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Japanese video game maker Nintendo says a website operated by its U.S. subsidiary was broken into several weeks ago, but no personal information was stolen.

The company made the announcement Sunday, saying that the break-in did not compromise any consumer information and that the security of its systems is monitored all the time.

The entertainment giant which produces the popular DS hand-held game players and the Wii game console is the latest company to be targeted by cyber attacks.

In April, hackers broke into Sony Corporation's servers and exposed personal information of more than 100 million users.

The hacker group Lulzsec claimed responsibility for the attack on Nintendo in a statement posted on its Twitter feed. The same group claimed the attacks on the Sony Pictures Entertainment servers last week.

Lulzsec says it had taken a configuration file from Nintendo, but that no harm was intended.

Gates Says Goodbye to Troops in Afghanistan

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 5:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month, visited southern Afghanistan Sunday to say goodbye to American troops fighting Taliban insurgents.

In his remarks during visits to bases in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Gates said a soon-to-begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan should start with support troops, not combat soldiers.

The defense secretary also warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his country needs to increase security, and that failure to do so would put the smooth withdrawal of U.S. forces at risk.

Field commanders at both bases said they have seen significant security gains, but the violence rages on. Since Gates' arrival in Afghanistan Saturday, five NATO service members have died in insurgent-related violence.

Secretary Gates is expected to visit more U.S. troops Monday.

Later in the week he travels to Brussels for a NATO security conference. One of the topics will be the situation in Afghanistan.

Saturday, the defense secretary hinted that he saw a possible end in sight to the nearly 10-year-old war, thanks to security gains in the past 18 months.

At a security conference in Singapore, Gates said there could be peace talks with the Taliban within a year. He cautioned, however, the talks would only occur if NATO's ground advances in Afghanistan continue to put pressure on the insurgents.

Opposition Unseats Socialists in Portugal

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 5:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Portugal's opposition has unseated the ruling Socialists in the troubled country's parliamentary election.

Outgoing Prime Minister Jose Socrates conceded defeat late Sunday after several television exit polls gave the Social Democrats an insurmountable lead. He says he will also step down as Socialist Party leader.

Social Democratic leader Pedro Passos Coelho will likely become the new prime minister and form a coalition government with the conservative Popular Party.

Voters went to the polls in an early election triggered by Mr. Socrates' resignation as prime minister in March. He announced he was stepping down after the parliament rejected his economic reform plans, which included more spending cuts.

The country was then forced to turn to the European Union and International Monetary Fund for a $110 billion bailout — a move Mr. Socrates was avoiding.

Portugal is burdened with a huge debt, a shrinking economy, and massive unemployment.

It is the third troubled EU economy, after Greece and Ireland, to need a bailout in the past year.

Syria Says 20 Dead as Israel Opens Fire on Golan Protesters

Posted June 5th, 2011 at 4:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Israeli troops on Sunday fired at hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters who attempted to cross the barbed-wire fence between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Syrian state media reported that 20 protesters were killed, including a woman and a teenage boy, and more than 325 wounded. Syrian hospital officials confirmed the casualty count, providing names of all the dead.

By evening, the crowd had grown to more than 1,000 people, praying and chanting slogans in an uneasy standoff with Israeli soldiers in the distance.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that despite numerous warnings, “both verbal and later warning shots in the air,” dozens of Syrians continued to approach the border. She said Israeli forces were “left with no choice” but to open fire at the feet of protesters in order to deter further actions.

Israeli officials accused Syrian authorities of permitting Sunday's disturbance in order to deflect international attention from their bloody suppression of the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian rule. The Syrian border cannot be approached without government compliance.

At the West Bank's main crossing into Jerusalem, several hundred Palestinian youths approaching the Qalandia checkpoint clashed with Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. But the borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Jordan were quiet as those governments prevented demonstrators from reaching the frontier.

Hours before the violence flared, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered Israeli forces to act with restraint, but determination, to prevent the border from being breached.

The protests marked the 44th anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Middle East war, defying Israeli warnings to stay clear of the boundary fence. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in that conflict, as well as the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in just six days of fighting.

Israel returned Sinai to Egypt under a 1979 peace deal, and withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Israeli officials say they were determined to prevent a repeat of last month's deadly demonstrations during which thousands of Palestinians stormed Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon. Those protests took place on the anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel.

Both sets of demonstrations are part of a campaign by activists leading up to September when the Palestinian leadership plans to seek United Nations membership as an independent state.

In another development, Mr. Netanyahu said he is considering an initiative by the French government to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. He told his Cabinet he first wants to discuss the proposal with the United States.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who visited both Israel and the West Bank last week, has suggested that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators attend a peace conference in Paris at the end of next month. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the proposal on Saturday.