Nicolas Tiangaye Named Central African Republic PM

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 12:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The president of the Central African Republic has appointed opposition lawyer Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister, as part of a deal to end a recent rebellion.

President Francois Bozize made the announcement on state radio Thursday, after a meeting with members of the Seleka rebel alliance and opposition parties.

The government and rebels reached a peace agreement in Gabon last week. The rebels had seized about one-third of the C.A.R's territory during an offensive that began December 10th.

Under the peace deal, Mr. Bozize promises to form a unity government with an opposition-approved prime minister.

As part of the agreement, neither the prime minister nor Mr. Bozize are eligible to run in the next presidential election in 2016.

Mr. Tiangaye has served as president of the Central African Human Rights League and is one of the main drafters of the C.A.R.'s current constitution. He also presided over the national transition council following the 2003 coup that brought Mr. Bozize to power.

Mr. Tiangaye will replace Faustin Archange Touadera who spent five years in the post.

Mr. Bozize has faced multiple rebellions since coming to power. Seleka accused the president of failing to implement peace deals that ended previous uprisings.

Lance Armstrong Stripped of Olympic Bronze

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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Disgraced U.S. cycling star Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his only Olympic medal.

Officials with the International Olympic Committee sent Armstrong a letter late Wednesday asking him to the return the bronze medal he won in the road time trial during the 2000 Sydney games.

The move comes as American television personality Oprah Winfrey prepares to broadcast an interview, with what has been described as an emotional Armstrong, in which he admits to using performance-enhancing drugs.

The interview will air late Thursday in the United States on OWN, Winfrey's cable television network.

Last August, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories – over a record seven consecutive years – when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced it had proof of his involvement in a complex illegal doping program.

The 41-year-old cancer survivor had long denied using performance-enhancing drugs, despite years of persistent rumors.

Winfrey says Armstrong did not “come clean” [admit illegal activity] in the way she had expected, but that she was “satisfied” by his answers. The interview is to be broadcast on Thursday and Friday

On Monday, Armstrong apologized for the scandal in an emotional visit to the staff of his cancer charity Livestrong. Witnesses say Armstrong fought back tears as he spoke, but that he did not discuss specifics of the allegations against him.

Also this week, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told Reuters Armstrong's confession could jeopardize cycling in future Olympic games..

Pound said such action could be taken if it can be proven that the International Cycling Union acted improperly in the Armstrong case.

The chief of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, has said the UCI, cycling's governing body, wrongfully accepted a $100,000 gift from Armstrong. Pound, a Canadian, suggested that could be seen as a cover-up of Armstrong's illegal drug use.

Scene of 2012 Massacre to Reopen

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 8:15 am (UTC-5)
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A movie theater in Colorado where 12 people were killed in a shooting spree nearly six months ago is reopening to the public.

The owners of the 16-theater complex in the town of Aurora will host a private ceremony Thursday for victims and their families, along with police and emergency medical personnel.

The theater, which underwent $1 million in renovations, will reopen to the public on Friday.

But some of the victims' and survivors will not be in attendance Thursday's ceremony, calling the owners' decision to reopen the theater “insensitive.”

Some of them have filed lawsuits against the owners, Cinemark Holdings, charging it with failing to provide enough security for the midnight showing of the Hollywood action film “The Dark Knight Rises” last July.

Holmes has been charged with more than 160 counts of murder and attempted murder.

Thousands Attend Funeral for Slain Kurdish Activists

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 7:55 am (UTC-5)
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Thousands of Kurds have gathered in Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, for the funeral of three Kurdish activists killed last week in France.

The mourners filled the streets and chanted slogans of solidarity as they marched alongside vehicles carrying the women's coffins, which were flown to Turkey from France on Wednesday.

The three women, Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez, were found shot to death January 10 at the Kurdish Information Center in Paris. Cansiz was a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, an outlawed group that took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey has suggested that the killings are linked to ongoing negotiations between the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, while Kurdish activists say that it might be the work of Turkish extremists.

People attending the funeral told reporters the funeral has brought them together. A resident of Diyarbakir, Ali Elci, expressed sympathy for the Kurdish cause.

“I call on the Kurdish nation to be cautious and stay safe. Kurdish people are mourning and I share their pain.''

Ayla Akat Ata, a pro-Kurdish member of parliament from the Peace and Democracy Party, says the day is one of sorrow, but also of hope.

“Amed (= Kurdish name for Diyarbakir) is a city that has witnessed history. And today it's bidding farewell, and sending a historical figure (Sakine Cansiz) to eternity. This causes sorrow for all of us. But, at the same time, it's a day when we can demand answers and continue our struggle to find the truth.”

Following the funeral, the bodies of the three slain women will be transported to their hometowns for burial.

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India Rape Case Fast-Tracked

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 7:00 am (UTC-5)
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In India, the case against five men accused of gang-raping a woman who died of her injuries has been sent to a special fast-track court.

A magistrate in New Delhi announced Thursday that the first hearing in the case will be January 21st.

A sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.

The suspects are accused of attacking a 23-year-old woman and her male friend after luring them onto a bus in New Delhi on December 16th. They were both beaten with a rod. The woman was gang-raped and both victims were thrown from the bus.

The woman died of her injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital, where she had been taken for treatment.

Indian authorities have charged the men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges. Officials say they will push for the death penalty if the men are convicted.

The lawyer for three of the suspects, Manohar Lal Sharma, says his clients will plead not guilty. He alleges that police used force to gain confessions from them. On Thursday he said he feared the police would fake a confrontation with his clients in order to kill them.

“I found, seriously, within my own investigation, within my own facts it was revealed to me that now police are going to encounter these innocent boys. These boys will not be allowed to see trial in the coming days. Any day, between Tihar Jail (Central Jail) to the court, the police will free them and they will shoot them and they will say that these boys were running and that's why we shot them.''

The brutal attack has sparked outrage across the country. Protesters have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the ways India treats women.

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India.

Chinese Official Calls for Dialogue with Japan on Island Dispute

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 6:00 am (UTC-5)
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A senior Chinese leader is calling for talks with Japan to resolve an increasingly bitter dispute over a group of islands in the East China Sea.

Jia Qinglin, who heads China's top political advisory body, made the comments during a meeting with former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

The state-run China Daily quoted Jia as saying Beijing places “great importance” on its ties with Japan, and that the dispute should be resolved in order to preserve regional stability.

His remarks are in contrast to Beijing's recent hard-line rhetoric on the long-running dispute, which has worsened significantly in the past few months.

For its part, Japan has rejected talks about the islands, saying there can be no discussions over territory it has long considered its own.

Mr. Hatoyama, the ex-prime minister who supports closer relations between the two Asian powers, told Jia that Tokyo should end its policy of not recognizing the dispute.

The Japanese government later criticized Mr. Hatoyama. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it was “extremely regrettable” that a former prime minister would make such remarks, adding they were “clearly opposite” to Japan's position.

Hatoyama, who is making a private trip to China, pushed for closer relations with Japan's neighbors during his time as prime minister from September 2009 to June 2010.

China-Japan relations reached a low point last year after Japan nationalized some of the uninhabited islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Since then, Beijing has sent regular patrol boats to “monitor” the Japanese-controlled islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential energy deposits.

Both countries also 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.

Pakistan’s Anti-Corruption Bureau Refuses to Arrest Prime Minister

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 5:40 am (UTC-5)
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The head of Pakistan's anti-corruption bureau says it has decided not to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, despite orders to do so by the supreme court.

Fasih Bokhari, chief of the National Accountability Bureau, told the court Thursday that he does not have sufficient evidence to arrest Mr. Ashraf on corruption charges.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister and 15 others on charges related to a scandal involving private power stations.

Mr. Ashraf is accused of taking bribes for arranging to build power plants to serve Pakistan's power deficiency. He has denied the allegations.

Also Thursday, Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri said this is the last day his supporters will conduct a sit-in at the parliament building in Islamabad, where they have been calling for the government to dissolve.

He demanded talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and said if he does not get them, he and his followers will change strategies on Friday. He did not elaborate.

Pakistan is due to hold parliamentary elections in mid-May, and parliament would be dissolved about two months beforehand. But Qadri is calling on the government to step down immediately, to clear the way for an interim Cabinet to root out graft and mismanagement. He blames those shortcomings for chronic energy shortages, slow economic growth and a rise in crime and the Taliban insurgency.

Activists: Pro-Syrian Forces Kill 106 in Homs

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 5:30 am (UTC-5)
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Syrian activists say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have killed more than 100 people in an attack on the central city of Homs.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday the attack happened Tuesday, with pro-government forces burning homes and shooting victims. It said the 106 dead included women and children, and it urged the United Nations to investigate.

The Observatory gathers data from a network of activists, medics and lawyers on the ground in Syria. Events in the country are difficult to confirm because the government severely restricts access for international journalists.

The Syrian conflict has killed at least 60,000 people since it began in March 2011.

Car Bombs Kill 7 in Iraq

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 5:10 am (UTC-5)
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Bomb attacks across Iraq have killed at least seven people, one day after the deadliest wave of violence to hit the country this year.

A pair of car bombs exploded Thursday in Dujail, about 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, killing seven and wounding at least 32 others.

Another car bomb caused casualties in the southern city of Karbala. The victims included Shi'ite pilgrims.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.

At least 29 people died Wednesday in attacks targeting Baghdad and areas of northern Iraq.

This violence comes amid heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions in the country.

Pakistani Terrorist to be Sentenced in Chicago

Posted January 17th, 2013 at 3:40 am (UTC-5)
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Pakistani-born Tahawwur Rana, convicted in the United States of supporting terrorist plots, is to be sentenced Thursday in a Chicago federal courtroom.

Rana was convicted in 2011 of providing support to the Pakistani group responsible for a 2008 attack in Mumbai, India that killed more than 160 people. He also was convicted of backing a never-executed plot to attack a Danish newspaper for printing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Prosecutors are expected to ask for the maximum sentence, 30 years, while the defense is to argue that a sentence of nine or 10 years is more appropriate.

The defense says Rana was unwittingly lured into the plot by his lifelong friend, David Coleman Headley, an American of Pakistani origin who was employed at a Chicago-based business that Rana owned.

Headley has pleaded guilty to laying the groundwork for the Mumbai attacks.

The prosecution says Rana gave Headley a job to facilitate his terrorist activities, while Rana's lawyers say he employed Headley merely as a favor to a friend and did not know the extent of his plots.

Headley testified against Rana as part of a plea-bargain agreement to avoid the death penalty. He is to be sentenced next week.

The Mumbai attacks were a coordinated set of grenade and machine gun assaults on a number of locations including two luxury hotels, a train station, and a Jewish community center. The attacks took place over three days starting November 26, 2008.