UN Official Calls for Probe of North Korea’s Human Rights Record

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 6:05 am (UTC-5)
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The United Nations human rights chief has demanded an international investigation into North Korea's human rights record.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement Monday calling the human rights situation in North Korea “deplorable,” and saying that a year after Kim Jong Un became the country's new supreme leader, there is almost no sign of improvement.

Pillay said that the world's focus on North Korea's nuclear program and rocket launches should not be allowed to overshadow the country's human rights situation, which in one way or another affects almost the entire population of the reclusive state and has “no parallel anywhere else in the world.”

North Korea maintains a network of political prison camps, believed contain more than 200,000 people. Defectors say the camps are marked by rampant violations, including rapes, torture, executions and slave labor.

Karzai: US Troop Immunity Up to Afghan Elders

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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(( Title: AFGHANISTAN – US

HEAD: Karzai: US Troop Immunity Up to Afghan Elders

DATE: 01/14/2013

PUBLISHED AT: Monday, January 14, 2013 5:41:11 AM

NUMBER: 4006378

TYPE: CN

Afghanistan's president says a meeting of the nation's elders should be called to decide whether U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan after 2014 should be granted immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.

Hamid Karzai said Monday in Kabul the immunity issue needs to be decided by the Afghan people, not the Afghan government.

The Afghan leader said a loya jirga – a national assembly of elders – needs to be convened to make a decision on U.S. troop immunity.

Mr. Karzai met with U.S. President Barack Obama last week at the White House. Mr. Obama warned that no American troops would remain behind in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014 unless they were granted immunity from prosecution in local courts.

Mr. Karzai said Monday reaching an immunity agreement will take eight to nine months.

Millions of Hindus Flock to the Ganges

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 4:25 am (UTC-5)
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A million Hindus plunged into the freezing waters of the holy Ganges River Monday, marking the beginning of the world's largest religious festival.

The Kumbh Mela festival, held every 12 years in the Indian town of Allahabad, will see up to 100 million worshippers gather over the next 55 days to take a ritual bath in the Ganges, whose waters are believed to cleanse sins and bestow blessings.

According to Hindu mythology, the Kumbh Mela celebrates the victory of gods over demons in a battle over a nectar that would bestow immortality.

Drops of the nectar of immortality are said to have fallen during the battle on Allahabad, Nasik, Ujjain and Haridwar. The Kumbh Mela is held periodically in all the towns.

Organizing and managing the onslaught of so many people is a massive undertaking. To cope with the flow of people, authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh have installed thousand of toilets, laid hundreds of kilometers of water pipes and roads, and deployed thousands of police.

Despite its importance in Hinduism, the Ganges is tainted by industry and the settlements along its banks, which quickly turn the clear waters from the Himalayas into a murky, frothy brown downstream.

India Orders ‘Aggressive’ Response to Any Kashmir Firing

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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India's army chief says he has ordered his commanders to deliver an “aggressive” response to any firing from Pakistani forces in disputed Kashmir.

General Bikram Singh said Monday that he expects his troops to fire back if they are provoked by Pakistani forces.

Singh's comments were made ahead of a meeting Monday between Indian and Pakistani commanders to discuss last week's deadly flare ups along the de factor border in Kashmir in which both Indian and Pakistani troops were killed.

The clashes between the nuclear-armed neighbors are the worst outbreak of violence in Kashmir since a cease-fire took effect in 2003. But Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said she does not believe the violence will derail an ongoing bilateral peace process.

Pakistan's Foreign Office Friday said “such unprovoked attacks” are against the spirit of the ongoing peace process and create “unnecessary and unavoidable distractions” in peace efforts. Pakistan also said it has pursued dialogue with India “with seriousness” and taken “significant steps” to create a peaceful environment.

The South Asian neighbors have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. India and Pakistan both claim the region in full.

Kachin Rebels Say Burma Military Kills 3 Civilians in Artillery Attack

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 2:15 am (UTC-5)
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Ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Burma say government forces shelled the town they use as their headquarters, killing three civilians and wounding three others.

A member of the Kachin Independence Army said the attack on the town of Laiza, near Burma's northeast border with China occurred early Monday morning. He said one of those killed was a 15-year-old boy.

The Kachinland News, an independent media organization that reports news in ethnic Kachin areas, quoted a witness as saying shells fell in a residential area where about 40,000 displaced Kachins from other areas of Burma live with local residents.

The United States and the United Nations are urging the Burmese government to stop its campaign of strikes against rebels in Kachin state, where an escalation in violence is threatening the country's reform process.

Argo Wins Top Awards at Golden Globes

Posted January 14th, 2013 at 12:00 am (UTC-5)
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The film Argo was the surprise winner Sunday at the Golden Globes Awards Sunday in Hollywood.

The film took home the best dramatic picture prize, and its director, Ben Affleck, won the best director award.

Those top nods were widely favored to be won by either Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty.

However, Daniel Day Lewis did win the prize for best performance by an actor in a drama for Lincoln, while Jessica Chastain walked away with the best dramatic actress performance for her role in Zero Dark Thirty.

Les Miserables won the best comedy or musical category, and its star Hugh Jackman won best performance by an actor in a comedy or musical.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton delivered what some called the best performance of the night. His surprise appearance won a standing ovation before he even spoke. Mr. Clinton introduced footage of Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg-directed portrait of the president who steered the United States through its civil war in the 19th century.

The Golden Globes are voted on by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. It is frequently regarded as a harbinger of the Academy Awards, which will be handed out next month.

Switerland Leads Effort to Refer Syria to ICC

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 10:25 pm (UTC-5)
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More than 50 countries, led by Switzerland, will ask the United Nations Security Council Monday to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, a move that would pave the way for war crimes prosecutions.

A letter obtained by the Associated Press cites the findings of a U.N. expert panel documenting torture, sexual violence and summary executions that have occurred in Syria since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

The violence continued Sunday as Syrian fighter jets bombed the Damascus suburbs, killing at least nine people, including a number of children, in a government offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital.

A report by the opposition Damascus Media Center cited as many as 36 people killed in the attack, including 14 children. That account could not be independently confirmed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths occurred when a shell exploded in the eastern Ghouta district on the outskirts of the capital.

Video footage showed women weeping near the dismembered bodies of children lying in a muddy field near an air base on the edge of the town of Muleiha.

A member of the group said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were targeting civilian areas to try to weaken support for the rebels.

Rebels have been attacking the Muleiha base for days and the army has fired hundreds of rockets on the town in response.

Clashes also raged around army bases and airfields in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia urged the rebels to make counter-proposals to those made by Mr. Assad in a recent speech to start a dialogue that could end the fighting.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday that if he were “in the opposition's place,” he would come up with ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue.

He repeated Russia's position that the opposition's demand for Mr. Assad to quit could not be a precondition for peace talks to end the 21-month conflict that has killed at least 60,000 people.

Lincoln, Argo, Life of Pi Major Contenders at Golden Globes

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 10:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Steven Spielberg's popular movie Lincoln, a portrait of the president who steered the United States through its civil war in the 19th century, and the Iranian hostage crisis drama Argo were favorites at Sunday's Golden Globes Awards in Hollywood.

Lincoln was nominated for seven awards, including Best Motion Picture, Best Actor for Daniel Day Lewis, and Best Director for Spielberg.

Argo had five nominations, also including Best Picture and Best Director for Ben Affleck.

Early winners included Jennifer Lawrence as best actress in a comedy or musical for Silver Linings Playbook, Anne Hathaway as best supporting actress for Les Miserables, and Christopher Waltz as best supporting actor for Django Unchained. The Austrian film Amour took the best foreign film award.

The Golden Globes are voted on by about 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

It is frequently regarded as a harbinger of the Academy Awards, which will be handed out next month.

Switerland Leads Effort to Refer Syria to ICC

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 9:15 pm (UTC-5)
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More than 50 countries, led by Switzerland, will ask the United Nations Security Council Monday to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, a move that would pave the way for war crimes prosecutions.

A letter obtained by the Associated Press cites the findings of a U.N. expert panel documenting summary executions, torture and sexual violence that has occurred in Syria since the start of the uprising in March 2011.

The violence continued Sunday as Syrian fighter jets bombed the Damascus suburbs, killing at least nine people, including a number of children, in a government offensive to dislodge rebels from strategic areas around the capital.

A report by the opposition Damascus Media Center cited as many as 36 people killed in the attack, including 14 children. That account could not be independently confirmed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deaths occurred when a shell exploded in the eastern Ghouta district on the outskirts of the capital.

Video footage showed women weeping near the dismembered bodies of children lying in a muddy field near an air base on the edge of the town of Muleiha.

A member of the group said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were targeting civilian areas to try to weaken support for the rebels.

Rebels have been attacking the Muleiha base for days and the army has fired hundreds of rockets on the town in response.

Clashes also raged around army bases and airfields in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia urged the rebels to make counter-proposals to those made by Mr. Assad in a recent speech to start a dialogue that could end the fighting.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday that if he were “in the opposition's place,” he would come up with ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue.

He repeated Russia's position that the opposition's demand for Mr. Assad to quit could not be a precondition for peace talks to end the 21-month conflict that has killed at least 60,000 people.

Lincoln, Argo, Life of Pi Major Contenders at Golden Globes

Posted January 13th, 2013 at 7:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Steven Speilberg's popular movie Lincoln, that portrays the 16th U.S. president, and the Iranian hostage crisis drama Argo are favorites at Sunday's Golden Globes Awards in Hollywood.

Lincoln enters the awards with seven nominations, including Best Motion Picture, Best Actor for Daniel Day Lewis, and Best Director for Spielberg.

Argo has five nominations, also including Best Picture and Best Director for Ben Affleck.

Other major contenders Sunday night include The Life of Pi, the acclaimed film version of the critically-lauded novel; the global favorite Les Miserables, a contender for Best Musical; and such familiar veteran performers as Maggie Smith, Bill Murray, Helen Mirren, and Sally Field.

The Golden Globes are voted on by about 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

It is frequently regarded as a harbinger of the Academy Awards, which will be handed out next month.

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