Obama: End of Afghan War in Sight

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 11:30 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama said in his weekly address that the core U.S. objective for going to war in Afghanistan is within reach.

The president said Saturday the goal of ensuring that al-Qaida will never be able to use Afghanistan again to launch attacks against America will be met and the war in Afghanistan will be over by the end of next year.

On Friday, Mr. Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the White House to discuss the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan. The two leaders held a joint news conference afterwards.

Mr. Obama said he and his Afghan counterpart have agreed on a plan to shift the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan to a support role this spring, a few months earlier than expected.

Mr. Obama said after that, U.S. troops would focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. He said it would be a “historic moment.”

Currently, there are about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with several thousand other international soldiers. International forces are expected to end combat operations to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 remains uncertain. Mr. Obama said Friday that any plan would have to include an immunity agreement under which U.S. troops were not subjected to Afghan law.

Mr. Karzai said that he and Mr. Obama also discussed a plan for direct talks with Taliban. The Afghan leader said negotiations between Afghan peace representatives and the Taliban are expected to take place at a Taliban office in Qatar.

Tibetan Dies in First 2013 Immolation Protest

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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A Tibetan man has died after setting himself on fire Saturday to protest Chinese rule in ethnic Tibetan areas.

The man, named Tsebey, was in his early twenties. Authorities say he died at the protest site in the Sangchu region of eastern Tibet.

Tibetan activists say it was the first self-immolation of 2013.

Since 2009, more than 90 Tibetans have died by self-immolation in continuing protests against Chinese rule over Tibet. Such action has increased in recent months, and activists have staged several anti-China rallies in Tibet, despite a heavy Chinese security presence.

Beijing contends Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has incited the self-immolations to promote Tibetan separatism. The Dalai Lama says he has done nothing to encourage such suicidal protests.

Russia Stops Short of Urging Syria’s Assad to Step Down

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 10:25 am (UTC-5)
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Russia is calling for a political transition process in Syria but has stopped short of saying President Bashar al-Assad should relinquish power as part of a deal to end the country's conflict.

In a statement Saturday, Russia's Foreign Ministry reiterated Moscow's long-held position that only Syrians can decide their future without outside interference.

The statement also called for the immediate end to the “violence and bloodshed” and for providing humanitarian aid to Syrians, including internally displaced people and refugees.

The statement follows talks Friday in Geneva between international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and U.S. and Russian officials that ended without a breakthrough on how to end the civil war in Syria.

Brahimi said all sides underscored the need for a political solution, but he acknowledged that resolving the conflict soon is not likely.

The United States is among U.N. Security Council members that back a political transition plan for Syria that includes President Assad stepping down from power. But Russia and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, oppose such a plan.

More than 60,000 people have been killed in nearly two years of fighting in Syria.

Tibetan Dies in First Immolation Protest of New Year

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 9:15 am (UTC-5)
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A Tibetan man has died after setting himself on fire Saturday to protest Chinese rule in ethnic Tibetan areas.

The man, named Tsebey, was in his early twenties. Authorities say he died at the protest site in the Sangchu region of eastern Tibet.

Tibetan activists say it was the first self-immolation of 2013.

Since 2009, more than 90 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest Chinese occupation. The recent increase in self-immolations has coincided with Tibetans staging several anti-China rallies, despite a heavy Chinese security presence.

Beijing accuses Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of inciting the self-immolations to promote Tibetan separatism. The Dalai Lama denies the charge.

French Forces Drive Out Militants in Northern Mali Town

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 9:10 am (UTC-5)
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French airstrikes in Mali's key northern town of Konna have driven back Islamist militants who had captured the town earlier this week.

Officials said Saturday that French forces had pushed rebels from Konna. The Islamists' takeover of the town had placed the militants within 25 kilometers of Mopti, the northernmost city under Malian government control.

The French News Agency says dozens of Islamist fighters have been killed in the operation. Also, France's defense minister said Saturday a helicopter pilot was killed during the air strikes, which began Friday.

Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces are preparing for any rebel surge on the Malian capital, Bamako. He said troops will remain in the area as long as necessary, saying the militants are behind much lawlessness, including kidnappings.

France announced Friday that it had deployed troops to Mali at the request of the government. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also reported to be in Mali to help government forces.

In another development Saturday, African officials said, ECOWAS, the West African regional block had authorized the immediate deployment of troops to Mali.

In December, the U.N. Security Council approved a plan for West African states to deploy at least 3,000 troops to Mali to help train the army and retake the north. But originally, no troops had been expected in Mali until September.

France's Foreign Ministry has advised French citizens in Mali to leave the country “temporarily,” while the U.S. embassy in Bamako is urging Americans against all travel to the West African country.

Al-Qaida-linked groups took control of Mali's north soon after renegade soldiers overthrew the country's elected president last March. The groups have imposed a harsh form of Islamic law on the areas in their control, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.

Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, declared a national state of emergency Friday and called on every Malian to help in the war effort.

“Every Malian, man and woman, should from here on out consider oneself to be a soldier of the nation and behave as such. We call on all mining, telephone and other companies, as well as all people morally and physically able, to contribute to this fight against terrorism. All public services should put all vehicles that could be useful in the field at the service of the army without delay.”

French President Francois Hollande said the French forces are helping to fight what he called “terrorist elements” in Mali.

“This operation will last as long as necessary. I will keep the French regularly informed about its proceedings. The terrorists must know that France will always be here, when it comes to not only its fundamental interests but also the rights of a population, that of Mali, which wants to live freely and in a democracy.''

Mali's president had asked France, the country's former colonial ruler, for immediate help in stopping the rebel advance. Diplomatic sources say Mr. Traore will meet with President Hollande in Paris next Wednesday.

On Thursday, the government ordered all schools closed in the capital and the nearby garrison town of Kati, citing the threat of civil unrest.

The order, which covers kindergarten through university, came as state television broadcast a statement saying in part that the country faces “one of the direst periods in its history.” It urged all citizens “to unite behind the army in the fight to take back the north.”

French Hostage Killed in Rescue Attempt in Somalia

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 7:15 am (UTC-5)
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French officials say a military agent held hostage in Somalia since 2009 is believed to have been killed during an overnight raid by French troops trying to rescue him.

The French Defense Ministry said Saturday Denis Allex was apparently killed during a rescue attempt, along with a French soldier. Another soldier is missing. The Ministry says 17 Somalian fighters were also killed.

However, al-Shebab insurgents are quoted as saying Allex remains safe far from the battle area after what the militants described as a botched rescue operation.

Earlier reports from southern Somalia said French commandos attempted to rescue the French security advisor who was kidnapped in Mogadishu more than three years ago.

Residents in the town of Boulmarer say they heard gunfire and explosions shortly after spotting helicopters in the air. They also report seeing a number of casualties after the clash, although the identities of the dead were not clear.

French Forces Drive Out Militants in Northern Mali Town

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 6:50 am (UTC-5)
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France's prime minister says French forces continued air strikes in Mali Saturday, driving Islamists militants out of the northern town of Konna. Militants had captured the town earlier this week.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said French forces are also preparing for any rebel surge on the Malian capital, Bamako.

He said troops will remain in the area as long as necessary, saying the militants are behind much lawlessness, including kidnappings.

The French defense minister said Saturday a helicopter pilot was killed during the air strikes, which began Friday.

France announced Friday that it had deployed troops to Mali at the request of the government. Troops from Nigeria and Senegal are also reported to be in Mali to help government forces.

France's Foreign Ministry has advised French citizens in Mali to leave the country “temporarily,” while the U.S. embassy in Bamako is urging Americans against all travel to the West African country.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States is consulting very closely with France's government.

Al-Qaida-linked groups took control of Mali's north soon after renegade soldiers overthrew the country's elected president last March. The groups have imposed a harsh form of Islamic law on the areas in their control, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.

Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, declared a national state of emergency Friday and called on every Malian to help in the war effort.

“Every Malian, man and woman, should from here on out consider oneself to be a soldier of the nation and behave as such. We call on all mining, telephone and other companies, as well as all people morally and physically able, to contribute to this fight against terrorism. All public services should put all vehicles that could be useful in the field at the service of the army without delay.”

French President Francois Hollande said the French forces are helping to fight what he called “terrorist elements” in Mali.

“This operation will last as long as necessary. I will keep the French regularly informed about its proceedings. The terrorists must know that France will always be here, when it comes to not only its fundamental interests but also the rights of a population, that of Mali, which wants to live freely and in a democracy.''

Mali's president had asked France, the country's former colonial ruler, for immediate help in stopping the rebel advance. Diplomatic sources say Mr. Traore will meet with President Hollande in Paris next Wednesday.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council approved a plan for West African states to deploy at least 3,000 troops to Mali to help train the army and retake the north. But until this week, no troops had been expected in Mali until September.

The Islamists' takeover of Konna Thursday placed the militant force within 25 kilometers from Mopti, the northernmost city under Malian government control. The militant groups are still several hundred kilometers from Bamako.

On Thursday, the government ordered all schools closed in the capital and the nearby garrison town of Kati, citing the threat of civil unrest.

The order, which covers kindergarten through university, came as state television broadcast a statement saying in part that the country faces “one of the direst periods in its history.” It urged all citizens “to unite behind the army in the fight to take back the north.”

Democrats Urge Obama to Consider Unilateral Debt Hike

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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Top U.S. Democratic Senate leaders have urged President Barack Obama to consider measures that would bypass congressional approval to make sure the country does not default on it debts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his leadership team said in a letter to the president that he should use “any lawful steps” under his authority to “ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis.”

They urged the president to act unilaterally if Republicans insist on a debt limit extension that is accompanied by unreasonable spending cuts.

Some analysts and Democrats say the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the authority to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling without congressional action. The amendment states the validity of government debt shall not be questioned.

The Obama administration has said in the past it would not take such an action.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier this week “there is no alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling.”

President Obama has vowed not to negotiate with Congress about raising the debt ceiling.

The U.S. government is set to run out of money sometime in February. It will need to have the borrowing limit increased or face an unprecedented circumstance – running out of money and defaulting on some of its financial obligations.

Republican lawmakers say they plan to use the borrowing dilemma to try to win sharp concessions from President Obama to cut government spending.

Republican Senator Deb Fischer from Nebraska said in the Republican weekly address that “the problem is not that the American people are taxed too little; it's that the federal government spends too much.”

French Hostage Killed in Rescue Attempt in Somalia

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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French officials say a military agent held hostage in Somalia since 2009 is believed to have been killed during an overnight raid by French troops trying to rescue him.

The French Defense Ministry said Saturday Denis Allex was apparently killed during a rescue attempt, along a French soldiers. Another soldier is missing. The Ministry says 17 Somalian fighters were also killed.

However, al-Shebab insurgents are quoted as saying Allex remains safe far from the battle area after what the militants described as a botched rescue operation.

Earlier reports from southern Somalia said French commandos attempted to rescue the French security advisor who was kidnapped in Mogadishu more than three years ago.

Residents in the town of Boulmarer say they heard gunfire and explosions shortly after spotting helicopters in the air. They also report seeing a number of casualties after the clash, although the identities of the dead were not clear.

French Hostage Killed in Rescue Attempt in Somalia

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 5:40 am (UTC-5)
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French officials say a military agent held hostage in Somalia since 2009 has been killed during an overnight raid by French troops trying to rescue him.

The French Defense Ministry said Saturday Denis Allex was killed by his captors along with two French soldiers who died in the rescue attempt. The Ministry says 17 Somalian fighters were also killed.

However, the French news agency quotes al-Shebab insurgents as saying Allex remains safe far from the battle area after what the militants described as a botched rescue operation.

Earlier reports from southern Somalia said French commandos attempted to rescue the French security advisor who was kidnapped in Mogadishu more than three years ago.

Residents in the town of Boulmarer say they heard gunfire and explosions shortly after spotting helicopters in the air. They also report seeing a number of casualties after the clash, although the identities of the dead were not clear.

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