Somali Islamists Say French Fail in Hostage Rescue Attempt

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 3:25 am (UTC-5)
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Reports from southern Somalia say French commandos have attempted to rescue a French security advisor who had been kidnapped in Mogadishu in 2009.

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 are not clear.

It is also not known if the hostage was rescued.

French officials have not commented publicly about the operation, which followed French military intervention in Mali. A spokesman for the al-Shabab militant group says they killed several commandos, and that the rescue operation failed.

Democrats Urge Obama to Consider Unilateral Debt Hike

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 3:15 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.

29 Killed in Nepal Bus Accident

Posted January 12th, 2013 at 1:05 am (UTC-5)
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Officials in Nepal say a bus in the western part of the country has veered off a mountain road, killing at least 29 people.

Authorities say several people were injured Saturday when the bus drove off the road near Chatiwan village.

Officials say at the time of the accident, the crash area was dark and covered in fog.

Accidents are common on Nepal's highways because of poor roads, badly maintained vehicles and reckless driving.

CAR Rivals Agree to Form Unity Government

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 7:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Rebels and the government in the Central African Republic have agreed to form a unity government, with President Francois Bozize remaining in power.

Margaret Vogt, the United Nations' representative in the CAR, outlined the agreement Friday after the sides reached their agreement in Gabon's capital, Libreville.

The deal calls for Mr. Bozize to stay until the end of his term in 2016, with the opposition naming a prime minister who will run a transitional government. Neither the prime minister nor President Bozize would be eligible to run in the next presidential election.

The United Nations Security Council hailed the deal and urged both sides to implement its provisions in good faith. In a statement, the Council also commended what it called the “swift efforts” by the African Union and the Economic Community of the Central African States to resolve the recent crisis.

Rebels in the CAR have seized one-third of the country's territory since beginning an uprising a month ago. The rebels accuse the president of failing to carry out previous peace agreements in 2007 and 2008.

The rebels had announced a one-week cease-fire on Thursday.

US Senator Rockefeller Announces Retirement

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 6:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Five-term U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the great-grandson of a famous 19th century American oil tycoon, says he will not seek a sixth term in 2014.

Rockefeller, a 75-year-old liberal Democrat, announced his decision Friday in his home state of West Virginia.

He described 2014 as “the right time to find new ways to fight” for his political beliefs, after a half century of public service that included two elected terms as the state's governor.

The senator, whose full name is John D. Rockefeller IV, was expected to face a stiff 2014 primary challenge in his home state, where President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats have become very unpopular.

Rockefeller, who currently chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has been a strong supporter of organized labor and a key player in the president's sweeping health care initiatives.

US Senator Rockefeller Announces Retirement

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 5:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Five-term U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the great-grandson of a famous 19th century American oil tycoon, says he will not seek a sixth term in 2014.

Rockefeller, a 75-year-old liberal Democrat, announced his decision Friday in his home state of West Virginia.

He described 2014 as “the right time to find new ways to fight” for his political beliefs, after a half-century of public service that included two elected terms as the state's governor.

The senator, whose full name is John D. Rockefeller IV, was expected to face a stiff 2014 primary challenge in his home state, where President Barack Obama and other leading Democrats have become very unpopular.

Rockefeller, who currently chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Trasportation Committee, has been a strong supporter of organized labor and a key player in the president's sweeping healthcare initiatives.

Pakistani Shi’ites Protest Lack of Security

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 12:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Officials in Pakistan's Baluchistan province Friday declared a three-day mourning period for victims of three deadly bombings in the provincial capital, while Shi'ites, the apparent target of two of the blasts, refused to bury their dead to protest the Muslim minority group's lack of security.

Police say a suicide bombing Thursday targeted a billiards hall in an area of Quetta populated mainly by ethnic Hazaras, who are Shi'ite Muslims. That blast was followed moments later by a car bombing outside the hall.

The outlawed militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the twin bombings, which killed at least 86 people. The attack came just hours after a deadly bomb blast in the Quetta market killed 12 people. Militant Baluch nationalists claimed responsibility for that bombing.

The Reuters news agency Friday quoted Maulana Amin Shahheedi, who heads a national council of Shi'ite organizations in Pakistan, as criticizing Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, for failing to prevent attacks targeting Shi'ites.

Shi'ites make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's mostly Sunni Muslim population of 160 million people.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, said Friday that Pakistan's Shi'ite Muslims are living in a state of siege and warned sectarian violence is likely to rise. He said “if yesterday's attack is any indication, it's just going to get worse.” Four hundred Shi'ites were killed in Pakistan last year.

C.A.R. Rivals Agree to Form Unity Government

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 10:55 am (UTC-5)
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Rebels and the government in the Central African Republic have agreed to form a unity government, with President Francois Bozize remaining in power.

Margaret Vogt, the United Nations' representative in the C.A.R, outlined the agreement Friday after the sides reached their agreement in Gabon's capital, Libreville.

She says the agreement calls for Mr. Bozize to stay until the end of his term in 2016, with the opposition naming a prime minister who will run a transitional government.

She said neither the prime minister nor President Bozize would be eligible to run in the next presidential election.

Rebels in the C.A.R. have seized one-third of the country's territory since beginning an uprising a month ago. The rebels accuse the president of failing to carry out previous peace agreements in 2007 and 2008.

The rebels had announced a one-week ceasefire on Thursday.

Obama, Karzai Meet at White House

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has arrived at the White House to meet with President Barack Obama for talks on the future role of the United States in Afghanistan.

One of the main issues they are expected to discuss is the number of American soldiers who remain in Afghanistan after 2014. International troops are expected to transfer combat operations to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

Currently, there are about 66,000 U.S. troops and several thousand other international soldiers in Afghanistan.

The plan to reduce the U.S. force hinges on a number of conditions, including whether Afghan forces will be able to take over security at that time. It is also unclear what will be the role of the Americans who stay behind.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai will meet for about two hours and then have lunch together. They are scheduled to hold a news conference after lunch.

On Thursday, Mr. Karzai met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Panetta told Mr. Karzai that the U.S. and Afghanistan have come a long way toward making sure Afghanistan will never again become a safe haven for terrorism.

Panetta said more than 10 years of the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda and its allies, the Taliban have paved the way for Afghanistan to stand on its own.

Mr. Karzai expressed appreciation for the years of support from the U.S. and Afghanistan's other allies.

While Mr. Karzai has often criticized U.S. actions in Afghanistan, he also has spoken about his desire for some U.S. presence to remain.

Mr. Karzai will wrap up his events in Washington Friday evening with a speech at Georgetown University.

France’s Kurdish Community Mourn Slaying of Three Women

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 10:40 am (UTC-5)
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Hundreds of Kurds have gathered outside a Kurdish information center in Paris to mourn the loss of three women slain execution-style.

French police discovered the bodies of the women inside the center on Thursday. One of the victims has been identified as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

All three women had been shot in the head. Some of the grieving mourners outside the center laid flowers to pay their respects.

As the investigation continues, Kurds and Turks are exchanging blame.

On Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the shooting was most likely the result of an internal feud among the Kurds, noting that the building required an access code to unlock the door.

Earlier, Turkish officials said the slayings could also be aimed at derailing peace talks between Ankara and the PKK's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK has been fighting for greater autonomy in Turkey for nearly three decades.

Kurdish protesters have accused the Turkish government of orchestrating the attacks, while others are blaming Turkish extremists. Police in France say they have opened a murder investigation.

The deaths come as talks to end the 28-year Kurdish insurgency are reported to be in the beginning stages, with officials in Turkey confirming they recently held talks with the jailed rebel leader.

The second woman killed in Paris was 32-year-old Frida Dogan, an employee at the information center and the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress. The third victim was Leyla Soylemez who has been described as a “young activist.”

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the scene of the crime Thursday and called the attack an assassination.

“I came here, to this neighborhood where three women were slain, killed, doubtless executed. This is a very grave matter and this explains my presence. This is unacceptable. The investigation is only starting under the authority of the prosecutor's office and the anti-terrorist forces are involved to shed all possible light on this unacceptable act.”

Kurdish protesters gathered at the scene Thursday, chanting slogans accusing the Turkish government of killing the women and accusing French President Francois Hollande of complying.

The PKK took up arms in 1984 for Kurdish-self rule in southeastern Turkey, and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and most of the international community.

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