3 Days of Mourning in Pakistan’s Quetta

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 7:35 am (UTC-5)
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Officials in Pakistan's Baluchistan province Friday declared a three-day mourning period, following deadly bomb blasts in the province capital.

Authorities said security forces have been deployed around Quetta where political and religious groups say they will hold protests against the bombings.

The victims' funerals are set to begin Friday.

Police say two suicide bomb blasts Thursday in Quetta in a billiards hall frequented by Shi'ite Muslims killed 82 people.

The billiards hall attack came just hours after another deadly bomb blast in the Quetta market.

A string of bombings across Pakistan Thursday killed 115 people and wounded nearly 250, on one of the nation's deadliest days in years.

The outlawed militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the Quetta explosions.

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.

Austrian Neo-Nazi Sentenced to 9 Years

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 6:15 am (UTC-5)
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An Austrian court has convicted a well-known member of the far-right to nine years in prison for propagating Nazi ideology online, in violation of the country's strict anti-Nazi laws.

Gottfried Kuessel, who had been arrested in April 2011, was sentenced late Thursday in Vienna. Two convicted accomplices were given lesser sentences — seven years and four-and-a-half years.

Prosecutors said Kuessel was the leader of the now-banned neo-Nazi group, VAPO .

Kuessel posted his material on the neo-Nazi website alpen-donau.info, which was shut down in March 2011. The servers for the site were based in the United States, so Austrian authorities had to get American cooperation.

Kuessel spent time in prison in the 1990s for disseminating Nazi propaganda. He has denied the Holocaust and denounced the diary of Anne Frank as a fabrication.

Obama, Karzai Meet at White House

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet Friday at the White House to discuss the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, their first meeting since Mr. Obama's re-election.

The two leaders will hold a joint afternoon news conference.

Current plans call for the U.S. to withdraw nearly all of its nearly 70,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

But that plan 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, if any do remain.

On Thursday, Mr. Karzai met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Earlier, at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Mr. Karzai that the U.S. and Afghanistan have come a long way towards 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 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.

But 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.

115 Killed in Pakistan Blasts

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
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A leading human rights group says Pakistan's Shi'ite Muslims are living in a state of siege, after a string of bombings across the country killed 115 people and wounded nearly 250, in one of the nation's deadliest days in years.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, warned Friday that sectarian violence will likely rise, a day after 82 people were killed in Quetta in suicide bomb blasts in a billiards hall frequented by Shi'ites.

He said more than 400 Shi'ites were killed last year and “if yesterday's attack is any indication, it's just going to get worse.”

The billiards hall attacks came just hours after a deadly bomb blast at the Quetta market.

The outlawed militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi contacted local media to claim responsibility.

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

Elsewhere in Pakistan Thursday, at least 21 people were killed and more than 70 wounded in a bombing in the city of Mingora, where a crowd had gathered to hear a speech by a religious leader. Mingora is the largest city in northwestern Pakistan's Swat province.

No one has claimed responsibility for that attack.

Erdogan: Kurdish Slayings Stem from Internal Dispute

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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Turkey's prime minister says the killings of three Kurdish activists in Paris may have been the result of an internal feud.

The bodies of the three women — one of them a founding member of a Kurdish group fighting for greater autonomy in Turkey — were found inside a Kurdish information center in Paris Thursday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the lock on the door of the center could only be opened from the inside and the women would not have opened the door to someone they did not know.

Kurdish protesters have accused the Turkish government of orchestrating the attacks.

French police said that the bodies of three women were found with bullet wounds in the early morning hours Thursday. They identified one of the victims as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. An investigation is underway.

The deaths come as talks to end the 28-year Kurdish insurgency are reported to be in the beginning stages between the Turkish government and jailed rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

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.” Police say they have opened a murder investigation.

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.

Dozens Dead and Missing in China Landslide

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 3:45 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese authorities say at least 18 people have been confirmed dead and dozens are missing after a landslide swept through a village in southern China.

Local authorities and state media said rescuers had recovered 18 bodies in the village in Yunnan province, including seven people from one family.

The official Xinhua news agency said dozens more people remain buried.

It is unclear what triggered the landslide, but heavy rains periodically cause such disasters in the region.

U.S. “Hopeful” Pending Adoption Cases from Russia Can Continue

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 2:50 am (UTC-5)
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The United States says it is “very hopeful” that pending adoptions of Russian children to U.S. parents can be completed as planned, despite passage of a Russian law recently passed to ban the practice.

Russia said on Thursday it will allow a bilateral adoption agreement with the United States to remain valid for the next year.

The State Department spokeswoman said Thursday the U.S. will be working with Russia on completing adoptions cases already in progress, “out of humanitarian concern.” She said it is unclear how many such cases there are and that the U.S. and Russian governments must compare notes to clarify.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law banning Americans from adopting Russian children in what was widely viewed as a retaliatory measure against U.S. passage of the Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act imposes a visa ban and financial sanctions on Russian officials accused of human rights violations. It is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in jail in 2009, after alleging officials were involved in a multi-million-dollar tax scam.

U.S., Russia to Discuss Stalemate on Syria

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 2:00 am (UTC-5)
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United Nations-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is set to meet Friday in Geneva with U.S. and Russian officials to discuss finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

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

On Thursday, Syria accused Brahimi of “flagrant bias” in comments he made a day earlier insisting Mr. Assad must step down. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that the United States strongly supports Brahimi's mission.

The Syrian ambassador to the U.N., Faysal Hamoui, told reporters Thursday in Geneva that Syria is not participating in the meeting and expects no results.

“Nothing, no, no. We are not linking, we don't have anything with this meeting. We will see, we will see.”

Meanwhile, reports from Syria indicate armed rebels have seized a portion of Taftanaz, Syria's main air base in the north. Nuland said such a development would be a “significant blow” to the Assad regime and added the reports indicate that the rebels are gaining strength.

Also Thursday, a group of 48 Iranians held hostage by Syrian rebels returned to Iran after being freed in a prisoner swap with President Assad's government.

The hostages, held for five months, were freed in exchange for 2,130 prisoners, mostly Syrian, in what appears to be the first major prisoner swap during the nearly two-year-old civil war.

The bloodshed in Syria has left more than 60,000 people dead since March 2011.

One Student Critically Wounded in California High School Shooting

Posted January 11th, 2013 at 12:10 am (UTC-5)
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A 16-year-old student armed with a shotgun opened fire in a California classroom Thursday, critically wounding one of his classmates and adding urgency to a national debate over gun violence.

Police say a teacher and administrator at the high school in the town of Taft, about 200 kilometers north of Los Angeles, convinced the shooter to put down his weapon, allowing students to leave the classroom.

The shooting came less than a month after 20 children and six adults were killed at a Connecticut elementary school in a mass shooting that prompted an intense debate over gun control.

Vice President Joe Biden, who is heading a task force on reducing the violence, held a tense meeting Thursday with a representative of the powerful U.S. gun lobby, the National Rifle Association,

Following the talks, the NRA issued a toughly worded statement saying Biden was more interested in doing away with gun rights than protecting school children. The White House did not comment on the statement.

Earlier Thursday, Biden said he will deliver his policy recommendations to the president by Tuesday, and that they will likely include background checks for all gun buyers and a limit on high-capacity ammunition clips.

Many say the proposal will also include the renewal of a ban on high-powered assault weapons, which Congress allowed to expire in 2004.

The vice president has already met with hunting associations, victim support groups, movie-makers, and mental health and law enforcement professionals as part of what the White House says is an effort to reach consensus on set of recommendations.

President Barack Obama expects to announce his plans to deal with gun violence shortly after beginning his second term in office. He is expected to seek congressional approval for the proposals, but may also try to get some of the objectives done through executive orders.

Deadly Bomb Blasts Kill More Than 110 in Pakistan

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 8:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Four separate bombings killed more than 110 people and wounded nearly 250 across Pakistan Thursday, including 92 deaths in Quetta.

Police in the capital of Baluchistan province say a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded billiard hall, followed by a second bomber there minutes later. The twin blasts killed 81 people, including police and rescue workers. Police say most of the deaths came after the second blast caused the roof of the building to collapse.

At least two journalists were among those killed. The Committee to Protect Journalists says double bombings like the twin blasts are particularly hazardous for journalists as they are often the first on the scene and a target for bombers. The CPJ calls Pakistan one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist.

The billiard hall attacks came just hours after a bomb blast at the Quetta market killed 11 people. Authorities say paramilitary soldiers may have been the target.

The outlawed militant Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi contacted local media to claim responsibility.

Elsewhere in Pakistan Thursday, at least 21 people were killed and more than 70 wounded in a bombing in the city of Mingora, where a crowd had gathered to hear a speech by a religious leader. Mingora is the largest city in northwestern Pakistan's Swat province.

No one has claimed responsibility for that attack.

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