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Saturday, August 20, 2011

North Korea's Kim arrives in Russia (Reuters)

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in Russia on Saturday for his first visit in nearly a decade as the isolated state sought economic aid after heavy flooding exacerbated its chronic food shortages.

Kim will meet President Dmitry Medvedev and will spend time in the Far East and Siberia, the Kremlin said in a statement. The meeting is expected to take place around mid-week.

Russia and North Korea were once politically close, but relations cooled and trade fell sharply after the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991.

Kim arrived in the town of Khasan, near the short border between North Korea and Russia, on a train and was greeted by the Primorye region governor and Medvedev's representative in the Russian Far East, a regional government source said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing a South Korean government source, said Kim was expected to stay in Russia for a week and would probably hold talks with Medvedev in Ulan-Ude, 2,050 km (1,275 miles) further west near Lake Baikal in Siberia.

The local edition of the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets in Ulan-Ude said Kim's train was likely to arrive there on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The brief Kremlin statement confirmed Kim was arriving on Saturday and said he would spend time in the Far East and Siberia. "The main event of the visit will be President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with Kim Jong-il," it said.

It did not say when or where the meeting would take place.

Russia is a member of the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, though China now holds more influence with North Korea than Russia does.

North Korea has been desperate for economic aid after suffering from floods and economic sanctions led by the United States because of its nuclear program.


Citing a "severe deficit" of food products in North Korea, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that Russia would send 50,000 tonnes of grain to North Korea by the end of September. It said the first shipment was made on Friday.

The United States has offered North Korea up to $900,000 in emergency flood assistance but has made no decision yet on a broader request for humanitarian food aid for the isolated country, the State Department said on Thursday.

Kim made his last public visit to Russia in 2002, when he met then-President Vladimir Putin in the far eastern city of Vladivostok. He has visited China, Pyongyang's closest big-power ally, three times in just over a year.

The visit follows a series of top-level meetings between Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington and Beijing that has raised hopes of a resumption of long-stalled talks on disabling the secretive North's nuclear weapons program.

Russia and Japan are also parties to the talks.

Russia has expressed concern about North Korea missile tests and urged it to abide by commitments on its nuclear program, but has warned South Korea and the United States against acting too aggressively with the North.

Russian authorities in Vladivostok, 130 km (80 miles) from the North Korean border, had been making preparations for a possible visit by Kim in June, according to a local official.

He never arrived, and the newspaper Kommersant reported that he had canceled the visit because of worries about security following media reports that he was coming.

In 2001, Kim traveled over 7,000 km (4,500 miles) to Moscow by train for talks with Putin, who is now prime minister and is considering a return to the presidency in a vote next March.

Western reports suggest Kim was born at an army camp in the Soviet Union where his father was a key figure among Korean communist exiles receiving training. The North says Kim was born in a secret guerrilla camp at Mount Paektu, a peak considered sacred to Koreans.

(Additional reporting by Sung-won Shim in Seoul and Alexei Anishchuk and Denis Dyomkin in Moscow; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa and Michael Roddy)

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3 killed in southern Australia helicopter crash (AP)

SYDNEY – Three people were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Australia, police said Friday, with a prominent Australian journalist believed to be among the dead.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. said three members of its news crew, including veteran journalist Paul Lockyer, are believed to have died when their chopper crashed Thursday in a remote part of South Australia state.

Lockyer, cameraman John Bean and pilot Gary Ticehurst were working in the area on a story about Lake Eyre, a massive Outback lake, the ABC said.

South Australia police confirmed three people were killed in the accident and said they were investigating the cause of the crash.

A tour guide who had chatted with those on board shortly before they took off saw a large fireball in the distance soon after the helicopter departed, Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Smith said.

The crash site is surrounded by water and boggy land, making access to the area difficult, Smith said. The remoteness of the region was also making it tough to get in touch with investigators on the scene, he said.

"We are not expecting to have any positive news, any positive identification or the full extent of the detail for some time," Smith told reporters in Adelaide.

Lockyer was an award-winning journalist whose career spanned more than 40 years and included assignments in Washington and Asia.

Ticehurst was a well-known media pilot who worked for the ABC for more than 25 years. Bean, a Brisbane-based cameraman, was a 20-year veteran of the ABC who worked throughout Australia, the Pacific and in Washington.

"This has been the longest of nights and we fear it will be the saddest of days," ABC managing director Mark Scott said.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chinese gets 15 years for killing NZ taxi driver (AP)

SHANGHAI – A Shanghai court sentenced a Chinese man who admitted killing a New Zealand taxi driver before fleeing to his homeland to 15 years in prison Wednesday.

Shanghai's Second Intermediate Court handed down the sentence, citing Xiao Zhen's remorse over the killing as a reason for not imposing a harsher sentence.

The 24-year-old Xiao was arrested last year in China for the alleged murder of Auckland taxi driver Hiren Mohini, 39, in January 2010. He was tried in Shanghai because China and New Zealand do not have an extradition treaty.

The judge who read out the sentence did not make any further comment. Xiao was convicted not of murder but of the Chinese crime that can be translated into English as "intentional assault."

New Zealand police officer Hywel Jones, who attended but did not speak at the trial, said the verdict was "fair" and that he intended to return to New Zealand.

Xiao's aunt, Li Liping, said the family did not expect him to appeal the sentence.

"He should be punished," she said. "It is our fault that we did not teach him well."

New Zealand media reported the government was promised Xiao would not face the death penalty if convicted.

China by law does not extradite its citizens and says it can put them on trial itself regardless of where a crime occurred. The number of such cases should rise as more Chinese citizens travel and live outside the country, opening the door to legal complications.

Cooperation from foreign countries opposed to capital punishment in such cases, for example in providing evidence, often depends on whether authorities promise not to apply the death penalty — which is more often used in China than anywhere else.


Researcher Fu Ting contributed.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Australian man arrested in Ky. in fake bomb case (AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A 50-year-old man was captured Monday while staying with his ex-wife in Kentucky and charged with breaking into an Australian family's home and chaining a fake bomb to a teenage woman's neck, the FBI said.

Paul "Doug" Peters faces charges in Australia that include kidnapping and breaking and entering, said Luke Moore of the New South Wales Police. An FBI SWAT arrested him at a home in an upper-middle-class Louisville suburb, said Elizabeth A. Fries, special agent in charge of the FBI's Kentucky office.

Moore flew from Sydney to Louisville for the arrest, but would not go into detail about what led police to Peters.

"There was a range of pieces of evidence that led us to identify this suspect," he said at a news conference at FBI offices in Louisville.

Peters is an Australian citizen but has lived in the U.S., including Kentucky. His initial court appearance was set for Tuesday in Louisville and the extradition process will take about two months, Fries said.

His capture comes nearly two weeks after 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver was attacked in the wealthy Sydney suburb of Mosman as part of what police say was an extortion attempt.

The Pulvers were relieved to hear of the arrest. William Pulver, CEO of an information technology company, described his daughter as "a bright, happy young woman who for reasons we still don't understand had her life turned upside down going through this dreadful experience."

"These past two weeks have been a very difficult time for us and we are hopeful that this development marks the beginning of the end of this traumatic ordeal for our family," William Pulver told reporters in Sydney, his wife Belinda at his side.

Madeleine Pulver was alone studying for exams when a masked man broke into the house in the middle of the day, chained a device that looked like a bomb to her and left a note with demands before leaving. Moore said the man also tried to kidnap her.

Bomb technicians, negotiators and detectives rushed to the scene. Neighboring homes were evacuated, streets were closed and medical and fire crews waited nearby. Pulver spent 10 terrifying hours chained to the device before the bomb squad was able to free her. She was not hurt, and the device was later found to contain no explosives. Australia's prime minister said the event resembled "a Hollywood script."

Police say a note had been attached to the device, but they haven't released details of what it said.

Peters' ex-wife was not at home at the time of the arrest, and there is no indication she is involved in the case, Moore said.

Her five-bedroom, two-story house, which is on the market for $400,000, is in a quiet subdivision of La Grange, about 30 miles northeast of Louisville. As an FBI investigator combed through items on shelves Monday night in the neat three-car garage, neighbors who declined to identify themselves told The Associated Press that they didn't know Peterses and that they kept to themselves.

A neighbor who refused to give his name said his two daughters were at home doing homework when the SWAT team "came in heavy and hard" to the house next door.

"We had guys with machine guns in our back yard," he said.

No shots were fired and no sirens sounded, he said.

He and his wife estimated that Doug Peters had probably spent about six months out of the last two years at the house. They didn't know him or his ex-wife very well but that there were no problems and that they were both congenial.

Authorities are still investigating why the suspect targeted the young woman, Moore said. Peters had been involved in various businesses but authorities would not elaborate what they were.

"This has been a baffling and frightening experience. It has tested us all," said William Pulver.


Associated Press writers Janet Cappiello in Louisville and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gadhafi forces 'in control' of oil hub

A Libyan mourner fires shots in the air at a cemetery on August 12 during the funeral of five rebels killed in the battle for the control of the oil-rich town of Brega.Fighting was reported in coastal city of al-ZawiyaRebels say they captured the town of al-Qawalish to the southA government spokesman calls the rebel efforts "weak""Tripoli is safe," spokesman says

Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Rebels claimed Saturday that they were gaining traction in a series of offensives in several parts of Libya controlled by ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

Heavy gunfire was heard in al-Zawiya, located about 33 miles west of Tripoli, where rebels had arrived. Rebels had entered the center of the city and managed to cut off the road to Tripoli, they said. More than 20 injured and several casualties were reported.

While the Gadhafi forces tried to defend the capital from the west, rebels announced that they had cut off an important military supply route to the south.

Sixty miles to Tripoli's south, rebels said they captured the town of al-Qawalish and pushed the Gadhafi forces to the south, toward nearby Garyan, cutting them off from the road to Tripoli. The soldiers left behind heavy artillery and ammunition, rebel field commander Adel al-Zintani told CNN.

"We captured many anti-aircraft artillery vehicles, two full fuel tankers and 106 anti-tank piercing artillery and shells," he said. Seven people were injured in the clashes, he said.

Finally, in the opposition-held port of Misrata, missile attacks by Gadhafi forces ended after rebels captured the nearby town of Tawargha, National Transitional Council spokesman Guma El-Gamaty told CNN. That city was being used by Gadhafi forces to launch missiles indiscriminately into Misrata, he said.

Rebels also took a crucial bridge that links Tawargha to Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown and loyal stronghold, he said.

A government spokesman on Saturday downplayed the rebel claims.

"Small groups of armed gangs, 50 here, 50 there, some attacked south of al-Zawiya, some attacked north of Garyan, and Tawargha, but they have very weak influence on the ground," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told reporters. "The people's armed forces are dealing with them, they do not represent a real threat. Tripoli is safe."

Earlier, the country's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim said government fighters had pushed the rebels away from Tawargha and back to Misrata.

Five months into the Libyan war, the rebels have won international support in their effort to oust Gadhafi.

They have been aided by NATO airstrikes that began in March after the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution that ordered civilians be protected.

This week, the government accused NATO of killing 85 civilians, including 33 children, in airstrikes Monday near the embattled city of Zlitan.

NATO has said there is no evidence that the strikes killed civilians, though journalists, including CNN reporters, taken by Gadhafi's government to the site of the strikes, reported seeing bodies of women and children.

It was impossible for CNN to confirm the extent of the casualties and if they were all civilian.

Kaim on Friday criticized the United Nations for what he claimed was an organizational silence over claims that NATO has violated the mandate of the Security Council by killing civilians and conducting a naval blockade.

The comments follow a statement a day earlier by a spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, who said the U.N. secretary-general "is deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties as a result of the conflict in Libya."

Ban urged "all Libyan parties" to engage with his special envoy, Abdel-Elah Al-Khatib, "and respond concretely and positively to the ideas presented to them, in order to end the bloodshed in the country," the spokesperson said.

Kaim said Ban's statement fell short without a mention of NATO.

The changing nature of who controls what was underscored Thursday by events in Washington, where the Libyan Embassy officially reopened under the control of the Transitional National Council.

"This is a message that Gadhafi can no more rule Libya," said Ali Aujali, who was accredited Thursday as head of the Libyan mission.

The State Department had ordered the embassy closed in March and expelled diplomats loyal to Gadhafi. Aujali had resigned his post as the regime's ambassador to the United States in February, and has since represented the opposition in Washington.

The United States on July 15 recognized the rebel movement based in Benghazi as Libya's rightful government.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Jomana Karadsheh, Yasmin Amer and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report.


20 injured in Pennsylvania bus accident

The Greyhound bus was traveling from Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio, a company spokeswoman said.NEW: A Greyhound bus overturns, injuring at least 20 peopleThe bus was headed from Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio

(CNN) -- A Greyhound bus overturned in southeastern Pennsylvania early Saturday, injuring at least 20 people, a transportation spokesman said.

All of the injured have been relocated from the scene off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lancaster County and between 20 and 25 passengers people were transported to hospitals, said turnpike spokesman Carl DeSebo.

Helicopters were on standby, but no one was airlifted, he said.

Four passengers were uninjured and picked up by another Greyhound bus, company spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said. A total of 28 people had been on the bus, she said.

The bus originated in New York with a destination of St. Louis, she said. The bus was on the Philadelphia to Columbus, Ohio leg of the trip at the time of the accident, she said.


Syrian forces kill 3 as tanks enter coastal city (Reuters)

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian troops killed three people as tanks swept into a coastal city on Saturday, activists said, in a crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad which drew criticism from an international Muslim group.

The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, adding its voice to growing Arab pressure on Assad, called for an immediate halt to the military campaign against protesters which activists say has killed 1,700 civilians in five months.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah repeated their calls for the crackdown to stop.

Obama also spoke to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the leaders called for an immediate end to attacks by Syrian government forces against protesters, the White House said. It said Obama and Cameron would "consult on further steps in the days ahead." [nN1E77C03V]

Saturday's bloodshed came a day after security forces shot dead 20 people during nationwide marches in which demonstrators called for Assad's overthrow and vowed they would "kneel only to God."

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two people were killed and 15 wounded in heavy gunfire after around 20 military vehicles entered the Ramle district of Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast.

Soldiers backed by loyalist militia known as shabbiha were also deployed in the city's Sulaiba district, the group's head Rami Abdel Rahman said. "They are arresting dozens of people," he said, adding many people were fleeing the assault.

Troops and shabbiha killed one person in the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, and made arrests in nearby Jousiyah village, he said. The bodies of four people arrested during an assault last week in the Houla Plain, north of Homs city, were returned to their families, he added.

Syria has barred most independent media, making it hard to verify events on the ground in the unrest, one of a series of popular revolts against autocratic Arab leaders this year.

Authorities deny reports of deaths in detention and say 500 soldiers and police have been killed by armed groups they blame for the violence. State news agency SANA said three members of the security forces were killed in Friday's protests.

Since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in early August, Assad has stepped up the military campaign, launching army assaults on the central city of Hama and the city of Deir al-Zor in the eastern Sunni Muslim tribal heartland. Assad's family, which has ruled Syria for 41 years, is from the minority Alawite sect.

After a wave of Arab criticism of Damascus last week, the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) accused Syria on Saturday of using "excessive armed force" and called on Damascus to stop the bloodshed.

OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu urged Assad "to exercise utmost restraint through the immediate halt to the use of force to suppress popular demonstrations."

Obama and King Abdullah spoke by telephone on Saturday and "agreed that the Syrian regime's brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian people must end immediately," the White House said, adding the two leaders agreed to consult closely.

The Saudi monarch, who has had fraught relations with Assad but had worked with him to reduce tension in Lebanon last year, recalled his ambassador from Damascus on Monday.

France's Foreign Ministry advised citizens against traveling to Syria and urged any French people still in the country to leave using available commercial transport. Its website cited the "aggravation of tensions."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday Syria would be better off without Assad and called on nations that buy oil or sell arms to Syria to cut those ties.

"We urge those countries still buying Syrian oil or gas, those countries still sending Assad weapons, those countries whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality, to get on the right side of history," she said.

Syria's oil industry, with which the Assad family has close links, generates most of the state's hard currency from crude output of 380,000 barrels per day.

While Syria exports crude oil, its refinery capacity is not sufficient to meet domestic demand for fuel. Trading sources said Swiss oil traders Vitol and Trafigura agreed to supply state firm Sytrol with 60,000 tonnes of gasoline this week.

The global campaign group Avaaz urged European nations on Friday to impose immediate restrictions on purchases of Syrian oil to "dry up" funding of Assad's forces. It said more than 150,000 Avaaz members had signed a petition to that effect.

On Wednesday, Washington imposed sanctions on Syria's largest bank and its biggest mobile telephone company, controlled by Assad's cousin Rami Makhlouf. The next day, U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford said more sanctions would follow unless the Syrian authorities halted the violence.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington and Nick Vinocur in Paris; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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Monday, August 8, 2011

British riots spread on third night of violence (Reuters)

LONDON (Reuters) – Rioting and looting spread across London on Monday as hooded youths set buildings and cars ablaze, smashed shop windows and hurled bottles and stones at police in a third night of violence in Britain's worst unrest in decades.

Prime Minister David Cameron cut short his holiday to fly home to tackle the violence, which appeared to be led by youths alienated by years of underemployment which left them feeling marginalized even before the economic downturn.

"It's been building up for years. All it needed was a spark," said E. Nan, a young man in a baseball cap surrounded by other youths in Hackney in east London. "We ain't got no jobs, no money ... We heard that other people were getting things for free, so why not us?"

The violence erupted late on Saturday in London's northern Tottenham district when a peaceful protest over the police shooting of a suspect two days earlier turned violent.

By Monday, the violence had spread to parts of the south of the city, including Clapham Junction, one of London's busiest railway junctions, Woolwich in the capital's southeast and the Ealing area of west London.

Attackers also smashed shops and looted property in the city of Birmingham in central England, police said, in the first sign of the riots spreading beyond the capital.

In Hackney, a multi-ethnic area in east London close to the site of next year's Olympic Games, hooded youths set fire to rubbish bins and pushed them down a street toward police, while hurling bottles and bricks.

Many laughed as they ran back when police charged them.

In a street thick with smoke, looters smashed their way into a local shop, stealing whisky and beer. One man grabbed a packet of cereal, another ran off laughing with four bottles of whisky.

"I am from South Africa and it reminds me of the riots there, except the police here are not so rough," said one middle-aged local resident, who declined to give his name.

"But the kids don't have any respect for the police or for property. It's sad for the people who live round here."

In Peckham, a poor area of south London, flames leapt into the air from a torched building and rubble was strewn across the street.

A Reuters witness saw two people breaking into a shop and ripping a 50-inch plasma television off the wall. A youth in a balaclava carried the screen away and received a round of applause from the watching crowd.

Cameron's office said he would cut short his holiday in Italy to chair a crisis meeting, amid growing calls from the public for officials to take control of the situation.

Even before Monday night's violence, police had arrested 215 people, according to Home Secretary Theresa May.

"The violence we've seen, the looting we've seen, the thuggery we've seen, this is sheer criminality ... these people will be brought to justice, they will be made to face the consequences of their actions," she said.


Despite a heavy presence on some streets, police appeared unable to contain the violence as rioters who had initially coordinated through mobile phones and Twitter became increasingly confident.

Monday's looting began long before nightfall when workers were returning home, many of them forced to walk as buses to areas hit by rioting were canceled.

In Hackney, youths in brown hoods posed for pictures in front of a burning car on a street corner. Others swarmed around a skip full of bricks and gathered them up.

"I don't know why they are doing this," said a middle-aged woman who lived nearby. "It's senseless ... they are just cacking on their own doorstep."

The BBC said the Hackney clashes broke out after police stopped and searched a man.

In Clapham, another Reuters witness saw dozens of youths walking in all directions with looted television sets and other electrical goods. He heard two of them discussing the number of Playstation 3s they had stolen, and shouting at another young man to return and get more.

Looters hid their stolen goods in bins and behind the low walls of the Victorian terraced houses typical of Clapham. A large pile of boxed Blackberry phones rested by one wall.

Government officials branded rioters as opportunistic criminals and said the violence would not affect preparations for next summer's Olympic Games.

But the television pictures of rioting and blazing buildings, combined with disarray in the transport network, were likely to dent the capital's image as Britain struggles to avoid an economic recession.

Youths appeared to have used a free message service on Blackberry mobile phones to coordinate attacks on shops and police.

Research In Motion, the Canadian manufacturer of Blackberry smartphones, said it would work with British authorities, but gave no details on what information, if any, it would give the police.

Some have described the disturbances as a cry for help from poor areas reeling from the government's harsh austerity cuts to tackle a big budget deficit, with youth services and other facilities cut back sharply.

"It's very sad to see ... But kids have got no work, no future and the cuts have made it worse. These kids are from another generation to us and they just don't care," said Anthony Burns, 39, an electrician from Hackney. "You watch. It's only just begun."

Officials said there was no excuse.

"It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence, nothing more, nothing less. It is completely unacceptable," said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Mohammed Abbas, Matt Falloon, Avril Ormsby and Jon Hemming; Writing by Myra MacDonald, editing by Tim Pearce)

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Syrian tanks pound city as Arab states withdraw envoys (Reuters)

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pressed on with a tank onslaught against a city Monday, but was plunged deeper into international isolation by Arab neighbors who denounced his violent crackdown and recalled their envoys from Damascus.

Assad's five-month campaign against street protests has emerged as one of the bloodiest episodes of the wave of democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world this year. Killings have worsened sharply in the past week after Assad ordered tank assaults on two cities.

Other Arab leaders had been cautious about criticizing one of their peers, but Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah broke the silence with a rare intervention overnight, demanding an end to the bloodshed and recalling the Saudi ambassador from Damascus.

Hours later Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their envoys too.

Syrian tanks and troops poured into the eastern Sunni city of Deir al-Zor in the latest stage of a campaign to crush centers of protest against 41 years of Assad family rule.

"Armored vehicles are shelling the al-Hawiqa district heavily with their guns. Private hospitals are closed and people are afraid to send the wounded to state facilities because they are infested with secret police," Mohammad, a Deir al-Zor resident who did not want to give his full name.

He said at least 65 people had been killed since tanks and Armored vehicles barreled into the provincial capital, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus, Sunday, crumpling makeshift barricades and opening fire.

Later Monday Assad fired defense minister Ali Habib and replaced him with chief of staff General Daoud Rajha. The state news agency said Habib was ill. Habib had been added to an EU sanctions list last week for his role in crushing protests.

Syria's military is effectively under the command of Assad's brother Maher. Many officers are from the Assad family's minority Alawite sect.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said among those killed were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and a young girl. Syria has expelled most independent media since the uprising began, making it hard to confirm accounts.


The sudden withdrawal of ambassadors of Gulf Arab states leaves Assad with few diplomatic friends. Western states have imposed sanctions on top Syrian officials and countries with close ties to Damascus such as Russia and Turkey have warned Assad he is running out of time.

Nevertheless, countries have not proposed military action like that ranged against Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Assad's forces shot dead at least three mourners Monday when they opened fire at a funeral for a pro-democracy protester in the southern border city of Deraa, cradle of the five month uprising, witnesses and activists said.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory said one of the dead was Maen Yousef Awadat, a leading political campaigner, who had recently been released from prison.

The funeral was for a youth arrested earlier this week when he took part street protests after nightly Ramadan prayers. His body was handed to relatives earlier Monday with signs of torture, according to relatives contacted in Deraa.

The Saudi criticism was the sharpest the oil giant has directed against any fellow Arab state since uprisings began to sweep the region, toppling autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt, kindling civil war in Libya and rattling elites.

"What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," the Saudi king said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television. "Syria should think wisely before it's too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises but actual reforms."

"Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss."


The assault on Deir al-Zor, in an oil-producing province bordering Iraq, took place a week after tanks stormed the city of Hama, where residents say scores have been killed.

The official SANA news agency said Monday the military was winding down in Hama. Residents said there were still tanks in parts of the city and security forces were making arrests. The Observatory said 1,500 people had been arrested in Hama's Jarajima neighborhood and troops killed three civilians.

Like most of Syria, Hama and Deir al-Zor are mainly-Sunni cities, and the crackdowns there resonate with Sunnis, who form the majority in the region and rule most Arab countries.


The Arab League called for an end to the bloodshed. France and Germany repeated calls for Assad to scrap the military campaign which rights groups say has killed at least 1,600 civilians.

Saudi Arabia's decision to join countries putting pressure on Assad was unlikely to deter the 45-year old president, who calls the clampdown a national duty, regional experts said.

Relations between Sunni Saudi Arabia and a Syrian ruling elite from Assad's minority Alawite sect have been tense since the assassination in 2005 of Rafik al-Hariri, a Western-backed Lebanese Sunni statesman who also had Saudi nationality.

In Cairo, the head of the most influential school of Sunni Islam, al-Azhar, described the violence as a human tragedy that had to stop. "Blood only fuels the fires of revolutions," said Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb.

Hama is known throughout the region as the site of a crackdown by Assad's father nearly 30 years ago against Sunni Islamists in which many thousands died.


Syrian authorities denied that any Deir al-Zor assault had taken place. The official state news agency said "not a single tank has entered Deir al-Zor" and reports of tanks in the city were "the work of provocateur satellite channels."

Syrian authorities say they have faced attacks since the protests erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel.

State television broadcast footage Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the central Syrian city.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who cultivated close ties with Assad but has sharply criticised the crackdown, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would visit Syria Tuesday.

"Our message will be decisively delivered," he said, drawing a rebuke from an Assad adviser, who described the Turkish statement as unbalanced.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Davutoglu Sunday, the State Department said, asking him to "reinforce" Washington's position that Syria must immediately return its military to barracks and release prisoners.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Brian Love in Paris, Brian Rohan in Berlin, Asma al-Sharif in Jeddah, Mahmoud Harby in Kuwait and Ayman Samir in Cairo; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Pakistan seeks "clear terms of engagement" with U.S. (Reuters)

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called Monday for his government and the United States to agree on "clear terms of engagement" in the fight against Islamist militants to avert troubles in their relationship.

Zardari's remarks, the first such call by the Pakistani president, came at a meeting with the U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman.

Pakistan is a strategic ally to the United States but the relationship has been on a downward spiral since the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a secret raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan in May without informing Islamabad in advance.

Pakistan reacted with fury to the May 2 raid, which it saw as a breach of its sovereignty, cutting back on U.S. trainers in the country and placing limits on CIA activities there.

"In the absence of well-defined and documented terms of engagements, wrong plugs may be pulled at the wrong times by any side that could undermine the bilateral relations," Zardari's office said in a statement after the meeting with Grossman.

"Terms of engagement should be clearly defined and specified so that any dispute could be settled amicably through the available institutions."

Zardari did not spell out the terms of engagement but they would probably involve more consultation on drone strikes, more oversight of CIA activities and a resumption of military aid.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States should be based on "mutual interest, trust and mutual respect," he said.

Grossman, who will attend a three-way meeting with Pakistani and Afghan officials to coordinate efforts to end violence in Afghanistan, said Washington was "open" to Zardari's suggestion.


Pakistani officials and diplomats said Sunday Islamabad had imposed travel curbs on U.S. and other diplomats in Pakistan in the latest sign of worsening ties with Washington.

The U.S. State Department said it was working with Islamabad to resolve the travel issue, and declined to say whether it would impose similar limits on the movement of Pakistani diplomats in the United States.

"Speaking hypothetically or theoretically, reciprocity is always a consideration. In this case we are working with the government of Pakistan," department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The fact that the al Qaeda chief lived for years near the Pakistani army's main academy in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad reinforced suspicions in Washington about Islamabad's reliability in the war against militant Islamists.

There are also growing frustrations with Pakistan over its reluctance to mount offensives against militant factions in the northwest who are fighting U.S.-led foreign forces across the border in Afghanistan.

In a show of displeasure over Pakistan's cutback in U.S. trainers, its limits on visas for U.S. personnel and other bilateral irritants, the United States recently suspended about a third of its $2.7 billion annual defense aid to Pakistan.

Despite this, both sides have tried to prevent a breakdown of relations.

The head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, visited the United States last month for talks with U.S. government and intelligence officials and lawmakers, which both sides said went very well.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and Eric Beech)

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