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Archive for June, 2012

Rubber bullets, tear gas fired in Sudan protests.

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Sudanese police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of peaceful protesters on Friday, the 14th day of anti-regime demonstrations sparked by inflation, witnesses said.

Protesters had gathered in the capital’s Hijra Square beside the mosque of the opposition Umma party in Khartoum‘s twin city of Omdurman. Police said the crowd numbered in the thousands and one person was reported injured.

One witness said demonstrators carried Sudanese flags and banners reading “The people want the regime to fall,” a slogan used by protesters during the Arab Spring uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

After the tear gas and an unknown number of arrests, demonstrators burned tyres and threw stones at police before running for cover, the witness said.

Similar running battles between protesters and police occurred in the Bahri district of Khartoum, where tear gas was also fired, the witness added.

Demonstrators planned major protests for Friday and Saturday, the 23rd anniversary of a coup by President Omar al-Bashir.

Human rights groups say scores of people have been detained since the protests against high food prices began on June 16 at the University of Khartoum.

Among those held Friday was Sudanese journalist Talal Saad, who had brought some freelance photos of the protests to the AFP bureau in Khartoum. Armed national security agents raided the bureau, ordered AFP’s correspondent to delete the photos and took Saad away.

After Bashir announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, the protests spread to include a cross-section of people in numerous locations throughout the capital and other parts of Sudan.

Demonstrators, typically in groups of 100 or 200, have burned tyres, thrown stones and blocked roads in a call for regime change which has almost universally been met by police tear gas.

Bashir has played down the demonstrations as small-scale and not comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere, maintaining that he himself remains popular.



Ex-U.S. agent who helped cartels gets 30 months in prison.

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) – A former U.S. federal immigration agent was sentenced to 30 months in prison on Friday for accessing police databases and passing on sensitive information to family members with ties to Mexican drug cartels.

              Jovana Deas was accused of illegally obtaining and disseminating classified government documents while working as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent in Nogales, Ariz., a city on the border with Mexico. She also was charged with obstruction and lying to investigators.

              In February, she pled guilty to seven felonies and 14 misdemeanors in the case.

              “I ask my family to forgive me. I’m sorry for what I did. It was a horrible mistake. I feel like I betrayed my country and my agency,” a sobbing Deas told a federal court in Tucson before U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson handed down her sentence.

              “I’m asking for your mercy your honor, so I can go back to my family.”

              Prosecutors said Deas, who resigned from ICE last year, passed information pulled from restricted crime and immigration databases to her former brother-in-law, Miguel Angel Mendoza Estrada, a Mexican cartel associate with ties to drug traffickers in Brazil.

              Some of the information – concerning the prior criminal history and immigration status of a convicted Mexican national – was later discovered on Mendoza Estrada’s laptop by Brazilian police, according to court documents.

              U.S. Attorney James Lacey unsuccessfully pushed for a 10-year prison term, arguing that Deas’ crimes made her a “mini-Aldrich Ames” – a reference to the CIA agent who was convicted for spying for the Soviet Union and Russia in 1994.

              Deas’ career with the federal government began in 2003 when she became a U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspector assigned to the Nogales port of entry. In 2008, she became an ICE special agent in the city.

              Also named in the indictment was Deas’ sister, Dana Maria Samaniego, a former Mexican law enforcement official with alleged ties to drug trafficking organizations who remains a fugitive.

              Corruption cases involving federal officers and agents have increased in recent years as the U.S. government has ramped up recruitment in a drive to secure the southwest border with Mexico.

              Between October 2004 and May of this year, 138 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents were arrested or indicted for corruption, including drug and illegal immigrant smuggling, money laundering and conspiracy, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

              Investigations by ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility last year resulted in the arrest of 16 ICE and U.S. Customs and Border protection employees. It was not clear how many of those cases have resulted in a conviction.

              (Editing by Tim Gaynor and Paul Simao)


ReutersBy Paul M. Ingram | Reuters 

Obama’s Weekly Address: Coming Together to Put Out the Colorado Wildfires.

After         visiting the areas ravaged by the Colorado wildfires, President Obama is urging Americans to pitch in and contribute to the recovery effort, saying “this is a good reminder of what makes us Americans. We don’t just look out for ourselves; we look out for each other.”

“One of the things that happens here in America is when we see our fellow citizens in trouble and having difficulty, we come together as one American family, as one community,” the president said in his weekly address.

“You see that spirit and you see that strength here in Colorado Springs, where people are working together, promising each other to rebuild.  We’ve got to make sure that we are there with them every step of the way, even after this fire is put out,” he said.

On Friday, the president toured some of the areas devastated by the worst wildfires in Colorado’s history. He personally thanked the firefighters and first responders for working hard to control the blaze.

In his address, the president urged Americans to contribute to the American Red Cross, saying, “they’re very active in this community.”

“We’re going to continue to make sure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Forest Service, our military and National Guard and all the resources that we have available at the federal level are brought to bear in fighting this fire,” he added.

The president said it’s important for Americans to understand and appreciate the important work done by firefighters and first responders all across the country.

“It’s important that we remember what they do each and every single day, and that we continue to provide support to our first responders, our emergency management folks, our firefighters, our military – everybody who helps secure our liberty and our security each and every day,” he said.

“I hope you guys remember the[se] folks during these times of need.  I know this is a little bit unusual – we don’t usually do weekly addresses like this, but I thought it was a good opportunity for us to actually focus attention on a problem that’s going on here in Colorado Springs.  We never know when it might be our community that’s threatened, and it’s important that we’re there for them,” the president said.


By Mary Bruce | ABC OTUS News 

Mali Islamists threaten nations that join intervention force.

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  • A still from a video taken with a mobile phone shows a convoy of Islamists patrolling the streets of Gao on June 26. An Islamist militant group in lawless northern Mali, MUJAO, Friday threatened countries that would join a military intervention force. (AFP Photo/)A still from a video taken with …

An Islamist militant group in lawless northern Mali, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Friday threatened countries who would join a military intervention force.

Mali has been gripped by chaos since disgruntled troops swarmed the capital Bamako in the south in March and ousted the elected president of what had been seen as one of Africa’s model democracies.

In the ensuing weeks, Tuareg rebels and Islamist hardliners have taken over a stretch of northern Mali the size of Afghanistan.

The Islamists, also including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, have since imposed an austere version of sharia law in northern Mali, and they have fallen out with the Tuareg.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, were meeting in Ivory Coast Friday in a bid to end the crisis. The grouping is considering sending a military force of 3,300 troops to Mali.

MUJAO warned that its branches “in several countries are ready to strike the interests of countries that intend to participate in the force of ECOWAS”, spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui said in a written message.

“The MUJAO is committed to providing all kinds of material and military support for young Muslims determined to raise the banner of Islam. The scene today is open” for jihadists, said the statement sent to an AFP correspondent in the capital Bamako.

The West African leaders gathered Friday in Yamoussoukro meanwhile called on the UN Security Council to speed up the adoption of a resolution authorizing the regional force.

The force requires international support for such an operation, and logistics support from the United States and France.

A first draft was considered too imprecise by the UN Security Council, and ECOWAS is reviewing the proposal.

The heads of state meeting in the Ivorian capital renewed their “commitment to a peaceful settlement” but reiterated their decision to use armed intervention if necessary, according to the final statement.

The MUJAO, for its part, claimed responsibility on Friday for an attack in Algeria — against the regional headquarters of the paramilitary police in the town of Ouargla in which one person was killed and three were wounded.

It said in a text message to AFP in Bamako that a young Algerian from the southern town of Ouargla had carried out the attack, using a Toyota 4×4 car with “almost 1,300 kilograms of explosives”.

“The cells of the MUJAO branch in Algeria succeeded in carrying out a rapid punishment for the Algerian authorities,” spokesman Sahraoui said.

The MUJAO spokesman said the group accused Algeria of encouraging Tuareg rebels to go to war with it, although the secular MNLA Tuaregs had three months ago fought together with the Islamists to take control of north Mali.

The Islamists chased the MNLA out of Gao in the northeast on Wednesday after vicious fighting that left at least 20 dead, witnesses said.

On Friday the Islamists were reinforced by jihadists who arrived from Algeria, various sources said.



1,000 held, hundreds hurt in Sudan demos: activists.

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  • Smoke rises from burning tyres during protests in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on June 22. About 1,000 people were detained and hundreds injured during anti-regime protests on June 29, a Sudanese activist group said on the anniversary of President Omar al-Bashir's coup. (AFP Photo/Ian Timbarlake)Smoke rises from burning tyres …
  • Sudanese queue in a petrol station to fuel their vehicles in the capital Khartoum on June 21. About 1,000 people were detained and hundreds injured -- many by tear gas -- during anti-regime protests in Sudan, an activist group told AFP on the anniversary of President Omar al-Bashir's (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly)Sudanese queue in a petrol station …

About 1,000 people were arrested and hundreds hurt, many by tear gas, during anti-regime protests in Sudan on Friday, an activist group said on Saturday’s anniversary of President Omar al-Bashir‘s coup.

The information minister called the protesters “rioters” who threaten the country’s stability.

“Some were arrested and released,” said an official from the Organisation for Defence of Rights and Freedoms.

The group’s figures indicate a dramatic rise in the number of arrests on Friday, the 14th day of anti-regime demonstrations sparked by inflation.

“The figure of those arrested before yesterday (Friday) was about 1,000 in the whole country,” said the official who asked not to be identified because of the tense situation.

Many are still being held in prisons or “ghost houses,” the location of which is unknown, he alleged.

“They don’t tell you where they are. You are not even allowed to ask,” he said.

One of those detained was Sudanese journalist Talal Saad, who had taken some freelance photos of the protests to the AFP bureau in Khartoum on Friday.

Armed national security agents raided the bureau, ordered AFP’s correspondent to delete the photos and then detained Saad for almost 24 hours.

Saad called AFP on Saturday evening to say he had been released and was fine.

Police said “some of the rioters” were arrested and would be brought to trial after “small groups” demonstrated in Khartoum and elsewhere.

Police contained the situation “with a minimum use of force,” they said.

The Organisation for Defence of Rights and Freedoms said “a few hundred” people were injured during the Friday protests.

Many elderly people were affected by tear gas, but other injuries came from rubber bullets, tear gas canisters or beatings, the rights group official said.

Information Minister Ghazi Al-Sadiq issued an appeal for people “not to allow the rioters to undermine security and stability of the Sudan.”

In a statement on the official SUNA news agency, he said Sudanese have the right to peaceful expression without resorting to violence “to allow the enemies to exploit these protests to carry out foreign agendas against the country.”

Activists had called for a major day of protest on Friday.

In one key disturbance, witnesses said police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of peaceful protesters who had gathered in Hijra Square beside the mosque of the opposition Umma party in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.

One witness said demonstrators carried Sudanese flags and banners reading “The people want the regime to fall,” a slogan used by protesters during the Arab Spring uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

They burned tyres and threw stones at police before running for cover, the witness said.

Similar running battles between protesters and police took place elsewhere in Khartoum, the witness added.

International criticism of Sudan’s crackdown increased, with Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird condemning “the arrests of bloggers, journalists and political activists”.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has urged the government to avoid “heavy-handed suppression” of protests and to immediately release those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

Britain and the United States have also sought the release of those detained for peaceful protest.

On June 30, 1989, Bashir seized power from democratically elected prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who currently leads the Umma party.

Bashir was declared winner of a multi-party election in 2010, but observers from the European Union and the US-based Carter Centre said the ballot failed to come up to international standards.

Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide allegedly committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.

He has played down the demonstrations as small-scale and not comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere, maintaining that he himself remains popular.


AFPBy Ian Timberlake | AFP 

Egypt seizes Grad rockets ‘smuggled from Libya’.

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  • A Libyan paramilitary checks his Grad rocket launcher during clashes on the outskirts of Sirte in September 2011. Egypt has seized a large weapons consignment -- including Grad rockets -- that had been smuggled from Libya and could have been headed to the Gaza Strip, according to local media reports. (AFP Photo/Francisco Leong)A Libyan paramilitary checks his …

Egypt has seized a large weapons consignment, including Grad rockets, that had been smuggled from Libya and could have been headed to the Gaza Strip, press reports said on Saturday.

The haul, which included 138 Grad rockets and a further 139 Grad warheads, was made in the Mediterranean coastal town of Marsa Matruh, not far from the Libyan border, Egyptian newspapers reported.

The interior ministry said that police were searching for two men suspected of trafficking weapons “to the Sinai Peninsula or towards Palestine.”

Libya has been awash with weapons since last year’s armed rebellion which led to the ouster and killing of veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi, and Egyptian authorities have made a string of seizures near the porous desert border.

On May 10, the security forces said they had seized a large cache of weapons, including 50 rockets, in Marsa Matruh.

Israel has expressed concern that such shipments are intended for the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, through the extensive network of smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.

It has also voiced concern that Islamic militant groups might be taking advantage of what it sees as the growing lawlessness of the neighbouring Sinai.



Egypt’s new leader vows support for Palestinians.


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  • In this image made from Egyptian State Television, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi makes remarks after he was sworn in at the Supreme Consitutional Court in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, June 30, 2012. Islamist Mohammed Morsi has been sworn in before Egypt's highest court as the country's first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago. (AP Photo/Egyptian State TV)In this image made from Egyptian …
  • In this image made from Egyptian State Television, judges from Egypt's Supreme constitutional court applaud Mohammed Morsi, center, after he was sworn in as President in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, June 30, 2012. Islamist Mohammed Morsi has been sworn in before Egypt's highest court as the country's first freely elected president, succeeding Hosni Mubarak who was ousted 16 months ago.(AP Photo/Egyptian State TV)In this image made from Egyptian …

CAIRO (AP)Egypt’s newly elected president has sent an implicit message of reassurance to Israel in his first major address after taking office, but he also pledged support for the “legitimate rights” of the Palestinians.

Islamist Mohammed Morsi said Saturday that his administration will continue to honor its international treaties — a thinly veiled reference to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Relations between the two neighbors have become particularly tense since last year’s overthrow of Morsi’s predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, who had forged close ties with the Jewish state during his 29-year rule.

Morsi was sworn in Saturday as Egypt’s first freely elected president and the Arab world‘s first Islamist head of state.

The rise to power of Egyptian Islamists has been a source of alarm among many Israelis.


Associated PressAssociated Press 

What is Russia thinking on Syria? A brief guide.

As the crisis in Syria collapses into what looks like full-blown civil war, foreign ministers of key United Nations Security Council and Arab League powers will meet in Geneva tomorrow for a last-ditch effort to find a political solution. The main obstacle to common agreement on the new plan by UN envoy Kofi Annan is likely to be the ongoing dispute between Russia (and China) and the West over the need to remove strongman Bashar al-Assad from the picture.

Moscow has vetoed two resolutions that would have provided a means of easing Mr. Assad out, and seems set to dig in its heels against any language in the new plan that calls for Assad’s removal. Russia’s position is a complicated mix of principle, self-interest, mistrust of Western motives, and sincerely differing perceptions of the situation. A brief guide to the Russian mind:

Russians take sovereignty seriously, sort of

The central principle the Russians cite for opposing any outside intervention in Syria is sovereignty, the supreme authority of each state to determine affairs on its own territory.

Along with the sometimes contradictory right of each nation to self-determination, sovereignty is the core principle of international law, enshrined in the UN Charter. The Russians argue that, for all its flaws, the inviolability of each state’s control over its own affairs is the only thing standing in the way of neo-imperialist domination by strong states over weaker ones.

In Syria, they argue, Western nations are pursuing their own geopolitical interests under the guise of a humanitarian “right to protect” which supposedly trumps the country’s sovereignty. Moscow sees it as its duty to block such attempts.

But Russia‘s concern for sovereignty doesn’t extend to its own dealings with post-Soviet neighbors. In 2008, after defeating Georgia in a brief war, Moscow recognized the independence of two Georgian breakaway territories, Abkhazia and S. Ossetia, thus effectively dismembering a sovereign state against its will.

Some experts say the Kremlin‘s basic fear is that any precedent that licenses outside force to change the regime in a strife-ridden country like Syria might one day be used as an argument in favor of foreign intervention in Russia. With tens of thousands of anti-Kremlin protesters rallying in Moscow streets in recent months, that may not be just an academic concern.

Russia has strong incentive to support the status quo in Syria

Russia has strong material and political incentives to support the status quo in Syria. Assad’s father formed a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union in 1971, and since then Syria has been Russia’s steady – and now sole – client state amid the shifting alliances of the Middle East.

Russia is Syria’s principal armorer, with an estimated $5 billion in outstanding weapons contracts, mainly advanced anti-aircraft systems, coastal defense missiles, and jet trainers. Russia also has the use of a naval re-supply center in the Syrian port of Tartous, which is the only Russian military base outside the former Soviet Union. Experts say there is about $15 billion in more traditional economic contracts, including construction and energy projects by big Russian firms. About 100,000 Russians reside in Syria, which will present the Kremlin with a logistical nightmare if they have to be evacuated.

Another key Russian concern, which has received very little attention, is the intensely conservative attitude of the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the protector of Syria’s beleaguered Christian minority, comprising about 10 percent of the population. “The Orthodox Church presses very heavily on the Kremlin to defend Syria’s Christians, whose safety has been assured by the Assad regime all these years,” says Vladimir Yevseyev, an expert at the official Institute of International Relations and World Economy in Moscow. “Russia’s interests at stake here are more geopolitical than they are economic.”

Russia has become deeply mistrustful of Western motives and competence

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has become deeply mistrustful of Western motives and competence.

Though Russia cooperated with NATO interventions in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Moscow began to sour on Western wars of humanitarian intervention after it helped to settle the 1999 Kosovo war, only to see the West impose its own chosen settlement on Russia’s ally Serbia, including independence for Kosovo. Russian experts say US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely failed to produce positive results because Washington often seems to have no vision to offer beyond military-driven regime change.

Last year Russia was persuaded to abstain on UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. The Russians now claim they were tricked by the humanitarian language, and that once Western states got its license to use military force the whole effort morphed into a rebel drive for regime change backed by NATO air power. The most common refrain from Russian experts and officials today is that they will not allow themselves to be duped again by similar cries for humanitarian intervention in Syria.

They also point out – with some reason – that Western leaders can be quite selective and hypocritical in choosing their targets of concern.

“There is minority Sunni rule with a dictatorial king in Bahrain, where they recently crushed a popular pro-democracy movement in a cruel and bloody fashion, yet the US still supports and sells arms to this regime. Why?” says Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the independent Institute for Middle Eastern Studies in Moscow. “Can it be because Bahrain is a geopolitical ally of the US and the US Navy maintains a major base there? Syria is a friend of Russia and an ally of Iran, and that’s the only reason it’s in the West’s gun sights right now. It’s pure double standards, so why should we take it seriously?”

Russia sees the Syria situation differently from the West

Russia sees the unfolding nightmare in Syria differently from the way the West perceives it.

Experts in Moscow argue that their Western colleagues have a completely misplaced faith that removing dictators will cure all ills, and they fail to notice the deep, pre-modern social complexities, religious divisions and tribal loyalties that often drive so-called democratic revolutions. “What we see [in Syria] is an extraordinarily difficult situation that threatens to explode into a massive bloodbath. Nobody likes Assad, but if you just remove him the entire state will collapse, with awful consequences,” says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected expert who has been a frequent adviser to Putin.

Russia, which has a restive Muslim minority in its own volatile northern Caucasus, deeply fears the rise of political Islamism and sees it as a direct threat to its own national survival. “For the West, getting rid of Assad seems to be an end in itself. But if Assad is driven out, only chaos will follow,” says Vladimir Yevseyev, with the official Institute of International Relations and World Economy in Moscow. “Destabilization in Syria will open the gates for radical Islamists, and spread mayhem across the region.”

Worries about possible effects of any potential Israeli or US-sponsored attack against Iran‘s alleged nuclear weapons program already has a jittery Kremlin organizing special Caucasus-wide war games this summer. The galloping crisis in Syria is only likely to strengthen Russian resolve to oppose Western-backed wars.

Russia thinks Assad can still win

Russia thinks Assad can still win.

Moscow‘s view of Assad is not based on affection or a sense of solidarity among autocratic states, Russian experts insist, but rather a solid appraisal of his regime’s strengths.

Among those, they say, are the allegiance of the Christian, Alawite, and Sunni middle class, who make up about 30 percent of the population, plus the tough and proven loyalty of Syria‘s military and security forces.

“Maybe Putin is mistaken, but he clearly believes Assad has a lot of resiliency, plenty of resources, and that he can win this war,” says Georgy Mirsky, a leading expert at the official Institute of International Relations and World Economy in Moscow. “Why would Putin drop Assad now? If he agrees to this new UN plan that would exclude Assad from power in Syria, it will look like Putin has capitulated to US pressure. He doesn’t need that kind of political trouble at home right now. Any compromise that involves removing Assad in future will have to provide a face-saving formula for Putin.”

In practice, Russia seems only likely to abandon Assad once it’s clear there are no other options. During the Libya intervention last year, Moscow stuck by Muammar Qaddafi‘s faltering regime until practically the last moment. Only once the outcome was obvious, in September, did Russia swiftly change gears and extend recognition to the Libyan rebel alliance that overthrew Mr. Qaddafi.


Christian Science MonitorChristian Science Monitor

US, Russia fail to bridge gaps on Syria.

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GENEVA (AP) — The United States and Russia failed on Friday to bridge differences over a plan to ease Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power, end violence and create a new government. That set the stage for the potential collapse of a key multinational conference that was to have endorsed the proposal.

On the eve of Saturday’s conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met one-on-one for about an hour in St. Petersburg, Russia, but could not reach agreement on key elements of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan‘s proposed plan for a Syrian political transition, officials said.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton said areas of “difference and difficulty” remain and was not optimistic that the gathering in Geneva would produce agreement. “We may get there tomorrow, we may not,” the official told reporters as Clinton left Russia for Switzerland, where she arrived early Saturday morning.

The official said Clinton and Lavrov would try to resolve differences in Geneva out of respect for Annan, the former U.N. chief whose efforts to end the Syrian crisis have thus far fallen short.

The inconclusive results of the Clinton-Lavrov meeting may presage the unraveling of Annan’s plan to end 16 months of brutal violence in Syria by creating a national unity government to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

The United States and its allies attending the conference are adamant that the plan will not allow Assad to remain in power as part of the transitional government, but Russia insists that outsiders cannot dictate the composition of the interim administration or the ultimate solution to the crisis.

“(We) agreed to look for an agreement that will bring us closer based on a clear understanding of what’s written in the Annan plan that (all) sides in Syria need an incentive for a national dialogue,” Lavrov said after meeting Clinton, according to the Interfax news agency.

“But it’s only up to the Syrians to make agreements on what the Syrian state will be like, who will hold (government) jobs and positions,” he said. Lavrov predicted the meeting had a “good chance” of finding a way forward. “But I am not saying that we will agree on every dot.”

But failing to agree on every dot may well be the plan’s undoing, particularly if Russia refuses to except the implicit demand that Assad leave power.

Annan on Friday laid out his expectations for the conference in an op-ed in The Washington Post that tracked very closely to the draft of his proposed plan, according to diplomats familiar with it.

.The future government in Syria, he said, “must include a government of national unity that would exercise full executive powers.”

This government could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, but those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation would be excluded,” Annan said.

Such a proposal does not explicitly bar Assad, but the U.S. and other Western powers that will participate in the conference said that is obvious and that the Syrian opposition will not sign on to the plan unless it excludes Assad.

The senior official said Clinton and Lavrov also discussed the real danger for the region if the uprising in Syria that has killed some 14,000 people doesn’t end peacefully. Already, Syria has shot down a Turkish warplane and Turkey has responded by setting up anti-aircraft guns on its border with Syria. They also discussed the “serious risk” of destabilizing Jordan and the potential impact on Israel.

On Friday, Syrian troops shelled a suburb of Damascus, killing an estimated 125 civilians and 60 soldiers..

Russia is Syria’s most important ally, protector and supplier of arms. Diplomatic hopes have rested on persuading Russia to agree to a plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades.


Associated Press writer Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow contributed to this report.


Associated PressBy MATTHEW LEE | Associated Press

Sudan agrees to allow aid in rebel-held border areas.

ADDIS ABABA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan has agreed to allow humanitarian aid to civilians in rebel-controlled areas of two war-torn border states where aid groups have warned of an impending famine, the African Union and Sudanese state media said on Saturday.

              Fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since last year, the United Nations and aid groups say.

              The clashes broke out between government forces and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) around the time South Sudan declared independence last year.

              Aid groups and the United States and have said the fighting has reduced the usual harvests in the two states, which could face massive food shortages as stocks dwindle.

The African Union, United Nations and the Arab League proposed a plan earlier this year to secure the delivery of aid to both states, but Sudan had rejected the proposal, saying it had the humanitarian situation under control.

              On Saturday, the state-linked Sudanese Media Centre reported the government had accepted the proposal in order to “relieve the distressed conditions in which citizens live in the areas under SPLM-N control”.

              The African Union welcomed the deal in a statement and said it was willing to contribute monitors and other personnel and urged “all those responsible to ensure that it is effectively and fully implemented without further delay”.

              The conflict in the two states is rooted in decades of north-south civil war in Sudan. The civil war ended with a 2005 peace deal that paved the way for South Sudan to declare independence last July.

              But partition left tens of thousands of fighters who had battled against Khartoum north of the border.

              The rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile say they are fighting to overthrow Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and end what they see as the marginalization of minority groups.

              Khartoum accuses the rebels of trying to sow chaos on behalf of their former comrades in Juba – an allegation South Sudan denies, but which has hindered talks between the two countries on unresolved issues related to the partition.

              Malik Agar, head of the rebel umbrella Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) which includes the insurgents in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, told Reuters this month dozens of people were dying each day due to lack of food and medicine.

              Sudan’s acceptance comes two days after it adjourned peace talks with South Sudan until July 5.

              (Reporting by Aaron Maasho and Alexander Dziadosz; Editing by Alison Williams)



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