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Archive for January, 2013

When We Trade Unity for Clicks.

I’m writing this post even as I’m supposed to be writing my sermon for Sunday. But there is just something God has put on my heart and so deeply convicted me about that I have to share it.

A few days ago I had a conversation with a wonderful, well-known pastor in my area. He’s a pastor in every sense of the calling. Kind, loving, shepherding, caring, gracious, studious, biblical, evangelical, evangelistic. All those things.

We had a wide-ranging conversation out of which I gleaned so many good things for my life and ministry. But one that I cannot let go of was this. We were discussing a controversial issue in the Church worldwide. I won’t mention the issue, but it’s a big one that is less important than orthodoxy and yet still very important to many good people. Personally I think it’s a huge issue. He and I agreed on the issue, but perhaps to varying degrees.

But there was a point he made that stuck with me. He said, “There is so much heat around this issue and it is hurting the Church.” I hung on this for a while and chewed on when I got home and am still chewing on it. He was right. On both sides of this issue there is a lot of heat.

I read a ton of blogs from a wide variety of perspectives in evangelicalism. I learn and grow from some of the many practitioners who write well and share important theological and practical information. I’m thankful for this new area of new media, for the openness of blogging, and for social media. And yet I sense, at least in my generation, among evangelicals who care deeply about issues, a dangerous gotcha mentality that is not healthy for Church unity. I’m not talking about all voices. I’m talking about a few voices on both sides of some major issues. But these are loud voices.

What bothers me is that it seems that we are tempted to trade unity for blog traffic. Let’s face it, controversy sells. It builds platforms. It garners book contracts. Write up a piece calling out a famous pastor for something and suddenly you have people on all sides batting it around. I’m not above this. Nobody is above doing this. That’s why I didn’t mention names.

But I really feel like there is, among some of us, a spirit of nitpicking, McCarthyism  and arrogance. We like it when a famous pastor goes over the line in criticizing the President, because it gives us a chance to beat our chest on social media and distance ourselves from that pastor and “not be one of those kinds of Christians.” We like that. We like when a famous religious figure continues to say weird things on his TV show. We like it because he makes us look normal by comparison and “not one of those kinds of Christians.” Some like it when they troll through a famous pastor’s thousands of online sermons (that he may have put there at his own church’s expense) and find a clip that has something articulated in a not-so-good way. We like to spread that on social media and blog about it so everyone comes to the blog and thereby we have increased the platform.

I don’t think this helps the cause of Christ. I don’t think this promotes unity in the body. Please hear me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t correct public declarations of bad doctrine. I’m not saying robust dialogue and critique are not good for the Church. I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye to abuses of spiritual authority. We shouldn’t. We should vigorously defend orthodoxy in every generation. We should oppose unhealthy ideas contrary to Scripture.

But I think it would help if every Christian writer, blogger, pastor–anyone with a modicum of a platform–would periodically engage in self-examination. We should ask ourselves, “Are we building our audience, platform based on critiques that hurt Christ’s body?” A few months ago I was offered a chance to review a book I vehemently disagreed with. I really wanted to write that review. I’m sure it would have brought blog traffic. And yet I really was convicted by the Spirit to not do it, because my motivations were not right. And so I didn’t.

I think we all need to face up to the idea that Christians are sinners. The Church, made up of Christians who are sinners, will have a lot of imperfections, blind spots, bad things. They are not really all that hard to find. Some are glaring. And you can make a living, a career out of being the person who finds them, blogs about them, writes books about them, etc. But is that really a life worth living?

By Daniel Darling

With or without Exxon, Iraq Kurds strive for energy autonomy.

  • Tanker trucks wait to be loaded at Taq Taq oil field in Arbil at the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad, September, 5, 2012. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Tanker trucks wait to be loaded at Taq Taq oil field in Arbil at the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, about 350 km (220 miles) north of Baghdad, September, 5, 2012. REUTERS/Azad …more 

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Behind the closed doors of their offices in the United States, top executives and lawyers for Exxon Mobil are poring over two sets of contracts, weighing a decision that could shift the balance of power in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week hastily convened a meeting with Exxon’s chief executive Rex Tillerson in a bid to woo back the U.S. major, which had seemed intent on pulling out of the $50 billion West Qurna 1 oilfield in the south, in an area under Baghdad’s control.

Since signing for six blocs with the Kurdistan regional government in 2011, Exxon has situated itself on one of Iraq’s deepest faultlines, bringing to a head friction between the northern enclave and Baghdad, which says only it has the authority to grant oil contacts and control crude exports.

Industry sources say Maliki has offered Tillerson substantial incentives to stay in Iraq’s southern oilfields as long as the company forfeits its assets in the autonomous Kurdish region.

A final decision is due within the next few days, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said on Sunday. It remains to be seen which way Exxon’s compass will swing. The company has declined to comment on the impending decision.

“The loss of prestige would be huge,” said a former U.S. diplomat, contemplating the fallout for Kurdistan if Exxon were to quit the region in favor of Baghdad. “Exxon’s presence here levels the political playing field.”

As the first major oil company to risk Baghdad’s ire by venturing north, Exxon afforded the Kurds a victory in their turf war with the central government over how to exploit Iraq’s hydrocarbon riches.

The U.S. major’s vote of confidence opened the door for others such as Total, Russia’s Gazprom Neft and Chevron Corp, which recently added a third bloc to its Kurdish portfolio and is eyeing further acquisitions.

Three of Exxon’s blocs, however, are located in the “disputed areas”, an oil-rich band of territory over which both Baghdad and the Kurds claim jurisdiction and where the Iraqi army and Kurdish troops are facing off against each other.


Industry sources say Tillerson raised concerns about security at a meeting in Switzerland with the Iraqi Kurdish region’s president, Masoud Barzani, although Kurdistan said later that Exxon had restated its commitment to working in the region.

But Baghdad also expects Exxon to take its side.

“We’re positive the company is not willing to quit West Qurna,” said an Iraqi Oil Ministry official, noting that output from that field alone exceeds total current Kurdish production capacity.

“We think Exxon will halt operations in Kurdistan and wait until a solution is reached to all the unresolved issues,” he added, asking to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

New legislation to govern the world’s fourth largest oil reserves has been caught up for years in a struggle over how to share power between Iraq’s Sunni, Shi’ite and Kurdish factions, which has intensified since U.S. troops withdrew a year ago.

The Kurds say the right to dictate their own oil policy is enshrined in the country’s federal constitution, but Baghdad rejects contracts signed by the region as illegal and has blacklisted some firms operating there.

International oil companies have been prepared to take that risk in return for Kurdistan’s better contract terms, security and an easier working environment, as opposed to the bureaucracy and infrastructure bottlenecks that hamper oil projects in the rest of Iraq.

Baghdad would have to promise Exxon favorable terms to entice it away from the north, but analysts and industry sources doubt Maliki’s capacity to deliver those, and say it would be a mistake for him to do so.

“If they go for Baghdad, I’m sure they (Exxon) will want sweeteners,” said a senior executive from a rival company. “But if they get better terms, others will want the same.”

Some industry sources even suggested that may have been part of Exxon’s calculations all along: that when defying Baghdad the company figured it might eventually be able to use its Kurdish contracts as leverage to extract concessions in the south.


Despite the loss of face if Exxon were to back away from Kurdistan, experts say such a move would ultimately do little to slow the region’s drive towards greater energy autonomy from Baghdad.

“Exxon was a game-changer then, but things have moved on,” said one industry source.

Now there are other majors waiting to snap up acreage in what has been described as one of the final frontiers for onshore oil exploration, and they are unlikely to be deterred.

The real challenge lies in finding new ways to sell Kurdish oil, until now shipped to world markets through a Baghdad-controlled pipeline running from Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

But Kurdish exports via that channel dried up in December from a peak of around 200,000 bpd as result of a row over payments with Baghdad.

Fed up with waiting, the Kurds have already started bypassing the federal pipeline network by trucking small quantities of crude over the Turkish border in exchange for refined products. The trade is small, but symbolic.

“Oil and gas wise, it’s a point of no return,” said an industry source. “From this point on, the Kurds will not agree to a centralized oil and gas policy. Other regions will do the same.”

Kurdistan is looking to Turkey for answers. A broad energy partnership between them has been in the works since last year.

“This will be a big bang deal. That’s the only way to do it, involving everything at the same time,” said a diplomatic source familiar with the negotiations.

Details are still unclear, but industry sources said it would range from exploration to export and seek to open up a new “energy corridor” to Turkey that would reduce Ankara’s dependence on Russia and Iran for oil and gas.

The deal would involve a new Turkish entity taking a stake in several Kurdish blocs and an alternative pipeline, which the United States is actively discouraging for fear it will further destabilize Iraq and threaten its federal integrity.


It would also have to include a mechanism to pay the Kurds directly for their exports instead of the current arrangement whereby Baghdad receives the proceeds and then passes on 17 percent of the country’s revenues as a whole.

Kurdish officials have long complained what they end up getting is in fact closer to 10 percent.

“When the money starts flowing straight to Arbil, that will be the game-changer,” said a diplomatic source.

Kurdish officials say they would keep the share to which they are entitled and send the rest on to Baghdad, but an independent revenue stream would theoretically give the region the means to stand on its own economically.

“Assuming they could export 1 million barrels per day, they’d make more revenues from that than their current share of the national budget, depending on how much oil the south is producing,” said Robin Mills of UAE-based energy consultancy Manaarco.

Opponents of the tie-up worry it would make Kurdistan too dependent on Turkey, which has a fraught relation with its own Kurdish community and will be keen to have the upper hand in any dealings with their ethnic kin in Iraq.

But champions of the deal argue that landlocked Kurdistan has few options besides isolated Iran and war-torn Syria — its other neighbors — neither of which has the strategic advantages of Turkey.

“Economically, we’re already at their mercy,” said a senior Kurdish regional government official. “Once we start mass producing, the equation changes and the relationship with Turkey becomes interdependent.”

Majority Sunni Turkey’s links with Iraqi Kurdistan have already come at a price, heightening tensions between Ankara and the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

Baghdad has accused Ankara of complicity in “smuggling” Iraqi oil, and late last year prevented Turkey’s energy minister from attending an oil conference sponsored by Exxon in Kurdistan by denying his plane permission to land.

“Collaboration between the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Turkey to transfer oil and gas to the world markets will strengthen our ties,” Turkish Deputy Energy Minister Selahattin Cimen said at that conference.

But given the regional turmoil and political ramifications of building a pipeline to Turkey, it may be less imminent than the rumors suggest.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has already made an enemy along his longest border with Syria, having turned his back on one-time friend, President Bashar al-Assad and embraced the rebels fighting him.

“Of course the Turks want access to Kurdish energy, but is it worth torpedo-ing relations with Baghdad when you have a crisis in Syria to deal with?,” Mills said. “I think they may wait.”

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad and Peg Mackey in London; Editing by Giles Elgood)


By Isabel Coles | Reuters

Cameroon leader sees minds changing on “crime” of homosexuality.

PARIS (Reuters) – Cameroon’s President Paul Biya said on Wednesday that attitudes were changing in his country towards its criminalisation of homosexuality, which has been criticised by the European Union.

Speaking to journalists after meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris, Biya stressed that homosexuality had been illegal in Cameroon since before he came to power more than 30 years ago.

“Now I can say that discussions are under way. People are talking, minds can change one way or another but currently it’s a crime,” he said.

Earlier this month a Cameroon appeals court overturned the convictions of two men found guilty of homosexuality and sentenced to five years in jail for cross-dressing and wearing make-up.

“We have recently had news that tribesmen convicted for homosexuality have been released. So there is a change of mind and there’s no reason to despair,” Biya said.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said the criminalisation of homosexuality in Cameroon was incompatible with international human rights law.

Homosexuality is illegal in many African countries. In Cameroon, the penalties range from six months to five years in jail. In 2012, there were at least 12 convictions.



Hezbollah condemns Israel’s raid on Syria.

  • This graphic shows the location of a Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 Israeli airstrike on a military target in Jamraya, Syria, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the border with Lebanon. (AP Graphic)

    View PhotoAssociated Press – This graphic shows the location of a Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 Israeli airstrike on a military target in Jamraya, Syria, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the border with Lebanon. (AP G …more 

BEIRUT (AP) — Iran and Russia joined the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in condemning a rareIsraeli airstrike on Syria, enflaming regional tensions already heightened by the civil war againstPresident Bashar Assad.

Israel launched the airstrike inside Syria on Wednesday, U.S. officials said, targeting a convoy believed to contain anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, an archenemy of Israel.

However the Syrian military denied the existence of any such weapons shipment and said a scientific research facility outside Damascus was hit by the Israeli warplanes. It said the target was in the area of Jamraya, northwest of Damascus and about 15 kilometers (10 miles) from the Lebanon border.

Russia, Syria’s strongest international ally, said Moscow is taking “urgent measures to clarify the situation in all its details.”

“If this information is confirmed, we have a case of unprovoked attacks on targets in the territory of a sovereign state, which grossly violates the U.N. Charter and is unacceptable,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “Whatever the motives, this is not justified.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi condemned the airstrike on state television, calling it a clear violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

Hezbollah, closely allied with Syria and Iran, said it “expresses full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people.”

Hezbollah did not mention any convoy in the statement but said the strike aimed to prevent Arab and Muslim forces from developing their military capabilities.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, who became in December one of the most senior Syrian army officers to defect, told The Associated Press by telephone from Turkey that the targeted site is a “major and well-known” center to develop weapons known as the Scientific Research Center.

Al-Shallal, who until his defection was the commander of the Military Police, said no chemical or unconventional weapons are at the site. He added that foreign experts, including Russians and Iranians, are usually at such centers.

Regional security officials said Wednesday the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles, which if acquired by Hezbollah would enable the militants to shoot down Israeli jets, helicopters and surveillance drones. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

In Israel, lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi who is close to hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of confirming Israel’s involvement in the strike.

But he hinted that Israel could carry out similar missions in the future. He said pinpoint strikes are not enough to counter the threat of Hezbollah obtaining sophisticated weaponry from Syria.

“Israel’s preference would be if a Western entity would control these weapons systems,” Hanegbi said. “But because it appears the world is not prepared to do what was done in Libya or other places, then Israel finds itself like it has many times in the past facing a dilemma that only it knows how to respond to,” he added.

He was referring to NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya that helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

“Even if there are reports about pinpoint operations, these are not significant solutions to the threat itself because we are talking about very substantial capabilities that could reach Hezbollah,” he added.

Syria’s civil war has sapped President Bashar Assad’s power and threatens to deprive Hezbollah of a key supporter, in addition to its land corridor to Iran. The two countries provide Hezbollah with the bulk of its funding and arms.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu warned of the dangers of Syria’s “deadly weapons,” saying the country is “increasingly coming apart.”

The same day, Israel moved a battery of its new “Iron Dome” rocket defense system to the northern city of Haifa, which was battered by Hezbollah rocket fire in the 2006 war. The Israeli army called that move “routine.”

The Israeli army won’t say whether Iron Dome was sent north in connection to this operation. It does note that it has deployed the system in the north before.

Syria and its allies, including Hezbollah, deny there is an uprising against the government and say what is happening is part of a conspiracy against Damascus because of its support for anti-Israeli groups.

Hezbollah said the attack is part of that conspiracy “that aims to destroy Syria, its army and vital role in the line of resistance” against Israel.


Associated Press writer Ian Deitch contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


By BASSEM MROUE | Associated Press

Week of unrest weakens Egypt’s Islamist leader.


  • Egyptian riot police arrest a young man during clashes with protesters near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Egypt's liberal opposition leader called for a broad national dialogue with the Islamist government, all political factions and the powerful military on Wednesday, aimed at stopping the country's eruption of political violence that has left scores dead in the past week. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)View PhotoEgyptian riot police arrest a young …
  • Egyptian riot police march during clashes with protesters, not seen, near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. Egypt's liberal opposition leader called for a broad national dialogue with the Islamist government, all political factions and the powerful military on Wednesday, aimed at stopping the country's eruption of political violence that has left scores dead in the past week. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)View PhotoEgyptian riot police march during …

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s Islamist president has been significantly weakened by a week of violent protests across much of the country, with his popularity eroding, the powerful military implicitly criticizing him and some of his ultraconservative Islamist backers distancing themselves from him.

In his seven months since becoming Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi has weathered a series of crises. But the liberal opposition is now betting the backlash against him is so severe that he and his Muslim Brotherhood will be forced to change their ways, breaking what critics say is their monopolizing of power.

Critics claim that Morsi’s woes are mostly self-inflicted, calling him overconfident and out of sync with the public. Now the relatively high death toll — around 60 — the spread of protests and the use of excessive force by the police are feeding a wave of anger at the Egyptian leader and the Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which he hails and which is the foundation of his administration.

Morsi did not help matters when he addressed the nation Sunday night in a brief but angry address in which he at times screamed and wagged his finger. In that speech, he slapped a 30-day state of emergency and curfew on three Suez Canal provinces hit the hardest by the violence and vowed to take even harsher measures if peace is not restored.

In response, the three cities defied the president in a rare open rebellion that handed him an embarrassing loss of face.

Thousands in the cities of Port Said, Ismailiya and Suez took to the streets on Monday and Tuesday just as the 9 p.m. curfew went into force. Underlining their contempt for him, they played soccer games, stores stayed open and there were even firework displays — all while troops deployed in Port Said and Suez stood by and watched.

Morsi was forced to back down somewhat and authorized the local governors to ease the measures. All three quickly did on Wednesday, reducing the hours of curfew from nine hours to as short as three.

The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, demands Morsi create a national unity government and rewrite controversial parts of the constitution that the Brotherhood and other Islamists rammed through to approval last month. A broader government, they insist, is the only way to ease the violence and start dealing with Egypt’s mounting woes — particularly, an economy many fear is collapsing.

The liberals gained an unusual ally on Wednesday: one of the main political parties of the ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafis, the al-Nour Party, which has usually supported Morsi.

Morsi appears to see no need for concessions. On a quick visit to Germany on Wednesday, he downplayed the significance of the week’s violence.

“What is happening now in Egypt is natural in nations experiencing a shift to democracy,” Morsi told reporters in Berlin.

There is no need to form a unity government, he added, because a new government will be formed after parliament elections — expected in April at the earliest.

Morsi’s reply to critics who demand he widen the circle of decision-making has been to invite opponents to a national dialogue conference to discuss key issues. Almost all opposition parties have refused, calling the conference window-dressing for Brotherhood domination. The conference has held multiple sessions, mainly attended by Morsi’s Islamist allies.

Morsi’s supporters — and some of his aides — accuse the opposition of condoning violence and trying to overturn the democratic results of elections that brought Morsi and the Brotherhood to power.

Meanwhile, anger on the streets is mounting. Politicians may call for a unity government, but a growing bloc of the protesters say Morsi must go outright.

The wave of resentment has engulfed the three Canal cities along with Cairo, Alexandria on the Mediterranean and a string of cities to the north and south of the capital. Protesters have clashed with police, cut off roads and railway lines, and besieged government offices and police stations.

The fury has been further fanned by reports that the police in Port Said at the northern tip of the Suez Canal randomly fired at protesters, killing innocent bystanders. In Cairo, protesters are seething over what they call the excessive use of tear gas and birdshot in clashes that have left three dead and hundreds injured.

Some protesters now demand Morsi be tried for killing protesters just as Mubarak before him was. Mubarak was convicted in June and sentenced to life in prison for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the 2011 uprising against him. On appeal, a court has ordered his retrial.

“This man (Morsi) is responsible for the killings but no one is trying him. Is he above the law?” said Ashraf Helmi, a protester in Port Said.

In Cairo, protester Mabrouk Hassan Abu-Zeid, 26, said he expected things to get so much worse.

“A failed state? I see much more than that on the horizon. There could be a revolution by the hungry,” he said near Tahrir Square as fellow protesters hurled stones at police firing tear gas.

In comments to cadets on Tuesday, the army chief and defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, made what was seen by many as an implicit warning to Morsi that he must do something.

He said if political forces can’t end their difference over how to run the country, it “could lead to the collapse of the state and threaten future generations.”

There was no threat, implicit or otherwise, of a coup in the comments by el-Sissi, who many in Egypt suspected to have made a deal with Morsi when the president appointed him in August.

But military analyst and retired army general Hossam Sweilam said they conveyed the “gravity” of the situation and the possibility that it could a reach point where the armed forces could no longer stand by without intervening.

“Gen. el-Sissi understands the Brotherhood well and they will not be able to play him,” he said. “Even if he was loyal to them at some point in the past, he is aware now that he is being closely watched by his own men.”

Egypt’s military saw its reputation tainted in the nearly 17 months it spent at the helm following Mubarak’s ouster, with rights activists blaming the generals for mismanaging the transition to democratic rule and widespread human rights abuses. The top brass handed over power to Morsi following his June election, but tried to keep many of his powers.

Morsi struck back in August, forcing out the army chief and replacing him with el-Sissi.

The military remains widely popular and revered as the nation’s protector. Some privately speak of their wish to see the military rid them of Morsi, his Brotherhood and other Islamists, provided the army’s rule is short.

Now Salafis appear less willing to stand by Morsi, who has relied heavily on their support. Salafis won nearly 25 percent of parliament’s seats in elections held in late 2011 and early 2012, in which the Brotherhood won around 50 percent.

After his talks with the Salvation Front on Wednesday, al-Nour Party leader Younis Makhyoun told reporters that Egypt must not be left in the hands of “a single faction,” a thinly veiled reference to Morsi and his Brotherhood.

“There must be a real partnership,” he added.

It is not clear at this stage how durable any cooperation would be between the Front and al-Nour, which are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Al-Nour and other Salafis were key in ensuring passage of the constitution, which has a distinct Islamist slant and which liberals vehemently oppose. Salafis also push relentlessly for strict implementation of Shariah in Egypt, a mainly Muslim nation of 85 million people, and take a hardline stand on the rights of women and minority Christians.

But Salafis, too, worry about domination by the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood is so confident in its own strength it thinks it doesn’t need anyone’s support, said Hamada Nassar, a spokesman for the political arm of the onetime jihadist Gamaa Islamiya group.

“The popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in the street is eroding,” he said, “but its leaders think that if they nominate a rock to run for parliament, it will win.”



Nigeria oil firm owes billions to government -audit.

  • A Nigerian oil dealer pours gasoline into bottles at a road-side market in the commercial capital of Lagos October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – A Nigerian oil dealer pours gasoline into bottles at a road-side market in the commercial capital of Lagos October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria‘s state oil firm NNPC failed to pay the government billions of dollars in earnings from 2009-2011, an audit showed on Thursday, adding to a string of reports highlighting mismanagement of the energy sector.

The audit by the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) – a government agency – found that NNPC owed 1.3 trillion Nigerian naira from crude oil sales in the three-year period.

The firm also owed $4.84 billion in dividends and loan repayments from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) export business between 2009-2011 and a further $3.99 billion in NLNG funds from previous years going back to 1999, the audit said.

An NNPC spokeswoman said the firm could not comment on the findings because it had not seen the report yet.

Africa’s biggest energy industry has been criticised for being corrupt for years. But audits and reports have never resulted in high-level officials being charged, and have rarely prompted a change in the way revenues are managed.

NEITI said it would further investigate NNPC’s rapidly escalating fuel import subsidy bill, which the audit showed rose from 198 billion naira in 2009 to 786 billion naira in 2011.

Nigeria tried to end fuel subsidies in January last year but a week of public protests forced the government to partially re-instate the payments, which are the biggest single drag on the federal budget.

A parliamentary investigation following the strikes showed how “endemic corruption” in the administration of the subsidy regime had resulted in a rapid increase in payments between 2009-2011, with much of the money paid out on fuel that was never delivered.

Some small fuel marketers have been arraigned for their part in the $6.8 billion subsidy scam but nogovernment official has been charged. NNPC is the biggest importer of fuel.



Egypt’s political factions denounce violence.

CAIRO (AP) — Representatives from across Egypt’s political spectrum held a rare meeting Thursday to denounce violence, hours before a fresh call for a new wave of mass protests across the country aimed at pressuring Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to accept opposition demands to form a national government and amend the constitution.

Hosted by Egypt’s premier Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, the country’s two rival factions of Islamists and secular-leaning opposition grouping The National Salvation Front pledged to work on halting violence. The meeting followed a week of political rioting that exploded across the country and left up to 60 people dead.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafis along with their rival liberal parties vowed to condemn the instigation of violence, prohibit it and differentiate between a “political act and sabotage.”

“Denouncing violence in all its forms and shapes, condemning it clearly and decisively, criminalizing it nationally, and prohibiting it religiously,” a statement signed by all the attendees said. “Abiding by peaceful political means … abiding by the serious dialogue,” it said.

It was the first meeting between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition National Salvation Front since the front was formed in November.

The meeting sparked angry reaction from activists and youth groups who accused the liberal opposition of making political compromises despite bloodshed. Security forces continued to clash with rock-throwing protesters in downtown Cairo for the eighth day. And Egyptian authorities continued a wave of arrests and kidnappings of protesters, including members of the Black Bloc who wear black masks and vow to “defend the revolution” from Islamists. Hundreds of protesters were arrested over the past week.

In one latest incident, the liberal Popular Current party accused security forces of abducting and torturing one of its members, Mohammed el-Gendi, who disappeared for four days before showing up in a Cairo hospital in a serious condition.

“This is premeditated and signals a return of old practices of abductions, torture and assault,” the party said in a statement.

Security forces were not available for comment.

Hussein Abdel-Ghani, a member of the front, denied that the opposition was making compromises but said, “the youth defeated the Mubarak state with their bare chests. … Peaceful means are among the revolution principles.” However, he stressed that there would be no dialogue unless Morsi ordered security authorities not to use violence with protesters.

“No dialogue before the bloodshed stops,” he said.

Police abuse and maltreatment were among the reasons that sparked the country’s 2011 uprising.

The Islamists-liberals meeting also comes ahead of a fresh wave of mass protests expected across the country and at the presidential palace. In a new statement, the National Salvation Front called upon Egyptians to express “firm rejection to a regime that insists on imposing its singular will on the people and to administer the country to serve the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood group.”

The front reiterated a list of demands including setting up a nationally unified government and rewriting controversial parts of the constitution in addition to investigating the latest deaths.

Morsi rejected calls for forming a new government, in remarks he delivered during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his short visit to Berlin.

Violence escalated after the opposition called for protests to mark the second anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising, which toppled the rule of longtime authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.

Since then, violence has spread around the country — the worst occurring in the Suez Canal city of Port Said, which has virtually declared itself independent in the revolt against Morsi’s government. Nile Delta provinces also have witnessed street clashes and riots in front of state institutions, but no deaths have been reported.

In response, Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency and night curfew in Port Said and two other canal cities, Suez and Ismailiya, and their surrounding provinces. But every night since it went into effect, tens of thousands of residents in the city have defied the curfew with nighttime rallies and marches, chanting against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which forms the backbone of his rule.

In an attempt to assuage public anger, Morsi authorized governors to limit or cancel the curfew.


By MAGGIE MICHAEL | Associated Press

Jordan Islamist sees clash with secular Syrian rebels.

AMMAN (Reuters) – A Jordanian Muslim preacher who encourages a flow of militants to Syriapredicts an eventual showdown between Islamists and secular rebel groups should President Bashar al-Assad fall.

Mohammed Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, said Islamist fighters with groups such as the Nusra Front, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization, had refused offers to join the rebelFree Syrian Army in return for pay and weapons.

If Assad is overthrown, he told Reuters, the Free Syrian Army, or elements within it ideologically hostile to the Nusra Front, would immediately order Islamist groups to disarm.

“Then there will be a confrontation between us and losses will rise, but I don’t want to pre-empt events,” he said.

Abu Sayyaf is a marked man, who has spent 10 years behind bars for militant activities including a plot to attack U.S. troops in Jordan, but seems unconcerned about surveillance.

Interviewed in his car outside the state security court in Amman this week, the Salafi jihadi leader said the Jordanian authorities were trying to stop young militants from crossing the border to join the battle against Assad’s forces.

“We have sat with the security forces and asked them what harm would come if they let us go to Syria freely,” said Abu Sayyaf, 46, a burly man with a flowing beard, dressed like a tribesman in a red chequered headdress and a white robe.

“You tell us we are troublesome, so let us get killed in Syria, leave us to meet our fate in this inferno,” he said he had told Jordanian intelligence officers when they called him in to ask him to restrain fighters bent on travelling to Syria.

“What they fear is that these youths will return like the ‘Afghan Arabs’ did. They fear they would come back one day and declare jihad and fight here,” he declared.

He was alluding to Arab militants who combated Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s, some of them members of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, which was supported at the time by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Abu Sayyaf, based in the volatile desert city of Maan, 160 km (100 miles) south of Amman, where he was involved in clashes with security forces in 2002, said at least 350 Jordanians were now fighting in Syria and nearly 25 had been “martyred”.

About 50 had been detained in Jordan before they could reach Syria and some were now facing trial at the state security court – although he said the authorities had softened their treatment of militants since Arab uprisings erupted two years ago.


Jordanian officials say the army and security forces are doing their best to control the porous 370-km (230-mile) frontier. “We don’t allow any weapons or fighters to cross from Jordan,” Information Minister Samih al-Maaytah told Reuters.

“We don’t take sides in Syria or interfere there,” he said. “At the same time it is evident that any control by extremist groups in Syria is a worry for the region and for Jordan.”

Maayteh recalled suicide bombings of hotels in Amman that killed 70 people in 2005, attacks claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, then led by a Jordanian Islamist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Abu Sayyaf said Jordanian efforts to tighten border control after Syrian rebels captured some frontier areas had reduced the inflow of militants to Syria in the last four months.

“We don’t have an organization that sends youths in an organized way,” he said, adding that most entered Syria with the help of established drug smugglers in return for money.

Abu Sayyaf, juggling constantly ringing mobile phones, denied any direct ties between al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, which has emerged as one of the strongest rebel units in Syria.

“Trust me, there is no organizational link between al Qaeda and the Nusra Front, though they share the same views and methods,” he said, adding that these were based on the Koran.

He defended al Qaeda attacks such as those in the United States on September 11, 2001 as justified responses to Western or Israeli incursions into Muslim lands, and hinted that France could also become a target for its recent intervention in Mali.

“It’s France that has come to Mali, we did not go to your home territory,” he said of the French-led military action to regain control of northern Mali from Islamist militants.

Abu Sayyaf criticized Jordan’s King Abdullah for warning last week about the danger of a “new Taliban” arising in Syria, saying this reflected concerns of his Western allies about al Qaeda, which only masked worries about “true Islam”.

“So when the king spoke about this al Qaeda danger, it’s because they consider true Islam as the danger because if it arrives it will uproot these regimes and enforce Islam.”

However, he said that just as al Qaeda’s aims in Afghanistan were once aligned with those of the West during the Cold War, Islamist militants shared a Western interest in Assad’s removal.

“Because the removal of the regime matters to us, if the Americans or the British or any party helps us to get rid of this regime, we don’t have a problem.”

(Editing by Giles Elgood)


By Alistair Lyon and Suleiman Al-Khalidi | Reuters

China’s narrow focus on oil in South Sudan won’t work: US envoy.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China needs to move beyond a narrow focus on oil issues in South Sudanand help tackle that country’s larger political disputes with Sudan, the outgoing U.S. special envoy to the two African states said on Wednesday.

Ambassador Princeton Lyman said he had worked closely with Chinese officials for more than two years, during which time South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011 to become the world’s newest nation.

China is Sudan’s biggest ally and is the largest investor in the oil industry there and in South Sudan – a position that Western diplomats say gives Beijing the best chance of defusing tension between Khartoum and Juba over sharing oil wealth and ending violence on both sides of their common border.

But Lyman said the disputes, which have shut down landlocked South Sudan’s oil output, underscore the limits of staying aloof from political problems.

“They have weighed in very significantly on the oil issue. But what China doesn’t like to do is to get involved in some of the underlying political problems that are keeping the oil from flowing,” he told reporters in Washington.

“Without that stability and (with) the danger of conflict on the border, the chances of having a long-term productive oil sector is threatened, so they can’t just concentrate on the oil and just pretend that the other things aren’t bearing on it,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about Lyman’s remarks, said China had consistently played an important role in promoting dialogue between the two Sudans.

“China’s contributions have been well received by Sudan, South Sudan, African countries and regional bodies. We will continue to work with the international community for peace between the Sudans, stability and development, and play a proactive, constructive role,” he told reporters in Beijing.

China has long held up as its foreign policy mantra non-interference in countries’ internal affairs, a principle it first enunciated in 1954 – long before it was an economic power with interests around the globe.



Republicans hammer defense nominee Chuck Hagel.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators hammered formerGOP Sen. Chuck Hagel at his confirmation hearing Thursday on issues ranging from Israel and Iran to his support for a group that advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. But with most Democrats in his corner, an unflustered Hagel seemed headed for approval as defense secretary.

Hagel, a former two-term senator from Nebraska, described his views as mainstream and closely aligned with those of President Barack Obama, the Democrat who nominated him. But several GOP members of the Armed Services Committee sought to portray him as radical and unsteady. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., called his ideas “extreme” and “far to the left” of Obama.

Hagel said he believes America “must engage — not retreat — in the world,” and insisted that his record is consistent on that point.

He pointed to Iran and its nuclear ambitions as an example of an urgent national security threat that should be addressed first by attempting to establish dialogue with Iranian rulers, although he said he would not rule out using military force.

“I think we’re always on higher ground in every way — international law, domestic law, people of the world, people of the region to be with us on this — if we have … gone through every possibility to resolve this in a responsible, peaceful way, rather than going to war,” he said.

He pushed back on the notion — first raised by one of his harshest Republican critics, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma — that he favors a policy of appeasement.

“I think engagement is clearly in our interest,” Hagel told Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who denounced the idea of negotiating with a “terrorist state.”

“That’s not negotiation,” Hagel said. “Engagement is not appeasement. Engagement is not surrender.”

His fiercest exchange came with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a fellow Vietnam veteran, onetime close friend and a vote that could carry considerable sway. Politics and Hagel’s evolving opposition to the Iraq war caused a split between the two men that was on full display at the confirmation hearing.

McCain pressed Hagel on whether he was right or wrong about his opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to send an extra 30,000 troops to Iraq in 2007 at a point when the war seemed in danger of being lost. Hagel, who voted to authorize military force in Iraq, later opposed the conflict, comparing it to Vietnam and arguing that it shifted the focus from Afghanistan.

“Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?” McCain asked.

“I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out,” Hagel said as the two men talked over each other.

“The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” McCain insisted.

Unable to elicit a simple response, McCain said the record should show that Hagel refused to answer.

McCain made it clear that he would have the final word — with his vote, which he said would be influenced by Hagel’s refusal to answer yes or no.

“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, Sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it,” he said.

Responding to criticism from outside, GOP-leaning groups, Hagel repeated his regrets about using the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to pro-Israel groups. He said he should have used another term and should not have said those groups have intimidated members of the Senate into favoring actions contrary to U.S. interests.

“I’m sorry and I regret it,” Hagel said. “On the use of ‘intimidation,’ I should have used ‘influence,’ I think would have been more appropriate.”

Hagel was the lone witness in a jam-packed hearing room at a session that could be crucial in determining whether he will win Senate confirmation and join Obama’s second-term national security team. He spoke out forcefully for a strong military while trying to explain 12 years of Senate votes and numerous statements.

“No one individual vote, no one individual quote or no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record,” Hagel said in his opening statement. “My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.”

Hagel, 66, would be the lone Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, the first Vietnam veteran to be defense secretary and the first enlisted man to take the post. That last point was highlighted by committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.

“It would be a positive message for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in harm’s way around the world to know that one of their own holds the highest office in the Department of Defense and that he has their backs,” Levin said.

Two former committee chairmen — Democrat Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner — introduced the nominee.

“War for Chuck Hagel is not an abstraction,” Nunn said.

Hagel has the announced backing of about a dozen Democrats and the tacit support of dozens more who are unlikely to embarrass the president by defeating his Cabinet pick. One Republican — Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi — has said he will vote for his former colleague.

Seven Republicans, including four members of the Armed Services panel, have said they will oppose Hagel’s nomination. Marco Rubio of Florida announced his opposition on Thursday, saying Hagel’s views “are too apart from what I believe to be the way forward for preserving America’s proper role in the world.”

Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate.

Republicans repeatedly questioned Hagel about a May 2012 study that he co-authored by the advocacy group Global Zero that called for an 80 percent reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons and the eventual elimination of all the world’s nuclear arms.

The group argued that with the Cold War over, the United States can reduce its total nuclear arsenal to 900 without sacrificing security. Currently, the U.S. and Russia have about 5,000 each, either deployed or in reserve. Both countries are on track to reduce their deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018, the number set in the New START treaty that the Senate ratified in December 2010.

Fischer, the Nebraska Republican, quoted from the Global Zero report and expressed strong misgivings.

“Many of my colleagues are concerned you’ve changed your views. My concerns are that you haven’t changed your views. You continue to hold extreme views, far to the left even of this administration,” said Fischer.

In last year’s Senate race, Hagel endorsed Fischer’s Democratic rival, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who also is a Vietnam combat veteran.

Hagel insisted that the report was merely illustrative and said it wasn’t realistic to consider unilateralnuclear weapons reductions.


By ROBERT BURNS and DONNA CASSATA | Associated Press

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