Sunday, July 31, 2011

Syrian army kills 80 people storming Hama


Syrian tanks firing shells and machineguns stormed the city of Hama on Sunday, killing 80 civilians, rights activists said, in one of the bloodiest days in a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
The assault on Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre when Assad's father crushed an Islamist uprising, began at dawn on the eve of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan after security forces laid siege to the city for almost a month.
Hama residents told Reuters by telephone that tanks and snipers fired into unarmed residential areas where people had set up makeshift roadblocks to try and stop their advance.
The Syrian state news agency said the military entered Hama to purge armed groups "shooting intensively to terrorize citizens." A U.S. embassy official in Damascus dismissed this official account as "nonsense."
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was appalled by the Syrian government's use of violence against its people in Hama and promised to work with others to isolate Assad. "The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime," Obama said in a statement.
"Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward. In the days ahead, the United States will continue to increase our pressure on the Syrian regime, and work with others around the world to isolate the Assad government and stand with the Syrian people."
Britain and France condemned the Hama assault too. Italy urged a tough statement on Syria by the U.N. Security Council.
European Union governments planned to extend sanctions against Assad's government on Monday by slapping asset freezes and travel bans on five more people. The EU has already imposed sanctions on Assad and at least two dozen officials and targeted military-linked companies in Syria.
The Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said the civilian death toll in Hama had risen to 80. The independent group cited medical officials and witnesses in its report.
Syrian authorities have expelled most independent journalists since the unrest began in March, making it difficult to verify reports of violence and casualties.
Hama has particular resonance for the anti-Assad movement since the late President Hafez al-Assad sent in troops to smash an Islamist rebellion there in 1982, razing whole neighborhoods and killing up to 30,000 people in the bloodiest episode of Syria's modern history.
The current unrest has pitted primarily demonstrators from the Sunni Muslim majority against Assad's minority Alawite sect, which dominates the security services and ultra-loyalist army divisions commanded by Assad's feared brother Maher.
BID TO SUPPRESS UNREST BEFORE RAMADAN?
Some critics said Assad's assault on Hama suggested an attempt to stamp out unrest before Ramadan, when people refrain from food and drink between dawn and dusk, begins on Monday.
"Assad is trying to resolve the matter before Ramadan when every daily fasting prayer threatens to become another Friday (of post-prayer protests). But he is pouring oil on a burning fire and now the Hama countryside is rising in revolt," said Yasser Saadeldine, a Syrian Islamist living in exile in Qatar.
"It is desperate. The authorities think that somehow they can prolong their existence by engaging in full armed warfare on their own citizens," U.S. Press Attache J.J. Harder told Reuters by telephone from Damascus.
The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, visited Hama earlier this month in a gesture of international support for what he described as peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.
Citing hospital officials, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said earlier that the death toll in Hama was likely to rise, mentioning that dozens were badly wounded in the attack.
A doctor, who did not want to be further identified for fear of arrest, told Reuters that most bodies were taken to the city's Badr, al-Horani and Hikmeh hospitals.
Scores of people were wounded and blood for transfusions was in short supply, he said by telephone from the city, which has a population of around 700,000.
"Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machineguns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants," the doctor said, the sound of machinegun fire crackling in the background.
Residents said that irregular Alawite "shabbiha" militia accompanied the invading forces in buses.
The state news agency said military units were fighting gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns.
Another resident said that in Sunday's assault, bodies were lying uncollected in the streets and so the death toll would rise. Army snipers had climbed onto the roofs of the state-owned electricity company and the main prison, he said.
Tank shells were falling at the rate of four a minute in and around north Hama, residents said. Electricity and water supplies to the main neighborhoods had been cut, a tactic used regularly by the military when sweeping into restive towns.
Later on Sunday, security forces shot dead three people in the southern city of Deraa who were among hundreds in a rally staged in support of residents of Hama, local activists said.
In the restive Damascus suburb of Harasta, at least 42 people were injured on Sunday when security forces threw nail bombs at a demonstration, two residents said.
The Alawites have dominated Syria, a majority Sunni Muslim country, since the Baath Party took power in a 1963 coup.
Assad took power upon his father's death in 2000, keeping the autocratic political system he inherited intact, while expanding the Assad family's share of the economy through monopolies awarded to relatives and friends.
Opposition sources said on Sunday secret police agents had arrested Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir, head of the main Baqqara tribe in the rebellious eastern province of Deir al-Zor.
Hours before his arrest Bashir told Reuters he was striving to stop armed resistance to a military assault on the provincial capital of Deir al-Zor and convince inhabitants to stick to peaceful methods, despite killings by security forces.
INSPIRATION: ARAB SPRING
Assad is trying to choke off an uprising that broke out in March, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and has spread across many areas of Syria.
Turkey, until the uprising one of Assad's main allies, said it and the rest of the Muslim world were "deeply disappointed" by the escalating violence in Syria since it ran against earlier promises of reforms from Assad.
"Such operations will ... have an extremely negative impact on the necessary reform process. Such operations and violence bring deadlock rather than a solution. The Syrian administration finally needs to recognize this reality," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement reacting to the Hama bloodshed.More...

Paul Menard pulls off upset win at Indianapolis


Paul Menard has won his first career Sprint Cup Series race by conserving fuel then holding off Jeff Gordon to pull off an upset victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Menard's victory Sunday continued the trend of first-time winners this season in NASCAR's crown jewel events. Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, Regan Smith won at Darlington Raceway and David Ragan won earlier this month at Daytona.
Now Menard is winner of the Brickyard 400, making it to Victory Lane in his 167th series start. His only other NASCAR victory came in the Nationwide Series in 2006.
He saved enough gas over the closing laps to drive wide-open to the finish. He held off Gordon, who overcame a 12-second deficit over the final 12 laps to finish second.News...

'Cowboys & Aliens,' 'Smurfs' tie for No. 1 spot

Little blue Smurfs and not-so-little green men from space are in a photo finish for the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office.
Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford's science-fiction Western "Cowboys & Aliens" and the family adventure "The Smurfs" both opened with $36.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
That leaves Sony's "Smurfs" and Universal's "Cowboys & Aliens" tied for the top spot. Figuring out the No. 1 movie will have to wait until final numbers are counted Monday.
"In all my years, I've never really seen a race this close," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "Generally, in the world of movie box office, $1 million is a close call, so to have two films in a dollar-to-dollar tie is somewhat unprecedented."
Studios often round off their Sunday numbers, which include Friday and Saturday totals plus an estimate of Sunday business based on how similar movies have done in the past.
So Sunday figures typically are rounded off to the nearest $50,000 or $100,000, with more accurate, to-the-dollar numbers generally coming in Monday's final tally.
But Universal released an estimate of $36,206,250, which would have put "Cowboys & Aliens" a fraction ahead of "The Smurfs" in Sunday's rankings. So Sony, which had reported a rounded-off figure of $36.2 million, matched that $36,206,250 estimate for "The Smurfs."
"We're going with that extra $6,250, because it's just too close to call," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution at Sony. "It just seems like the most fair thing to do is call it a tie and let Monday sort it out."
Studios jockey for the top box-office spot to earn "No. 1 film in America" bragging rights in advertising for the coming week.
Going into the weekend, "Cowboys & Aliens" seemed to have the edge, with analysts figuring it might top $40 million, while "The Smurfs" might come in around $30 million.
But the two movies met in the middle, "Cowboys & Aliens" doing worse than expected and "The Smurfs" doing better.
"This is truly a photo finish," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "Nobody can call it. The truth of the matter is, it's a tie, and with two totally different kinds of films."
"Cowboys & Aliens" stars Craig as an amnesiac wanderer who teams with cattle baron Ford to take on hulking aliens that invade a town in the Old West. "The Smurfs" brings the blue cartoon creatures to the big screen, with a voice and live-action cast that includes Katy Perry, Hank Azaria, George Lopez and Neil Patrick Harris.
Because it opened in fewer theaters, "The Smurfs" did more business on average at cinemas. Playing in 3,395 locations, "The Smurfs" averaged $10,665 a theater, compared to a $9,655 average in 3,750 cinemas for "Cowboys & Aliens."
"The Smurfs" had a ticket-price advantage with 3-D screenings, which cost a few dollars more and accounted for 45 percent of business. But 25 percent of its business came from children under 12, who get in at discount prices, while "Cowboys & Aliens" drew adult crowds paying full admission.
So it's tough to determine which movie actually sold more tickets.
The weekend's other new wide release, the Warner Bros. romantic comedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love.," opened modestly at No. 5 with $19.3 million. The movie stars Steve Carell as a one-woman man who learns the art of seduction from a playboy (Ryan Gosling) after his marriage falls apart.
The previous weekend's top movie, "Captain America: The First Avenger," slipped to No. 3 with $24.9 million and raised its domestic total to $116.8 million.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" pulled in $21.9 million to become the franchise's top-grossing chapter at $318.5 million domestically.
That tops the previous high of $317.6 million for the 2001 original, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." But factoring in today's higher ticket prices, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" so far has sold fewer tickets than "Sorcerer's Stone."
Also this weekend, the "Harry Potter" finale became the first of the franchise's eight movies to top $1 billion at the box office worldwide.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.More.

Verdict for 2 Americans in Iran within a week

The lawyer for two Americans jailed in Iran on charges of espionage said Sunday the court will announce its verdict within a week, dashing hopes for their immediate release after a final hearing in the case.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, both 29, have been held in Iran's Evin Prison since shortly after their arrest along the border with Iraq exactly two years ago on Sunday. The case has added to tensions between the United States and Iran that were already high over issues like Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
The Americans' lawyer, Masoud Shafiei, had hoped that Sunday's final court session would result in their immediate release because it coincided with the two-year anniversary of their arrest and came near the start this week of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, when pardons are traditionally handed down.
Shafiei said he and the two Americans presented closing arguments in their defense and the court announced the end of its hearings.
"The judge said the court will announce its verdict about my clients within one week," Shafiei told The Associated Press.
He said he was still hopeful that, if found guilty, they would be sentenced to time already served and released.
Bauer's fiancée, Sarah Shourd, was arrested with them on July 31, 2009, but was released in September of last year on $500,000 bail. She did not return to Iran for the rest of the trial, but Shafiei said he delivered a defense for her as well on Sunday.
The Americans deny the charges and say they were only hiking in a scenic and largely peaceful area of northern Iraq near the Iranian border. While other parts of Iraq remain troubled by violence, the semiautonomous Kurdistan region has drawn tourists in recent years, including foreign visitors, to its scenic mountains.
"We are pleased that today's hearing was the final session in the case and now hope for an outcome that will bring freedom for Shane and Josh," the hikers' families said in a prepared statement. "We pray that the Iranian authorities will show compassion to Shane and Josh and we ask everyone who supports them and cares for them to join us in beseeching the grace of God at this important time."
The families said they would have no additional comment.
In a telephone interview on Saturday, Shafiei had expressed hope that Bauer and Fattal could be swiftly freed. One positive sign, he said, was that Shourd had not been summoned to appear for the final session as she had been for a previous hearing.
Shafiei suggested the court could convict the two but then sentence them to time served.
"They've spent two years of their life in jail in Iran, which will serve as their sentence," he said on Saturday.
Shafiei insisted the authorities have no evidence to prove espionage, and he pointed out the area where they were detained has a porous border.
"The espionage charge is irrelevant, and the charge of illegal entry is inconsistent with the facts. There was no clear border line and my clients are not guilty. I've provided a sufficient defense," he said.
The U.S. government has appealed for the two men to be released, insisting that they have done nothing wrong. The two countries have no direct diplomatic relations, so Washington has been relying on an interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran to follow the case.More...

Scores die as Syrian forces attack defiant cities

Syrian security forces backed by tanks and snipers launched a ferocious assault Sunday on defiant cities and towns, killing at least 70 people and possibly many more as the regime raced to crush dissent ahead of Ramadan. Corpses littered the streets after a surge in violence that drew widespread international condemnation.
Estimates of the death toll, which were impossible to verify, ranged from around 75 people to nearly 140 on a day when the attacks began before dawn and witnesses said they were too frightened to collect corpses from the streets.
The worst carnage was in Hama, the scene of a 1982 massacre by President Bashar Assad's late father and predecessor and a city with a history of defiance against 40 years of Assad family rule. Hospitals there were overwhelmed with bloodied casualties, suggesting the death toll could rise sharply, witnesses said.
President Barack Obama called the reports "horrifying" and said Assad is "completely incapable and unwilling" to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people.
Ramadan, which begins Monday, will present a critical test for the government, which has unleashed deadly firepower since March but still has not been able to put down the revolt. Daily demonstrations are expected to surge during the holy month, when crowds gather in mosques each evening after the dawn-to-dusk fast.
Though the violence has so far failed to blunt the protests, the Syrian government appears to be hoping it can frighten people from taking to the streets during Ramadan. The protesters are promising to persevere.
Having sealed off the main roads into Hama almost a month ago, army troops in tanks pushed into the city from four sides before daybreak. Residents shouted "God is great!" and threw firebombs, stones and sticks at the tanks, residents said.
By mid-morning, the city looked like a war zone, residents said. The crackle of gunfire and thud of tank shells echoed across the city, and clouds of black smoke drifted over rooftops.
"It looks like Beirut," said Hama resident Saleh Abu Yaman, likening his hometown to the Lebanese capital that still bears the scars of nearly two decades of civil war.
Syria has banned most foreign media and restricted coverage, making it difficult to confirm events on the ground. But interviews with witnesses, protesters and activists painted a grim picture Sunday of indiscriminate shelling and sniper fire as residents fought back by erecting barricades and throwing firebombs at their assailants.
It appeared the regime was making an example of Hama, a religiously conservative city about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital, Damascus. The city has largely has fallen out of government control since June as residents turned on the regime and blockaded the streets against encroaching tanks.
The United States and France enraged the government earlier this month when their ambassadors traveled to Hama in a trip designed to demonstrate solidarity with demonstrators.
But Sunday's deadly siege only ignited more calls for defiance among protesters.
The Local Coordination Committees, which helps organize anti-government protests, urged people to take to the streets and start a general strike to protest the killings.
"If you don't unchain yourselves now and save your country now, you will be ruled like slaves for years and decades to come," the group said.
An escalation in violence during Ramadan, a time of heightened religious fervor for devout Muslims, would bring a new dimension to the unrest in Syria, which has reached a stalemate in recent weeks. Assad's elite forces have waged nearly nonstop crackdowns around the country, but new protest hotbeds have emerged — taxing the already exhausted and overextended military.
There have been credible reports of army defections, although it is difficult to gauge how widespread they are. Assad, and his father who ruled before him, stacked key military posts with members of their minority Alawite sect, melding the fate of the army and the regime.
The army has a clear interest in protecting the regime because they fear revenge attacks and persecution should the country's Sunni majority gain the upper hand.
The searing August heat will only compound the already combustible scenario.
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the attacks were "all the more shocking" on the eve of Ramadan and appeared to be part of a coordinated effort to deter Syrians from protesting during the holy month.
"President Bashar (Assad) is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now," Hague said.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini appealed to the Syrian government "to immediately cease the violence against civilians," calling it "a horrible act of violent repression against protesters who have been demonstrating for days in a peaceful manner."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an end to the violence and reminded Syrian authorities that "they are accountable under international human rights law for all acts of violence perpetrated by them against the civilian population."
But months of withering criticism and sanctions by the international community has not softened the regime's crackdown. Assad has brushed off the criticism as foreign interference.
More than 1,600 civilians have been killed in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests against Assad's regime since the uprising began. Most were killed in shootings by security forces at anti-government rallies.
The government has sought to discredit those behind the protests by saying they are terrorists and foreign-backed extremists, not true reform-seekers. State-run news agency SANA blamed the unrest Sunday on gunmen and extremists, and said two policemen, an officer and two soldiers were killed.
Sunday's death toll was expected to rise as hospitals received the dead. The Local Coordination Committees identified 49 civilians who were killed in Hama and said they had compiled the victims' names. The figure was confirmed by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which cited hospital officials in Hama.Read more...

In debt drama, voters play key, if overlooked role

Dear voter: Want to know why Democrats and Republicans in Congress find it so hard to work together to solve tough problems like the debt ceiling, health care and Social Security?
Look in the mirror.
Americans gripe about cowardly, self-serving politicians, and Congress doubtlessly has its feckless moments and members. But voters are quick to overlook their own role in legislative impasses that keep the nation from resolving big, obvious, festering problems such as immigration, the long-term stability of Medicare, and now, the debt ceiling.
Here's the truth: The overwhelming majority of senators and House members do what their constituents want them to do. Or, more to the point, they respond to people in their districts who bother to vote. Nothing is dearer to politicians than re-election, and most have a keen sense of when they are straying into dangerous waters.
For a growing number of senators and representatives, the only risk is in their party's primary, not in the general election. Most voters, and many news outlets, ignore primaries. That gives control to a relative handful of motivated, hard-core liberals (in Democratic contests) and full-bore conservatives (in GOP primaries).
In politically balanced districts, a hard-right or hard-left nominee may have trouble in the general election, when many independent and centrist voters turn out. But many House districts today aren't balanced, thanks largely to legislative gerrymandering and Americans' inclination to live and work near people who share their views and values.
The result is districts so solidly conservative that no GOP nominee can possibly lose, or so firmly liberal that any Democratic nominee is certain to win. In these districts, the primary is the whole ball game.
Republican lawmakers are under constant pressure to drift to the right, to make sure no fire-breathing conservative outflanks them in a light-turnout primary dominated by ideologues. The same goes for Democrats on the left.
So who turns up on Capitol Hill for freshman orientation? Democrats and Republicans who can barely comprehend each other's political viewpoints, let alone embrace them enough to pursue a possible compromise on big issues.
But what if a Republican and Democrat do decide to meet halfway in hopes of finding, say, a path to shore up Social Security for decades to come. What can they expect?
In some states and districts, they can expect to be drummed out of their party for the crime of engaging with "the enemy." That's what happened last year to Bob Bennett of Utah, a mainstream conservative Republican senator. A relatively small number of conservative activists, led by tea partyers, bounced him from the ticket at a GOP convention. They taunted Bennett with chants of "TARP, TARP." He had voted for the bipartisan bank bailout legislation pushed by Republican President George W. Bush. The Senate's GOP leaders also voted for the bill. But it was an unacceptable compromise in the eyes of Utah Republicans picking their Senate nominee.
In Alaska, GOP primary voters also kicked Sen. Lisa Murkowski off their ballot. She barely saved her seat with a scrappy write-in candidacy. Murkowski supported the bank bailout and, admittedly, is more moderate than the average congressional Republican. But her improbable write-in victory proved she is popular with Alaskans in general, even if her own party rejected her in the primary.
Tea party leaders spell out a warning in their periodic Washington rallies.
"The message is that we're watching, and we want you to vote based on our core values," Mark Meckler, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said at one such event.
When Democratic leaders were struggling earlier this year to strike a budget deal and avert a government shutdown, Phil Kerpen of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity said sharply, "No Republican better help them." The crowd cheered loudly.
Such threats are mainly aimed at Republicans for now, largely because of the tea party's rapid rise. But Democratic lawmakers also know liberal discontent might undo them if they stray too far to the center.More...

Really close' to debt deal as deadline nears

Racing to avoid a government default, President Barack Obama and Republican congressional leaders reached urgently for a compromise Sunday to permit vital borrowing by the Treasury in exchange for more than $2 trillion in long-term spending cuts. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the two sides were "really, really close" to a deal after months of partisan fighting. Yet he and others stressed that no compromise had been sealed, just two days before a deadline to raise the federal debt limit and enable the government to keep paying its bills.
As contemplated under a deal that McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden were negotiating, the federal debt limit would rise in two stages by at least $2.2 trillion, enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.
Big cuts in government spending would be phased in over a decade. Thousands of programs — the Park Service, Internal Revenue Service and Labor Department accounts among them — could be trimmed to levels last seen years ago.
No Social Security or Medicare benefits would be cut, but the programs could be scoured for other savings. Taxes would be unlikely to rise.
Any agreement would have to be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House before going to the White House for Obama's signature. With precious little time remaining, both houses were on standby throughout the day, and Speaker John Boehner was in his office.
Without legislation in place by Tuesday, the Treasury will not be able to pay all its bills, raising the threat of a default that administration officials say could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy.
If approved, though, a compromise would presumably preserve America's sterling credit rating, reassure investors in financial markets across the globe and possibly reverse the losses that spread across Wall Street in recent days as the threat of a default grew.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was "hopeful and confident" a deal would come together. But in a possible hint of dissatisfaction, he pointedly made no mention of congressional Democrats when he said negotiations were between McConnell and the White House and unnamed others.
Officials familiar with the negotiations said that McConnell had been in frequent contact with Vice President Joe Biden, who has played an influential role across months of negotiations.
The talks were proceeding toward a two-step system for raising the debt limit and cutting spending.
The first step would take place immediately, raising the debt limit by nearly $1 trillion and cutting spending by a slightly larger amount over a decade.
That would be followed by creation of a new congressional committee that would have until the end of November to recommend $1.8 trillion or more in deficit cuts, targeting benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, or overhauling the tax code. Those deficit cuts would allow a second increase in the debt limit, which would be needed by early next year.
If the committee failed to reach its $1.8 trillion target, or Congress failed to approve its recommendations by the end of 2011, lawmakers would then have to vote on a proposed constitutional balanced-budget amendment.
If that failed to pass, automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion would automatically take effect, and the debt limit would rise by an identical amount.
Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but payments to doctors, nursing homes and other Medicare providers could be trimmed, as could subsidies to insurance companies that offer an alternative to government-run Medicare.
Officials describing those steps spoke on condition of anonymity, citing both the sensitivity of the talks and the potential that details could change.
The emerging deal could mark a classic compromise, a triumph of divided government that would let both Obama and Republicans claim they had achieved their objectives.
As the president demanded, the deal would allow the debt limit to rise by enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.
But barring a change, it appeared Obama's proposal to extend the current payroll tax holiday beyond the end of 2011 would not be included, nor his call for extended unemployment benefits for victims of the recession.
Republicans would win spending cuts of slightly more than the increase in the debt limit, as they have demanded. Additionally, tax increases would be off-limits unless recommended by the bipartisan committee that is expected to include six Republicans and six Democrats. The conservative campaign to force Congress to approve a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution would be jettisoned.
Congressional Democrats have long insisted that Medicare and Social Security benefits not be cut, a victory for them in the proposal under discussion. Yet they would have to absorb even deeper cuts in hundreds of federal programs than were included in Reid's bill, which many Democrats supported in a symbolic vote on the House floor on Saturday.
As details began to emerge, one liberal organization, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, issued a statement that was harshly critical.More...

Police: 4 shot after George Clinton concert

Several shots rang out from a handgun during a large fight near an outdoor concert venue in Cleveland, leaving four people wounded after a "Unity in the Park" festival featuring funk music artist George Clinton, police said Sunday.
Authorities said they were searching for a male suspect who pulled out a handgun and fired into a group of people Saturday night during the fight. No arrests were reported in the hours after the shooting, Police Sgt. Sammy Morris told The Associated Press.
"It was a large fight. Somebody in the crowd produced a handgun and fired several times," Morris said, adding all four victims were hit by gunfire.
A 16-year-old boy had a gunshot wound to the head and a 20-year-old woman suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, police said. A police statement added that a 14-year-old boy and a 23-year-old man also were hospitalized — each with a gunshot wound in the left leg. None of the four were identified by name.
Morris said the fighting began before 10 p.m. at an intersection near Luke Easter Park, the venue for the day's festival and concert. It wasn't immediately clear how long after Clinton or other musicians had performed that the shooting erupted — nor how many people were still in the area.
All four of the victims were taken to Cleveland's MetroHealth Medical Center. A MetroHealth nurse supervisor contacted by AP said the hospital had no further medical updates early Sunday. The Cleveland Plain Dealer had reported earlier that the two most seriously wounded were in critical condition and the other two were stable.More...

Police: Planes collide over Alaska, 4 dead

Two single-engine float planes collided as they flew near an Alaskan lake and one of them crashed and burned, killing the four people aboard, authorities said. The second plane landed safely despite significant damage.
The Cessna 180 was destroyed by the impact and fire, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor told The Associated Press.
"It was engulfed in flames on the ground," Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters said.
The crash around Amber Lake near Trapper Creek, 80 miles north of Anchorage, came nearly three weeks after another in-flight collision that remarkably left the 13 people aboard the two aircraft unhurt.
The second plane in Saturday's crash, a Cessna 206, sustained significant damage but was able to return to Anchorage International Airport and make an emergency landing, after the collision around Amber lake near Trapper Creek, 80 miles north of Anchorage.
Pilot Kevin Earp, 56, of Eagle River was alone in the aircraft and uninjured, Peters said in a news release.
She said late Saturday that four bodies were recovered from the wreckage. Authorities initially said at least two people were killed.
The State Medical Examiner's office was working to identify the dead.More...

US commanders concerned about Ramadan fighting


The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has until mid-October to submit a plan for the initial withdrawal of American troops, decisions that may hinge in part on whether the latest surge in attacks continues through the holy month of Ramadan.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says commanders are hearing that Taliban leaders may leave their fighters in the country to try to regain lost ground during the Islamic holy period which begins Monday.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him in Afghanistan, Mullen said Marine Gen. John Allen, who has just taken over as top U.S. commander here, needs time to evaluate the combat, training and other requirements before presenting a detailed withdrawal plan.
Mullen's comments for the first time laid out a deadline for Allen to structure the planned withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year, as announced by President Barack Obama.
"The next month will be very telling," said Mullen, noting that often the Taliban leaders will travel back to Pakistan for Ramadan. It's unclear at this point what they will do, or if there will be any decline in the fighting.
Mullen, who arrived Friday in Afghanistan, met Saturday with commanders in southern Afghanistan. He was traveling in the east Sunday.
He said that so far commanders are saying they are seeing some signs of improved security, but his comments came amid a series of spectacular deadly attacks across the south, including a bombing Sunday outside the main gate of the police headquarters in the southern Afghan city of Lashkar Gah.
That suicide bomb attack comes on the heels of bombings in the southern province of Uruzgan that killed at least 19 people, and the assassination of Kandahar's mayor.
The mayor was the third southern Afghan leader to be killed in the last three weeks.More...

Bomb kills 11 at police HQ in southern Afghanistan

A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday at the gate of the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 people in a city where Afghans have recently taken control of security.
The blast was the latest in a string of attacks in the south in recent weeks that have included assassinations of high-level government officials in neighboring Kandahar and a coordinated attack against government buildings in Uruzgan province that killed 19 people last week.
The attack early Sunday, which ripped a gaping hole in the station compound's wall, also wounded as least 12 people, said Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi. He said the dead included 10 police officers and one child.
People at the site said they saw a police vehicle on fire at the gate. Ahmadi said a suicide bomber apparently drove a car between two police vehicles at the entrance and then set detonated the explosives.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack.
It has been less than two weeks since Lashkar Gah was formally handed over to Afghan control in the first stage of a plan to have all of Afghanistan under the oversight of Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. It is the capital city of a province that has been a stronghold for the insurgency and where U.S. Marines have surged in over the past year to try to turn back the Taliban.
The attack comes as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tours Afghanistan for a second day. He has been meeting with military commanders and troops in the south, a region that has been rocked by violence and suicide attacks in recent weeks. Mullen visited a base outside Kandahar city on Sunday morning.
Mullen told reporters that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan has until mid-October to submit a plan for the initial withdrawal of American troops. Mullen's comments for the first time laid out a deadline for Marine Gen. John Allen to submit plans for the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year.More...

Activists: 23 Syrians killed in attack on Hama

Activists say at least 23 people have been killed in the Syrian military's assault on the flashpoint city of Hama.
A spokesman for The Local Coordination Committees which organizes and monitors anti-government protests in Syria says the group has the names of 23 civilians who died in the onslaught Sunday.
Omar Idilbi says the number is likely to be much higher and says local hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian troops in tanks stormed the flashpoint city of Hama before dawn Sunday, killing at least 13 people in a barrage of shelling and gunfire that left bodies scattered in the streets, activists and residents said.
Residents shouting "God is great!" threw firebombs and stones at the tanks as they pushed through the city.
"It's a massacre, they want to break Hama before the month of Ramadan," an eyewitness who identified himself by his first name, Ahmed, told The Associated Press by telephone.
Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties and were seeking blood donations, he said.
Activists have predicted that demonstrations will escalate during the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday, as the protesters and government forces try to tip the balance in a remarkably resilient uprising that began in mid-March.
During Ramadan, Muslims throng mosques for special night prayers after breaking their daily dawn-to-dusk fast. The gatherings could trigger intense protests throughout the predominantly Sunni country and activists say authorities are moving to ensure that doesn't happen.
An estimated 1,600 civilians have died in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad's regime since the uprising began. Most of the dead were killed in shootings by security forces on anti-government rallies.
Hama, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital Damascus, has become one of the hottest centers of the demonstrations. In early June, security forces shot dead 65 people there, and since then it has fallen out of government control, with protesters holding the streets and government forces ringing the city and conducting overnight raids.
The city has a history of dissent against the Assad dynasty. In 1982, Assad's late father, Hafez Assad, ordered his brother to quell a rebellion by Syrian members of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood movement. The city was sealed off and bombs dropped from above smashed swaths of the city and killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, rights groups say.More...

White House, GOP discuss potential debt limit pact

White House officials and congressional Republicans are discussing a potential agreement that could end their bitter debt limit showdown. The hope is that a deal can be completed by Tuesday to avert a possible government default.
Officials speaking on condition of anonymity say the White House and GOP are discussing a plan to raise the government's debt ceiling by about $2.4 trillion, enough to last through next year. There would be slightly larger spending cuts enacted in two stages, and a promise to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.More...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Asomugha signing biggest of Eagles' bold moves

With one big move after another over two wild days, the Philadelphia Eagles became strong favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Trading Kevin Kolb was expected. Signing Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin was no surprise. Even getting two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Vince Young to back up Michael Vick hardly turned heads.
But the stunner came when the defending NFC East champions swooped in from nowhere and landed Nnamdi Asomugha, the biggest prize on the NFL's free-agent market.
The two-time All-Pro cornerback was seemingly headed elsewhere — the New York Jets courted him aggressively — before the Eagles quietly moved in and signed him to a $60 million, five-year deal on Friday.
No one anticipated that being the major announcement when general manager Howie Roseman and coach Andy Reid took the podium shortly after teams were allowed to officially announce free-agent signings at 6 p.m.
"This has been fast and furious, but good things have come out of it," Reid said. "I mentioned to you before that I thought Howie had a great plan for free agency and trades, so this is what we have here so far and it's a pretty good list."
Babin, who had 12½ sacks last year in Tennessee, bolsters the pass rush. Young, who was 30-17 as a starter in five seasons with the Titans, provides insurance if Vick goes down. Asomugha and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, acquired from Arizona in the Kolb trade, join Asante Samuel to form perhaps the best cover secondary in the NFL.
Last season, the Eagles allowed a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes in the regular season, and three more in a 21-16 loss to Green Bay at home in the first round of the playoffs.
It won't be so easy throwing against this star-studded trio.
"It's always been a priority position for us," Roseman said. "Corners, pass rushers, and we felt like last year, we were in a situation where maybe we got a little short-handed, and we thought it was a place that we wanted to go heavy and have a lot of talent at.
"You can never have enough cover corners. That helps your pass rush and when you have an opportunity to add the players we added, we just thought we had to add those guys."
Asomugha spent his first eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders. He had a career-high eight interceptions in 2006, and went to the Pro Bowl after each of the past three seasons.
Even though he had just three interceptions in the past three years — mainly because teams don't throw to his side — Asomugha is widely regarded the best cover cornerback in the NFL, and was courted by several high-profile teams, including the Jets and Dallas Cowboys.
"He's one of the best — if not the best — cornerback in the National Football League," Reid said. "He'll be a great addition to our cornerback corps."
There's speculation the Eagles may not keep Samuel, who was excused from training camp at Lehigh University the first two days. If Samuel is trade bait, Roseman certainly isn't letting on, however.
"We do consider the third corner a starter," he said. "This is a passing league. We think it's important to be able to defend the pass and pressure the quarterback. When you have cover players and pass rushers, and we added a couple of those today and yesterday, I think that helps you do that."
The Eagles also signed tight end Donald Lee and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins to one-year deals on Friday.
Few noticed those moves, of course.
Adding Young got lost in the hoopla surrounding Asomugha's acquisition, too. But Young could prove to be equally important if Vick gets hurt. Considering the way Vick recklessly throws his body around, Young might see plenty of action.More...

Lawyer: 2 Americans held in Iran could be released

The lawyer for two Americans jailed in Iran on charges of espionage says his clients could be released after a court hearing slated for Sunday.
Masoud Shafiei said Saturday the fact that the session in the trial of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal would coincide with the second anniversary of their arrest may indicate that they will be freed.
There also is a tradition in the Muslim world of pardoning prisoners for the holy month of Ramadan, which starts early next week.
Bauer and Fattal have been jailed since July 2009. Bauer's fiance, Sarah Shourd, was arrested with them but released last year on $500,000 bail.More...

Commercial plane crashes in Guyana; no deaths

A Caribbean Airlines airliner coming from New York crashed with 140 passengers aboard while landing in Guyana early Saturday and broke in two, causing several injuries but no deaths, said President Bharrat Jagdeo.
The Boeing 737-800 apparently overshot the 7,400-foot (2,200-meter) runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in rainy weather. It barely missed a 200-foot (60-meter) ravine that could have resulted in dozens of fatalities, he said.
"We are very, very grateful that more people were not injured," he said as authorities closed the airport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and delaying dozens of flights.
Authorities struggled at first to remove passengers without adequate field lights and other emergency equipment. The extent of the injuries was not immediately clear.
Geeta Ramsingh, 41, of Philadelphia, said passengers had just started to applaud the touchdown "when it turned to screams," she said, pointing to bruises on her knees. She said she hopped onto the wing and then onto the dirt road outside the runway fence.
"I am upset that no one came to rescue us in the dark, but a taxi driver appeared from nowhere and charged me $20 to take me to the terminal. I had to pay, but in times of emergencies, you don't charge people for a ride," she said, sitting on a chair in the arrival area surrounded by relatives. She was returning to her native country for only the second time in 30 years.More...

Norway suspect was considering other targets

FILE - This photo combo shows the victims who were killed in the July 22, 2011 terror …
Police say the man who confessed to a bombing and youth camp massacre that killed 77 people in Norway has told them he also considered other possible locations to attack.
Police attorney Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby says Anders Behring Breivik was questioned for 10 hours on Friday and "said he was interested in other targets." Norwegian tabloid VG said Breivik had described the Royal Palace and the head office of the prime minister's Labor Party in Oslo as potential targets. The paper did not cite its sources. Kraby wouldn't comment on the report but said that, "They were targets that one would say are natural for terror attacks."Read more.

Turkey's military in turmoil as top brass quit

Turkey faced turmoil within its military on Saturday after the country's four most senior commanders quit, offering Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan an opportunity to extend his authority over the once dominant armed forces.
Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner stepped down on Friday evening along with the army, navy and air force commanders in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Erdogan's government.
In a farewell message to "brothers in arms," Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.
Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's Islamist roots.
Though the departures are embarrassing, they could give Erdogan a decisive victory over a military that sees itself as guardian of the secularist state envisioned by the soldier statesman and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Analysts see little political threat to Erdogan's supremacy.
AK won a third consecutive term, taking 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June.
Erdogan marked out Kosaner's successor on Friday, as his office put out a statement naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander General Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces, and acting deputy chief of general staff, effectively making him next in line when Kosaner handed over the baton.
In years gone by, Turkey's generals were more likely to seize power than quit. They have staged three coups since 1960 and pushed an Islamist-led government from power in 1997.
Some founders of AK, including Erdogan, were members of the Welfare Party, an Islamist party whose coalition was forced out 14 years ago. But as prime minister, Erdogan has ended the military's dominance through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.
FOUR-STAR EARTHQUAKE
"Four-star earthquake," a headline in Sabah newspaper said of the generals' decision, while papers also highlighted Kosaner's criticism of media reporting on the military.
"They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations," Kosaner's statement said.
On Istanbul's streets, views of the issue reflected Turkey's polarization between government supporters and opponents.
"This is a move to place AK Party supporters in the army. There was only the army to protect secularism but they took that as well," said retired 54-year-old Perihan Guclu.
"This has been a good development. We have got one of the biggest numbers of generals in the world but we are becoming a democracy slowly," said a 52-year-old who gave his name only as
Dursun.
The subordination of the generals was starkly demonstrated last year when police began detaining scores of officers over "Operation Sledgehammer," an alleged plot against Erdogan's government discussed at a military seminar in 2003.
The officers say Sledgehammer was merely a war game exercise and the evidence against them has been fabricated. About 250 military personnel are in jail, including 173 serving and 77 retired staff. Most are charged in relation to Sledgehammer.
MILITARY MORALE SAPPED
A court accepted on Friday an indictment on another alleged military plot, known as the "Internet Memorandum" case, and prosecutors sought the arrest of 22 people including the Aegean army commander and six other serving generals and admirals.More...

UK police add computer probe to phone-hack inquiry

London police probing phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's defunct News of the World tabloid are broadening their investigation to allegations of computer hacking, they said on Saturday.
A new investigative team will be set up to tackle the new allegations, reporting to Sue Akers, the officer in charge of the phone hacking probe, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.
"Operation Tuleta is currently considering a number of allegations regarding breach of privacy, received by the MPS since January 2011, which fall outside the remit of (phone-hacking) Operation Weeting, including computer hacking," the statement by the London police force said.
"Some aspects of this operation will move forward to a formal investigation."
London police reopened their investigation into phone hacking in January, shortly after the prime minister's communications chief, Andy Coulson, resigned because of allegations of phone hacking at the News of the World while he was the paper's editor.
The paper's royal reporter Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire were jailed in 2007 for intercepting the voicemail messages of royal aides.
On Friday Mulcaire issued a statement through his lawyer saying he was not acting on his own initiative when he intercepted phone messages while in the pay of the newspaper.More...

Democrats try to break debt impasse

Senate Democrats aimed to seize the initiative in efforts to head off a ruinous debt default by pushing their deficit-cutting plan on Saturday toward a possible compromise with a divided Republican Party.
Entrenched differences were still hampering a compromise as Democratic leaders accused their Republican counterparts of obstructionism, less than 100 hours before the government says it will run out of money to pay all its bills.
President Barack Obama used his presidential pulpit for the second time this week to urge rival lawmakers to strike a deal and avert what he has said would be an "inexcusable" default.
"There are multiple ways to resolve this problem," Obama said in his weekly address. "Congress must find common ground on a plan that can get support from both parties in the House. And it's got to be a plan that I can sign by Tuesday."
The debt saga shifted to the Senate late on Friday after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a deficit-cutting bill, breaking weeks of political inertia.
The Democratic-controlled Senate quickly killed that bill, as expected, but its earlier approval by the House lifted hopes that it could form part of a final compromise.
The mood in the Senate quickly soured, however, as Democratic leaders angrily accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of refusing to talk to them.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid modified his plan, taking elements of an earlier McConnell proposal with the hopes of picking up Republican votes.
But he declined McConnell's offer to vote on it immediately -- a sign that Reid does not yet have enough support.More...

Tim Pawlenty aims for strong showing in Iowa

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has been reading his own political obituary for weeks. But he's still alive as he campaigns across Iowa.
Even though the air conditioner had died on his campaign RV somewhere between Oskaloosa and Osceola, the former Minnesota governor showed little sweat as he faced intense pressure to prove he's a viable candidate.
He was at ease in the midst of a 1,500-mile Iowa campaign tour, playing a pickup hockey game, joking with audiences and sticking to his pitch: Republicans need to nominate as the challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama a pragmatic, swing-state governor known more for getting things done than giving good speeches.
"It gives me energy," Pawlenty said of his wall-to-wall campaigning as he leaned back in a chair during an Associated Press interview as a 15-hour campaign day wound down. Still, he allowed: "I have my days where, like everybody else, I'm a little tired."
Who wouldn't be after visiting 36 towns and cities in two weeks and meeting with more than 1,500 GOP activists during a sweltering Midwest summer?
With wife Mary and older daughter Anna at his side, Pawlenty spent much of his time campaigning within 100 miles of where a test vote on the GOP field will be held Aug. 13. He plans to do the same in the week leading up to the Iowa Republican straw poll at Iowa State University, a test of organizational strength and popularity that Pawlenty predicts will show he's making progress.
Despite spending the past 18 months building a campaign for the leadoff caucuses, Pawlenty has faced a series of bumps in the road this summer, including a rocky debate performance, lackluster fundraising and a poor single-digit showing in early Iowa polls in the wake of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's rise.
Undeterred, the low-key Midwesterner brushes off conventional wisdom inside political circles that says he's in trouble, if not using the naysaying as motivation; he's pressing ahead with his workmanlike approach to winning over Iowa Republicans and putting his back into his Iowa campaign with a steady-as-she-goes demeanor.
"You can't move the needle by showing up and giving a speech here or there," he said. "You've got to have a sustained comprehensive concentrated campaign, and in the last three weeks we've had that."
He's also had a robust television, radio and direct mail presence. And he's had a sharper tone against Bachmann, painting his home state rival and tea-party favorite as an inexperienced speech-maker in an effort to cast himself as the seasoned executive ready to lead the party and beat Obama.
For now at least, Pawlenty is publicly keeping the faith in a campaign formula of early organizing and internal patience.
He didn't flinch when someone asked during a town hall meeting at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Story City why he wasn't gaining traction.
Instead, Pawlenty calmly repeated an answer he's honed over the months as better-known GOP candidates have continued to flirt with running in 2012: "It's the flavor-of-the-month phenomenon where somebody new emerges and there's the initial buzz around that candidate."
"It's a long journey. It's not something like a big comet," he added — on the same day as news that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would visit Iowa reignited speculation about her plans.More...

Dems, GOP still at loggerheads as clock ticks

The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic Senate remain at loggerheads over debt legislation required to avoid a first-ever default on U.S. financial obligations as lawmakers and the White House head into a pressure-packed weekend in search of compromise.
A week of extraordinary partisanship was capped by a power play by Senate Democrats, who killed a House-passed debt limit increase and budget-cutting bill Friday night less than two hours after it squeaked through the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., set up a test vote for the wee hours of Sunday morning to break a GOP filibuster.
Before then, however, the House was set to even the score by voting Saturday to reject an alternative measure by Reid even before the Senate has taken it up.
Democrats, Republicans and the White House, meanwhile, are expected to be deep in conversation in hopes of a potential compromise. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is likely to play a pivotal role.
The outcome of the weekend endgame was anything but clear as Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over how to force lawmakers to come up with additional budget savings later this year beyond the almost $1 trillion in agency budget cuts over the coming decade that they basically agree on.
After a brutal week on Wall Street — investors lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the markets lost ground every day — pressure is intense to produce an accord before the opening bell on Monday.
"We are almost out of time," President Barack Obama warned on Friday.
The House measure squeaked through on a 218-210 vote, with 22 Republicans joining united Democrats in opposing the GOP measure, which pairs an immediate $900 billion increase in U.S. borrowing authority along with $917 billion in spending cuts spread over the coming decade.
Friday's roll call came after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had been forced to call off a vote slated for Thursday in the face of tea party opposition to the measure. He added a provision requiring that a second, up to $1.6 trillion debt increase be conditioned on House and Senate passage of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution, which would require an unrealistic two-thirds vote by each chamber to send it to the states for ratification.
Boehner's move only cemented Democratic opposition to the measure and complicated prospects for a weekend compromise that could clear both houses and win Obama's signature by next Tuesday's deadline. And by appeasing the tea party by adding the balanced-budget amendment poison pill, Boehner seemed to hand endgame leverage to Reid and Obama.
Boehner said the House bill — before the addition of the balanced-budget amendment — mirrored an agreement worked out with Reid last weekend.More...

Iran may release detained U.S. hikers soon: lawyer

Iran may release U.S. citizens detained on charges of espionage, their lawyer Masoud Shafiee told Reuters on Saturday, a day before a scheduled court session for the two coinciding with the second anniversary of their detention.
Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested by Iranian forces in July 2009 on suspicion of spying after crossing into Iran from Iraq. Shourd was freed on bail in September 2010 and returned to the United States.
Under Iran's Islamic law, espionage can be punished by execution.
"Tomorrow it will be two years since my clients were jailed ... I believe their already two years in detention will serve as their sentence," Shafiee said. "I hope it will be their last court session."
In November, Iran's judiciary announced espionage charges against the three. Their families said they were hiking and had strayed across the border accidentally. Washington says the charges are totally unfounded and they should be released.
The last hearing was scheduled for May 11 but was postponed without any explanation. Iranian authorities had previously called on Shourd to return to Tehran to stand trial alongside Fattal and Bauer.
Asked whether Shourd would appear at the session, Shafiee said the court had not demanded that she should attend. "It is one of the signs. In the previous warrants Shourd was asked to return to Iran for the trials ... but this time there is no such demand," he said.
Bauer and Fattal pleaded not guilty at a closed-door court hearing on February 6 but the lawyer said he had had no recent legal access to his clients.
"So far, no permission has been granted to my request for a private meeting with my clients," Shafiee said.
"Despite asking repeatedly, I have not met them since the last trial," he said. "I hope to have a meeting with them even a few hours before tomorrow's trial."
The United States cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after the Iranian revolution in 1979. The two countries are now embroiled in a row over Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs. Tehran denies this.More.

Turkey's military in turmoil as top brass quit

Turkey faced turmoil within its military on Saturday after the country's four most senior commanders quit in protest over the detention of 250 officers on charges of conspiring against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government.
Chief of General Staff General Isik Kosaner stepped down on Friday evening along with the army, navy and air force commanders, plunging NATO's second largest armed forces into uncertainty shortly before a senior promotions board convenes.
In a farewell message to "brothers in arms," Kosaner said it was impossible to continue in his job as he could not defend the rights of men who had been detained as a consequence of a flawed judicial process.
Relations between the secularist military and Erdogan's socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) have been fraught since it first won power in 2002, due to mistrust of the AK's Islamist roots.
Though the sudden departures are embarrassing, they could give Erdogan a decisive victory over a military that sees itself as guardian of the secularist state envisioned by the soldier statesman and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Analysts see little political threat to Erdogan's supremacy.
AK won a third consecutive term, taking 50 percent of the vote in a parliamentary election in June.
Erdogan marked out Kosaner's successor on Friday, as his office put out a statement naming paramilitary Gendarmerie commander General Necdet Ozel as new head of land forces, and acting deputy chief of general staff, effectively making him next in line when Kosaner handed over the baton.
FOUR-STAR EARTHQUAKE
"Four-star earthquake," a headline in Sabah newspaper said of the generals' decision, while papers also highlighted Kosaner's criticism of media reporting on the military.
"They tried to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces was a criminal organization and ... the biased media encouraged this with all kinds of false stories, smears and allegations," Kosaner's statement said.
In years gone by, Turkey's generals were more likely to stage a coup than quit, but Erdogan has ended the military's dominance through a series of reforms aimed at advancing Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.
On Istanbul's streets, views of the issue reflected Turkey's polarization between government supporters and opponents.
"This is a move to place AK Party supporters in the army. There was only the army to protect secularism but they took that as well," said retired 54-year-old Perihan Guclu.
"This has been a good development. We have got one of the biggest numbers of generals in the world but we are becoming a democracy slowly," said a 52-year-old who gave his name only as
Dursun.
The subordination of the generals was starkly demonstrated last year when police began detaining scores of officers over "Operation Sledgehammer," an alleged plot against Erdogan's government discussed at a military seminar in 2003.
The officers say Sledgehammer was merely a war game exercise and the evidence against them has been fabricated. About 250 military personnel are in jail, including 173 serving and 77 retired staff. Most are charged in relation to Sledgehammer.
MILITARY MORALE SAPPED
A court accepted on Friday an indictment on another alleged military plot, known as the "Internet Memorandum" case, and prosecutors sought the arrest of 22 people including the Aegean army commander and six other serving generals and admirals.
Aksam newspaper described this as "the indictment which triggered a crisis" in a case where the military is accused of setting up anti-government websites. Papers said disagreements over new senior appointments also prompted the generals to quit.
The detentions have sapped morale and spread mistrust and suspicion among the officer corps, and many had been looking for Kosaner to take a stand since his appointment last August.More...

NATO bombs Libyan state TV transmitters

NATO warplanes bombed Libyan state TV satellite transmitters in Tripoli overnight because they were being used to incite violence and threaten civilians, the military alliance said Saturday.
A series of loud explosions echoed across the capital before dawn. There was no immediate comment from Libyan officials on what had been hit, but state TV was still on the air in Tripoli on Saturday morning.
NATO said the airstrikes aimed to degrade Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's "use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them."
"Striking specifically these critical satellite dishes will reduce the regime's ability to oppress civilians while (preserving) television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict," the alliance said in a statement posted on its website.
It said Gadhafi's inflammatory TV broadcasts were intended to mobilize his supporters.
The attempt to silence the government's TV broadcasts comes at a sensitive time for the rebels, who appeared to be in disarray after the mysterious death of their chief military commander. Abdel-Fattah Younis' body was found Thursday, dumped outside the rebels' de facto capital of Benghazi, along with the bodies of two colonels who were his top aides. They had been shot and their bodies burned.
NATO too has been increasingly embarrassed by the failure of its bombing campaign, now in its fifth month, to dislodge Gadhafi's regime. With the fasting month of Ramadan due to start in August, there is growing realization within the alliance that the costly campaign will drag on into the autumn and possibly longer.
NATO had originally hoped that a series of quick, sharp strikes would quickly force Gadhafi to give up power.More...