Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gaddafi loyalists hold out during Eid holiday

Loyal followers of Muammar Gaddafi are refusing to surrender to those who have forced him into hiding, raising the prospect of new fighting in Libya when an ultimatum expires after this week's Eid holiday.
The new ruling council, keen to consolidate its grip and relieve hardship after six months of war, won a $1.55 billion cash injection when the U.N. Sanctions Committee released banknotes in Britain in frozen accounts once controlled by Gaddafi. The new leaders said Libya may start pumping oil again in days.
In the capital's newly renamed Martyrs' Square, hundreds of people gathered for morning prayers to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, delighted at Gaddafi's downfall.
"It is the most beautiful prayers. We are filled with joy, Gaddafi made us hate our lives ... We come here to express our joy at the end of 42 years of repression and deprivation," said Hatem Gureish, 31, a merchant from Tripoli.
"This is the most beautiful Eid and most beautiful day in 42 years," he said.
Security was tight at the square where Gaddafi had been due to commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the coup that brought him to power on September 1. Sniffer dogs checked worshippers and armed men stood on rooftops to guard against an attack by Gaddafi loyalists.
"There may be some pockets of Gaddafi forces but generally the capital is secure," interim interior minister Ahmad Darat told Reuters. "We have created a security team to manage the crisis and preserve security in the capital."
"This is a day of freedom, a day I cannot describe to you. It is as if I own the world," said Fatima Mustafa, 28, a pregnant woman wearing a black chador. "I'm glad I haven't given birth yet so my daughter can be born into a free Libya."
On the front lines of a pincer thrust toward Gaddafi's coastal bastion of Sirte -- one of several places, including Tripoli, where his enemies think he may have taken refuge -- fighters for the interim ruling council paused, observing an effective ceasefire announced by their leaders until Saturday.
NATO warplanes have been bombing Gaddafi forces near Sirte, and the alliance has assured its Libyan allies that it will keep up its military drive from the air for an end to the conflict -- something the council leadership says will only be secured once Gaddafi is found, "dead or alive."
Council chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who as Gaddafi's justice minister until turning against him this year has had ample opportunity to observe the survival instincts of one of the world's longest ruling autocrats, warned again on Tuesday:
"Muammar Gaddafi is not finished yet."
"He still poses a threat to Libyans and the revolution. He still has pockets of support in Libya and supporters outside Libya, both individuals and countries," Abdel Jalil said in the council's eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
In the Sahara far south of Sirte, the town of Sabha is among those where the writ of the ruling council does not run.
It was across the desert that Gaddafi's wife and three of his children fled into Algeria. They arrived just in time for his daughter Aisha to give birth at the oasis of Djanet on Tuesday, according to Algerian officials who tried to soothe Libyan anger by insisting they granted refuge to the Gaddafis out of concern for the expectant mother and in the traditions of hospitality entrenched in local nomadic culture.
Algiers, wary of any threat the Arab Spring movements might pose to its own veteran rulers and fearful that a post-Gaddafi Libya might be helpful to its Islamist enemies, is not among the four dozen or so countries to recognize the National Transitional Council (NTC) as Libya's legitimate government.
But, according to an Algerian newspaper, it has decided not to give asylum to Gaddafi himself and would hand him over, if he arrived, to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which has indicted him, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief for crimes against humanity.
The whereabouts of all three are unknown, though council fighters said intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi had been killed at the weekend along with Gaddafi's son Khamis, a military commander. Both men had been reported dead before.
Ahmed Bani, a military spokesman for the council, again ruled out any negotiation with Gaddafi or his supporters and called on those holding out to give up quietly: "We will not negotiate with his murderers and the likes of him," he said.
"We are still hopeful there will be a peaceful proposal put forward before Saturday ... Zero hour is quickly approaching."
The week since Gaddafi's Tripoli compound was overrun may have eroded the conviction among many of his enemies that he was near at hand in the capital and close to capture.
"There are no confirmed reports of his movements, whether it be to Sirte or otherwise," Bani said. "But it's obvious the noose is tightening around him and sooner or later he will be captured or found."
Interim oil minister Ali Tarhouni, speaking in Tripoli, said: "We have a general idea where he is ... We have no doubt that we will catch him."
Many are conscious that Saddam Hussein evaded capture in Iraq for eight months, while an insurgency, partly in his name, took root. With long-prepared access to funds and some old favors to call in, Gaddafi could find refuge abroad.
George Friedman of U.S.-based risk advisers Stratfor warned it was premature to call the conflict over: "Gaddafi's forces still retain military control of substantial areas ... Gaddafi is still fighting and posing challenges. The war is not over."
He also noted concerns about the ability of the council to establish control of the country more generally.
Its leaders insist that, in the face of evidence of the killing and torture of prisoners by Gaddafi's forces, their own men are to treat their captives with respect to foster cohesion in a country lacking many government institutions and long used to tribal and ethnic division.
Amnesty International said its staff had seen anti-Gaddafi fighters threaten and detain wounded opponents, notably black Libyans and foreigners.More...

Exxon, Rosneft tie up in Russian Arctic, U.S

Exxon Mobil Corp and Rosneft signed an agreement to extract oil and gas from the Russian Arctic, in the most significant U.S.-Russian corporate deal since U.S. President Barack Obama began a push to improve ties.
The pact, which includes an option for Rosneft to invest in Gulf of Mexico and Texan properties, ended any hope of Britain's BP reviving its deal with state-owned Rosneft to develop the same Arctic territory. That deal was blocked in May by the billionaire partners in another BP Russian venture.
The pact gives Exxon, the biggest U.S. oil company, access to substantial reserves in Russia, the world's top oil producer. For Rosneft, it's about bringing in one of the few companies capable of drilling in the harsh, deep waters of the Arctic.
Russia has shown greater willingness in the past year to secure foreign partners, even if some deals later fell apart. The Exxon announcement comes only months after the demise of a Rosneft deal with Chevron Corp for a $1 billion investment in an estimated $32 billion Black Sea project.
Analysts cited differences between Chevron and Rosneft over the choice of contractor, the joint venture's domicile and the jurisdiction of arbitration for any business disputes.
Yet Chevron, like Royal Dutch Shell Plc, was also considered a potential partner for Rosneft's Arctic venture.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the Tuesday signing -- in the Black Sea resort of Sochi -- by Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson and Russia's top energy official, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
"New horizons are opening up. One of the world's leading companies, Exxon Mobil, is starting to work on Russia's strategic shelf and deepwater continental shelf," Putin said.
Exxon and Rosneft agreed to invest $3.2 billion to develop East Prinovozemelsky Blocks 1, 2, and 3 in the Arctic Kara Sea and the Tuapse licensing block in the Black Sea.
Rosneft will own 66.7 percent and Exxon the rest of the joint venture to develop the blocks, which Exxon said were "among the most promising and least explored offshore areas globally, with high potential for liquids and gas."
"The fact that someone with the stature of Exxon Mobil is willing to give it a stab is very significant," said Amy Myers Jaffe, of the Baker Institute at Houston's Rice University.
While Rosneft will tap Exxon's expertise to open up one of the last unconquered drilling frontiers, it will also diversify further by getting a piece of some of Exxon's U.S. developments.
"To get into Russia offshore you give up some of your domestic offshore. I think it's a fair trade," said Brian Youngberg, senior energy analyst at brokerage Edward Jones in St. Louis, who has a "hold" rating on Exxon shares.
It marks a big move for Exxon after it spent a year swallowing XTO -- a much-criticized purchase that shifted its profile toward the depressed U.S. natural gas market. "Now Exxon Mobil is starting to look elsewhere for deals," Youngberg said.
Analysts also said the Rosneft-Exxon agreement indicates that the reset in relations Obama sought was working to reduce the political risk for U.S. businesses operating in Russia.
"Three years ago, American companies were being excluded. Here, an American company is at the center of a flagship announcement. This deal demonstrates that reset has had a positive effect on U.S.-Russia energy relations," said Cliff Kupchan, director of Eurasian Practice at Eurasia Group.
An Obama administration official said the deal was a result of the new cooperation between the United States and Russia.
"Today's announcement of a deal between Exxon-Mobil and Rosneft valued at $3.2 billion is another example of the expanding economic relationship and the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration between Russian and American businesses," the official said.
In explaining the deal's significance, Myers Jaffe pointed to previous failed efforts in the past decade to foster joint energy interests. "There was a lot of disappointment on both sides," she said. "The U.S. industry just gave up on Russia."
Rosneft said the Kara Sea blocks contain an estimated 36 billion barrels of recoverable oil resources. Total resources are estimated at 110 billion barrels of oil equivalent -- more than four times Exxon's proven worldwide reserves.
The Black Sea block is estimated to hold 9 billion barrels of oil reserves. First drilling is planned to start in 2015, with Exxon shouldering most of the costs.
"The Russians very quickly had a Plan B, and Plan B was Exxon," said Fadel Gheit, energy analyst at Oppenheimer & Co, referring to the quick switch to Exxon from BP.
The deal marks a turnaround in Russia for Exxon, which was widely thought to be on the verge of taking over Yukos, then Russia's largest oil company, before Yukos's boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in 2003.
Khodorkovsky was subsequently jailed for fraud and tax evasion and Yukos's prime assets were bought at bankruptcy auctions by Rosneft, now Russia's industry leader and with enough reserves to cover 27 years of production.
Uncertainty persists over whether Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev will seek the presidency next March. Putin can now show off the deal as a success if he decides to run.
The transaction also marks a comeback for Sechin, who was ousted as Rosneft chairman earlier this year in a purge of state company boards ordered by Medvedev. Sechin estimated total investment in the project at $200 billion-$300 billion.
In anticipation of all the money flowing there, oilfield services companies including Schlumberger Ltd, Baker Hughes Inc and Weatherford International Ltd WFT.N> have been picking up assets in Russia.
Environmental concerns are unlikely to create barriers to oil extraction in Russia's remote Arctic regions, if moves this year by the country's Natural Resources Ministry to shift nature reserve boundaries are any guide.More...

Libya's rebels learn to patrol loyalist territory

The rebels roared along the bleak and empty desert highway, leaving the last checkpoint far behind as they probed the no-man's-land that separates them from the final stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi's crumbling regime.
Stopping in Heisha, some 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, the patrol found a dusty collection of single-story, concrete buildings that stretched from the highway to the desert.
They also found the green flags of Gadhafi flying everywhere and at least one poster of the long-serving leader — a sign that the town still supported the old regime, or at least that its forces had recently been there.
"There used to be people here supporting the regime, but they have left," Ali Mabrouk stammered on Tuesday, after the rebels stopped outside his house to ask how things were going.
"Life is hard here, there are shortages of milk, electricity and food," the old man continued, as his family spilled out of the house behind him to eye the rebel trucks bristling with weapons. "We're just trying to live."
As rebels forces have inched closer to Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown and the seat of his tribe, they have been sending patrols into the villages ahead of their front lines to probe the loyalists' strength and establish a presence along the coastal highway.
While the rebels have captured broad swaths of Libya, the loyalists who still control Sirte have rebuffed all negotiations. For most of the six-month conflict, the rebels have been greeted with open arms by Libyans exhausted with 42 years of Gadhafi's erratic rule. But that changes in places like this, edging closer to towns where Gadhafi had genuine support.
"We patrol here to see if there are any Gadhafi supporters or remnants of his soldiers, which we would then fight," Mohammed Sherif said as he drove a spray-painted rebel pickup truck with a huge machine-gun bolted on the back. "Of course we would leave the civilians alone."
But that isn't a guarantee with all the rebels.
Sitting inside the pickup truck, Mohammed al-Awayib had little sympathy for the people of Heisha, now caught between two ragged armies. He muttered the word "dogs!" each time they passed someone on the street, and made spitting noises.
"They are not even human," he snarled. At one point, moving to fire his Kalashnikov assault rifle out the window, Sherif sharply told him to stop.
When al-Awayib stepped out of the car, Sherif apologized for him, saying his friend had lost a relative in Gadhafi's infamous Abu Salim prison.
But how such resentments play out remains a major factor in the Libyan fighting.
For most of the civil war, the loosely organized and poorly trained rebels have normally steered clear of looting — except in places closely associated with Gadhafi's regime, such as in Tripoli's Abu Salim neighborhood.
Fear of ill-treatment by the rebels may well be why Sirte has shown little interest in surrendering.
Once a sleepy agricultural and trading town, Sirte was transformed under Gadhafi's rule as the regime handed out government jobs to his tribesman. But it really only came alive when Gadhafi hosted summit meetings in its luxurious convention center, with limousines and police cars racing down the road from the airport with sirens wailing.
Gadhafi's tribesmen have a vested interest in the regime's survival. The Gadhadhfa are heavily armed and use Sirte's air base as the headquarters of a militia drawn from their ranks.
If word was to spread of ill-treatment in towns like Heisha, rebel officials know it could further harden the people of Sirte against surrendering.More...

Security on rise nationwide for 9/11 anniversary

The federal government is escalating security around the country in preparation for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and conducting confidential briefings with state and local law enforcement organizations. But officials say there is no specific indication that a terror plot against the U.S. is under way.
Americans can expect more security at airports, mass transit stations, U.S. borders, government buildings and major athletic events over the next month, said an intelligence official who spoke anonymously to discuss sensitive security matters.
The FBI and Homeland Security Department have been briefing state and local law enforcement agencies on potential terror threats to the U.S. and ways to increase security in their communities. The briefings are routine, and security has been enhanced for other major events in the past decade. But the significance of the 10-year anniversary of the worst terror attacks on U.S. soil is not lost on security officials, who fear that someone with terrorist sympathies might see 9/11 as an opportunity to make a statement.
"It's been a long buildup as we approach the anniversary of 9/11," said Sean Duggan, assistant chief at the Scottsdale, Ariz., Police Department. Duggan said his department gets daily updates from the FBI and Homeland Security Department. But over the past two months, the focus has been on the 10th anniversary of the terror hijackings.
"We know this is a significant date," Duggan said. "Other than taking physical precautions, we have not been briefed on any specific threat other than the obvious — knowing what this date means in our history."
Events are planned around the country to commemorate the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks.
"While there is currently no specific or credible threat, appropriate and prudent security measures are ready to detect and prevent plots against the United States should they emerge," Homeland Security Department spokesman Matt Chandler said.
President Barack Obama said earlier this month that the threat of a plot by a lone terrorist is particularly troublesome.
"The risk that we're especially concerned over right now is the lone-wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently," Obama said.
In July, 69 people at a youth camp in Norway were shot to death. Authorities said a white supremacist carried out the attack with the purpose of saving Norway and the rest of Europe from Muslims and multiculturalism.
"You know, when you've got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it's a lot harder to trace those lone-wolf operators," Obama said.
Some of the first information gleaned from Osama bin Laden's compound after he was killed in May indicated that, as recently as February 2010, al-Qaida considered plans to attack the U.S. on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. But counterterrorism officials said they believe the planning never got beyond the initial phase and had no recent intelligence pointing to an active plot.More...

Panel: Widespread waste and fraud in war spending

As much as $60 billion in U.S. tax dollars has been lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade due to lax oversight of contractors, poor planning and corruption, according to an independent panel.
In its final report to Congress, to be publicly released Wednesday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said the waste could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving Iraq and Afghanistan to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American money.
Government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones so they don't repeat the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan, the commission said. Among the report's 15 recommendations are the creation of an inspector general to monitor contracting and the appointment of a senior government official to improve planning and coordination.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the commission's 240-page report in advance of its public release. The commission was established by Congress in 2008 and ceases operating at the end of September.
Overall, the commission said spending on contracts and grants to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is expected to exceed $206 billion by the end of the 2011 budget year. Based on its investigation, the commission said contracting waste in Afghanistan ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent of the $206 billion total. Fraud during the same period ran between 5 percent and 9 percent of the total, the report said.
Styled after the Truman Committee, which examined World War II spending six decades ago, the commission was vested with broad authority to examine military support contracts, reconstruction projects and private security companies. But the law creating the commission also dictated that it would cease operating at the end of September 2011, even as the U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be heavily supported by contractors.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who co-sponsored legislation to establish the commission, said in a statement emailed Tuesday that "it is disgusting to think that nearly a third of the billions and billions we spent on contracting was wasted or used for fraud."
The commission cited numerous examples of waste, including a $360 million U.S.-financed agricultural development program in Afghanistan. The effort began as a $60 million project in 2009 to distribute vouchers for wheat seed and fertilizer in drought-stricken areas of northern Afghanistan. The program expanded into the south and east. Soon the U.S. was spending a $1 million a day on the program, creating an environment ripe for waste and abuse, the commission said.
"Paying villagers for what they used to do voluntarily destroyed local initiatives and diverted project goods into Pakistan for resale," the commission said.More...

Petraeus leaving Army after 37 years to head CIA

Gen. David Petraeus is bidding farewell to the Army that has been his life and the troops that have been his family for 37 years.
America's best-known general is taking off his uniform before starting a new chapter as the 20th director of the CIA next week, where he will keep waging war on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups, but in a far different manner.
The soldier-scholar-statesman is to be sworn in as the nation's spy chief on Sept. 6, less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
It's a sharp and unexpected career turn for the man many thought would ultimately become the top officer in the land — chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — after six command assignments, including four in war zones. He is credited with turning around the Iraq war and helping pivot the still uncertain campaign in Afghanistan.
Instead, President Barack Obama asked him to take over at CIA as part of a major shuffle of top national security officials that included Leon Panetta moving from CIA director to succeed the retiring Robert Gates as defense secretary.
Close friends and colleagues of Petraeus say that when he realized the White House would not make him chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he saw the CIA as the best alternative.
"I wanted this job," he told senators at his confirmation hearing, saying he had discussed the CIA post with the Obama administration for months.
Although he could have stayed in uniform at the CIA, Petraeus, 58, chose to shed it to avoid what some might see as the militarization of intelligence.
"I have a certain profile in various parts of the world," he told the Pentagon Channel in an interview Aug. 18. "And were I to travel there in uniform, it might create some confusion, frankly, as, you know: 'Who is this guy? He's still in uniform. Is he the director of the CIA or is he actually something else?'"
Petraeus soared to public acclaim in 2007-08 with his surprising success in reversing an escalation of insurgent violence in Iraq.
At a September 2008 ceremony in Baghdad marking the end of Petraeus' 19 months in command, Gates credited him with dealing a "tremendous, if not mortal, blow" to an insurgency that two years earlier seemed beyond U.S. or Iraqi government control.
"I believe history will regard you as one of our nation's great battle captains," Gates told Petraeus.
Petraeus is credited with similarly solidifying gains against the Taliban in Afghanistan, though he himself says progress is "fragile and reversible."
Some critics of his push to add troops into the conflict there say Obama's decision to draw down those troops over the coming year shows the administration is abandoning Petraeus' counterinsurgency campaign.
Petraeus' aides disagree.
"That was the whole strategy from the beginning," to withdraw U.S. troops and replace them with Afghans, said Mark Jacobson, who just left the post as deputy NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.
Petraeus also is seen as one of the Army's most accomplished accumulators of personal publicity. The Iraq war made him a household name. A July 2004 Newsweek magazine cover featuring Petraeus posing in front of a Black Hawk helicopter asked, "Can this man save Iraq?"
Petraeus is sometimes mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate, although he has said repeatedly he has no interest in politics.
His high public profile, following what most regarded as a successful first tour in Iraq in 2003, triggered some resentment in the Pentagon during Donald H. Rumsfeld's tenure as defense secretary. For that reason some saw his next assignment, to the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as a put-down.
"Various folks had said I've been sent to exile at Leavenworth," a bemused Petraeus told the Pentagon Channel.
But it was during that assignment in 2005-06 that Petraeus co-authored with Marine Gen. James Mattis an updated manual on how to fight a counterinsurgency campaign. It was a major success, and not just inside the military. Within a week of publication, the manual was downloaded 1.5 million times.
Petraeus put those ideas into practice when he was sent back to Baghdad as the top U.S. commander, arriving in February 2007 at a peak of sectarian violence and a low point of U.S. public confidence in the war.
He's fond of saying that the turnaround he and his troops achieved over the next year and a half was as much about a "surge of ideas" as the surge of extra troops that President George W. Bush ordered to Iraq in January 2007.
One of those ideas was to get American troops off their big, fortified bases and into small outposts throughout Baghdad, where they worked night and day with Iraqi forces to demonstrate U.S. resolve, build hope and confidence among ordinary Iraqis and gradually reverse the tide of violence. By most accounts, it worked, and Iraq grew stable enough for the Bush administration to negotiate in late 2008 an agreement to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
On the heels of that success, Bush made Petraeus commander of U.S. Central Command, overseeing all U.S. military operations in the greater Middle East, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. And when the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, was abruptly relieved of duty in June 2010 for comments in a magazine story, Obama asked Petraeus to take over in Kabul and the general quickly agreed.More...

BofA looks to exit correspondent mortgage business: report

Bank of America Corp is looking to sell its correspondent mortgage business and the unit's employees could be notified as soon as Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.
The bank had decided to exit the correspondent channel, which employs more than 1,000 people, because it no longer fits with the long-term strategy for its mortgage unit, the Journal said.
Correspondents fund loans and sell them to larger lenders.
The bank has used the correspondent channel to build origination volume and make money by re-selling the loans to other parties and then servicing them, the newspaper said.
Loans purchased from correspondents accounted for 47 percent of Bank of America's mortgage originations, or $27.4 billion, in the first quarter of 2011, the Journal said citing Inside Mortgage Finance.
Bank of America could not immediately be reached by Reuters for comment outside regular U.S. business hours.
The biggest U.S. bank plans to cut 3,500 jobs in the next few weeks, its Chief Executive Brian Moynihan had said in a memo to staff on August 18, as it tries to come to grips with $1 trillion of problem home mortgages.

Dad: It was 'horse play' before boy went overboard

A man accused of throwing his 7-year-old son overboard during a sightseeing cruise around Newport Harbor said Tuesday they were just "horse playing" and talked about jumping in the water together.
"I was not trying to kill my son. We were playing in the shallows," Sloane Briles told KTLA-TV. "I discussed it with him. We'd jump in together and just thought it would be funny, ha ha."
Two of 85 people who were on the Sunday afternoon tour saw things differently. In 911 tapes released Tuesday, the passengers expressed shock and disgust after seeing Briles toss the boy into the water.
"I'm on a boat tour called the Queen and there's a man who just threw his son overboard," a woman told an Orange County sheriff's dispatcher.
"This man has been bad on our whole trip and he's swimming back to our boat now," she said.
Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino said Briles, 35, was on the tour with his girlfriend and two sons from a previous marriage. Amormino said they got into an argument and Briles threatened to toss the boy into the water if he didn't stop crying.
Staff members on the 42-foot boat said Briles told the boy he needed to toughen up then threw him into the water five feet below, said Charlie Maas, who oversees the tour company.
Someone on the boat threw the boy a life ring, and he was safely rescued, uninjured, by another boater. The father also jumped in to save him before swimming back to the tour boat.
Another 911 caller said she thought Briles was "drunk and violent."
Briles was taken into custody for child endangerment and resisting arrest. He denied witnesses' accounts that the boy was crying and said he had never hit his son.
His girlfriend told the New York Daily News that he was only "roughhousing" with his son as he often does and regretted his "stupid" judgment.
"His sons are his whole life," Jennifer Burrelli told the newspaper. "He would never ever do anything to hurt them on purpose. He knows now it could have gone badly. He doesn't even care about the arrest or his own name. He knows it was stupid."
She also said she and Briles were not arguing before the incident.
Both the boy and his brother were returned to the care of their mother. The couple was married in 2002 and separated in 2006 after having two children. They divorced in 2007.More...

Jen Aniston: Why I've Worn the Same Bikini for Years

Jennifer Aniston is a repeat offender and proud of it!
In a new interview with Glamour mag, the actress, 42, defends her tendency to wear the same articles of clothing over and over again -- like the bikini she's been photographed in for two years straight.
"I'll wear it for as many years as the strings still tie!" Aniston tells Glamour, adding that she's not a fan of elaborate two-pieces worn by some stars.
"Bathing suits now have so much hardware on them that they singe your skin. When you take your bikini off, it looks like you've been branded with crop circles and lightning bolts and words like Gucci!"

Monday, August 29, 2011

London rocks to carnival beat despite riot fears

London's colourful Notting Hill Carnival got off to a peaceful start on Sunday, defying fears that Europe's biggest street festival could be marred by a repeat of this month's devastating riots.
The two-day, Caribbean-flavoured extravaganza draws up to a million revellers out onto the west London streets to watch troupes of dancers in exotic costumes perform on floats as powerful sound systems pump out music.
But there were few early arrests amid a beefed-up police presence Sunday as revellers vowed to put the riots behind them and show off a better side of London life.
"It's healing for the riots," care worker Graham Randall told AFP.
"It shows everybody who comes here that we can have a good time in the streets, without rioting!"
In the weak sunshine, dozens of floats and shimmering dancers in feathers paraded through the Notting Hill neighbourhood on what is traditionally "children's day" at the carnival.
"Most of the people rioting were young people, and young people do love events like this. So no, I don't think it (the riots) is going to ruin it," said carnival-goer Shenika Roban.
"If anything, it'll make it big. I think a lot of people will come here. I don't think anyone will be deterred."
Revellers milled between the stalls and thumping sound systems, drinking, dancing, and tasting jerk chicken as the smells of open-cooked Caribbean food wafted through the air.
The carnival's history is steeped in a positive response to rioting.
It was founded in 1964 following the disturbances in Notting Hill six years earlier that saw clashes between whites and newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies.
But the festivities could have been scrapped following England's worst riots since the 1980s.
The urban unrest, arson and looting, which started in north London on August 6 before spreading across the capital and to other cities, caused enormous damage and left five people dead.
Add to this the Notting Hill Carnival's reputation as a magnet for troublemakers, and many questioned whether the event should go ahead.
However, police chiefs and the organisers came to an agreement to keep it on -- including closing early at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) to allow revellers to disperse before darkness falls.
Scotland Yard deployed 5,500 officers on Sunday and 6,500 on Monday, about a thousand more than last year. Around 4,000 extra officers are also on duty around the capital.
"This event takes place in the shadow of the disorder we saw across London, so we have reviewed our plans," said Metropolitan Police spokesperson Commander Steve Rodhouse.
"It's a very calm day, we've had great fun so far, the sun's shining, people are enjoying themselves, we've made a very small number of arrests, and we're confident in our planning," he added.
Police said they had made 33 arrests as night fell Sunday, including for drugs-related offences, thefts, public order offences and assaults.More...

U.N. agency warns of possible bird flu resurgence

The United Nations warned of a possible major resurgence of bird flu and said a mutant strain of the H5N1 virus was spreading in Asia and elsewhere.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Monday urged increased surveillance and preparation for a potential outbreak of the virus, which it says has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them.
The virus was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006 after mass poultry culling, but since 2008 it has been expanding geographically in both poultry and wild birds, partly due to migration patterns, the FAO said.
"The general departure from the progressive decline observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flare-up of H5N1 this fall and winter," the FAO's chief veterinary officer, Juan Lubroth, said in a statement.
He said the appearance of a variant strain of the virus in China and Vietnam was a concern, because it appeared to be able to sidestep the defenses of existing vaccines.
The circulation of the virus in Vietnam also poses a direct threat to Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as endangering the Korean peninsula and Japan, FAO said.
The latest human death occurred earlier this month in Cambodia, which has registered eight cases of human infection this year, all of them fatal, the agency added.
Countries that could face the biggest problems are Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam, where the FAO said the virus is still firmly entrenched.More...

Bolt to run for redemption in 200, 4x100 relay

Usain Bolt will only need about 20 seconds to show the world he is lightning fast and not just a little jumpy.
The Jamaican sprinter said in a statement Monday that he was disappointed with his false start in the 100 meters, which disqualified him from the world championship final.
"I was feeling great through the rounds and was ready to run fast in the final," said Bolt, who has become the face of track and field since setting world records in both the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "I worked very hard to get ready for this championships and things were looking good."
Bolt was looking to defend his world titles in both the 100 and 200 in Daegu. Two years ago in Berlin, he broke both his world records, running 9.58 in the 100 and 19.19 in the 200.
Setting another record in the 200 is still possible for the tall Jamaican, who has shown more of his showboating personality on the track in South Korea. The heats are on Friday ahead of Saturday's final.
"I have to move on now as there is no point to dwell on the past," said Bolt, who also congratulated Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake for winning the 100 world title in his absence. "I have a few days to refocus and get ready for the 200 meters on Friday. After this I have the 4x100-meter and a few other races before the end of the season.
"I know that I am now in good shape and will focus on running well in the 200 meters."
Bolt was disqualified for jumping the gun in Sunday's 100 final. In years past, being the first to false start would have only given him a warning, but the IAAF changed the rule in 2010 to eliminate any cautions.
The worlds in Daegu are the first major championships to enforce the rule, and they caught the sport's biggest star in the event's marquee race.
"The rules are there. They're the same for everyone," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "Usain Bolt of course is a fabulous performer. He's a star athlete. But we have to be very careful not to stray into the world of show business where we say, 'We have a star. The star must be there. The star must perform.'"
Although the world was forced to watch the 100-meter final without the biggest name, former Olympic champion hurdler Allen Johnson said only Bolt was to blame.
"I hate to sound a little harsh, but it's his fault," Johnson said. "I tend to think, and I've always thought, even when I was competing, the people who false started showed me that they were the ones who weren't ready.More...

Typhoon floods homes in Taiwan, heads for China

A typhoon that flooded homes, roads and farmland in Taiwan with more than 20 inches (half a meter) of rain left the island Monday and headed to southeastern China.
Typhoon Nanmadol stayed over Taiwan for only a few hours and was weaker than when it pummeled the Philippines, where at least 16 people died and another eight were missing.
One death in Taiwan was attributed to the storm — a motorcyclist hit by debris — and disruption to everyday life was extensive.
Some 30,000 households in southern and eastern Taiwan lost power, 8,000 people were evacuated and scores of roads and bridges were closed due to the heavy rain. Offices and schools were closed in the southeast as well as in the capital, Taipei, which escaped the brunt of the storm.
In a southwestern county, civil defense crews used small boats to rescue people from communities inundated by flash flooding. Dozens of homes were flooded. CTI cable news station footage showed the aftermath of landslides in Pingtung township and several homes partially submerged by water.
Pingtung is just to the south of the mountainous regions where more than 500 people died two years ago in mudslides spawned by torrential rains associated with Typhoon Morakot, the most devastating storm to hit the island in half a century.
A slow government response to that catastrophe prompted a fusillade of criticism aimed at President Ma Ying-jeou, who is up for re-election this January.More...

Pope names Baltimore archbishop to new post

The pope has tapped Baltimore's archbishop to take over leadership of the ancient Catholic order that works to protect the rights of Christians in the Holy Land.
The Vatican said Monday that Monsignor Edwin O'Brien will replace retiring U.S. Cardinal John Foley as grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
The job has previously carried with it the rank of cardinal, meaning 72-year-old O'Brien might get a red hat when the pope next appoints cardinals. A replacement for O'Brien in Baltimore wasn't announced.

Japan No.2 opposition: grand coalition hard

A grand coalition between the ruling Democratic Party, which on Monday chose Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as Japan's new premier, and main opposition parties would be difficult to form now, the head of the second-biggest opposition party said.
The strained relationship between the Democrats, led by outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and feisty opposition parties has complicated policymaking as Japan deals with a resurgent yen, rebuilding from the huge tsunami, and a murky energy outlook in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Noda, picked to become Japan's sixth premier in five years, faces a divided parliament in which the opposition controls the upper chamber and can block bills. Votes from the ruling bloc and the second-biggest opposition party, the New Komeito, would be enough to clear bills in the upper house.
"We won't flat out oppose one (a grand coalition). But realistically thinking, the likelihood of it succeeding is small and there are more factors that are likely to make it fail," Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of the New Komeito, told Reuters in an interview.
He added that the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is calling for a snap election, would not be able to form a coalition with its rival the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).
The DPJ, in an agreement this month with the LDP and the New Komeito, said it will revise its key campaign pledges from when it swept to power in 2009, which the opposition called wasteful spending, and Yamaguchi called for the new prime minister to respect this.
Noda, who will be confirmed by parliament on Tuesday, said in a news conference his party must first build trust with the opposition before discussing the possibility of a coalition.
A major task Noda faces is to compile a third extra budget for the fiscal year to March to kick-start full-fledged reconstruction efforts in the areas struck by a magnitude 9 earthquake and a huge tsunami in March on the northeast coast.
Yamaguchi called for a speedy compilation of the extra budget and said his party will work to form an agreement with the Democrats on this.More...

Syrian forces storm northern village, kill 1

Syrian security forces pursuing anti-government protesters stormed a northern village Monday, killing at least one person and wounding many others during raids and house-to-house searches, activists said.
The operations in Sarameen in the northern Idlib province were accompanied by similar raids in the village of Heet near the border with Lebanon, along with a military buildup just outside the central town of Rastan, which has become a hotbed of dissent against President Bashar Assad's regime.
The prime minister of Turkey, a former close ally, warned Assad that his regime could face a demise like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya if the violent suppression of protests does not stop.
Syria has come under blistering international condemnation for its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests that began in March, and U.S. and European leaders have demanded Assad step down.
But the comments from Turkey were some of the bluntest warnings yet and were particularly biting because they came from a leader whose government had extensive diplomatic ties with Syria.
"The only way out is to immediately silence arms and to listen to the people's demands," said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, speaking in his monthly address aired on Turkish TV late Sunday. "We have been watching the fate of those who did not chose this path in the past few months in Tunisia, in Egypt — and now in Libya — as a warning and with sadness."
"Demands for democracy and freedom are the people's just demands. In today's world, there is no place for one-man rule, for autocratic regimes and closed communities," he said.
In Sarameen, at least one person was killed and more than 20 wounded during security raids, according to Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the Local Coordination Committes, an activist group.More...

Bomber of Baghdad mosque disguised self as beggar

The suicide bomber who killed 29 people at Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque disguised himself as an injured beggar and attended prayers there for nearly a week, a senior religious figure said Monday.
The attack hit Sunnis praying at a special service Sunday night during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and appeared calculated to try to re-ignite widespread violence in Iraq just months before U.S. troops are to complete their withdrawal.
The bomber, who pretended to be a beggar, had attended prayers for six straight days at the Um al-Qura mosque in western Baghdad, said Sheik Ahmed Abdul Gafur al-Samarraie, head of an endowment that oversees all Sunni religious sites nationwide.
He said the bomber had a bandaged hand and appeared to pose no threat.
"When his face became familiar to the guards they didn't search him last night," al-Samarraie told reporters at the mosque, where blood still stained the marble floors and stairs.
He said guards first became suspicious when they saw the man moving through the crowd trying to get close to al-Samarraie and took him outside. But the man returned through a back door and blew himself up when he was a few steps away from al-Samarraie.
Under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, Iraq's Shiite majority was persecuted and repressed. Shiites took power after his ouster, stoking Sunni resentment. A 2006 attack on a Shiite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra escalated widespread sectarian violence in Iraq and nearly ignited a nationwide civil war.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing, but suicide attacks generally are a hallmark of al-Qaida, which is dominated by Sunnis. Intelligence officials have speculated that al-Qaida will do almost anything to spark new sectarian violence, but the group recently had focused on attacking Iraqi security forces and the government to punish their alliance with Americans.
With attacks like the mosque bombing, they also aim to show how unstable Iraq remains as U.S. forces prepare to leave by Dec. 31. Iraqi political leaders are weighing whether to ask some U.S. troops to stay beyond the withdrawal deadline.
Al-Samarraie said he was confident the attack would not rupture the already uneasy peace across Iraq or stoke further violence in the way the 2006 Samarra bombing did.
"We will not turn back or retreat," he said, adding the best retaliation was "solidarity and unity."More...

Lockerbie bomber in coma, near death, brother says

The brother of the Libyan man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing says he is in a coma and can no longer communicate with his family.
The Scottish government released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in 2009, believing he would soon die of cancer. He was greeted as a hero in Libya and met with Moammar Gadhafi.
Speaking outside the family home in Tripoli, his brother Abdel-Nasser said Monday that al-Megrahi will not return to prison in the West, as some have requested because he is "between life and death."
New York senators on Aug. 22 asked the Libyan rebels' transitional government to hold al-Megrahi fully accountable for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people.

Foes of Libya's Gaddafi advance on his hometown

Libyan forces converged on Muammar Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte on Monday, hoping to seal their revolution by capturing the last bastions of a fallen but perhaps still dangerous strongman.
Gaddafi's whereabouts have been unknown since Tripoli fell to his foes and his 42-year-old rule collapsed a week ago.
The leader of Libya's ruling council asked NATO to pursue its five-month-old air campaign, which has given essential firepower to ragtag rebels who rose against Gaddafi in February.
"I call for continued protection from NATO and its allies from this tyrant," Mustafa Abdel Jalil said in Qatar, a tiny but wealthy Gulf Arab country that has backed the revolt. "He is still a threat, not just for Libyans but for the entire world."
Abdel Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), was speaking at a meeting of defense ministers from countries that have supported the anti-Gaddafi movement.
A NATO commander pledged to pursue the alliance's mission, at least until its internal mandate expires on September 27.
"We believe the Gaddafi regime is near collapse, and we're committed to seeing the operation through to its conclusion," U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads NATO's Joint Operations Command, told a news conference in the Qatari capital, Doha.
"Pockets of pro-Gaddafi forces are being reduced day by day. The regime no longer has the capacity to mount a decisive operation," he said, adding that NATO air raids had destroyed 5,000 military targets in Libya.
NATO warplanes struck at Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast, for a third day on Sunday, a NATO spokesman said in Brussels.
Gaddafi was born near Sirte, 450 km (280 miles) east of Tripoli, in 1942. After seizing power in 1969 he built it up from a sleepy fishing village into a city of 100,000 people which he often used for state occasions.
He still retains tribal support in Sirte. Whether or not he plans to make a last stand there, the city's capture would be a strategic and symbolic prize for Libya's new rulers as they strengthen their grip on the vast North African country.
The new leadership says there are also areas in the southern desert which its forces are still trying to bring under control.
The NTC has offered a $1.3 million reward and amnesty from prosecution for anyone who kills or captures Gaddafi.
Its forces have advanced toward Sirte from east and west, even as negotiations continue for its surrender.
Jamal Tunally, a commander in Misrata, to the west, told Reuters: "The front line is 30 km from Sirte. We think the Sirte situation will be resolved peacefully, God willing."
"Now we just need to find Gaddafi. I think he is still hiding beneath Bab al-Aziziya like a rat," he said, referring to Gaddafi's Tripoli compound, which was overrun last Tuesday.
On the coastal highway east of Tripoli, transporters carried Soviet-designed T-55 tanks toward Sirte. Fighters said they had seized the tanks from an abandoned base in Zlitan.
Libyan forces advancing from the east pushed 7 km past the village of Bin Jawad and secured the Nawfaliya junction, a spokesman said. "We're going slowly," Mohammad Zawawi added.
"We want to give more time for negotiations, to give a chance for those people trying to persuade the people inside Sirte to surrender and open their city."
Mindful of preserving their image to the world and stung by accounts that captured Gaddafi loyalists have been found dead with their hands tied behind their backs, NTC leaders sent a text message urging followers not to abuse prisoners.
"Remember when you arrest any follower of Gaddafi that he is like you, that he has dignity like you, that his dignity is your own dignity, and that it is enough humiliation for him that he is already a prisoner," it said.
NTC military spokesman Colonel Ahmed Bani said the fate of 40,000 people who had been detained by Gaddafi forces was unknown, suggesting that some might still be in underground bunkers in Tripoli that had yet to be found.
The Khamis Brigade, a military unit commanded by and named after one of Gaddafi's sons, appears to have killed dozens of detainees in a warehouse in a neighborhood adjoining the Yarmouk military base south of Tripoli last week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
Three days later the warehouse, used as a makeshift prison, was set on fire but the cause was unknown. HRW said it had seen the charred skeletal remains of about 45 smoldering bodies on Saturday. At least two more corpses lay outside unburned.
"Sadly this is not the first gruesome report of what appears to be the summary execution of detainees in the final days of the Gaddafi government's control of Tripoli," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East and North Africa director.
HRW quoted a survivor as saying that guards at the warehouse read out 153 names of detainees in the roll call on the day of the killings. He estimated that 20 escaped from the attack and around 125 of the 153 detainees were civilians.More...

Beyoncé flaunts baby bump on stage

Beyoncé Knowles has made an amazing announcement last night at the MTV Video Music Awards while on the red carpet glowing in her orange flowing Lanvin gown, and again at the very tail end of her performance.
While on the red carpet posing for photos, there were no words spoken, just a moment and a position shift that left the crowd of paparazzi and photogs whistling and congratulating the new mother to be. MTV tweeted about the news right after, sharing a photo of the gushing mom.
Later on in the evening, Bey took the stage in a fuchsia sequined jacket and dress pants to perform her 4 album song, “Love On Top.” Covered up and classy with her entourage of back up dancers galore, Beyoncé sang her heart out in a fabulously vocal performance. While she didn’t do too much choreographed hardcore dancing moves– what else could have been expected?
At the very end of her performance, King B bought a few last moments on stage to untie her jacket and fling it open only to rub her baby bump for America to see. Immediately following, cameras panned to Jay-Z and Kanye West who were jumping around in the front row rejoicing of the new little baby Carter to be born in the coming months. Jigga looked like a proud father only to salute the cameras and Beyoncé had an unmistakable glow about her.
In case you missed the unforgettable VMA moment, check out Beyoncé’s 2011 Video Music Awards performance below. And if you didn’t catch it the first time, take note to her intro where she shares, “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me.”

Lady Gaga and Britney Spears () Gaga's awkward moment with Britney

The MTV Video Music Awards is one of the few award shows where wacky antics are expected and encouraged. This year was no exception. Among the standout moments: Beyonce's baby bump rub, Justin Bieber's appearance with his pet snake and a Lady Gaga-Britney Spears kiss, with Gaga dressed as a man.
To present Spears with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, Lady Gaga dressed as her drag king alter-ego Jo Calderone. When Spears walked on stage, the two shared a polite smooch. A few minutes later, Gaga tried to recreate Spears' infamous 2003 Madonna liplock, but Spears pulled away saying she had already done that. Gaga looked disappointed.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Officials: 29 dead in suicide bomb in Iraq mosque

A suicide bomber blew himself up inside Baghdad's largest Sunni mosque Sunday night, killing 29 people during prayers, a shocking strike on a place of worship similar to the one that brought Iraq to the brink of civil war five years ago.
Iraqi security officials said parliament lawmaker Khalid al-Fahdawi, a Sunni, was among the dead in the 9:40 p.m attack.
Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad's military operations command, confirmed the bombing happened inside the Um al-Qura mosque during prayers in the western Baghdad neighborhood of al-Jamiaah. The blue-domed building is the largest Sunni mosque in Baghdad.
"I heard something like a very severe wind storm, with smoke and darkness, and shots by the guards," said eyewitness Mohammad Mustafa, who hit in the hand by shrapnel. "Is al-Qaida able to carry out their acts against worshippers? How did this breach happen?"
That the bomber detonated his explosives vest inside the mosque is particularly alarming, as it is reminiscent of a 2006 attack on a Shiite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra that fueled widespread sectarian violence and nearly ignited a nationwide civil war. In that strike, Sunni militants planted bombs around the Samarra shrine, destroying its signature gold dome and badly damaging the rest of the structure.
Under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, Iraq's Shiite majority was persecuted and repressed. Shiites took power after his ouster, stoking Sunni resentment that bore the insurgency.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing, but suicide attacks generally are a hallmark of al-Qaida, which is dominated by Sunnis. Intelligence officials have speculated that al-Qaida will do almost anything to re-ignite sectarian violence, but the group recently had focused on attacking Iraqi security forces and the government to prove how unstable Iraq remains.
Two security officials and medics at two Baghdad hospitals put the casualty toll at 29 dead and 38 wounded. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Al-Moussawi put the death toll at only six and said there was no significant damage to the mosque. Conflicting death tolls are common immediately after attacks in Iraq.
In a statement early Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on Iraqis to stand strong against terrorists and "pursue them wherever they are."
"Solidarity and unity, and standing as one line behind the army and the police, are the only way to eliminate this danger, which does not differentiate between the Iraqis and targets all of us," al-Maliki said.
The attack hit Sunnis who were praying in a special service during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which ends Tuesday. It demonstrates anew that security measures to protect Iraqis as U.S. forces prepare to leave remain riddled with gaps, and shows the extent to which militants want to extend violence even as the eight-year- U.S. presence winds down.
The mosque's security is provided by the government-supported Sunni Endowment, and al-Moussawi raised the possibility that the bomber had inside help.
"For sure there must have been someone inside the mosque who helped the bomber," al-Moussawi said. "It must have been someone who is protecting the mosque."
Sheik Ahmed Abdul Gafur al-Samarraie, the head of Sunni Endowment, agreed that was a possibility and said the group would investigate how the bomber got inside the mosque, where an estimated 200 people were praying. He said this is the first time such a security breach had occurred, and said guards did not suspect the bomber because he had a broken hand that was bandaged.
Al-Samarraie said the bomber exploded just a few feet (meters) from him, and called himself the likely target. He blamed al-Qaida.
"Those people are infidels and unbelievers, and their criminal acts will never deflect us from our unity," al-Samarraie told Iraqi state TV. "We will remain as unified Iraqis."
He described "a deep sorrow for the murder of a child who was praying today. The blast tore his body to pieces: his legs in one place and a hand in another."
Al-Fahdawi, the Sunni lawmaker, was targeted twice by al-Qaida, in 2004 and 2005, when he was the head of Sunni Endowment in Anbar province.More...

Gadhafi forces killed detainees, survivors say

Retreating loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi killed scores of detainees and arbitrarily shot civilians over the past week, as rebel forces extended their control over the Libyan capital, survivors and a human rights group said Sunday.
In one case, Gadhafi fighters opened fire and hurled grenades at more than 120 civilians huddling in a hangar used as a makeshift lockup near a military base, said Mabrouk Abdullah, 45, who escaped with a bullet wound in his side. Some 50 charred corpses were still scattered across the hangar on Sunday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the evidence it has collected so far "strongly suggests that Gadhafi government forces went on a spate of arbitrary killing as Tripoli was falling." The justice minister in the rebels' interim government, Mohammed al-Alagi, said the allegations would be investigated and leaders of Gadhafi's military units put on trial.
So far, there have been no specific allegations of atrocities carried out by rebel fighters, though human rights groups are continuing to investigate some unsolved cases.
AP reporters have witnessed several episodes of rebels mistreating detainees or sub-Saharan Africans suspected of being hired Gadhafi guns. Earlier this week, rebels and their supporters did not help eight wounded men, presumably Gadhafi fighters, who were stranded in a bombed out fire station in Tripoli's Abu Salim neighborhood, some pleading for water.
Najib Barakat, the health minister in the rebels' interim government, said Sunday that he does not yet have a death toll for the weeklong battle for Tripoli. Hundreds have died and more bodies, some in advanced stages of decay, are still being retrieved from the streets.q
Barakat said efforts are being made to identify bodies. At the least, the corpses of suspected Gadhafi fighters, especially non-Libyans, are being photographed before burial, to allow for possible future identification by relatives.
In fighting late Sunday, pro-Gadhafi elements fired Grad rockets at rebel forces gathering in the town of Nawfaliyah, not far from Gadhafi's home town of Sirte, rebels said.
Rebels gave residents there 10 days to allow rebel forces in peacefully or face an assault. A rebel spokesman said many Gadhafi loyalists have fled to Sirte and are preparing for a fierce battle.
Rebels rode into Tripoli a week ago, then fought fierce battles with Gadhafi forces, especially at the former Libyan leader's Bab al-Aziziya compound and the Abu Salim neighborhood, a regime stronghold.
As the rebels consolidated their control and Gadhafi fighters fled, reports of atrocities began emerging over the weekend.
Human Rights Watch said it has evidence indicating regime troops killed at least 17 detainees in an improvised lockup, a building of Libya's internal security service, in the Gargur neighborhood of Tripoli. A doctor who examined the corpses said about half had been shot in the back of the head and that abrasions on ankles and wrists suggested they had been bound.
The group spoke to Osama Al-Swayi who had been detained there, along with 24 others.
On Aug. 21, detainees heard rebels advancing and shouting "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great" he told Human Rights Watch.
"We were so happy, and we knew we would be released soon," he said. "Snipers were upstairs; then they came downstairs and started shooting. An old man (and another person) were shot outside our door. (The rest of us) ran out because they opened the door and said, "Quickly, quickly, go out."
He said the soldiers told them to lie on the ground. He said he heard one soldier saying, "Just finish them off." Four soldiers fired at the detainees.
"I was near the corner and got hit in the right hand, the right foot and the right shoulder. In one instant, they finished off all the people with me. ... No one was breathing. Some of them had head wounds," he told the rights group.
Gadhafi forces set up another detention center in a hangar near their Yarmouk military base in southern Tripoli.
Abdullah, who was at the hangar Sunday, said he had survived a massacre there last week. He said he had been detained in the city of Zlitan to the east on Aug. 16 and was brought to the hangar with other civilian captives. All were beaten and tortured, he said.
"They didn't even ask us questions," he said, "They just beat us and called us rats."
On Tuesday, he said, more than 120 prisoners were in the hangar when a soldier told them they'd be released at dusk, Abdullah said. A short time later, guards hurled hand grenades inside, then opened fire. He was shot and wounded in his side, but fled the hanger. He hid outside when soldiers returned and fired on other survivors. When they left, he escaped.
Ahmed Mohammed, 25, also said he survived the massacre and told a similar story. Neither knew how many had been killed nor how and when the bodies had been burned.
Amnesty International spoke to another survivor, Hussein al-Lafi, who said three of his brothers were killed that day.
"They (the guards) immediately opened fire, and I saw one of them holding a hand grenade. Seconds later, I heard an explosion, followed by four more. I fell on the ground face down. Others fell on top of me and I could feel their warm blood ... People were screaming and there were many more rounds of fire."
On Wednesday, guards at a Gadhafi military base in the Tripoli suburb of Qasr Ben Ghashir shot dead five prisoners held in solitary confinement, Amnesty said, citing survivors. Other detainees panicked and broke out of their cells when they heard the shots, survivors said. By that time, the guards had fled, the report said.
In addition to the killings at detention centers, Human Rights Watch said it collected testimony about Gadhafi soldiers randomly shooting civilians. In one incident, on Wednesday, medical lab technician Salah Kikli said he saw Gadhafi fighters pull two unarmed men, including one in medical scrubs, from an ambulance and kill them.
Al-Alagi, the justice minister, said the reported atrocities did not come as a surprise because the regime acted in a brutal manner in the past. He said that the justice system would have to be "cleansed" before investigations can begin.
It remains unclear who is responsible for some of the other killings, including of dozens of dark-skinned men whose bodies were found in two areas of Tripoli.
Reporters saw bodies in advanced stages of decomposition at Abu Salim hospital, including in the parking lot, a ward and in the basement. Barakat, the health minister, said a total of 75 corpses were found at the hospital.More...

Damage from Irene appears to be less than feared

Tropical Storm Irene's trek up the East Coast caused less damage than many had feared, a bit of reassuring news for a fragile economy.
Insured damages from the storm will likely range between $2 billion and $3 billion, and total losses will likely be about $7 billion, according to preliminary estimates from Kinetic Analysis Corp., a consulting firm.
Both figures are lower than had been expected, suggesting that the storm poses little threat to the nation's $14 trillion economy. Some economists said that, as with past hurricanes and earthquakes, the recovery could end up boosting growth in the coming months. Demand for building repairs might help the depressed construction industry, for example.
"Irene left several places with black eyes, but it doesn't seem to have delivered an economic knockout," said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody's Analytics.
In the short run, the costs will grow as storm-ravaged areas deal with lost business, dislocated workers and transportation delays — damage that will take months to understand. And in some areas, the impact will be measured in lost tourist dollars, canceled flights and shuttered stores.
Irene slammed into a region that's vital to the economy's health. The mid-Atlantic and New England account for about 16 percent of the nation's economic output and about 14 percent of its workforce, Sweet said.
But Kinetic's estimates suggest that Irene will have caused far less insured damage than the $6 billion the insurance industry paid out after Hurricane Isabel struck the East Coast in 2003. Other analysts agreed broadly with Kinetic's early estimates, saying insured losses are unlikely to exceed $4 billion. Other consultants will release their own projections this week.
Sweet said small businesses on the North Carolina coast will likely lose two weekends of tourist activity, including the travel-heavy Labor Day weekend. Beach communities spanning the East Coast face the same threat.
For ordinary people in hard-hit areas, Irene's costs could run high. Victims of natural disasters often lack the insurance they need to recover their losses and return to work quickly, said Susan Voss, Iowa's top insurance regulator and president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. People who lose homes can end up in temporary housing far from their homes and workplaces.
Many don't realize that flood damage isn't covered by standard homeowner's insurance policies, Voss noted. A standard homeowner policy covers damage caused by wind or by rain through a damaged roof. A separate flood insurance policy would be needed to cover damage from rising water, such as from the storm surges unleashed by Irene.
Economists said that reconstruction from Irene could increase U.S. economic growth in the October-December quarter, though the benefits will be limited by the relatively slight damage the storm caused.
"This region is very highly insured, so a lot of money will start pouring in, and that should re-employ a lot of construction workers who are now out of work," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. Zandi said. He said the benefits from rebuilding might extend into next year's January-March quarter.
"That will put some people back to work, at least temporarily," said David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors.
For now, power outages and flooding will close some businesses, costing workers pay and likely increasing some temporary layoffs. Transportation and shipping may also be disrupted. The length of the outages and the extent of public transportation problems in cities like New York will help determine the costs, analysts said.
Such disruptions will emerge in economic data starting this coming week, when the government reports how many people applied for unemployment benefits as the storm bore down on the Southeast. Economists expect a post-storm rise in applications.
One concern is that weak economic data, even if blamed on a natural disaster, could weigh on consumer confidence and make businesses reluctant to spend.More...

Irene floods northeast, Manhattan spared the worst

Hurricane Irene swept through Manhattan on Sunday but reserved the worst of its fury for towns and suburbs up and down the northeast region where driving rain and flood tides inundated homes and cut power to millions.
On its march up the East Coast over the weekend, the storm left at least 15 dead, as many as 3.6 million customers without electricity, widespread flooding and thousands of downed trees. It forced the closure of New York's mass transit system, and the cancellation of thousands of flights.
President Barack Obama warned that the region's problems were far from over. "Many Americans are still at risk of power outages and flooding which could get worse in the coming days as rivers swell past their banks," Obama said, promising federal government help for recovery efforts.
By late Sunday afternoon, Irene was bringing tropical storm conditions to the six states of New England, still packing winds of 60 miles per hour.
It isn't immediately clear how much Irene will cost but in New Jersey alone, the damage is expected in "the billions of dollars," Governor Chris Christie told NBC's "Meet the Press."
With many thousands of homeowners in the region suffering flooding there will now be many questions over whether insurance policies offer cover and whether the federal government's flood program can handle the claims, especially at a time of austerity in Washington and in cash-strapped states.More...

Federal government to reimburse states for Irene damage

Hurricane Irene could cost U.S. state and local governments billions of dollars in damages, but funds from the federal government might ultimately cover much of this expense.
It is too early to estimate the cost of the storm, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said New Jersey alone may have suffered tens of billions of dollars in damage.
The timing is terrible for municipalities as they dig their way out of their bleakest economic period in decades after the financial crisis and recession sank budgets and forced widespread cuts in expense and increased taxes.
But Maryland said the federal government will reimburse the state for 75 percent of what it spends on emergency preparedness and the immediate response to the storm in a trend that may be replicated across the region.
Just how well the United States can handle the unexpected expense is a different question as it battles record budget deficits and growing fears of a double dip recession.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the cost to the state would be high, but mitigated by a federal disaster relief declaration.
Cuomo told ABC News said the bill would come to millions of dollars. "It's my guess costs will be in the tens of millions," he said.
He added that President Barack Obama's declaration of emergency for New York would allow the state to be reimbursed for many of the costs of the hurricane.
New York State adopted an on-time budget in April that cut millions of dollars from many high-priority areas, such as education.
"It's the last thing we needed now," Cuomo said. "We just came through a tough budget session and we didn't need any additional costs."
New York City did not suffer as much damage as had been feared, but still the city's costs will mount up.
Asked if the federal government would pick the overtime the city was spending to keep thousands of employees working in the aftermath of the storm, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday said, "My guess is probably not. Keep in mind, it's is substantial, but the city runs with overtime all the time."
In New Jersey, however, the governor said he expected the costs to be astronomically high.
"I've got to imagine that the damage estimates are going to be in the billions of dollars, if not in the tens of billions of dollars," Gov. Chris Christie said in an interview on Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
Obama has declared Virginia was in an emergency, but the state was not certain it had enough damage to meet criteria for a major disaster, which would send it extra federal funds.
"This storm wasn't a catastrophe. We can't get in a helicopter and fly by the president and say, 'Yeah this one's a go.' What we have to do is go through a damage assessment process," said the State Coordinator of Emergency Management Michael Cline.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Sunday that it has begun its damage review of states affected by the hurricane that left at least 11 people dead.
"We are starting assessments in North Carolina," FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said.
Many of the actions governors must take to mitigate the impact of the storm can be expensive, though he said an emergency declaration "helps offset the costs with 75 percent funding from the federal government."
He later told a briefing that there are "no dollar figures, not at this point" and that it would take the federal government several days to begin creating estimates.More...