Friday, January 27, 2012

Israel says Iran 'drifting' toward nuke goal line

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Friday the world must quickly stop Iran from reaching the point where even a "surgical" military strike could not block it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Amid fears that Israel is nearing a decision to attack Iran's nuclear program, Barak said tougher international sanctions are needed against Tehran's oil and banks so that "we all will know early enough whether the Iranians are ready to give up their nuclear weapons program."

Iran insists its atomic program is aimed only at producing energy and research, but it has refused to consider giving up its ability to enrich uranium.

The United Nations has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran, but veto-wielding Russia and China say they see no need for additional punitive measures. That has left the U.S. and the European Union to try to pressure other countries to follow their lead and impose even tougher sanctions.

"We are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear. And even the American president and opinion leaders have said that no option should be removed from the table and Iran should be blocked from turning nuclear," Barak told reporters during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"It seems to us to be urgent, because the Iranians are deliberately drifting into what we call an immunity zone where practically no surgical operation could block them," he said.

But while Barak called it "a challenge for the whole world" to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, he stopped short of confirming any action that could further stoke Washington's concern about a possible Israeli military strike.

Iran has accused Israel of masterminding the killing of Iranian scientists involved in the nuclear program, but Barak declined to comment on that.

Earlier, he told a panel discussion that "a stable world order" is incompatible with a nuclear-armed Iran because countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will all want the bomb.

"This will be the end of any nonproliferation regime," Barak said. "The major powers in the region will all feel compelled to turn nuclear."

Separately, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged a resumption of dialogue between Western powers and Iran on the nuclear issue.

He said Friday that Tehran must comply with Security Council resolutions and prove conclusively that its nuclear program is not directed at making arms.

"The onus is on Iran," Ban said at a press conference. "They have to prove themselves that their nuclear development program is genuinely for peaceful purposes, which they have not done yet."

Ban expressed concern about the most recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which strongly suggested Iran's nuclear program has a military purpose.

On Thursday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is ready to revive talks with the U.S. and other world powers but suggested that Tehran's foes will have to make compromises to prevent negotiations from again collapsing in stalemate.

Iran says it won't give up its right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, but it has offered to allow IAEA inspectors to visit its nuclear sites to ensure that the program won't be weaponized.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said at a Davos session that "we do not have that much confidence if Iran has declared everything" and its best information "indicates that Iran has engaged in activities relevant to nuclear explosive devices."

"For now they do not have the capacity to manufacture the fuel," he said. "But in the future, we don't know."

Amano added that an IAEA mission would be sent Saturday to address this issue.

"If the enrichment to higher levels is in a declared facility, we can find it very quickly," he said. "The problem is we do not know if these are all the declared facilities."

Richard Haass, a former top U.S. diplomat who heads the Council on Foreign Relations, said international law justifies a pre-emptive strike only to stave off an "imminent" attack.

"The real question is can Iran assure us what it is not doing?" he said.

Israeli defense officials said Friday that new European sanctions on Iran could constrain Israel. They said any Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities may lack international legitimacy while the world waits to see the effects of the new measures.

The officials spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss sensitive military matters.

Much of the West agrees with Israel that Iran, despite its denials, is developing nuclear weapons technology. But the United States clearly worries that a military attack could backfire, by dividing international opposition to Iran — and send oil prices skyrocketing.

Israel has attacked nuclear sites in foreign countries before. In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor. In 2007, Israeli aircraft destroyed a site in Syria that the U.N. nuclear watchdog deemed to be a secretly built nuclear reactor.

But Israel is unlikely to strike without coordinating with the Americans, who maintain forces on aircraft carriers and military bases in the Gulf.

In spite of his tough words to Iran, Ban said that dialogue among the "three-plus-three" — Germany,(...)More.

Suicide bomber kills 31 in Baghdad attack

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive-filled taxi near a Shi'ite funeral procession in Baghdad on Friday, killing 31 people and bringing the death toll from violence since an Iraqi political crisis erupted in December to more than 400.

The bomber exploded his vehicle near the group of mourners passing by a small market street in the mainly Shi'ite Zaafaraniya neighborhood in the south of the Iraqi capital, police officials and hospitals said.

The Shi'ite-led government often blames Sunni Islamist insurgents for attacks targeting Shi'ites, saying they are trying to stoke the kind of sectarian slaughter which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis at the peak of the war in 2006-2007.

"I was in the old Zaafaraniya market when a funeral came by and just as it passed, a car bomb exploded," said Ali Mohsen. "I helped evacuating the dead and injured people, their blood covered the ground."

The funeral was for a Shi'ite real estate agent who was killed by gunmen in Baghdad a day earlier, police said. The motive for his murder was not clear.

But the suicide car bomber appeared to target the funeral near Zaafaraniya police station, blowing himself up close to shops and the market, said an official at the office of Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi.

Sunni insurgents also often target local government offices and police stations and patrols as a way to show the authorities are unable to provide security.

At least 60 people were wounded in Friday's attack, officials said.

More than 320 people have been killed in attacks in Iraq since the start of the year alone and nearly 800 more wounded -- more than double last year's figure for violent deaths in January, according to government figures and a Reuters count.

Turmoil in Iraq has wider consequences in a region warily watching neighboring Syria's increasingly sectarian crisis, and where Sunni Gulf Arab nations and heavyweight Turkey are trying to counter the influence of Shi'ite Iran.

Violence has eased since the heights of sectarian strife unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein. But Iraqi forces are still battling Sunni insurgents tied to al Qaeda, and rival Shi'ite militias.

Iraq's current crisis was triggered when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government sought the arrest of a Sunni vice president and asked lawmakers to remove a Sunni deputy prime minister just after the last U.S. troops left Iraq on December 18.

Maliki, a Shi'ite, says his moves against Sunni leaders were legal decisions and not politically motivated. But many Sunnis, already feeling alienated, worry measures are part of a drive by Maliki to consolidate his power at their expense.

The crisis threatens to break apart a fragile power-sharing agreement that splits posts among Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs, but that has been hamstrung by political infighting since it was sealed a year ago.

Utah girl credited with outing school bombing plot

A 16-year-old Utah student who shared a suspicious text message with a school administrator foiled plans by two schoolmates who apparently were plotting to set off a bomb during a school assembly and run away in a stolen airplane, police said.

Roy High School sophomore Bailey Gerhardt told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/wNs3xE ) she received the text from a friend, one of the suspects, and told one of the administrators, which led to the arrest of the two teens. Roy is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Gerhardt said Thursday the text from the 16-year-old boy asked: "If I told you to stay home on a certain day, would you?"

That boy, whom The Associated Press isn't naming because he's a minor, and Dallin Morgan, 18, were pulled out of school Wednesday.

"It was the work of a very courageous student who came forward," Roy police spokeswoman Anna Bond said Thursday. "It could have been a disaster."

Gerhardt characterized the 16-year-old as an angry person recently dumped by his girlfriend. She said he had told her he had looked into the 1999 mass shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School.

The juvenile later told investigators he was so "fascinated" by that massacre that he visited the Littleton, Colo., school and interviewed the principal about the shootings that killed 13 people. Roy police said the principal, Frank DeAngelis, confirmed that the boy made his visit Dec. 12.

The Roy High School plot "was months in planning," said Roy Chief of Police Gregory Whinham, and included plans for a device designed to "cause as much harm as possible to students and faculty" at the school, which has about 1,500 students.

The FBI is examining the suspects' computers, police said. Local and federal agents searched the school, two vehicles belonging to the suspects and their homes but found no explosives.

Morgan told police the 16-year-old suspect had previously made a pipe bomb using gun powder and rocket fuel.

"Dallin told me that (the juvenile) bragged about using a bomb to blow up a mail box and having three handguns in his house," a police affidavit states. The 16-year-old boy "claimed that he did not have the guns but Dallin was the source of the guns because he is 18 and can purchase a gun."

The two students prepared by logging hundreds of hours on flight simulator software on their home computers, and they planned to take a plane at Ogden Hinckley Airport after the bombing, Bond said.

Besides hinting at the plan, the juvenile also texted to a friend that both suspects wanted "revenge on the world" and "we have a plan to get away with it too."

He hinted at the plan by writing "explosives, airport, airplane" and added, "We're just gonna kill and fly our way to a country that won't send us back to the US," according to a probable cause statement police filed to make the arrests late Wednesday.

Morgan was being held on $10,000 bail at Weber County jail on suspicion of conspiracy to commit mass destruction. The juvenile was in custody at Weber Valley Detention Center on the same charge. Prosecutors were weighing possible additional charges.

Both students had "absolute knowledge of the security systems and the layout of the school," Bond said. "They knew where the security cameras were. Their original plan was to set off explosives during an assembly. We don't know what date they were planning to do this, but they had been planning it for months."

School officials said there were no imminent plans to hold a school assembly.

The parents of both students "woke up in the middle of a nightmare," Bond said. "They've been very cooperative."

Auschwitz survivor dies in same town on anniversay

Kazimierz Smolen, a 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor who after World War II directed the memorial site, has died in the same town on the 67th anniversary of the camp's liberation.

A spokesman for Auschwitz, Pawel Sawicki, said Smolen died Friday in a hospital in Oswiecim, the southern Polish town where Nazi Germany operated Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Sawicki said that Smolen's death was announced to Holocaust survivors who were gathering at the site to mark the anniversary of the camp's liberation. They fell silent for a minute in his honor.

Smolen was imprisoned in Auschwitz in April 1941. He attributed his survival to good health and extreme luck.

From 1955-1990 he was the director of the memorial museum, and continued to live in the town in recent years.

Obama to target rising college tuition costs

President Barack Obama will announce a plan to shift some federal dollars away from colleges and universities that don't control tuition costs and new competitions in higher education to encourage efficiency as part of an effort to contain soaring college costs.

Obama will spell out his plans Friday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The speech will cap a three-day post-State of the Union trip by the president to promote different components of his economic agenda in politically important states.

On Tuesday night during his State of the Union address, Obama put colleges and universities on notice to control tuition costs or face losing federal dollars. That's had the higher education community nervous that he could set a new precedent in the federal government's role in controlling the rising costs of college.

Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, said Friday that schools should get federal dollars based in part on their performance.

"Historically, we've funded universities whether or not they've done a good job of graduating people, whether or not they've done a good job of keeping down tuition," Duncan said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

The money Obama is targeting is what's known as "campus based" aid given to colleges to distribute in areas such as Perkins loans or in work study programs. Of the $142 billion in federal grants and loans distributed in the last school year, about $3 billion went to these programs. His plan calls for increasing that type of aid to $10 billion annually.

He wants to create a "Race to the Top" competition in higher education similar to the one his administration used on K-12 to encourage states to better use higher education dollars in exchange for $1 billion in prize dollars. A second competition called "First in the World" would encourage innovation to boost productivity on campuses.

"We have to educate our way to a better economy," Duncan told MSNBC.

Obama's proposal also includes the creation of new tools to allow students to determine which colleges and universities have the best value.

His plan will likely be a tough sell in Congress, which must approve nearly all aspects of it except the creation of the new tools.

The Obama administration already has taken a series of steps to expand the availability of grants and loans and to make loans easier to pay back, and Obama spelled out Tuesday other proposals to make college more affordable, such as extending a tuition tax break and asking Congress to keep loan interest rates from doubling on July.

His administration has also targeted career college programs — primarily at for-profit institutions — with high loan default rates among graduates over multiple years by taking away their ability to participate in such programs.

But until now, it has done little to turn its attention to the rising cost of tuition at traditional colleges and universities.

The average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges last fall rose 8.3 percent and with room and board now exceed $17,000 a year, according to the College Board. Rising tuition costs have been blamed on a variety of factors, including a decline in state dollars, an over-reliance on federal student loan dollars and competition for the best facilities and professors.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary, said the autonomy of U.S. higher education is what makes it the best in the world, and he's questioned whether Obama can enforce any plan that shifts federal aid away from colleges and universities without hurting students.

"It's hard to do without hurting students, and it's not appropriate to do," Alexander said. "The federal government has no business doing this."

Women, children killed in violence-torn Syria city

Fresh violence erupted Friday in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, a day after armed forces loyal to President Bashar Assad barraged residential buildings with mortars and machine-gun fire, killing at least 30 people including a family of women and children, activists said Friday.

The violence began Thursday, but important details were only emerging a day later. Video posted online by activists showed the bodies of five small children, five women of varying ages and a man, all bloodied and piled on beds in what appeared to be an apartment after a building was hit in the Karm el-Zaytoun neighborhood of the city. A narrator said an entire family had been "slaughtered."

The video could not be independently verified.

On Friday, heavy gunfire again hammered the city, which has seen some of the heaviest violence of the 10-month-old uprising against Assad's rule. Activists said at least 11 people were killed across the country, four of them in Homs.

Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded Friday at a checkpoint outside the northern city of Idlib, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, citing witnesses on the ground. The number of casualties was not immediately clear.

A "fierce military campaign" was also under way in the Hamadiyeh district of Hama since the early hours of Friday, according to the Observatory and other activists. They said the sound of heavy machine-gun fire and loud explosions reverberated across the area.

The head of Arab League observers in Syria said in a statement that violence in the country has spiked over the past few days. Sudanese Gen. Mohammed Ahmed al-Dabi said the cities of Homs, Hama and Idlib have all witnessed a "very high escalation" in violence since Tuesday.

In an attempt to stop the bloodshed in Syria, the U.N. Security Council was to hold a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss the crisis, a step toward a possible resolution against the Damascus regime, diplomats said. The U.N. says at least 5,400 people have been killed in the government crackdown since March, and the turmoil has intensified as dissident soldiers have joined the ranks of the anti-Assad protesters and carried out attacks on regime forces.

Details of Thursday's wave of killings in Homs were emerging from an array of residents and activists on Friday, though they said they were having difficulty because of continuing gunfire.

"There has been a terrifying massacre," Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the AP on Friday, calling for an independent investigation.

Thursday started with a spate of sectarian kidnappings and killings between the city's population of Sunnis and Allawites, a Shiite sect to which Assad belongs and which is the backbone of his regime, said Mohammad Saleh, a centrist opposition figure and resident of Homs.

There was also a string of attacks by gunmen on army checkpoints, Saleh said. Checkpoints are a frequent target of dissident troops who have joined the opposition.

The violence culminated with the evening killing of the family, Saleh said, adding that the full details of what happened were not yet clear.

The Observatory said 29 people were killed, including eight children, when a building came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire. Some residents spoke of another massacre that took place when shabiha — armed regime loyalists — stormed the district, slaughtering residents in an apartment, including children.

"It's racial cleansing," said one Sunni resident of Karm el-Zaytoun, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. "They are killing people because of their sect," he said.

Some residents said kidnappers were holding Alawites in the building hit by mortars and gunfire in Karm el-Zaytoun, but the reports could not be confirmed.

Thursday's death toll in Homs was at least 35, said the Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees, an umbrella group of activists. Both groups cite a network of activists on the ground in Syria for their death tolls. The reports could not be independently confirmed.

Syria tightly controls access to trouble spots and generally allows journalists to report only on escorted trips, which slows the flow of information.

The Syrian uprising began last March with largely peaceful anti-government protests, but it has grown increasingly violent in recent months.

It has also seen outbreaks of bloody tit-for-tat sectarian killings. Syria has a volatile religious divide, making civil unrest one of the most dire scenarios. The Assad regime and the leadership of its military and security forces are dominated by the Alawite minority, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.

Also Friday, Iran's official IRNA news agency said gunmen in Syria have kidnapped 11 Iranian pilgrims traveling by road from Turkey to Damascus.

Iranian pilgrims routinely visit Syria — Iran's closest ally in the Arab world — to pay homage to Shiite holy shrines. Last month, 7 Iranian engineers building a power plant in central Syria were kidnapped. They have not yet been released.

The Free Syrian Army — a group of army defectors — released a video on its Facebook page claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and saying the Iranians were taking part in the suppression of the Syrian people. The leader of the group could not be reached for comment.

In Switzerland, U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay said the "fragmentation within the country" was making it harder for the U.N. to update its death toll in Syria.

"Some areas are completely closed, such as parts of Homs, we are unable to verify much of the information that's coming to us. We are watching the figures, working closely with civil society organizations, and sifting through all the information that's coming to us," she said at the Davos Forum.

But she expressed "great concern that the killings are continuing and in my view it's the authorities who are killing civilians, and so it would all stop if an order comes from the top to stop the killings."(...)More.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jennifer Lopez & Marc Anthony Talk Failed Marriage in New Reality Show


J ennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are going to let cameras capture their candid conversations about their marriage falling apart during the first episode of their new show, "¡Q'Viva The Chosen!" airing on Jan. 28 on Univision and later on an English-language version of the program on Fox.

During a preview of the first episode at the Soho House in West Hollywood, Lopez, Anthony and show director Jaime King are seen traveling to countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Puerto Rico in search of talent for their new reality show. In some of the segments, the former power couple openly discuss their relationship.

Anthony says that they're "going to be in each other's lives" for a long time. The conversations between Anthony and Lopez are seen as they travel to their destinations in Latin America.

Lopez and Anthony, who began traveling last year to find talent, also showed up the Television Critics Association press tour on Jan. 14 as part of Univision's upfront session which included discussion about the show and what it took to create a "new genre" in English, Spanish and Portuguese. There will be four versions of the show and it will be sub-titled for each viewing audience.

Lopez, Anthony, XIX Entertainment's Simon Fuller (creator of "America Idol"), and show director Jamie King are executive producers of "Q'Viva" featuring Latin music, artistry and dance from the U.S. and Latin America. Dutch reality TV show producer Endemol ("Big Brother"/"Fear Factor") is a production partner with XIX Entertainment and will globally distribute "Q'Viva" across all platforms globally.

At the end of the show in April, a live spectacle with those featured on the the program will begin touring.

In an interview with Billboard to promote "Q'Viva," King said that this is one of the biggest projects he has ever worked on in a career as a choreographer and show director for some of music's biggest names including Madonna, Rhianna and Britney Spears.

King conceded that the Lopez-Anthony split never took away from the production of the show which also features King traveling in search of talent for the program that will end with a 90-minute talent show that he will direct.

"Jennifer and Marc are respectful to each other," King says. "Although they are not together anymore, they still share this love ... and it still bonds them and they still love the show so much to continue...More.

Celebrity Rumor Mill

Jennifer Lopez & Marc Anthony Talk Failed Marriage in New Reality Show
Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony are going to let cameras capture their candid conversations about their marriage falling apart during the first episode of their new show, "¡Q'Viva The Chosen!" airing on Jan. 28 on Univision and later on an English-language version of the program on Fox.
www.billboard.com/news/jennifer-lopez-marc-anthony-talk-failed-1005946352.story
Jennifer Lopez And Marc Anthony: The New Sonny And Cher?
Though things were initially tense just after Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced their divorce, their new reality television show that scouts talent throughout Latin America would say otherwise. The American Idol judge says that her and her ex are peacefully working together; they’re the new Sonny and Cher! On their new Latin American reality show Q’Viva! The Chosen, Jennifer Lopez says ...More.

Report: Heidi Klum to Divorce Seal

Is it over between Heidi Klum and Seal?

The supermodel and Project Runway host is set to file for divorce from her husband of six and a half years next week, TMZ reports. According to the site, Klum will cite "irreconcilable differences."

The couple, who are known for their vow renewal ceremonies every year, have four children: sons Henry, 6, and Johan, 5, and daughters Leni, 7, and Lou, 2. Leni, whom Seal adopted in 2009, is Klum's daughter with Flavio Briatore.

Klum, 38, and Seal, 48, met in 2003 while she was pregnant with Leni. The Grammy winner proposed on a glacier in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, in December 2004, and they wed five months later in Mexico.
Read More...

Kenya awaits ICC decision on prosecutions for 6

Kenyans nervously await the decision by the International Criminal Court on whether the court will prosecute six influential Kenyans accused of helping to orchestrate violence following disputed elections in 2007.

The upcoming decision dominated the front pages of Kenya's Sunday papers. Some say the case could set a precedent for how the international community deals with electoral violence in countries whose judicial systems are unable to cope.

The court is due to announce its decision on whether to prosecute the six on Monday. The suspects include some who want to run for the presidency.

Government officials have issued conflicting statements on whether the men will remain eligible to run if prosecuted.

More than 1,000 people were killed in postelection violence after President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner.

Chad holds first local elections

Voters in Chad went to the polls on Sunday for the first local elections in the central African country's history, after the ballot had been rescheduled several times.

Mayors were previously appointed directly by the central government.

Around one million people were eligible to cast their ballots, and voting appeared to be calm after polling booths opened at 7:30 am (0830 GMT).

President Idriss Deby Itno voted in district No. 1 Djamabal Ngat, where some 50 voters were awaiting their turn.

"I would like to express my satisfaction at seeing the first local elections held in our country," he said, urging citizens to "come out massively now to choose the managers of their cities".

"I ask the entire political class to keep calm, that's extremely important," he said. "Our country does not need turmoil after or during the elections."

Deby, who has ruled Chad since 1990, was reelected in April 2011 with 83 percent of the vote. His Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) won an absolute majority in parliament two months earlier.

The opposition said both elections were rigged but decided to take part in the local elections. Several observers say they may win many municipalities.

The opposition has formed a 16-party bloc, the Coordination of Political Parties for the Defence of the Constitution (CPDC) umbrella.

"We grouped together because there is a real challenge," said CPDC spokesman Saleh Kebzabo on Friday.

"Being able to control the cities is a key step prior to 2016," when presidential and legislative elections are held, he said.

"The opposition has a chance to win," he said, warning however of the risk of election fraud and claiming that the ruling MPS "has people who have multiple cards and who practice multiple voting".

The local elections were announced in August and fixed for October last year, then postponed to November 27 and January 15 and finally January 22.

Palestinians urge Israel to free jailed lawmakers

The Palestinians urged Israel to free dozens of Palestinian lawmakers during a new round of exploratory talks held in Amman, a Palestinian official said on Sunday.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met on Saturday for a fourth round of discussions sponsored by Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet, which are intended to find a way to bring both sides back to direct negotiations.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting produced nothing new.

He said the Palestinians used it to demand the release of imprisoned Palestinian officials, including Palestinian parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member who was arrested by Israeli forces on Thursday.

"Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat gave a letter to the head of the Israeli delegation Yitzhak Molcho calling on the Israeli government to immediately release Dweik and more than 23 other Palestinian lawmakers," the official said.

The Palestinian delegation accused Israel of arresting Dweik to strike "a blow to internal Palestinian reconciliation" between Hamas and the rival Fatah movement.

The letter handed over Saturday also called for the release of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti and Ahmed Saadat, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the official said.

A copy of the letter, which also sought the release of prisoners detained before the 1994 Oslo peace deal, had been sent to the members of the Quartet -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on the meeting.

"Our Jordanian hosts asked us to promise total discretion on the content of the discussions before we started these meetings. We are, for our part, respecting that commitment," he said.

The meeting on Saturday was the fourth time Erakat and Molcho have held talks on the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the Quartet, discussions that do not appear to have yielded any agreement.

The Palestinians say Israel must halt settlement activity before they will engage in direct talks, but Israel says it wants talks without preconditions.

The Quartet said on October 26 it would seek comprehensive proposals on "territory and security" from both sides within three months, and the Palestinians say they submitted their documents before the January 26 deadline.

They have warned that without an Israeli settlement freeze by January 26, they will not continue the exploratory talks.

But Israel says it considers the three-month period to have started with the beginning of the exploratory talks on January 3, putting the deadline at April 3.

Official: possibility of unregistered passengers

Unregistered passengers might have been aboard the stricken cruise liner that capsized off this Tuscan island, a top rescue official said Sunday, raising the possibility that the number of missing might be higher than the 20 previously announced.

Rescuers, meanwhile, resumed searching the above-water section of the Costa Concordia but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials have said there could be bodies.

"There could have been X persons who we don't know about who were inside, who were clandestine" passengers aboard the ship, Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on Jan. 13 before turning over on its side.

Gabrielli said that relatives of a Hungarian woman have told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they haven't heard from her since the accident. He said it was possible that a woman's body pulled from the wreckage by divers on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.

But the identity of that body and of three male bodies, all badly decomposed after days in the water, have yet to be established. Gabrielli said they have identified the other 12 bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national.

Until Sunday, authorities had said that 20 people are still missing.

The search had been halted for several hours early Sunday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia has shifted a bit on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio's port. A few meters (yards) away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 20-30 meters (65-100 feet), and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilized again, rescuers went back in, but only explored the above-water section. Choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part of the ship, including the restaurant and evacuation staging areas where survivors have indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.

Passengers were dining at a gala supper when the Concordia sailed close to Giglio and struck the reef, which is indicated on maritime and even tourist maps.

There are also fears that the Concordia's double-bottom fuel tanks could rupture in case of sudden shifting, spilling 2,200 metric tons (almost 500,000 million gallons) of heavy fuel into pristine sea around Giglio, which is part of a seven-island archipelago in some of the Mediterranean's most pristine waters and a prized fishing area.

But Gabrielli said pollutants found near the ship have been detergents and other substances, including chlorine, apparently from the wreck of the ship, which carried some 3,200 passengers and a crew of 1,000. Any fuel traces found were "compatible with what you find in a port," he said.

Ferries and cargo ships regularly call at Giglio's port.

Sophisticated oil-removal equipment has been standing by, waiting for the search-and-rescue operations to conclude before workers can start extracting the fuel in the tanks.

The Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.

Operator Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said that Capt. Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent maneuver to sail close to the island and impress passengers.

Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he coordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

Official: possibility of unregistered passengers

Unregistered passengers might have been aboard the stricken cruise liner that capsized off this Tuscan island, a top rescue official said Sunday, raising the possibility that the number of missing might be higher than the 20 previously announced.

Rescuers, meanwhile, resumed searching the above-water section of the Costa Concordia but choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part, where officials have said there could be bodies.

"There could have been X persons who we don't know about who were inside, who were clandestine" passengers aboard the ship, Franco Gabrielli, the national civil protection official in charge of the rescue effort, told reporters at a briefing on the island of Giglio, where the ship, with 4,200 people aboard rammed a reef and sliced open its hull on Jan. 13 before turning over on its side.

Gabrielli said that relatives of a Hungarian woman have told Italian authorities that she had telephoned them from aboard the ship and that they haven't heard from her since the accident. He said it was possible that a woman's body pulled from the wreckage by divers on Saturday might be that of the unregistered passenger.

But the identity of that body and of three male bodies, all badly decomposed after days in the water, have yet to be established. Gabrielli said they have identified the other 12 bodies: four French, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spanish national.

Until Sunday, authorities had said that 20 people are still missing.

The search had been halted for several hours early Sunday, after instrument readings indicated that the Concordia has shifted a bit on its precarious perch on a seabed just outside Giglio's port. A few meters (yards) away, the sea bottom drops off suddenly, by some 20-30 meters (65-100 feet), and if the Concordia should abruptly roll off its ledge, rescuers could be trapped inside.

When instrument data indicated the vessel had stabilized again, rescuers went back in, but only explored the above-water section. Choppy seas kept divers from exploring the submerged part of the ship, including the restaurant and evacuation staging areas where survivors have indicated that people who did not make it into lifeboats during the chaotic evacuation could have remained.

Passengers were dining at a gala supper when the Concordia sailed close to Giglio and struck the reef, which is indicated on maritime and even tourist maps.

There are also fears that the Concordia's double-bottom fuel tanks could rupture in case of sudden shifting, spilling 2,200 metric tons (almost 500,000 million gallons) of heavy fuel into pristine sea around Giglio, which is part of a seven-island archipelago in some of the Mediterranean's most pristine waters and a prized fishing area.

But Gabrielli said pollutants found near the ship have been detergents and other substances, including chlorine, apparently from the wreck of the ship, which carried some 3,200 passengers and a crew of 1,000. Any fuel traces found were "compatible with what you find in a port," he said.

Ferries and cargo ships regularly call at Giglio's port.

Sophisticated oil-removal equipment has been standing by, waiting for the search-and-rescue operations to conclude before workers can start extracting the fuel in the tanks.

The Italian captain, Francesco Schettino, is under house arrest as prosecutors investigate him for suspected manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning the ship while many were still aboard.

Operator Costa Crociere, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Carnival Cruise Lines, has said that Capt. Schettino had deviated without permission from the vessel's route in an apparent maneuver to sail close to the island and impress passengers.

Schettino, despite audiotapes of his defying Coast Guard orders to scramble back aboard, has denied he abandoned ship while hundreds of passengers were desperately trying to get off the capsizing vessel. He has said he coordinated the rescue from aboard a lifeboat and then from the shore.

In bin Laden town, father mourns another militant

Khushal Khan's wife got a call on her cell phone.

"Your son has been martyred," the voice said at the other end of the line. The man then hung up.

The end for Khan's youngest son, Aslam Awan, came when a drone piloted remotely from the United States fired a missile at a house along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Awan was among four people killed, U.S. officials said this week, describing Awan as an "external operations planner" for al-Qaida. British authorities say he was a member of a militant cell in northern England who had fought in Afghanistan.

The Jan. 10 strike in the militant stronghold of North Waziristan that killed Awan was a victory for the CIA-led drone program at time when relations between Washington and Islamabad are very strained, in part by the missile strikes. It was one of the first drone attacks after a hiatus of some six weeks following a friendly fire incident in which U.S. forces killed 24 Pakistani border troops, nearly leading to a severing of ties with Islamabad.

The drone attacks generate anti-American sentiment inside Pakistan, but have been credited with significantly weakening al-Qaida in one of its global hubs.

For his family, the call came as a final curt word about the fate of a son they had heard little from in over a year.

Awan grew up in the northwestern Pakistani town of Abbottabad, a few kilometers away from the house where Osama bin Laden was slain. His father worked in a bank in Britain in the 70s and then in Abbottabad until he retired a few years ago. His four other sons remain in Britain, where they have prospered — one is a surgeon, another is a doctor, the third an engineer and the fourth is a banker.

It seems doubtful Awan had any contact with bin Laden in the town. But Awan's background here reinforces a striking association between this well-ordered, wealthy Pakistani army town and al-Qaida militants, which began before bin Laden was killed here in May last year when a team of American commandos flew in from Afghanistan.

Now 75 and recovering from a heart operation, Khushal Khan answered questions Saturday from an Associated Press reporter in the garden of his house, making the most of some winter sun. He defended his son's memory against charges of militancy.

"I don't believe this is true, my son was not indulging in these things," he said. "It can't be correct."

Khan said Awan followed his brothers' footsteps and went to Britain in 2002 on a student visa.

Awan lived in Manchester for four years, during which time he joined a militant cell that aimed to bring Muslims to Pakistan for militant training, according to prosecutors at the time and a British media report. He told his father he was studying at Manchester University, but it's unclear whether he ever graduated.

The cell was headed by a British al-Qaida commander called Rangzieb Ahmed who was captured in Pakistan in 2006 and sent for trial in Britain, where he was sentenced to life in prison for directing terrorism, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph.

A letter he wrote a to a longtime friend and fellow Pakistani, Abdul Rahman, rhapsodized over the "fragrance of blood" from the battlefield of jihad and his commitment to militancy, according to prosecutors in the trial of Rahman, who was sentenced to six years in jail in 2007 for spreading terrorist propaganda in Manchester. It apparently referred to a stint fighting jihad in Afghanistan, but when that occurred is not known.

The judge said then Awan was believed to have left England for Afghanistan.

"Awan was very well connected to known extremists in the UK. It highlights that the threat is still there," said Valentina Soria, a terrorism researcher at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. "This group were not just wannabes, they were active and with links to al-Qaida central."(...)More.

U.S. has made no decision on Taliban prisoner transfer

The United States has not decided whether or not to satisfy a request from the Taliban to release five prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said on Sunday.

"We haven't made any decisions... We have to meet the requirements of our law," Marc Grossman told reporters on a visit to Kabul, after two days of talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and senior advisors.

The Taliban this month announced that they would open a political office in Qatar as a prelude to holding peace talks with the United States and its allies.

Arab committee wants extended Syria mission: source

An Arab League committee on Syria will ask Arab foreign ministers on Sunday to extend a peace mission in the country by one month, an Arab government source said.

Hundreds of Syrians have been killed since the monitoring mission began its work in late December and political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad are demanding the League refer Syria to the United Nations Security Council.

"The committee will recommend an expansion of the monitoring mission for an extra month," said the source, who was attending the committee's meeting in Cairo and asked not to be named.

The foreign ministers are due to meet later on Sunday to debate the findings of the month-long monitoring mission, whose mandate expired on Thursday, and must decide whether to extend, withdraw or strengthen it.

Arab states are divided over how to handle the crisis in Syria and critics say the monitoring mission is handing Assad more time to kill opponents of his rule.

Some want to crank up pressure on Assad to end a 10-month-old crackdown on a popular revolt in which, according to the United Nations, more than 5,000 people have died.

Others worry that weakening Assad could tip Syria, with its potent mix of religious and ethnic allegiances, into a deeper conflict that would destabilize the entire region, and some may fear the threat from their own populations if he were toppled.

The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) says the observers lack the resources and clout to truly judge Assad's compliance with an Arab peace plan that Syria signed up to in November and has called upon the Arab League to refer the Syrian crisis to the United Nations Security Council.

But Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia told the head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, that they would oppose such a move, a League source said on Sunday.

"The three states support solving the Syrian crisis inside the Arab League," the source told Reuters.

The head of the monitoring effort, Sudanese General Mohammed al-Dabi, was presenting his findings to the League's Syria committee and the foreign ministers of the 22-member regional body will decide their response later on Sunday.

Syrian opposition activists said Assad's forces killed 35 civilians on Saturday and 30 unidentified corpses were found at a hospital in Idlib. The state news agency SANA said bombs killed at least 14 prisoners and two security personnel in a security vehicle in Idlib province.

STRONGER MISSION?

Maintaining the 165 monitors, and perhaps giving them a broader remit, could give Arab states more time to find a way out of the crisis.

The Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera, citing an unnamed source, said Dabi planned to tell ministers that the Syrian government had not done enough to respect the peace protocol and to request that the mission be extended.

Elaraby met several Arab officials on Saturday and another source close to the League said the ministers could decide both to extend the mission and to offer it additional support in the form of U.N. or military experts.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals of Syria and its ally Iran, are impatient for decisive action against Assad and Qatar has suggested sending Arab troops to Syria.

The League is due to discuss the idea but military action against Assad would need unanimous backing and several countries still believe in a negotiated solution, League sources say.

The Security Council is also split on how to address the crisis, with Western powers demanding(...)More.

Islamist insurgents kill over 178 in Nigeria's Kano

Gun and bomb attacks by Islamist insurgents in the northern Nigerian city of Kano last week killed at least 178 people, a hospital doctor said on Sunday, underscoring the daunting challenge President Goodluck Jonathan now faces to prevent his country sliding further into chaos.

A coordinated series of bomb blasts and shooting sprees mostly targeting police stations on Friday sent panicked residents of Nigeria's second biggest city of more than 10 million people running for cover.

The scale of the carnage makes this by far the deadliest strike claimed by Boko Haram, a shadowy Islamist sect that started out as a clerical movement opposed to western education but has become the biggest security menace facing Africa's top oil producer.

"We have 178 people killed in the two main hospitals," the senior doctor in Kano's Murtala Mohammed hospital said following Friday's attacks, citing records from his own and the other main hospital of Nasarawa.

"There could be more, because some bodies have not yet come in and others were collected early."

Boko Haram has been blamed for killing hundreds of people in increasingly sophisticated bombings and shootings, mostly targeting security forces, establishment figures and more recently Christians, in country split roughly evenly between them and Muslims.

Apart from a handful of forays into the capital Abuja, the sect's energies have been concentrated in the majority Muslim north, far from the oil producing facilities along the southern coast that keep Africa's second biggest economy afloat.

Explosions struck two churches in the northern city of Bauchi on Sunday, witnesses said, destroying one of them completely, although there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Jonathan, a Christian southerner who helped broker a deal that largely ended an insurgency by militants in the oil-rich southeast, has been criticized for failing to grasp the gravity of the crisis unfolding in the north, and of treating it as a pure security issue that will fizzle out by itself.

UN CONDEMNS ATTACKS

The government has announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Kano, an ancient city that was once part of an Islamic caliphate trading riches on caravan routes connecting sub-Saharan Africa with the Mediterranean.

Worsening insecurity has led some to question whether Nigeria isn't sliding into civil war, 40 years after the secessionist Biafra conflict killed over a million people, though few think an all-out war splitting the country into two or more pieces is a likely outcome.

A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks in a statement.

"The Secretary-General is appalled at the frequency and intensity of recent attacks in Nigeria, which demonstrate a wanton and unacceptable disregard for human life," it said.

"The Secretary-General also expresses his hope for swift and transparent investigations into these incidents that lead to bringing the perpetrators to justice."

European powers and the African Union have also condemned the attacks.

Boko Haram became active around 2003 in the remote, northeastern state of Borno, on the threshold of the Sahara, but its attacks have spread into other northern states, including Yobe, Kano, Bauchi and Gombe.

Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning "Western education is sinful," is loosely modeled on Afghanistan's Taliban, but analysts say the anger it channels reflects a perception that north has been marginalized from oil riches concentrated in the south.

The sect originally said it wanted sharia, Islamic law, to be applied more widely across Nigeria but its aims appear to have changed. Recent messages from its leaders have said it is attacking anyone who opposes it, at present mainly police, the government and Christian groups.

It has become increasingly deadly in the last few months.

At least 65 people were killed in the northeast Nigerian city of Damaturu, Yobe state, in a spate of gun and bomb attacks in November.

A bomb attack on a Catholic church just outside the capital Abuja on Christmas Day, claimed by Boko Haram, killed 37 people and wounded 57.

In a Reuters interview in late December, National Security Adviser General Owoye Andrew Azazi are considering making contact with moderate members of shadowy sect via "back channels," even though explicit talks are officially ruled out.

Spokesman: Paterno in serious condition

Joe Paterno's doctors said that the former Penn State coach's condition had become "serious," following complications from lung cancer in recent days.

The winningest major college football coach, Paterno was diagnosed shortly after Penn State's Board of Trustees ousted him Nov. 9 in the aftermath of the child sex abuse charges against former assistant Jerry Sandusky. While undergoing treatment, his health problems worsened when he broke his pelvis — the same injury he sustained during preseason practice last year.

"Over the last few days Joe Paterno has experienced further health complications," family spokesman Dan McGinn said in a brief statement Saturday to The Associated Press. "His doctors have now characterized his status as serious. His family will have no comment on the situation and asks that their privacy be respected during this difficult time."

Paterno's sons, Scott and Jay, each took to Twitter on Saturday night to refute reports that their father had died.

Wrote Jay Paterno: "I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight."

Quoting individuals close to the family, The Washington Post reported on its website that Paterno remained connected to a ventilator, but had communicated his wishes not to be kept alive through any extreme artificial means. The paper said his family was weighing whether to take him off the ventilator on Sunday.

The 85-year-old Paterno has been in the hospital since Jan. 13 for observation for what his family called minor complications from his cancer treatments. Not long before that, he conducted his only interview since losing his job, with the Post. Paterno was described as frail and wearing a wig. The second half of the two-day interview was conducted from his bedside.

Roughly 200 students and townspeople gathered Saturday night at a statue of Paterno just outside a gate at Beaver Stadium. Some brought candles, while others held up their smart phones to take photos of the scene. The mood was somber, with no chanting or shouting.

"Drove by students at the Joe statue," Jay Paterno tweeted. "Just told my Dad about all the love & support--inspiring him."

Penn State student David Marselles held a candle in his right hand and posed next to a life-sized cardboard cutout of Paterno that he keeps at his apartment. A friend took a photo on the frigid night.

"I came to Penn State because of Joe Paterno. Since I was a little kid, I've been watching the games ... screaming 'We Are ... Penn State' because of him. ... He inspired me to go to college," Marselles said. "With such a tragic event like this, I just thought it was necessary to show my support."

The final days of Paterno's Penn State career were easily the toughest in his 61 years with the university and 46 seasons as head football coach.

Sandusky, a longtime defensive coordinator who was on Paterno's staff during two national title seasons, was arrested Nov. 5 and ultimately charged with sexually abusing a total of 10 boys over 15 years. Sandusky's arrest sparked outrage not just locally but across the nation and there were widespread calls for Paterno to quit.

Paterno announced late on Nov. 9 that he would retire at the end of the season, but hours later he received a call from board vice chairman John Surma, telling him he had been terminated. By that point, a crowd of students and media were outside the Paterno home. When news spread that Paterno had been dumped, there was rioting in State College.

Police on Saturday evening barricaded the block where Paterno lives, and a police car was stationed about 50 yards from his home. Several people had gathered in the living room of the house. No one was outside, other than reporters and photographers.

Trustees said this week they pushed Paterno out in part because he failed a moral responsibility to report an allegation made in 2002 against Sandusky to authorities outside the university. They also felt he had challenged their authority and that, as a practical matter, with all the media in town and attention to the Sandusky case, he could no longer run the team.

Paterno testified before the grand jury investigating Sandusky that he had relayed to his bosses an accusation that came from graduate assistant Mike McQueary, who said he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in the showers of the Penn State football building.

Paterno told the Post that he didn't know how to handle the charge, but a day after McQueary visited him, he spoke to the athletic director and the administrator with oversight over the campus police.

Wick Sollers, Paterno's lawyer, called the board's comments this week self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, Sollers said.

"He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time," Sollers said.

Sandusky says he is innocent and is out on bail, awaiting trial.

The back and forth between Paterno's representative and the board reflects a trend in recent weeks, during which Penn State alumni — and especially former players, including Hall of Fame running(...)More.

Libya could fall into "bottomless pit": NTC chief

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the head of Libya's ruling National Transitional Council (NTC), warned on Sunday the country could be heading towards a "bottomless pit" after protesters stormed a government office in Benghazi when he was inside.

A crowd demanding the resignation of the Libyan government smashed windows and forced their way into the NTC's local headquarters late on Saturday, in the most serious show of anger at the new authorities since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted.

The NTC has the support of the Western powers who helped force out Gaddafi in a nine-month conflict, but it is unelected, has been slow to restore basic public services, and some Libyans say too many of its members are tarnished by ties to Gaddafi.

Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Benghazi, Abdel Jalil warned the protests risked undermining the country's already fragile stability.

"We are going through a political movement that can take the country to a bottomless pit," he said. "There is something behind these protests that is not for the good of the country."

"The people have not given the government enough time and the government does not have enough money. Maybe there are delays, but the government has only been working for two months. Give them a chance, at least two months."

The protests in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, are particularly troubling for the NTC because the city was the birthplace of the revolt against Gaddafi's 42-year rule. It was the site of the NTC's headquarters during the revolt.

Abdel Jalil said he met with religious leaders and protesters to discuss their grievances.

He said he had accepted the resignation of the head of the Benghazi local council, Saleh El-Ghazal. Like most Libyan officials, the head of the council was appointed but Abdel Jalil said his successor would be chosen through an election.

Abdel Jalil said that later on Sunday he will unveil a law on elections for a national assembly, which are scheduled to take place within about six months.

Libya's leaders hope the law will ease some of the tension by setting out a clear road-map for the replacement of the NTC with an elected body.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nigerian sect kills over 100 in deadliest strike yet

More than 100 people were killed in bomb attacks and gunbattles in the Nigerian city Kano late on Friday, a local government security source said, in the deadliest strike claimed by Islamist sect Boko Haram to date.

"Definitely more than 100 have been killed," the senior source, who could not be named, told Reuters.

"There were bombs and then gunmen were attacking police and police came back with attacks." Hospital staff said there were still bodies arriving at morgues in Kano.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility on Saturday for the wave of strikes. The sect has killed hundreds in the north of Africa's most populous nation in the last year.

The attacks late on Friday prompted the government to announce a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the city of more than 10 million people, the country's second biggest.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticized for failing to act quickly and decisively enough against Boko Haram, said the killers would face "the full wrath of the law."

Kano and other northern cities have been plagued by an insurgency led by Boko Haram, which is blamed for scores of bombings and shootings. These have taken place mostly in the Muslim-dominated north of Africa's top oil producer, whose main oil-producing facilities are located to the south.

Aimed mainly at government targets, the Boko Haram attacks have been growing in scale and sophistication.

A spokesman for Boko Haram contacted reporters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where the sect is based, to claim responsibility for Friday's bombings. Copies of a letter apparently from the group were also dropped around Kano.

The letter, written in the Hausa language spoken in northern Nigeria, said the attacks were retribution for police arrests and killings of members of the sect.

CHAOS

Police Corporal Aliu Abdullahi, who survived multiple gunshots, described a scene of chaos.

"We were in the mess when we saw people running and heard gunshots from the gate, I saw them shooting. You could not differentiate the Boko Haram members from our Police Mobile Force men because they wore the same uniform," he said.

"They were more than 50. As I tried to run a bullet hit me on my left hand and another shot hit me on my chest I fell."

The police said eight buildings were attacked, including police headquarters, three police stations, the headquarters of the secret services and the immigration head office.

"It is with a heart full of sadness and pain that I convey my condolences ... to the families, friends, associates and relatives of all those who lost their lives in the acts of violence in Kano," President Jonathan said in a statement.

"I want to re-assure Nigerians ... that all those involved in that dastardly act will be made to face the full wrath of the law."

Shooting between police and gunmen went on into the night, residents said. Witnesses said most died from gunshots.

"We are still going around collecting corpses," a spokesman for the National Emergency Management Agency in Kano told Reuters. "They are mostly police officers ... some died from injuries from explosions, some from gunshot wounds."

Witnesses said smoke billowed from the police headquarters after the blast blew out the windows, wrecked the roof and triggered a blaze that firefighters struggled to control.

AFRICAN UNION CONDEMNS ATTACKS

In one shooting late on Friday, unidentified gunmen killed a cameraman for Nigeria's Channels TV, Akogwu Enenche, who had recently also contributed stories to Reuters Television, while he was filming at the scene of one of the bombings, witnesses and his family said.

The police did not comment. Enenche was on a Channels TV assignment when he was shot.

"We are shocked and saddened at the death of Channels TV reporter Akogwu Enenche who has contributed footage to Reuters over the last few months. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family at this very sad time," Thomson Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said in a statement.

Boko Haram became active around 2003 in the northeast state of Borno but its attacks have spread into other northern states, including Yobe, Kano, Bauchi and Gombe.[nLDE80K00V]

Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning "Western education is sinful," is loosely modeled on Afghanistan's Taliban.

The sect originally said it wanted sharia, Islamic law, to be applied more widely across Nigeria but its aims appear to have changed. Recent messages from its leaders have said it is attacking anyone who opposes it, at present mainly police, the government and Christian groups.

The African Union on Saturday condemned what it said were the latest "terrorist" attacks in Kano.

A bomb attack on a Catholic church just outside the capital Abuja on Christmas Day, claimed by Boko Haram, killed 37 people and wounded 57.

The main suspect in that attack, Kabiru Sokoto, escaped from police custody within 24 hours of his arrest, and police have offered a 50 million naira ($310,000) reward for information leading to his recapture.

Police arrested him on Tuesday but he escaped when their vehicle came under fire as they were taking him from police headquarters to his house in Abaji, just outside Abuja, to conduct a search.

Last August, a suicide bomber blew up the U.N. Nigeria headquarters in Abuja, killing at least 24 people.

There were two blasts in the southern state of Bayelsa in the oil-producing Niger Delta late on Friday but no one was killed. Police said they were not linked to Boko Haram.

Bayelsa, the home state of President Jonathan, is holding a governorship election next month. Troops have been deployed in the state in recent weeks to stem political unrest.

Obama's State of the Union: Jobs, re-election time

Vilified by the Republicans who want his job, President Barack Obama will stand before the nation Tuesday night determined to frame the election-year debate on his terms, promising his State of the Union address will outline a lasting economic recovery that will "work for everyone, not just a wealthy few."

As his most powerful chance to make a case for a second term, the prime-time speech carries enormous political stakes for the Democratic incumbent who presides over a country divided about his performance and pessimistic about the nation's direction. He will try to offer a stark contrast with his opponents by offering a vision of fairness and opportunity for everyone.

In a preview Saturday, Obama said in a video to supporters that the speech will be an economic blueprint built around manufacturing, energy, education and American values.

He is expected to announce ideas to make college more affordable and to address the housing crisis still hampering the economy three years into his term, people familiar with the speech said. Obama will also propose fresh ideas to ensure that the wealthy pay more in taxes, reiterating what he considers a matter of basic fairness, the officials said.

His policy proposals will be less important than what Obama hopes they all add up to: a narrative of renewed American security with him at the center, leading the fight.

"We can go in two directions," Obama said in the campaign video. "One is toward less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few."

That line of argument is intended to tap directly into concerns of voters who think America has become a nation of income inequality, with rules rigged to help the rich. The degree to which Obama or his eventual Republican opponent can better connect with millions of hurting Americans is expected to determine November's presidential election.

Obama released his video hours ahead of the South Carolina primary, where Republican candidates fought in the latest fierce contest to become his general election rival.

The White House knows Obama is about to get his own stage to outline a re-election vision, but carefully. The speech is supposed to an American moment, not a campaign event.

Obama didn't mention national security or foreign policy in his preview, and he is not expected to break ground on either one in his speech.

He will focus on the economy and is expected to promote unfinished parts of his jobs plan, including the extension of a payroll tax cut that is soon to expire.

Whatever Obama proposes is likely to face long odds in a deeply divided Congress.

More people than not disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy, and he is showing real vulnerability among the independent voters who could swing the election. Yet he will step into the moment just as the economy is showing life. The unemployment rate is still at a troubling 8.5 percent, but at its lowest rate in nearly three years. Consumer confidence is up.

By giving a sneak peek to millions of supporters on his email list, Obama played to his Democratic base and sought to generate an even larger audience for Tuesday's address. He is unlikely to getter a bigger stage all year.

More people watched last year's State of the Union than tuned in to see Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver in 2008.

The foundation of Obama's speech is the one he gave in Kansas last month, when he declared that the middle class was at a make-or-break moment and he railed against "you're on your own" economics of the Republican Party. His theme then was about a government that ensures people get a fair shot to succeed.

The State of the Union will be the details to back that up.

But even so, the speech will still be a framework — part governing, part inspiration.

The details will be rolled out in full over the next several weeks, as part of Obama's next budget proposal and during his travels, which will allow him more media coverage.

On national security, Obama will ask the nation to reflect with him on a momentous year of change, including the end of the war in Iraq, the killing of al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring protests, with people clamoring for freedom. He is expected to note the troubles posed by Iran and Syria without offering new positions about them.

Despite low expectations for legislation this year, Obama will offer short-term ideas that would require action from Congress. For now, the main looming to-do item is an extension of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, both due to expire by March.

His travel schedule following his speech, to politically important regions, offers clues to the policies he was expected to unveil.

Both Phoenix and Las Vegas have been hard hit by foreclosures. Denver is where Obama outlined ways of helping college students deal with school loan debt. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Detroit are home to a number of manufacturers. And Michigan was a major beneficiary of the president's decision to intervene to rescue the American auto industry.

Republican leaders in Congress say Obama has made the chances of cooperation even dimmer just over the last several days. He enraged Republicans by installing a consumer watchdog chief by going around the Senate, which had blocked him, and then rejected a major oil pipeline project the GOP has embraced.

Obama is likely, once again, to offer ways in which a broken Washington must work together. Yet that theme seems but a dream given the gridlock he has been unable to change.

The address remains an old-fashioned moment of national attention; 43 million people watched it on TV last year. The White House website will offer a live stream of the speech, promising extra wrinkles for people who watch it there, and then invite people to send in questions to administration officials through social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Obama's campaign is also organizing and promoting parties around the nation for people to watch the speech.

Primary day at hand, SC voters have their say

Primary day at hand, fast-climbing Newt Gingrich told South Carolinians on Saturday that he was "the only practical conservative vote" able to stop front-runner Mitt Romney in the GOP presidential race. Romney acknowledged the first-in-the-South contest "could be real close" and prepared for an extended fight by agreeing to two more debates in Florida, next on the election calendar.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum braced for a setback and looked ahead to the Jan. 31 contest after getting the most votes in Iowa and besting Gingrich in New Hampshire. Texas Rep. Ron Paul made plans to focus on states where his libertarian, Internet-driven message might find more of a reception with voters; his campaign said it had purchased a substantial ad buy in Nevada and Minnesota, which hold caucuses next month.

The first contest without Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out this past week and endorsed Gingrich, was seen as Romney's to lose just days ago. Instead, the gap closed quickly between the Massachusetts governor who portrays himself as the Republicans best positioned to defeat President Barack Obama and Gingrich, the confrontational former House speaker from Georgia.

Romney avoided a run-in with Gingrich at Tommy's Country Ham House, where both had scheduled campaign events for the same time. Romney stopped by the breakfast restaurant 45 minutes ahead of schedule. When Gingrich arrived, just minutes after Romney's bus left the parking lot, he said: "Where's Mitt?"

Earlier, Gingrich had a message for voters during a stop at The Grapevine restaurant in Boiling Springs not long after the polls opened: Come out and vote for me if you want to help deny Romney nomination.

He told diners who were enjoying plates of eggs and grits that he was the "the only practical conservative vote" to the rival he called a Massachusetts moderate. "Polls are good, votes are better," he said.

Gingrich also said he would put a stop to federal actions against South Carolina's voter ID and immigration laws.

Romney's agreement to participate in Florida debates Monday in Tampa and Thursday in Jacksonville was seen as an acknowledgement of a prolonged battle with Gingrich.

"This could be real close," said Romney as he chatted on the phone with a voter Saturday morning and urged the man to go vote.

Romney still has significant advantages over his three remaining Republican rivals, including an enormous financial edge and a well-organized campaign.

He suffered a symbolic blow when the Iowa Republican Party, without explanation late Friday, declared Santorum as winner of the Jan. 3 caucus, days after saying incomplete vote results precluded it from doing just that. Santorum was 34 votes ahead of Romney, but because eight precincts never turned in certified results, the state chairman had said on Thursday the party could not declare a winner. About two weeks earlier, Romney was said to have won by eight votes.

With his Iowa victory now rescinded, losing in South Carolina would be a setback that could draw the primary contest out much longer. Just 10 days ago, Romney's campaign team was looking ahead to the general election as it anticipated a quick sweep in early primaries.

By Saturday, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, a top Romney backer, was on an automated telephone message attacking Gingrich's ethics record in Congress, while Romney's wife, Ann, was on a separate one urging voters to consider the candidates character.

"Look at how they've lived their life," she says. "And that's why I think it's so important to understand the character of a person."

Before the ham house standoff that wasn't, Romney stood outside his Greenville headquarters and undertook a new attack on Gingrich. He called on Gingrich to further explain his contracts with Freddie Mac, the housing giant, and release any advice he had provided to the company. He has said the contracts earned two of his companies more than $1.6 million over eight years, but that he only pocketed about $35,000 a year himself.

'I'd like to see what he actually told Freddie Mac. Don't you think we ought to see it?" Romney said.

It was another response to pressure on Romney to release his tax returns before Republican voters finish choosing a nominee.

A day earlier, Romney had called on Gingrich to release information related to an ethics investigation of Gingrich in the 1990s. Gingrich argues that GOP voters need to know whether the wealthy former venture capital executive's records contain anything that could hurt the party's chances against Obama.

Romney has said he will release several years' worth of tax returns in April. Gingrich has called on him to release them much sooner. On Saturday, Romney refused to answer questions from reporters about the returns and whether his refusal to release them had hurt him with South Carolina voters.

Gingrich, buoyed by Perry's endorsement as he left the race Thursday, has called Romney's suggestion about releasing ethics investigation documents a "panic attack" brought on by sinking poll numbers.

The stakes were high for Saturday's vote. The primary winner has gone on to win the Republican nomination in every election since 1980.

It's very important, but it's not do or die," Paul told Fox News

Some of South Carolina's notorious 11th-hour devilry — fake reports in the form of emails targeting Gingrich and his ex-wife Marianne — emerged in a race known as much for its nastiness as for its late-game twists.

"Unfortunately, we are now living up to our reputation," said South Carolina GOP strategist Chip Felkel.

State Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson ordered a preliminary review of the phony messages to see if any laws had been broken.

Gingrich's ex-wife burst into the campaign this week when she alleged in an ABC News interview that her former husband had asked her for an "open marriage," a potentially damaging claim in a state where the Republican primary electorate includes a potent segment of Christian conservatives. The thrice-married Gingrich, who has admitted to marital infidelities, angrily denied her accusation.

Romney, Gingrich battle in South Carolina race

Presidential rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich battled to win last-minute supporters on Saturday in a South Carolina primary that could reshape the Republican nominating contest.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, must win the conservative southern state to secure his front-runner status in the nominating race to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in November.

Gingrich's recent rise in popularity threatens Romney's momentum.

A victory by the former speaker of the House of Representatives could prolong the state-by-state Republican battle and give Obama's re-election campaign a boost as his Republican would-be opponents beat each other up.

"I'm the only guy's who's spent his life in the real world," said Romney, standing on a chair in a crowded restaurant, Tommy's Country Ham House. He referred to Gingrich as a "Washington insider" and acknowledged he might not lock up the nomination this weekend.

"We've got a long way to go. So come join us in Florida, in Nevada, Michigan, Colorado. We've got a long way to go."

Romney may be helped if the South Carolina conservative vote is splintered among Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and libertarian Congressman Ron Paul.

Gingrich surged again in opinion polls this week after disappointing finishes in the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, fending off renewed publicity about his turbulent marital history. He has painted himself as the more conservative candidate whose experience in Washington would make him a stronger leader.

That was convincing to some voters in Charleston.

"I'm scared of Mitt Romney because I don't think he's a conservative," said Brandon Tahquette, 29, an assistant manager at a kitchen store.

"A vote for Newt was a vote against Obama," said Kim Woods, 53, a photographer, who voted for Gingrich. "He's been in D.C. He's been in the political realm. He can get some things done."

A multimillionaire ex-businessman who runs a sleek campaign, Romney has consistently won the support of a quarter of Republicans nationally with his message on jobs and the economy. But he has failed to capture the hearts of many conservatives.

Gingrich is a former history teacher with strong debating skills and a personal life that is dotted with marital infidelity, in contrast to Romney's stable family tableau, punctuated by five sons and 16 grandchildren.

With two other candidates trailing in the polls, the primary looks like a straight fight between the two very different men.

"Newt has positioned himself as the 'anti-Romney' and this strategy has played well in South Carolina," said Republican strategist Ron Christie.

"The question is whether this has broader appeal in more diverse states. As for Romney, this sparring will serve him well for the general election should he become the Republican nominee."

GRUDGE MATCH

Fueled by a grudge that has become almost personal, Gingrich has sown seeds of doubt among Republicans who were beginning to see Romney as the inevitable nominee after strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Romney has stumbled, acknowledging in the last week he pays a much lower tax rate than many Americans and struggling to answer questions about a planned release of tax records.

Only hours before the voting began in South Carolina, Romney's campaign tried to turn the tables and ask for more information about ethics violations for which Gingrich was sanctioned in Congress in the 1990s.

"Don't you love these guys? He doesn't release anything, he doesn't answer anything. And he's even confused about whether or not he will ever release anything. And then he's decided to pick a fight over releasing stuff," Gingrich said.

Animosity between the two has been festering since December, when a group supporting Romney launched a blitz of negative TV ads in Iowa that effectively ruined Gingrich's campaign there.

He has hit back by attacking Romney's business record.

The fight has been bruising in South Carolina, a conservative state with a history of dirty politics.

Romney's team is playing up his family background. His wife of 42 years, Ann, appears in an ad extolling the virtues needed in a strong president.

"If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they have lived their life. And I think that's why it's so important to understand the character of a person," she says.

The winner of South Carolina's Republican presidential primary has gone on to win the party's nomination in every election since 1980. Romney's path to the nomination would be nearly clear if he can clinch the state on Saturday. Polling closes at 7 p.m. eastern.

Romney may be helped if the South Carolina conservative vote is split between Gingrich, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and libertarian congressman Ron Paul.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sri Lanka govt orders probe after cricket defeats

The Sri Lankan government has ordered a probe into the national cricket team's "crisis situation" after they fell to another defeat in their one-day series in South Africa, an official said Wednesday.

Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage asked the country's cricket governing body to investigate and recommend remedial action to end the side's recent poor performances, his spokesman Harsha Abeykoon said.

South Africa defeated Sri Lanka by four runs on Tuesday to take a winning 3-0 lead in their five-match ODI series.

"Carefully investigate the current crisis situation in the national cricket team and report back to me within a week," Aluthgamage told the chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket.

The probe was ordered a week after another minister slammed the side, blaming lack of team spirit for a 258-run thrashing by South Africa, the island's worst one-day international defeat.

The Sri Lankan government is often accused of meddling in the sport and recent uncontested elections for the cricket board were mired in allegations of interference.

Sri Lanka did reach the final of last year's World Cup but since the retirement of bowling star Muttiah Muralitharan in July 2010, the team have won only one Test match.

Skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan has blamed his side's inconsistent results on the island's weak domestic scene.

Some players have complained about months of unpaid wages as the cricket board struggles with debts of $69 million after building two new venues and revamping a third ground for the World Cup.

Tourists from 5 nations victims in Ethiopia attack

Gunmen in the Ethiopia's arid north attacked a group of European tourists, killing five, wounding two and kidnapping two, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.

Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon said the gunmen came from neighboring Eritrea and attacked the tourist group before dawn on Tuesday. Two Ethiopians were also taken hostage. Eritrea denied it was involved.

Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian and Italian nationals were among those in the tourist group, Simon said.

Ethiopian officials could not immediately say with certainty which countries the victims were from.

Ethiopian state television reported on Tuesday that there had been eight tourists in the targeted group, but Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal said late Tuesday that two groups totaling as many as 22 people may have been attacked, though he said the numbers were not confirmed.

The tourists were visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia's northern Afar region, which lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.

Bereket said that "some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government" attacked the tourists about 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) from the Eritrean border.

Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, said Ethiopia's allegations are an "absolute lie" and that the attack is an internal Ethiopian matter.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000,claiming the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose last year when a U.N. report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

Launsky-Tiefenthal said there was an Austrian Foreign Ministry travel warning in effect for the region since 2007 "because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups ... in some case politically motivated in others criminally motivated."

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month.

In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.

"The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area, no telephone lines, satellite phones barely work," Launsky-Tiefenthal said, describing the remote area to "the surface of Mars."