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 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:23 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Jordanian ambassador to Tripoli abducted by gunmen

Libyan authorities confirm Fawaz Aitan has been kidnapped in attack that left his driver wounded

Agence France-Presse in Tripoli, Tuesday 15 April 2014 10.25 BST   

Gunmen travelling in two cars on Tuesday abducted the Jordanian ambassador to Tripoli, Fawaz Aitan, in an attack that left his driver wounded, Libyan authorities have said.

It is the latest incident in which Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats have been targeted in the north African country, three years after Nato-backed rebels ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

"The Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped this morning. His convoy was attacked by a group of hooded men on board two civilian cars," ministry spokesman Said Lassoued said.

A security official said the ambassador's driver suffered gunshot wounds during the kidnapping.

The government in Amman confirmed the kidnapping. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Sabah Rafie said investigations were under way.

The abduction comes two days after Libya's prime minister Abdullah al-Thani stepped down, saying he and his family had been the victims of a "traitorous" armed attack the previous day.

In January, gunmen kidnapped five Egyptian diplomats in Tripoli and held them for several hours.

The US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other US citizens were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012, three months after a convoy carrying the British ambassador to Libya, Dominic Asquith, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Benghazi, wounding two guards.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:21 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Sudan's President Bans Political Party Meetings

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 12:41

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has issued a decree banning political parties from holding meetings without permission from the authorities, the official SUNA news agency reported.

The decree comes just a week after Bashir assured a meeting of party leaders they had freedom to operate in the run-up to a "national dialogue" he has promised to hold to address urgent demands for change in his 25-year regime.

"No political party has the right to hold meetings and conferences inside their areas without first obtaining permission from the relevant authorities," SUNA late on Monday reported the decree as reading.

At the April 6 meeting in Khartoum, Bashir assured party leaders they were free to conduct activities inside or outside their offices, "according to law".

A day later, however, the Reform Now party said security agents had prevented it from holding a discussion forum and had detained the leader of its student wing, Emad Al-Dien Hashim.

Reform Now was formed in December by Bashir's ex-adviser Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani after the ruling National Congress Party ousted him.

Critics have said Bashir's political dialogue is just a way for the elite to hang on to power without properly addressing the country's problems.

An alliance of small opposition parties has refused to join the dialogue, which Bashir announced in January, unless the government meets several conditions.

These include declaring a ceasefire with the country's armed rebels, and abolishing all laws that restrict freedoms.

The Revolutionary Front, which comprises insurgent groups from Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, on Sunday rejected participation in the dialogue, describing it as a "farce".

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:20 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Philippine Rebels Slam Military Killings despite Peace Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 12:11

The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group on Tuesday denounced the killing of four of its members in clashes with soldiers, just two weeks after a peace deal was signed to end their decades-old conflict.

The military has acknowledged that gunmen from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were among 20 people killed in a shootout on a remote southern island Friday as security forces pursued Islamic militants blamed for beheadings and kidnappings.

"Four of our members were martyred," MILF vice chairman Ghazali Jaafar told reporters.

Officials have said the clashes on Basilan island broke out while local MILF members were helping the military to arrest fighters from the Al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

The MILF has asked an international committee monitoring the ceasefire between the Philippines and the rebel group to investigate who was to blame for Friday's violence, Jaafar said.

The fighting broke out two weeks after the MILF signed a political settlement to end more than four decades of an armed conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the mainly Catholic nation's Muslim south.

The peace deal aims to create an autonomous Muslim area in the south by early next year, with the MILF expected to disarm and put up candidates for a regional parliament in May 2016.

Jaafar said the government and the MILF were currently enjoying a "honeymoon" period.

"We do not want this agreement to be disturbed by such unwanted incidents initiated by the military," he added.

Military spokesmen said 18 gunmen from the MILF and Abu Sayyaf were killed. Two soldiers died and 28 others were wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said the operation had been coordinated with MILF officials, and that it targeted Abu Sayyaf members who are not covered by any ceasefire.

But he said that at one point, the soldiers noticed that the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were being reinforced by unidentified fighters.

"If there were MILF forces, they were never meant as a target... It is possible they joined (the Abu Sayyaf) as individuals and not as MILF (members)," he told AFP.

Military chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista also alleged on Tuesday that a small number of MILF guerrillas had helped relatives in the Abu Sayyaf ranks.

"The MILF should deal with them," Bautista told reporters.

Jaafar said the allegations had yet to be proven.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
N. Korea Marks Kim Il-Sung Birthday with Loyalty Pledge

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 07:10

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un paid respects to his grandfather Kim Il-Sung as the country marked the birthday Tuesday of its late founder with renewed calls for loyalty to the ruling Kim dynasty.

At the stroke of midnight, Kim Jong-Un, accompanied by top military leaders, visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang -- the mausoleum holding the embalmed body of his grandfather, the North's official KCNA news agency said.

The similarly preserved body of Kim's father, Kim Jong-Il, whom he succeeded as leader in December 2011, is housed in the same building.

"Kim Jong-Un, together with other visitors, paid homage to Kim Il-Sung in the humblest reverence for him," KCNA reported.

Kim Il-Sung died of a heart attack in 1994. His birthday is known as the Day of Sun in North Korea and is a major national holiday.

The centenary of his birth in 2012 was marked by a major military parade and Kim Jong-Un's first public speech.

There were no indications of a similar parade being prepared Tuesday, but the South's Yonhap news agency cited officials as saying Pyongyang might be readying a symbolic show of military force.

"Artillery pieces including multiple rocket launches and self-propelled guns are being assembled near Pyongyang," it quoted an unidentified government official as saying.

The official said it was "highly likely" the North may carry out a large scale drill on Friday, to coincide with the end of South Korea's annual joint military exercises with the United States.

In an address to top military, party and government leaders to mark Tuesday's holiday, the North's nominal head of state, Kim Yong-Nam, urged all military personnel to pledge their loyalty to Kim Jong-Un.

"Being loyal to Comrade Kim Jong-Un's leadership is the decisive guarantee to carry forward with the Great Comrade Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il's thoughts and accomplishments," he was quoted as saying by the ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:17 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
S. Korea Spy Chief Apologizes over Forgery Scandal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 07:13

South Korea's intelligence chief vowed a "bone-crushing" overhaul of his embattled agency as he apologized Tuesday for a scandal that saw senior agents charged with fabricating evidence in an espionage case.

"I feel deeply pained for letting this happen... and feel tremendous responsibility," Nam Jae-Joon told reporters in a rare press appearance.

His apology came a day after the agency's deputy chief stepped down.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) was accused of forging documents -- including Chinese border control records -- to build a false spying case against a former Seoul city official who had escaped to South Korea from the North in 2004.

State prosecutors launched a probe in February when China confirmed that the documents were not authentic, and Nam came under intense pressure from politicians and rights activists to step down.

But Seoul prosecutors on the case concluded Monday that they did not believe the forgery was part of a larger operation orchestrated by the NIS leadership.

President Park Geun-Hye said she regretted the concern caused to the public by the lack of internal oversight at the NIS, and said the agency needed to "reinvent" itself.

"If such an event that deepens public distrust happens again, then it will be strictly held accountable," Park said.

So far charges of fabricating evidence have been brought against three NIS agents.

Another agent attempted suicide last month during the prosecutors' probe and he will be charged when released from hospital, prosecutors said Monday.

Nam vowed to overhaul the agency's investigative methods in line with "changing times" and to win back public trust.

"We will take this opportunity to re-evaluate our investigative methods, root out wrong customs and conduct a bone-crushing overhaul of our system, so that things like this will never happen again," he said.

But he also warned of the dangers of undermining the NIS at a time of heightened military tensions with North Korea.

Since February, the North has test-fired dozens of short-range missiles and two mid-range missiles, and also threatened to conduct another nuclear test.

"I feel tremendous grief that the NIS -- the bulwark of our national security -- is being shaken like this in such a grave time," Nam said, pleading for public support.

The spy agency -- which has changed titles over the years -- had a particularly notorious reputation in the decades of authoritarian rule before South Korea embraced democracy in the 1980s.

The modern-day NIS has also been tainted by a series of scandals, most recently the admission by some agents that they meddled in the 2012 presidential election.

Nam's predecessor as NIS chief, Won Sei-Hoon, was convicted last month of taking bribes and jailed for two years.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:15 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Owner of Collapsed Bangladesh Factory Faces Murder Charges

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 13:21

Bangladesh police said Tuesday they will press murder charges against the owner of a nine-storey building that collapsed and killed 1,135 garment workers last April, the worst industrial disaster in the country's history.

Sohel Rana, owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, was one of around 40 people who would be charged in connection with the disaster, said lead investigator Bijoy Krishna Kar.

"We are planning to press murder charges against Sohel Rana and some other accused," Kar of the police's Criminal Investigation Department told AFP, adding that if convicted Rana could be sentenced to death.

It was the first time police have said they would file murder charges against Rana, who was arrested on the western border with India as he tried to flee the country days after the April 24 disaster.

Rana, a junior official in the ruling Awami League party, became the country's public enemy number one after survivors recounted how thousands of them were forced to enter the compound at the start of the working day despite complaints about cracks appearing in the walls.

Among the others expected to be charged are Rana's father, who is a co-owner of the building, and five bosses of the garment factories operating within the complex who also allegedly ignored the cracks.

The five include David Mayor, a Spanish citizen who was out of the country at the time of the collapse, said Habibur Rahman, another CID investigator.

Most of the accused are out on bail while Mayor never returned to the country to avoid arrest.

A host of Western retailers had clothing made at Rana Plaza, including Italy's Benetton, Spain's Mango and the British low-cost chain Primark.

"Our investigation is almost over. We wanted to wrap up our work before the first anniversary of the tragedy on April 24 but even writing up the case notes has proved to be a huge task," Rahman told AFP.

"We hope we can press the charges by next month."

The collapse was the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh's history.

It prompted sweeping reforms including tough new factory construction guidelines to stave off another disaster in the $22 billion industry, the world's second largest after China.

CID officials said Bangladeshi engineers, regulators who approved the building without inspecting the site and some mid-level factory managers would also be charged for their roles in the disaster.

Kar said police investigators have questioned 900-1,000 people including the survivors, witnesses and found "irrefutable evidences" against the "greedy and irresponsible" building and factory owners.

Bangladesh is home to around 4,500 garment factories which employ around four million workers -- some 80 percent of them are women -- who are paid some of the lowest wages on earth.

But the sector has a woeful safety track record, highlighted by the collapse of the Rana Plaza compound and a fire at Tazreen Fashion factory that killed 111 people six months earlier.

Western retailers, the main buyers of Bangladeshi apparel, formed two umbrella groups late last year to push through crucial safety reforms in the industry.

Engineers hired by the retailers have since shut down at least 11 factories temporarily and ordered scores of other factories to improve fire and building safety in an effort to avoid a repeat of the disaster.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:14 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Poll: Indian Opposition Alliance to Win Majority

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 April 2014, 08:21

India's Hindu nationalist opposition party and its allies are on course to win an overall parliamentary majority in the world's biggest election currently underway, according to a new poll.

The survey by the NDTV network forecast that the opposition alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win 275 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha, 16 more than predicted in the last survey a month ago.

The BJP, led by the hardliner Narendra Modi, would win 226 seats but it would avoid the need to find new coalition partners after results are announced on May 16. Its existing allies would push it over the 50 percent threshold, according to the survey released late Monday.

The centre-left Congress party, which leads the current coalition government, would see its tally of seats drop to an all-time low of 92, the same poll projected.

All previous polls have forecast that the BJP-led alliance known as the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) would fall short of an overall majority -- thus forcing the BJP to seek additional partners among a plethora of regional parties after the six-week voting marathon concludes.

If the BJP-led alliance does fall short of a majority, it is widely expected to try and strike a deal with the West Bengal-based Trinamool party which is forecast to win 30 seats.

Another potential partner, a Tamil Nadu-based party led by former actress Jayalalithaa Jayaram, is slated to get 22 seats.

The contest, which is the world's biggest exercise in democracy, began on April 7 and will wrap up on May 12. The results are expected four days later.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Abdullah and Ghani on course for runoff vote in Afghanistan polls

First snapshot of Afghan elections puts pair of ex-ministers in lead but two minority candidates could decide final result

Emma Graham-Harrison, Sunday 13 April 2014 18.40 BST      

The first results from Afghanistan's presidential election show the country is headed for a runoff next month between former ministers, with two other candidates securing enough of the vote to potentially act as kingmakers.

After a week of waiting, the election commission finally unveiled on Sunday a snapshot of the overall vote: 10% of the results from about three-quarters of Afghanistan's provinces.

Following a spate of rumours, wild claims and fierce accusations, the first solid evidence came with a strict warning that fluctuations were not only possible but likely as more results are tallied.

"I must tell you, there will be changes in the days ahead as we announce further results," said Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission. "We are checking the partial results to ensure the final result is clear, and we will share it with the nation."

The tally gave Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and mujahideen fighter, a slim lead at about 42%, followed by the former finance minister and World Bank technocrat Ashraf Ghani on 38%. If no candidate gets more than half the vote, there is a runoff between the top two .

Lagging far behind in third place with less than 10% was Zalmai Rassoul, a moderate former minister widely believed to be the incumbent Hamid Karzai's preferred successor. Winning barely 5% – but still enough to potentially influence a runoff – was a hardline Islamist, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the man who first invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan.

The candidates are competing to take over from Karzai, who has ruled for more than a decade but was barred by the constitution from standing again. If the drawn-out election process continues as successfully as it began, it will herald the country's first ever peaceful, democratic transfer of power.

Just over a week ago Afghans flocked to the polls in unexpectedly high numbers, and although dozens of polling stations in rural and insecure areas came under Taliban attack, the voting overall was not seriously disrupted by violence.

Because the votes have to be brought to Kabul from around the country, including areas so remote that ballot boxes must be transported there and back on donkeys, the vote-counting process is painfully slow. Full preliminary results are not expected until 24 April, and there are then several weeks for election organisers to shift through hundreds of fraud allegations and any other complaints.

Both of the frontrunners still have their hopes set on a first-round win and called on election organisers to root out fraud.

Ghani, lagging marginally behind Abdullah, compared the preliminary results to the first 10 minutes of a football game, while Abdullah said he expected to build from a position of strength.

"To be honest, this result is not news for me," Abdullah told the Guardian when asked about his lead. "We didn't expect every partial count will come out the same way, and there is another caveat: that in the eight provinces that have not been counted, we have the majority vote in all except one or two."

Overall, observers and election organisers say they think there was less cheating in this election than the 2009 vote that returned Karzai to power, when more than 1m votes were eventually thrown out as fakes. However, there have still been many serious accusations, and videos and photos of alleged violations have been circulating on social media.

The vote watchdog said there had been nearly 1,900 complaints, almost half of them serious enough to affect poll results. However, a significant proportion of those were about candidates from provincial-level elections held at the same time as the presidential vote. The watchdog promised to tackle all of them.

"We are very serious about separating fraudulent votes from valid ones," said Nader Mohseni, of the Independent Election Complaints Commission, vowing full transparency in its work. "The doors of [the commission's] offices in all provinces are open to observers.

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:06 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Pain in Spain as bank warns of 10-year jobs blight and public debt leaps €8.1bn

Spanish bank BBVA says unemployment may take a decade to recover from financial crisis and public debt hits 95% of GDP

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona, Monday 14 April 2014 19.19 BST   
Spanish unemployment could take 10 more years to return to the levels seen before the financial crisis, according to a report that paints a picture of an economy hampered by low wages, low skills and lack of investment in research.

Spanish workers earn 20%-40% less than those in other leading European countries, according to the study by Spain's second-biggest bank, BBVA. The earnings gap is partly explained by very high unemployment, which BBVA said "derives from a labour market that functions substantially worse than in other countries".

The bank found Spanish spending on research and development is 70% below the US or EU average, and said the economy suffered from low skills and a lack of technology in the workplace.

"All of these differences derive from an inadequate legal and institutional system of incentives," the report said. The researchers forecast that even if employment increased at a rate of 2% it would take 10 years to reach 2007 levels.

Calling for long-term "balanced, solid and inclusive" growth to bring per capita income in line with the US and eurozone competitors, the report urged Spain's traditionally small- and medium-sized firms to enlarge and seek international markets. "Large companies are more productive, have more human capital, survive longer, invest more in R&D and export more," it said, adding that this enlargement would only occur if legal, financial and fiscal obstacles were removed.

It noted that for each percentage point fall in unemployment there was a 0.6% rise in GDP, so reducing unemployment also cuts public debt, which is now at record levels.

Figures released on Monday by the Bank of Spain show public debt rose by €8.1bn (£6.7bn) in February, taking the total owed by central and regional government to a record €988bn, equivalent to 95% of the nation's annual GDP.

Meanwhile, protesters from the Mortgage Victims' Platform (PAH) have staged protests against home repossessions. However, in spite of the huge over-capacity in the Spanish housing market, foreign investors continue to find it attractive. Foreign investment in property has increased for the fourth year running, with €6.5bn invested in 2013 – 16% up on the preceding year.

According to the Bank of Spain, this is the first time foreign property investment has risen above €6bn since 2004.

In contrast, Spanish property investment abroad fell to €355m, the lowest level in 12 years and 89% less than in 2007. New mortgages, meanwhile, fell by 27.8% in 2013, the lowest number in the past five years, while average house prices fell by 7.8%, a slower fall than in the preceding two years. Housing sales fell by 2.2%. The average Spanish family spends 34% of their income on their mortgage.

According to the society of property registrars, the biggest number of foreign investors in property are Britons (15.1%), followed by the French (9.8%), Russians (8.6%) and Belgians (7.3%).

 on: Apr 15, 2014, 05:04 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Whooping cough vaccine may have lost its punch as bacterium evolves

Australian study showed 80% of cases were free of the protein needed for vaccine's efficacy

Australian Associated Press, Tuesday 15 April 2014 06.31 BST   
The vaccine used to immunise against whooping cough might have bred a more evolved strain of the disease.

Researchers from the University of NSW say Bordetella pertussis, the bacterium that causes the potentially deadly illness, appears to have evolved to overcome the vaccine used to fight it.

That vaccine works by locating a protein called pertactin, which had been identified as one of the key elements of the disease.

But the study showed that about 80% of Australian whooping cough cases in 2012 were pertactin-free.

“It is harder for the antibodies made by the body's immune system in response to vaccination to 'search and destroy' the whooping cough bacteria which lack pertactin,” the senior author, Associate Professor Ruiting Lan, said.

“It's like a game of hide and seek.”

The pertactin-free whooping cough strain might have gained a selective advantage over those carrying the protein, he said.

He said pertactin-free whooping cough cases had also been found in France and the United States.

“The fact that they have arisen independently in different countries suggests this is in response to the vaccine,” said Lan.

But he stressed that although it may prove more elusive to the vaccine, there was no current evidence the new strain is deadlier.

It is also unclear whether the new strain reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine and, if so, for how long.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were about 142,000 cases of whooping cough detected in Australia.

The disease can also be especially dangerous for babies and may cause feeding or breathing difficulties, pneumonia, brain damage or death.

The study, which analysed more than 300 bacteria samples from across Australia, was published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

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