- N.Korea rallies for successor, no mention of nuclear arms
- Syrian opposition signs plan for post-Assad future
- Gunmen attack bars in northeast Kenya, at least 2 dead
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 07:03 PM PST
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea in a policy-setting message for New Year called on its people to rally behind anointed successor Kim Jong-un by becoming "human shields" but made no mention of its nuclear arms programme, the key source of regional security concern during his deceased father's reign.
The North's three main state newspapers said in "a joint editorial" published on Sunday that Kim Jong-un has legitimacy to carry on the revolutionary battle initiated by his grandfather Kim Il-sung and developed by his father Kim Jong-il, who died two weeks ago of a heart attack.
"Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of our Party and our people, is the banner of victory and glory of Songun Korea and the eternal centre of its unity," the joint editorial carried by the North's state KCNA news agency said.
"The dear respected Kim Jong-un is precisely the great Kim Jong-il. The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un unto death."
The joint editorial assailed the South Korean government for pursuing confrontation and war manoeuvres despite efforts by the North to reopen dialogue, and it repeated its demand for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the South.
But conspicuously absent from the 5,000-word New Year editorial was any mention of its nuclear arms programme.
Momentum was building in diplomatic contacts between the North and the United States before the announcement of Kim Jong-il's death on December 19, raising expectations that the two sides may be closer to reaching a compromise to restart stalled talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear programme.
Those talks stalled in 2008 when Pyongyang balked at intrusive inspections of its nuclear sites under a 2005 deal by six countries including the United States and South Korea to give the impoverished North aid in return for disarmament.
Last week, in a fiery message that marked the first communication with the outside world since Kim Jong-il's death, the North's National Defense Commission, which is seen as the apex of power, declared it would not deal with the current government in the South.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak had angered Pyongyang by cutting off aid to the destitute neighbour when he took office in 2008 demanding nuclear disarmament and economic reform as preconditions to reopen food assistance and political engagement.
Tensions on the divided peninsula had reached a new peak in 2010 when the North launched an artillery barrage into a South Korean island killing civilians. The North was also blamed for a torpedo attack against a South Korean navy ship killing 46.
The North's state media said on Saturday that Kim Jong-un has been officially appointed supreme commander of its 1.2-million strong military, two days after the official mourning for the dead leader ended in a move seen as a rush to solidify succession and boost the junior Kim's grip on power.
Kim Jong-un was named a four-star general and given the vice-chairmanship of the ruling party's Central Military Commission by his father in 2010.
Experts believe the untested new leader, who had only been groomed for rule since 2009, will rule with the aid of a close coterie that includes his uncle and key power-broker, Jang Song-thaek, at least in the early stages of the leadership transition.
Jang, husband of Kim Jong-il's younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, stood behind his nephew in Wednesday's mass funeral parade, escorting the hearse carrying Kim's body.
Despite Pyongyang's determination to project an unbroken line from Kim Jong-un's iron-fisted predecessors, which began with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, there have been questions among outsiders about his capacity to lead the country.
North and South Korea are technically still at war under a truce ending the 1950-53 Korean War.
Copyright © 2012 ReutersFull content generated by Get Full RSS.
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 04:03 PM PST
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two leading Syrian opposition parties have agreed a road map to democracy should a popular uprising succeed in toppling President Bashar al-Assad, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.
Hundreds of thousands had taken to the streets across Syria on Friday, aiming to demonstrate the strength of their movement to Arab League monitors checking whether Assad is implementing a pledge to halt a violent crackdown on unrest that has been raging since March.
The observer mission has already stirred controversy for its lack of numbers and comments by its Sudanese leader, General Mohammed al-Dabi, suggesting he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centres of unrest.
He later backtracked from the reports of those remarks, but appeared likely to cause fresh concern that the mission would be soft on Syria by undermining the comments of one of his observers in Deraa, cradle of the uprising, posted in a video on YouTube early on Saturday.
"We saw snipers in the town, we saw them with our own eyes," the observer says in Arabic, visibly concerned. "We're going to ask the government to remove them immediately. We'll be in touch with the Arab League back in Cairo."
Dabi later told the BBC: "This man said that IF he sees, by his eyes, those snipers, he will report them immediately and he will tell the government. But he didn't see, he said that 'IF he (sees)', so it is not correct in the media, what he said."
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces had shot dead 27 people on Friday in areas where there were no observers, adding to the toll of a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 people, most of them unarmed civilians.
The Observatory said four civilians had been shot dead on Saturday, three by snipers. The bodies of three detainees were also returned home, and a woman died of gunshot wounds, it said.
With little confidence in the Arab observer mission, opposition groups are trying to create a coherent movement to build political pressure and to boost their credibility in the eyes of other countries that fear chaos if Assad is forced out.
The leading opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, signed the deal on Friday with the largely Syrian-based National Coordination Committee, according to Moulhem Droubi, a top SNC member from Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.
The two groups have received attention from Western powers, but it is not clear how much sway they hold with the mass of protesters. The document seen by Reuters says the deal will be presented to other opposition groups at a conference next month.
ARAB INTERVENTION POSSIBLE?
The National Coordination Committee had disagreed with the SNC's calls for foreign intervention - one of several disputes that had prevented opposition groups agreeing on what a post-Assad Syria should look like.
In their pact, the two sides "reject any military intervention that harms the sovereignty or stability of the country, though Arab intervention is not considered foreign."
The groups outlined a one-year transitional period, which could be renewed once if necessary. In that period, Syria would adopt a new constitution "that ensures a parliamentary system for a democratic, pluralistic civil state."
The document also stresses that religious freedom will be guaranteed by the new constitution and condemns any signs of sectarianism or "sectarian militarisation."
Most of the protesters come from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad still appears to enjoy significant support among members of his Shi'ite Alawite sect, from which most of the ruling establishment is drawn.
The Arab League plan calls for a verifiable withdrawal of troops and heavy weaponry from towns and cities.
But activists say they have little faith that the Arab League mission can help to stem the violence against them.
MISSION UNDER SCRUTINY
The mission is still short of its planned strength of 150 members, who must observe events in dozens of towns and cities across a country of 23 million people. And it relies for its transport on state security escorts who some protesters say have prevented access to the demonstrators.
"We don't know what to do. But we know Assad and his regime won't give us what we want," said opposition activist Ziad in Douma, a suburb of Damascus that has seen big protests. "So why should we wait for them to help us?
"Assad wants us to raise our weapons and kill each other and he is pushing us towards that every day. We wanted the monitors to help us find a solution, but it won't happen."
SNC head Burhan Ghalioun said on Friday that if the government did not implement the peace plan, "there is no other solution except going to the (U.N.) Security Council - and I think we are walking toward the Security Council."
On Saturday, thousands took to the streets in the protest hotspot of Idlib, carrying the bodies of three slain protesters wrapped in white sheets and sprinkled with leaves.
"The martyr is beloved by God and Assad is the enemy of God," the protesters shouted, according to witnesses. Most foreign media are banned from Syria, making witness reports hard to verify.
Assad, 46, says Islamist militants steered from abroad are the source of unrest and have killed 2,000 of his forces.
The state news agency SANA reported at length on "massive demonstrations" throughout Syria on Friday in support of Assad, and against "the plot which Syria is exposed to."
It said demonstrators had denounced "the pressure and biased campaigns targeting Syria's security and stability" and the "lies and fabrications of the misleading media channels."
Some protesters have decided their best hope lies with the Free Syrian Army, a group of army defectors and armed rebels who have been taking the fight to Assad's forces and sometimes overshadowing the peaceful protests.
"I think it's obvious at this point that the Arab League needs to take a stronger stance. We need support for the Free Syrian Army," activist Manhal Abu Bakr said by phone from Hama.
"It has been nearly a week and they (the monitors) haven't stopped the killing."
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby had said it should take only a week to see if Assad was keeping his word.
The commander of the Free Syrian Army told Reuters on Friday he had ordered his fighters to stop attacks while the FSA tried to arrange a meeting with the monitors.
But in a newspaper interview published on Saturday he said if the Arab mission was "not professional," the FSA would "resume our defence operations."
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said on Friday that the United Nations was ready to train the observers in rights monitoring.
Copyright © 2012 ReutersFull content generated by Get Full RSS.
Posted: 31 Dec 2011 03:54 PM PST
GARISSA, Kenya (Reuters) - Gunmen sprayed bullets at New Year revellers in two bars in northeastern Kenya on Sunday, killing at least two people, a witness and police said, the latest in a wave of attacks near the border with Somalia.
A worker at one of the pubs in Garissa town said gunmen approached in a vehicle, fired at the bars and then drove away.
"The guys fired from the vehicle. They first shot the guard, (and then) shot more bullets at those who tried to leave and those who were at the entrance," said the witness who declined to be named.
North Eastern provincial police commander Leo Nyongesa said two people had been confirmed dead. A medic, who refused to be identified, said 28 people had been wounded, including security officers and several women.
Kenyan forces crossed into Somalia in October to attack the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants, whom it blamed for a spate of kidnappings and cross-border attacks on its soil.
Al Shabaab has denied responsibility for the kidnappings and has vowed major retaliation against Kenya.
Kenyan police said on Saturday they were looking for 15 people whom they said had information on al Shabaab.
"I can see ambulances and the military. Local police have taken two bodies and four people who had gunshot wounds to Garissa general hospital," a Reuters photographer said.
Relatives at the hospital said a third person had died, he said, in the attack that struck at midnight.
Last week two grenades were hurled at a club in Wajir-district in northeastern Kenya, wounding at least seven people.
(Reporting by Noor Ali and Daud Yussuf; Writing by Yara Bayoumy)
Copyright © 2012 ReutersFull content generated by Get Full RSS.
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Star Online: World Updates |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 20 West Kinzie, Chicago IL USA 60610|