- Syrian opposition boycotts talks with government
- Sudan's smooth separation masks a messy divorce
- Eight dead in Yemen as U.S. envoy presses Saleh to go
Posted: 10 Jul 2011 12:09 PM PDT
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria's main opposition groups boycotted talks with the government on Sunday and said they will not negotiate till President Bashar al-Assad stops the violent suppression of protests and frees thousands of political prisoners.
Even many of the moderate intellectuals, independent parliamentarians and minor opposition figures who did attend the conference aimed at setting the framework for national dialogue were scathing in their criticism of the government crackdown.
Rights groups say more than 1,300 civilians have been killed and 12,000 people have been arrested since the start of demonstrations demanding more freedom began in March.
"How can I go to the conference when friends of mine are still in prison? People who should be with us in the conference are in prison," said prominent opposition figure Fayez Sara.
"They did not prepare the background for dialogue. The killings, crackdown and arrests did not stop so why should we go," said Sara, who was arrested during the uprising.
Authorities say more than 500 soldiers and police have been killed in clashes which they say were provoked by Islamist militant groups.
Assad has responded to the protests with a mixture of force and promises of reforms. He has sent troops and tanks into cities and towns to crush protests, but has also taken steps toward reform, including granting citizenship to some ethnic Kurds, lifting a draconian state of emergency, freeing hundreds of prisoners and calling for a national dialogue.
"At this time there is no alternative to dialogue. (The alternative) is bloodshed, economic bleeding and self destruction," Vice President Farouq al-Shara told more than 200 participants at the conference which was broadcast live on Syrian television.
"National dialogue should continue and on all levels ... in order to turn the page on the past and open a new page in the history of Syria," he said.
Some of those at the meeting called for an immediate abolition of Article Eight of the constitution which puts the Baath Party at the centre of Syrian politics and society.
"The way out is by putting an end to the security state ... and to work for a civil and democratic country where there is political pluralism and media freedom and to end the one-party rule," Mohammad Habash, an independent member of parliament, told the meeting.
"Confronting protests with bullets is not acceptable at all," he said.
Syrian authorities question the motives of some of the opposition and believe they are seeking help from the West to topple Assad while most opposition groups question the seriousness of the authorities' call for dialogue.
Western governments have condemned Assad's violence against protesters, but their practical response has so far been limited to sanctions against top officials, far short of the military intervention against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Syria summoned the ambassadors of the United States and France on Sunday to object to their visit to the restive city of Hama without clearance from the authorities last week, the state news agency SANA said.
It quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying the visit of the U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford and France's Ambassador Eric Chevallier to Hama was "clear evidence of the American and French intervention in Syria's internal affairs and confirms that there is external support for (protests)".
The U.S. State Department said Ford toured Hama to show solidarity with residents facing a security crackdown after weeks of escalating protests against Assad, but rejected Syria's accusations that he sought to incite protests.
The Baath Party has ruled Syria since it took power in a coup in 1963. Bashar's father, President Hafez al-Assad, ruled the country with for more than 30 years, crushing all opposition.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Jon Hemming)
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Posted: 10 Jul 2011 12:09 PM PDT
JUBA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - North and South Sudanese awoke in separate nations on Sunday, relieved at the ease of the split but no closer to solving rows over borders, oil sharing and other issues that may yet spark conflict.
Even within the new boundaries, challenges abound. The north, with its restive rebels, must rapidly plug a gap left by losing most oil resources to the south. The south has to build almost from scratch a nation that is riven by tribal violence.
The creation of the Republic of South Sudan on Saturday, the climax of a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of war between north and south, went remarkably smoothly.
Under the surface, though, the crowds were actually watching a messy divorce -- one where the two parties had not reached a proper legal settlement before going their separate ways.
John Prendergast, of the Enough Project, said the ceremony itself was secondary. "I think the relevant question is when are they going to make the comprehensive deal on oil revenues and where the border is. Everything else is window-dressing."
On the day itself, the countries put on a good show. South Sudan President Salva Kiir stood side by side in the southern capital Juba with his old foe, the President of Sudan Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and both made friendly speeches.
The cracks showed seconds after the northern president's address, when a lone voice in the crowd shouted "Bye, bye".
It was impossible to miss the bitterness left by years of war that hints at the acrimony likely to plague future negotiations.
"Any sharing a country with Arabs or Muslims is like sharing a country with devils," said southerner Simon, 34. Another's T-shirt read: "I've got 99 problems but Bashir ain't one."
As the celebrations mounted in South Sudan, mediators from the African Union High Level Implementation Panel for Sudan quietly issued a six-page document, publishing a list of the agreements so far, and what they still needed to settle.
It was remarkably short of dates and deadlines.
The two sides need to agree who owns the disputed Abyei area, mark out their border, move their forces outside a demilitarized border zone, work out how the south will pay the north to transport oil through northern pipelines, share out the waters of the Nile and prepare for a new currency in the south.
"Trying to work through outstanding disagreements, many of them already violent, will require difficult negotiations, political savvy, and carefully considered international engagement," wrote the International Crisis Group's Louise Arbour in the International Herald Tribune.
"At this point, the signs do not look particularly good."
Both sides also awoke to face their own problems.
In Khartoum, those include a loss of oil revenues, surging inflation, international isolation, insurgencies, infighting in the ruling National Congress Party and International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants for Bashir and other officials.
Sudan's goodwill towards South Sudan may be short-lived if Washington fails to keep its promise to take Khartoum off its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a reward for recognising the south and other progress.
In his speech in Juba, Bashir urged the United States to lift sanctions. Instead, he was met with calls for more work.
"By continuing on the path of peace, the government of Sudan can redefine its relationship with the international community and secure a more prosperous future for its people," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
If it feels betrayed by the United States, Bashir's administration, which once hosted Osama bin Laden, may turn its back on the West, strengthening ties with Palestinian group Hamas and with Iran.
In South Sudan, Juba will face its own internal battles against corruption, a mushrooming public sector it can ill afford, poverty, warring tribes, renegade militia leaders, raids by the vicious Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army and an economy that produces next to nothing except oil.
Kiir acknowledged the challenges in his first speech as the new president, saying South Sudan was at the "tail end" of development scales. "From today onwards we shall have no excuse or scapegoats to blame," he told southerners.
Up to now, the actions of the leaders from the north and south have been governed by two main tactics. Neither encourages confidence for the coming talks or the stability of their nations which straddle the Arab world and Sub-Saharan Africa.
First there is the tactic of postponement.
Difficult settlements are put off, letting the cost of the disputes in terms of human lives and development mount while leaders get on with the day-by-day business of staying in power.
This has sometimes drawn in external players, African or the Western, but that has not guaranteed a solution in the past.
Sudan's eight-year Darfur conflict festers despite the presence of one of the world's biggest peacekeeping missions.
Second, there is the ploy of escalation, by politicians or the military, in a bid to draw concessions and then win credit by promising to calm a situation they ignited.
Analysts point to the north's seizure of Abyei weeks before the separation that was provoked by a southern attack.
The south won kudos for not being drawn further into conflict. The north got credit when it agreed to pull back, to make way for Ethiopian peacekeepers, days later.
Both tactics go a long way to explaining the overriding theme of internal Sudanese politics, at least in recent years. Plenty of drama with little political change. The 2005 deal was a rare exception but the main actors have stayed the same.
Bashir has been in power since 1989. Kiir became president of the autonomous south when his predecessor, John Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. Before that he was a top officer in the southern rebel army.
For years, both sides traded accusations. That will likely continue in the months or years ahead, this time from across the border. Each may choose to continue scapegoating the other, swapping charges to explain the failures at home.
The people of the Republic of Sudan in the north and the new Republic of South Sudan may be hoping their leaders can come up with some new strategies.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dziadosz in Juba; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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Posted: 10 Jul 2011 11:37 AM PDT
SANAA (Reuters) - Eight people were killed in southern Yemen in two separate incidents on Sunday as U.S. President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism official met President Ali Abdullah Saleh to urge him to hand over power quickly.
Four militants and one soldier were killed in a clash in the town of Zinjibar in Abyan province, the September 26 government website said, without giving details.
In the city of Taiz, three civilians were killed early on Sunday when the Yemeni presidential guard shelled a house belonging to an anti-Saleh tribal chief, a medical source said.
Residents of the main southern city of Aden also reported clashes between security forces and militants.
In Riyadh, U.S. envoy Brennan brought a message from Obama to Saleh, who is recovering from serious injuries sustained in an attack on his presidential compound last month.
The United States until recently backed Saleh as a bulwark against regional instability and in particular against al Qaeda, whose active Yemeni cell said it was responsible for bombs put into U.S.-bound air freight last year.
But it has now made clear it thinks he should yield to a six-month-old popular uprising against his 33-year-rule.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that Brennan called on Saleh quickly to fulfil a pledge to sign a Gulf-brokered deal for a peaceful handover.
"Mr. Brennan emphasized the importance of resolving the political crisis in Sanaa so that the Yemeni government and people can successfully confront the serious challenges they face, including the terrorist attacks carried out by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of Yemeni citizens," Carney said.
He said Brennan had told Saleh that the United States was working closely with Yemen's allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council, Europe, and elsewhere to ensure that much-needed assistance would flow to Yemen as soon as the GCC proposal was signed and implemented.
The Yemeni government has said militants are taking advantage of Saleh's absence to step up operations in Abyan.
But opposition parties say the government has reduced security in Abyan to allow militants more sway and thus back up Saleh's argument that al Qaeda will gain a bigger foothold in Yemen if he is pushed out.
Also on Sunday, plainclothes police shot live bullets at hundreds of protesters demanding an end to Saleh's rule at the Red Sea port of Hudaida, activists and residents said.
At least 100 people were admitted to a local hospital, a medical source said. The police also fired tear gas grenades and attacked demonstrators with knives and clubs, witnesses said.
Human Rights Watch has accused the military of killing dozens of civilians in unlawful attacks while fighting militants.
In recent months, militants have seized two cities in Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar.
Some 54,000 Yemenis have fled Abyan since then, a government official said this month.
In a recorded video aired on state television on Thursday, Saleh was defiant, saying he would "confront a challenge with a challenge".
(Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohammed Sudam; Writing by Nour Merza and Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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