- Obama keeping close watch on Hurricane Irene
- Singapore PM's preferred candidate narrowly wins presidency
- Arab League tells Syria to end bloodshed soon
Posted: 27 Aug 2011 09:30 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama kept a close eye on Hurricane Irene as it charged north along the U.S. East Coast on Saturday by visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency and receiving an evening briefing from top officials.
Obama, who cut short his vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, by a day because of the hurricane, said it would be a "tough slog" getting through the storm but praised the federal effort so far.
U.S. officials, mindful of the widely criticized slow response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have been out in full force urging residents in the path of the hurricane to prepare and take heed of local warnings.
Obama stopped by a FEMA coordination center where federal officials were monitoring the hurricane on large screens and said: "You guys are doing a great job."
Obama was again briefed on the storm's track, its impact and response efforts during an evening conference call with senior officials including Vice President Joe Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. The White House said Obama asked to be kept apprised of developments throughout the night.
The hurricane's core was expected to approach Washington in the early hours of Sunday before hurtling toward New York City. Rainfall expected to total 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) prompted a flash-flood warning for the U.S. capital.
District residents were being urged to avoid driving and use extreme caution because of pooled water and winds expected to reach 65 miles per hour (105 kph) Saturday night.
Local authorities reported trees down, including one that crushed a parked car, and power outages.
Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told ABC News he did not know when the dedication of the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, postponed because of the storm, would be rescheduled.
"We'll come back to this and it will be a great day when we do hold it," he said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little tweeted that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had approved a prepare-to-deploy order for 6,500 active-duty military to support hurricane relief efforts if required.
In the Maryland capital of Annapolis, Mayor Josh Cohen said public transportation would shut down at 9 p.m. and urged residents of the city on the Chesapeake Bay to stay off the roads. The Bay Bridge that connects to the beach communities of Maryland was closed in the evening because of high winds.
Airlines cancelled virtually all flights at Washington-area airports beginning Saturday night.
The Washington National Cathedral, which sustained damage earlier this week during an earthquake that rattled the capital, will be closed the next two Sundays.
"The engineers continue to tell us that the building is structurally sound," said Richard Weinberg, spokesman for the cathedral. "It's just a matter of the damage that was incurred in the central tower and pieces up there remain precarious, so any of the winds from the storm could cause some of the elements to fall."
Local authorities earlier in the day handed out sandbags to residents living near the rivers that run by the city.
"It's going to be a long 72 hours and obviously a lot of families are going to be affected," Obama said at FEMA, where he sat at a conference table with top federal officials and spoke with state officials in a video conference.
The president said the biggest concerns were flooding and power outages.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Alistair Bell, Writing by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Eric Beech and Todd Eastham)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 27 Aug 2011 08:59 PM PDT
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan was elected president of the Southeast Asian city-state after a recount, with the slim margin seen as a blow for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who had backed him in the fight for the largely ceremonial role.
Tony Tan, who was previously executive director of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, received 35.19 percent of the 2.15 million votes cast, just slightly more than medical doctor Tan Cheng Bock who got 34.85 percent.
Investment adviser Tan Jee Say got 25.04 percent and the fourth candidate, former insurance executive Tan Kin Lian, got 4.91 percent in the election that took place on Saturday.
The returning officer in charge of the election ordered a recount because the difference in the number of votes cast for Tony Tan and Tan Cheng Bock was fewer than 2 percent of the total number of valid votes cast.
Tony Tan's share of vote was well below the 60 percent received by Lee's long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in May parliamentary elections when the opposition made historic gains.
The PAP, which was co-founded by Lee's father Lee Kuan Yew, has ruled Singapore since the city-state became independent in 1965.
"Voters faced a difficult choice between Dr Tony Tan and Dr Tan Cheng Bock. This explains why the winning margin is so narrow," the younger Lee said in a statement.
"Nevertheless, under our first-past-the-post system, the election has produced an unambiguous winner, who has the mandate to be the next president," he added.
Tan is the most common family name in Singapore, where ethnic Chinese make up about 75 percent of the population.
Singapore's directly-elected president has historically performed mostly ceremonial duties. But the president wields veto powers that will let him delay the appointment of people to senior government positions as well as in government entities such as GIC and state investor Temasek.
Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP parliamentarian with a track record of speaking up against unpopular policies, had said that if elected, he would use the president's powers to scrutinise government appointments more closely.
During the election campaign, Tan Cheng Bock was aided by several opposition figures as well as many PAP activists.
Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian also had links to Singapore's small but growing opposition.
The PAP did not formally endorse Tony Tan although Lee had described him as a "unifying figure" who would bring honour and credit to Singapore.
Tony Tan was also endorsed by several business groups as well as many of the government-controlled trade unions.
Singapore's presidency was last contested in 1993 due largely to the tough conditions set by the government for prospective candidates that prevented many Singaporeans from running.
Outgoing President S R Nathan, whose term ends in August, did not face any competition when he became president in 1999 and was returned unopposed to a second term six years later.
Under Singapore's constitution, candidates must have served either at least three years in a top government position, or as chairman or chief executive of a Singapore-registered firm with paid-up capital of at least S$100 million ($82 million).
Like most top posts in the Southeast Asian city-state, the president is well paid with a salary estimated at more than 4 million Singapore dollars ($3.3 million) - intended to do away with corruption, but a sore point with voters.
(Reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 27 Aug 2011 08:59 PM PDT
CAIRO (Reuters) - Arab foreign ministers told Syria on Sunday to work to end months of bloodshed "before it's too late", and decided to send Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby to Damascus to push for political and economic reforms.
But in a conciliatory message to Damascus, the ministers also said after an extraordinary meeting in Cairo that Syria's stability was crucial for the Arab World and the whole region.
The Syrian government has sent in troops and tanks to crush five months of street protests demanding President Bashar al-Assad steps down, killing at least 2,200 protesters according to the United Nations.
Syria says it is working hard to introduce reforms in the Arab country which borders Lebanon, Israel and Iraq but blames militants for the violence.
"The (Arab League) council expresses concern and worry over the dangerous developments on the Syrian arena that had caused thousands of casualties, including dead and wounded," the Arab League council said in a statement after an expected news conference was cancelled.
"It also stresses the importance of ending bloodshed and to resort to reason before it is too late," the statement said.
It was the first official Arab League meeting on Syria since the start of the uprising.
Many Arab commentators have criticised the League for its timid reaction to the violence. It spent months only voicing "concern", suggesting divisions among its members, some of whom are facing their own public protests.
The League, which groups the Arab world's 23 states, has been under pressure to speak out more openly following popular uprisings that ousted Arab heads of state in Tunisia and Egypt and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
PROTESTERS OUTSIDE LEAGUE HQ
Hundreds of supporters of pro-democracy activists in both Syria and Yemen demonstrated outside the League's Cairo headquarters shortly before Arab ministers arrived.
The protesters called on the leaders of both countries to step down. Yemen has seen months of mass rallies against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.
"The Arab League is being pressured by Arab public opinion to make more effort in the coming period," Arab League chief Elaraby said in his opening speech.
The League's council stressed that the Syrian people were entitled to "live in security and dignity and to see its legitimate aspirations for political, economic and social reforms realised".
"The council also stresses that the stability of the Syrian Arab Republic is a main foundation for the stability of the Arab world and the region as a whole," the statement said in a message that analysts said was aimed to appease Damascus.
The current chairman of the Arab League council, Omani Foreign Minister Youssef Bin Alawi, earlier said the meeting was important for stability in Syria.
"We will negotiate to establish stability for the Syrian people," Bin Alawi said during the opening session.
Inside the meeting hall, television screens showed footage of dead victims of the crackdown in the Syrian cities of Hama and Deir al-Zor.
International condemnation of the crackdown escalated this month after activists said Assad sent the army into several cities including Hama, Deir al-Zor and Latakia.
Syrian authorities have blamed armed "terrorist groups" for the bloodshed and say 500 police and army have been killed. They have expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify events on the ground.
The League, which also discussed the situation in Libya, endorsed the rebel National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate leadership and asked the United Nations to do the same.
It also "urged the U.N. Security Council and concerned states to unfreeze the funds, properties and assets that belong to the Libyan state immediately", the statement said.
Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril and Mohammed Abdel Rahman Shalgam, the former Libyan foreign minister who defected from Muammar Gaddafi during the early days of the protests, both attended the meeting as representatives of the Libyan state.
In March, the League backed a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing NATO warplanes to patrol Libyan airspace and bomb Gaddafi's forces to protect civilians. Its approval was seen as necessary for that operation to go ahead.
At the start of the meeting, delegates cheered as the rebels' flag was raised among flags of other Arab states instead of Gaddafi's green banner.
(Reporting by Ayman Samir; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alison Williams)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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