- Syrian forces raid Hama, official resigns in protest
- China top paper warns West to let UN lead in Libya
- EXCLUSIVE - Obama moves to sell Northrop drones to Skorea - sources
Posted: 31 Aug 2011 09:04 PM PDT
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces raided houses in Hama for the second day on Thursday, residents said, hours after the city's attorney general declared on YouTube he had resigned in protest against bloody repression of street demonstrations.
Five months of protests have failed to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited power from his father and retains the loyalty of the core of his armed forces comprised mostly of members of the Alawite minority, the same sect as the president.
But demonstrators have been encouraged by the fall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and rising international pressure on Syria, including a planned European Union embargo on the oil industry which would disrupt a vital source if income.
Residents of Hama said security police and state militiamen, known as shabbiha, raided houses overnight in the al-Sabouniya and al-Marabet districts, after troops backed by tanks arrested dozens in two other neighbourhoods of the city the night before.
"The inhabitants are responding by shouting 'God is greatest' from windows and rooftops. Tonight there are more random raids as opposed to what the army did yesterday, which is go into specific houses looking for suspected activists on a list," Haidar, a local activist, told Reuters by phone.
Syrian forces mounted a 10-day operation in the city at the beginning of August and arrested hundreds of people.
The attorney-general of Hama said he had resigned because security forces killed 72 jailed protesters and activists at Hama's central jail on the eve of the military assault on the city on July 31. He said at least another 420 people were killed in the operation and were buried in mass graves in public parks.
"I, Judge Adnan Mohammad al-Bakkour, Hama province Attorney-General, declare that I have resigned in protest of the savage regime's practices against peaceful demonstrators," Bakkour said in a YouTube video released by activists.
FRANCE CONDEMNS CRACKDOWN
An independent lawyer said the person in the video was Bakkour, who also denied reports by state media that he had been kidnapped by armed groups this week.
If confirmed, Bakkour's resignation would be the first high profile defection in the uprising against Assad. The United Nations says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since protests began in March.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday that Assad had committed "irreparable" damage and that France and its partners would do everything possible to "help the Syrian people's aspirations to freedom and democracy".
Assad has repeatedly said he is fighting agents of what he calls a foreign plot to divide Syria. Authorities blame "armed terrorist groups" for most of the bloodshed and say more than 500 soldiers and police have been also killed.
Syrian authorities have expelled foreign media making it difficult to verify events in the country.
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, local activists said a six year old girl, Rama Khilyawi, was killed and her mother wounded when shabbiha militiamen fired rifles in al-Joura neighbourhood to prevent protests after evening prayers.
Several hundred women clad in black also marched in the southern city of Deraa, carrying placards calling for the downfall Of Assad.
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi and John Irish; Editing by Jon Hemming)
Copyright © 2008 Reuters
Posted: 31 Aug 2011 09:04 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top official newspaper warned Western powers to let the United Nations lead post-war reconstruction in Libya, saying on Thursday that Beijing would seek to defend its economic stake after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.
The People's Daily, the main paper of China's ruling Communist Party, laid bare Beijing's qualms about the influence the United States, European powers and NATO may claim in post-war Libya. It appeared on the day leaders meet in Paris to discuss the future of the north African nation.
The U.N. issue could feature at the "Friends of Libya" meeting that will include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other world leaders. China has sent a relatively junior representative, Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun, to attend as an observer.
"As a permanent member of the Security Council, China has full reason to stress the leading role of the United Nations," said a commentary in the Chinese-language People's Daily, referring to Libya, where rebels are trying to wipe out resistance from Gaddafi's supporters.
Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Libya, showed what could go wrong if the U.N. is not the top body guiding international involvement in post-war rebuilding, said the newspaper.
"Looking back at these three local wars since the start of this century, it's easy to discern a pattern: the United Nations gets involved quite quickly and early on, but as developments evolve, the United States and its NATO allies come to the fore and steadily push out the U.N.," it said.
Repeating that pattern could hurt the Libyan people, as well as China's own stake, said the People's Daily.
"Stressing the leading role of the U.N. in Libyan affairs is to protect fairness in the country's reconstruction," it said, noting China's investments in Libya's telecommunications and construction sectors.
"China is willing to play an active role in Libya's reconstruction, and will give due attention to its legitimate interests in Libya," said the commentary.
The commentary appeared under a pen name "Zhong Sheng", a name suggesting the "voice of China", which is sometimes used to reflect higher level opinion. It reinforced recent comments from Chinese officials, who have joined Russia and Brazil in demanding the U.N. come to the fore in Libya.
Energy, construction and telecom firms will be eager to secure a foothold in Libya after a six-month war.
Libya's interim council has promised rewards for those who took a lead role in backing the revolt against Muammar Gaddafi, and that has raised concerns that China could be disadvantaged.
China is the world's second-biggest oil consumer, and last year it obtained 3 percent of its imported crude from Libya.
China did not use its U.N. Security Council veto power in March to block a resolution that authorised the NATO bombing campaign against Gaddafi's forces, but it then condemned the expanding strikes and urged compromise between his government and rebels.
Beijing had since courted Libyan rebel leaders, and last week urged a "stable transition of power".
China's past projects in Libya should not hinder relations with the country's new leaders, said the People's Daily.
"These investments were normal economic cooperation between the two countries," said the paper. "They were not a gift to Gaddafi, and nor should they hinder China's dealings with the new government in Libya."
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Frederik Richter)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 31 Aug 2011 09:04 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has begun consulting the U.S. Congress on plans to sell to South Korea remotely piloted Global Hawk surveillance planes and related ground stations, two people familiar with the matter said.
Among those briefed have been the Senate's and House of Representatives' foreign affairs committees, which have jurisdiction over arms sales, the people familiar with the matter said.
There was no immediate word on when formal notification of a proposed sale might take place, nor on the potential overall value.
South Korea has been under pressure to boost surveillance capabilities over North Korea after two attacks against it killed 50 people last year, driving tensions on the Korean peninsula to the highest levels in decades.
Talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programme in return for aid have stalled since 2008 and the United Nations imposed new tough sanctions after Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test and missile tests the following year.
Northrop Grumman, which builds the high-flying, long-endurance airframe, said Seoul was considering buying four RQ-4 Global Hawk "Block 30" drones, which can carry intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads.
Associated ground stations would be included in such a sale, Gemma Loochkartt, a company spokeswoman, said by email on Wednesday. Deliveries could take place in 2014 and 2015 if a government-to-government deal is signed this year, she said.
The Block 30 airframes sell for roughly $30 million apiece, not including their payloads. Raytheon Co's "Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite" lets the aircraft scan large swaths and transmit imagery from 60,000 feet in near real-time using electro-optical, infrared and radar-imaging sensors.
The State Department declined to comment pending formal notification of a proposed sale to Congress. The U.S. Air Force, which would broker the deal, and South Korea's embassy in Washington also had no immediate comment.
An official at the South Korean Defence Ministry's procurement agency said it remains interested in acquiring the aircraft system and is waiting for Washington to have a formal go-ahead to negotiate the sale.
"Our interest is based on the operational need of our military," the official said.
The head of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration Noh Dae-lae had earlier expressed concern about the system's reliability after reports about the aircraft's technical shortfalls in May.
The Global Hawk is due to replace the Cold War-vintage U-2 spy plane in 2015, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Thomas, the U.S. Air Force's Global Hawk functional manager, told reporters on Aug. 10.
Japan, Singapore and Australia also have shown interest in acquiring Global Hawk, Loochkartt said.
Global Hawk's export would require a waiver under the Missile Technology Control Regime. The MTCR is a voluntary pact among at least 34 countries aimed at curbing the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.
The aircraft's range -- 12,300 nautical miles (22,780 km) -- and payload capacity -- 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) -- subject it to the arms control agreement created in 1987.
Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in October 2008 that the United States was "very sympathetic" to South Korea's interest in Global Hawk but added that there were MTCR issues to overcome.
Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman's chief executive, complained in an Aug. 17 speech that export curbs on unmanned systems were harming U.S. industry without making the United States any safer.
"The good news," he said, "is that the Defense Department is promoting what is clearly the best export reform policy -- build higher walls around fewer things."
But tweaking the MTCR would be a mistake, some critics have argued, for instance if it led Russia or China, for instance, to follow suit with sales of such drones to countries like Iran, at odds with the West over its nuclear program.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer and Frederik Richter)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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