- Iran's Ahmadinejad defiant as U.S. raises heat - paper
- Intrigue, betrayal in Rome as Berlusconi fights on
- Syrian forces kill 13 at start of Eid, Arabs to meet
CAIRO (Reuters) - The United States fears Iran's growing military power because it is now able to compete with Israel and the West, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in comments carried by an Egyptian newspaper on Monday.
Responding to a toughening stance from the United States and Israel against Tehran, Ahmadinejad accused Washington of inventing conspiracies to discredit Iran and sowing discord with its near neighbour Saudi Arabia.
"Yes, we have military capabilities that are different from any other country in the region," Egyptian daily al-Akhbar cited Ahmadinejad as saying. "Iran is increasing in capability and advancement and therefore we are able to compete with Israel and the West and especially the United States."
"The U.S. fears Iran's capability," he told the paper. "Iran will not permit (anyone from making) a move against it."
Iran's Islamic rulers, who say Israel has no right to exist, deny accusations that they are seeking nuclear weapons and have warned they will respond to any attacks by striking at Israel and U.S. interests in the Gulf.
A senior U.S. military official said on Friday Iran had become the biggest threat to the United States and Israel's president said the military option to stop the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons was nearer.
Ahmadinejad repeated that Iran does not own a nuclear bomb, but said Israel's end was inevitable.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, is expected this week to issue its most detailed report yet on research in Iran seen as geared to developing atomic bombs.
"It is Israel that has about 300 nuclear warheads. Iran is only keen to have nuclear capability for peaceful means," he said, accusing Washington of lumping Iran with Syria, the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The U.S. portrays those four as "the Axis of Evil to save the Zionist entity (Israel). But the Zionists are bound to go out of existence," he said.
Responding to a U.S. claim that Iran was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Ahmadinejad said: "Iran is farthest from thinking of carrying out such crimes but the U.S. is always inventing conspiracies against Iran".
"The U.S. fears any friendship between us and Saudi Arabia and therefore incites disagreements," he said. "To stop the U.S. in its tracks we must deepen the elements of friendship... We are ready for this and the relation between Saudi and Iran already exists and has not been cut off."
(Reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Matthew Jones)
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ROME (Reuters) - With Silvio Berlusconi's fate resting on a group of party rebels threatening to pull the rug from under his government next week, the Italian prime minister is using carrot and stick to try to win over the doubters and pull off yet another parliamentary escape.
Estimates vary widely over how many centre-right deputies will jump ship in a crunch vote on public finance in the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday. Berlusconi's message to potential "traitors" is clear: you have nowhere else to go and you will be rewarded if you stay.
The 75-year-old media tycoon has defied all calls to step down and is adamant that he can battle on.
"We have checked in the last few hours and the numbers are certain, we still have a majority," he told party followers on Sunday.
Newspapers have estimated the number of potential defectors at between 20 and 40, which would be more than enough to bring down the government, but in previous narrow escapes Berlusconi has proved his powers of last-minute persuasion.
He has been meeting and telephoning rebels since he returned from a humiliating international summit in France on Friday which agreed the International Monetary Fund would visit Italy quarterly to check its progress in passing long-delayed reforms.
A deputy from his ruling coalition said after meeting Berlusconi that the premier was ready to reward doubters with "well-deserved jobs" in government. Berlusconi said on Friday defectors would be "betraying the government and the country".
Italy is the third biggest economy in the euro zone and its political woes and debt worries are seen as a huge threat in the wider crisis facing the single currency.
Berlusconi's latest assurance over his majority may be bad news for Italian bonds, which sold off again on Friday to push their yield to a record euro-era high above 6.4 percent. The spread over German bunds, reflecting the higher risk premium investors place on Italy, also hit a record above 4.6 percentage points.
Bond prices would recover and the yield spread would fall by a full percentage point if the government should fall, according to a Reuters survey of 10 fund managers, market analysts and strategists last week.
Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti was forced to deny reports that he had forecast a "catastrophe" on financial markets next week unless Berlusconi stepped down.
European Central Bank council member Yves Mersch underscored the high stakes on Sunday, saying in a press interview that the ECB frequently debates the option of ending its purchases of Italian bonds unless Rome delivers on reforms. [ID:nR1E7LJ00V]
Without that bond-buying programme, the run on Italian bonds would probably already have spiralled way out of control.
ANALYSIS-Berlusconi cannot deliver reforms [ID:nL6E7M433Z]
Berlusconi on Sunday rejected talk of being succeeded by an unelected technocrat government or a political administration with the backing of all the forces in parliament, saying: "The only alternative to this government would be elections."
He also seemed to be having second thoughts over the IMF monitoring, saying the initiative for the visits "came from us and we can withdraw it whenever we want".
Commentators say the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres are reminiscent of the so-called "first republic" that ruled Italy for nearly 50 years after World War Two, when new governments were constantly formed and dismantled in parliament by the many factions of the all-powerful Christian Democrat party.
Many of the centre-right waverers are ex-Christian Democrats and are being tempted by offers from the small, centrist UDC party to join forces behind a new government with broad cross-party support spanning both the centre-right and the opposition.
These negotiations will continue even if Berlusconi wins Tuesday's vote to ratify 2010 public accounts, with no let-up in the atmosphere of intrigue and above all uncertainty ahead of more key votes on budget measures due later this month.
Lower house speaker Gianfranco Fini, a former ally and now arch-enemy of the prime minister, made the point strongly when he appealed to Berlusconi to resign on Sunday.
"The government must understand that it is not credible even if it wins in parliament by a vote, because with a majority of one vote you can survive but you cannot govern".
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Copyright © 2011 ReutersFull content generated by Get Full RSS.
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces shot dead at least 13 civilians on Sunday in a continued military assault on the restive city of Homs and in attacks on pro-democracy demonstrations that erupted after prayers marking the main Muslim feast, activists said.
Qatar's prime minister called for Arab states to meet next Saturday to weigh Syria's failure to implement a deal struck with the Arab League to end bloodshed that was touched off by the popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The Egyptian official news agency MENA said the gathering would address "the continuing violence and the government's failure to stick to its obligations under the Arab Action Plan to solve the crisis in Syria".
Arab leaders have ramped up criticism of Assad as the killings mounted, but are shied from demanding major political change in the country for fear chaos could ensue, given Syria's volatile sectarian divisions. Syria is dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect while Sunni Muslims form the majority.
Damascus has described increasing Arab criticism as unproductive and based on false media reports.
It says the unrest has arisen largely from a foreign conspiracy to divide Syria and that security forces are using legitimate means to confront "terrorists" and Islamist militants bent on wrecking a reform drive by Assad.
Opposition leaders say the protests are driven by broad discontent with a corrupt repressive elite, not by violent extremists, and that Assad's promises of reform have been discredited by his continuing military crackdown on protesters.
The official Syrian news agency said Assad went to the eastern provincial capital of Raqqa on Sunday where he joined Eid prayers with "a number of notables and popular, union and party organisations and a crowd of Raqqa citizens."
"The stand Syrians are making against terrorism and outside intervention is the basis for Syria's steadfastness," the SANA agency quoted Assad as saying.
NO LET-UP IN CRACKDOWN
Most of the deaths on Sunday occurred in Homs, 140 km (90 miles) north of Damascus, where a main district has been under tank bombardment since the day before Syrian authorities agreed in Cairo to the Arab League initiative on Wednesday.
Under the deal, the army was supposed to pull out of turbulent cities, political prisoners would go free and talks with the opposition would begin within two weeks.
A demonstrator was shot dead when security police fired at a protest in Hama, north of Homs, demanding the removal of Assad, and three were killed in the northwestern province of Idlib, said the activist Syrian Revolution General Commission.
The organisation said in a statement that at least 10 protesters were injured in the town of Talbisah near Homs and in Harra in the Hauran Plain in Syria's south.
Fifty protesters were arrested after a demonstration in the Damascus district of Kfrar Souseh. Troops and militiamen loyal to Assad deployed in several Damascus suburbs, surrounding mosques to prevent crowds from rallying after the early morning prayers for the feast of Eid al-Adha, the commission said.
"Idlib saw big demonstrations across its towns and villages this morning. There is disillusionment that the Arab League agreement has failed to curb the repression," local activist Raed Ayham told Reuters by phone.
"The army is escalating the crackdown in the hope of wrapping this uprising up before the Arabs take more steps against the regime. Assad has not understood that the killings are only feeding the opposition against him."
Syrian authorities have banned most non-official media since the revolt against 41 years of rule by the Assad family and their Baath Party erupted in March, making independent verification of events difficult.
Activists and residents said tank fire killed at least 13 civilians and wounded dozens in Homs on Saturday. The day before security forces killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens across Syria, mostly in shootings at protests. State media denied that any protesters had been killed on Friday.
The Syrian official news agency said a group of what it described as Homs notables met the provincial governor and agreed to "work together to achieve more stability and stopping armed terrorist groups from messing with the security of citizens and the homeland".
SANA quoted the governor as saying that the authorities were "serious" about implementing an amnesty announced last week to anyone with weapons if they were not involved in killings.
He said four soldiers and police, including two from Homs, killed in violence were buried on Sunday.
The authorities say Islamist militants and foreign-backed armed gangs have killed 1,100 members of the security forces during the uprising. The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown.
In Cairo on Saturday, the head of the Arab League said it was seriously concerned by the violence in Syria, and appealed to Damascus to abide by steps agreed with Arab states to protect civilians and set Syria on a course of political dialogue.
In an address to Syrians aired live on al Jazeera television, prominent opposition figure Burhan Ghalioun said the Syrian National Council, formed in Istanbul two months ago, had asked the Arab League and United Nations to help protect Syrian civilians by sending in international human rights monitors.
Western leaders have called for Assad to make way for a democratic succession. He has rejected such calls as interference. But, given Syria's location along fault lines of Middle East conflict, Western countries have shown no appetite for real intervention, such as with NATO air strikes that were key in the fall of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi to a popular revolt.
Assad has been strengthening an alliance with Shi'ite Iran, started by his late father, President Hafez al-Assad, while continuing his policy of avoiding confrontation with Israel on the occupied Golan Heights frontier after a 1974 ceasefire.
The opposition has so far rejected talks with Assad as long as violence continues and has said the only way to restore peace is for the president to step down immediately.
"How can we talk about a dialogue when Syrians cannot meet each other, express an opinion or an ideology without being in danger? These rights have to be guaranteed for participation in public issues," said dissident Aref Dalila, a prominent economist who was jailed for eight years after criticising a mobile phone concession that was awarded to a cousin of Assad.
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