- Myanmar's Suu Kyi meets Obama, receives medal from Congress
- Cartoons in French weekly fuel Mohammad furore
- U.N. Security Council split over children and armed conflict
Posted: 19 Sep 2012 05:26 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met President Barack Obama at the White House and received the highest congressional award on Wednesday.
Suu Kyi, making a coast-to-coast U.S. tour, held private talks with Obama in the Oval Office after being feted by lawmakers in the ornate U.S. Capitol, where she was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal for her long fight for democracy in a country ruled by army generals since 1962.
"This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land," she said.
"Among all these faces are some I saw while I was under house arrest, and some I saw after I was released from house arrest," said Suu Kyi, acknowledging strong support from U.S. lawmakers during her 17 years of house arrest.
The Oval Office setting for the first meeting between the two Nobel Peace laureates afforded Suu Kyi's visit some of the trappings normally reserved for visiting foreign presidents and prime ministers.
But the White House, apparently treading carefully lest they allow the Suu Kyi events upstage Myanmar's government, kept the meeting low-key. News photographers were allowed in briefly but not television cameras or print reporters. Obama and Suu Kyi met for about half an hour.
Obama, seeking re-election in November, seized the chance to meet Suu Kyi on the second day of her U.S. tour. The encounter could help him highlight what many see as a foreign policy accomplishment of his administration in helping to push Myanmar's generals onto the path of democratic change.
The president expressed his admiration for Suu Kyi's courage and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years, the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Obama welcomed the Asian nation's democratic transition and the recent progress made by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party and President Thein Sein, the White House said.
MYANMAR PRESIDENT ACKNOWLEDGED
At her congressional medal ceremony, both Suu Kyi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the presence in the audience of a minister representing Myanmar's president and the country's new ambassador in Washington.
"This task has been made possible by the reform measures instituted by President Thein Sein," said Suu Kyi in her acceptance speech.
Earlier on Wednesday, the United States removed sanctions that blocked any U.S. assets of Thein Sein and the speaker of Myanmar's lower house of parliament and that generally barred American companies from dealing with them.
Thein Sein and lower house speaker Shwe Mann, once members of the former military junta who have won international praise for driving reforms in the 18 months since the military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government, were both removed from the U.S. Treasury's list of "specially designated nationals."
Thein Sein will visit New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly next week, when he is expected to meet senior U.S. officials.
U.S. lawmakers and officials who turned out to honour Suu Kyi expressed amazement - some tearing up - that she had made the journey from house arrest to Washington.
"I might have hoped, but I'm not sure I expected, that one day I would have the honour of welcoming my personal hero, Aung San Suu Kyi, to the Congress of the United States," said Republican Senator John McCain.
WEST WING LESSONS
Clinton said she expected change to come in the country also known as Burma, but did not know how long it would take.
"It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the rotunda of our great capitol, the centrepiece of our democracy as an elected member of your parliament," she said.
The solemn ceremony was sprinkled with lighter moments, as Clinton related a trip to Myanmar last year, where she quoted the speaker of the lower house of parliament as saying, "Help us learn how to be a democratic congress, a parliament."
"He went on to tell me that they were trying to teach themselves by watching old segments of The West Wing," Clinton said, referring to the fictional U.S. television series about presidential politics. "I said, 'I think we can do better than that, Mr. Speaker.'"
Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy in opposition to the military junta that held her under house arrest for years. Her last stay in the United States was in the 1970s as a United Nations employee.
Suu Kyi's election to parliament in April helped to transform the pariah image of Myanmar and persuade the West to begin rolling back sanctions after a year of dramatic reforms, including the release of about 700 political prisoners in amnesties between May 2011 and July.
Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, early in his term with no concrete foreign policy successes on his record, leading critics to say he was rewarded mostly for eloquent speech-making.
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert, Arshad Mohammed, Andrew Quinn and Mark Felsenthal; editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 19 Sep 2012 04:58 PM PDT
PARIS (Reuters) - A French magazine ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to fuel the anger of Muslims around the world who are already incensed by a California-made video depicting him as a lecherous fool.
The drawings in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo risked exacerbating a crisis that has seen the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies, the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
Riot police were deployed to protect the paper's Paris offices after the issue hit news stands.
It featured several caricatures of the Prophet showing him naked in what the publishers said was an attempt to poke fun at the furore over the film. One, entitled "Mohammad: a star is born", depicted a bearded figure crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals.
The French government, which had urged the weekly not to print the cartoons, said it was shutting embassies and schools in 20 countries as a precaution on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the drawings outrageous but said those who were offended by them should "use peaceful means to express their firm rejection".
Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, condemned what it called an act of "aggression" against Mohammad but urged Muslims not to fall into a trap intended to "derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West".
In the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, one person was slightly hurt when two masked men threw a small explosive device through the window of a kosher supermarket. Police said it was too early to link the incident to the cartoons. One small local Muslim group filed a legal complaint against the weekly but there were no reports of reaction on the streets of France.
The posting on YouTube of a crude video, made in the United States and available on YouTube since July, that mocked Mohammad as a womanising buffoon has sparked protests in many countries, some of them deadly.
The U.S. envoy to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi, and U.S. and other foreign embassies were attacked in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.
Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. government's National Counterterrorism Center, branded the Benghazi assault a "terrorist attack" and said officials were examining the possibility that individuals involved in the attack may have links to al Qaeda, and particularly the affiliate group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The furore has emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign and sparked international debate over free speech, religion and the right to offend. Many Muslims consider any representation of Allah or the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous.
In Los Angeles, an actress who appeared in the video filed a lawsuit against a Coptic Christian man linked to the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, accusing him of fraud and slander and asking that the film's trailer be removed from the Internet.
It was the first known civil lawsuit connected to the film that has circulated online as a 13-minute trailer, including under the title "Innocence of Muslims."
The actress, Cindy Lee Garcia, also named Google Inc and its YouTube unit as defendants. Garcia's lawsuit stated that she thought she was appearing in a desert adventure film, not a "hateful" production about the Muslim prophet.
The United States has condemned the content of the video while defending the right to free speech, and took a similar line on the French cartoons.
"We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we've spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our constitution," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"In other words, we don't question the right of something like this to be published, we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it."
In the Lebanese city of Sidon, around 10,000 people joined a march organised by the Shi'ite group Hezbollah to protest against the film and the cartoons, shouting "Enough humiliation!" and "Death to America! Death to Israel!".
In Egypt, Essam Erian, acting head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters: "We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonour the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people's beliefs."
At the same time, rights groups demanded the release of a Coptic Christian computer science graduate who they said had been beaten up and arrested in Cairo on suspicion of re-posting the anti-Islam video online.
In France, a joint statement by Catholic bishop Michel Dubost and Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Muslim Council, defended the right to freedom of expression under the cherished French principles of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity".
"But freedom endangers itself if it forgets fraternity and respect for everyone's equal right to dignity," they added.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the publication of the cartoons a provocation.
"We saw what happened last week in Libya and in other countries such as Afghanistan," he told a regular news conference. "We have to call on all to behave responsibly."
CALL FOR CAUTION
France's ambassador to Iran sent French citizens there a message urging them to exercise great caution, especially on Friday, and around diplomatic missions and places of worship.
But Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, rejected the criticism. "We have the impression that it's officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far-right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists," he said.
"It shows the climate. Everyone is driven by fear, and that is exactly what this small handful of extremists who do not represent anyone want: to make everyone afraid, to shut us all in a cave," he told Reuters.
One cartoon alluded to the scandal over a French magazine's publication of topless photos of the wife of Britain's Prince William. It showed a bare female torso topped by a beard with the caption "Riots in Arab countries after photos of Mrs Mohammad are published".
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy. Its Paris offices were firebombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Mohammad, and Charbonnier has been under police guard ever since.
Speaking outside his offices in an eastern neighbourhood with many residents of North African origin, Charbonnier said he had not received any threats over the latest cartoons. In a message on its Twitter account, Charlie Hebdo said its website had been hacked, but referred readers to a blog it also uses.
In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet sparked a wave of protests across the Muslim world in which at least 50 died.
France is already on alert for attacks by al Qaeda on French interests in West Africa.
A diplomatic source said this week that Paris had recently foiled attacks on economic and diplomatic targets and had credible evidence that more were planned.
"Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a direct and immediate threat," the source said.
(Additional reporting by Sreya Banerjee, Thierry Chiarello, Brian Love and John Irish, Marwa Awad in Cairo, Souhail Karam in Tunis, Margaret Chadbourn in Washington and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jackie Frank)
Arab body calls for peaceful reaction to cartoons
Muslim leaders decry Mohammad cartoons, urge peaceful protest
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 19 Sep 2012 04:35 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China, Russia, Pakistan and Azerbaijan abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote on children and armed conflict on Wednesday over concerns that the U.N. envoy on the issue can investigate any conflict, not just those before the council.
The remaining 11 members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution, which laid out the mandate for Leila Zerrougui, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative for children and armed conflict.
Zerrougui, an Algerian who recently replaced Radhika Coomaraswamy, works to promote and protect children's rights during armed conflicts and identifies countries and groups that kill, maim or rape children in conflicts, or recruit and use children as soldiers.
The four abstaining states argued that the work of the special envoy was restricted to conflicts before the council, and that this limit should have been more clearly reflected in the resolution.
"The sphere of activities of (the special envoy) does not cover all issues of protecting children in armed conflict, but only those situations that are on U.N. Security Council's agenda," said Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Sergey Karev.
A report by Ban to the Security Council on children and armed conflict, based on the work of his envoy, covers conflicts in 23 countries. Of these, 16 are on the council agenda and seven are not - Colombia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the southern border provinces of Thailand and Yemen.
"The mandate of the Security Council resolution cannot be wilfully interpreted to equalize the incidents of terrorist attacks in Pakistan to armed conflict," China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told the council.
"The international community should provide more support and help to Pakistan's effort to counter terrorism rather than creating difficulties and obstacles," he said.
Human Rights Watch accused Russia, China, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan of playing politics.
"Children victimized by war do not care whether the country in which they live is on the Security Council's agenda or not, but instead deserve all the U.N. attention they can get," Human Rights Watch's U.N. Director Philippe Bolopion said in a statement.
Ban's report said children in Pakistan were being used by armed groups allied to Islamist extremists to carry out suicide attacks and were themselves victims of attacks. It also said armed groups continued to target schools in bombings.
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar described the report's section on Pakistan as "unwarranted and completely misleading." He said Pakistan would have voted against the resolution, but instead abstained to show a willingness to work with Zerrougui and a commitment to the issue.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that during negotiations on the resolution, some countries proposed amendments "whose effect would have been unacceptably to constrain the role of the special representative."
"We could not accept the assertion made by some council members that (the former envoy Coomaraswamy) over-reached her mandate in the conduct of her business. That accusation is completely unfounded," Lyall Grant told the council.
New conflicts included in the U.N. report - which covers 2011 - were those in Syria and Libya, while those in Haiti and Burundi were removed. The report accused 52 armed forces and groups of violating the rights of children. Ten of them were government forces, while the rest were non-state armed groups.
"The situation for children in Syria is dire," Zerrougui told the council.
"My staff and other United Nations colleagues have documented government attacks on schools, children denied access to hospitals, girls and boys suffering and dying in bombardments of their neighbourhoods, and also being subject to torture, including sexual violence, sometimes for weeks."
Since the publication of the report, Zerrougui said her office had received information about bomb attacks by opposition groups that have killed children, and that the Free Syrian Army "may have children associated with their forces."
Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari told the council that the Syrian government rejected all the allegations and "denounced the politicization of this important humanitarian issue which chiefly concerns the safety and security of children."
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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