- Afghans say total U.S. pullout would trigger disaster
- Venezuela's top court endorses Chavez inauguration delay
- Chinese paper at centre of censorship protests hits newsstands
Posted: 09 Jan 2013 08:29 PM PST
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan lawmakers said on Wednesday disaster and civil war would follow if Washington pushed ahead with a suggestion to withdraw all its troops from the country after 2014.
The White House said a day earlier it was considering the so-called "zero option" of a complete pullout - despite earlier recommendations from the top military commander in Afghanistan to keep soldiers there to help the government.
That option and the angry reaction from Afghan officials are likely to dominate talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Washington on Friday.
The meeting was already likely to be tense, given ongoing strains in their relationship over the war.
"If Americans pull out all of their troops without a plan, the civil war of the 1990s would repeat itself," said Naeem Lalai, an outspoken lawmaker from volatile Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban.
"It (full withdrawal) will pave the way for the Taliban to take over militarily," Lalai told Reuters.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade-long war, financial aid dried up and the Afghan communist government collapsed, leading to infighting between warlords. A civil war paved the way for the Taliban's rise to power.
The United States has about 68,000 troops there and that number was already expected to reduce sharply ahead of December 31 2014 - the official end of the NATO-led combat mission in the country.
NATO and its partners are racing against the clock to train up Afghanistan's 350,000-strong security forces though questions remain over how they well they will be able to tackle insurgents in the face of intensifying violence.
Many leading Afghan officials had assumed some U.S. troops would stay.
"If American forces leave Afghanistan without properly training the Afghan security forces, and equipping them, it would be a disaster," said influential member of parliament Mirwais Yasini.
Member of parliament Shukria Barekzai said a total withdrawal after 2014 would be equivalent to the United States "accepting defeat".
The Taliban said it was still considering whether to respond to the White House statement when contacted by Reuters on Wednesday.
"It's very speculative and we are not commenting for now," said its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
On Saturday the group reiterated its call for the immediate removal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan.
U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the complete withdrawal was "an option that we would consider" on Tuesday.
He made clear that a decision on post-2014 troop levels is not expected for months and will be made based on two U.S. security objectives in Afghanistan - denying a safe haven to al Qaeda and ensuring Afghan forces are trained and equipped so that they, and not foreign forces, can secure the nation.
Washington officials have privately said the White House is seeking a post-2014 presence of between 3,000 and 9,000 troops, which is significantly less than the 6,000 to 15,000 number given by the top commander, U.S. General John Allen.
(Additional reporting by Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi and Mirwais Harooni, Writing by Dylan Welch and Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Michael Perry)
(This story was refiled to correct the spelling of Obama in paragraph 3)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 09 Jan 2013 08:01 PM PST
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's top court endorsed the postponement of Hugo Chavez's inauguration this week and ruled on Wednesday that the cancer-stricken president and his deputy would continue in their roles, despite a cacophony of opposition complaints.
Critics had argued the 58-year-old's absence from his own swearing-in ceremony on January 10 meant a caretaker president must be appointed. Chavez has not been seen in public nor heard from in almost a month following surgery in Cuba.
"Right now we cannot say when, how or where the president will be sworn in," Supreme Court Chief Judge Luisa Morales told a news conference.
"As president re-elect there is no interruption of performance of duties ... The inauguration can be carried out at a later date before the Supreme Court."
The decision opens the door in theory for Chavez to remain in office for weeks or months more from a Cuban hospital bed - though there is no evidence he is even conscious.
It leaves the South American country in the hands of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, as de facto leader of the government.
The opposition say that is a brazen violation of the constitution, and that Maduro should leave office on Thursday when the current presidential term had been due to expire.
They say National Assembly boss Diosdado Cabello, another powerful Chavez ally, should take over the running of the country while new elections would be organized within 30 days.
Maduro would be the ruling Socialist Party's candidate.
Government leaders insist Chavez, 58, is fulfilling his duties as head of state, even though official medical bulletins say he suffered complications after the surgery, including a severe lung infection, and has had trouble breathing.
His resignation or death would transform politics in the OPEC nation, where he is revered by poor supporters thankful for his social largesse, but denounced by opponents as a dictator.
RALLY PLANNED FOR THURSDAY
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost a presidential election to Chavez in October, said the Supreme Court had become politicized under the socialist leader's administration.
"The tribunal gave an interpretation (of the constitution) in order to solve a problem that the government has," Capriles told a news conference.
Moody's Investors Service warned on Wednesday that Venezuela's sovereign credit rating, already at junk status, faces short-term risks over any political transition.
Prices of Venezuela's widely traded bonds have soared lately on Chavez's health woes, but dipped this week as investors' expectations of a quick government change apparently faded.
The president has undergone four operations, as well as weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, since being diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in his pelvic area in June 2011.
He looked to have staged a remarkable recovery from the illness last year, winning a new six-year term at a hard-fought election in October. But within weeks of his victory he had to return to Havana for more treatment.
The government has called for a huge rally outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Thursday, and allied leaders such as Uruguay's Jose Mujica, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega have said they will visit - despite Chavez's absence.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, a close friend, has announced plans to visit Chavez in Cuba on Friday.
The unprecedented silence by Chavez, who is well known for his hours-long rambling speeches, has convinced many Venezuelans that his 14 years in power may be coming to an end.
Unlike after his previous operations in Cuba, no photographs have been published of him recuperating, and social media in Venezuela is buzzing with rumours he is on life support.
Cabello, the pugnacious head of the National Assembly, has repeatedly ruled out taking over as caretaker president to order a new presidential election, saying Chavez remains in charge.
"Tomorrow we will all go to the Miraflores palace," he told a televised Socialist Party meeting on Wednesday. "The people will be invested as president. We are all Chavez!"
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga, Diego Ore and Enrique Andres Pretel; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Eric Walsh)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 09 Jan 2013 07:50 PM PST
GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - The latest issue of a Chinese newspaper at the centre of anti-censorship protests appeared on newsstands in Beijing and Shanghai on Thursday as usual, but not its home city Guangzhou.
Several journalists at the Southern Weekly, seen as a beacon of independent and in-depth reporting in China's highly controlled media, had gone on strike on Monday in protest at heavy-handed censorship.
After three days of fraught talks by journalists and local officials, and protests outside the newspaper gates, both sides appeared on Wednesday to have reached a deal.
The newspaper, which is published on Thursdays, was not available in at least six newsstands in Guangzhou, which normally carry the paper. The paper appeared as normal in Beijing, carrying a cover story on the aftermath of a fire in an orphanage in central Henan province.
"It's not coming today," said one newspaper seller in a kiosk near the Southern Weekly's headquarters in Guangzhou. "I don't know why it wasn't delivered," he said, as a stream of early morning commuters bought other newspapers from his stand.
In Shanghai, two sections of the paper were missing -- one focused on a new regulation on land reclamation and the other on "the dramatic changes" in reform.
When asked about the missing Guangzhou copies, a woman called Zhou at the Southern Weekly's distribution office said: "Today's paper has been published as normal, but may not have arrived at newspaper kiosks yet, which is also normal. It should be available for purchase within today".
Zhou said she had no knowledge of whether some sections may be missing in some cities or why.
In a show of continued resistance, the Southern Weekly republished a Monday editorial from the Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, that said "the party's methods of controlling the media must move with the times".
In its interpretation of the People's Daily editorial, the Southern Weekly said the remaining reforms that need to be done are as difficult as "gnawing at bones".
"They need the protection and support of a moderate, rational and constructive media," the Southern Weekly said.
The drama at the Southern Weekly began late last week when reporters at the liberal paper accused censors of replacing a New Year letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party's achievements.
Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group for journalists, denounced the censorship and called on Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, set to become president in March, to abolish political censorship.
The censorship turmoil at the Southern Weekly has also spread to another newspaper. Online accounts said Dai Zigeng, the publisher of the popular Beijing News daily, had announced his resignation on Wednesday after the newspaper resisted government pressure to republish an editorial criticising the Southern Weekly.
(Additional reporting by Hui Li and Beijing Newsroom in Beijing, Anita Li in Shanghai, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Michael Perry)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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