- Swedish capital returning to normal after week of violence
- Kerry presses Egypt on economic reform, says aid depends on it
- Syrian opposition struggles for unity as battle rages
Posted: 25 May 2013 05:03 PM PDT
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden's capital was relatively calm on Saturday night with only isolated incidents of violence by youths after nearly a week of car-burnings and vandalism that have highlighted growing inequality in Swedish society.
Police had brought in reinforcements from around the country to stem the rioting and were out in force in the poorer suburbs of Stockholm that have seen the worst incidents.
"It is pretty calm," police spokesman Lars Bystrom said. "It isn't worse than a normal night."
Bystrom said 12 people had been taken into custody in the south of the Swedish capital and that several cars had been set on fire in different parts of the city.
He declined to say whether the police believe the wave of rioting, in which gangs of youths have attacked police stations, schools and other buildings and burned hundreds of cars, was over.
In Husby, in the northwest of the city, residents celebrated the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, helping bring a festive atmosphere to one of the areas worst hit in recent days by the rioting.
A week of violence has exposed a fault line between a well-off majority of Swedes and a minority - often young people with immigrant backgrounds - who are poorly educated, cannot find work and feel pushed to the edge of society.
Underscoring Sweden's ambivalence toward its open immigration policies, an anti-immigrant party has risen to third in polls this year, and some analysts say the riots could swell its ranks.
Speaking on Swedish radio, the leader of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said the causes of the rioting were a lack of jobs and education.
"I get angry when schools are burned down, but then there are those who are drawn into this because they feel their situation is hopeless," Stefan Lofven said.
"I see it as a lack of trust in society," he said.
Rioting has mainly been contained in Stockholm, though on Friday night in Orebro, a town in central Sweden, some 25 masked youths set fire to three cars and a school and tried to torch a police station, police said.
The same night, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) to the southwest in Linkoping, several vehicles were set on fire and youths tried to torch a school.
The rioting was sparked by the police shooting on May 13 of a 69-year-old man, who media said was killed when officers stormed his apartment because they feared he was threatening his wife with a large knife. Media said he was a Portuguese immigrant, which police would not confirm.
The violence has echoes of rioting in recent years in Paris and London but has been relatively mild in comparison. There has been no looting, hardly any injuries and few arrests.
Much of the capital has gone about business as normal, and even affected suburbs look normal by day.
Still, it has shocked a nation that has long taken pride in its generous social safety net, though some seven years of centre-right rule have chipped away at benefits.
One recent government study showed that up to a third of young people aged 16 to 29 in some of the most deprived areas of Sweden's big cities neither study nor have a job.
Youth unemployment is especially high in neighbourhoods such as the ones where the riots have taken place, home to asylum seekers from Iraq to Somalia, Afghanistan and Latin America.
About 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign-born. While many foreigners are from neighbouring Nordic countries, others are drawn by the country's policy of welcoming asylum seekers from war-torn countries.
The gap between rich and poor in Sweden is growing faster than in any other major nation, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
(Writing by Alistair Scrutton and Simon Johnson; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Philip Barbara)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 25 May 2013 02:35 PM PDT
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Egypt to act swiftly on economic reforms to secure a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, saying the measures were needed to get further aid from the U.S. Congress, an American official said.
Kerry met Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi for about an hour on the sidelines of an African Union summit on Saturday, discussing Syria's civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, human rights in Egypt and the country's faltering economy, the official said.
Egypt's Islamist-led government has been resistant to introducing the austerity measures needed to win the IMF funding, including raising taxes and cutting fuel subsidies, fearing such painful reforms could provoke social unrest.
However, an IMF deal could help shore up investor and donor concerns after two years of political instability since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. The instability has depressed tourism, a crucial industry for Egypt.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kerry had made the argument that the reforms were necessary to persuade American lawmakers to proceed with further economic support for the country, which borders U.S. ally Israel.
"He urged action on making reforms happen now to move towards requirements to get the IMF package," the official said.
During his first visit to Cairo as secretary of state, on March 3, Kerry told Mursi the United States would provide the first $190 million of $450 million in pledged budget support because of Mursi's commitment to see the IMF process through.
The remainder, however, would depend on the economic reforms, a point Kerry made again in the Ethiopian capital.
"He said ... we need to be able to show Congress that you have taken the necessary reforms," said the official. "I have been a strong advocate of support for Egypt. I continue to support aid for Egypt, but ... we need to see reforms in place that will encourage my former colleagues back at home to act."
Kerry served in the U.S. Senate for nearly 30 years before becoming the country's top diplomat on February 1.
Egypt has in recent years received about $1.3 billion in military aid from Washington, support that dates back to its signing of a peace treaty with Israel more than 30 years ago. That assistance, however, is not seen as contingent on Egyptian economic reform.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 25 May 2013 01:40 PM PDT
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syria's opposition resumed talks on Saturday aimed at closing their fractious ranks, as government forces launched a fierce onslaught on a rebel-held border town to try to gain the upper hand in the civil war.
A failure of the opposition to unite could weaken the hand of Russia and the United States, co-sponsors of a proposed peace conference on the war, which has killed 80,000 and threatens to spill over borders and whip up wider sectarian violence.
The U.S. and Russian foreign ministers are to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss how to shepherd Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition into the talks in Geneva.
As opposition leaders met in Istanbul, Assad's forces reinforced by Iranian-backed Shi'ite Lebanese Hezbollah fighters unleashed heavy artillery and tank fire to try to seize more rebel terrain in the Sunni Muslim border town of Qusair on Saturday, sources on both sides said.
Syria is becoming a proxy conflict between Shi'ite Iran which backs Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shi'ism, and Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar which support Assad's mostly Sunni enemies.
George Sabra, the acting head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said thousands of fighters from Iran and Hezbollah were involved in the attack on Qusair, close to the Lebanese border, and in battles in the capital Damascus.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his group would stay in the Syrian conflict "to the end of the road" and would win the war for Assad's government.
"We accept this responsibility and will accept all sacrifices and expected consequences of this position," he said in a televised speech, speaking from an undisclosed location. "We will be the ones who bring it victory, God willing."
Assad's forces are believed to have seized about two-thirds of Qusair and largely surrounded the rebels. But the price was high and rebels insisted they were preventing further advances.
The insurgents see Qusair as a critical battle to preserve cross-border supply lines and deny Assad a victory they fear may give him the edge in the prospective peace talks next month.
More than 22 people in opposition-held areas were killed by Saturday afternoon, most of them rebels, and dozens wounded, according to pro-opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The pro-opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said 73 people were killed by Assad's forces, and opposition campaigner Adib Shishakly said Nasrallah lost 75 fighters in the battle for Qusair and that rebel defenders were doing "an excellent job."
The United States, concerned by the rising influence of hardline Islamists, has pressed the Syrian National Coalition to resolve its divisions and bring more liberals into the fold.
Sources at the coalition, which began its third day of meetings, said major players would focus on such international demands for a broadening of the Islamist-dominated group, leaving leadership issues for later.
Attempts to strike a grand bargain involving veteran liberal campaigner Michel Kilo and businessman Mustafa al-Sabbagh, Qatar's point man in the coalition, went nowhere in talks that stretched overnight, senior coalition sources said.
"We are back to square one," one of them told Reuters.
In Addis Ababa, on the sidelines of an African Union summit, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "to try to get something moving with respect to Syria", according to a pool reporter. Ban told Kerry he and his special Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi "are working very hard to convene, to make this Geneva conference a success".
Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab adversary of Assad, will want to see the Geneva conference, which could convene in the next few weeks, put the exit of Assad at the top of the agenda, diplomats and coalition members said.
But they said Russia, a longtime ally of Assad, wanted it to focus on a ceasefire although there is scant rapport between opposition politicians abroad and rebels inside Syria.
The inability of the coalition to alter its Islamist-dominated membership and replace a leadership damaged by power struggles is playing into the hands of Assad who, according to Russia, intends to send representatives to the peace conference.
"The coalition risks undermining itself to the point that its backers may have to look quickly for an alternative with enough credibility on the ground to go to Geneva," a senior opposition source at the talks said.
Senior opposition figures said the coalition was likely to attend the conference, but doubted the meeting would secure their central demand - an immediate deal for Assad to quit.
While the opposition remained riven by differences, the assault by Assad's forces and their Hezbollah allies on Qusair over the past week is evolving into a pivotal battle.
Qusair controls access to Syria's Mediterranean coast, the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite community, and the battle may prove a weighty test of his ability to withstand the revolt.
Hezbollah's intervention is hardening fears that the civil war will cross borders at the volatile heart of the Middle East.
"It is ironic that Lebanon's civil strife is playing itself out in Syria. The opposition remains without coherence and the regime is intent on taking back anything it promises with violence," said one diplomat.
The diplomat was referring to a deepening sectarian divide between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, where Syrian troops were present for 29 years, including for most of the Lebanese civil war that ended in 1990.
The death toll in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli reached 25 on Saturday in the seventh straight day of clashes between Alawite and Sunni factions backing opposing sides in Syria's war, security sources said.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Beirut and Arshad Mohammed in Addis Ababa; Editing by Pravin Char)
Nasrallah says Hezbollah will bring victory to Syrian ally Assad
Between 180-200 French militants have fought in Syria - Le Monde
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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