Jumaat, 14 Mac 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

El Salvador election runner-up appeals to top court for recount

Posted: 14 Mar 2014 07:35 PM PDT

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) - The runner-up in El Salvador's presidential election said he had requested the Supreme Court on Friday to order a recount of the weekend's tight contest.

Norman Quijano, a former mayor of San Salvador and candidate of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party, finished fewer than 7,000 votes behind Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the ruling leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

Quijano, 67, told reporters he filed a request for an injunction with the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.

He had already filed a claim with the electoral tribunal to annul the election because of fraud. Political analysts say his challenge is not expected to succeed.

The electoral tribunal has said it could take until early next week to work through Quijano's legal challenge to the election and settle any remaining doubts.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Christine Murray and Mohammad Zargham)

Lebanon to allow citizens to resist Israel -policy statement

Posted: 14 Mar 2014 07:20 PM PDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's new government agreed to a compromise policy statement on Friday that fell short of explicitly enshrining the militant group Hezbollah's role in confronting Israel but which would give all citizens the right to resist Israeli occupation or attacks.

The agreement on the compromise language came after weeks of dispute brought the government to the verge of collapse, and now paves the way for Prime Minister Tammam Salam to put his government to a vote of confidence.

Information Minister Ramzi Jreij told reporters that most ministers had agreed on a compromise statement that declares Lebanese citizens have the right to "resist Israeli occupation" and repel any Israeli attack.

The deal was reached a few hours after Israel's army said it fired tank rounds and artillery into southern Lebanon in retaliation for a bomb that targeted its soldiers patrolling the border. No injuries were reported on either side.

The Israel-Lebanon border has been mostly quiet since Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive war in 2006, but Israeli forces still hold at least three pockets of occupied territory which are claimed by Lebanon.

"Based on the state's responsibility to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and the security of its citizens, the government affirms the duty of the state and its efforts to liberate the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills and the Lebanese part of Ghajar through all legitimate means," the government statement said.

It also "affirms the right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation and repel aggressions and recover occupied territory".

Agreement on the declaration paves the way for Salam to put his government to a vote of confidence, almost exactly a year after he was first asked to try to put together a cabinet following the resignation of his predecessor, Najib Mikati.

The declaration reflected a compromise between the Hezbollah-led political coalition, which sought to guarantee Shi'ite Hezbollah's right to fight Israel and to justify maintaining its huge weapons arsenal, with Sunni-led political opponents who sought to emphasise the role of the state in carrying arms.

Tensions between Hezbollah and its Sunni opponents inside Lebanon have been sharply heightened by the civil war in neighbouring Syria, where Hezbollah fighters have been battling alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces against Sunni rebels who are backed by many Lebanese Sunnis.

Jreij said some ministers expressed reservations because the statement failed to spell out Lebanese state control over the military conflict with Israel and because it refers to "resistance", Hezbollah's label for its military operations.

A functioning Lebanese government would finally be in a position to pursue an offshore oil and gas exploration licence round that was delayed for months by the political deadlock.

Salam has also said he hoped the emergence of the new government will allow Lebanon to hold presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman's mandate expires in May and also hold parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the political impasse.

Lebanon, still struggling to recover from its own 1975-1990 civil war, has found its internal divisions worsened by the conflict in Syria, whose sectarian divisions mirror its own.

Sectarian violence has erupted sporadically in the past year, particularly in the north, and car bombings targeting both security and political targets have increased dramatically, with Hezbollah-dominated areas being the most frequent target.

Security sources said on Friday the death toll after two days of fighting in the northern city of Tripoli between Sunni Muslims and minority Alawites - the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - had risen to five.

(Additional reporting by Nazih Siddiq in Tripoli; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ken Wills)

As hope withers, Palestinian president heads to Washington

Posted: 14 Mar 2014 05:41 PM PDT

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - With pessimism growing by the day over the future of Middle East peace talks, U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on Monday to try to break the stalemate.

The deadline for the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, aimed at ending their entrenched conflict, expires next month and Washington is eager to persuade the two sides to prolong their discussions within a new framework.

But expectations of imminent progress are minimal.

After eight months of initial talks, and at least 10 trips to the region, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sounded unusually gloomy during a Congressional hearing on March 12, indicating that little progress had been made so far.

"The level of mistrust is as large as any level of mistrust I've ever seen," said Kerry, a veteran of Middle East diplomacy. "Neither (side) believes the other is really serious. Neither believes that ... the other is prepared to make some of the big choices that have to be made here."

However, he said it was still possible to extend the talks.

Obama's direct involvement is aimed at providing much needed additional impetus: he saw Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, and is now meeting Abbas.

Israelis and Palestinians have been holding on-off negotiations for more than 20 years with the stated aim of sharing the Holy Land and creating an independent Palestine.

Through all that time, the main, unresolved issues have remained exactly the same - defining the borders and agreeing on security, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees displaced during the 1948 creation of Israel.

Obama told Netanyahu he would seek "difficult decisions" from Abbas in coming weeks and would push him behind closed doors as hard as he did the Israeli premier to help narrow the gap for a framework accord, a senior U.S. official said.

Obama will also tell Abbas that "we should not let this current window for peace close" and will make the case for the benefits of peace to the Palestinian people, the official said.

Although the terms of the mooted accord have not been published, Palestinians say early indications suggest they will be offered less than what former U.S. President Bill Clinton laid out in 2000 in the so-called Clinton Parameters.

The president's aides have made clear that Obama wants the framework document to be seen as even-handed, despite the sense among many Palestinians that Washington is favouring Israel.


Besides the so-called core issues, other hurdles to a deal have also emerged, particularly Netanyahu's demand that Abbas recognises Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel says this would show he was serious about ending the conflict, but the Palestinians say it would merely destroy their own narrative. Abbas says accepting it would effectively deny his own people's centuries-old links to the land and would also mean renouncing the right to return for some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Washington has endorsed the Israeli position but, perhaps revealing a frustration with Netanyahu, Kerry told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Thursday that it was a "mistake" to raise the issue repeatedly "as the critical decider."

Adamant not to give in on this point, Abbas also faces pressure at home not to agree to any loosely worded accord that would simply prolong negotiations, with no clear end in sight.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is chaired by Abbas, issued a statement this week expressing its "absolute rejection" of any prolongation.

PLO board member Hanan Ashrawi said that without obtaining a freeze on Jewish settlement-building on occupied territories the Palestinians want for their future state, any further discussions would be futile.

"By extending talks even one more year, they will finish the Greater Israel project given the alarming escalation of settlement activity," she said. "If the document is what we have seen (up until now) then it is not even a starting point."

However, one senior Palestinian official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject, said he thought there was a good chance that Abbas would agree to continue talks given the pressure building on him from Western governments.

Speaking to political allies in Ramallah earlier this week, Abbas said he had come under huge duress over the past three years, but vowed not to backtrack over the core points.

"I am 79 years old and am not ready to end my life with treason," he said.

Mindful of pressures Abbas faces, Obama may see to bolster him. "President Abbas has made some difficult decisions over the past few months - declining to go to the United Nations and staying in the talks despite many ups and downs," the U.S. official said.

Should the peace efforts prove fruitless, Palestinians have threatened to shift their statehood battle to United Nations agencies and international courts, a move that the United States and Israel staunchly oppose.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Lisa Shumaker)

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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