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Obama talks Libya with leaders of France, Italy, UK

Posted by arnon_k On February - 25 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

Washington (CNN) — President Barack Obama spoke Thursday with the leaders of France, Italy and the United Kingdom on coordinating an international response to the crisis in Libya, the White House said.

In separate phone conversations with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama “expressed his deep concern with the Libyan government’s use of violence which violates international norms and every standard of human decency, and discussed appropriate and effective ways for the international community to immediately respond,” the White House statement said.

While some critics say the Obama administration has been slow to react to the deteriorating situation in Libya, the statement said Thursday’s discussions were to “coordinate our urgent efforts to respond to developments and ensure that there is appropriate accountability.”

“The leaders discussed the range of options that both the United States and European countries are preparing to hold the Libyan government accountable for its actions, as well as planning for humanitarian assistance,” the White House statement said.

U.S. officials have said all options were under consideration, including sanctions and enforcement of a no-fly zone, to try to stop the Libyan government from attacking protesters.

A statement by the French Embassy said Obama discussed steps the United States plans to take regarding Libya in his phone call with Sarkozy.

“President Sarkozy presented the measures currently being examined by the European Union at his behest, and which he hopes will be swiftly adopted,” the statement said. “President Obama presented the measures that the United States plans on taking.”

Earlier Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that a range of options were being discussed, but he refused to provide details or specify those receiving the most consideration.

Carney said the goals of any U.S. response were to protect American citizens in Libya and compel the Libyan government to stop attacking its own people.

“What we have said is we’re not going to specify which options are on or off the table. We’re discussing a full range of options,” Carney told reporters, adding that it was likely any action would be in concert with the international community.

“We’re interested in outcomes,” Carney said. “We’re interested in taking measures that will actually have the desired effect, which is getting the Libyan government to stop” killing its own people.

On Wednesday, Obama strongly condemned the use of violence on protesters in Libya and said a unified international response was forming.

“The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous, and it is unacceptable,” Obama said in his strongest and most direct statements to date on the unrest in Libya. “So are threats and orders to shoot peaceful protesters and further punish the people of Libya. These actions violate international norms and every standard of common decency. This violence must stop.”

Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama said Libya’s government “must be held accountable” for its failure to meet its responsibilities, and he emphasized a growing international chorus of condemnation against the situation.

Clinton will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday to join a Human Rights Council meeting. The group, part of the United Nations, is negotiating a resolution on Libya, according to European diplomats who spoke to CNN.

Among the elements under consideration for the resolution are a call on Libya to protect its citizens, condemnation of the violence and a demand for an international inquiry and access for humanitarian groups.

The president’s public statement before television cameras Wednesday was considered part of an administration effort to counter impressions of inaction and presidential silence involving Libya, with U.S. officials saying the government is considering a range of options to pressure Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Meanwhile, the United States has been struggling to evacuate its own citizens from the country. On Tuesday, the Libyan government refused permission for a U.S. charter to land in Tripoli.

A chartered ferry with 285 people aboard, including 40 nonessential U.S. Embassy employees and family members, 127 American citizens and 118 citizens of other countries, was docked in Tripoli awaiting a break in the weather to travel to Malta, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday.

(CNN) — President Obama condemned the attacks on journalists in Egypt Friday amid mounting criticism that the assaults were being orchestrated by President Hosni Mubarark to suppress international coverage of bloodshed by pro-government operatives against peaceful protesters.

“We continue to be crystal clear that we oppose violence as a response to this crisis,” Obama said. “We are sending a strong, unequivocal message: Attacks on reporters are unacceptable. Attacks on human rights activists are unacceptable. Attacks on peaceful protesters are unacceptable.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that the administration continues “to receive very disturbing reports” of “systematic targeting” of journalists in Egypt.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has excoriated Mubarak for “an unprecedented and systematic attack” on international reporters.
“This is a dark day for Egypt and a dark day for journalism,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon said. “With this turn of events, Egypt is seeking to create an information vacuum that puts it in the company of the world’s worst oppressors, countries such as Burma, Iran and Cuba.”

“We hold President Mubarak personally responsible for this unprecedented action,” said Simon, “and call on the Egyptian government to reverse course immediately.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit committee promoting press freedoms worldwide, said Friday it has recorded at least 101 direct attacks on journalists and news facilities this week. The anti-press activities include assaults, detentions and threats, the committee said.

Friday’s attacks weren’t as severe as Thursday’s peak offenses, but the hostilities against a free press remain at “an alarming level that must be halted,” the committee said.

Plainclothes and uniformed agents reportedly went so far as to even enter journalists’ hotels and confiscate equipment, the committee said.

A journalist shot a week ago while covering a demonstration died Friday, a state newspaper reported, according to the committee.

It was the first reported journalistic death during the weeklong uprising, it said.

Ahmad Mohamed Mahmoud of the newspaper Al-Ta’awun, published by the state-owned Al-Ahram Foundation, died from a sniper’s bullets fired while he was filming confrontations between demonstrators and security forces January 28 in central Cairo’s Qasr al-Aini area, adjacent to Tahrir Square, Al-Jazeera and the semi-official Al-Ahram reported Friday, according to the committee.

The Mubarak regime hasn’t discriminated in which sorts of journalists are being attacked: Egyptians and other Arabs, Russians, Americans, Europeans and South Americans all have been targeted, the committee said.

Speaking on state-run Nile TV Thursday, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman mentioned the role of the media and, at least in part, blamed journalists for the country’s current unrest.
“I actually blame certain friendly nations who have television channels, they are not friendly at all, who have intensified the youth against the nation and the state,” he said. “They have filled in the minds of the youth with wrongdoings, with allegations, and this is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks Thursday, “in the strongest possible terms.”

Pro-government journalists and officials have been engaging in a campaign the past two days accusing foreign journalists of being spies or, in particular, “Israeli spies,” the committee said. In one instance, a woman whose face was obscured “confessed” to having been trained by “Americans and Israelis” in Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, the committee said.

NPR journalist Lourdes Garcia-Navarro and her Egyptian-American colleague Ashraf Khalil, provided a typical account Thursday of how routine street reporting quickly turned in a thuggish assault on them.

While interviewing a taxi driver about food, money and security in a middle-class neighborhood across the river and a good distance from the often-violent Tahrir Square, at least a dozen men suddenly surrounded them, Garcia-Navarro said on the NPR website.

They asked for IDs and whether they were Israeli spies or worked for Al-Jazeera, an Arabic-language media outlet whose extensive coverage has angered the Mubarak regime.

The men surrounded Garcia-Navarro in her car and repeatedly punched Khalil in the face. After 10 minutes, the army showed up, calmed the mob and protected the journalists.

“What happened today — I’ve lived here on and off since 1997 — I did not think they had it in them, this kind of violent paranoia and xenophobia,” journalist Khalil said. “I’ve never seen Egypt like this.”

The attacks against reporters targeted some of the most prominent news organizations in the Western and Arab worlds alike.

The Al-Jazeera network said Friday that a “gang of thugs” stormed its Cairo office and burned the facility and the equipment there.

Al-Jazeera said that over the past week “its bureau was forcibly closed, all its journalists had press credentials revoked, and nine journalists were detained at various stages.” The network said it “faced unprecedented levels of interference in its broadcast signal as well as persistent and repeated attempts to bring down its websites.”

Like other networks, Al-Jazeera said it won’t let such obstacles stop it from gathering news.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from across the world for our coverage in Egypt and can assure everyone that we will continue our work undeterred,” a network spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry said it has had no word on the whereabouts of three French journalists and a French researcher in Egypt. The journalists work for Le Figaro newspaper and Magneto Presse, and the researcher is employed by Amnesty International, it said.

A prominent blogger, Wael Abbas, said a group of people who said they thought he was a foreigner detained him Friday afternoon. They turned him over to the military, which released him, he said.

And the Egyptian military secured 18 journalists who were captured by thugs and took them to a “safe place,” Egyptian state media reported Friday.

It was unclear which news organizations the journalists worked for or where they had been taken. CNN could not independently confirm the report.

Journalists attempting to cover unrest in Egypt have reported being beaten, arrested and harassed by security forces and police Thursday, leading to sharply limited television coverage of the protests.

Along with Al-Jazeera, other news outlets — including the BBC, Al-Arabiya, ABC News, the Washington Post, Fox News, and CNN — said members of their staffs had been attacked or otherwise targeted. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also reported that staffers were detained.

U.S. State Department officials told CNN earlier that they had information that Egypt’s Interior Ministry was behind the journalist detentions, citing reports from the U.S. Embassy in Egypt.

“The threats to journalists on the street were explicit, and increasing. We pulled back accordingly to protect our people,” said CNN Executive Vice President Tony Maddox.

The Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood reported that its website office was stormed Friday by security forces, who arrested “the journalists, the technicians and the administrators” in the office. A “gang of thugs” accompanied the forces, the Muslim Brotherhood said.

Some of those individuals were later seen being taken near the Interior Ministry headquarters, the website said.

Govt seeks Obama visit to help mend poor image

Posted by arnon_k On February - 4 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

WASHINGTON : Thailand is inviting US President Barack Obama to visit as it tries to shed images of last year’s political violence.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sent a special envoy to Washington this week to convince US policy makers that the kingdom is returning to stability and is committed to shifting its fractious politics from the street to the ballot box.

”Our mission is to tell them that we’re back in business,” Panitan Wattanayagorn, who also serves as the government’s acting spokesman, said on Wednesday.

The Obama administration is working to build ties with Southeast Asia, sensing that the dynamic and mostly US-friendly region has been neglected because of Washington’s preoccupation with Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Mr Obama has promised to attend the next East Asian Summit, tentatively slated for October on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali. He will welcome Asia-Pacific leaders a month later to his native Hawaii for an annual summit.

Mr Panitan said Thailand, which is the oldest ally of the US in Southeast Asia, welcomed the warming US relationship with Indonesia, which the Obama administration sees as an ideal partner in light of its vast, moderate Muslim population and its rapid shift to democracy.

But Mr Panitan said Thailand also sought a stop by Mr Obama.

”We are working hard for that,” he said. ”A visit would be very good. By that time, we should have a new government in office.”

Mr Panitan hinted the government supported elections early this year, saying it believed it enjoyed a lead in polls owing to an economic rebound.

But last month thousands of red shirt anti-government protesters returned to the streets of Bangkok in their largest demonstration since their protest at Ratchadamnoen Avenue and around Ratchaprasong intersection from March to May last year.

More than 90 people were killed during operations launched by government forces to break up the protests.

The red shirts have asked the International Criminal Court to investigate possible crimes against humanity in the government operation.

Mr Panitan rejected the effort, saying that Thailand was not part of the ICC.

The government is also facing demonstrations this month by the People’s Alliance for Democracy and its nationalist allies, who have set up different camps near Government House for what appears a prolonged protest.

An election would be ”important in the sense that we can bring back politics to the parliament, not on the streets”, Mr Panitan said.

He conceded that foreign observers might think Thailand was consumed by domestic issues. But he said the kingdom was committed to an international role and pointed to its recent dispatch of peacekeepers to Darfur, Sudan.

”We try to make sure that domestic turbulences don’t spill over and affect our relationship with our friends,” he said.The US has officially steered clear of taking sides in Thailand. It has focused efforts on building defence and political ties elsewhere in Southeast Asia _ including Indonesia and also former foe Vietnam.

Washington last month also pledged help for the navy of the Philippines, the other treaty ally of the US in Southeast Asia besides Thailand.

Thailand is the oldest US ally in Asia. The kingdom, then known as Siam famously offered elephants to President Abraham Lincoln to fight in the US Civil War.

House bars moving Guantanamo prisoners to US

Posted by arnon_k On December - 9 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

The US House of Representatives has approved a bill that would prevent moving prisoners at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay to US soil.

The measure is being seen as a blow to President Barack Obama’s efforts to prosecute military prisoners at Guantanamo in criminal courts.

It prohibits any spending to transfer such detainees or to finance facilities to hold them in the US.

The provision is part of legislation for funding government expenses.

The measure was tucked into a 400-page spending bill, which the House of Representatives approved by just six votes.

If the Senate also passes the legislation, it would cut all federal funds off until next October for the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo to US soil.

Condemning the provision

The federal government was previously permitted to transfer prisoners, like self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to the US to face a trial.

The BBC’s Steve Kingstone said Mr Obama considers such transfers an important step towards the eventual closure of controversial facility – something he promised on the campaign trail.

But in the first such trial, held in New York last month, the defendant – Ahmed Ghailani – was acquitted of all but one of nearly 300 terror-related charges.

That prompted criticism of the president’s approach from Republicans and some Democrats.

The White House strongly opposed the House move on Wednesday, saying Congress should not limit the Obama administration’s ability to prosecute the prisoners.

“Congress should not limit the tools available to the executive branch in bringing terrorists to justice and advancing our national security interests,” said Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Before the measure can become law, the US Senate must also approve the same legislation, and Mr Obama must sign it.

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