Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nigeria's Boko Haram Kills 24 In Two Separate Attacks

 Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state in search of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram members on June 5, 2013 (AFP/File, Quentin Leboucher)

Maiduguri — Suspected Boko Haram militants killed 24 people in two separate attacks in northern Nigeria, eyewitnesses said on Saturday, just as the military vowed to ramp up security over Christmas.

Seven fishermen were ambushed and killed in the first attack in Baga, a fishing community on Lake Chad in Borno state, one of three in the northeast of the country under emergency rule since May this year.

Seventeen people died in a separate attack on Thursday, other eyewitnesses said, when gunmen in pick-up trucks torched more than 100 shops and vehicles in the Sabon Gari area of the Damboa district, 90 kilometres (56 miles) from the state capital, Maiduguri.

There was no immediate confirmation of either attack from the military or local authorities.

"They killed seven fishermen, injured 15 others and burnt some local boats and nets used for catching fish," fisherman Ibrahim Gambo said in Maiduguri, where he had brought his brother for treatment.

"It was a reprisal by insurgents because the soldiers have two weeks ago clamped down on them," added another fisherman, Sheriff Bababa.

"They (the military) even arrested some of their members, including a leader, with the assistance of youth vigilantes."

Human Rights Watch on Friday said Boko Haram fighters were carrying out reprisals on civilians in retaliation for intelligence on supposed militant activity passed to the military by civilian vigilante groups.
It urged the militants to stop targeting civilians and the vigilantes to stop using minors in counter-intelligence and security operations.

In Sabon Garin, villagers told reporters that the attack happened at about 11:35 pm (2235 GMT) on Thursday and those responsible were chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) as they arrived.
The violence lasted until about 4:00 am, they added.

News of the attacks, which are often slow to emerge because of a communications black-out in Borno designed to disrupt militant planning, came as Nigeria's military pledged to step up security in vulnerable border areas.

Boko Haram, which wants to impose a strict form of Islamic law or sharia on Muslim-majority northern Nigeria, has previously launched deadly attacks on and around the Christian festival.

A wave of attacks against churches and police on December 25, 2011, left 49 people dead.

Nearly 200 people, including soldiers, insurgents and scores of civilians, were killed in fierce fighting between troops and Islamist insurgents in Baga in April this year.

Area army spokesman Colonel Mohammed Dole said troops had been deployed to frontier villages and towns in Borno state that have been targeted while suspected Boko Haram bases were being cleared, backed by air support.

"We have identified their hideouts and we are determined to make all the border communities and the state generally free of Boko Haram activities so that people can move freely and celebrate the Yuletide peacefully," he added.

Borno state deputy governor Zanna Umar Mustapha has said the military would now set up permanent bases in trouble spots, which have shifted from urban centres to the countryside as a result of emergency rule.
National army spokesman Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru meanwhile said that Nigeria was seeking regional help from its neighbours to help put down the insurgency.

Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nigerian Pastor Lives Positively With HIV

The Colorodoan

Nigerian Pastor Esther Amunega knows firsthand the devastating effects of HIV.

In 2001, AIDS’ complications stole the life of her husband and, a few months later, her middle son. She feared that the virus would also take her own life and her youngest son, Testimony.

Today, however, she and her son lead healthy lives with the help of the Faith Alive hospital in Jos, Nigeria. They receive antiretroviral medications provided by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Testimony is in secondary school and his mother works at the hospital as a counselor who encourages others facing the virus.

She will share her Nigerian Pastor Esther Amunegastory Saturday at Barnes and Noble in Fort Collins, one day before the 25th annual International World AIDS Day. Rather than cite statistics from the World Health Organization that more than 3.4 million Nigerians live with the virus and 210,000 Nigerians die from AIDS’ complications each year, she will talk about how she chooses hope in her life and work.

“Sometimes, I counsel people who feel they should just go and die,” she says. “So I bring in my own story.” They doubt her HIV status when they see her strong stature and hear her deep laugh. She goes on to tell them, “I know what you’re passing through. You can still make it.”

It’s harder for her to reveal her status to Nigerian religious leaders, both pastors and immams, because many of them carry fears and prejudices against people with HIV. Amunega feels that it’s her responsibility to help them love everyone. She brings vibrant, young couples with HIV to HIV-awareness workshops for these leaders. Without revealing the couples’ status, she asks the leaders if they would perform a wedding for a couple with HIV. She says that the leaders usually agree that they would not. They say that the couple will soon die. They also say that they don’t want HIV positive couples to infect other people in their places of worship.

“After the leaders have said their judgments,” Amunega says, “I introduce them to the HIV+ couples sitting in the workshop and have the couples talk about how they felt listening just then. The leaders are so embarrassed. Some even cry with shame.”

But Amunega feels no shame. In 2011, she married her second husband. He, too, is HIV positive. When someone threatened to reveal their HIV status, she said, “Go ahead. I don’t care. We don’t have anything to worry about.”

Erika Wiebe Nossokoff of Fort Collins submitted this article. She is the author of the book, “Faith Alive: Stories of Hope and Healing from an African Doctor.”

Hezbollah Arms Suspect Gets Life In Nigeria

FILE - Military officials stand near ammunition seized from suspected members of Hezbollah after a raid of a building in Nigeria's northern city of Kano on May 30, 2013.

Nigeria: More Than 50 Islamist Insurgents Killed In Airstrike

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA (REUTERS) — Nigeria's military said on Friday that it may have killed more than 50 Islamist insurgents in an airstrike on one of their main bases in the northeast of the country.
The latest strikes on Thursday targeted Boko Haram sect hideouts in the Gwoza hills, near the border with Cameroon.

In May, the military stepped up an offensive against the Islamist group, which is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims. President Jonathan declared a state of emergency and ordered in extra troops.

"We had intelligence that Boko Haram were still hiding somewhere around the Bita bush. Some villagers alerted us," Colonel Muhammad Dole, spokesman for Nigerian forces in the northeast, told Reuters.
"We may even have killed more than that 51 because the pilot didn't capture the images at that time. Our troops are on ground in the area now," he added, declining to give details of the aircraft used.

The military often reports large death tolls among Islamists in fighting but rarely acknowledges significant casualties on its side. It is usually impossible to verify the casualty figures.

The House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Nigeria's federal parliament, last week approved a six-month extension of a state of emergency in areas where the offensive is going on.

Initially, Jonathan's military campaign tempered violence as soldiers wrested back control of towns, cities and stretches of semi-desert in the northeast.

But the insurgents have proved resilient. Boko Haram fighters retreated into semi-arid land near the northern border with Niger and steep forested hills near Cameroon, from where they have mounted deadly counter-attacks and have intensified killings of civilians.

---------Lanre Ola and Tim Cocks

Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters. 

For Inaugural Poet, A Journey Home To America

Poet Richard Blanco speaks at the U.S. Capitol in Washington during the inauguration for President Barack Obama, left, and Vice President Joe Biden right. Blanco describes writing the inaugural poem in his new book, “For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.” A Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, Blanco says he was he was forced to re-examine his relationship with his adopted country in the weeks leading up to the inauguration.

MIAMI, FLORIDA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The Miami neighborhood where inaugural poet Richard Blanco grew up, in many ways, resembles Cuba his family left behind. Down the street, a man sells avocados from a small table. His favorite bakery, a few blocks north, serves guava pastries and cafe con leche.

As a child and even as an adult, this was home. But it wasn't necessarily what he imagined as America. "There's always a little part of you as an immigrant that goes, 'Well, I'm not really American,'" Blanco said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press at his mother's home in Miami. "There's that other little boy on TV or some place I haven't been yet."

That feeling of displacement has been at the crux of his poetry. When it came to writing the poem for the 2013 inauguration of Barack Obama, however, he was forced to re-examine his own relationship with America and what it meant to be American. Blanco was born 45 years ago in Spain to Cuban immigrants who moved to the United States when he was an infant.

The experience of writing the poem, Blanco said, was transformative. "I finally realized that my story, my mother's stories, all those millions of stories of faces that were looking at me at the podium, that is America," said Blanco, the nation's first Latino and openly gay inaugural poet. "I finally realized that I'm not the other."
Blanco describes the writing the inaugural poem and two others — and the journey he has embarked on since — in a book, "For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey," recently published by Beacon Press.

Tasked with writing three poems in three weeks, Blanco said he struggled initially on the direction to take. He doesn't know how or why he was chosen though he knew the White House committee's choice was symbolic. He had published three critically acclaimed poetry books but was only modestly known at the time.

He read the work of other inaugural poets such as Maya Angelou and Robert Frost and of others, like Elizabeth Bishop and Pablo Neruda. But by the third day, anxiety began to set in. During mental breaks, he watched reruns of favorite shows like "Bewitched" and the "Brady Bunch," characters who encapsulated his fascination with yesteryear America.

Then came the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 26 people dead, 20 of them children. "The tragedy opened a new emotional and creative pathway for me," writes Blanco, who now lives in Maine. "Writing the inaugural poem wasn't the same assignment anymore. I suddenly understood that as a Cuban-American, I hadn't explored my American side of the hyphen as much as my Cuban side."

He began asking questions, probing his relationship with America: Was this his country? What is the American dream? What was his place in America? The result were three works: "What We Know of Country," which explores the childlike vision he grew up with of America and the more nuanced one he had come to embrace as an adult; "Mother Country," an autobiographical piece describing his mother's loss of country and discovery of a new one; and "One Today," which describes the mosaic of America, united under "one sky, our sky," and chosen by the White House to be read at the inauguration.

Standing at the podium on that frigid January morning, he said, he felt that the questions he'd been asking were finally resolved, surrounded by politicians, his mother, artists like James Taylor and Beyonce, and the faces of so many Americans who would write him afterward.

"It was such a powerful feeling to be embraced my America in a way I hadn't expected," Blanco said. "I think I finally feel, as I like to say, I discovered home was right here all the time. Home was in my backyard so to speak."

The year since has confirmed that conviction. Blanco travels the country, delivering speeches and readings everywhere from Boston after the marathon bombing, to the Fragrance Foundation Awards and the Northeast Association of Transportation Engineers (Blanco himself has worked throughout his adult life as an engineer while also writing poetry and teaching).

As Blanco says, "The weirder the venue, the more I like doing it." "I'm excited to explore America and not so much from a first person anymore, but sort of a 'we' voice, which is what the inaugural poem was doing," he said.

Part of his motivation now, he said, is to rekindle the connection he saw Americans experience with poetry when he read at the inauguration. "A lot of what I've heard back from the inauguration is these faces of surprise," Blanco said. "They're so entrenched still in America (with) this idea that a poem has to be indecipherable and rhyme and be beyond comprehension for it to be a poem. And people are like, is that a poem?"

But if Blanco spoke of Americans united under "one today" in his poem, it's also been one of the most divisive years in memory. Congress remains polarized. The government shut down for the first time in 17 years. And the public has increasingly lost its faith in its elected officials.

"I don't think what we've gone through in the last few years is a great example of being one today," Blanco said. "But sometimes all of that needs to come out of the wash to get there." Coming back to Miami from his travels and home with his partner in Bethel, Maine, he said, is like returning to "the womb." Photographs of Blanco and his brother, some in the faded pastel hues of decades past, line the wall of a hallway in his mother's duplex.

"It isn't where you're born that matters, it's where you choose to die — that's your country," Blanco quotes his mother in one of the three poems he wrote. That, Blanco says, is the conclusion he has reached, too.
Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: .

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thai Prime Minister Pleads For End To Protests

Anti-government protesters march to the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra begged protesters who have staged the most sustained street rallies in Bangkok in years to call off their demonstrations Thursday and negotiate an end to the nation’s latest crisis.

BANGKOK, THAILAND (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Thailand's prime minister begged protesters Thursday to call off their sustained anti-government demonstrations and negotiate an end to the nation's latest crisis. But the protesters marched instead to new targets, including the national police headquarters, where they cut power lines.

Yingluck Shinawatra issued the plea after she easily defeated a no-confidence vote pushed by her opponents, who are heavily outnumbered in Parliament but have taken to the streets in droves to demand not only her ouster but changes that would make the country less democratic.

They say they want to uproot the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of her billionaire brother. "Please call off the protests for the country's peace," said Yingluck, who is facing the biggest challenge to her rule since taking office in 2011. "I'm begging you ... because this doesn't make the situation any better."

Suthep Thaugsuban, who resigned as an opposition Democrat Party lawmaker to lead the protests, has insisted he will not negotiate. The demonstrators, most of them sympathetic to the Democrat Party, have taken over or surrounded several ministry buildings, which Yingluck said failed to shut down the government but created the potential for violence.

Police spokesman Piya Uthayo said a total of about 15,000 protesters were grouped Thursday at about six locations in and around Bangkok. Yingluck has been reluctant to use force to evict the protesters for fear of escalating the conflict and sparking bloodshed, which would harm investor confidence and the lucrative tourism industry.

"The fact that the government has followed peaceful means does not mean the government cannot administer the country or cannot enforce the law to provide order," she said in a televised speech. Hordes of demonstrators marched to the police headquarters in the center of Bangkok where they cut the electrical lines to the compound. Helmeted riot police with shields remained holed up inside, but did nothing to stop them.

The police headquarters is just down the street from the site of pro-Thaksin demonstrations in 2010 that tied up business in central Bangkok for two months. Violence, capped by a military crackdown, left more than 90 people dead.

The crackdown was ordered by Suthep, who was deputy prime minister of the Democrat Party-led government at that time. On Sunday, more than 100,000 people rallied in Bangkok against Yingluck's government.

Suthep says his goal is to replace the government with a non-elected council — an apparent call for less democracy, not more. He says the change is necessary to uproot the Shinawatra political machine from Thai politics. Thaksin remains highly popular in rural areas, and parties allied with him have won every election since 2001.

Yingluck responded that a change to a non-elected council is impossible under the constitution. Thaksin, who lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated, is a highly polarizing figure in Thailand. An ill-advised bid by Yingluck's ruling Pheu Thai party to push an amnesty law through Parliament that would have allowed his return sparked the latest wave of protests earlier this month.

Thaksin won over much of Thailand's rural underclass while prime minister by introducing populist policies designed to benefit the poor. His political movement became the most successful in modern Thai history.
But his opponents, largely members of the urban middle class and elite, see him as a threat to democracy and their own privileges, and have fought back hard. After the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, a new constitution was drafted to reduce his influence. Controversial judicial rulings removed two pro-Thaksin prime ministers, and army-backed parliamentary maneuvering allowed the Democrat Party to form a government.

Since taking office with a landslide electoral victory, Yingluck has managed a fragile detente with the military that toppled her brother, and faced major crises including floods that ravaged the country in 2011, the worst in half a century.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Million Man Snip: Men In Africa Flock To Get Circumcised To Protect Against AIDS

Maggle Fox, NBC News

A man waits to undergo a circumcision procedure at a donor-funded clinic in Kisumu, Kenya. Image: Tony Karumb/afp/gETTY

Nearly two million men have volunteered to be circumcised using U.S. funding in 14 African countries to protect themselves against the AIDS virus, health officials said Wednesday.

It’s a small step forward in the fight against the deadly virus, which infects 35 million people globally and has killed another 36 million people, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) said in 2011 it would help pay for 4.7 million or more voluntary circumcisions over the next two years.
Mpho Dorothy Seretse of Botswana’s health ministry, Jonathan Grund of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and colleagues in nine African countries reported on circumcisions in PEPFAR-funded clinics between 2010 and 2012.
“During 2010–2012, approximately 1,020,424 males were circumcised at CDC-supported sites in the nine countries,” they wrote in the CDC’s weekly report on death and illness. It takes a while to gather this kind of information and the report doesn’t say how many men were circumcised in 2013. But it notes the numbers jumped every year, from 137,000 circumcisions in 2010 to more than 500,000 last year.

Several studies have shown that circumcising heterosexual men reduce their infection rate by at least 60 percent and some studies show it’s by 65 percent or more. Africa bears the brunt of the AIDS pandemic; 70 percent of all people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus live in Africa.

And most new infections there are through heterosexual intercourse.

The United Nations calculates that if 20 million high-risk men were circumcised by 2015, 20 percent of HIV infections would be prevented over the next 10 years. That could save $16.6 billion in future medical costs.

Circumcision protects men for a number of reasons. The foreskin is full of the immune system cells that are the most vulnerable to the virus. The tender tissue can also get tiny tears and scratches during sex that give the virus an easier entry point. And men with foreskins are far more likely to get other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, which, in turn, raise the likelihood of HIV infection.
So PEPFAR made agreements with 14 countries to focus on getting men circumcised. “During October 2009 –September 2012, a total of 1,924,792 (voluntary circumcisions) were performed in 14 countries using PEPFAR funding provided through U.S. government agencies,” the report reads.

Grund’s team focused on the results from 1,600 clinics getting PEPFAR money in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. They found fewer than 1 percent had adverse reactions.

The nine countries have scaled up efforts to try to get to the PEPFAR goal of 4.7 million circumcisions by next month.

·   Follow Maggie Fox on Facebook and on Twitter

The Leimert Phone Company

Engineers test and work on the newest innovation spearheaded by Karl Baumann at the KAOS Network Studios, Leimert Park Village on the Crenshaw Corridor Sunday, November 24, 2013. Project commenced with the purchase of 12 old phones on Ebay and design studio held at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and the KAOS Network Studios. First physical prototype to be launched this Fall. Ehirim Files Images

Follow Ambrose Ehirim on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter

Thousands Bury 3 Militants Shot By Israeli Troops

Doctors examine the body of Mohammad Nairoukh who was killed Tuesday by Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Yatta, south of Hebron, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. Israeli security forces shot and killed three suspected militants in a West Bank raid on Tuesday aimed at thwarting an attack on Israeli targets, the military and police said.

HEBRON, WEST BANK (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Thousands of mourners attended the funerals Wednesday of three suspected Palestinian militants who were killed in an Israeli army raid in the West Bank the day before.
The three were jihadi Salafis, or followers of a militant stream of puritanical Islam, and had planned attacks on Israelis and on the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.
Lerner said the group had started putting together a terrorist infrastructure, including assembling weapons and explosives. He said the cell was the "first substantial indication" of violent activity by jihadi Salafis in the West Bank.
A Palestinian security official said jihadi Salafis in the West Bank are a cause of concern, but declined to give an estimate on how many there are. Jihadi Salafis are on the rise in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamic militant Hamas. The trend opposes Hamas as too pragmatic because it has observed cease-fires with Israel and has stopped short of imposing Islamic religious law, or Shariah, in Gaza.
In the West Bank, Israel and the Palestinian Authority of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have cracked down on Islamic militants, particularly Hamas. Palestinian security have closed Hamas-linked institutions and arrested hundreds of Hamas activists since the group seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007.
The three alleged members of the West Bank cell were killed late Tuesday near the city of Hebron. Lerner said Israeli special forces stopped the car the three were riding in and shot out the tires. He said the men in the car acted suspiciously and that soldiers opened fire, killing two, while the third escaped on foot. The fugitive was later killed in a hideout several kilometers (miles) away, Lerner said.
Palestinians identified the three killed as Mohammed Nairouh, 29, Mahmoud al-Najjar, 23, and Moussa Makhamreh, 22. Palestinian security forces previously had attempted to arrest the three, but they escaped, said Nairouh's brother Obeidallah and al-Najjar's uncle, Taleb.
Palestinian police have arrested 22 suspected jihadi Salafis in Hebron and the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin in the last three weeks, the Palestinian security official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
Obeidallah Nairouh said his brother had served six years in an Israeli prison for Hamas-related activities. In prison, Mohammed quit Hamas and drifted toward the Salafis, his brother said. He said his brother was upset with Hamas for not imposing Shariah law in Gaza and spoke frequently about the need to engage in jihad, or holy war.
Despite Nairouh's apparent falling out with Hamas, the militant group dominated his funeral march in Hebron. Several thousand mourners joined the procession, many of them raising the green flag of Hamas and chanting "revenge, revenge."
The other two men were buried in the nearby town of Yatta, where several thousand turned up for the funeral procession. In Yatta, clashes erupted between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. Several dozen Palestinian youths hurled rocks and rolled burning tires at soldiers, sending plumes of black smoke into the air. The forces tried to disperse the crowd with sound grenades and rubber-tipped bullets. One youth was seen limping away, but no serious injuries were reported.
Jihadi Salafis believe in a global jihad, or holy war. The ideology is linked to that of al-Qaida. Many have flocked to Syria to fight alongside the rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Associated Press writer Karin Laub contributed to this report.

Egypt: Heavy Prison Sentence For Islamist Women

Egyptian women supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi stand inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom in Alexandria, Egypt, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. An Egyptian court has handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the ousted Islamist president, many of them juveniles, for holding a protest.

CAIRO, EGYPT (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Nearly two dozen Islamist women and girls, some as young as 15, were handed heavy prison sentences Wednesday for protesting in a court ruling that came a day after police beat and terrorized prominent female activists in a crackdown on secular demonstrators under a tough new anti-protest law.
The harshness of the sentences and the scenes a day earlier were new signs that the military-backed government is becoming bolder in silencing dissent, turning to abuses reminiscent of the Hosni Mubarak era. Authorities have been justifying tougher measures as needed to fight terrorism and bring stability — while they also appear to be exploiting divisions among secular democracy activists.
The crackdown is rearranging Egypt's political map after months when authorities were focused on crippling the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. This week, security forces have moved against secular youth activists opposed to the military and police. Some government supporters warn that its actions are widening the base of the opposition and could bring together Morsi supporters and the secular activists, though they bitterly oppose the Islamists and Morsi as equally authoritarian. The crisis is fragmenting the loose coalition of liberal and secular groups that supported the military in its July 3 removal of Morsi.
In a Mediterranean city of Alexandria courtroom, the 21 young female defendants flashed defiant smiles to the media, standing handcuffed in white head scarves and white prison uniforms in the defendants cage. They were convicted on charges related to holding an Oct. 31 protest in the city demanding Morsi's reinstatement.
Among them were seven teenagers aged 15 and 16, who were sentenced to prison terms until they turn 18. The rest — most aged 18 to 22 — were sentenced to 11 years in prison. Six other Brotherhood members were sentenced to 15 years in prison for inciting the demonstrations.
"We thought they will get a month or something but we were shocked with the 11 years," defense lawyer al-Shimaa Ibrahim Saad said. The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said the sentences are meant to be a "deterrent" for the group's opposition to the military, vowing the verdict "will only increase the determination of the people to get their rights."
Meanwhile, hundreds of secular youth activists protested Wednesday in downtown Cairo against the government's clampdown on dissent. At the center of the crisis is the law issued this week banning any protests or public political gatherings of more than 10 people without a prior police permit, imposing stiff fines and jail terms for violators.
"Those thinking the authoritarian pharaonic style works will find it doesn't anymore," said one protester, Laila Soueif. "There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point."
A day earlier, security forces broke up two small activists' protests in Cairo. Security forces beat and dragged women protesters outside parliament. The images were reminiscent of the days of Mubarak, the autocrat who ruled the country for nearly 30 years and was ousted in a 2011 uprising. Under his rule, police at times focused on humiliating female protesters. Similarly, under the rule of the military that followed his ouster, police broke up an anti-military protest, half-stripping a female protester and stomping on her chest.
After breaking up Tuesday's protest, police detained 14 women, then drove them in a van through the desert where they were dropped off on a remote road in the middle of the night, several of the women said. That too is a tactic used by Mubarak-era police to intimidate protesters.
"They want to terrorize us," said Mona Seif, a prominent activist who was among the 14 women. "I think the interior minister decided to escalate and tell everyone whose family was killed... beaten or anything that I am here, this is how I do business, and if you don't like it, beat your head against the wall."
In the face of the criticism, the Cabinet issued a strongly worded statement saying it is determined to implement the new protest law with "all firmness and force ... so freedom doesn't turn to chaos." It linked it to a "war on terrorism" — pointing to the Brotherhood protests and violence by Islamic militants in Sinai.
"There are elements that want to spread domestic chaos in a desperate attempt to hurt the prestige of the state," it said. The law comes ahead of an election season that will include a referendum on amendments to the Islamist-drafted, Morsi-era constitution. Authorities have shown they are eager to push through the new charter — but they could face troubles in the January vote on two fronts.
Secular activists oppose the document because of wider powers it gives the military and the president. The Brotherhood rejects the entire amendment process — along with the new government in general — and although it has been weakened by a crackdown, it has kept up protests for over 20 weeks and can still mobilize against the document.
On Wednesday, the prosecutor general's office ordered 24 people who were arrested in Tuesday's activist protest to be held for four days for questioning on possible charges of violating the protest law.
In a statement, the prosecutors office accused the protesters of "chanting antagonistic slogans against the state" and refusing to end their rally. It said the demonstration "disturbed traffic and affected citizens' interests," terms mentioned in the protest law as violations justifying police action. It also accused them of attacking a police officer and taking his telephone.
The prosecutor also ordered the arrests of Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Ahmed Maher, two top activists, on suspicion of inciting others to break the protest law, the state news agency MENA said. In a sign of the Islamists' eagerness to find a common cause with secular activists, the Brotherhood-led coalition supporting Morsi reached out to them Wednesday with a statement denouncing "brutal repression" of the protests the day before, saying the "youth of the revolution stand united."
The spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition, Diaa al-Sawi, said he will contact youth activists to coordinate rallies. They met a quick rejection, however, from the youth activists, who joined the massive anti-Morsi protests that preceded his ouster.
"A message to the Muslim Brotherhood: we will not put our hands in the hands of those who betrayed and hijacked the revolution," said Hossam Moanis, spokesman of one activist group, the Popular Current.

Nigeria Sharia Police Smash 240,000 Bottles Of Beer

November 27, 2013

Sharia enforcers destroy thousands of bottles of beer outside northern Nigeria's largest city of Kano on November 27, 2013 (AFP, Aminu Abubakar)

Kano — Police enforcing Islamic law in Nigeria's city of Kano publicly destroyed some 240,000 bottles of beer on Wednesday, the latest move in a wider crackdown on behaviour deemed "immoral" in the area.
The banned booze had been confiscated from trucks coming into the city in recent weeks, said officials from the Hisbah, the patrol tasked with enforcing the strict Islamic law, known as sharia.
Kano's Hisbah chief Aminu Daurawa said at the bottle-breaking ceremony he had "the ardent hope this will bring an end to the consumption of such prohibited substances".
A large bulldozer smashed the bottles to shouts of "Allahu Ahkbar" (God is Great) from supporters outside the Hisbah headquarters in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.
Kegs containing more than 8,000 litres of a local alcoholic brew called "burukutu" and 320,000 cigarettes were also destroyed.
"We hope this measure will help restore the tarnished image of Kano," said Daurawa.
Since September, the Hisbah have launched sweeping crackdowns and made hundreds of arrests in Kano following a state-government directive to cleanse the commercial hub of so-called "immoral" practices.
The 9,000-strong moral police force works alongside the civilian police but also has other duties, including community development work and dispute resolution.
Sharia was reintroduced across northern Nigeria in 2001, but the code has been unevenly applied.
Alcohol is typically easy to find in Kano, including at hotels and bars in neighbourhoods like Sabon Gari, inhabited by the city's sizeable Christian minority.
But the Hisbah boss vowed that this was set to change.
"We hereby send warning to unrepentant offenders that Hisbah personnel will soon embark on an operation into every nook and corner of (Kano) state to put an end to the sale and consumption of alcohol and all other intoxicants," Daurawa said.
People accused of engaging in prostitution and homosexual sex have been among those arrested in the latest crackdown, along with alleged drunks and drug addicts.
Nigeria is divided between a mostly Christian south and a predominately Muslim north.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"12 Years A Slave" Leads Spirit Awards Nominations

Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." The film was nominated for a Spirit Award for best feature on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. The Spirit Awards will take place Saturday, March 1, 2014.

LOS ANGELES (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The race to Oscar has officially begun, as the slavery exploration "12 Years a Slave" was nominated Tuesday for a leading seven Spirit Awards, which honor independent film.

The Steve McQueen-directed drama is up for best feature, best director, best actor (Chiwetel Ejiofer), best supporting actress (Lupita Nyong'o), best supporting actor (Michael Fassbender), best screenplay (John Ridley) and best cinematography (Sean Bobbitt).

With six nominations, Alexander Payne's black-and-white comedy "Nebraska" is also in the running for best feature, best director, best actor for Bruce Dern, best supporting actress for June Squibb, best supporting actor for Will Forte and best first screenplay for Bob Nelson.

Other best-picture contenders include J.C. Chandor's near-wordless shipwreck drama "All is Lost," Noah Baumbach's New York tale "Frances Ha" and the Coen brothers' folk music story "Inside Llewyn Davis."
"All is Lost" also earned a best director slot for Chandor. Also up for best director are Jeff Nichols for the coming-of-age drama "Mud" and Shane Carruth for the sci-fi "Upstream Color." Along with Ejiofor and Dern, the best male lead category includes Oscar Isaac for "Inside Llewyn Davis," Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club," Robert Redford for "All is Lost" and Michael B. Jordan for "Fruitvale Station."
Julie Delpy received two nominations, for best female lead and best screenplay for "Before Midnight," the third installment in the romantic drama series that kicked off with "Before Sunrise" in 1995. Delpy shares the best screenplay nomination with Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the script.

Among other best actress nominees are Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine," Gaby Hoffmann for "Crystal Fairy," Brie Larson for "Short Term 12" and Shailene Woodley for "The Spectacular Now." Accompanying Delpy in the best screenplay category is Woody Allen for "Blue Jasmine," Nicole Holofcener for "Enough Said" and Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for "The Spectacular Now."

For his performance in the romantic comedy "Enough Said," James Gandolfini earned a posthumous nomination for best supporting male. Though the Spirit Awards were begun to honor lower-budget films outside of Hollywood's mainstream, there is often overlap, and particularly so this year. Many of the 2013 Spirit nominees are expected to be strong Oscar contenders. Higher-budget studio releases like "Gravity" and "Captain Phillips" don't compete in the Spirit Awards, which are limited to films with a budget less than $20 million.

Last year, David O. Russell's "Silver Lining Playbook" swept the Spirit Awards, winning best feature, best director, best screenplay and best actress for Jennifer Lawrence. Presented by the cinema group Film Independent, the Spirit Awards will be handed out the day before the Oscars at an afternoon ceremony along the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., on Mar. 1. The Spirit Awards will air that night on IFC.
Nominees were chosen by panels of film professionals. Members of Film Independent, including filmmakers and movie fans, are eligible to vote on the winners.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Romance Website Sued For $1.5 billion Over 'Unauthorized' Photos

Miami:  A Florida woman has filed a $1.5 billion class-action lawsuit against online dating site, alleging the website allowed photos of her and thousands of others to be used illegally to create phony profiles intended to dupe romantic hopefuls out of money.

The website "conspired with criminals operating from locations including Internet cafes in Nigeria, Ghana and Russia" who created fake profiles for romance "scams," according to the lawsuit which was filed last week.

The suit also says that, owned by media mogul Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp, was aware of the fake profiles as the company approves, edits and posts each profile.

"The real scam here is this meritless lawsuit, which is filled with outlandish conspiracy theories and clumsy fabrications in lieu of factual or legal basis," a sposkesman for said in an emailed statement. "We're confident that our legal system is as adept as we are at detecting scammers and will dismiss this case in short order." is one of a stable of dating websites owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, which also owns content hubs like was "unjustly enriched" by the publication "of thousands if not millions of unauthorized photographs" the lawsuit argues.

"Not a day goes by when someone doesn't tell me that they saw my pictures posted on or another website," Yuliana Avalos, a part-time model who is the lead plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement.

"Virtually all of this criminal activity can be eliminated with the introduction of free software to the defendants' website," said New York attorney Evan Spencer, who filed the suit.

"All IAC has to do is screen international IP addresses from posting domestic profiles in the United States, and the vast majority of fake profiles would be eliminated."

The suit also alleges that Match doesn't use facial recognition technology, which Spencer used in his investigation, to spot phony profiles and doesn't police existing profiles to root out scammers.

Nearly 200 photos of Avalos, many of her clad in a bikini posing on the beach, were found in Match profiles, according to Spencer. Pictures of more than 3,000 people, including celebrities, soldiers and Facebook users, were illegally used and disbursed in millions of daily emails to promote niche dating sites based around interests ranging from race to age to political persuasion. has been the target of several suits in recent years over false profiles. The website launched in 1995 and claims to have millions of members in 24 countries.

In 2012 a Texas federal judge dismissed a case that argued the company duped consumers into believing it had millions of subscribers when more than half were inactive, fake or scammers.

"The language of the agreements in no way requires to police, vet, update the website content" or verify the accuracy of profiles on the site, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay wrote.

This case is different, Spencer said, because none of the photos were submitted by members on putting the images outside of the website's terms of use agreement.

© Thomson Reuters 2013

Alicia Keys Visits Typhoon Refugees In Philippines

Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys, left, touches a typhoon survivor as she visits the Villamor Air Base in suburban Pasay, south of Manila, Philippines, Monday Nov. 25, 2013. Keys visited the air force base to bring cheer to hundreds of evacuees from eastern Philippine provinces wracked by Typhoon Haiyan earlier this month.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Grammy-winning singer Alicia Keys visited a Philippine air force base Monday to bring cheer to hundreds of evacuees from eastern provinces wracked by Typhoon Haiyan.

The American singer distributed crayons and coloring books to children at the Villamor Air Base grandstand, where evacuees from eastern Leyte and Samar provinces arrive via C-130 planes. Social Welfare Department officer Jane Abello says Keys stayed for about half an hour to chat with evacuees.

The R&B star was in Manila for a concert Monday at the seaside MOA Arena. The Philippine Star earlier quoted her as saying that "music has a way of lifting your spirit and that's what I hope to do for the Filipino people."

Keys tweeted three days after the Nov. 8 typhoon: "To the people of the Philippines my heart is with you." She also encouraged fans around the world to donate to the typhoon victims.

Cornell Announces First Africana Studies Ph.D. Program In New York


NOVEMBER 25, 2013

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences has announced the establishment of the first Ph.D. program in Africana Studies in New York State.

Although 300 undergraduate programs in Black and Africana studies have been founded in the U.S. over the last 40 years, there are only 10 doctoral programs. With 20 to 30 percent of current faculty in the field likely to retire over the next decade – and only about 10 Ph.D. degrees granted in the field each year – Cornell’s new doctoral program will be an important contribution to the vibrancy of Africana studies.

“With a critical mass of scholars whose work represents the cutting edge in Africana Studies, Cornell is especially well positioned to implement a doctoral program that will meet the future demand for scholars with rigorous intellectual training,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Cornell’s unique resources, with its renowned faculty, seven colleges and world-class libraries, will enable this to quickly become one of the top doctoral programs in the field,” said Cornell University Provost Kent Fuchs.

As an interdisciplinary field, Africana studies examines issues such as race, ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality in relation to the history, society, culture and arts of people of Africa and people of African descent in the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the broader African diaspora. Cornell’s degree program will consist of two thematic tracks, one focused on “Historical, Political, and Social Analysis” and the other on “Cultural, Literary, and Visual Analysis.” Students within each track will choose a geographic area of concentration: Africa, African America, the Caribbean and Latin America, or “Emerging Studies of the Global African Diaspora.”

Cornell’s Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC), the administrative base for the new program, was established in 1969, making Cornell a pioneer in the field. About 150 students have received the master’s degree since 1973, and almost one-third of those students have continued on for further graduate study at some of the most selective research universities in the country. Many of them have completed the doctorate and are now teaching at colleges and universities throughout the United States, with most having received tenure.

The new Ph.D. program will build on this success, continuing the ASRC’s tradition of close mentoring and student interaction with faculty. Students will have opportunities to assist faculty with research, teaching and organizing programs, and will be encouraged to participate in formal and informal study groups. They will also have the chance to design and teach freshman writing seminars.

“It is with much excitement that we look forward to welcoming our first class of doctoral students in Fall 2014. We anticipate enrolling four to five students in the doctoral program for academic year 2014-15, with a projected five-year enrollment of 20 to 25 students,” said Salah Hassan, Professor of African and African Diaspora Art History and Visual Culture, and Director of ASRC.

Partly in anticipation of the new Ph.D. program, the ASRC has expanded significantly in the last few years, with five new faculty members and the recruitment of two more underway. This is in addition to the expansion of its African Languages Program, which offers instructions in three African languages, with anticipation of more. The ASRC’s space has been renovated and expanded by over 5,000 square feet, including more space for the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library, faculty offices, four seminar and classrooms, lounge areas for faculty and graduate students, and a large multi-purpose room.

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Cornell University has television and ISDN radio studios available for media interviews.

Central African President Says France To Supply Extra Troops

November 25, 2013

France is ready to send 800 extra troops to reinforce its presence in Central African Republic, the leader of the strife-torn nation said Monday after talks in Paris with France's foreign minister.

Nicolas Tiangaye told AFP that Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius "had spoken of sending 800 men" in addition to the 410 already in the country.

"There is general insecurity... serious war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed in Central African Republic," said Tiangaye.

A coup by the Seleka rebel coalition in March that toppled president Francois Bozize has unleashed chaos in the large country of 4.5 million, including sectarian bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.

The spiralling violence in France's former colony has sparked international alarm and last week French President Francois Hollande hinted at a "sensible" increase in troops.

"France has the military, financial and diplomatic means for efficient intervention," said Tiangaye.
However, France's foreign ministry would not confirm the plan.

Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said only that France's priority was the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution, and that its support would be announced only after consultations with its "partners".
The UN Security Council plans to vote next month on a resolution that would allow Central African Republic's neighbours, the African Union and France, to intervene.

The United Nations, United States and France have all recently warned that the country could be headed for genocide.

The unrest has displaced almost 400,000 of the country's estimated 4.6 million people, left 2.3 million in need of assistance and some 1.1 million scrambling to find food, according to the latest UN figures
French troops would support forces from the African Union-mandated International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) there, Tiangaye said.

"All that will be done towards mid-December, after the Security Council vote," he said.

The bulk of MISCA, which should total some 3,600 men at full strength, is provided by Chad, with troops from Gabon, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea.

Iran Nuke Deal Could Push Oil Prices Lower

Oil pumps work in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain. Oil prices could be headed lower after the preliminary nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, even though it does not loosen sanctions on Iran's oil exports.

NEW YORK (ASSOCIATED PRESS PRESS) — Oil prices could be headed lower after the preliminary nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, even though it does not allow Iran to export more oil.

In the short term, the deal may make it easier for Iran to sell the oil it is already allowed to sell under the sanctions, which would increase supplies on the world market. And the newfound cooperation between Iran and the West eases tensions that pushed oil prices higher in recent years.

But the deal, described by both sides as only a first step, raises the possibility that a more comprehensive agreement would eventually allow Iran to restore oil production to pre-sanctions levels. That could add 1 million barrels per day of oil to world markets — enough to meet the entire global growth in demand for 2014 projected by the International Energy Agency.

"The initial reaction is going to be a more stable oil market," says Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East and energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "But everything will depend on if there's a final agreement and how it is implemented."

Iran reached an agreement Sunday with the U.S. and five other world powers to freeze its nuclear program for six months while the two sides work on a more permanent deal covering Iran's development of nuclear technology. In exchange, some sanctions against Iran will be relieved, and it will get access to some frozen overseas assets, including $4.2 billion in oil revenue.

Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners in Washington, predicts the price of Brent Crude, an international benchmark used to price oil used by many U.S. refineries, could fall to $90 a barrel by the end of next year if talks yield a final agreement. That's 19 percent below Brent's level Monday, where it closed down 5 cents at $111 a barrel.

Analysts caution, though, that if talks on a final deal fall apart — or even appear to be faltering — oil could instead rocket higher. Iran and the West have been seemingly close to an agreement on nuclear issues in the past, only to abandon talks and descend deeper into acrimony.

"Even the slightest hint of an unraveling of the Geneva accord could restore a vibrant risk premium to crude," Book says. But oil prices appear to be headed lower for now, in part because the prospect of more Iranian oil is coming at a time when production is rising in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere, helping global supply growth outpace the growth in demand. The average price of Brent crude so far this year is 3 percent below last year's average, and it's on track for its lowest average price since 2010.

Lower prices of Brent crude have helped reduced U.S. retail gasoline prices this year, which are also on track for their lowest annual average since 2010. A further reduction in oil prices could bring additional relief to drivers.

"The perception, whether accurate or not, that next year's surplus could be supplemented by additional Iranian barrels will be bearish for prices," says Judith Dwarkin, director of energy research at ITG Investment Research.

Iran produces 2.7 million barrels of oil per day, 3 percent of world demand that averages 91 million barrels per day. Iran was once the world's third largest oil exporter, but since 2012, when Western nations expanded economic sanctions against the country to include oil, its exports have dropped 60 percent to less than 1 million barrels per day. Limited exports were allowed to continue to some countries, especially in Asia, that rely on Iranian crude.

This weekend's preliminary deal does not change those sanctions, which the White House says cost Iran up to $5 billion per month. The deal, the White House says, allows "purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels."

But the Geneva deal may make it easier for Iran to sell the oil allowed under the sanctions. ClearView's Book estimates that Iran could increase sales by about 285,000 barrels per day over the next month before reaching the 1 million barrel per day limit allowed by the sanctions.

While modest, that could help lower global prices by making up for a sharp drop in Libyan crude exports in recent months caused by civil unrest. The simple fact that the two sides reached any agreement at all will also help reduce prices. Oil has been more expensive in recent years in part because traders worried that the heightened tensions between Iran and the West would lead to a sudden interruption of oil supplies. Iran in the past has threated to block or attack oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage in the Persian Gulf through which one-fifth of the world's oil passes.

Also, traders worried that the West would further tighten limits on Iran's oil exports. While those limits won't be loosening soon, the threat of even less Iranian oil on the world market has all but evaporated — for now.

Jonathan Fahey can be reached at .

Afghan Leader Seeks To Position On Security Deal

Afghan women with their children enjoy a view over Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. Human Rights Watch says that the Afghan government should reject a proposal to reintroduce public stoning as a punishment for adultery, but the Justice Ministry says such a law has not yet been sent for review as part of a new penal code that is still being drafted. When the Taliban where in power from 1996 to 200, convicted adulterers were routinely shot or stoned in executions held mostly on Fridays. Women were not permitted to go out on their own, girls were barred from schools and men were obliged to grow long beards.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Afghanistan's president said Monday he told the U.S. national security adviser that he won't back down from his refusal to sign a security agreement with the United States, but will instead defer it to his successor.

Hamid Karzai's surprise decision to ignore Sunday's recommendation to sign by an Afghan assembly of dignitaries has cast doubt on the future presence of American and allied troops in Afghanistan. Washington and many Afghans had hoped the pact could be signed to allow troops to stay after 2014 to train soldiers and police to face a persistent Taliban insurgency.

Washington has asked him to change his mind. But the mercurial Karzai, in a meeting with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, says he laid out a series of new demands — albeit ones mostly involving steps the U.S. has already said it would take.

Karzai's office said that in the meeting with Rice, he also asked for further assurances from the United States that its forces will not raid Afghan homes and that America express a sincere commitment to help start stalled peace talks with the Taliban. He also reiterated his demand that the United States commit to holding free and transparent elections on April 5.

"During this meeting both sides spoke about the Bilateral Security Agreement ... President Karzai, besides emphasizing his previous position, also mentioned the stopping of all foreign forces operations in residential houses, the start of an honest cooperation on the peace process, and also the holding transparent and fair elections that will be on time," the statement said.

The statement further added that Karzai asked Rice to convey his concerns about the raids and peace talks to President Barack Obama so that he can "give assurances regarding the issues to the Afghan people."

Obama has already addressed the issue of raids in a letter to Karzai last week that was read to the assembly. In it, Obama assured Karzai that under the agreement, the U.S. will continue to respect "Afghan sovereignty." He also said the U.S. military will not conduct raids on homes except under "extraordinary circumstances" involving urgent risks to U.S. nationals.

The US has repeatedly urged Karzai to sign a deal that would allow about 8,000 American troops to stay in the country beyond a 2014 withdrawal deadline. On Sunday, a 2,500 tribal elders and regional leaders known as a Loya Jirga not only overwhelmingly approved the deal after a four-day meeting but urged him to sign it by Dec. 31.

As the U.S. national security adviser met Karzai in Kabul, the White House again urged him to sign the deal before the end of the year. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling along with Obama aboard Air Force One to San Francisco that America's position was clear.

"Our view on this has been pretty clear that in order to plan for post-2014 military presence with our allies, we need to get this agreement signed and we need to get this agreement signed before the end of the year," he said.

"Reaching this agreement was a painstaking path," Earnest said. "We should get the deal signed and set about the work of planning the presence of the United States and our allies after the war ends next year."

The two-term Afghan leader has insisted that the winner of an April 5 election to succeed him should be the one to sign the deal. More than $8 billion in annual funds for Afghanistan's fledgling security forces and development assistance also are at stake.

Karzai may be seemed concerned about his legacy, worried he might be seen as responsible for an agreement that some Afghans will likely see as selling out to foreign interests. In a further complication Karzai told Rice that the United States should address a suggestion by the Loya Jirga that all Afghan prisoners be released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to the statement, Karzai "said the United States of America should respond to the suggestion mentioned in the resolution of the Loya Jirga to free all the afghan prisoners in Guantanamo." There are nearly 20 Afghans currently being held at the American facility in Cuba.

There was no immediate comment from American officials on Karzai's statement, but the statement said that Rice told the Afghan president that the U.S. was committed to transparent elections that will be held on time and without interference as prescribed by Afghan law.

It added that Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. and coalition commander, told Karzai he had ordered his troops "to act according to the security agreement and suggestions of the consultative Loya Jirga."

But is also said Rice did not provide a commitment on the peace talks. Karzai has blamed the United States for the collapse of talks that were to be held at a Taliban office in the Gulf State of Qatar.

The Taliban office which opened in Doha last June after talks between the United States and Qatar closed after Karzai accused the religious movement of trying to set up a government-in-exile by identifying its office as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It also hoisted the same white flag flown during the Taliban's five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended with the 2001 American-led invasion.

A furious Karzai told the Loya Jirga delegates on Sunday that Obama had promised him the Taliban would not open an embassy. Rice met with Karzai at the end of a previously unannounced three-day trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops and civilians for the Thanksgiving holidays, the White House said, adding that the meeting was at Karzai's request. Her spokesman, Patrick Ventrell, said the meeting was the last stop on her trip.

Karzai, who had convened the Loya Jirga, complicated the debate by announcing on the opening day that he wanted delegates to endorse the deal but he would not sign it. He repeated that stance Sunday laying down a series of ill-defined conditions and promising to continue negotiations with the United States. They included demands that America ensure peace in a country that has been at war for more than 12 years and guarantee transparent elections.

Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from running in the upcoming presidential vote, also accused the United States of meddling in the 2009 elections, which were marred by fraud, and said he wanted to keep that from happening again.
Even if the president changes his mind and signs the document, it still must be approved by the Afghan parliament, then finally signed into law by Karzai.

Associated Press Writers Jim Kuhnhenn aboard Air Force One and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed.

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Obama Pushes Back On Critics Of Iran Deal

President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks about immigration reform, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama is traveling on a three day West Coast swing to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles that will feature a bit of official business but mostly fundraising for the Democratic party.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding to his critics, President Barack Obama forcefully defended the weekend nuclear agreement with Iran, declaring that the United States "cannot close the door on diplomacy."

The president's remarks came as criticism of the deal to temporarily freeze pieces of Iran's nuclear program mounted from Capitol Hill and some allies abroad, most notably Israel. Obama acknowledged that tough obstacles remain before the diplomacy with Iran can be deemed a success, but he insisted the potential rewards are too great to not test Tehran's willingness to strike a longer-term deal with the U.S. and other world powers.

"If Iran seizes this opportunity and chooses to join the global community, then we can begin to chip away at the mistrust that's existed for many, many years between our two nations," Obama said during an event in San Francisco.

For Obama, the shift to foreign policy could be a welcome change from the domestic problems that have plagued the White House in recent weeks, especially the troubled rollout of his signature health care law. The president used the opportunity to remind Americans that the current diplomacy with Iran is in part the result of the pledge he made at his inauguration to talk to the Islamic republic without preconditions.

"When I first ran for president, I said it was time for a new era of American leadership in the world, one that turned the page on a decade of war and began a new era of engagement with the world," he said. "As president and as commander in chief, I've done what I've said."

The weekend agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 countries — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — is to temporarily halt parts of Tehran's disputed nuclear program and allow for more intrusive international monitoring of its facilities. In exchange, Iran gets some modest sanctions relief and a promise from Obama that no new economic penalties will be levied during the terms of the six-month deal.

The groundwork for the accord was laid during four clandestine meetings between U.S. and Iranian officials throughout the summer and fall. An earlier meeting took place in March, before Iranians elected their new, more moderate-sounding President Hassan Rouhani. Details of the secret talks were confirmed to The Associated Press by three senior administration officials.

With a short-term pact in place, the U.S. and its partners will now set about trying to negotiate a broader agreement with Iran to permanently neutralize the nuclear program and assuage international concerns. The U.S. and its allies contend Iran is seeking a bomb, while Tehran insists it is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program for energy and medical purposes.

Ebonyi University Breaks Ranks With ASUU, Reopens For Lectures

The management of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, in eastern Nigeria on Monday ordered all the lecturers and students to return to classes immediately.

In a statement issued in Abakaliki, the Registrar, Mr Sam Egwu, said academic activities would resume on all the campuses of the university on Tuesday 26 November, saying the authorities have the support of 80 per cent of the academic staff.

The academic staff, in compliance with the directive of the national union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, went on strike from 1 July. ASUU is still seeking an audience with President Goodluck Jonathan to reach a decision on whether to call off the strike.

The ESU statement said: “we have waited patiently for the Federal Government and ASUU to resolve the impasse (strike) to no avail. The management of Ebonyi State University has, therefore, resolved to commence academic activities on Tuesday.

“We, therefore, use this medium to inform all concerned that teaching and learning will begin fully on Tuesday, to enable us to cover what we have lost to the strike” , the statement said.

The decision to reopen the school was reached at a management meeting held on 20 November.
It said “80 per cent of the lecturers in attendance agreed that they should ignore ASUU’s nationwide strike and return to class.

“The lecturers are not happy that the strike is lingering and therefore gave their full support for the resumption of school on Tuesday”, the source said.

The source, however, said that Chairman of ASUU in the university did not attend the meeting.

The chairman, Prof. Ndubuisi Idenyi, in an interview with NAN, dissociated the branch of ASUU from the decision to resume studies.

“The strike is still in progress until we get directives from our national leadership”, he told NAN.
Idenyi said the leadership of ASUU in the university was ready for a showdown with the school’s management if it decided to punish lecturers who defied the return-to-duty order.