Save the (terrible) White House briefingView galleryPress secretary Jay Carney is questioned by the press during the daily briefing at the White House. (Jason Reed/Reuters)Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News 17 hours ago White HouseShould the White House do away with the regular televised briefing with reporters? In a word, no.Sure, press secretary Jay Carney’s daily sparring sessions with the press can be infuriating. He and other White House spokespeople famously don’t offer answers so much as replies. Reporters too often ask slight variations on the same question, as though arbitrarily adding an adverb will be the thing that breaks down the wall of focus-group-tested talking points. (The TV folks ask the same questions because they won’t want to use footage of a competitor asking the Question Of The Day.)We sometimes ask question after question about trivial things, often in the ringing tones of community theater actors imitating B-movie journalists. And then we share laughs with the White House spokesman in a way that sends the message that we’re all just having a good time together.For one former press aide to President Barack Obama, the answer to the question is a resounding yes.“The daily briefing has become a worthless chore for reporters, an embarrassing nuisance to administration staff, and a source of added friction between the two camps,” Reid Cherlin writes in The New Republic. “It’s time to do the humane, obvious thing and get rid of it altogether.”But that would be a terrible idea.Before we really get into the Q-and-A everyone loves to hate, a couple of disclosures. 1) I’m a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association board, the group of media folks in charge of representing their colleagues in negotiations with the White House. 2) I’m speaking for only myself in this column.Cherlin notes that scrapping the briefing “would be seen as Nixonian, even Stalinist, depending on one’s bogeyman of choice.”Well, yes. Particularly since Cherlin writes approvingly about the “actual business” of White House communications aides “figuring out which of the administration’s three favored outlets — The New York Times, AP, and Mike Allen’s ‘Playbook’ — will get advance word” of big decisions that could just be announced to everyone at the same time.He adds that he prefers that, um, more, ahhh, managed approach: “Generally, this is a better way to do things: The article that results tends to be more thorough and nuanced, which is good for both the White House and the writer. And while it annoys less fortunate outlets, eventually everyone does get a turn.”None of that is true. Well, I suppose it’s possible that the most cynical White House operatives truly see that as preferable to honoring the spirit of pledges to be “the most transparent administration in history,” which sometimes feels roughly as meaningful as “most powerful cricket team in Alaska.”Does America really need a semiofficial press? The Obama White House already likes to restrict coverage of newsworthy events to its official photographer, excluding news photographers who might be less concerned with getting the president’s good side and more worried about, um, news. (Instead, these talented journalists worry more about their future. It’s as though the White House saw the media’s self-inflicted wounds and reached for the anti-coagulant.)At its best, the briefing can have a leveling effect: A reporter from an outlet that isn’t among The Chosen but might be called upon at the briefing benefits from asking his question in a public, televised setting. That means everyone will see the press secretary answering, replying, dodging, etc. For some reporters, who can’t even get their emails returned, this is a priceless opportunity. There’s also a chance that one of the Big Outlet Reporters who dominate the briefings will pick up the question, increasing the leverage necessary to pry an answer out of the White House (any White House).It also gives reporters a rare chance to set the agenda. Yes, of course the White House would prefer to talk about the president’s great and entirely genuine affection for middle-class Americans in Ohio. But what’s he doing about the mounting death toll in Syria?A current senior White House aide (who didn’t want to be identified) and a communications adviser in George W. Bush’s White House told Yahoo News that the briefing also serves the symbolic but crucial function of showing Americans that no one is above being questioned. The two sources independently said canceling the briefing would “send a terrible message.””It’s dangerous for society to cut back more on having access to government to hold them accountable,” Dana Perino, Bush’s last press secretary, told Yahoo News.As for how to fix things, Cherlin notes that many reporters miss the “gaggle,” a bygone off-camera give-and-take with the press secretary. Holding it off-camera kept the peacocking to a minimum (in my experience, many print reporters were tougher in the gaggle than in the briefing). And holding it early in the day meant the White House got a sense of what reporters would ask later at the on-camera briefing.Perino collapsed the gaggle and the briefing in September 2008 into one midmorning Q-and-A affectionately dubbed „the griefing.” She now favors adding a modified gaggle — fewer reporters, off-camera, at a set time.The gaggle has made guest appearances in the Obama White House.Bringing back the gaggle would probably not be a perfect antidote, but it’s a good idea. More opportunities for questions, less inducement to preen for the cameras, etc. And “I’ll get back to you” is easier to say off-camera.Cherlin also notes that some reporters suggested the president himself take more questions from the press. He calls that “at once simple and highly improbable” because it’s high-stakes, high-reward — and high-risk. No self-respecting reporter would ever argue against this, of course.White House reporters also could rely on information from outside the gated campus on Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House has less of a monopoly on information than many think. Congress, government agencies, foreign partners are all in the know to a degree.Here’s another idea. If you’re a reporter and you ask a question in the briefing and you don’t get an answer, report that. “The White House refused to endorse/denounce something today” can be a powerful motivator. Just ask the National Security Council spokesman who archly informed me he would not be commenting on a devastating suicide bombing in the Middle East, then tearfully threatened me with bodily harm when I told him that was totally cool because “White House refuses to condemn bombing” was a better story anyway. (I got my statement.)For the foreseeable future, the briefing is here to stay. There’s no serious discussion of dumping it. So it’s incumbent on reporters to make it count.Now, if you want something really radical, how about my friend Ana’s suggestion that the entire White House press corps be abolished ?
Pope shows off spiritual side with solemn riteView gallery NICOLE WINFIELD and BRADLEY BROOKS 6 hours ago SocietyReligionWorld Youth DayPope Francis RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Pope Francis presided over one of the most solemn rites of the Catholic Church on Friday, a procession re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion in the improbable location of Rio’s hedonistic Copacabana beach, as he headed into the home stretch of his first international trip for World Youth Day.The evening procession highlighted Francis’ deep spiritual side a day after he showed off his rebel streak by calling on young Catholics to shake things up in their parishes and make a „mess” by going out to the streets to spread their faith.Francis took a long drive in his open car along Rio’s oceanfront to reach the stage, kissing babies brought to him and waving to the shrieking crowds held behind fences and soldiers in camouflage. He then watched on in prayer as young people began the procession, which recounts the final hours of Christ’s life as he is condemned to death and crucified.The procession is one of the mainstay events of World Youth Day, designed to remind young Catholics about the root of their faith that Christ died to forgive their sins. Francis drove home that message at the start of Friday, hearing confessions of five young pilgrims in a Rio park.”It was just five minutes, it followed the regular ritual of confession, but then Francis stayed and talked with us,” said one of the five, Estefani Lescano, 21, a student from La Guaira, Venezuela. „It was all very personal. He told us that young people have the responsibility of keeping the church alive and spreading the word of Christ.”View gallery.”Pope Francis waves from his popemobile as he arrives for the Way of the Cross event on Copacabana be …Later, he met privately with a few juvenile detainees, a priority of his ever since his days as archbishop of Buenos Aires and an expression of his belief that the church must reach out to the most marginalized and forgotten of society.Even now as pope, he calls a group of youths in a Buenos Aires detention center every two weeks just to keep in touch, and one of his most memorable gestures as pope was his Holy Thursday Mass at a juvenile detention center in Rome where he washed the feet of young offenders.On Friday, the young offenders presented Francis with a large homemade rosary made out of Styrofoam balls, each one bearing the names of the eight street children gunned down by police death squads in 1993 as they slept outside Rio’s Candelaria church — a notorious massacre that underscored the unequal treatment that outcasts often receive in Brazil. On the cross were the words „Candelaria Never Again” in Portuguese.Francis also had lunch with a dozen World Youth Day volunteers from around the globe, bringing them to tears when he asked them a simple rhetorical question on which to reflect: Why were they here having lunch with the pope while others were hungry in the slums?The sun finally came out on Friday, ending four days of rain that soaked pilgrims and forced the relocation of the festival’s culminating Mass on Sunday. Instead, the Mass and the Saturday night vigil that precedes it will take place at Copacabana beach rather than the mud pit covering the original site in Guaratiba, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of central Rio.View gallery.”Backdropped by Sugar Loaf mountain, the World Youth Day stage is illuminated on Copacabana beach in …The improved weather also provided a brighter backdrop for his words to young and old during his noon prayer, in which he praised the elderly for passing on wisdom and religious heritage.Francis has made a point of not just focusing on the next generation of Catholics during World Youth Day, but on the older generation as well. It’s part of his longstanding work caring for the elderly in Argentina, the crucial role his own grandmother played in his spiritual development and the gentle deference he shows his predecessor, Benedict XVI.Speaking from the balcony of the residence of Rio’s archbishop, Francis noted that Friday is celebrated as Grandparent’s Day in much of the world and that young people should take the occasion to honor and thank their grandparents for the wisdom they share.”How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!” he said.Francis spoke about the important „bridge” between young and old in his brief remarks to journalists en route to Rio, saying young Catholics have the strength to move the church forward while older Catholics have the „wisdom of life” to share that shouldn’t be discarded.View gallery.”Nuns celebrate and take pictures as Pope Francis arrives to give Angelus noon prayer as they stand o …”This relationship and this dialogue between generations is treasure to be preserved and strengthened,” he said Friday.___Associated Press writers Jenny Barchfield, Marco Sibaja and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.___Nicole Winfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nwinfieldView gallery.”
Millions rally in Egypt, responding to army callView gallery SARAH EL DEEB and TONY G. GABRIEL 1 hour ago PoliticsMuslim BrotherhoodEgyptHamas CAIRO (AP) — Called out by the army, the largest crowds in 2 1/2 years of upheaval filled Egypt’s streets Friday, while ousted President Mohammed Morsi was formally placed under investigation on a host of allegations including murder and conspiracy with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.Morsi’s supporters also showed no signs of backing down, though they turned out in vastly smaller numbers. The demonstrations in Cairo were mostly peaceful into the evening. But by late Friday night in Cairo, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Morsi supporters near a sit-in they held for weeks, setting off clashes that lasted into early Saturday morning — in a possible sign of a new intolerance for marches that block city streets. A field hospital doctor said seven protesters were killed and hundreds injured.In the city of Alexandria, seven people were killed and over 100 were injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morsi, officials said.The announcement by prosecutors of the investigation against Morsi, which is likely to pave the way to a formal indictment and eventually a trial, was the first word on his legal status since he was deposed by the military July 3. Since then, the Islamist leader has been held incommunicado in a secret location.Both sides tried to show how much public support they enjoy. But the millions who turned out for the pro-army demonstrations overwhelmed the streets in multiple cities in Egypt, including some that rarely seen any rallies since the 2011 uprising.View gallery.”Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi clash with riot police at Nasr City, where pro …Throngs of people turned out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and in other cities, answering a call by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who urged them to give him a mandate to stop „potential terrorism” by supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.Portraits of the smiling el-Sissi in sunglasses dominated the crowd in Tahrir and one near the presidential palace across town. Posters with his picture were emblazoned with the words „the love of the people,” and demonstrators wore small photos of him around their necks or carried a picture of his face on an Egyptian one-pound note.Security was heavy after el-Sissi vowed to protect the rallies from attacks by rivals. Tanks guarded one entrance to Tahrir and police were stationed at other parts.”The army is here to protect the people. They don’t lie,” said Ezzat Fahmi, a 38-year-old in the crowd. He said el-Sissi called the rallies „so the entire world can see that the Egyptian people don’t want the Brotherhood anymore.”El-Sissi’s plea came at a time when the political standoff with Morsi’s supporters showed no sign of resolution. It raised speculation that he may be planning a crackdown on the toppled president’s allies, who have held a sit-in outside the Rabaa al-Adawiyah Mosque in Cairo and near daily rallies elsewhere in the capital for three weeks.View gallery.”Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi block the street with burning tree during clas …The rallies have often turned violent, with more than 180 people killed this month. The Morsi supporters and opponents blame each other for the bloodshed, and people in both camps have been seen carrying weapons.The unrest, as well as claims that Islamist groups are stockpiling weapons and escalating attacks against troops in the Sinai, were used by the country’s new military-backed rulers as a basis for demanding popular support.The interim leader, Adly Mansour, told the private TV station al-Hayat that his government seeks to include everyone, but it will not accept lawlessness, blocked roads and attacks on state institutions. He urged the pro-Morsi protesters to go home, promising they won’t be pursued or arrested.”I can’t negotiate with whoever has committed a crime. But those who were duped or those who want to belong to Egyptian society, we welcome them,” he said. But he added: „The state must interfere (against lawlessness) firmly.”Not long after the speech, police moved in quickly to break up a crowd of Morsi supporters marching on a main overpass in Cairo near the pro-Morsi sit-in, firing tear gas. Clashes with security forces ensued as protesters tried to extend their sit-in beyond the mosque into a main boulevard.View gallery.”Demonstrators against Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi shoot fireworks during a protest at th …Witnesses said police forces fired birdshots and live ammunition at the crowd in clashes that lasted for hours. Field hospital doctor Alaa Mohammed said seven people were killed, most of them shot in the head and chest, including a 19-year-old. He said two other protesters were in critical condition, and hundreds were injured.Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told a private TV station that the sit-in at the Rabaa mosque will be removed by legal means. He did not elaborate but said residents of the area have filed police reports against the encampment.Police spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif told The Associated Press that 53 pro-Morsi supporters were arrested around Egypt on Friday in possession of weapons, ranging from knives to homemade guns.El-Sissi deposed Morsi after four days of huge protests by millions of Egyptians demanding the removal of the country’s first freely elected president following months of disagreements between him and the largely secular opposition.The accusations against Morsi are connected to a prison break during the 2011 uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Gunmen attacked the Wadi el-Natroun prison northwest of Cairo, freeing inmates, including Morsi and about 30 other figures from the Muslim Brotherhood. The prosecutors allege Morsi and the Brotherhood worked with Hamas to carry out the break, in which 14 guards were killed.View gallery.”A man flashes a victory sign at an Egyptian military helicopter as it flies over the presidential pa …Egypt’s MENA news agency said Morsi was being investigated over allegations of collaborating with Hamas „to carry out anti-state acts, attacking police stations and army officers and storming prisons, setting fire to one prison and enabling inmates to flee, including himself, as well as premeditated killing of officers, soldiers and prisoners.”In recent months, a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia has heard testimony from prison officials and intelligence officers indicating Morsi and his Brotherhood colleagues were freed when gunmen led by Hamas operatives stormed the prison.Morsi supporters called the investigation politically motivated. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said the move showed „the complete bankruptcy of the leaders of the bloody coup.”Brotherhood officials have said they escaped when local residents broke into the prison to free their relatives and that they had no knowledge of it ahead of time.Hamas has consistently denied any involvement in the jailbreak. A spokesman for the militant group, Sami Abu Zuhri, condemned Morsi’s detention order as „an attempt to drag Hamas into the Egyptian conflict.”View gallery.”Supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi read the Quran during a protest near Cairo Uni …U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki expressed deep concern about reports of Morsi’s detention.”I can’t speak to the specific charges. But we do believe that it is important that there be a process to work toward his release,” she said. „Clearly, this process should respect the personal security of him and take into account the volatile political situation in Egypt and that’s where our focus is. We have conveyed publicly and privately that his personal security and treatment is of utmost importance.”MENA said Morsi has now been formally detained for 15 days pending the completion of the investigation. It did not say whether he would now be moved to a facility where he could receive family visits.The head of the prison authority, Maj. Gen. Mostafa Baz, said he has not yet received orders for Morsi’s transfer to any of his facilities. The news agency indicated that Morsi has already been interrogated.Egyptian institutions lined up behind el-Sissi’s call for Friday’s pro-military rallies, reflecting the extent of antagonism against the Brotherhood’s hold on power in the past year.View gallery.”An Egyptian military helicopter flies over Egyptians protesting against the ousted President Mohamme …State TV and most of the private broadcasters showed the pro-army rallies in various cities around Egypt, including aerial footage provided by military helicopters. Nationalist songs and parts of el-Sissi’s speech in which he called for support were played throughout the day.On Friday evening, TV networks stopped running soap operas that are wildly popular during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In a further show of support, church bells rang out during evening prayers when hundreds of thousands of protesters broke their Ramadan fasts. Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Belbawi participated in the rally held outside the presidential palace.A giant banner stretched across an entrance to Tahrir Square, the cradle of the 2011 uprising. It read: „The people, the source of all power, mandate the army and police to purge terrorism.”Three tanks guarded another street leading into the square, and helicopters swooped overhead.”We have no parliament. Today is a quick referendum to support el-Sissi against the Brotherhood, whose members are terrorists,” said Mohammed el-Shaer, who stood in Tahrir holding a portrait of the general in a golden frame. El-Shaer held the hand of his 10-year-old daughter, who was dressed in a military fatigues.View gallery.”An Egyptian Army helicopter flies over thousands of supporters of Egypt’s top military officer, Gen. …He called the rally a „popular referendum” on el-Sissi.In eastern Cairo, tens of thousands of Morsi supporters at the Rabaa mosque sit-in chanted against el-Sissi and vowed to continue their push for the president’s reinstatement. Others marched through some neighborhoods of Cairo.Their rallies were mostly covered on TV by Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, and pro-Morsi activists emailed journalists videos and links to a live feed.”When I first heard el-Sissi’s call I was anxious,” said 39-year-old Sayed el-Rawi, protesting outside the mosque. „But today, we saw that his speech encouraged more people to go down in the streets. … They won’t be able to break up the sit in.”The rival demonstrations are only deepening the country’s divisions since Morsi’s fall.View gallery.”A supporter of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi holds an umbrella to protect her from the sun …Clashes and fistfights broke out between both camps in Alexandria, with seven people killed and over 100 injured, according to health official Ibrahim el-Roubi. Some pro-Morsi supporters took cover inside a major mosque, leading to a standoff with opponents who besieged the place, locking them inside for hours.Skirmishes also broke out in the Mediterranean coastal cities of Damietta and Mahalla, in the southern city of Luxor, and a Cairo neighborhood that left 64 injured, Health Ministry spokesman Khaled el-Khateeb and local security officials said.It remains unclear what steps the military is planning after Friday’s show of strength — whether it would try to break up sit-ins by Morsi supporters or attempt to arrest more than a dozen Brotherhood figures who have warrants against them.On the front page of the state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper, the word „wanted” in English was plastered across photos of a number of Brotherhood leaders and allies who are facing warrants. Many of them are believed to be taking refuge at the Rabaa al-Adawiyah sit-in.The prosecutors’ announcement on Morsi also could signal a greater move to go after the Brotherhood in courts. Besides Morsi, five other senior figures from the group have been detained.
Syrian troops advance in central cityView galleryALBERT AJI 6 hours ago PoliticsSyria DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian government troops gained ground in clashes Friday in two rebel-held neighborhoods in the central city of Homs, edging closer to a historic mosque and closing in on opposition fighters in the area, state television and activists said.The advance came amid a wide offensive by President Bashar Assad’s forces and as Syria’s Western-backed opposition group met for the first time with the U.N. Security Council.With about 1 million residents, Homs lies along a main artery linking the capital, Damascus, with regime strongholds on the Mediterranean coast to the west. Homs has played a key role in the country’s civil war, now in its third year, and the struggle for control of the city also has underscored the conflict’s increasingly sectarian undertones.Activists, who consider Homs „the capital of the revolution,” say the regime wants to capture the entire city to include it in a future Alawite state — stretching from Homs to the coast — where Assad could possibly make his last stand. Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, while most of the rebels fighting to topple his regime are Sunnis.In recent weeks, Assad’s troops have captured several nearby rebel-held areas, including the towns of Qusair and Talkalkh near the border with Lebanon.State TV said Friday that troops advanced in Homs’ northern neighborhoods of Khaldiyeh and Jouret el-Shayah.The report said the government forces were getting close to Khaldiyeh’s 13th-century mosque of Khalid Ibn al-Walid, famous for its nine domes and two minarets. On Monday, government troops shelled the mosque, damaging the tomb of Ibn al-Walid, a revered figure in Islam.An activist in the city who only identified himself as Abu Bilal for fear of government reprisals said the troops were now about 50 meters (yards) from the mosque. „Resistance cannot stand up to tanks, warplanes and mortars,” Abu Bilal said, speaking from the city via Skype.In New York, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition told the U.N. Security Council it is ready to attend a peace conference if the Syrian government commits to having Assad hand over power to a transitional government.The United States, which supports the opposition, and Russia, which supports the Assad government, are trying to convene a new conference in Geneva to try to get both sides to implement a plan adopted in the Swiss city a year ago. It calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body vested with full executive powers.However, the demand that Assad relinquish power has halted the talks. Ahmed al-Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, later said that if Assad doesn’t hand over power, „the regime will never step down, and its violent repression will continue.”View gallery.”The leader of Syria’s Western-backed opposition group Ahmad Al-Jarba speaks to reporters after an in …As the rebel leaders met at the United Nations, violence continued. In the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, a bomb exploded Friday evening, causing casualties, both the state-run news agency SANA and the pro-government television station Al-Akhbariya said. Neither the agency nor the station reported specifics about the attack. The blast went off in the same square where a car bomb exploded Thursday, killing 10 people and wounding 66.Officials also said pro-government troops were advancing in battles with rebel forces in the now mostly empty Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. Clashes in the camp, which has mostly been under rebel control since last year, broke out earlier this week.Since the start of the unrest, Syria’s half-million Palestinians have struggled to remain on the sidelines but many were eventually split between pro-and anti-Assad groups. In particular, young Palestinian refugees joined the rebels in the fight against Assad’s regime.Thousands of the camp’s residents have fled to escape the fighting and have gone to other areas in Syria or to neighboring Lebanon.Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said nearly 150 soldiers were killed on Monday and Tuesday after rebels stormed and seized the village of Khan al-Assal on the southwestern edge of the northern city of Aleppo. He said 51 of them were shot dead after they were captured alive and surrendered to rebels.The report could not be independently confirmed. Syria’s official media does not release casualty figures for security forces and regime soldiers.Also Friday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that Polish journalist Marcin Suder, who was kidnapped in the rebel-held town of Saraqeb in Idlib province this week, likely was taken by a dangerous and radical group seeking ransom. Tusk told journalists that Suder’s abduction „probably has the character of a robbery.”Suder was reporting from Syria as a freelancer, Suder’s Polish agency, Studio Melon, said Wednesday.Another photographer, Jonathan Alpeyrie, was released after being held for 81 days by a Syrian milita, the New York-based agency Polaris Images said in a statement Friday. Polaris said Alpeyrie, of New York, had been abducted in April while working in Syria’s Yabrud region, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of DamascusMore than 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, the U.N. now says, up from nearly 93,000 just more than a month ago.___Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Cassandra Vinograd in London, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Monica Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.
Tunisia killing could spell end to Islamist govtView gallery PAUL SCHEMM and BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA 4 hours ago PoliticsTunisia TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The assassination of a second opposition politician in six months has piled the pressure on Tunisia’s troubled Islamist-led coalition government, which came to power in the wake of the Arab Spring but is struggling to right the economy and rein in extremists.With the country brought to a virtual standstill by a general strike and the revelation that the same gun was apparently used by an al-Qaida-linked Islamist extremist cell in the two assassinations, calls grew Friday for the 18-month-old transitional government to stand down.On Friday six opposition parties holding 42 seats announced their withdrawal from the 217-seat national assembly and called for the government, elected in the aftermath of the overthrow of the country’s long-time dictator, to be replaced by a national unity government tasked with finishing off the constitution and paving the way for fresh elections.”We are withdrawing from the constituent assembly, which has lost its credibility, and are calling for the dissolution of a government that has failed, and tomorrow we will engage in an open sit-in in front of the assembly until it is dissolved,” the parties announced in a statement issued during a late-night press conference.Tunisia is considered the birthplace of the Arab Spring. Its revolution inspired pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East and set an example for political cooperation when a coalition was formed between the Islamist Ennahda Party and two secular parties.View gallery.”Interior Minister Loutfi Ben Jeddou delivers his speech during a press conference, Friday, July 26, …However, a troubled economy, rising Islamist extremists and the two political slayings have tarnished the government and fueled opposition calls for its dissolution.”The assassination of Mohammed Brahmi is a failure of the government and a failure of its security policy,” said political analyst Alaya Allani. „I think most of the political elite feel it is urgent after the assassination to dissolve the current government and replace it with a non-partisan, competent one.”The government’s failure was driven home, said Allani, when the Interior Minister revealed in a press conference that not only was the same radical Islamist group behind the two assassinations, but that the same gun was used.Lotfi Ben Jeddou said the gun used to shoot leftist politician Brahmi 14 times in front of his home was the same 9mm semi-automatic pistol that killed opposition politician Chokri Belaid back in February.Brahmi’s assailant was Boubakr Hakim, a 30-year-old weapons smuggler with Islamist sympathies who was also part of the al-Qaida-linked cell that assassinated Belaid, according to Ben Jeddou.View gallery.”In this photo dated Thursday, July 25, 2013, the body of Tunisian opposition politician Mohammed Bra …Critics of the government have wondered why after five months Belaid’s killers had still not been brought to justice and worse that the assassinations were continuing.The opposition has accused Ennahda of being overly tolerant of a rising radical Islamist trend in the country that has shown violent tendencies in its efforts to instill greater piety in what has long been known as one of the most secular countries in the Arab world.The killing of Brahmi of the leftist Popular Current comes at a particularly sensitive time as Tunisia’s drawn out transition is finally reaching its end with the debate on the constitution and amid rising hopes that fresh elections will be held by the end of the year.To pass the constitution, which is still being hotly debated in the assembly, a two-thirds majority is required.”It’s high time to take into account what the population and different opposition groups are saying about how this government has failed to protect Tunisians,” said Kamel Labidi, an analyst and free speech activist who expressed worry that the Islamists might not compromise. „I am afraid the hardliners in the Islamist movement are not inclined generally to work with anyone to lead the country toward democracy.”View gallery.”CAPTION CORRECTS THE SPELLING OF MOHAMMED Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement demonstrate as …After the assassination of Belaid, anti-government protests erupted and Hamadi Jebali, the prime minister at the time suggested the formation of a government of technocrats. His own party rejected his offer and Jebali resigned.In the wake of the latest assassination, Ennahda has remained firm once again in its insistence on remaining in power until the transition is completed and new elections held.Ajmi Lourimi, a member of the Ennahda executive bureau, criticized the opposition for trying to use the crisis for its own ends.”The demands of the opposition are not realistic or responsible … they want to throw the country into a deeper crisis and take it into the unknown with disastrous consequences,” he told The Associated Press. „The only solution is dialogue and consensus among all the parties and find compromises on our differences and finish the transition period with elections as soon as possible.”The opposition, as well as the main labor union that called the general strike, have shown little interest in dialogue. Among Friday’s disruptions, flights and public transportation were cancelled.View gallery.”FILE – In this 2012 file photo, Tunisian lawmaker Mohammed Brahmi poses for photographers during a p …Instead several groups and political parties announced the formation of a National Salvation Front to hold protests until the resignation of the government.The number of people protesting in central Tunis and in front of the assembly was modest given the summer heat and the holy fasting month of Ramadan.However, Brahmi’s funeral on Saturday is expected to attract thousands.A pro-government demonstration briefly marched down central Tunis’ Bourguiba Avenue, the main site of the protests that brought down dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Echoing supporters of the Islamist government in Egypt that was overthrown by a coup earlier in July, the protesters hailed the „legitimacy” of the government in the aftermath of elections.Unlike their counterparts in Egypt, however, Tunisia’s Islamists have consistently shown a willingness to compromise with the country’s powerful secular forces, including on key matters like keeping reference to Islamic law out of the constitution.View gallery.”CAPTION CORRECTS THE SPELLING OF MOHAMMED Supporters of the Islamist Ennahda movement march in the s …Political analyst Allani said in the wake of the latest assassination that Ennahda needs to make serious compromises in light of the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.”This time the facts have changed and the regional events oblige it to make concessions or lose its credibility and open the way for new tensions in society,” he said.______Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco.
Mexico’s Pemex posts bigger loss in second quarter By Gabriel Stargardter,MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex (PEMX.UL) on Friday posted its steepest loss since 2011, hurt by lower crude export prices and a stronger peso.Pemex posted a loss of 49 billion pesos ($3.8 billion) in the second quarter compared with a year earlier loss of 33.6 billion ($2.6 billion), according to a statement. It was the company’s biggest loss since the third quarter of 2011.The announcement comes just weeks before the government is due to unveil a plan for a major overhaul of the oil industry aimed at attracting more private capital.Pemex, a symbol of Mexican self-sufficiency since the industry was nationalized in 1938, is struggling to reverse a decline in crude output, which has fallen by a quarter since peaking at 3.4 million barrels per day in 2004.Pemex said it pumped an average 2.52 million barrels per day (bpd) over the April-June period, down 1.1 percent from the same period last year.Carlos Morales, head of Pemex’s exploration and production arm, said in a conference call with analysts that the company would still be able to reach a goal of lifting production slightly to 2.541 million bpd by the end of the year.Mexico’s government relies heavily on oil revenues that fund around a third of the federal budget, and Pemex often operates at a loss due to a heavy tax burden.Mexico is a major exporter to the United States, but has to import nearly half of its gasoline due to a lack of domestic refining capacity.Revenues during the April-June period were 393.2 billion pesos, the company said, down 3.2 percent from last year.REFORM-Oil prices have fallen since last year and the peso has strengthened against the dollar, crimping the company’s revenues as measured in Mexican currency.Earlier this week a top Mexican lawmaker said the proposal to overhaul Pemex will be presented next month, with President Enrique Pena Nieto favoring constitutional reform that would allow private investment into the sector.David Penchyna, leader of the Senate’s energy committee and a member of Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said he favors allowing concessions to attract big investors, which would be a major departure for Mexico.Though Pemex is allowed to contract out to third parties for a wide variety of oilfield services, payment for work as a percentage of production or profits is strictly prohibited by the existing legal framework – an obstacle many believe is strangling Mexico’s oil and gas production.($1 = 12.9795 pesos at end June)(Writing by Dave Graham and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Bob Burgdorfer)
Qatar grounds a 787 as glitches pile up on Boeing jet DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar Airways said on Friday it had taken one of its Boeing (NYSE: BA – news) 787 Dreamliners out of service following what it described as a „minor” technical issue, as pressure mounted on the plane maker over possible new electrical problems with the advanced jet.The airline and Boeing Co declined to give further details but industry sources said they were treating seriously reports that the aircraft had been grounded for days after smoke was seen near an electrical panel.The 787 has suffered a spate of mishaps in recent weeks, including a spontaneous fire on an Ethiopian Airlines-owned 787 that broke out while the plane was parked at a remote stand at London’s Heathrow airport for eight hours on July 12.According to Web-tracking service Flightaware, the Qatar Airways aircraft, registered as A7-BCB (Kuala Lumpur: 6602.KL – news) , has not flown since Sunday, an unusually long downtime for a long-haul jet designed to save on fuel bills.Qatar Airways confirmed an aircraft had been taken out of service, but said no flights had been cancelled as a result.”This is a minor issue for us, and not an incident, so we are not commenting,” an airline spokeswoman said.A spokeswoman for Boeing said, „We request that you channel all your enquiries to Qatar Airways.”Two people familiar with the matter, asking not to be identified, said smoke had been reported near an electrical compartment while the jet was on the ground in Doha. A failure in a similar bay caused a fire during a test flight in 2010, and three of the jets, including one owned by Qatar Airways, had electrical problems last December.A fire-brigade supervisor in Doha said it did not have any record of an incident with an airport-related call last week.India’s aviation regulator said earlier it had started an investigation after an oven in a 787 operated by Air India overheated during a domestic flight, causing smoke.There was no interruption to services.Japan’s ANA Holdings Inc (Other OTC: ALNPY – news) , which operates the world’s biggest fleet of Dreamliners, also said on Friday it had found damage to the battery wiring on two 787 locator beacons, made by Honeywell International Inc (NYSE: HON – news) .United Airlines said on Friday it also found a pinched wire in one of its locator beacons on one 787 in its fleet of six. It replaced the beacon and sent the defective unit to Honeywell for inspection. The work did not interrupt its schedule, it said.The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing instructed airlines to inspect or remove the beacons, after UK investigators found two wires pinched together in the beacon inside the Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner at Heathrow. The resulting fire caused extensive damage to the plane.PAST PROBLEMSLast December, three 787s had electrical problems that were made public. United Airlines experienced problems with electrical panels on two 787s, one of which diverted to another airport during a flight from Houston. Qatar Airways said that month that it grounded one of its 787 jets because of the same problem United had experienced. Boeing later traced the problem to faulty circuit boards in the panel.In January, regulators grounded the global fleet of 50 Dreamliners after batteries burned on two jets within two weeks. Regulators lifted the grounding in April after Boeing redesigned the battery system, which supplies backup power to the jet and is unrelated to the emergency beacon, known as an emergency locator transmitter, or ELT, that is designed to send out a signal to help rescuers locate an aircraft wreckage.Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in May that the airline had to forego $200 million in lost profit because of the grounding of 787 planes, but has received compensation from Boeing for the losses. At least one other airline says it is still seeking compensation.BOEING ‘HIGHLY CONFIDENT’-Aviation experts say it is common for the reported number of incidents to rise when an aircraft is in the spotlight, and that all new aircraft models have incidents when they first enter service. The 787 began service in the fall of 2011.Even aircraft with decades of service regularly suffer glitches that go unreported and rarely pose a direct threat to safety.However, aviation experts say U.S. and British authorities investigating the previous fires may seek to establish whether anything can be learned from a pattern of reported incidents connected in various ways to the jet’s electrical systems.Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said this week he remained „highly confident” in the future of the 787 Dreamliner programme and the integrity of the company’s newest airplane.The 787 incorporates a raft of changes in the way passenger jets are designed, including greater use of electrical systems that save weight compared with older hydraulics. It is the first passenger jet built mainly from lightweight carbon-composites.Boeing shares ended 1 percent lower at $105.60 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.(Additional reporting by Siva Govindasamy, Tim Hepher, Tim Kelly, Devidutta Tripathy, Regan Doherty; editing by Christian Plumb, Alwyn Scott and Matthew Lewis)
Holder to Russia: Snowden won’t be tortured or face death penaltyView galleryAttorney General Eric Holder tells Russia U.S. won’t seek death penalty for Edward Snowden. (Matt Rourke/AP file)Olivier Knox, Yahoo! News 9 hours ago SocietyRussiaUnited StatesAttorney General Eric Holder has assured Russia’s justice minister that NSA leaker Edward Snowden, currently living at a Moscow airport, won’t be tortured or face the death penalty if turned over to the U.S. Holder’s pledge — aimed at persuading Russia to reject Snowden’s application for asylum — came in a letter sent July 23 and released on Friday.”The United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States,” Holder wrote to Alexander Vladimirovich Konovalov. „The charges he faces do not carry that possibility, and the United States would not seek the death penalty even if Mr. Snowden were charged with additional, death penalty-eligible crimes.”Snowden, who leaked details of the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone records and large-scale spying on the Internet, has reportedly sought asylum in Russia on grounds that he could face the death penalty and be tortured if he returned to the U.S. Some lawmakers have accused him of treason, though he does not face that charge, which can carry capital punishment.”Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States,” Holder wrote. „Any questioning of Mr. Snowden could be conducted only with his consent: his participation would be entirely voluntary, and his legal counsel would be present should he wish it.”
North Korea military parades through PyongyangView gallery ERIC TALMADGE 32 minutes ago PoliticsMilitaryNorth KoreaKim Jong-unSouth Korea PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Goose-stepping soldiers, columns of tanks and a broad array of ominous-looking missiles poised on mobile launchers paraded through Pyongyang’s main square on Saturday in a painstakingly choreographed military pageant intended to strike fear into North Korea’s adversaries and rally its people behind young ruler Kim Jong Un on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.The lavish assembly of weapons and troops is reminiscent of the marches held by the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the few chances the world gets to see North Korea’s military up close. Pyongyang frequently uses the occasion to reveal new, though not always operational, hardware. Its arsenal of missiles was front-and-center.Overlooking a sea of spectators mobilized in Kim Il Sung Square to cheer and wave flags, leader Kim Jong Un saluted his troops and waved from a review stand, flanked by senior military officials, the chests of their olive green and white uniforms laden with medals. As fighter jets screamed overhead, a relaxed looking Kim smiled and talked with China’s vice president. China fought with North Korea during the war and is Pyongyang’s only major ally and a crucial source of economic aid.Kim’s rule, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, has been marked by unusually high tensions with Washington and Seoul. He has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that drew widespread condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.North and South Korea have turned to tentative diplomacy in recent weeks, but March and April saw North Korean threats of nuclear war against Washington and Seoul in response to annual South Korean-U.S. military drills and U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang’s February nuclear test, the country’s third.View gallery.”In this image made from video, military vehicles parade during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversa …Saturday’s parade was held to mark a holiday the North Koreans call „Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War,” although the 1950-53 Korean War that refers to ended in a truce and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war. To commemorate the anniversary, North Korea over the past week has also staged huge mass rallies in its capital and put on elaborate fireworks shows.Last year’s parade, held to commemorate the April celebrations of the 100th birthday of the late national founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, created a loud buzz among military watchers when the North rolled out a mysterious long-range missile known abroad as the KN-08. Most outside observers now believe the missiles were mock-ups, but they were carried on mobile launchers that appeared to have been obtained from China, possibly against U.N. arms trade sanctions.In South Korea, the anniversary was marked with a speech by President Park Geun-hye, an exhibit on the war’s history and a planned anti-North Korea rally. A South Korean symphony was to perform later in the day.Park vowed in prepared remarks not to tolerate provocations from North Korea, but she also said Seoul would work on building trust with the North.”I urge North Korea to give up the development of nuclear weapons if the country is to start on a path toward true change and progress,” Park said.View gallery.”In this image made from video, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, waves during a military para …North Korea is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, but many analysts don’t think it has yet mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to fit on long-range missiles.The North’s parade tradition goes back to the founding of the country in 1948. Few countries — including North Korea’s communist models — continue to trot out their military forces in public squares with such pomp and pageantry. But Pyongyang has stuck with them because its leaders believe they are a good way to show the world those things about the military they want to reveal, while at the same time sending a potent message domestically of the power of the ruling elite.”You want the impression of lots of military hardware, and there are plenty of stories of planes and vehicles circling around so they can pass reviewing stands twice,” said David Stone, an expert on the Soviet and Russian militaries, at Kansas State University. „The beauty of a parade is that weapons systems don’t actually have to work in order to be impressive — a missile launcher looks good even when the missile won’t launch.”That can be risky, however.Almost as soon as last year’s parade was over, military experts around the world said they thought the stars of the show — the long-range KN-08 missiles — were mock-ups of a design that is still being perfected and probably couldn’t actually fly, despite North Korea’s claims that it has the capability to strike the United States with nuclear-tipped ICBMs.View gallery.”In this image made from video, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, salutes during a military pa …”They certainly learned that they might lose some reputation by showing imperfect mock-ups,” said Marcus Schiller, a private-sector aerospace engineer in Germany who is regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on North Korea’s missile capabilities. „Better to show nothing and let the world know by ‘leaked secret information’ how dangerous they are.”Even so, the message the parades send to North Korea’s own people — who are not privy to such outside analysis — is just as important.”A military parade, or the big mass pageants, presents an overwhelming impression of uniformity,” said Soviet expert Stone. „Everyone is cheering, and though you may not feel like cheering, and lots of other people may not feel like cheering, you don’t want to be the only one not cheering. The message is: ‘You’re the only one who is not contented, and action is pointless since everyone else supports the regime.'”Stone noted that a prominent feature of North Korea’s parades is the goose-step, which in the minds of most people around the world is inextricably linked to the Nazis, though it well predates Hitler. Stone said North Korea probably picked it up from the Soviets, who had a great deal to do with the creation of the North Korean armed forces.”Chinese, old Soviet, and North Korean military parades look very much alike, and for very similar historical and political reasons,” he said. „The Soviets put lots of effort into making sure things looked very good, and to avoid embarrassing things like a tank stalling somewhere in sight of the reviewing stand. I’m sure the North Koreans have gone out of their way to keep troops uniform by height, and make sure anyone stunted from malnutrition isn’t marching. They don’t say anything real about power and uniformity and solidarity, but isn’t really the point.”View gallery.”North Korean war veterans of the Korean War watch fireworks during the „Arirang” mass games song-and …___AP writers Hyung-jin Kim, Elizabeth Shim and Foster Klug contributed to this story from Seoul, South Korea.