- Obama to pitch economic agenda at Ohio steel plant Associated Press
- Low enrollment figures underscore Obamacare woes Reuters
- Obama’s task in easing healthcare woes may be easier said than done Reuters
- Contrite Obama apologizes for healthcare insurance pledge, website Reuters
- Obama blames ‘bad apple’ insurers for canceled coverage Reuters
- Obama says he’s ‘sorry’ some American losing health plans -NBC News Reuters
- Obama apologizes to people losing health coverage Associated Press
- Obama spars with Louisiana governor over healthcare law Reuters
- Obamacare enrollment low; Democrats unhappy Associated Press
- UPDATE 3-Top U.S. insurer sees weak Obamacare sign-ups, prepares for delay Reuters
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is set to tout the U.S. economic recovery during a visit to an Ohio steel mill on Thursday even as he faces more questions about the troubled rollout of his signature healthcare law.Obama will talk about the recovery of the U.S. auto industry, the energy benefits of auto fuel-efficiency standards, and the attractiveness of the United States for foreign investment when he visits the ArcelorMittal Cleveland facility, the White House said.The company has brought back workers furloughed in 2008 during the U.S. recession and has added 150 new jobs, the White House said in a statement.ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, is headquartered in Luxembourg. The company’s chief executive, Lakshmi Mittal, is due to meet greet Obama at the Ohio plant.”Industries like steel that rely heavily on demand from the auto manufacturers, including fabricated metals and machinery, have been the source of most of U.S. manufacturing job growth since early 2010,” the White House said in a statement.Obama’s trip to Ohio comes a day after his administration released figures showing that many fewer Americans than originally expected signed up for health insurance plans under the law known as Obamacare since enrollment began on October 1.The administration said on Wednesday that 106,000 people enrolled in insurance plans – far fewer than the millions of people who had been projected to do so.Obama’s fellow Democrats are demanding that the White House swiftly help people whose existing insurance policies have been canceled because of higher standards under the healthcare law and to fix the program’s broken website by the end of the month.On a visit to Louisiana and Florida last week, Obama reminded audiences that Republican governors of those states passed up the chance to expand healthcare coverage to low-income people through an expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.He will be able to tell his audience that in Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich backed a broadening of Medicaid, bringing in $2.5 billion in federal funding that is expected to provide coverage for 275,000 state residents.(Editing by Will Dunham)
Obama administration on low enrollment numbers: ‘The marketplace is working’By Olivier Knox & Liz Goodwin 15 hours agoView gallery Fewer than 27,000 Americans signed up for insurance on the glitch-plagued healthcare.gov website in the month of October, putting the Obama administration far below its own target for the program’s rollout.Related Stories
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An additional 79,391 people enrolled in insurance in the 15 states and District of Columbia that run their own exchanges, which have been plagued by fewer tech problems. Still, the cumulative 106,000 people who signed up for insurance comes in far below the half a million enrollees the Obama administration had projected in the first month, according to internal memos cited on Captiol Hill. And some of the 106,000 people have chosen a plan and put it in their shopping cart but not yet paid the first month’s premium.On a call with reporters, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she is “confident” the numbers will rise soon, noting that an additional 975,000 people have applied for insurance on the site, but have not yet enrolled.“The marketplace is working, people are enrolling,” Sebelius said.At one point, only three out of 10 people who tried to apply on the federal exchange site were able to get through due to multiple glitches and technical problems. Sebelius reiterated that the Obama administration hopes the site will be working smoothly by the end of November, after hiring outside experts to perform a “tech surge” to fix it. Nearly a third of the people who signed up for insurance on the federal exchange in October did so using a paper application.“We do want to invite back people who started the process….to come back in and try again,” Sebelius said. The secretary also stressed that other major health care programs—including Massachusetts’ health care reform in 2006 and Medicare Part D—had initially low enrollment rates before applications began flooding in.Participation varied widely by state: Only 53 people in Alaska selected a plan on the marketplace, compared to 35,364 in California, which runs its own exchange.Less Than 27,000 Signed Up on HealthCare.govPlay video.”Federal budget officials predicted that 7 million people would sign up on the exchanges by March 31, when open enrollment closes. In order to work, more than 2 million of them must be young, healthy people to offset older and sicker participants. The government did not release demographic data on the enrollees.Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been more popular than private insurance so far, with nearly 400,000 people enrolling in those programs in the past month. (Some states expanded their low-income Medicaid program under the health care law.)Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told reporters the site’s error rate is down to 1 percent, and that they expect people will be able to apply and enroll “in one sitting” by the end of November.Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, said she believes the enrollment numbers show that there is demand for the insurance, but that the “maddening” website is preventing people from purchasing it. Pollitz said it’s a good sign for the administration that 975,000 people applied and checked their eligibility for health care, despite the site’s long waits.“A million people don’t just do that because they’ve got nothing better to do,” Pollitz told Yahoo News. “I think they’re serious.” The numbers poured fuel on the political fire threatening to consume the president’s signature domestic policy achievement. Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the data “is a symbol of the failure of the president’s health care law. It is a rolling calamity that must be scrapped.”Increasing numbers of congressional Democrats have embraced legislation aimed at making Obama’s false promise that “if you like your plan, you can keep it” retroactively true.White House press secretary Jay Carney promised Wednesday before the numbers were released that the administration will unveil its own fix “sooner rather than later” while warning against any legislative steps that it claims would undermine the law, perhaps fatally.Carney admitted that low initial enrollment numbers could demoralize Americans who are seeking to buy insurance. “There’s no question we’ve made our work harder for us,” Carney said.
Balkan tycoon, once seen as untouchable, stands trial in SerbiaBy Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic 20 minutes agoView galleryMiroslav Miskovic (front), Serbian billionaire retail tycoon, leaves the Special Court in Belgrade, August …By Ivana Sekularac and Aleksandar Vasovic BELGRADE (Reuters) – One of the Balkans’ richest men went on trial on Thursday in a high-profile case that the Serbian government says is a long-overdue drive to end more than two decades of lawlessness.Miroslav Miskovic, who created a retail, insurance and real estate empire through the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Serbia’s emergence from isolation, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty on charges of fraud and tax evasion.He was arrested 11 months ago, stunning a region that had long seen him as untouchable.By bringing him down, the government hopes to show it is serious about tackling the murky nexus of politics, business and crime that has flourished in Serbia over the past two decades.That fight is central to Serbia’s bid to join the European Union, which takes a step forward in January with the expected launch of accession talks.The slight, bespectacled 68-year-old is accused of siphoning off millions of euros from a privatized and now bankrupt road repair company between 2005 and 2010. His son, Marko, and nine others are also standing trial.Miskovic and his Delta Holding company, which employs more than 7,000 people and is projected to turn over some 700 million euros in revenue this year, deny any wrongdoing.”The indictment is long, but when you finish it there is nothing illegal or immoral to be asserted,” said Ian Forrester, a British lawyer who is part of Miskovic’s defense team.”SENDING A MESSAGE”—While riveted by Miskovic’s dramatic fall, ordinary Serbs, however, remain skeptical, knowing that parties of all creeds have long courted deep-pocketed businessmen for political patronage, providing protection in return.Few have deeper pockets than Miskovic, who posted a record 12 million euro bail in July and was ranked in 2007 among the richest 1,000 people in the world by Forbes magazine, with a fortune estimated at one billion dollars.His Delta empire is partner with the likes of automakers Honda and BMW, and high street names including Nike, Accessorize and Costa Coffee.Despite the promises of successive governments since the fall of Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the average Serb continues to grapple with pervasive, low-level graft on a daily basis. The average wage is 380 euros per month.The graft campaign is the personal project of Serbia’s deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the biggest party in the ruling coalition and possible next head of government if, as has been widely speculated, he pushes for a snap election after the start of the EU accession talks.Vucic, in a television interview on Tuesday, promised more arrests to come.”He is sending a message, to the domestic and international public, that no one is untouchable, and he wants them to believe it,” political commentator Petar Lazic said at the start of Miskovic’s trial.He was however skeptical of how deep the government would delve.”This is not the twilight of the Serbian tycoons,” Lazic said. „They will become model citizens, investing and working legitimately, just don’t ask them how they made their first million.” ($1 = 0.7460 euros)(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Angus Macswan)
Syrian and Russian leaders discuss peace talks13 minutes agoView gallery DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The presidents of Syria and Russia have discussed a proposed peace conference to end Syria’s nearly three-year civil war and Damascus’ efforts to put its chemical weapons under international supervision, the Kremlin said Thursday.Related Stories
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The United States and Russia have been trying to convene a peace conference in Geneva since May to broker a political solution to the Syrian conflict that activists say has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced millions more.Speaking to Syrian President Bashar Assad by telephone, Russian leader Vladimir Putin „emphasized efforts taken by Russia together with its partners to prepare a Geneva-2 international conference and gave a positive assessment of Bashar Assad’s readiness to send a Syrian government delegation there,” the Kremlin said.The Syrian government has said it will take part in the peace talks. Its avowed willingness to attend the Geneva conference coincides with a military offensive that has seen Assad’s forces seize ground near Damascus and in the northern province of Aleppo.The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said in a statement Monday it would only attend the Geneva talks if humanitarian aid is allowed to reach besieged areas and the government releases political prisoners. The group itself wants any future transitional government to exclude Assad and his close allies, a demand the Syrian government has rejected.Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi put the matter bluntly: „The conditions they (the opposition) have announced are nothing but useless screaming.”Raw: Clashes Flare Up Near Syrian CapitalPlay video.”„He who believes that he is going to Geneva to receive the keys to Damascus is a silly and frivolous person with no political value or understanding,” al-Zoubi told Syrian state TV late Wednesday.Russia is one of Assad’s strongest international backers and has used its veto power at the U.N. Security Council in the past to prevent the international community from imposing sanctions on Damascus.Syrian state-run TV said Putin told Assad that only the Syrian people „should decide their own future.”The Kremlin also said the two leaders discussed the ongoing effort to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control and dismantle them. It said Putin expressed his satisfaction with the „Syrian authorities’ cooperation with chemical weapons experts.”The disarmament mission stems from a deadly Aug. 21 attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in which the United Nations has determined the nerve agent sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed. The U.S. and Western allies accuse Syria’s government of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.View gallery.”Residents are directed by soldiers in the town of Hejeira which Syrian troops captured on Wednesday, …The Obama administration threatened to launch punitive missile strikes against Syria, prompting frantic diplomatic efforts to forestall an attack. Those efforts concluded with September’s unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, a process that began last month.Meanwhile, Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said mortar rounds and bombs killed three people and wounded 22 in central Damascus on Thursday.Earlier in the day, state-run Syrian television channel Al-Ikhbariya said two bombs exploded near a famous Damascus bazaar, killing at least one person and wounding seven.Bomb and mortar attacks are not uncommon in the Syrian capital.More than 120,000 people have been killed so far in the war, now in its third year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog that closely monitors the violence in Syria through a network of activists across the country. The U.N. said in July that 100,000 Syrians have been killed, and has not updated that figure since.
Russia’s Putin holds telephone talks with Syrian leader Assad41 minutes agoView galleryMoscow (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday held telephone talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, applauding Damascus for its willingness to attend a peace conference and destroy its chemical weapons, the Kremlin said.Related Stories
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Putin „positively assessed” the readiness of Assad’s government to send a delegation to planned peace talks in Geneva and „expressed satisfaction” with Damascus’s cooperation in the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal, the Kremlin said in a statement.It said that in the conversation „the hope was expressed that the main opposition groups will show a constructive approach and take part” in the Geneva conference.The telephone conversation came as the Syrian government daily Al-Watan on Thursday claimed that the Geneva talks would be held on December 12.The Syrian government has expressed a readiness to take part but Russia has repeatedly lambasted the lack of enthusiasm from the opposition.The Kremlin statement said that during the call, „Assad thanked the Russian leadership for its help and support of the Syrian people”.Both leaders expressed „mutual interest in further developing bilateral relations”.There were no further details on the content of the talks, which the Kremlin said happened on Russia’s initiative.Russia and Iran are seen as the last remaining key allies of Assad, and Moscow has irritated the West throughout the Syria conflict for refusing to halt military cooperation with Damascus.However Moscow worked together with Washington on the accord to destroy Syria’s chemical arms and the two ex-Cold War foes are also backing the holding of the Geneva peace conference.
- Violent Bangladesh garment pay clash shuts over 100 factories Reuters
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- Bangladesh to raise garment workers’ minimum wage Associated Press
- Bangladesh garment factories close amid violent protests Reuters
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladeshi garment factory owners said on Thursday they had agreed to a proposed 77 percent rise in the minimum wage, but police used teargas and rubber bullets to break up new protests by stone-throwing workers calling for a bigger increase.Bangladesh’s official wage board had proposed the rise to $68 a month as the minimum wage, up from $38,after a string of fatal factory accidents this year thrust poor pay and conditions into the international spotlight.The factory owners agreed to the proposal at a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday night after several days of violent protests by workers.”We have agreed to the new wages after the prime minister assured us she would look into our problems,” said Mohammad Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association.He said the new wage, to be officially approved by the wage board, would be effective from next month.”In the greater interest of our garment sector, we agreed to it. But many small factories cannot afford the rise,” Islam told Reuters.View gallery.”Shumu Akhter (C) cries while holding her daughter as she waits for information about her missing hus …Workers demanding a $100 a month took to the streets, blocking major roads and attacking factories in the Ashulia industrial belt, on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka.Police used water cannon, fired rubber bullets and lobbed teargas to disperse the stone-throwing demonstrators, witnesses said. More than 50 people, including police, were wounded.”We will continue protesting until we realize our demand,” a protester said.STILL LOWEST–Violent protests over the pay rise have forced the closure of more than 100 factories this week. About 200 were shut on Thursday.Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju urged workers to go back to work. He said continuing unrest could threaten livelihoods and warned of action against trouble-makers.”We are working to ensure decent pay for garment workers,” he told reporters after a meeting trade unions. „Culprits who are trying to destroy the industry won’t be spared.”The new wage would still be the lowest for garment workers in the world, said Khandaker Golam Moazzem, a research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue think-tank.The protests have coincided with violent anti-government protests and strikes led by the main opposition party demanding next year’s elections take place under a non-partisan government.The impasse between the ruling party and opposition over election rules is a fresh threat to Bangladesh’s $22 billion garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of the impoverished country of 160 million, employing about 4 million people, most of them women.The garment industry, which supplies many Western brands such as Wal-Mart, JC Penney and H&M, has already been under the spotlight after the accidents, including the collapse of a building housing factories in April that killed more than 1,130 people.Rock-bottom wages and trade deals with Western countries have helped make Bangladesh the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China, with 60 percent of its clothes going to Europe and 23 percent to the United States.(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)
Qaeda man linked to Mali journalist killings: Paris prosecutor6 hours agoView galleryA poster with the portraits of reporter Ghislaine Dupont (R), 51, and radio technician Claude Verlon, …PARIS (Reuters) – Baye Ag Bakabo, a Touareg rebel and drug trafficker linked to al Qaeda’s north African wing, is a suspect in the killings this month of two French journalists in northern Mali, a Paris prosecutor said on Wednesday .Francois Molins said Bakabo owned a pick-up truck found abandoned in the desert near the bodies of Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, both with France’s international RFI radio.Verlon and Dupont were shot by their captors shortly after being kidnapped as they emerged from an interview with a representative of the MNLA group in the desert city of Kidal, a hotbed of rebel activity.”A document bearing his name was found in the car… and he was also seen driving it,” Molins told reporters. „He is known as a drug trafficker and member of AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).”Molins said Abdelkrim al-Targui, commander of an al Qaeda brigade in the region, had ordered the kidnapping, which his forces claimed on November 6 as a reprisal for „crimes perpetrated by France and its Malian, U.N. and African allies”.French and Malian security forces investigating the murders are still searching for Bakabo. They have questioned several suspects but not made any arrests, Molins said.In January, an offensive by French and Malian forces pushed back al Qaeda-linked rebels who had invaded parts of central Mali and were preparing to assault its capital, Bamako.The operation achieved its main objectives, though rebels have filtered back into weakly patrolled towns such as Kidal.
Libyan food group warns against rushed subsidy reformBy Gus Trompiz 8 hours agoView galleryA customer inspects freshly-baked bread in a bakery in Tripoli October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zito By Gus Trompiz GENEVA (Reuters) – Libya should not rush a shake-up of food subsidies, aimed at curbing costs and corruption, as this could undermine private companies already hurt by delays in getting paid by the authorities, the head of grain group Al Sahl said on Wednesday.Libya is still grappling with unrest two years after the uprising overthrew long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi, with militias disrupting the oil exports on which the country depends to fund large food imports and subsidies.Al Sahl, one of Libya’s largest grain processors, was not experiencing problems but some smaller operators were struggling after waiting up to five months for payment, Abdul-Magid Gadad, chairman of Al Sahl Holding Group said.The government should tread carefully with plans to move from a system of subsidising companies to provide cheap products to one in which it gives an allowance to households, he said.”This requires a lot of study and can’t be done overnight,” Gadad told Reuters following a presentation at the Global Grain conference in Geneva. „The government is in a mess and because of that mess they can’t plan properly.”One of the reasons for the planned reform is the smuggling of subsidised food out of Libya to other African countries further south, he said, adding that these flows could represent up to 20 percent of Libyan food production.Al Sahl is a major producer of animal feed and also has flour mills and food manufacturing plants. It handles about 870,000 tonnes of Libya’s total grain consumption of 3.7 million tonnes, almost all of which is imported, Gadad said.It aims to raise the volume of grain processed to 1 million tonnes in 2015 with a series of new plants, he added.Another headache for private companies has been delays in unloading grain at ports, Gadad said in his presentation, blaming unqualified personnel, public-sector control of port operations and poor infrastructure.Grain traders have said instability in Libya has made it hard for major buyers to hold import tenders, but a buying agency in Tripoli this week launched a tender.
South Korea’s growing ‘kimchi deficit’By Kim Dong-Hyun 10 hours agoView gallery Seoul (AFP) – It’s kimchi-making season in South Korea, with households across the country preparing and laying down stocks of the ubiquitous spicy side-dish for the coming winter.But many foreign visitors, including the most intrepid foodies, will probably leave without ever tasting a Korean-made version of the national dish of fermented, chili-soused cabbage.That might be hard to believe for those who watched Wednesday as around 3,000 women wearing surgical hats and masks with rubber gloves and aprons, gathered outside Seoul city hall for a mass kimchi-making exercise.In just four hours, they churned out 250 tonnes of kimchi that will be distributed to low-income families throughout the city.Despite such prodigious feats of production, Korean kimchi is not that easy to come by in the country of its birth — to the extent that it imports more of the pungent dish than it exports.Apart from upscale restaurants, most food outlets in Seoul and other cities serve Chinese-made versions of the side-dish which, in its classic form, comprises salt water-marinated cabbage flavoured with a mix of powdered chili, salt, garlic, ginger and spring onion.View gallery.”A volunteer is seen making kimchi, a traditional Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage and radish, …This is because Chinese kimchi is far, far cheaper, with a wholesale price of around 800 won ($0.75) a kilo (2.2 pounds) compared to 3,000 won for the homemade version.And that huge price differential is largely responsible for what, since 2006, has become known as South Korea’s „kimchi deficit.”Last year, South Korean kimchi exports totalled a record $106.6 million — 80 percent of it bound for Japan, according to the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corp. (KAFTC).But imports were even higher at $110.8 million — with 90 percent coming from China — for a deficit of $4.2 million.That figure is expected to double in 2013, and already stood at $10 million at the end of September, partly due to a fall in exports to Japan because of the weak yen and strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo.View gallery.”Volunteers are seen making kimchi, a traditional Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage and radish, …With the exception of 2009, South Korea has run a kimchi deficit every year since 2006.Many see this state of affairs as an affront to the cultural heritage of a country where pride in the national dish cannot be overestimated.South Korea boasts a global kimchi research centre, a kimchi museum and an annual kimchi festival — and a fermented serving was even blasted into space with the country’s first astronaut in 2008.”It’s regrettable that the locally made kimchi is disappearing at local restaurants,” a KAFTC official told AFP.”There have been concerns about food safety regarding made-in-China kimchi, and some restaurants fake the origin of their kimchi to customers,” he said.While something of an acquired taste, the side-dish has begun to make inroads overseas, beyond established Asian markets like Japan and China.A flush of national pride was triggered in February when US first lady Michelle Obama tweeted a recipe for White House kimchi.And the dish is widely expected to be given the official UNESCO stamp of honour as an „intangible cultural heritage” when the UN cultural body meets in Baku next month.But for the women involved in Wednesday’s event at City Hall, such advances are overshadowed by concerns that the tradition of communal, homemade kimchi production is in danger of dying out.For generations, families and neighbours have gathered together in November to make the winter kimchi and share out the fruit of their joint efforts.But changing family and social structures in a rapidly modernising country mean that the practise is becoming less prevalent, especially among younger South Koreans.”It’s sad that our traditional culture is disappearing like this,” said Jin Hae-Kyung, her plastic gloves glistening with red chili sauce.”I’d like our children to learn how to make it, just so they know this is how their grandmothers and ancestors have made delicious, fresh homemade kimchi for centuries,” she added.
Revival of Islamists in Mali tests French, UN nerveBy David Lewis and Laurent Prieur 58 minutes agoView galleryUN peacekeepers patrol in the northern town of Kidal, July 17, 2013. REUTERS/StringerBy David Lewis and Laurent PrieurRelated Stories
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DAKAR/NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) – Nine months after they were scattered across the Sahara by waves of French air strikes, Islamists in Mali are making a comeback – naming new leaders, attacking U.N. peacekeepers and killing two French journalists.Their return is making it harder for the west African country’s new president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his foreign backers to stabilise the northern desert despite the incentive of more than $3 billion in international aid for the area.Mali imploded last year when Tuareg separatists tried to take control of the north. Their rebellion was soon hijacked by better-armed and funded Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda before the French intervention in JanuaryIncreasingly blurred lines between the Islamist militants, separatist rebels and gangs of smugglers has complicated the task of calming the area and Keita’s party has allied itself with leaders of some armed groups in a bid to wield influence.Experts are starting to worry that France will get bogged down in an open ended war if U.N. peacekeepers cannot pick up the baton.”Mali is entering a guerrilla war, waged by sleeper cells and fighters who returned from southern Algeria, Libya and Niger,” said a French former diplomat and counter-terrorism expert who blogs under the name Abou Djaffar.Last month, two Chadian U.N. troops were killed in a suicide attack in the remote town of Tessalit. Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, has been hit by a series of rocket attacks, while French special forces have taken action against Islamists north of Timbuktu for the first time in months.But it was the killing of two French journalists, seized in broad daylight in the northern town of Kidal on November 2, which sent shockwaves through France. Al Qaeda-linked fighters said the killings were a response to France’s Mali operation although analysts say it may have been a botched kidnapping.France dispatched reinforcements to Kidal after the journalists’ deaths but insists it will not further delay its plan to reduce its 3,200 troops in Mali to 1,000 by February, already two months later than originally scheduled.”We are conscious that it will take a long time to eradicate the terrorism threat in the Sahel (desert),” a French diplomat said.”Of course, there is Serval (the French operation) and MINUSMA (the U.N. mission), but long-term efforts will be needed and a deep regional coordination to completely kill the terrorism threat in Mali.”Donors are once again disbursing aid after Keita’s election in August restored a legitimate government. Military officers seized power in March 2012 in anger at President Amadou Toumani Toure’s handling of the Tuareg rebellion.Keita won power with a pledge to remove the web of corrupt elites that rotted the state under Toure. But with parliamentary elections on November 24, Keita’s party has allied itself with some leaders of armed groups who the previous government sought for war crimes.”They are reverting to the same old practices,” said Wolfram Lacher, an associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. „The whole complex of drug trafficking, organised crime and warlordism is going to be back in place. I didn’t expect it to happen quite so quickly and so openly.”FOREIGN FORCES STRETCHED—The journalists’ killing highlighted the gaps in foreign military cover in a country twice the size of France. French troops in Kidal had to call in helicopters from Tessalit, 250 km (155 miles) away to try and track them down. France has just 16 in all of Mali.Five months into its mandate, the U.N. mission is only at half strength. Regional military power Nigeria pulled its troops out and Mauritania, Mali’s western neighbour with long experience fighting Islamists, has refused to join.The bills are mounting at a time when Paris is under pressure to cut defence spending. According to a Senate report on the defence budget, the Mali operation will cost 650 million euros in 2013. Add the support for African allies and the final amount will be much higher.Angering many in Bamako, France refused to carry out military operations against Tuareg separatist MNLA rebels in Kidal, saying the government should open a political dialogue.A fusion of the MNLA with one Arab and one Tuareg group further blurs the line between rebels with a political agenda and Islamists. They are due to hold talks with the government about a solution to the problems in the north.Under a June peace deal to allow presidential elections to go ahead, the three groups agreed to confine their troops to barracks. Many have not and in Kidal, where there is little army presence, gunmen slip in and out of the town, avoiding checkpoints along sandy tracks that fan out into the desert.”Kidal is worse because the armed groups are no longer in control but the government is not in control either,” said an official at the U.N. mission.Underscoring these shifting alliances, the main suspect in the killing of the French journalists is linked to both the MNLA and AQIM.”ALWAYS THERE”—The hit-and-run attacks by the Islamists mark a return to ‘business as usual’, said Yvan Guichaoua, Sahel expert at the University of East Anglia.France’s offensive killed hundreds of Islamists. Al Qaeda’s North African wing, AQIM, was hardest hit, losing Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, its senior leader in the zone, and several other key figures. But the group has been busy restructuring.Abou Said el-Djazairi, a fellow Algerian, replaced Abou Zeid as head of the Tarek Ibn Zyad brigade in northern Mali. El-Djazairi is a 40 year-old veteran of AQIM’s Sahel operations, including the 2010 kidnapping of French mine workers from northern Niger, regional security sources said.Mauritanian Abdarrahmane Al Liby, aka Talha, has replaced Abdallah Al Chinguetti, another of its killed commanders. Al Liby is close to Yahya Abou el-Hammam, AQIM’s top Sahara commander, and is believed to have been part of a desert raid that killed 12 Mauritanian troops in 2008, the sources said.Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a former AQIM chief who formed his own group, has joined forces with MUJWA, another AQIM splinter, to carry out attacks, including suicide bombings in Niger in May.In the face of French firepower, many Islamists had sought safehaven outside Mali, especially in southern Libya, security experts said. However, many others just kept their heads down.”They have always been there but they were just observing,” said an international security source who monitors northern Mali. „We are seeing a resurgence in activity.”The violence suggests Islamists won local recruits during their occupation but are now also using suicide bombings, a new tactic from AQIM’s North African operations, Guichaoua said.Timbuktu residents say they fear venturing outside town. The French diplomat said Paris was under no illusion the threat had been eradicated: „They are waiting for the storm to pass and then they will try to rebuild their capacities progressively.”OLD HABITS DIE HARD—Analysts say that Malian and French political leaders are repeating mistakes partly to blame for Mali’s implosion.Security experts say they are convinced France once again paid a multi-million dollar ransom to secure the release last month of four French citizens kidnapped three years ago. French media, citing French intelligence sources, have also said a ransom was paid.Paris, which denied any payment, had pledged an end to such payments that netted Islamists tens of millions before the war.”This is another example of French incoherence: shifting between tough posturing and secret compromises to save lives,” said Abou Djaffar.Bamako has also attracted criticism for its compromises.In the name of reconciliation, it lifted the arrest warrants for four key rebel figures. Two of them, Ahmada Ag Bibi and Mohamed Ag Intallah, were named to the electoral list of Keita’s party to bolster its support with northern elites.Lacher said the men were not extremists but opportunists who joined armed groups to strengthen their position. Nonetheless, the deal would discredit Keita’s pledge to end injustice, he said: „It’s not a question of extremism but impunity.”n Gao and Timbuktu, where residents are proud to have resisted occupation by Tuareg rebels and then the Islamists, the alliances Bamako is forging are deeply unpopular.These are people who took up arms against Mali and killed civilians,” said Amadou Sarr, leader of a local militia during the occupation. „They’re going back to their old habits and we are not ready to accept this.”
Paul McCartney urges Putin to help free Greenpeace activists5 hours agoView galleryFormer Beatle Paul McCartney waves to the crowd following an impromptu gig in Covent Garden in London on October 18, 2013 (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)London (AFP) – Former Beatle Paul McCartney said Thursday he has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him to intervene to help 30 people jailed after a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic.”It would be great if this misunderstanding could be resolved and the protesters can be home with their families in time for Christmas. We live in hope,” the ageing British rocker said in his letter sent last month and now published on his website.McCartney, who is currently in Japan, said Putin had not yet replied, but the Russian ambassador to Britain had responded by saying the situation of the detainees „is not properly represented in the world media”.The so-called „Arctic 30” were detained when the the Russian Coast Guard boarded their Dutch-flagged Greenpeace vessel after several activists scaled a state-owned oil platform on September 18 in a protest.Russia has since put the 30 people in prisons in Saint Petersburg after moving them from the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk.McCartney, whose hits with the Beatles included „Back in the USSR”, denied that the protesters were anti-Russian or doing the bidding of western governments.”I understand of course that the Russian courts and the Russian presidency are separate. Nevertheless I wonder if you may be able to use whatever influence you have to reunite the detainees with their families?” he wrote.
Love, money and power in Britain’s phone hacking dramaBy Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden and Kate Holton 1 hour agoView galleryFormer News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks (R) arrives with her mother Deborah Wade at …By Guy Faulconbridge, Michael Holden and Kate HoltonLONDON (Reuters) – In a reversal of fortune fit for one of their own front pages, two British former tabloid editors have witnessed the dissection of their private and professional lives in the full glare of the media at a trial in London’s most famous criminal court.Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, once Rupert Murdoch’s most influential British newspaper chiefs, deny conspiracy to hack the telephone messages of princes, politicians and the public in a highly competitive quest for exclusive stories. Prosecutor Andrew Edis has argued the two editors conspired in the phone hacking that ultimately forced Murdoch to close England’s best-selling newspaper, prompted the state to impose media regulation, and exposed the cosy ties between the press and Britain’s ruling elite.Revealing that Brooks and Coulson, both 45, had a secret six-year affair, Edis said their intimacy, position and control of the purse strings meant they knew phones were being hacked, including that of a missing schoolgirl later found murdered, „What Mr Coulson knew, Mrs Brooks knew too. What Mrs Brooks knew, Mr Coulson knew too,” Edis, in wig, white collar, and black gown, told court Number 12 of the Old Bailey.”It isn’t simply that there was an affair, it isn’t to do with whether they have sexual relations with one another, (it is to do with) how close were they … and they were very close.”Sitting side-by-side behind glass in the dock, Brooks, a friend of Prime Minister David Cameron, and Coulson, who later worked for Cameron as his chief spokesman, remained stony faced in the hushed court when Edis revealed their liaison.Newspapers splashed the affair across their front pages, stoking interest in a trial that is enthralling Britain. „The affair they didn’t expose,” The Independent said on its front page, while Murdoch’s The Times went with „Editors and lovers – couple at heart of hacking trial.” The affair began in 1998 and continued for at least six years, during which time Brooks – whose maiden name was Wade – married her first husband, TV soap actor Ross Kemp, in 2002. After divorcing Kemp in 2009, she married her current husband, Charlie Brooks, later that year. Coulson married in 2000. Photographers greet the editors who once directed Britain’s most aggressive tabloid journalists a blizzard of flashbulbs on arrival at court.The Old Bailey has set up an overflow room for reporters who cannot fit inside the court. The trial could last six months due to the complexity of the case.No matter what the verdict, the trial mirrors the fall from grace of the British tabloids. Editors who once struck fear into the hearts of prime ministers are now struggling against regulation they say threatens three centuries of press freedom.Such is the media frenzy that judge John Saunders told the jury that they must ignore the publicity. „Not only are the defendants on trial but British justice is on trial,” he said at the opening of proceedings on October 29.PUBLIC OUTCRY— Public outcry at revelations that the News of the World had hacked the phone of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, who was 13, forced Murdoch to close the paper in July 2011.When called before British lawmakers that month, Murdoch said he was humbled by the scandal and had been betrayed by people he had trusted at the paper. He said he had not been aware of the extent of hacking at the paper. He later told a media inquiry in 2012 it was a serious blot on his reputation. Former News of the World chief correspondent Neville Thurlbeck, former assistant news editor James Weatherup, and former news editor Greg Miskiw pleaded guilty to conspiracy to intercept communications before the case came to trial, the court heard.Setting out the prosecution case, Edis said a private detective working for the News of the World, Glenn Mulcaire, had also earlier pleaded guilty to charges of hacking phones including that of Milly Dowler. Brooks was News of the World editor at the time of Dowler’s disappearance in 2002.The prosecutor argued that Brooks and Coulson, who was her deputy editor at the time, must have known about the hacking since Brooks set up the investigations unit with Mulcaire as a member of the team. He was given a formal retainer by the paper on September 1, 2001 worth 92,000 pounds ($148,000) a year, later increased by Coulson to over 100,000 pounds a year.”If these people were doing their jobs properly, we say they must have known where these stories came from,” Edis said.The court heard how Brooks sought to reassure Coulson about his apparent lack of contact with Murdoch, and of her deep affection for her fellow journalist.”You are my very best friend. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you,” she wrote to Coulson. „We laugh and cry together.”The affair began in 1998 and appeared to be ending in 2004, the court heard. Coulson went to work as Cameron’s spokesman in 2007, following him into Downing Street in 2010 before resigning a year later as the phone hacking scandal escalated.Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment.”NOT GUILTY”-In English criminal courts, the prosecution makes its case before the defense. Lawyers for Brooks have not yet done so though Coulson’s lawyer took the unusual step of making a statement to the jury before the prosecution evidence.Coulson said things went wrong under his editorship but he did not commit any crimes and cannot be expected to know about every story in the paper, defense lawyer Timothy Langdale said.”He wished he had made some different decisions and although he might wish he had made some different decisions he did not commit these offences,” Langdale told the jury, adding that Coulson had also had his phone hacked by Mulcaire.Brooks and Coulson are charged with conspiracy to intercept communications illegally. Both also face two separate counts of conspiracy relating to payments to public officials. Brooks faces two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by hampering the police inquiry.It was not immediately clear what other evidence the jury may hear or which witnesses may be called as the trial continues. Lawyers for Brooks and Coulson have yet to set out their full defense case.If found guilty of all the charges, they could both face life imprisonment though such severe sentences are extremely rare; jail sentences of several years are more common.Others in the dock are Stuart Kuttner, the long-time former managing editor of the News of the World; Ian Edmondson, the tabloid’s former news editor; Clive Goodman, the paper’s former royal editor Cheryl Carter, Brooks’s personal assistant; Brooks’s racehorse trainer husband, Charlie; and Mark Hanna, News International’s head of security.They all deny similar charges to those against Brooks and Coulson. The bill for trial lawyers alone could exceed 4.4 million pounds ($7 million), according to local media.At a service in honor of the media at St Bride’s Church – the journalists’ church just off the traditional center of British newspaper publishing on Fleet Street – a prayer was said on Tuesday for those in the media facing difficulty including legal proceedings, such as Brooks and Coulson.”CHICKEN IS IN THE POT”—Prosecutor Edis said that in the wake of what he termed a media fire-storm over the hacking of Dowler’s phone, Brooks was involved in an elaborate but botched plan with her husband, Charlie, to hide computers and documents from police.On July 17, the day Rebekah Brooks was first arrested but before police could begin searches, Edis said Brooks’s husband had been recorded on closed circuit TV hiding a bag and a laptop in the car park of their London flat.These materials were taken away by the then head of security at News International, Mark Hanna, Edis said. But after some discussion they were returned in a black bag by one of Hanna’s team.But according to the prosecution, the alleged plan went awry the following morning when the black bag was found by a cleaner, who gave it to his manager. The manager called the police.The prosecution said Brooks and Coulson conspired to hack phone messages of celebrities ranging from Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince Harry to Hollywood actor Jude Law and Beatle Paul McCartney. The prosecution played a recording in which Coulson confronted a cabinet minister, David Blunkett, saying he had information about a clandestine love affair the politician was conducting.Payments were authorized by Brooks for a picture of Prince William, second in line to the throne, in a bikini and even details of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, the prosecution said.During one email exchange over an exclusive story about the private life of Calum Best, the son of former Manchester United soccer star George Best, the court heard that Coulson wrote to a colleague:”Do his phone.” (Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood)
Faced with protests, Albania seeks rewards for destroying Syrian weaponsBy Benet Koleka 50 minutes agoView galleryDemonstrators protest against the potential dismantling of Syrian chemical weapons in Albania in front …By Benet KolekaRelated Stories
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TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania’s government faced a growing chorus of opposition on Thursday to a U.S. request that it take on the job of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons, despite a vow by Prime Minister Edi Rama that the poor Adriatic nation would be rewarded financially for carrying out the task.Rama, barely two months in the job, repeated that no decision had been taken, but indicated he was in favor.”Our ‘Yes’ would be linked only to a plan and agreement that will make it clear to everyone that Albania will come out of this with its head held high, the richer for it and cleaner than it is today,” he said late on Wednesday.In the capital Tirana, protesters outside parliament carried placards that read „No to sarin, Yes to oxygen, let us breathe”, and „No to chemical weapons in Albania.”Albania has been identified as a possible destination for the weapons stockpiles, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has pledged to get rid of as he seeks to turn the tide of international opinion in a more than two-year civil war.The request came under a Russian-American deal to destroy the weapons program by mid-2014, averting U.S. missile strikes threatened after an August sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.A source briefed on the discussions said talks with Albania had reached a „technical level”.The Adriatic nation of 2.8 million people is a member of NATO and staunchly pro-American.But the prospect of hosting Assad’s Sarin gas and other chemical weapons has stirred anger and complaints that the West is exploiting its poorer, Balkan ally, which is striving to become a candidate for membership of the European Union.Albania has experience in such work, having dismantled its own communist-era chemical weapons with U.S. help in 2004 at Qafe Molle, behind Mount Dajt that overlooks Tirana. It also has a weapons destruction site at Mjekes, near the central town of Elbasan, where protests have also been held.ANGER AND OPPOSITION—Inside parliament on Thursday, female opposition lawmakers seized the rostrum to voice their anger at the U.S. request.”Disarm yourself before you talk about Syria’s weapons,” Rama’s coalition ally, Ilir Meta, railed at the opposition from his seat as parliament speaker. „Everything will be done transparently. You should be calm about it,” he said.But a dearth of public information on what the exercise might involve has fuelled a frenzy of doomsday scenarios in Albania and angered environmentalists.”This decision will be taken in full conformity with all the obligations the Albanian government and I personally have to every Albanian,” Rama said. He said the government was seeking „full guarantees for the Albanian public and the future of the country.”The soul-searching, however, already marks a break with the past.Albania readily offered up its territory for U.S. warplanes to bomb concrete bunkers as training before the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.In 2010, Rama’s predecessor, Sali Berisha, agreed to a U.S. request to take in six Chinese Uighurs released from the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay and, this year, hundreds of Iranian opposition exiles from Iraq.Berisha accused Rama’s government of rolling over, and warned of unrest. „We would give you a referendum, as a choice, otherwise the squares and streets will become the parliament of Albania,” he said.Syria’s Assad has said the total cost of dismantling the chemical weapons program could reach $1 billion. Experts believe it could be done for less, in the range of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on where and how the arms are destroyed.(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Matt Robinson)
Attacks against Shiites in Iraq kill at least 41By SINAN SALAHEDDIN 16 minutes agoView gallery BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide attacker and twin bomb blasts on Thursday targeted Shiites marking a somber religious ritual in Iraq, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 100, officials said.Related Stories
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The ritual, known as Ashoura, is observed every year over a 10-day period and has been marred previously by massive attacks by al-Qaida and other Sunni extremists who see Shiites as heretics. This year, the attacks come amid an escalating campaign of violence by insurgents seeking to thwart the Shiite-led government’s efforts to maintain security.The deadliest of Thursday’s attacks was in the town of al-Saadiyah, 140 kilometers (90 miles) northeast of Baghdad, where a suicide bomber struck a group of Shiites gathered for an Ashoura event. The explosion killed at least 32 people and wounded 75, two police officers said.The Shiites at the Saadiyah gathering were recreating the 7th century battle of Karbala, a city in present-day Iraq. Ashoura commemorates the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, in that battle.Earlier Thursday, two bombs exploded simultaneously near tents set up to offer food and drinks to Shiites pilgrims passing through Hafriyah, a town about 50 kilometers (32 miles) south of the Iraqi capital, another police officer said.The Shiites were making their way on foot to Hussein’s gold-domed shrine in Karbala, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Baghdad, where authorities said more than two million pilgrims were expected to converge Thursday.View gallery.”Iraqi Shiite faithful worshippers re-enact the seventh century battle of Karbala during the festival …Ashoura attracts hundreds of thousands of Shiites to holy sites across Iraq. Security forces have imposed tight security measures in and around Karbala, as well as other Shiite cities and Baghdad, sealing off areas where the Shiites, most of them dressed in black, passed through or stopped to rest.Some Shiites in the processions ritually whipped their bodies with chains and knives in grief, drenching themselves in blood, which is part of Ashoura.On Tuesday, triple bombings struck a group of Shiites marking Ashoura in the eastern city of Baqouba, a former al-Qaida stronghold, 60 kilometers (35 miles) northeast of Baghdad, killing eight people, including two children, and wounding 35.Iraq has been hit by a surge in violence and insurgent attacks since April, when security forces cracked down on a Sunni protest camp in the north. The pace of the killings has soared to levels not seen since 2008.More than 5,500 people died since April, according to United Nations figures. Thursday’s attacks bring the death toll across the country this month to 176, according to an Associated Press count.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attacks, but suicide attacks and other bombings — especially against Shiites and Iraqi forces — are a favorite tactic of al-Qaida’s local branch.
CAIRO (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister says Iran had accepted a U.S.-draft proposal on a nuclear deal, but last-minute amendments blocked an accord last week in Geneva.Sergey Lavrov’s account fits with comments from Iran and world powers. But it offers additional insights into how Washington apparently led the negotiations seeking to ease Western concerns that Iran could one day produce nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.Lavrov did not mention which country offered the 11th hour amendments. Others, however, say France raised concerns over issues such as a planned heavy water rector that produces more byproduct plutonium.Lavrov expressed hope Thursday that envoys will not abandon „agreements that already have been shaped” and strike a pact with Iran when talks resume next week.Lavrov spoke during a high-level visit to Egypt.
Toronto mayor lashes out at critics, vows to sue26 minutes agoView galleryMayor Rob Ford (C) leaves his office at Toronto City Hall as he is surrounded by media on November 8, 2013 in Toronto, Ontario (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)Ottawa (AFP) – Toronto’s embattled mayor said Thursday he will sue former staffers, a bar waiter and others who claimed to have seen him snorting cocaine, and partying with a possible prostitute.Related Stories
The allegations contained in police documents released Wednesday also suggest Ford used the pain killer Oxycontin, drove while inebriated and had his staffers buy alcohol.The allegations, which were compiled over a period of months, have not yet been proven in court and were used to obtain a search warrant in an investigation of Ford friend Alessandro Lisi, who faces drug and extortion charges.”It’s unfortunate I have to take legal action,” Ford told reporters outside his office, denying the allegations as „outright lies.””I have no other choice,” he said. „I’m the last one to take legal action. I can’t put up with it any more. So I have named the names. Litigation will (be) starting shortly.”Ford said his former chief of staff and two other former underlings were the source of the file’s vivid depiction of one night in particular: St. Patrick’s Day in 2012.The three staffers were among revellers with Ford, who started partying at the Mayor’s City Hall office. One of them said he saw a petite blonde blue-eyed woman named Alana, who he said he believed was a sex worker.The staffer told police that there had been rumors that Ford „had used escorts or prostitutes,” that Alana had previously been seen with Ford „at a stag party,” and that she had hash and marijuana.”It hurts my wife when they are calling a friend of mine a prostitute. Alana is not a prostitute. She’s a friend and it makes me sick how people are saying this,” said Ford.”I’m very happily married at home,” he said. „It (also) hurts my wife when they are calling a friend of mine a prostitute.”According to the police documents, the party later moved to a private room at a local bar, where a server claimed he saw the mayor and another woman „turned in towards each other with their heads down and back from the table and he heard two sniffs from both of them.”Ford rejected this account, as well as claims that over the course of the night, Ford said lewd words to a female policy advisor and a female City Hall security guard.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say vandals have set fire to a Palestinian home in the West Bank and scrawled graffiti on it.Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says Thursday’s incident appeared to have come in response to the killing of an Israeli soldier, Eden Attias, the day before by a Palestinian teenager.The graffiti read „Greetings from Eden. Revenge.” Rosenfeld says the entrance to the house was damaged by the fire.Ribhi Ghafri, the deputy mayor of Sinjil village where the house is located, says the family was inside when their home was set on fire but no one was injured.Vandals have targeted mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases in recent years in protest against Israeli policies perceived to be pro-Palestinian or in response to attacks against Israelis.
German ex-president vows to clear name in favours trialBy Josef Harnischmacher 5 hours agoView galleryFormer German president Christian Wulff waits for the start of his trial at the regional court in Hanover, central Germany, on November 14, 2013 (AFP Photo/)Hanover (Germany) (AFP) – Former German president Christian Wulff pledged to clear his name at the start of a trial Thursday on charges of accepting favours in office, a scandal which cost him the largely ceremonial post.Wulff, the only German former head of state to have to answer charges in court, said „I am sure I will be able to dispel the very last remaining allegation against me because I have always acted correctly in office”.Signalling hopes for a return to public life after his resignation in disgrace in February 2012, he added that he would like to dedicate himself once more „to the issues that have always been close to my heart”.Wulff, 54, is accused of having allowed a film producer friend to pay some of his travel expenses during a visit to Munich five years ago while he was state premier of Lower Saxony, in return for helping him promote a movie project.The allegation is the only remaining charge prosecutors are levelling against Wulff after initially investigating a series of other claims he took favours from wealthy friends, including luxury holidays and a cheap home loan.Opinion is split on the case because the alleged financial favour amounts to just over 700 euros ($940), with some commentators questioning whether this justifies a scheduled 22-day trial with 46 witnesses set to last until April 2014.The editor of the mass-circulation daily Bild, whose coverage first broke the wider scandal, Thursday asked whether a state premier could really be bought for such a sum and added that Wulff „has already been punished enough”.The commentary also asked whether state prosecutors were being „petty and stubborn” in seeking to prove wrong-doing at all cost to justify in hindsight the launch of the criminal probe that sparked Wulff’s downfall.The trial is expected to focus on the details surrounding the 2008 Munich trip, for the Oktoberfest beer festival and a movie event, and the alleged payments made by the film producer, David Groenewold, who is also on trial.Prosecutors charge that Groenewold paid part of Wulff’s hotel room bill, babysitting costs and a restaurant meal. Wulff said he was unaware of the favours at the time and later repaid them in cash.Wulff, if found guilty, theoretically faces up to three years’ jail or a fine.The accusations against him and Groenewold were reduced from the more serious corruption and bribery charges that carry up to five years’ jail.The ex-president and one-time rising conservative star has opted to fight the case rather than settle it with a 20,000-euro fine, but he conceded on Thursday that the start of the trial „won’t be an easy day”.The trial was briefly suspended soon after opening after Groenewold’s defence lawyers complained of the large number of journalists in the Hanover courtroom.
Senior Zambia police chief arrested for graft23 hours agoView galleryUS Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is saluted by Mary Tembo, then commanding officer of the Zambian National Police at Lusaka International Airport in Lusaka, Zambia, on June 11, 2011 (AFP Photo/Susan Walsh)Lusaka (AFP) – Zambia’s anti-graft police on Wednesday said they had arrested a regional police chief who is suspected of receiving illicit gifts from a gemstone mining company.Copperbelt Province police boss Mary Tembo is accused of receiving a car from Grizzly Mining Limited and registering it in her name earlier this year.Timothy Moono, a spokesman for Zambia’s anti-corruption commission, said 53-year-old Tembo „abused the authority of her office” by receiving a Toyota Corolla from the firm, which exports gemstones to Asia, Europe and Israel.Tembo also faces a second charge for allegedly asking the Kitwe-based mining company to repair her Toyota Cressida last year.Tembo was later released and ordered to appear in court on November 18.It is rare for serving public officials or police officers to be arrested in Zambia.A graft conviction in Zambia carries a minimum jail sentence of five years.