AP PHOTOS: Nyad completes swim from CubaView gallery The Associated Press 4 hours ago Diana Nyad Diana Nyad is flanked by kayakers about two miles off Key West, Fla. Spectators wade into waist-high water, taking pictures and cheering her on. The 64-year-old endurance swimmer, looking dazed and sunburned, greets the crowd after walking ashore on Monday.On her fifth try, Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. She swam up to the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after starting her journey from Havana on Saturday.Here’s a gallery of images from her swim._Follow AP photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo
Brazil, Mexico ask U.S. to explain if NSA spied on presidentsAnthony Boadle 1 hour ago PoliticsForeign PolicyDilma RousseffNational Security AgencyUnited StatesBrazilMexicoWhite HouseView galleryBrazil’s President Dilma Rousseff reacts during a reception for the Brazilian Football delegation at …By Anthony Boadle BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil assailed the United States on Monday after new allegations that Washington spied on President Dilma Rousseff, complaining that its sovereignty may have been violated and suggesting that it could call off Rousseff’s planned state visit to the White House next month.A Brazilian news program reported on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on emails, phone calls and text messages of Rousseff and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a disclosure that could strain Washington’s relations with Latin America’s two biggest nations.Mexico asked the United States to investigate the allegations, saying they would be a serious violation of its sovereignty if proven true.Brazil’s government, already smarting from earlier reports that the NSA spied on the emails and phone calls of Brazilians, called in U.S. ambassador Thomas Shannon and gave the U.S. government until the end of the week to provide a written explanation of the new spying disclosures based on documents leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.”I expressed to (Shannon) the Brazilian government’s indignation over the facts revealed in the documents,” Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said at a news conference.”From our point of view, this is an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty,” he said.Figueiredo declined to explicitly say whether the allegations could lead Rousseff to call off her visit to Washington, the only state visit offered by President Barack Obama this year. The trip had been intended to highlight improving U.S.-Brazil ties since Rousseff took office in 2011.But, in response to a question from reporters about the visit, he said that Brazil’s response to the allegations „will depend” on the U.S. explanation.The report by Globo’s news program „Fantastico” was based on documents obtained from Snowden by journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro and was listed as a co-contributor to the report.”Fantastico” showed what it said was an NSA slide dated June 2012 displaying passages of written messages sent by Pena Nieto, who was still a Mexican presidential candidate at that time. In the messages, Pena Nieto discussed who he was considering naming as his ministers once elected.A separate slide displayed communication patterns between Rousseff and her top advisers, „Fantastico” said, although no specific written passages were included in the report.Both sLides were part of an NSA case study showing how data could be „intelligently” filtered by the agency’s secret internet surveillance programs that were disclosed in a trove of documents leaked by Snowden in June, „Fantastico” said.STATE VISIT, F-18 JETS –The Brazilian Senate, where some members have proposed offering Snowden political asylum in Brazil, launched an inquiry into the secret surveillance of Brazilian Internet communications by the NSA.Rousseff held a Cabinet meeting on Monday that included the country’s defense, justice, communications and foreign ministers to discuss a response to the new espionage report.The White said it would respond to the requests of its „partners and allies” through diplomatic channels.”While we are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” said White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said that although it could not comment on the veracity of the report, it „categorically rejects and condemns any kind of spying against Mexican citizens in breach of international law.”A ministry statement added that Mexico had asked the U.S. government for a thorough investigation of the matter and that, if necessary, Washington should explain who was responsible.”Mexico’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador to express its clear dismay and to demand that the aforementioned investigation be carried out,” it said.In July, after initial reports of NSA surveillance of internet communications in Latin American nations, Mexico’s Pena Nieto said it would be „totally unacceptable” if it were revealed that the United States had spied on its neighbor and largest business partner in the region.The United States is hoping to sell Brazil 36 F-18 fighter jets, but a Brazilian government official said manufacturer Boeing’s chances of landing the more than $4 billion deal have been set back by the espionage scandal.During a visit last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Brazil not to let spying revelations derail growing trade, diplomatic and cultural relations between the two largest economies in the Americas. But he gave no indication the United States would end the secret surveillance.Kerry said the NSA surveillance was aimed at protecting Americans and Brazilians from terrorist attacks.Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said on Monday the latest revelations based on Snowden’s documents show that U.S. electronic surveillance goes beyond combating terrorism and has political targets and may even involve commercial espionage.Cardozo traveled to Washington last week and met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and other officials, seeking more details on the previous, seemingly less serious set of disclosures by Snowden regarding U.S. spying in Brazil.(Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City, Jeff Mason in Washington, Esteban Israel in Sao Paulo and Alonso Soto in Brasilia; Editing by Brian Winter and Mohammad Zargham)
Australian PM Rudd battles Murdoch pressView gallery Martin Parry 1 hour ago PoliticsElectionsKevin RuddAustralia Rupert Murdoch’s clout in Britain and the United States might have diminished, but in Australia he dominates the media landscape, playing a prominent role in undermining Kevin Rudd’s dream of retaining power, analysts say.While the ruling Labor party has long trailed the Tony Abbott-led conservative opposition in opinion polls, Rudd’s ousting of Julia Gillard to re-take the prime ministership in June reignited hopes that he could pull off an unlikely upset in the September 7 general election.But Rudd quickly found that he was battling not only undecided voters but also Murdoch, who controls about two-thirds of the press in the country where he established his powerful global media empire.Few other countries have media concentrated in such a way and the day after Rudd announced the election date, Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph made clear its stance, running a picture of Rudd on its front page under the headline „Kick This Mob Out”.Around the country, publications under News Corp — which backed Rudd during his successful 2007 election — have launched a series of scathing headlines with Murdoch himself taking to Twitter to attack Labor and throw his support behind Abbott.To ram home the point, The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend splashed a picture of Abbott on its front page under the headline „Australia Needs Tony”, less than a week away from polling day.”You can see by the reaction of the politicians that the media is obviously influential. It can set the agenda,” said David McKnight, of the University of New South Wales and author of the book „Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power”.”Given that he (Murdoch) controls 70 percent of the capital city newspaper circulation in Australia, his moods and beliefs are a material factor during elections in Australia,” McKnight told AFP.View gallery.”Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks at the official launch of the Labor Party’s federal cam …”Prime ministers and opposition leaders seek his favours but are grateful if they can just have his neutrality.”Debate has raged over why Australian-born Murdoch would want to influence the outcome, with Rudd pointing to the tycoon opposing Labor’s national broadband (NBN) network.He suggested this threatened the business model of News Corp’s pay-TV arm Foxtel, which is one of the company’s key assets, generating decent profits in a difficult media age where traditional newspapers are losing money.The argument is that consumers could opt to use fast NBN speeds to download their own visual entertainment rather than pay for a Foxtel subscription.But McKnight said Murdoch was a political animal and his backing of Abbott could not be explained simply through commercial interests.”Newspaper ownership in Australia is among the most concentrated in the world and it is very significant that it is controlled by a highly political proprietor,” he said.”Murdoch has a history of influencing governments. It’s something he can and does do. People look for commercial reasons but he has a profound belief in certain political philosophies.”How successful his campaign will be remains to be seen.View gallery.”Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper (R), with the Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Heral …During the US presidential election last year, the mogul, whose empire includes Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, used Twitter to savage the Obama-Biden campaign — to no avail.News Corp has long played a role in politics. Famously in Britain, in 1992, Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun ran a triumphant front-page headline proclaiming, „It’s The Sun Wot Won It”, after the Conservatives unexpectedly kept office.Tom Watson, the British Labour MP who played a big part in helping expose the News of the World phone-hacking scandal that led to Murdoch shutting down his mass-market paper, agrees he can have a strong impact.”It insults Australians when they produce content like that,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the „Kick This Mob Out” front page and others depicting Labor politicians as clowns and Nazis.”But they do it for a reason. If you traduce someone’s character, even in a seemingly satirical way, it has a drip-drip effect. This stuff works.”Australia’s other main media player, Fairfax, has taken a more balanced election line and in an apparent dig at News Corp started running full-page adverts mid-campaign touting its independence.The head of advanced journalism at the University of Melbourne, Margaret Simon, said that people who want to buy a newspaper in most places in Australia, outside the cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, have no choice but to read a Murdoch publication.”The News Corp coverage will be quite damaging (for Rudd),” she said, adding: „Murdoch just likes to pick winners and influence outcomes.”Indeed, in Britain after 1992, Murdoch ditched his support for the Tories and backed Tony Blair — after a long campaign of courtship by the business-friendly Labour leader.
Asia stocks up on China output as Syria fears fadeView galleryPAMELA SAMPSON 52 minutes ago Barack ObamaSyriaChina BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets advanced Tuesday after the likelihood of an imminent, U.S.-led attack against Syria faded and manufacturing rebounded in China.President Barack Obama has faced difficulty trying to amass support for U.S. military intervention in Syria, where an alleged chemical attack by government forces killed scores of civilians outside of Damascus. Britain’s parliament voted against involvement, and Russia and China have been critical of the idea.Obama announced over the weekend that he would seek approval from Congress for military strikes, but he faced skepticism among many U.S. lawmakers about the intelligence regarding the chemical attack and the value of an intervention to United States interests.”To be sure, a Syria strike no longer being imminent is reason for relief; but that does not mean that Syria has dropped off the geo-politics radar,” said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore.Japan’s Nikkei 225 index jumped 2.5 percent to 13,917.64. South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 1,936.86. Australia’s S&P ASX/200 added 0.2 percent to 5,198.90. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 1 percent to 22,384.67.Sentiment was boosted Monday by two surveys that showed China’s manufacturing sector improved last month after prolonged weakness.The HSBC purchasing managers’ index rose to 50.1 points in August, a level that indicates expansion as output and new orders edged up slightly and order backlogs rose at the fastest pace in two years. The official China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing PMI rose to 51.0 from July’s 50.3, which was the highest level and biggest increase this year.View gallery.”An investor gestures in front of the stock price monitor at a private securities company Monday Sept …Both indexes use a 100-point scale on which numbers below 50 indicate a contraction.Traders will be waiting for Wall Street to reopen later Tuesday after a three-day Labor Day weekend as well as the latest data from the Institute for Supply Management on U.S. manufacturing for August.On Monday, Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 1.5 percent to close at 6,506.19, thanks to cellphone company Vodafone, which said it was with in talks with Verizon to sell its U.S. mobile business. Confirmation of the $130 billion deal came after trading in London had finished for the day, but Vodafone’s shares closed up 3.4 percent on expectations of the purchase.Germany’s DAX index ended the day up 1.7 percent to 8,243.87 while France’s CAC-40 jumped 1.8 percent to 4,006.01. Italian and Spanish stocks were also up after surveys showed manufacturing activity rose in the two countries, which are in recession and have been focal points of Europe’s debt crisis.Benchmark crude for October delivery was down $1.01 to $106.64 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange as fears of military strikes on Syria continued to fade. The contract fell $1.15 to close at $107.65 on Friday.In currencies, the euro rose slightly to $1.3189 from $1.3187 late Monday. The dollar fell to 99.31 yen from 99.56 yen.___Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson
25th anniversary of Visa Pour l’Image: A glimpse of some exhibiting photographers and their workView gallery63 photos Muhammed Muheisen/AP August 22, 2013The 25th Anniversary of Visa Pour l’Image held in Perpignan, France begins August 31 until September 15, 2013. Along with awards, seminars and live projections every evening, the city of Perpignan plays host to exhibitions of some of the finest work in the world of photojournalism.Here is a glimpse of some of the exhibits and the photojournalists behind them.Muhammed Muheisen / The Associated Press Abir Abdullah / European Pressphoto Agency
For more Visa coverage see:
At Visa pour l’Image, proof that photojournalism isn’t dead (including interview with Visa founder, Jean-François Leroy)
Kanye West ‘plays wedding of Kazakh leader’s grandsonView galleryUS rapper Kanye West performs during a concert on June 1, 2012 in Paris. West was the surprise celebrity guest at the lavish wedding party this weekend in Almaty of the grandson of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakh media reports said Monday. (AFP Photo/Guillaume Baptiste)8 hours ago CelebritiesArts & Entertainment‘American hip hop superstar Kanye West was the surprise celebrity guest at the lavish wedding party this weekend in Almaty of the grandson of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakh media reports said Monday.Aisultan Nazarbayev celebrated his marriage to bride Alima Boranbayeva in a no expense spared party on Saturday night at the Royal Tulip hotel in Almaty, the Tengri news website reported.It published pictures that guests had published on their Instagram and social networking sites of West attending the party and there was also footage of him performing in front of the cheering guests.The Kazakh media reports did not give any financial details but US celebrity website TMZ said he was paid around $3 million (2.2 million euros) for the private performance.According to Kazakh media, Aisultan is a 23-year old graduate of the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in Britain.Alima, 20, is the daughter of a top Kazakh energy executive and studies History of Art at the Courtauld Institute in London.In Britain, Aisultan also reportedly played youth football for Portsmouth and Chelsea but is now a full time member of the Kazakh military’s intelligence department.Aisultan is the son of Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga and her now ex-husband Rakhat Aliyev. His father, now a top critic of Nazarbayev, is now in exile and wanted on charges of murder in Kazakhstan. Aisultan subsequently took his grandfather’s surname.Nazarbayev has been repeatedly criticised by rights groups for his authoritarian rule and squeezing dissent in the Central Asian state.Such appearances by celebrities in autocratic Central Asia have backfired for stars in the past.US pop diva Jennifer Lopez was vehemently criticised for appearing at a birthday party for Turkmenistan’s strongman President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov this year.British pop star Sting cancelled a concert he was due to give in Kazakhstan in July 2011, blaming violations of the human rights.
As Obama pushes to punish Syria, lawmakers fear deep U.S. involvementSteve Holland and Thomas Ferraro 3 hours ago PoliticsBarack ObamaSyriaLindsey GrahamJohn McCainWhite HouseView gallery By Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s efforts to persuade the U.S. Congress to back his plan to attack Syria were met with skepticism on Monday from lawmakers in his own Democratic Party who expressed concern the United States would be dragged into a new Middle East conflict.”There is a lot of skepticism,” said Representative Jim Moran after taking part in a 70-minute phone briefing for Democratic lawmakers by Obama’s top national security aides about the response to a chemical weapons attack that U.S. officials say killed 1,429 people on the outskirts of Damascus.Obama appeared to make some headway, however, with two influential Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who came out of a White House meeting convinced that Obama is willing to use air strikes not just to destroy Syrian chemical weapons capability but also to bolster Syrian rebels.McCain, long an advocate of a more robust U.S. approach to Syria, said failure to get behind strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces would be „catastrophic.”View gallery.”
While Obama faced obstacles at home, key U.S. ally France said it had evidence showing that Assad’s government had ordered chemical attacks and was determined to punish him.The French government released a nine-page intelligence document that listed five points that suggested Assad’s fighters were behind the „massive and coordinated” August 21 chemical attack.Assad, in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, warned the French to steer clear of policies hostile to Syrians or else, „the state will be their enemy.”Obama’s abrupt decision to halt plans for a strike against Assad’s forces and instead wait for congressional approval has generated a raging debate just as the president prepares to depart on Tuesday on a three-day trip to Sweden and Russia.The biggest obstacle he faces is winning the support of members of his own party in the House of Representatives and conservative Republicans who see little need for the United States to get involved in distant civil wars.View gallery.”U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), (R), makes remarks to the media as U.S. Senator John McCain (R-A …Secretary of State John Kerry, who was among the Obama advisers on the call for the Democrats, urged support for giving Obama a resolution to use force, saying Syria had reached a „Munich moment,” according to participants.This was a reference to 1938 Munich Agreement seen as appeasement by Britain and France to Adolf Hitler before World War Two.The White House argument is that Syria must be punished for the chemical weapons onslaught and that at stake are the integrity of an international ban on such weapons and the need to safeguard U.S. national security interests and allies Israel, Jordan and Turkey.Syria has blamed the attack on rebel forces.Samples linked to the August 21 attack were shipped today to European labs and were due to arrive within hours, a U.N. statement said. U.N. chemical weapons experts visited the site of the attack last week.View gallery.”U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), (L), makes remarks to the media as U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S …On Tuesday, U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane, who has just returned from Syria, will update more than 30 countries that co-signed a British letter asking the United Nations to investigate the attack, the statement said.DEMOCRATS WARY-As with much in which the divided U.S. Congress involves itself, there was deep disagreement on how to proceed.Representative Chris Van Hollen, a senior Democrat and an ally of Obama on many issues, complained that the wording of the White House’s request to Congress for the authorization of the use of force was too open-ended and could lead to deep U.S. involvement in Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed in more than two years of fighting.”There is no limitation on putting American soldiers on the ground. There is no end point” on the resolution, he said. „The draft resolution presented by the administration is overly broad, it provides too much of a blank check to the executive.”View gallery.”A supporter of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad holds a national flag during her participation with …White House officials said they are willing to make changes to the draft resolution authorizing force in order to address lawmakers’ concerns.Overshadowing the debate are the ghosts of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts that lasted far longer and were far more expensive than first predicted. Congressional hesitancy reflects the overall weariness of war among Americans, who oppose getting involved in Syria.”My guess is if the vote was taken tomorrow, the president would lose or get a resolution so watered down that he would be better off without one,” Democrat Moran said.Obama needs to shore up his left wing, particularly in the House, where both liberal Democrats and many conservative „Tea Party” Republicans are opposed to more U.S. military action in the Middle East.McCain and Graham are from the more traditional wing of the Republican Party that generally favors U.S. intervention abroad when deemed necessary. They want a broad strategy not just to punish Assad for the chemical weapons attack but to help Syria’s rebels.View gallery.”Supporters of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad take part in „Over our Bodies”, a campaign to organi …Speaking to reporters, McCain and Graham gave dire warnings about the impact if Congress fails to support Obama. Both blamed Obama for not making the case for Syrian intervention sooner.”If the Congress were to reject a resolution like this after the president of the United States has already committed to action, the consequences would be catastrophic,” McCain said.He said Obama appeared to be planning more than retaliatory strikes.”We have been given some reason to believe that very serious air strikes may take place as opposed to cosmetic,” said McCain. Added Graham: „For the first time I’ve gotten an understanding today of what happens after the smoke clears.”The administration will bring out two of its heavy guns on Tuesday to try to persuade Congress on Syria when Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel address the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.View gallery.”A general view shows damaged historical houses in the besieged area of Homs September 2, 2013. REUTE …The Democratic-led Senate is expected to approve U.S. military action but there is stronger opposition in the House.Representative James McGovern, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts, said he was skeptical that Obama’s plan for military strikes could help end the war in Syria. If the vote were taken today, he said, he would vote no.”People are horrified by the pictures of people suffering and they genuinely want to help. But people have become, it’s more than just war-weary, they’ve become skeptical of the effectiveness of these military involvements,” he said.With Navy ships in place and ready to launch cruise missiles on Obama’s order, no decision was likely until days after Congress returns from its summer recess on September 9. In the interim, Obama is using the time to build his case.Washington’s hesitancy has prompted mocking comments from Syrian leaders and a push from Assad’s chief backer, Russia, to send members of the Russian parliament to the U.S. capital to argue against a strike.View gallery.”A general view shows a damaged piano amid buildings destroyed by what activists said was shelling by …Obama’s gamble to seek congressional backing carries many risks, chief among them is that Congress will again thwart him and make him look weak around the world.Obama may have to build a majority House vote based on his fellow Democrats joining those Republicans who support action, a senior House Republican aide told Reuters on Sunday.”It’s too early to speculate” what the House will do, the aide said, but House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi „is going to have to post a big number” among her members in support of it. The aide declined to predict how big.Republicans hold the House, 233-200, with two vacancies.It is not clear whether House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, is willing or able to back Obama’s plan. His members have defied him in the past when he has tried to strike compromise with Obama on budget issues.View gallery.”A general view shows buildings damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’ …(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Patricia Zengerle and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations; and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohamad Zargham)
Assad warns of retaliation as France builds case for Syria attackJohn Irish and Catherine Bremer 7 hours ago PoliticsSyriaFranceBarack ObamaChemical warfareView gallerySyria’s President Bashar al-Assad (C) meets Alaeddin Boroujerdi (L), head of the Iranian parliamentary …By John Irish and Catherine Bremer PARIS (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad warned Syria would retaliate if France takes part in foreign strikes on his forces, while Paris said it had intelligence proving Assad had ordered chemical attacks and was determined to punish him.”If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy,” Assad said in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro. „There will be repercussions, negative ones obviously, on French interests.”France has backed Syrian rebels since the start of the two-and-a-half year old civil war. It fears the violence may spill into Lebanon, where about 20,000 French citizens live, many French companies operate and where France has an 800-strong contingent of U.N. peacekeepers.President Francois Hollande, along with U.S. President Barack Obama, has said Assad should be punished for an attack on August 21 in which Washington says more than 1,400 people were killed, many of them children. The Syrian government says it was carried out by rebels.Assad said it would have made no sense to use chemical weapons in an area where his troops were also fighting.”Those who make accusations must show evidence. We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof. Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so,” said Assad, according to extracts of the interview published on Monday.The prospect of an imminent Western strike on Syria has receded since Britain’s parliament last week voted against taking part in any action against Syria and Obama decided to seek the approval of Congress before any assault.France, whose president has the constitutional right to make war, remains a forceful advocate of Western military action.On Monday, senior members of Hollande’s ruling party rebuffed opposition calls for a parliamentary vote to approve any attack.After presenting an intelligence report on the chemical attack to lawmakers on Monday, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault appeared as determined as ever to use force against Assad, saying Paris wanted to prevent him from using such weapons again and dissuade others from copying him.”This act cannot be left without a response,” Ayrault said. „It’s not for France to act alone. The president is continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition.”The objective is neither to topple the regime nor liberate the country.” he said.„POWDER KEG”-The nine-page intelligence document drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and made public late on Monday listed points suggesting Assad’s fighters were behind the „massive and coordinated” chemical attack on August 21.It said the opposition had neither the know-how nor the experience to carry it out.”This (the attack) poses a major threat to national and global security,” a French official told Reuters ahead of the report’s release.Satellite imagery showed strikes came from government-controlled areas to the east and west of the Syrian capital and targeting rebel-held zones, just before civilians began dying from gas poisoning, the official said.Later, the neighborhoods where the strikes were launched were bombed and fires lit purposefully to wipe out evidence, said the official.”Unlike previous attacks that used small amounts of chemicals and were aimed at terrorizing people, this attack was tactical and aimed at regaining territory,” the official said.According to the intelligence report, aerial and artillery conventional bombing took place between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the Damascus suburb of East Gouta.In parallel, the areas of Zamalka, Kafr Batna and Ayn Tarma were hit with chemical attacks and at 6 a.m. a ground offensive was launched by the regime in those areas, the report said.”Our services have information … that suggests other acts of this nature could be carried out,” it said.In the interview in Le Figaro, Assad said the Middle East was a powder keg and a Western attack on Syria could push the entire region into chaos.”We shouldn’t just talk about a Syrian response, but what will happen after the first strike,” Assad said. „Everybody will lose control of the situation when the powder keg blows. There is a risk of a regional war.”(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Tom Pfeiffer)
Assad: Risk of regional war if West strikes SyriaView gallery SYLVIE CORBET 6 hours ago PoliticsBashar al-AssadBarack ObamaSyriaPARIS (AP) — France released an intelligence report on Monday alleging chemical weapons use by Syria’s regime that dovetailed with similar U.S. claims, as President Bashar Assad warned that any military strike against his country would spark an uncontrollable regional war and spread „chaos and extremism.”The verbal crossfire, including a rejection of the Western allegations by longtime Syrian ally Russia, was part of frenzied efforts on both sides to court international public opinion after President Barack Obama said he would seek authorization from Congress before launching any military action against Assad’s regime.In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Assad was quoted as saying that Syria has challenged the U.S. and France to provide proof to support their allegations, but that their leaders „have been incapable of doing that, including before their own peoples.””If the Americans, the French or the British had a shred of proof, they would have shown it beginning on the first day,” he said, deriding Obama as „weak” and having buckled to U.S. domestic political pressure.”We believe that a strong man is one who prevents war, not one who inflames it,” Assad said.French President Francois Hollande and Obama have been the two world leaders most vocally calling for action against Assad’s regime, accusing it of carrying out a deadly chemical attack against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Aug. 21.The U.S. said it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.It has marked an intolerable escalation in a two-year civil war in Syria that has left some 100,000 people dead.The Syrian government denies the allegations, and blames opposition fighters. In the Figaro interview, Assad questioned whether an attack took place at all and refused to say whether his forces have chemical weapons, as is widely believed.If the U.S. and France strike, „Everyone will lose control of the situation … Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists,” he added.View gallery.”A Syrian refugee uses a mobile phone as she walks with a child after crossing the Turkish Cilvegozu …To back up its case, the French government published a nine-page intelligence synopsis Monday that concluded Assad’s regime had launched an attack on Aug. 21 involving a „massive use of chemical agents,” and could carry out similar strikes in the future.In all, though, the French report provided little new concrete evidence beyond what U.S. officials provided over the weekend in Washington. Along with it, the French Defense Ministry posted on its Web site six clips of amateur video showing victims, some of which has already been widely available online and in the international media.In the Figaro interview, Assad said „all the accusations are based on allegations of the terrorists and on arbitrary videos posted on the Internet.”The French report made no specific reference to the agencies involved or how the intelligence was collected about the attack, aside from referring to videos of the injured or killed, doctors’ accounts, and „independent evaluations” such as one from Paris-based humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders three days after the attack.A French government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter because of its sensitivity, said the analysis was written by the spy agency DGSE and the military intelligence unit, DRM, and was based on satellite imagery, video images, and on-the-ground sources — plus samples collected from the alleged chemical attacks in April.The assessment said it was „very unlikely” that Syria’s opposition had falsified images of suffering children that turned up online. It also said intelligence indicated the opposition „does not have the means to conduct such a large attack with chemical agents.”Around the time of the attack, Assad’s regime feared a possible opposition strike on Damascus: „Our evaluation is that the regime was looking to loosen the vice and secure the strategic sites for the control of the capital,” the report said.The synopsis also said French intelligence services had collected urine, blood, soil and munitions samples from two attacks in April — in Saraqeb and Jobar — that confirmed the use of sarin gas.France is „determined to take action against the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar Assad, and to dissuade it from doing so again,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after hosting lawmakers to discuss the intelligence on Syria. „This act cannot go without a response.”France won’t act alone and Hollande was „continuing his work of persuasion to bring together a coalition,” Ayrault said. French parliament will debate the Syria issue Wednesday, but no vote is scheduled. The French constitution doesn’t require such a vote for Hollande, though he could decide to call for one.View gallery.”In this citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen which has been authen …Russia, which along with Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad through the conflict, brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged Syrian regime role.”What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday before the French report was released. „And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified, so we cannot show this to you.””There was nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals,” he said, without identifying which tests.Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send a delegation of Russian lawmakers to the U.S. to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress. Two top Russian legislators suggested that to Putin, pointing to polls that have shown little support among Americans for armed intervention in Syria.On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair samples that show sarin gas was used in the attack. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that evidence had been shared with Russia.U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas last week, collecting biological and soil samples. A U.N. statement said the team „worked around the clock” to finalize preparations of the samples, which were shipped Monday afternoon from The Hague and would reach their designated laboratories „within hours,” the statement said.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to brief the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members on the Syria crisis Tuesday morning. Angela Kane, high representative for disarmament affairs, planned a Tuesday briefing for member states that requested the investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in the Ghouta area outside Damascus on Aug. 21.The Obama administration has failed to bring together a broad international coalition in support of military action, having so far only secured the support of France.Britain’s Parliament narrowly voted against the country’s participation in any military strike last week, despite appeals by Prime Minister David Cameron. The Arab League has stopped short of endorsing a Western strike against Syria.In an emergency meeting Sunday, the 22-state League urged the United Nations and the international community to take „deterrent” measures under international law to stop the Syrian regime’s crimes. Russia or China would likely veto any U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning a Western strike against Syria.___Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Ryan Lucas and Karin Laub in Beirut, and Jamey Keaten and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.
AP Interview: Wang coy on past, confident on canal BEIJING (AP) — The baby-faced Chinese businessman behind plans to slash a canal through Nicaragua has invested millions in telecommunications and mines. But he won’t say how he made his fortune. Wang Jing says he once studied traditional Chinese medicine. At which school? He won’t say. Nor can he put a dollar figure on his current business interests.Wang was obscure even in China until he shot to fame in June after securing rights from the Nicaraguan government to build and operate a $40 billion shipping channel through the country to rival the Panama Canal.Skepticism and outright disbelief have poured in about the mysterious 40-year-old chief of telecoms company Xinwei.He acknowledges having no particular expertise in telecommunications before buying Xinwei in 2010 and remains untested when it comes to an infrastructure project as enormous as the one dangled before Nicaragua. The sluggish recovery in global trade from the 2009 recession has also raised doubts about the economic viability of a second central American canal.Ever upbeat, Wang is promising to break ground on the waterway in 2014. Yet he is coy about his history and his money, and seems to revel in his previous obscurity, adding to the incredulity that surrounds an undertaking with a price tag about four times the size of Nicaragua’s economy.„I can pound my chest and guarantee it will succeed,” he said, using a Chinese expression for full confidence.View gallery.”In this Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 photo, Wang Jing, CEO of Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group, poses for …Wang spoke to The Associated Press last weekend at the Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group office in Beijing. He granted the interview in part to respond to an AP story that showed that Xinwei has yet to deliver on its promises to build telecom networks in 20 countries.In 12 of the countries where Wang’s Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group and associated companies say they’ve done business, the AP found no evidence of a successful, large-scale project up and running. In the other eight, either analysts or major telecom firms said they had not heard of the company, or Xinwei did not provide enough details about its partners or projects to allow its record to be examined.Wang said some of the projects were started before he took over the company. A Xinwei spokesman said it was unfair to judge the company’s success when work is still underway.„I trust my logic and my judgment,” said Wang, seated on a wide sofa over which is the room’s centerpiece: a full-wall painting of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, surrounded by Communist Party comrades and Red Army soldiers, in a victorious celebration.He says he has hired McKinsey & Company Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers and China Railway Construction Corp. to study the canal’s feasibility and the findings are favorable.Wang asserts he studied traditional Chinese medicine, but when pressed does not want to reveal his alma mater, citing the controversy about the canal project. He made money in the financial world, but is vague about how he earned enough to invest millions in mines and to pay $16 million of his own cash for the 2010 takeover of Xinwei. And he says he’s not sure how much he’s worth because it’s difficult to calculate values of his company shares and mines in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.View gallery.”