View gallery Stephen Collinson 13 minutes ago Politics & GovernmentCharlie RoseWhite HouseSyriaBarack ObamaJoe BidenPresidents Barack Obama and Bashar Al-Assad will go head-to-head in dueling US television interviews, as a crucial week dawns for the US leader’s push for air attacks on Syria.Assad will reportedly deny that he used chemical weapons on civilians, as Obama makes a long-odds push to reverse his nation’s mood and win support for punishing the Damascus regime for flouting taboos on the use of such arms.US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile toiled abroad to build diplomatic support, which appears solid in condemning Assad but is falling short of the kind of broad coalition for military action that Washington had hoped to build.Assad, fighting a propaganda war as Washington agonizes over whether to attack, gave an interview to veteran CBS and PBS newsman Charlie Rose, which will begin airing at 1100 GMT.Rose told CBS that Assad would say „there’s no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people.”And he threatened „some kind of retaliation” if Washington strikes, Rose said.View gallery.”Map locating the historic Christian town of Maalula, where rebels have ousted government forces afte …Obama, credibility on the line as signs point to an uphill battle to win support for strikes in Congress, will give interviews to six US television networks Monday.He is waging a political offensive of uncharacteristic intensity, after shocking the world by putting air strikes on hold a week ago and seeking support from skeptical lawmakers.The president, criticized in the past for being too slow to strong arm Congress, dropped into a dinner hosted by Vice President Joe Biden for wavering senators at his official residence in Washington on Sunday night.On Tuesday, the president will address Americans from the White House, ahead of a possible Senate vote on authorizing force in Syria later this week.While the White House believes an endorsement from the Senate could be within reach, Obama faces a wall of opposition from both Republicans and from many of his Democratic allies in the House of Representatives.The divisions played out on Sunday in televised political talk shows.View gallery.”Anti-war protesters rally in Washington during a demonstration against US intervention in Syria, on …White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough beseeched lawmakers to view harrowing videos of apparently gassed women and children foaming at the mouth as they decide how to cast their fateful votes.He argued that the quality of US intelligence on the attack was not in doubt and said lawmakers must decide whether Assad should pay a price.”The question for Congress this week is what are the consequences” (for Assad)?, McDonough said on NBC.”How Congress chooses to answer that question will be listened to very clearly in Damascus but not just in Damascus, also in Tehran and among the Lebanese Hezbollah.”But many lawmakers, while horrified by the attack and ready to blame the Assad regime, question the rationale for US action, and after more than a decade of war, fear another morras in the Middle East.One solid Obama supporter, Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, summed up the task before the president.View gallery.”A Syrian supporter of President Bashar al-Assad waves a flag during a rally in Los Angeles, on Septe …”He’s got to show, first of all, that this is in our core national security interests,” Cummings told CBS.”He’s got to show that if we don’t completely degrade Assad’s capability, how do we make sure we still deter him from using these chemical weapons?””And then he’s got to show us that this will not end up in a scenario where we find ourselves in deeper involvement in a civil war over there in Syria,” he added.Whip counts by US media organizations show that bipartisan opposition to the use of military force may already be reaching a critical mass in the House.A Washington Post survey said 224 of the current 433 members of the Republican-led chamber were either „no” or „leaning no” on military action as of Friday. A large number, 184, were undecided, with just 25 backing a strike.The White House has refused to clearly state whether Obama, elected in 2008 promising to end foreign wars, would order a strike even if Congress votes no.View gallery.”Protesters hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration in Beirut, on S …After talks with Arab League leaders in Paris, Kerry said: „All of us agree, not one dissenter, that Assad’s deplorable use of chemical weapons… crosses an international global red line.”Kerry said a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, were willing to sign a statement agreed by 12 of the G20 countries last week calling for a „strong” reaction to the alleged attack.The German newspaper Bild, however, cited German naval intelligence as saying Assad did not personally approve the August 21 attack.Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif slammed the potential strikes against Syria as „illegal,” saying such military action was barred under the United Nations charter.On the ground in Syria, rebels including the jihadist Al-Nusra Front, were said to have taken control of the historic Christian town of Maalula, north of Damascus.And an Italian journalist and a Belgian national who had both been kidnapped in early April were released and on a plane flying to Italy, the Italian government said.
US: Proven link of Assad to gas attack lackingView gallery PHILIP ELLIOTT 39 minutes ago Politics & GovernmentBarack ObamaWhite HouseCharlie RoseDenis McDonoughSyriaWASHINGTON (AP) — The White House asserted Sunday that a „common-sense test” dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that President Barack Obama says demands a U.S. military response. But Obama’s top aide says the administration lacks „irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking.”This is not a court of law. And intelligence does not work that way,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said during his five-network public relations blitz Sunday to build support for limited strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad.”The common-sense test says he is responsible for this. He should be held to account,” McDonough said of the Syrian leader who for two years has resisted calls from inside and outside his country to step down.Asked in another interview about doubt, McDonough was direct: „No question in my mind.”The U.S., citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus, and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children.The number is higher than that, said Khalid Saleh, head of the press office at the anti-Assad Syrian Coalition, who was in Washington to lobby lawmakers to authorize the strikes. Some of those involved in the attacks later died in their homes and opposition leaders were weighing releasing a full list of names of the dead.The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead.View gallery.”Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria march to Capitol Hill from the White House in Washi …The actual tally of those killed by chemical weapons is scant compared to the sum of all killed in the upheaval: more than 100,000, according to the United Nations.In an interview Sunday, Assad told U.S. journalist Charlie Rose there is not conclusive evidence about who is to blame for the chemical weapons attacks and again suggested the rebels were responsible. From Beirut, Rose described his interview, which is to be released Monday on the CBS morning program that Rose hosts, with the full interview airing later in the day on Rose’s PBS program.Asked about Assad’s claims there is no evidence he used the weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London: „The evidence speaks for itself.”At the same time, Obama has planned his own public relations effort. He has scheduled six network interviews on Monday and then a primetime speech to the nation from the White House on Tuesday, the eve of the first votes in Congress.Sunday night, Obama dropped in on a dinner held by Vice President Joe Biden for Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Bob Corker of Tennessee.Obama will meet with Senate Democrats Tuesday, a Senate aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publically discuss the meeting before its official announcement.Obama faces a tough audience on Capitol Hill. A survey by The Associated Press shows that House members who are staking out positions are either opposed to or leaning against Obama’s plan for a military strike by more than a 6-1 margin.View gallery.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center left, talks with members of the Arab League Peace Initiat …”Lobbing a few Tomahawk missiles will not restore our credibility overseas,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.Added Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., „For the president to say that this is just a very quick thing and we’re out of there, that’s how long wars start.”Almost half of the 433 House members and a third of the 100-member Senate remain undecided, the AP survey found. Two seats in the 435-member House are vacant.”Just because Assad is a murderous tyrant doesn’t mean his opponents are any better,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.But some of Assad’s opponents are pleading for aid.”The world is watching, and Syrians are wondering: When is the international community going to act and intervene to protect them?” said Saleh.On Saturday, a U.S. official released a DVD compilation of videos showing attack victims that the official said were shown to senators during Thursday’s classified briefing. The graphic images have become a rallying point for the administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, also posted videos on the committee’s website.View gallery.”President Barack arrives on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013 in Washington …But McDonough conceded the United States doesn’t have concrete evidence Assad was behind the chemical attacks.Recent opinion surveys show intense American skepticism about military intervention in Syria, even among those who believe Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its people.Congress, perhaps, is even more dubious.”It’s an uphill slog,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who supports strikes on Assad.”I think it’s very clear he’s lost support in the last week,” Rogers added, speaking of the president.Complicating the effort in the Senate is the possibility that 60 votes may be required to authorize a strike.Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would consider a filibuster, but noted the delay tactic was unlikely to permanently nix a vote. Paul would, however, insist his colleagues consider an amendment to the resolution that would bar Obama from launching strikes if Congress votes against the measure.View gallery.”Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria march to Capitol Hill from the White House in Washi …Still, Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, has predicted authorization and McDonough, too, on Sunday telegraphed optimism.”They do not dispute the intelligence when we speak with them,” McDonough said of members of Congress.But while the public discussion lacks a direct link between Assad and weapons, the private briefs are no better, two lawmakers said.”The evidence is not as strong as the public statements that the president and the administration have been making,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. „There are some things that are being embellished in the public statements. … The briefings have actually made me more skeptical about the situation.”Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said, „They have evidence showing the regime has probably the responsibility for the attacks.”But that’s not enough to start military strikes. „They haven’t linked it directly to Assad, in my estimation,” said McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.McDonough, an Obama foreign policy adviser dating back to his 2008 presidential campaign, said the dots connect themselves.View gallery.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks off of the stage with Qatar Foreign Minister Khalid Al Atti …The material was delivered by „rockets which we know the Assad regime has and we have no indication that the opposition has.”Congress resumes work Monday after its summer break.Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, plans to discuss Syria in a speech Monday at the New America Foundation and later meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bipartisan, classified briefings for Congress are set for Monday and Wednesday.McDonough plans to meet Tuesday with the House Democratic Caucus.Obama planned to address the nation on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s first showdown vote in the Senate over a resolution that would authorize the „limited and specified use” of U.S. armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days and barring American ground troops from combat. A final vote is expected at week’s end.A House vote appears likely during the week of Sept. 16.McDonough spoke with ABC’s „This Week,” CBS’ „Face the Nation,” NBC’s „Meet the Press,” CNN’s „State of the Union” and „Fox News Sunday.” McCaul and Sanchez were on NBC. Cruz appeared on ABC. Rogers and Amash spoke to CBS. Paul was interviewed on Fox. McKeon was on CNN.___Associated Press writers Deb Reichmann in London and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.___Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
View gallery Actor Idris Elba answers a question during the press conference for „Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” at …TORONTO (AP) — The Nelson Mandela biopic „Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with a heavy dose of reverence for its subject, and a few extra pounds of muscle, too.Idris Elba stars as the South African leader in „Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” which the Weinstein Co. will release in late November. The film, directed by Justin Chadwick, takes a classical, inspirational biopic approach to telling the epic tale of Mandela’s life story.While the brawny Elba, famed for his gangster Stringer Bell on „The Wire,” has a much larger frame than Mandela, Chadwick said he was „the brave choice” for the role.”We’re not going for a looky-likey, soundy-likey version of Mandela,” Chadwick told reports Sunday, after a Saturday evening premiere that drew a standing ovation but mixed reviews. „We’re trying to catch the spirit.”View gallery.”Director Justin Chadwick, left, poses with actor Idris Elba during the photo call for „Mandela: Long …”I certainly just plugged into the energy of Mandela and the way people respect him,” said Elba. He added: „There was no messing about with this character and this story.”The film has been in development for many years, during which several other big screen depictions of Mandela have been released. Others to tackle the role include Morgan Freeman („Invictus”) and Terrence Howard („Winnie Mandela”). Producer Anant Singh long ago secured Mandela’s approval.The 95-year-old Mandela has been ailing, so he wasn’t involved in the production or able to meet with Elba. Singh, though, said he showed scenes last year to Mandela on an iPad. When he saw Elba in character, Mandela asked: „Is that me?”___Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle
Italian journalist held in Syria releasedView galleryThis handout picture released by the Italian newspaper La Stampa on June 1, 2013 shows an undated portrait of journalist Domenico Quirico. (AFP Photo/)5 hours ago PoliticsSyria Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian national Pierre Piccinin, both kidnapped in Syria in early April, have been released and are on a plane flying to Italy, the Italian government said SundayThe website of Turin-based daily newspaper La Stampa, for which Quirico is a correspondent, also said he was in a plane on his way back home.The government said Piccinin was released with Quirico and was with him in the same plane bound for Rome’s Ciampino airport.Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta told La Stampa’s editor Mario Calabresi: „Our hope was never extinguished and all the efforts put in place for a positive outcome were crowned with success.”Quirico, 62, is a well-known war correspondent in Italy who worked from African hot spots including Libya, Sudan, Darfur and Mali.The government gave no immediate information about Piccinin, a historian and teacher who speaks Arabic.Married with two children, Quirico was able to contact his family after his release.Another Italian, Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, is still missing in Syria and was last seen in the Syrian town of Raqqa, where he hoped to free hostages.Quirico had entered Syria from Lebanon without an official visa and went missing in early April between Damascus and the flashpoint central city of Homs.He was able to briefly call his wife on June 6, apparently from the former rebel bastion of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border, southwest of Homs.The foreign ministry later called on the media not to published unconfirmed information about the kidnapping and to let caution prevail when reporting about the case.In a video published in June, Quirico’s daughters Metella and Eleonora had called for information that would allow them to find their father so they will „soon be able to give him a hug”.Quirico was on his fourth trip to Syria when he was kidnapped in April.He had been kidnapped before, along with three other journalists working for the Corriere della Sera and Avvenire, when he tried to reach the Libyan capital Tripoli in August 2011.
Israel, Palestinians ‘remain steadfast’ on peace talksView gallery 4 hours ago Foreign PolicyPoliticsIsrael US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in London on Sunday, having earlier insisted that Israelis and Palestinians were determined to pursue direct peace talks.Kerry and Abbas, who have met regularly over the last six months, kicked off their latest talks at 7:30 pm (2030 GMT).The pair laughed and joked in the Queen Elizabeth room of London’s Ritz Carlton hotel before heading off for their closed-door meeting. No details were due to be released to the press.The United States’ top diplomat arrived in London late afternoon following a stop-off in Paris, which was dominated by the ongoing crisis in Syria and the proposed US-Franco military response.But Kerry also tackled the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with his Egyptian, Qatari and Saudi counterparts along with representatives from the Arab League.View gallery.”A Palestinian woman gestures as Palestinian militants march during a protest in Beit Lahia in the no …”Despite tough decisions that have to be made and despite pressure that exists on both sides… both the Palestinians and Israelis have remained steadfast in their commitment to continuing the talks,” Kerry said in Paris after a meeting with Arab League officials.Kerry also said he planned to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu „shortly” to discuss peace efforts.In regards to the talks with Arab League officials, Kerry said: „We all of us agreed that a final status agreement is important in enhancing regional security and stability throughout the Middle East.”Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah however criticised Israel for continuing to build Jewish settlements, saying it was damaging peace efforts.”We are talking about the settlements, what we noticed is that each time a round of negotiations is to start it’s preceded by an announcement of settlements,” he said.View gallery.”Palestinian militants attend prayers in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on September 6, 2013. …This „directly affects the negotiations”, Attiyah said.Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed on July 29, after Kerry shuttled between Jerusalem, the West Bank and Amman for several months seeking to end a three-year stalemate in the negotiations.The two sides have since met three times in August and in early September in Jerusalem.In line with Kerry’s desire to keep the details of the negotiations secret in order to give the process a chance to work, little has leaked about the talks.Ahead of the first bilateral meetings in Jerusalem on August 14, Israel announced plans to build more than 2,000 Jewish settler homes on Palestinian territory, in a move that angered Palestinian negotiators.Kerry also urged the European Union to suspend new guidelines introduced in July forbidding its 28 member states from dealing with or funding any Israeli „entities” in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the West Bank and east Jerusalem.Netanyahu said last month that the EU’s stance was hampering peace talks by hardening Palestinian positions.”I did ask the European community if they would consider a suspension,” Kerry said. „It’s not asking them to change the policy, it’s asking them to suspend or delay its implementation while these talks are taking place.”
Shhhhhh! German parties appeal to voters’ aversion to noiseAlexandra Hudson 11 hours agoView galleryGerman Chancellor and conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel (2L) stands …By Alexandra Hudson BERLIN (Reuters) – „One in two Germans feels troubled by noise,” Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) state in their election manifesto. „We want to change this”.Germany already has some of the world’s most stringent noise regulations and citizens only too eager to reprimand neighbors for loud children or taking out rubbish too early on a Sunday.Chancellor Merkel’s husband Joachim Sauer famously filed a complaint about an open-air theatre group performing opposite the couple’s apartment in central Berlin back in 2001 for violating a 60-decibel noise limit by eight decibels.In their programs for the September 22 election and to an extent never seen before, political parties are outlining how they intend to make German skies and roads even quieter.Noise is mentioned 12 times in the CDU’s manifesto, 19 times in the program of her junior coalition partners the Free Democrats (FDP), 38 times in the Greens’ election manifesto, 9 times by the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) and 8 times by the far left Die Linke.Some noise seems to be acceptable. The CDU and the FDP both stress that in 2011 their government abolished regulations allowing Germans to file legal complaints against Kindergartens or playgrounds because of the „noise” of kids at play.”The sound of children is not damaging to the environment,” the new law made clear.WHISPERING ASPHALT-Many of the parties are promising the same remedies: traffic speed limits to reduce noise, increased use of a road surface known as „whispering asphalt” and more investment in sound insulation of roads and railways.Then there are the more abstract pledges aimed at reassuring frazzled voters.The CDU mentions Germany’s worshiped concept of „Nachtruhe” or night silence – the preservation of silence between 10 in the evening and 6 in the morning. „Above all we want to better protect people’s Nachtruhe,” they say.The environmentalist Greens state: „Protection from health-damaging noise should not be a question of money. Noise causes stress and can lead to chronic illness.”They promise to increase noise insulation in buildings and double the amount spent on sound insulation of roads and rail.The SPD even promises to try to halve the number of people whose health is negatively affected by noise by 2020, while the Left party vows a strict ban on night flights.Peter Vasner, 51, fries „quark baellchen”, a donut-like snack, in a trailer on a dual carriageway in the eastern Berlin suburb of Koepenick. Trams screech past and trains rumble over a bridge every couple of minutes.”It is getting louder and more unbearable here all the time. I’m glad the politicians are thinking about noise but what can they really do? Whispering asphalt? I don’t think such a thing actually exists,” he said.”In East German times there was only a third of the traffic. It smelt bad from all the exhaust fumes, but at least it was quiet.”Professor Rainer Guski at Bochum’s Ruhr University leads a study funded by the German state of Hesse into „noise related annoyance, cognition and health” (NORAH).He believes politicians’ increased interest in noise stems from the high level of public activism against airport extensions and major infrastructure projects.A thousand protesters living below planned new flight paths formed a human chain around Merkel’s office on Saturday.Showing they are thinking of solutions can help politicians to limit citizens’ resistance to new projects, while also heeding the interests of German industry and logistics, he said.”British colleagues joke that the Germans are a bit hysterical about the medical side-effects of noise. They seem to be a bit more tolerant over there,” he said.(Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Noah Barkin and Anna Willard)
Mexican left slams oil reform; tax reform expectedBy MARK STEVENSON | Associated Press – 6 hours agoView PhotoSupporters of former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador cheer as they listen to Lopez Obrador during an act to protest against the governments proposed energy reforms that would allow private companies to explore the country’s oil and gas reserves, in Mexico City, Sunday Sept. 8, 2013. The proposed reform requires constitutional changes that strike at the heart of one of Mexico’s proudest moments: President Lazaro Cardenas’ nationalization of the oil company in 1938. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)View Photo Former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks to supporters during an act to protest against the governments proposed energy reforms that would allow private companies to explore the country’s oil and gas reserves, in Mexico City, Sunday Sept. 8, 2013. The proposed reform requires constitutional changes that strike at the heart of one of Mexico’s proudest moments: President Lazaro Cardenas’ nationalization of the oil company in 1938. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)View PhotoFormer presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stands with his son, Jesus Ernesto, during an act to protest against the governments proposed energy reforms that would allow private companies to explore the country’s oil and gas reserves, in Mexico City, Sunday Sept. 8, 2013. The proposed reform requires constitutional changes that strike at the heart of one of Mexico’s proudest moments: President Lazaro Cardenas’ nationalization of the oil company in 1938. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)View PhotoSupporters of former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador cheer as they listen to Lopez Obrador during an act to protest against the government’s proposed energy reforms that would allow private companies to explore the country’s oil and gas reserves, in Mexico City, Sunday Sept. 8, 2013. The proposed reform requires constitutional changes that strike at the heart of one of Mexico’s proudest moments: President Lazaro Cardenas’ nationalization of the oil company in 1938. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)View PhotoFormer presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador waves to supporters during an act to protest against the governments proposed energy reforms that would allow private companies to explore the country’s oil and gas reserves, in Mexico City, Sunday Sept. 8, 2013. The proposed reform requires constitutional changes that strike at the heart of one of Mexico’s proudest moments: President Lazaro Cardenas’ nationalization of the oil company in 1938. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) MEXICO CITY (AP) — Thousands of people rallied Sunday in Mexico City to oppose PresidentEnrique Pena Nieto’s plan to open the state-owned oil sector to profit-sharing contracts with private firms.Leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told the rally that the proposal constitutes „treason” and „a filthy, shameless robbery.”Lopez Obrador pledged to block attempts for greater private sector involvement with „peaceful civic mobilization” and called for more protests later this month.”This is an act of treason equal to or greater than that of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,” he said, referring to the 19th century Mexican president blamed for losing half the nation’s territory to the United States by the end of the 1846-48 Mexican-American War.Pena Nieto proposed the energy overhaul in August, saying state-owned oil monopoly Pemex has to offset falling production by exploiting shale gas and deep-water reserves and it needs foreign know-how and investment to do that.Lopez Obrador, a two-time losing presidential candidate, claimed most of Mexico’s proven reserves lie on land and in shallow coastal waters and no private firms are needed to drill for that oil.Mexico expropriated foreign companies and nationalized its oil industry in 1938, and that move has been a popular symbol of national sovereignty ever since. Polls say a solid majority of Mexicans still oppose private or foreign investment in the industry even though oil production is down and easy-to-reach, shallow-water reserves are declining.”They want to take away our natural resources, which is all that we have left,” Maria Elena Chavez, a 58-year-old protester, said as she handed out copies of Mexico’s constitution while wearing a white Pemex hard hat painted with the slogan „Pemex isn’t for sale.”The reform requires changing the constitution, which currently bans profit-sharing contracts.Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party and the conservative National Action Party have enough votes combined to secure the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to pass the change. They could do the same with the support of a small, allied party in the Chamber of Deputies.The measure then would have to be approved by at least 17 of the country’s 32 state legislatures.Pena Nieto pledged to announce another reform plan later Sunday, this one to rework the country’s inefficient tax system. Many Mexicans work under the table or avoid paying any taxes at all, and the tax code is littered with loopholes for large corporations.Lopez Obrador claimed Pena Nieto wants to tax Mexicans more to replace revenue lost because some oil income, a large part of the federal government’s revenues, would go to private companies under the proposed oil overhaul.Pena Nieto’s PRI party brushes off the criticisms.„There are people who think that repeating lies will make them the truth, to distort the real aims of the reform,” PRI Sen. Ana Lilia Herrera said. „We have oil and gas in deep water, but we don’t have the cutting-edge technology to take advantage of them. The reform will help make it easier to get at them, to benefit Mexicans, of course.”Pena Nieto’s administration has blanketed the airwaves with ads saying he doesn’t plan to privatize or sell Pemex. But people like Chavez remain wary. „They know how to manipulate people very well,” she said of Pena Nieto’s party, which ruled Mexico without interruption from 1929 to 2000.
Merkel criticises out-of-sync EU Syria statementsView galleryGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 7, 2013 in Oranienburg. (AFP Photo/Johannes Eisele)5 hours ago Politics German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday criticised the timing of European Union members’ out-of-sync statements calling for a „strong” response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime.With the United States seeking to rally international support for punitive strikes on Syria in the wake of what it says was a deadly chemical attack by the regime on August 21, four EU countries signed a statement Friday at a G20 summit calling for a „strong” response.The Washington-backed statement was signed by a total of 11 countries that day at the summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia — but not by Germany, which is a G20 member but waited until Saturday to sign.Merkel said she wanted to get all 28 EU members on board before signing — which happened Saturday when EU foreign ministers issued a similar statement at talks in Lithuania calling for „a clear and strong response.””I don’t believe it’s right for five countries to agree on a united stance without the other 23 that can’t be there, knowing that 24 hours later all 28 will be gathering around the same table,” Merkel, who is seeking re-election in two weeks’ time, told a campaign rally in western Germany.”That’s why I said, ‘Let’s see to it that we have a united stance by all 28.'”The remarks were a veiled criticism of Britain, France, Italy and Spain, the four EU countries that signed the G20 statement on Friday.Neither the G20 statement nor the EU statement — issued after a meeting attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry — called for military intervention.The EU statement called the August 21 attack outside Damascus „a war crime and a crime against humanity” and said there was „strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible.””The international community cannot remain idle,” it added.”A clear and strong response is critical to make clear that such crimes are unacceptable and that there can be no impunity.”
Netanyahu unimpressed by Iranian greetings for Jewish New YearSeptember 7, 2013 4:33 PM Politics & GovernmentForeign PolicyIsraelView galleryIsrael’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during his speech at the inauguration ceremony of …JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday dismissed the significance of reports that the new Iranian president and his foreign minister had both issued greetings to mark the Jewish New Year.Twitter messages that appeared to have been issued by newly-elected Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, wishing Jews a good Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year, which was celebrated this week – made headlines in Israel.They were a change in tone from Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who left office last month and regularly use to rile Israel by calling for the destruction of the „Zionist entity”.Netanyahu said in a statement he was „not impressed”, and that the Iranian regime „will be judged only by its actions and not by greetings” whose purpose, he said, was to deflect attention from its nuclear programme.He called on the international community to strengthen sanctions on Iran meant to curb its nuclear activities.Relations between the two countries have been dire for decades. Israel says all its options are on the table in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons that could one day jeopardize the survival of the Jewish state.Iran denies it wants nuclear weapons and says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes.Rouhani’s election in June has encouraged speculation that Tehran may be taking a more conciliatory approach to foreign affairs, though the president’s power is heavily circumscribed by the clerical hierarchy.(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Andrew Roche)
Iran foreign minister criticizes Syria strike planView gallery ADAM SCHRECK 12 hours ago PoliticsForeign PolicySyriaIranIraq BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran’s new foreign minister on Sunday criticized possible U.S.-led strikes on Syria as outside the bounds of the United Nations charter, saying the use of force is illegal.Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments while visiting the Iraqi capital Baghdad. The visit, his first official trip since taking office last month, underscored the growing links between the two Shiite-led neighbors and their shared opposition to military strikes in Syria.”I do not know why those who say all options are on the table do not understand the fact that civilized countries 65 years ago … rejected in the charter of the United Nations (the) resort to force as an illegal practice,” Zarif said, breaking away from his native Farsi during a press conference to speak in English in comments clearly directed at the United States and its allies.Iran is the main regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime also maintains strong ties to Russia. Assad’s troops are battling largely Sunni rebels who receive support from Sunni countries such as Turkey and the Gulf statesZarif was met on arrival in Baghdad by his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. He also held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi.View gallery.”Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif speaks to his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari, not see …Although Iraq is officially neutral in the conflict, its Shiite leadership is worried about the threat posed by Sunni extremists, including Iraq’s al-Qaida branch, fighting among the rebels. It repeatedly has called for a negotiated political solution to the crisis.Nujaifi, Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab politician, also expressed concern about domestic fallout from a Syria strike Sunday.”We believe that the strike will not benefit Syria, but instead it will spark a fire that could extend to Iraq and neighboring countries,” he said. „A strike will not bring a solution to the crisis. It will only worsen the situation more and more.”Iraq’s prime minister last week reiterated Baghdad’s opposition to foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict, warning that a military strike could have unforeseen consequences.Zarif echoed those fears in his comments in Baghdad, saying those „who want to start a war cannot control the course of the war or end it.”View gallery.”Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, center, walks across the tarmac of Baghdad Internation …”The U.S. president has entered a trap set by others … against his personal wishes. We hope that he would get out of this trap,” Zarif said, according to a translation of his comments into Arabic.The United States has been pressuring Iraq for months to do more to stop Iranian flights suspected of carrying weapons to Syria from transiting its airspace. Iraqi officials have carried out some spot checks of Iranian planes and say they’ve found nothing.Iran and Iraq fought a ruinous war from 1980 to 1988. The two countries have bolstered ties considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims annually now visit Shiite holy sites in Iraq despite ongoing security risks, and Iraq is a major market for Iranian products. Iran has been increasingly cut off from the world’s financial system following multiple rounds of sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The Iraqi market offers it an important source of hard currency.The Western-educated Zarif is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since President Hasan Rouhani came to office last month.View gallery.”Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, right, talks with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari …Rouhani is seen as more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who paid a farewell visit to Baghdad and the Iraqi Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in July. An earlier visit by Ahmadinejad in 2008 was the first by an Iranian president since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.__Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.__Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck .
Israel deploys Iron Dome system near JerusalemView galleryIsraeli soldiers stand near an „Iron Dome” battery, a short-range missile defence system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, near Jerusalem on September 8, 2013. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)7 hours ago PoliticsIsraelSyria Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defence system near Jerusalem Sunday, an AFP correspondent said, as the United States lobbied for domestic and international support for military strikes against Syria.The correspondent said the battery was set up west of the city.A military spokeswoman would not comment on the deployment, saying only that „defence systems are deployed in accordance with situation assessments.”Late last month a battery of the mobile system was set up in the greater Tel Aviv area, pointing northwards towards Syria. Israeli media have reported that six or seven such batteries are currently in use.Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Israel „an island of tranquillity, quiet and security” amidst „the storm raging around us”, without explicitly mentioning Syria or its ally Iran.In previous weeks Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel was not involved in the war in Syria, but would „respond with force” if anyone attacked it.The Israeli line on Syria was reiterated in remarks by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon later Sunday.”We are not involved in the civil war in Syria unless our interests are compromised,” he said at a counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.”We are preparing for the ramification of action — or inaction — in Syria,” he continued.”To our understanding, our neighbours, especially the Syrian regime, understands that whoever challenges us will encounter the power of the IDF (Israeli military), and we are preparing for that.”Yaalon noted that „we held a security assessment today”, and the bottom line was that Israel was not reverting to a heightened level of alert in the wake of the developments in and regarding Syria.There are fears that if the United States and its allies attack Syria, forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or its Lebanese Hezbollah proxies could retaliate against neighbouring Israel, Washington’s key ally in the region.Late last month, Iran’s army chief of staff General Hassan Firouzabadi warned: „Any military action against Syria will drive the Zionists to the edge of fire.”US President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking to shore up support both at home and abroad for limited military strikes against Syria in retaliation for what it says is the regime’s use of chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb.In Washington, Congress is due to begin full debate this week on whether to approve Obama’s plans when it returns from its summer break on Monday.
Putin ally wins tight Moscow polls, Navalny cries foulView gallery Maria Antonova and Stuart Williams 3 hours ago ElectionsPoliticsVladimir PutinSergey SobyaninMoscow Moscow’s pro-Kremlin mayor was set to win tight elections Sunday in the Russian capital, just escaping a second-round run-off after a strong challenge from protest leader Alexei Navalny, who denounced the results as falsified.Initial results showed that Sergei Sobyanin, a leading ally of President Vladimir Putin, would narrowly win in the first round with just over half the vote after Navalny unexpectedly picked up over a quarter of the ballots.In a nationwide day of local polls that may worry the Kremlin, opposition anti-drugs campaigner Yevgeny Roizman defeated the pro-Kremlin candidate in elections for Russia’s fourth largest city Yekaterinburg.In Moscow, Sobyanin was winning 51.4 percent of the vote with Navalny on 27.2 percent, the Moscow election commission said in a count based on over 80 percent of polling stations reporting.But Navalny, 37, insisted he had managed to force the mayor into a second round and threatened street protests if the authorities did not acknowledge Sobyanin had polled less than 50 percent.”What we are seeing now are clear falsifications,” he told reporters in a late night briefing at his campaign headquarters in Moscow.View gallery.”A picture taken on September 6, 2013, shows incumbent Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin (C) meeting his s …”We demand that a second round is held. If that is not done… we will appeal to the citizens and ask them to take to the streets of Moscow.”The candidacy of Navalny — who campaigned under the shadow of a conviction in a controversial embezzlement case — made the race the first genuinely competitive Russian election since the heady early post-Soviet years.In a late-night rally in central Moscow attended by thousands and lit up by fireworks, Sobyanin had said he was sure of victory and congratulated himself for organising „the most honest and open elections in the history of Moscow”.”We have something to be proud of,” he told the cheering supporters.But turnout was low at 26.5 percent as of 1400 GMT, an unusually slack figure, which indicated Navalny had been far more successful at bringing out his supporters than the mayor, who ran a supremely low-key campaign.Communist candidate Ivan Melnikov was third in the partial results with just over 10.6 percent of the vote, while other contenders merely made up the numbers.View gallery.”Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, cast his ballot at a polling statio …— ‘A victory for Navalny’ —The election was seen as a crucial test of the protest mood in the city, which was shaken by huge demonstrations against Putin’s decade-long rule in the winter of 2011-2012.”This is a victory for Navalny, the results he’s received are very good, even if there will be no run-off,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and one-time Kremlin consultant, told AFP.Putin, who has made no secret of his support for his former Kremlin chief of staff Sobyanin, 55, said when he cast his vote that Moscow did not need a „politician” for a mayor and that „technocrats” were better.Moscow gave Putin a relatively low 46.95 percent of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, well below the nationwide average.Navalny had threatened protests if officials rigged the vote and thousands of supporters are due to hold a meeting on Monday evening in a central Moscow square to decide their strategy.View gallery.”Opposition candidate in Moscow mayoral race, Alexei Navalny, speaks to the media on mayoral election …In the run-up to the vote, Navalny shook up Russian politics with a Western-style political campaign that made savvy use of the Internet and secured more than 100 million rubles ($3 million/2.3 million euros) in donations.By contrast, buttoned-up Kremlin functionary Sobyanin avoided overt political rhetoric and shunned television debates, instead focusing on sprucing up the capital of 12 million people.In July, Navalny was sentenced to five years in a penal colony on fraud charges that he says were trumped up. He was arrested in court, but suddenly released a day later pending his appeal.”The question is, what will they do to Navalny now,” said Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Higher School of Economics.”I think his term will be commuted to a suspended sentence — this will prevent protests from flaring up and will also exclude him from politics for some time.”In Yekaterinburg, Roizman was winning 33 percent of the vote while the candidate of the ruling United Russia Party, Yakov Silin, had 30 percent, the local elections commission said, in results based on reports from 500 of the 565 polling stations.Unlike the parallel mayoral election in Moscow, the Yekaterinburg poll is taking place in one round with the winner taking all.Should Roizman be confirmed as the winner, it will be one of the first times in Russian history an opposition candidate has beaten the ruling-party figure in a city this size.
View gallery SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has a baby daughter, seemingly guaranteeing the future of a dynasty has ruled the isolated and impoverished state for three generations, according to U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman who met Kim last week.Kim’s wife Ri Sol had appeared to be pregnant in pictures issued last year by North Korea’s state news agency, although no confirmation was available. She then disappeared from public view, returning last October.Rodman, who has visited North Korea twice this year and describes Kim as his „friend”, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that he had held the baby.”I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms Ri (Sol-Ju, Kim’s wife) as well. He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family,” Rodman was quoted as saying by the newspaper.Kim Jong-un is the third member of his family to rule North Korea and is believed to be 30 years old. He was effectively anointed as his father’s successor in 2010, despite the fact he is the third son.Given the traditional nature of North Korean society, it is unlikely that Ju-ae would succeed her father, although female relatives of Kim, such as his aunt, occupy key positions in government.(Reporting by David Chance; Editing by Paul Tait)
Conservative Solberg expected to win Norway electionBalazs Koranyi 4 hours ago PoliticsElectionsNorwayView gallery Norway’s main opposition leader Erna Solberg (C) of Hoyre smiles as she greets the media in front of …By Balazs Koranyi OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s center-right opposition, promising tax cuts, privatisation and a smaller government, is set for a sweeping election win on Monday, ousting a Labour-led government accused of wasting a once-in-a-lifetime economic boom.The only electoral risk facing the likely next prime minister, Conservative Erna Solberg, is an anti-immigration party whose participation in her coalition could repulse other potential allies and deprive her of a full majority.Norwegians look likely to punish Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, seen by some as having failed to use the best of times to prepare for life after oil.”For a country claiming to be one of the richest in the world, our health system is quite awful and the roads are terrible,” Oslo office clerk Marcus Holm said. „After eight years it’s just enough (of Stoltenberg).”With a flourishing offshore oil sector filling state coffers and boosting per capita GDP to $100,000, Norway has enjoyed rare economic success even during Europe’s crisis.But that will not save Stoltenberg, even if, as polls show, his Labour party still ends up with the biggest share of the vote, at 30 percent. Four opposition parties are on course for around 100 seats in parliament, 15 more than needed for a majority.”We need more legs to stand on in the economy, not just oil,” said Solberg, 52, who cast her vote in Bergen on Sunday. „We are a liberal-conservative party, we do not make revolutions … This will be a road of small steps.”MINORITY GOVERNMENT-View gallery.”Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (R) and main opposition leader Erna Solberg leave a buildin …The anti-immigration and anti-tax Progress Party is set to finish second among the opposition groups and will likely hold the balance of power.Although Progress has toned down its rhetoric, it is seen by some as too radical for government and once had among its members Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011 in a gun and bomb attack targeting Labour.The small Christian Democrats and Liberals, whose votes may also be needed for a majority, have made it clear they are not keen on teaming up with Progress, objecting to its policies on immigration and spending, raising the prospect Solberg would have to rule in a minority.”A majority government isn’t necessarily the norm in Norway and it’s slightly more likely we’ll get a minority,” Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, a political science professor at the University of Bergen said. „Norway has had many minority governments and they tend to work.”Bringing Progress into government will likely force Solberg to compromise on several issues and she is expected to make some concessions on spending, taxes and perhaps even a symbolic gesture on immigrations, but any shift is likely to be moderate.”We expect some tax cuts and spending increases, as well as a friendlier attitude towards private providers of public services, but no major shifts,” Handelsbanken economist Knut Anton Mork said.”All the major parties have made big promises in terms of spending increases and/or tax cuts, so fiscal policy is likely to turn somewhat more expansionary regardless of the election outcome,” he added.Polls close at 1900 GMT, when several exit polls – which have proved accurate in the past – will be published. Indicative results are expected around 2200 GMT.(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)