Daily Archives: August 8, 2011

Syria forces attack Sunni tribal area – Saudi Arabia joins other Arab countries in condemning the violence

Syria forces attack Sunni tribal area

As a major assault is launched on Dair Alzour, Saudi Arabia joins other Arab countries in condemning the violence overall and announces it is withdrawing its ambassador to Damascus.

Protesting Syria's crackdown

At the Syrian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, women hold a Syrian flag during a demonstration against the Syrian regime. (Bulent Kilic, AFP/Getty Images / August 7, 2011)

By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

Syrian forces targeting areas that are in open revolt against the government launched a major assault on an agricultural hub near the Iraqi border Sunday, even as neighbors in the Middle East unleashed withering criticism of the crackdown.

Saudi Arabia joined other Arab countries in condemning the violence. In a statement read on television, King Abdullah said that the bloodshed was unacceptable and that his country was withdrawing its ambassador to Damascus.

Saudi Arabia followed the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which represents oil-rich monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula. Both groups condemned the violence in Syria for the first time over the weekend.

Witnesses reached by telephone in Dair Alzour, a largely tribal area with strong trade and familial ties to Iraq, described scenes of violence similar to past clashes in the five-month confrontation between President Bashar Assad‘s security forces and a protest movement inspired by uprisings throughout the Arab world.

They told of tanks firing shells into residential neighborhoods, panicked residents scurrying for cover and a near-constant barrage of gunfire. It was unclear whether Assad’s gunmen were firing at residents or mostly into the air.

According to accounts compiled by the activist network Local Coordination Committees of Syria, at least 11 people were killed in the city of 500,000, with an additional 18 killed elsewhere in the country — including at least 12 in the western town of Houla. But an activist reached in Dair Alzour said the number of dead in the city was 24 and rising.

“Hundreds of tanks and army personnel are moving into several neighborhoods,” said a 52-year-old civil servant reached in the city who asked that his name not be disclosed. “Entire areas are closed down. We can hear gunfire and heavy artillery. No one is on the streets. They have put checkpoints in place all over.”

Dair Alzour is a heavily Sunni Muslim tribal area. By launching an offensive there, Assad, a member of Syria’s minority Alawite Muslim community, risks drawing the ire of tribes that often live by ancient codes of retribution and are far better armed than most Syrians.

“The tribes are armed, but they are reluctant to use weapons against the army,” said one activist in the city. “Coming into Dair Alzour in such a fashion only makes one realize that the army wants to incite the tribes against them and start a civil war.”

Authorities sealed off the city’s entrances, as they did during an assault that left as many as 200 dead in the city of Hama a week ago.

Assad, whose loyalists claim they are fighting armed extremists, risks further angering the international community by launching the assault. The United Nations Security Council last week condemned Assad’s crackdown on peaceful protesters, vowing to revisit the matter in a week.

“Syria should think wisely before it’s too late and issue and enact reforms that are not merely promises, but actual reforms,” Saudi King Abdullah said. “Either it chooses wisdom on its own or it will be pulled down into the depths of turmoil and loss.”

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in a statement, “There is still an opportunity for President Bashar Assad to respond to the will of the Syrian people and their legitimate demands of freedom, change and political reform.”

The unrest is even raising alarm bells in Iran, Syria’s main strategic ally.

On Sunday a writer for the conservative Iranian daily Jahan, an outlet said to be close to the Ministry of Intelligence, condemned Iranian authorities for not speaking out about events in Syria.

A day earlier, an Iranian opposition website linked to the movement led by reformers Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi issued a statement calling “on the brutal and autocratic establishment in Damascus to cease the slaughter of its citizens, to honor their democratic and humane demands, and to stand accountable.”


Special correspondent Roula Hajjar contributed to this report.


Battle to recover downed Chinook after 22 US Navy Seals die in Afghanistan

Battle to recover downed Chinook after 22 US Navy Seals die in Afghanistan

FIERCE fighting raged in Afghanistan yesterday as Nato troops battled to recover the remains of the helicopter shot down with the loss of 38 lives.

The dangerous “clean-up” mission came as Washington officials confirmed that the Chinook was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade in the Taliban stronghold of Wardak province on Saturday.

It was the biggest single loss of life for US troops in a decade of war. A total of 30 American soldiers – 22 from the Navy’s special forces Seal Team 6 that killed Osama bin Laden – were killed.

Seven members of the Afghan security forces and an interpreter also died.

Last night it was revealed the Seals had flown to the mountainous region to help a U.S Ranger unit pinned down by rebel fighters.

They were hit as they took off after successfully completing their mission in the Tangi Joy Zarin area, about 60 miles south west of Kabul.

Afterwards the Rangers secured the crash site and began to drive the rebels back.

One of the fallen Seals was identified yesterday as Aaron Carson Vaughan, a 30-year-old father of two from Tennessee.

His grandmother, Geneva, said: “He was a true warrior, doing the job he loved.”

Also named were Jon Tumilson of Rockford, Iowa, and 25-year-old Michael Strange, who was on his third tour in Afghanistan. Michael’s father Charles sobbed as he said: “He was intense, he was funny, he had that dry sense of humour. Like Seinfeld. He loved his family, his sister, and had recently become an uncle.”

Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid confirmed a “joint clearing operation” was under way at the crash site.

He said US troops had secured the immediate vicinity and a number of Taliban fighters had been killed in firefights elsewhere in the area.

The shooting down of the Chinook comes just two weeks after foreign troops began a handover to Afghan security forces.

Officials pointed out that none of those killed were among the commandos who took out bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May.

President Barack Obama said the deaths were a “reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families”.

He added: “We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.”

PM David Cameron said: “My thoughts and the thoughts of the whole country are with their families and friends. They have made the ultimate sacrifice in helping to protect our security, and to build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

America has roughly 10,000 US special operations troops on the ground – more than in any other theatre of war.

From April to July, they helped capture 2,941 insurgents and killed 834, twice as many as in the same period last year.

Read more: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/08/08/battle-to-recover-downed-chinook-after-22-us-navy-seals-die-in-afghanistan-115875-23327863/#ixzz1UPIrzQIQ

Pledges by ECB, G7 cushion downgrade shock – reuters

Pledges by ECB, G7 cushion downgrade shock

Sun Aug 7, 2011 10:59pm EDT

* Finance chiefs pledge action to steady markets

* ECB says ready to “actively” buy EU bonds

* Global stocks slip in wake of U.S. downgrade, but no panic

By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Wayne Cole

TOKYO/SYDNEY, Aug 8 (Reuters) – A pledge of coordinated action by the world’s industrial powers wedded to hopes of aggressive bond buying from Europe’s central bank helped limit the fallout from the historic downgrade of the United States’ debt rating in Asia on Monday.

With the twin debt crises raging and stock markets plunging, the Group of Seven leaders said after a telephone consultation that they were “ready to take action to ensure stability and liquidity in financial markets”.

That followed a surprise statement from the European Central Bank (ECB) that it would “actively implement” its controversial bond-buying programme to fight the euro zone’s debt crisis. That stirred hopes it would buy Spanish and Italian government bonds to short-circuit financial market contagion.

It also whetted investor appetite for what the Federal Reserve might say at its policy meeting on Tuesday, fuelling speculation it might soon have to consider a third round of quantitative easing to resuscitate the world’s richest economy.

“It does seem that policymakers globally are swinging into action,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors, one of Australia’s biggest fund managers.

He said the prospect of the ECB buying Italian and Spanish government bonds was particularly welcome.

“A move to now start buying Italian bonds could be very positive in helping to calm fears about a further escalation of European debt problems,” said Oliver. “Speculators will now have to think twice about selling or shorting Italian and Spanish bonds knowing the ECB will be acting against them.”

It was enough to send the euro up a cent in Asian trading on Monday to stand at $1.4350 , although traders have been disappointed so often by EU leaders that they were reluctant to take it any further.

The general aversion to risk was still clear in the price of gold, which hit a new record atop $1,693 . Asian share markets were again coloured red, although the losses were not as great as first feared. S&P 500 futures SPc1 sank 2.5 percent at the opening, but pared those losses to 1.8 percent.


After a rare Sunday night conference call, the ECB welcomed announcements by Italy and Spain of new deficit cutting measures and economic reforms as well as a Franco-German pledge that the euro zone’s rescue fund will take responsibility for bond-buying once it is operational, probably in October.

A monetary source said this meant it is ready to start buying up the debt of these two countries.

“The Euro system will intervene very significantly on markets and respond in a significant and cohesive way,” the source said.

The central bank has been reluctant to step up its buying of distressed debt, fearing it would be seen as a blank cheque to spendthrift governments.

Since the programme began in May last year it has bought just 80 billion euros of bonds, while Italy and Spain alone issue around 600 billion a year. Dealers said it would take a pledge to buy several hundred billion euros of debt to get ahead of contagion fears.

On Sunday afternoon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy weighed in with a joint statement praising both Italy and Spain for their pledges to impose budget austerity.

They stressed that “complete and speedy implementation of the announced measures is key to restor(ing) market confidence.”

At the same time the G7 — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — said it would take joint action if needed in foreign exchange markets because “disorderly movements … have adverse effects for economic and financial stability.”

The Japanese intervened to restrain their currency last week while the Swiss National Bank surprised with a new round of easing as it fought a rapidly rising franc.

“The G7 has effectively drawn a line in the sand on contagion,” said Christian Cooper, head of U.S. dollar derivatives rating at Jefferies & Co in New York.

The G7 meeting followed Friday’s downgrading of U.S. debt quality by rating agency Standard & Poor’s and a week in which a European debt crisis threatened to engulf larger nations as Italy’s borrowing costs shot higher.


None of which was enough to reassure Washington’s single biggest creditor, China.

“It must be understood that if the U.S., Europe and other advanced economies fail to shoulder their responsibilities and continue their incessant messing around over selfish interests, this will seriously impede stable development of the global economy,” said a commentary in the People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist party.

China is thought to hold well over a trillion dollars worth of U.S. government paper and was thus not pleased when Standard & Poor’s cut the U.S. debt rating to AA-plus from “risk free” AAA — a move that also angered Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

In an interview on NBC and CNBC television, Geithner said the rating agency “has shown really terrible judgment” and claimed its downgrade meant nothing and wouldn’t affect investors’ faith in U.S. debt.

Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda put a brave face on it on Monday, saying that market trust in the dollar and U.S. Treasuries has not wavered and indicated Tokyo’s readiness to maintain its massive holdings of U.S. government bonds. (Additional reporting by Laura McInnis, David Lawder and Mark Felsenthal in Washington, Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Astrid Wendlandt in Paris, Kim Yeonhee and Yoo Choonsik in Seoul, Praveen Menon and Shaheen Pasha in Dubai, and Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Wayne Colele; Editing by Ed Davies and Dean Yates



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