Sunday, February 20, 2011

US condemns crackdowns on Mideast protests

The Associated Press
Sunday, February 20, 2011; 3:57 PM

WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. diplomat on Sunday condemned the brutal crackdown on opposition protesters in Libya, saying Arab leaders facing pro-democracy protests need to lead the way rather than resist reform.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama administration was "very concerned" about reported armed attacks by Libyan security forces on peaceful protesters in the eastern city of Benghazi.
"We've condemned that violence," Rice told "Meet the Press" on NBC. "Our view is that in Libya as throughout the region peaceful protests need to be respected."
Libyan forces fired machine-guns at mourners marching in a funeral for anti-government protesters in Benghazi Sunday, a day after commandos and foreign mercenaries pummeled demonstrators with assault rifles and other heavy weaponry. A physician in Benghazi told The Associated Press that at least 200 had been killed in demonstrations against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
Al Jazeera television reported that Benghazi demonstrators had seized army vehicles and weapons, that the police academy had been set ablaze and that some soldiers had joined the demonstrators.
Libya's response to opposition demonstrations may be the most brutal since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt began spreading across the region.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. has received a number of credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured in the unrest, although the extent of the violence is unknown because Libya has denied access to international media and human rights groups. Crowley said the U.S. has raised "strong objections to the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters."

The European Union also denounced the Libyan government's response to the protests, with the EU's foreign policy chief calling for an end to the violence.
Rice said meanwhile that President Barack Obama and other top administration officials apparently persuaded the government of the island kingdom of Bahrain to halt its violent crackdown on protesters. Five demonstrators were killed and some 230 wounded last week when riot police stormed the demonstrators' makeshift camp in the capital's Pearl Square, wielding clubs and firing tear gas.
"We've been very clear with our partners in Bahrain that they ought to exercise restraint, that there's no place for violence against peaceful protesters there or anywhere else," Rice said. Bahrain had apparently responded, she said, citing reports that military forces had been withdrawn from Pearl Square and jubilant protesters had returned.
Rice said Bahrainian officials had begun a "real effort" at dialogue with the opposition.
Asked if King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalif's pro-U.S. government could survive the challenge to its rule, Rice said: "I wouldn't want to be in the business of predictions in this very volatile environment." She added that Mideast leaders need to respect calls for reform and "need to get ahead of it by leading rather than being pushed."

Hundreds protest in Iraq, TV station torched

Hundreds protest in Iraq, TV station torched

Hundreds protest in Iraq, TV station torched

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Gunmen raided and set fire to a television station in northern Iraq on Sunday, shutting down broadcasts of protests inspired by unrest around the Arab world, station and government officials said.
Iraqi Kurds gather near burnt tires during a demonstration in Sulaimaniya, 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, February 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Stringer)
At least four people were wounded in the city of Sulaimaniya as hundreds of protesters took to the streets. Rallies seeking better public services, the ouster of local officials and other demands also took place in Falluja and other locations.
In Baghdad, the cabinet decided to have ministers visit demonstrators to soothe anger over corruption, shortages of food and electricity and other issues behind a series of protests that have triggered skirmishes with security forces.
Unlike their regional counterparts, Iraqi protesters generally have not been calling for the removal of their elected government, installed just two months ago after months of tense negotiations between political factions. Dictator Saddam Hussein was swept away by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
The overnight raid on NRT satellite channel in Sulaimaniya was carried out by 50 masked gunmen wearing security force uniforms who sprayed the station with gunfire, smashed equipment, wounded a guard and lit fires, Twana Othman, the station's manager, said.
NRT aired coverage of violent protests in Sulaimaniya last week.
Bahrouz Mohammed, the local governor, condemned the attack and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Those saboteurs who attacked the TV station are trying undermine stability in Sulaimaniya," he said in a statement.
In central Sulaimaniya, a police official said security forces fired in the air when demonstrators chanting against corruption tried to approach the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, where clashes on Thursday killed two people and wounded dozens.
"We can't prevent people from demonstrating but we will not allow them to sabotage public properties," the official said.
Hazar Hasan, head of a hospital in Sulaimaniya, said the facility received four wounded from the rally.
In the western city of Falluja, about 300 protesters demanded the firing of the governor and provincial council members in Anbar province. Dozens of people rallied for jobs in the southern province of Nassiriya, Abdul Hadi Mohan, deputy head of the provincial council, said.
The cabinet decision to reach out to protesters underscored politicians' concerns over growing unrest.
"The general secretary of the council of ministers has called for immediate action to improve the food ration card system and to work on reforming the social benefits system," said a statement issued by the cabinet's media office.
"The finance minister has been ordered to request parliament to start launching job opportunities to reduce unemployment."
In recent days Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has moved to soothe anger by cutting his pay, reducing electricity bills, buying more sugar for the national food ration programme and diverting money from fighter jets to food. [ID:nLDE71G1MY]
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Fadhel al-Badrani in Falluja and Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by Jim Loney and Serena Chaudhry; editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters

Barcelona beats Bilbao 2-1 in Spain

BARCELONA, Spain (AP): Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Sunday to move five points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table in Spain.
David Villa gave Barcelona the lead in the fourth minute after Dani Alves tapped back a long pass from Xavi Hernandez for the Spain striker to volley home.
Bilbao's Andoni Iraola equalized in the 50th from the penalty spot after Sergio Busquets had fouled Fernando Llorente in the area.
Xavi and Alves linked up again for the Brazil right back to assist Lionel Messi inside the six-yard box for Barcelona's 78th-minute winner.
With the victory, the defending champions laid to rest any doubts about their form after having drawn with Sporting Gijon and lost to Arsenal in the Champions League this past week.
Bilbao had earned a 0-0 draw in its last visit to Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey in January by playing without forwards and putting everyone behind the ball.
Bilbao manager Joaquin Caparros repeated the same strategy in the first half, with the exception of striker Fernando Llorente alone up front.
With Carles Puyol still recovering from a leg injury, Busquets played alongside Gerard Pique in the middle of Barcelona's defense, while Jose Pinto replaced Victor Valdes in goal as he rested a sore knee.
Both sides were true to their styles early with Barcelona controlling the ball and Bilbao playing deep and looking for the counterattack.
Villa put the hosts ahead early with his 16th goal of the season, but Bilbao held firm and Llorente sent a dangerous cross that Markel Susaeta shot into the side netting in the 11th.
Barcelona continued to dominate possession with Villa hitting the crossbar with a chip shot in the 26th. Even so, Bilbao remained dangerous and Llorente drew a save from Pinto with a header in the 37th.
Caparros sent on forward Gaizka Toquero after the break and ordered his team to press up the pitch.
The tactic soon paid off when a bad pass from Eric Abidal led to Llorente winning the spot kick that leveled the score.
Villa came close to regaining the lead in the 70th, but Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz touched his shot just enough to send it wide.
Messi, much more active after halftime, beat his mark in close to score his league-best 25th goal_ one more than Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Argentina star has 41 goals in all competitions.
Earlier, Villarreal was held to a 1-1 draw by last-place Malaga, Javad Nekounam scored twice in Osasuna's 4-0 win over Espanyol on coach Jose Luis Mendilibar's debut, and Ivan Rakitic gave Sevilla a 1-0 win over Hercules.
Marco Ruben put Villarreal ahead in the 36th minute, but Malaga's Sebastian Fernandez finished off a counterattack led by Jose Rondon to split the points in the 82nd.
"We were playing well, looking for the second goal, but we didn't get it and they waited for their chance and took it," Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido said.
With the draw, Villarreal remained in fourth place, two points behind provincial rival Valencia.
Nekounam gave Osasuna the lead in the 14th minute, heading in a corner delivered by fellow Iran international Masoud Soleimani, and added the second from the penalty spot in the 55th after Espanyol's Aldo Duscher had handled in the area.
Manuel "Lolo" Ortiz made it 3-0 in the 80th, and Fernando Soriano capped the victory in the 88th.
"You dream to win in your debut," Mendilibar said. "But the important thing is the motivation of the players who believe in what they are doing."
Osasuna moved out of the drop zone with the win, while sixth-place Espanyol has lost its last four games.
At Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, Rakitic scored his first goal since joining Sevilla in January when he converted a pass from Alvaro Negredo in the 21st.
Sevilla's first win in four weeks lifted it within three points of the Europa League positions.
Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia scored in injury time to give his team a 1-1 draw at Almeria, and Racing Santander beat Getafe 1-0.
Almeria looked set to convert Pablo Piatti's 49th-minute opener into three points, but Aranzubia headed home a corner right on the final whistle in the 95th to record the first goal scored by a goalkeeper with a header in the history of the Spanish league.
"I did what I see my teammates do," Aranzubia said. "I had come forward other times, but never scored a goal. I am thrilled."
In Madrid, Pablo Pinillos scored the 88th-minute winner for Racing Santander from the penalty spot after Getafe defender Ivan Marcano was sent off for pulling down Giovani Dos Santos with only the keeper to beat.
Mallorca is at Real Sociedad on Monday.

Michael Waltrip triggers 14-car wreck early in Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — We knew that the two-by-two racing would play a significant role in Sunday's Daytona 500. And we knew that Michael Waltrip would have a significant role on the 10th anniversary of his landmark 2001 win. As it turns out, both storylines blended early in the race, with catastrophic effect.
In Lap 29, Michael Waltrip, pushing David Reutimann, got misaligned and spun Reutimann, triggering a wreck that took out literally one-third of the field. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose and feel-good story Brian Keselowski were among those collected in the wreck.
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Coincidentally, Waltrip had spun out Kyle Busch earlier in the race in almost exactly the same way. But in that incident, Busch didn't hit anyone, and was able to get back in the mix with little lost but some sheet metal. Reutimann and the huge pack around him weren't quite so lucky.
"I'm involved in both [spins] and I don't know what I could have done different," Waltrip said afterward. "... I just hate it. I hate it that my cars got tore up and I hate it that you have to be so aggressive so early. Maybe you don't. Probably now you can see that probably waiting around would have been a good idea." 
"It wasn't Mike's fault," Reutimann said.
But others could, and did, take issue with Waltrip.
"The first four, five, six rows, guys are pushing hard to maintain position," Gordon said. "You expect a little more patience further back, and that's not what I'm seeing now. Guys are so adamant about getting with their drafting partner and getting that push and getting up there into that top 6, 8 cars, some guys are getting in such trouble because of it."
The new points system heavily penalizes drivers for poor finishes, and as a result the garage was a whirling nest of duct tape and welding torches as crews worked to get their cars back on the track. Johnson and Biffle were the first out of the garage, while Gordon, Reutimann and Vickers, among many others, could only wait as their crews hammered their cars back into some kind of race-ready shape.  
Waltrip, his day done ("that's a hundred thousand right there," he said ruefully as he looked at his ruined front end), tried to stress the difficulty of this kind of racing. "When people watch and say (in a disappointed voice), 'What's this?' Damn! It's hard," he said. "You're just so focused. You're watching your temperature gauge. You're watching the car in front of you. You're wondering what's ahead. You're wondering what's coming up from behind. There are so many things happening mentally that it's almost impossible to keep up with."
But many fans weren't feeling particularly charitable. Rage at Waltrip boiled over on Twitter and in the Daytona infield. "Hey, Waltrip!" one fan yelled as Waltrip was doing postcrash interviews. "Tell me what time you're leaving so I can get out ahead of you!"
Waltrip made no indication that he heard the fan. But if the fan did decide to depart the race early, he had plenty of disappointed drivers joining him in heading for the exit. 
As he watched crews pounding his car back into shape, Gordon was philosophical. "It's exciting," he shrugged. "I think it's going to be a great finish."

Wisconsin protests continue; counter-demonstrators support governor's bill

Conservatives call for approving Gov. Scott Walker's proposal, which would reduce collective-bargaining rights to aid the budget shortfall.
Conservatives call for approving Gov. Scott Walker's proposal, which would reduce collective-bargaining rights to aid the budget shortfall. (Darren Hauck)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2011

MADISON, WIS. - And on the sixth day, the counter-protesters came.
A clear, cold Saturday saw some of the largest crowds yet descend upon Wisconsin's state capitol to march, chant and shout about Republican Gov. Scott Walker's controversial proposal to trim benefits and curtail collective-bargaining rights for many of the state's unionized workers.
The overwhelming majority of protesters were teachers, students and other public-service workers who spent the better part of a week demonstrating against Walker's bill. But Saturday's throngs included a sizable and vocal collection of tea party activists who arrived to show support for the embattled governor.
"I wanted Scott Walker to know that there are tons of people behind him," said Karen Wartinbee of Oconomowoc, Wis., who carried a sign that read, "Go Scott Go!"
Law enforcement officials ramped up security Saturday, bolstering their ranks with officers from nearby counties to guard against any violent clashes. But the protests remained largely peaceful, if not altogether friendly.
The opposing groups traded ear-splitting chants of "Kill the bill!" and "Pass the bill!" Some demonstrators ended up in nose-to-nose arguments over whether unions were bankrupting the state or protecting its workers. Others simply traded insults and made obscene gestures from a distance.
Walker's bill would force public workers to put 5.8 percent of their wages into the pension system and pay a larger share of their health insurance in addition to curtailing their collective-bargaining rights.
Opponents argue that Walker helped create the budget shortfall by giving away millions in tax breaks to private businesses. Union leaders have offered to make concessions on benefits but have drawn the line at restrictions on their collective-bargaining rights.
Meanwhile, the state's 14 Democratic senators showed no sign of returning from out of state, where they headed last week to stall a vote on the controversial measure. Walker urged them to return in a statement Saturday, saying they "should come back to Wisconsin and do their jobs."
For all the populist feel at the capitol, progressive and conservative political figures have seized on the Wisconsin protests as an opportunity to shape the national debate.
Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, paid a visit to the capitol Friday, as did civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. President Obama's organizing arm was on hand, as was the Services Employees International Union and other national labor groups.
On Saturday, influential conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity, funded in part by billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch, helped to organize the counter-rally at the capitol in support of Walker's proposals.
"He's actually trying to do the right thing and something we believe is responsible government," said Ned Ryun, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and the president of American Majority, a grass-roots political training organization that also helped coordinate Saturday's rally alongside tea party groups across Wisconsin.
By mid-afternoon, neither side had done much to win over the other, and both vowed to return day after day until resolution came.
"Government is too big," said Dane Christiansen, a hardwood-floor refinisher who drove from his home south of Madison. "I voted for Walker to come and cut the budget."
Stacy Smith, a first-grade teacher who was marching with her husband, said, "People are willing to give up the money, but we're not willing to give up our rights." She said she planned to return to protest another day.

North Korea completes second missile site

Models of a North Korean Scud-B missile (C) and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles are seen at the Korean War Memorial Museum in Seoul February 17, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak
SEOUL | Thu Feb 17, 2011 8:44am EST
SEOUL (Reuters) - Satellite images show North Korea has likely completed a second long range missile launchpad, an expert said on Thursday, amid U.S. concerns that Pyongyang's ballistic missile program is fast becoming a direct threat.
The launchpad is more sophisticated than the country's first facility and strikingly similar to a Chinese site, suggesting Beijing's involvement, Tim Brown, an image analyst from military analysis group, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
And he said the reclusive North, which says its missile program is peaceful and intended to put a satellite in orbit, was working on development together with Iran and Pakistan.
The facility at Tongchang-ri is equipped with a 100-ft (30-m) launch tower and is sited near North Korea's northwest border with China, making it more difficult for U.S. intelligence to observe compared to its Musudan-ri launchpad in the east.
The Tongchang-ri site has been under construction for a decade.
Brown, who identified the latest development, said the images were taken about a month ago, and that there were no signs of an imminent test launch. He said it would take weeks, possibly months, to put a rocket on the launchpad.
A South Korean government official also said there were no signs the North was preparing a missile test.
The North is developing the so-called Taepodong-2 missile, with an estimated range of 6,700 km (4,160 miles), but testing so far suggests production of the complete weapon is a long way off.
The North's arsenal already includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets up to 3,000 km (1,860 miles) away, officials say, putting all of Japan and U.S. military bases in Guam at risk.
"Basically this thing is done, and the question is how long it will be before they launch. Then it is matter of what kind of vehicle are they going to launch -- a missile or something for their space program. The answer to that is we just don't know," said Brown. A launch, he said, was likely in months.
He said the site was nowhere near the standard of advanced countries. "But it's as close as a third world country can come to having a first world facility," he said.
Brown said the facility was very similar in design to a Chinese site being monitored. "Either they adopted those design characteristics on their own, or the Chinese were technically advising them and providing assistance."
He said Iran, Pakistan and North Korea were working together on missile and nuclear programs. "We think they all work on different aspects and share and benefit from comparative advantages of each program," said Brown.
The North Korean site is seen as key to Pyongyang's quest to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon across the Pacific.
Experts say they do not believe the North can miniaturize an atomic weapon to place on a missile, but it is trying to develop such a warhead. It needs more nuclear testing to build one.