Saturday, December 31, 2011

Obama Signs Draconian NDAA Intensifying Repression in the US,0,1970762.story

Obama signs defense bill but balks at terrorism provisions

To maintain flexibility, he says, he may not follow requirements that certain suspects be held by the military

By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
6:56 PM PST, December 31, 2011
Reporting from Honolulu

President Obama signed a controversial military funding bill Saturday but vowed to interpret its measures regarding the treatment of detainees in ways that comport with his own judgment on how best to wage the fight against terrorists.

In a signing statement released by the White House, Obama indicated that he might not strictly follow certain requirements spelled out in the new law, saying that "my administration will interpret and implement the provisions … in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded."

He specifically pointed to a provision requiring that certain foreign fighters captured by the U.S. be held in military custody, outside the reach of the civilian law enforcement system. Obama said there might be occasions when "law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat." He said he would waive any military custody requirement if he decided that were the best course.

"Under no circumstances will my administration accept or adhere to a rigid across-the-board requirement for military detention," Obama said.

The new law, the National Defense Authorization Act, provides more than $660 billion for military pay raises, weapon systems, military contracts and funding for the war in Afghanistan.

Obama had threatened a veto at one point if Congress set limitations on his ability to confront terrorists. But White House aides said Saturday that Obama retained the discretion a commander in chief needed to protect the U.S. from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

"The president is going to continue to adhere to the policies that he has held over the last three years, making sure that none of these congressional provisions impede the ability of the counter-terrorism and law enforcement and military professionals who are keeping this country safe," a senior White House aide told reporters Saturday in Hawaii, where the president is vacationing with his family.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the new law aimed to "offer a structure for holding those who would do us harm." McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) said the structure was one "both parties found preferable to the ad hoc course the White House has been on for nearly four years."

As a candidate for office, Obama said he would be judicious in his use of signing statements. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, was criticized for issuing signing statements in which he invoked his executive authority to bypass certain provisions of laws he disliked. Answering a survey by the Boston Globe in 2007, Obama said that "it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end run around provisions designed to foster accountability."

But Obama has made repeated use of signing statements, employing them 18 times in about the first 2 1/2 years of his presidency, according to Politifact, a respected fact-checking service. The White House has said Bush abused this power, but that Obama has invoked it only to raise constitutional concerns about bills passed by Congress.

Obama mentioned a provision in the defense bill that bars the transfer of detainees to foreign countries. Obama said this "hinders the executive's ability to carry out its military, national security and foreign relation activities" in ways that could violate constitutional separation of powers. He said his administration would interpret the law in a fashion that would not crimp his constitutional authority.

The White House also suggested it would not comply with a provision in the bill requiring Obama to send a report to Congress 60 days before sharing classified missile defense information with Russia.

Obama wrote that he wanted to keep Congress "fully informed" of efforts to "cooperate" with Russia on a ballistic missile defense system. But he said that the measure intruded on his "constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs."

Obama wrote that he would treat that and certain other provisions in the law as "nonbinding" should he determine that they "conflict with my constitutional authorities."

The president based his argument partly on his success in combating Al Qaeda. He said he had employed a flexible approach that benefited from minimal congressional interference.

As president, he has chalked up major victories in the effort to destroy Al Qaeda. He ordered the special operations mission that killed Osama bin Laden. And his administration has launched strikes that have wiped out many of Al Qaeda's other leaders.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency After Attacks

December 31, 2011

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency after Attacks

VOA News

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan listened to relatives of Christmas bomb blast's victims when he visited the damaged St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla near the capital Abuja on December 31, 2011

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in areas hard hit by violence blamed on the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.

In an address on state television Saturday, Jonathan said the measure is in force in parts of Yobe and Borno states in the northeast, Plateau state in central Nigeria, and Niger state in the east.

He said a temporary closure of borders in those areas is needed to address security challenges and restore normalcy to the country.

The move came following a series of Christmas Day attacks in northeastern Nigeria, including four that killed about 40 people, most of them Christians.

The violence is blamed on Boko Haram, an Islamist sect that has claimed responsibility for multiple bombings and shootings in the north and in the capital, Abuja. The group's name means "western education is a sin."

The violence is raising fears that the militants are trying to ignite sectarian strife.

The opposition has criticized the Jonathan administration for failing to control Boko Haram.

Nigeria is roughly divided into a mostly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Nigeria in 2011: Not Quite Good for the Oil Industry

Nigeria: Year 2011 - Not Quite Good for the Oil Industry

Hamisu Muhammad
29 December 2011
Nigeria Daily Trust

The year 2011 has been a memorable one in the oil and gas industry. Some of the major activities that dominate discourse are scarcity of some major petroleum products and plan of subsidy removal by government. The following are some of the activities:

January 2011

Year 2011 started with high cost of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or cooking gas.

Some distributors and marketers attributed the scarcity of the product to supply issues with the Nigerian LNG Limited, the major supplier of the product in the country.

Members of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) withdrew their tankers from all fuel depots nationwide to protest high price of diesel, considered as a disincentive to profit needed to maintain and sustain the condition of fuel tankers lifting petroleum products.

Meanwhile, the failure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to pay up N450 billion debt owed the Federation Account has pitched the 36 state governments against the Federal Government.

Same time, price of kerosene soared to N200 per litre in most parts of the country, while stock keeps depleting at many depots and outlets. Oil marketers said NNPC has not supplied the market with kerosene for a year now, which led to the scarcity of the product.

While marketers and transporters decried high cost at which it was sold, between N105 and N110, in 2010, in January 2011, the product was sold at between N130 and N135 per litre at the filling stations across the country.

And Shell executives have insisted they would not pay compensation for up to 2,000 oil spills caused by sabotage. The company has also pledged to appeal a $100 million fine from a Nigerian court for a 40-year-old oil spill.

Government indicated interested to conduct hydrocarbon mapping in its oil exploration plan in the inland basins.

February 2011

In Lagos State, the Environmental and Special Offences Unit uncovered 100 illegal oil wells at Ilashe, a remote community in Oriade Local Council Development Area of the state, the coordinator, Anti-Vandalism team for the unit, Mr Dele Laleye, disclosed.

Within the month also, the Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries resumed operations according to a statement by the spokesman of NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma. However, the company said over 450,000 litres of premium motor spirit (PMS) have been drained from an oil leak site at Isheri.

Shell Nigeria said it shut its offshore Bonga oil field for maintenance.

Within the month, the new Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Executive Secretary, Engineer Goody Chike Egbuji, assumed office.

On the PIB, oil workers called for final consultation before passage because, according to a report, the PIB had no provision for employment transition arrangement for the nationals in the existing joint venture companies as was made in the bill for their counterpart workers in the NNPC.

March 2011

In March, Transparency International in its 2011 report on global oil and gas companies revealed that NNPC is one of the eight most corrupt national oil and gas companies in the world. The report came a the time Shell and other government officials met in London to water down the Petroleum Industry Bill. Sources revealed that a partnership between key functionaries of the Petroleum Ministry, the NNPC and the National Assembly with support from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) have constituted a technical team to review the PIB and produce more friendly version for the international oil companies.

Also, Shell announced that the 225,000 barrels a day capacity Bonga deepwater oil field will remain shut for six weeks for maintenance work, even as the company blamed ineffective law enforcement for the incessant cases of pipeline vandalism and oil theft in the Niger Delta.

In the same month, NNPC, Addax, Maersk sealed a deal to produce 180,000 bpd from new partnership.

The fuel queues returned when NARTO members embarked on strike as a result of the dispute with PPPRA over freight rate increment, but the union later restored service.

President Goodluck Jonathan launched a gas revolution, targeting $25 billion investment, just as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Xenel/ NNPC, Nagarjuna and Chevron was signed.

Shell Nigeria agreed to sell a stake in a Nigerian oil field to two companies in an auction to a venture between Eland Oil & Gas and partners.

In the international circle, the Iranian Oil Minister Masoud Mirkazemi said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will not increase its crude output.

April 2011

In April, the Lagos State Government and NNPC signed MoU on $25 billion refinery and hydrocarbon industrial park after two years of intensive negotiations. While Shell resumed oil output at Nigeria Bonga field; maintenance began on February 28.

May 2011

The month of May began with fuel scarcity which crippled economic activities in Abuja, Kano, Jos, Kaduna and other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the people of Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State dragged SPDC to court following a spill from its Trans-Niger pipelines which destroyed farm lands and fishing.

Nestoil completed an 18 inch by 3.2km Class 600 Gas pipeline NGC-Alaoji project. The contract was awarded by the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), a subsidiary of NNPC on August 31, 2010, with a completion date fixed for February 28, 2011.

Among key tragic events was the Sapele NNPC pipeline fire explosion which killed 20 people. NNPC said the explosion was caused by pipeline vandals.

But on a happy note, in the same month, two major gas supply agreements intended to significantly boost gas supply by 70 per cent to Nigeria's largest power plant, Egbin were signed by the NNPC and its Joint Venture Partners in the upstream.

June 2011

In June, Shell Nigeria shut 3 billion mÂ'/yr (300mn ftÂ' /d) gas capacity because of a leak on a condensate pipeline. The company also said multiple fire incidents on its pipelines affected its plans to meet some contractual obligations for June or July. Shell had planned to deliver more than 240,000 barrels of Bonny Light crude.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke was accused of running the ministry from the comfort of her home but the minister denied the allegations.

The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) accused NNPC of not addressing the problem of scarcity of kerosene, even though the corporation said it has allocated 10,000 metric tonnes of the commodity to the independent marketers to ease scarcity of the product.

July 2011

NNPC said it allocated over 542 million litres of kerosene (DPK) to oil marketers between January and June, in a bid to end kerosene scarcity in the country. The figure is contained in the allocation records made available to newsmen, just as Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Alison-Madueke accused cartels for diverting kerosene abroad which led to the scarcity of the product.

In another development, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) handed down a 14-day ultimatum to government to halt the sale and transfer of oil blocks by Shell failing which it would shut the industry.

Oil workers went ahead to boycott fuel lifting and shut installations, the union set aside another three-day strike for oil and gas workers to withdraw their services in protest against treatment by Shell but after several interventions they called off the strike.

According to a report from Dow Jones News, Shell is losing 100,000 barrels of oil a day to theft in Nigeria. Shell does not see an end to the theft.

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke had expressed hope that oil would be found in commercial quantity in the nation's inland basins.

Total second-quarter profit declined on Libya unrest, but in a bid to boost future output, the company planned to make final investment decisions on the Ichthys ...............LNG project off Australia, Egina in Nigeria, Moho Bilondo in the Republic of Congo and the Shtokman gas field in Russia's Barents Sea by the end of the year.

Shell defended its decision to divest itself of some of its equity in oil concessions in Nigeria's contentious Niger Delta region. SPDC maintains that its divestiture was compliant with laws.

At the same time Shell said it had resumed production on one of its crude oil flow stations in the onshore Niger Delta which was shut down by protesting Nigerian youths earlier in the month.

Iran retained its position as the second-largest producer in the OPEC, despite a recent report that Nigeria moved from the organization's third to second place.

August 2011

The Department of Petroleum Resources, the country's oil industry regulator announced that total crude oil and condensate reserves fell by 4.8 percent to 37.16 billion barrels from 38.76 billion barrels in 2010. Also another report in the months by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the contamination of Ogoniland has indicted Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), concluding that cleaning up the mess could take as long as 30 years. The restoration could entail the world's "most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up" and it is estimated to cost $1 billion.

The Executive Secretary of Petroleum Equalisation Fund, Mrs. Sharon Adefunke Kasali denied any involvement in corrupt practices in running the operations of the agency after being arrested and detained by the EFCC operatives.

Nigeria indicates intention to take $2 billion loan from Japanese companies to fund Brass LNG, the decision followed a meeting between the NNPC and representatives of the Japanese companies on July 27 in Abuja.

The special committee includes finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke. The head of NNPC, Austen Oniwon submitted a forensic audit report on NNPC to the president.

Shell declared a "Force Majeure" on its Bonny Light exports between August 23 and end of October.

The Corporate Affairs Manager of the compnay, to Tony Okonedo said the act was expected to stop about $1.75 billion (N280 billion) revenue. At the same time the company shut down a Nigerian gas plant following a series of pipeline leaks, causing a shortfall in gas supply for electricity generation, but it had restarted operations at its 270 million standard cubic feet per day in Nigeria's Utorogu Gas Plant

September 2011

The Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) unit of the Kaduna Refinery was shut down temporarily for repairs following some faults in the system. The unit is the most important conversion process used in petroleum refineries which convert high-boiling and high-molecular-weight hydrocarbon fractions of petroleum crude oil to petrol, diesel and other products.

The Management team of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) said the company paid N18.6 billion to Nigerian government as tax annually. Shell also confirmed a partial production shutdown of Nigerian Forcados crude due to pipeline leak.

Nigeria's production fell by 80,000 barrels a day to 2.15 million barrels in September from 2.95 million.

The NNPC agreed to pay the N450 billion debt owed the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in 32 installments, with effect from September.

October 2011

Some marketers of bitumen accused the Pipeline Product and Marketing Company (PPMC), an arm of NNPC, of sabotaging the sales and distribution of locally refined bitumen.

Oil and gas production from Shell Nigeria shown a year-on-year decline for the first time in two years according to third-quarter data published by the company. The Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe's largest oil company, said profits doubled to nearly $7 billion in the third quarter because of higher oil prices and one-time gains.

The company recorded net profit of $6.98 billion, up from $3.46 billion in the third quarter of 2010. Revenues rose 33 percent to $127 billion

But the company in Nigeria faced another lawsuit from a Nigerian community accusing it of polluting their lands as a result of oil drilling activities. The suit was been filed in the US.

The NNPC has refuted the statement credited to the Auditor-General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Samuel Orkura, accusing the corporation of not having its reports audited since inception.

The Federal government said it would not remove kerosene subsidy from 2012 budget but that NNPC would need about $4 billion to address the gas pipeline infrastructure deficit by 2015.

The NNPC suspended further deductions from the Federation Account in the name of subsidies for petroleum products which the state governments described as illegal and vehemently objected to.

The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) shut down five power stations in the country as Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) shuts down five gas stations for maintenance.

Shell was accused of fueling human rights abuses in Nigeria by paying huge contracts to armed militants, according to a report published by Platform and a coalition of NGOs.

The Federal Government plans to invest about $2.68 billion in Indonesia to fund the construction of three oil refineries. The Jakarta Post, Indonesian Industry Ministry's Director-General for manufacturing-based industry, Panggah Susanto was quoted by as saying that both countries had agreed to build the refineries but the Nigerian officials denied such agreement.

November 2011

Shell Nigeria awarded a N7.8 billion ($49.9 million) contract to a Nigerian firm, S.C.C Limited, for the manufacture of line pipes, in an effort to boost local production capacity. But its 115,000 barrel-a-day offshore Nigerian EA oil facility was down for planned maintenance that started November 9.

The NNPC GMD, Austin Oniwon said oil earnings was $16.79 billion in January to October compared with the 2011 target of $13.9 billion.

It is within the month that the Oando hi-tech 18-inch's 128 kilometres natural gas transmission pipeline traversing Akwa Ibom and Cross River states was commissioned by the minister of petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.

A private refinery owned by Niger Delta Petroleum Resources Ltd (NDPR), a subsidiary of Niger Delta Exploration and Production Plc, begun operation at Ahaoda East Local Government in River State.

Nigeria lost over one million barrels of crude oil in a transaction between the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), according to an audited report prepared for the Liberian government.

The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has said that over 5,000 cases of willful act of pipeline vandalism were recorded at the end of 2010 nationwide. The Managing Director of Pipeline Product and Marketing Company (PPMC), the marketing and distribution arm of the NNPC, Prince Haruna Momoh said the high rate of vandalism obstructed the supply and distribution of petroleum products both crude and refined during the period in review.

In Abuja and environs many filling stations were empty while the few that had fuel were crowded by desperate motorists. NNPC however attributed the queues to panic buying and assured that it will step up fuel supply to ensure hitch free Christmas.

Shell said it was containing a new oil spill in Nigeria's onshore delta, the latest in a string of leaks from the company's pipelines, which it has blamed on sabotage attacks and oil theft.

Mr. Reginald Chika Stanley was appointed as the new Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and Mr. Osten Oluyemisi Olurunsola as new head of Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR).

An oil block, previously owned by Shell, Total and Eni was taken over by the First Hydrocarbon Nigeria (FHN), owned by Afren, and bought a 45 pct stake in OML 26.

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison- Madueke was alleged to acquired $25 million 'wondrous' home abroad, but the minister rejected the report, which she tagged as malicious.

December 2011

The Senate released names of the beneficiaries of fuel subsidy amounting to a grand total of N3.655 trillion for five years (2006 to 2011). The upper legislative chamber said fuel subsidy has guzzled N1.426 trillion between January and August, even thought the PPPRA faulted the figures.

An oil leak caused a production halt at a Shell facility off Nigeria capable of producing 200,000 barrels per day. The company said "less than 40,000 barrels" have spilled.

The NNPC GMD, Austin Oniwon could not account for 65,000 bpd out of the 445,000 bpd allocation for domestic refining but the corporation faulted the allegation.

Also the corporation blamed the resurfacing of fuel queues in Abuja to incidence of panic buying and indiscriminate hoarding of petroleum products by marketers.

Anti-Emergency Manager Rally Held At Detroit Church

Anti-Emergency Manager Rally Held at Detroit Church

Updated: Friday, 30 Dec 2011, 10:28 PM EST
Published : Friday, 30 Dec 2011, 10:27 PM EST


DETROIT (WJBK) - As Detroit undergoes a review of its financial plans and inches closer to having the state bring in an emergency manager, a group of concerned citizens got together Friday to say no way.

In a small church on Detroit's east side, a movement is gaining strength one person at a time.

"United we can do anything. That's been proven historically, so if we just get together and put aside personality and put forth progress, we can do anything," said Jimmy Rutherford.

They joined together in the name of Kwanza, but their focus is on something else -- keeping the City of Detroit out of the hands of an emergency manager.

"Tonight's purpose is to stand up against dictatorship, against fascism. The financial manager law is unconstitutional. It's unlawful," said Minister Malik Shabazz.

"It's unfair because it takes away our voting rights," said Detroit resident Wanda Redmond.

Detroit is one of the oldest cities of the Midwest, but it's currently struggling to turn around a $200 million budget shortfall.

Shabazz is working to motivate citizens to fight the governor's power to assign an emergency manager. He believes Detroit can succeed in getting the law overturned, even when others have failed.

"We're not going to allow the hands of the human rights clock or the civil rights clock to be turned backwards," Shabazz said. "They keep taking and taking and taking from Detroit. Why not leave us alone. That's all we want. Leave us alone and let us govern ourselves."

The governor has assigned a ten person review team to go ahead and look further into Detroit's finances. They're expected to get started in January.

You can expect in the coming weeks a lot more people will be getting behind the protest to stop the emergency manager law. It remains to see if they can be successful.

Egypt Islamic Party to Protect Churches

Egypt Islamic party to protect churches

Fri Dec 30, 2011 7:21PM GMT

A Coptic Christian church in Egypt (file photo)
Egypt's largest Islamic group has vowed to protect churches during celebrations of Christmas in a gesture of reassurance to the country's Christian minority.

The influential Muslim Brotherhood said on Thursday that it would form human shields to protect the Coptic Orthodox Christians at Christmas.

“We have decided to form Muslim Brotherhood committees to protect the churches so that the hands of sin do not ruin the festivities like they did several times under the old regime,” the group said in a statement.

It also urged the ruling military council, which took power following a popular revolution toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, to help secure the churches.

"We call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the police to protect the churches in the same way they protected polling stations during the elections," the party said.

The remarks come after the Muslim Brotherhood made unprecedented gains in the first two rounds of Egypt's parliamentary elections, the first general elections since Mubarak's ouster.

Last January, 23 people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

Egypt's Christians accused the Mubarak regime of not providing enough security for them and their places of worship.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Israel Bombs Gaza City; One Reported Killed

Israel says it killed senior jihadist in Gaza strike

AFP | Dec 31, 2011, 01.26AM IST

GAZA CITY: Israel said its warplanes killed a senior jihadist militant in the Gaza Strip today, two days after saying it was weighing a wider campaign to stem an increase in rocket fire from the territory.

Israel's military identified the man killed as a "senior operative in the global jihad movement" who was suspected of involvement in planning an attack from Egypt.

Palestinians said that Moamen Abu Daff, a member of the Jund Ansar al-Sunna, a small jihadist faction that follows the hardline Salafist brand of Islam, was killed in a raid east of Gaza City that also wounded another man.

There were no banners or flags at his funeral later today and no political speeches were made or slogans chanted by the group of about 100 mourners, although the men present wore the full beards typical of Salafists.

The Israeli military said the strike targeted a group of men preparing to fire a rocket into Israel. Palestinian witnesses said they saw militants in the area immediately before the strike.

"Aircraft targeted a terrorist squad that was identified moments before firing rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip. A hit was confirmed, thwarting the rocket fire attempt," a military statement said.

"The aforementioned squad is responsible for the firing of rockets at Israel in the past number of days," it added.

Israeli military sources said on condition of anonymity that Abu Daff "was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week."

On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes struck twice at what the military called "global jihad" targets in Gaza, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding 10.

Palestinians said the man killed in that strike was also a Jund Ansar al-Sunna member.

Salafist groups in Gaza -- which claim to have several hundred militants under their command -- reject a tacit truce reached between Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas and Israel through Egyptian mediation after a flurry of violence earlier this year.

The hardliners accuse Hamas of going soft on both Israel and the enforcement of Islamic sharia law. The Gaza security forces have not been able to prevent sporadic but persistent rocket fire into Israel.

Jamaica News Bulletin: PNP Dominates Elections, Returning Portia Simpson Miller to Power

Jamaica's opposition party dominates elections

The Associated Press
Updated: Thu. Dec. 29 2011 10:32 PM ET

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Orange-clad supporters of Jamaica's opposition party claimed victory in elections Thursday, a win that would bring the country's first female prime minister back to office for a second time.

It marks a dramatic political comeback for the 66-year-old Portia Simpson Miller, a former prime minister beloved by supporters for her folksy, plain-spoken style.

"Based on the margins, it appears safe to say" that Simpson Miller's party won, Election Director Orrette Fisher said, referring to preliminary results.

Jamaican newspapers and broadcasters called the election for her slightly left-leaning political faction. But Fisher said he is still waiting for all electoral officers to report so a breakdown of the 63 parliamentary seats was not immediately ready. He expected his office to release the official count on Saturday.

The campaign manager for Prime Minister Andrew Holness conceded defeat late Thursday.

"Everything we saw on the campaign trail suggested we would win. We have not won," Karl Samuda told Jamaican broadcaster TVJ. "The people have spoken."

Simpson Miller was Jamaica's first female prime minister in 2006 but was tossed out of office a year later in a narrow election defeat.

She was expected to address backers shortly at party headquarters in Kingston, where more than a thousand visibly elated partisans decked out in the party's colour of orange swayed to reggae tunes and clapped hands.

"The people of Jamaica will have something to smile about tonight," Simpson Miller said Thursday afternoon as the island's roughly 6,600 polling stations closed.

Her rival was the 39-year-old Holness, Jamaica's youngest leader.

Holness, who became prime minister two months ago after Bruce Golding, Jamaica's leader since 2007, abruptly stepped down in October amid anemic public backing, won his parliamentary seat with 54 per cent of the vote. He did not immediately comment.

Political commentator Patrick Bailey said Holness, who was a respected education minister before becoming prime minister, shouldn't be blamed for the loss.

"In fact, he is the one who made it competitive for the JLP," Bailey said.

Simpson Miller has been a stalwart of the People's National Party since the 1970s. She paints herself as a champion of the poor and was first elected to Parliament in 1976 and became a Cabinet member in 1989.

She became Jamaica's first female prime minister in March 2006 after she was picked by party delegates when P.J. Patterson retired as leader.

Partisans have long admired Simpson Miller as a Jamaican who was born in rural poverty and grew up in a Kingston ghetto, not far from the crumbling concrete jungle made famous by Bob Marley. Also referred to as "Sista P" and "Comrade Leader," she is known for her folksy style.

During her brief tenure as prime minister, her support waned amid complaints she responded poorly to Hurricane Dean and was evasive about a scandal regarding a Dutch oil trading firm's $460,000 payment to her political party leading up to 2007 elections.

After she was defeated in 2007 elections, she remained leader of the People's National Party, setting the stage for a political comeback.

The two top candidates' different styles were clear while they cast their votes.

Holness is largely seen as unexciting, but bright and pragmatic. He whisked into the voting centre in the middle class area of Mona, barely interacting with voters. After being heckled by an opposition partisan, he said he was "very confident" of a Labor victory and departed after quickly taking three questions from reporters.

By contrast, the 66-year-old Simpson Miller, who had been the country's first female prime minister, hugged and chatted with supporters at a school in Whitfield Town, most of them clad in the party's orange.

She has inspired some hope for a struggling nation fed up with chronic hard times.

"She cares about the ghetto people," said Trishette Bond, a twenty-something resident of gritty Trench Town who wore an orange shirt and a bright orange wig to show her allegiance to the People's National Party.

But her party will face deep economic problems in this island of 2.8 million people, with a punishing debt of roughly $18.6 billion, or 130 per cent of gross domestic product. That's a rate about 10 percentage points higher than debt-troubled Italy's.

Veteran opposition lawmaker Omar Davies said one of the first things the People's National Party will do is get "a true assessment of the state of the economy," a dig at Holness' party which suffered from concerns that they rarely provided citizens with a clear picture of the island's dire fiscal straits.

Jamaica began self-rule in 1944 and became independent within the British Commonwealth in 1962.

Voting ends in hard-fought Jamaica general election

Thu, Dec 29 2011
By Horace Helps

KINGSTON, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Voting ended in Jamaica on Thursday as Prime Minister Andrew Holness sought a popular mandate to tackle the Caribbean country's deepening economic woes in a closely contested general election.

On the eve of the voting, polls showed Jamaica's two long dominant parties, the governing Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP), running neck-and-neck in parliamentary elections focused on the island's stagnant and debt-ridden economy.

Police and soldiers stood guard at polling stations across the country throughout the day. Jamaica has a history of election violence but the run-up to the vote was one of its most peaceful in years.

Holness, a 39-year-old former education minister, was hoping to keep the center-right JLP in power for a second consecutive term.

The country's youngest-ever prime minister, he took office in October after the governing party suffered a blow when his predecessor surprisingly resigned.

The PNP is led by Portia Simpson Miller, a former prime minister who became Jamaica's first female leader in 2006 and has vowed to make Holness one of the shortest-serving premiers in the island nation's history.

The winner of the election will face the stiff challenge of re-invigorating the economy in one of the world's most indebted countries.

Polls closed at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica was expected to announce the winning party, based on preliminary official results, sometime before midnight. There were no reports of any serious voting irregularities or violence marring the election.

Initial reports from election monitors said less than half of Jamaica's 1.6 million eligible voters had cast ballots in the race, which was held against a grim economic backdrop.

Although one of the Caribbean's more developed economies, Jamaica is saddled with a public debt load now totaling more than 120 percent of its gross domestic product.


The country's burdensome debt has proved a drag on the economy, which is dependent on tourism and has failed to grow in the past four years, sputtering since the JLP took power.

Unemployment has risen from 9.8 percent in 2007 to 12.9 percent.

Devon Jameson, a 31-year-old accountant, said the struggling economy led him to vote for the opposition.

"The JLP has wrecked this country with its poor economic policies," he said. "Our national debt is growing, unemployment is rising and poverty is getting worse."

Analysts say the new government likely will be forced to implement unpopular austerity measures, including possible layoffs of state workers, in an effort to shore up the economy after it received a $1.27 billion lifeline from the International Monetary Fund last year.

Holness pledged on the campaign trail to spur the economy by attracting private investment to infrastructure projects. He also said the ruling party had successfully reduced crime in the reggae-crazed country, long plagued by criminal gangs, or so-called posses.

Simpson Miller vowed if elected to appeal to the IMF to extend the period Jamaica has to repay any loans to give authorities more leeway to jump-start the economy.

She voiced confidence her party would triumph as she voted at a school in the capital of Kingston. "I feel a wind of change blowing across Jamaica," Simpson Miller told reporters.

The election comes a year earlier than originally scheduled. Worried about the global economic outlook and its implications for Jamaica, Holness called the vote in early December only weeks after being sworn in as prime minister.

Holness was chosen by JLP lawmakers after former Prime Minister Bruce Golding resigned over fallout from his handling of a U.S. request for the extradition of a notorious Jamaican gang leader.

After initially fighting Christopher "Dudus" Coke's extradition to New York on drug-trafficking charges, Golding's administration bowed to U.S. pressure in May 2010 and sent police and the military into Kingston's slums to take him into custody.

Seventy-six people died in ensuing gun battles between government forces and supporters of Coke, once a strong JLP supporter who wielded powerful influence in the slums.

If Holness and the JLP lose the election, it would mark the first time Jamaicans voted out an incumbent government after only one term.

A defeat also would make Holness one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in Jamaican history. That record would still be held by Donald Sangster, who took office in February
1967 but died of illness less than two months later.

(Writing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett to be Honored With Sculpture in Chicago

Ida B. Wells to be honored with sculpture in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) -- For six decades, civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells was woven into the fabric of Chicago's South Side as the namesake of a public housing project.

A Rosa Parks-like figure during her era, the journalist and suffragist was so revered that 1930s leaders put her name on a project that promised good, affordable housing for working class families. Within a few decades, however, the homes deteriorated, growing more violent and becoming riddled with gangs and drugs -- not as notorious as the city's Cabrini-Green public housing high rises or Robert Taylor Homes, but certainly not a monument to Wells' legacy.

Then, nearly a decade ago, the city tore the Wells housing project down, leaving the activist's great-granddaughter Michelle Duster and her family worried Wells wouldn't be remembered at all.

Now, to mark the 150th anniversary of Wells' birth in 2012, an effort is under way to build a sculpture to honor her legacy at the site of the housing development and renew her relevance for future generations.

"When the housing project was coming down we were like 'Her name is going to be gone,'" Duster said, sitting in her South Side home, a portrait of her great-grandmother hanging on the wall. "Her name and what she did can't be lost with the housing project."

The Ida B. Wells Commemorative Art Committee is seeking $300,000 in donations after commissioning noted Chicago artist Richard Hunt to create the sculpture, which is expected to combine images of Wells with inscriptions of her writings.

While Wells' name endures on a grade school and a professorship in the city, the monument will aim to reflect the full legacy of a woman who was born into slavery in Mississippi and went on to become a well-respected crusader against injustice and outspoken anti-lynching activist.

Orphaned at age 16, Wells was left to support her five siblings. She became a teacher and moved to Memphis, where she sued a railroad because she wasn't allowed to sit in the ladies coach. When she later became a journalist, Wells wrote about that incident and the lynchings of three of her male friends.

Her writings enraged others and led to Wells being forced to leave the South. She kept writing and speaking about lynching across the U.S. and England. She died in 1931 and is buried in Chicago.

Planning for the Ida B. Wells Homes started three years after her death, as a project of the Public Works Administration. The homes opened in 1941 and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the complex, with its 1,662 units -- more than 860 apartments and nearly 800 row houses and garden apartments.

By the 1990s, the housing complex had fallen to drugs and violence. In an infamous 1994 case, two boys, ages 10 and 11, dropped a 5-year-old boy to his death from a vacant 14-floor apartment. The boys were convicted on juvenile murder charges. The same year two neighborhood teenagers produced an award-winning radio documentary "Ghetto Life 101," which aired on National Public Radio.

A year later, prosecutors charged seven people with running a cocaine ring out of the Ida B. Wells Homes that authorities say did such booming business drug buyers lined up 50 at a time.

By 2002, the last buildings were torn down in a nationally watched urban renewal plan initiated by then-Mayor Richard Daley that also targeted other housing projects -- including Cabrini-Green, which saw the last of its high-rises crumble under wrecking balls earlier this year.

As Wells Homes residents focused on finding new places to live, some also requested something be done in tribute to the activist.

"I want people to remember Ida B. Wells the woman, not Ida B. Wells the housing community," her great-granddaughter, Duster, said. "Something should be done to remember who she was. I think who she was as a woman got lost when it was attached to the housing projects."

When the money is raised, that something will be a sculpture in the middle of a large grassy median on 37th Street and Langley Avenue in the historically African-American neighborhood of Bronzeville on the city's South Side.

The site, across the street from a large park, isn't far from the 19th-century stone house where Wells lived from 1919 to 1929. The Ida B. Wells-Barnett House is now a National Historic Landmark.

Hunt envisions a sculpture in his metallic, free-form style that will incorporate images and writings of Wells. He said he hopes to convey "what a courageous and intelligent and committed person that she was."

Carol Adams, president of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African-American History, said the sculpture will be a lasting monument to Wells and a place where people can learn about her influence. The neighborhood is already home to the Ida B. Wells Preparatory Elementary Academy, and Chicago's DePaul University has a professorship named for Wells.

"Her name itself just reverberates through the community," said Adams, who once worked in the Ida B. Wells Homes. "It was her voice, her stance that she took regarding lynching and how she used the media to wage that fight, what that fight meant to us. This was very significant for black people all over the country."

Duster said the sculpture will "have a lot of meaning" for those who lived in the homes named after her.

"I think they will have a huge sense of pride," she said. "Those who lived in Bronzeville when the homes were there, it's a source of pride for our neighborhood. For others it's a sense of pride in the city of Chicago."

Mostly though, she said, remembering her great-grandmother will teach a new generation that one person can make a difference and defy the boundaries of society's expectations based on race, class and gender.

"It's important to speak up when you feel you've experienced something not fair," Duster said. "Don't wait for somebody else to say something. That's one thing Ida did that I think is a legacy. She used her voice and talents to raise consciousness."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guinea-Bissau News Bulletin: Military Arrest 25 Soldiers In Coup Plot

Bissau nabs 25 soldiers over coup plot

Fri Dec 30, 2011 2:39AM GMT

Guinea-Bissau has captured twenty-five renegade soldiers who were allegedly involved in a coup plot against the government, a report says.

The country's military announced on Thursday that a large cache of arms had also been seized at the homes of two soldiers arrested for participating in Monday's attack on army headquarters.

Army chief General Antonio Indjai disclosed on Monday that a coup attempt had been foiled.

Indjai said he was "staggered" by the quantity of arms unearthed.

According to a report, the army captured 30 Kalashnikovs, three rocket-launchers, a machine-gun, six crates of shells, three crates of flamethrowers, eight bulletproof jackets and ammunition in search operations.

The army said it had nabbed navy chief Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto as the "mastermind" of the plot.

However, many call it a wrangle between Indjai and Bubo Na Tchuto who was among 25 detainees paraded before journalists on Thursday.

Bubo Na Tchuto, who is being kept in Mansoa, 60 kilometers north of the capital Bissau, told visiting journalists and human rights activists that he was "in good spirits".

In 1973, the West African country declared its independence from the Portuguese Empire, and in 1974 the country added Bissau to its name to prevent confusion with the Republic of Guinea.

12/28/11 9:47 AM

Bissau: Two dead as troops hunt 'failed coup' suspects

Angola Press

Bissau - The day after Guinea-Bissau said it had foiled a coup attempt, clashes between security forces and alleged mutineers left at least two people dead, army and police sources said Tuesday.

Joint teams of soldiers, police and paramilitary police were hunting suspects in what Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior has said was an attempt Monday morning to launch a coup d'etat, military sources said.

A police commander who had been wanted as a suspect in the rebellion was shot dead Tuesday night, a police source said. The previous night a soldier died in a clash with renegade forces, according to an army officer.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the violence in the impoverished country that has a history of coups and army mutinies and has become an illegal drug-trafficking hub.

The latest turmoil in the West African nation started early Monday when renegade forces attacked the army headquarters while President Malam Bacai Sanha was abroad, receiving medical treatment in Paris.

No-one was reported killed in the initial clash, which saw renegade troops seize a cache of weapons, according to the army. Some of the attacking soldiers said the unrest was over a pay dispute.

The army chief later said the navy chief Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, previously accused of coup plans and of links to the drugs trade had been arrested as the "mastermind" of the coup attempt.

Guinea Bissau Navy Chief Accused of Coup Attempt

Monday, December 26th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Guinea Bissau's top army official says the country's navy chief has been arrested for trying to overthrow the government.

Army General Antonio Indjai says Rear-Admiral Bubo Na Tchuto tried to carry out a military coup early Monday, when rebel soldiers stormed the armed forces headquarters in the capital, Bissau.

Indjai and Tchuto were often at odds as military chiefs in the poor West African country, which is known for its instability and coup attempts.

Witnesses in Bissau sat military factions battled each other in the capital, forcing Prime Minister Carlos Gomes to briefly flee to the Angolan embassy near his home.

Guinea Bissau's general counsel in Angola, Isac Monteiro, confirms the claim to VOA. He says at one point Angolan troops guarding the embassy fired at Guinea Bissau soldiers who were trying to take the prime minister hostage.

General Indjai claims the military has control of the armed forces headquarters and that the “situation is under control.”

Residents report a heavy military presence in the streets of the capital.

Meanwhile, President Malam Bacai Sanha is still out of the country, several weeks after traveling to Paris to undergo a medical procedure for an undisclosed condition.

The president is known to have diabetes and trouble with the hemoglobin levels in his blood.

Mr. Sanha was elected president of the former Portuguese colony in 2009, four months after the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira.

12/28/11 7:59 AM

Angola: Minister highlights engagement in Guinea Bissau's military reforms

Angola Press

Luanda - Angola’s Defence minister, Cândido Pereira Van-Dúnem, on Tuesday in Luanda highlighted the intervention of the Armed Forces (FAA) in 2011, in the reform process of the defence and security system in Guinea Bissau, under the historic brotherhood relations.

Cândido Pereira Van-Dúnem said so at a yearend greetings ceremony with members of his staff, at the Luanda Air Force Base.

He said that FAA's intervention in Guinea-Bissau is part of the implementation programme of the technical/military and security co-operation signed between the two countries, which aims at strengthening security and stability in that country.

Thus, he reiterated the engagement of the Angolan government, led by President José Eduardo dos Santos, in the mentioned process, since it is a desire of Angolans that Guinea Bissau find soon its way to lasting peace, political and military stability.

The ceremony was attended by the FAA's Chief of Staff, general Geraldo Sachipengo "Nunda", commanders of the various fields, national directors, general admirals, among others.

Iran News Update: Steady Eye on Foreign Forces

Iran keeps steady eye on foreign forces

Thu Dec 29, 2011 3:6PM GMT

Iran's Navy launched the massive 10-day Velayat 90 naval exercise on December 24.
A senior Iranian commander says Iran's Navy exercises complete control over the Persian Gulf and is constantly monitoring the activities of trans-regional forces.

“The naval and air forces of Iran's Navy tracked a trans-regional aircraft carrier that left the Persian Gulf area and entered the Sea of Oman,” Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, the Iranian Navy identified and recorded footage and images of a US aircraft carrier in the area where Iran is currently holding its navy military exercises.

Sayyari added that the identification of the US aircraft carrier proves Iran's ability to control the region and monitor every movement.

On Monday, Iran's Navy also repelled a foreign helicopter that had approached the site of the country's naval drills. The aircraft was forced to leave the region following the stern warning of the Iranian forces.

Iran's Navy launched the 10-day Velayat 90 naval exercise on December 24, covering an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Over the past years, Iran has made important breakthroughs in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing important military equipment and systems.

The country has repeatedly clarified that its military might is merely based on the nation's defense doctrine of deterrence and poses no threat to other countries.

'Iran war very dangerous scenario'

Thu Dec 29, 2011 9:54PM GMT

Russia has denounced US and Israeli threats of launching a military action against Iran as “a very dangerous scenario” which could result in a “regional catastrophe.”

Russia will not “accept the proposition that the best way to prevent a war is to start a war,” Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said in an interview with Russia Today on Thursday.

“Our consistent stand, our effort, is going to be targeted at doing whatever we can in order to prevent this scenario of regional catastrophe being carried out in 2012,” he added.

“We do believe that a peaceful solution is possible,” Churkin said, further adding the West should instead direct its efforts towards engaging in negotiations with Tehran to avoid any serious consequences.

Washington and the Tel Aviv regime have repeatedly threatened Tehran with military strikes on the false pretext that Iran's nuclear program may have a covert military diversion.

Tehran has categorically refuted allegations by US-led Western powers, saying that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Iranian officials have vowed to deliver a crushing response to any military strike against the country, warning that any such measure could result in a war that would certainly reach far beyond the Middle East.

Naval drills show Iran military might

Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:22PM GMT

Iranian Navy's hovercraft took part in Velayat 90 naval drills

A senior Iranian lawmaker says Velayat 90 naval drills demonstrate the might and capability of Iran's Navy in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

One of the messages of the Velayat 90 naval drill is that the Persian Gulf's security must be provided by the littoral states without any interference from foreign forces, Chairman of Iran Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi said on Thursday.

Boroujerdi added that peace and security were other messages that Iran tries to convey to regional countries through the naval drills.

“[All] war games launched in the region by Iran's armed forces, including the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the Army, have aimed to send simultaneous messages of peace and security to regional countries,” he said.

Boroujerdi added that maintaining stability and establishing security in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman has been the unchanging policy of Iran's armed forces.

On Saturday, December 24, Iran's Navy launched the 10-day Velayat 90 naval exercise, covering an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Over the past years, Iran has made important breakthroughs in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing important military equipment and systems.

The country has repeatedly made clear that its military might is merely based on the nation's defense doctrine of deterrence and poses no threat to other countries.

Iran bombers pound mock targets

Thu Dec 29, 2011 4:46PM GMT

The bomber planes of Iran's Air Force have successfully hit and destroyed mock enemy targets on land and sea during the sixth day of the Islamic Republic's naval drills.

The bombing operation of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) was aimed at providing a backup for the naval forces and defending shore facilities.

Mock surprise attacks were carried out on the sixth day of the drill to assess the readiness of the participating units.

The Iranian Navy's aircrafts and helicopters are also conducting surveillance and reconnaissance operations during the day to monitor activities of all units in the area of the military exercises.

Iran's Navy launched the massive 10-day “Velayat 90” naval exercise on December 24. The drill covers an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Over the past years, Iran has made important breakthroughs in its defense sector and attained self-sufficiency in producing important military equipment and systems.

The country has repeatedly clarified that its military might is merely based on the nation's defense doctrine of deterrence and poses no threat to other countries.

'Iran Defense Undeterred by US'

'Iran defense undeterred by US say-so'

Thu Dec 29, 2011 11:42AM GMT

A senior Iranian commander says Tehran does not seek Washington's permission to implement Iran's defense strategies in the Persian Gulf.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran asks for no other country's permission for the implementation of its defense strategies,” said Deputy Commander of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Brigadier General Hossein Salami in reaction to Washington's position on Tehran's ability to close the Strait of Hormuz.

On Wednesday, the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet announced it will not “tolerate” any disruption in the Strait of Hormuz after Iran stated its forces are capable of closing the key oil route if necessary.

Brig. Gen. Salami stressed that the US is in no position to give permission to Iran, adding that the history of confrontations between Tehran and Washington have attested to this fact and the Islamic republic has managed to proceed with its strategies in the face of the US pressures.

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway and a strategic energy corridor that leads in and out of the Persian Gulf between Iran and Oman.

Iran has repeatedly warned that in the event of a military attack on the country, it will not hesitate in taking all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty one of which would be to close the strategic oil passage.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, “Iran has total control over the strategic water way,” adding that, “Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces.”

On Tuesday Iran's Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi also warned that not a drop of oil would be allowed to pass through the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed against Iran's oil exports.

Iran's Navy is currently conducting a massive 10-day naval drill, codenamed “Velayat 90”, in an area stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

US Finalizes $30bn Saudi Arms Deal

US finalizes $30bn Saudi arms deal

Thu Dec 29, 2011 11:30PM GMT

The US has formally announced a 30-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia which is set to create around 50,000 job opportunities for Americans grappling with an ailing economy.

The deal had been signed on Saturday in Saudi capital Riyadh but was announced by US officials in Hawaii on Thursday.

According to the agreement, the US will provide the Saudi military with 84 new Boeing F-15SA fighter jets and modernize 70 existing warplanes.

The deal also includes munitions, spare parts, training and maintenance contracts, US officials said.

The jets will be manufactured by the US aviation firm Boeing. The deal will create 50 thousand jobs and have a $3.5 billion annual economic impact in the US, the White House said.

According to senior Pentagon official James Miller, "The F-15SA will have the latest generation of computing power, radar technology, infrared sensors and electronic warfare systems."

The deal is part of a ten-year arms agreement between Washington and Riyadh unveiled in October 2010 and worth a whopping $60 billion.

The announcement came as President Barack Obama, who is currently vacationing in his hometown Honolulu, Hawaii, prepares to accelerate his campaign for another term in office.

About a year ago, the White House gained congressional approval for the arms deal with Riyadh.

The delivery of the whole package will unfold over 15 to 20 years, US defense officials said.

The Obama administration has assured US lawmakers that the military equipment provided under the contract does not constitute a threat against Israel.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is considered vital for the US energy security and the main platform for Washington's political sway in the Middle East.

The US has not yet recovered from an econimic crisis that buffeted the country in 2008. The unemployment rate has been around 9 percent in the past few months and over 49 million people, according to a 2011 report by the Census Bureau, live under poverty line.

US Seeks Options For Syria Intervention

US seeks options for Syria intervention

Thu Dec 29, 2011 6:55PM GMT

The United States has instructed the National Security Council to begin seeking options for Washington's intervention in Syria, especially through the Syrian opposition.

The options for US interference include what American officials have called the “unlikely” option of imposing a no-fly zone over the Arab country.

The process led by US National Security Council Director Steve Simon is expected to involve top members of the State, Defense and Treasury Departments and focus on ways to “aid” the Syrian opposition.

Other possibilities include providing humanitarian aid to rebel forces and establishing a “safe zone” inside Syrian territory, presumably through military means, near the Turkish border.

Establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria would likely involve large-scale attacks on the Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.

The possible resort to military force is believed to indicate the futility of a new round of sanctions the US has slapped against Damascus.

Many people, including a large number of security forces, have been killed in months of deadly unrest across Syria. The unrelenting bout of violence erupted when protests were held against and in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

The Syrian opposition accuses the government of cracking down on anti-government protests. But Damascus blames the ongoing unrest on foreign-backed armed gangs, arguing that army and security personnel have been given clear orders not to harm civilians.

On Wednesday, the head of an Arab League (AL) delegation investigating the unrest in Syria described the situation in the crisis-hit city of Homs as ''reassuring''.

"There were some places where the situation was not good. But there wasn't anything frightening, at least while we were there. Things were calm and there were no clashes," Sudanese General Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi said.

Dabi's remarks disappointed a number of Western countries, who were expecting an anti-Syria report from the AL delegation.

Iran to File Motion in US Court to Unfreeze Funds

Iran to File Motion in U.S. Court to Unfreeze Funds

Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—Iran's central bank is preparing to file a motion in a New York federal court early next year to release nearly $2 billion of its frozen funds at Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank unit, according to attorneys for the Iranian bank.

Tehran's action will mark the latest step in a widening legal struggle for control of the money.

The assets were frozen in 2008 after a group of more than 1,000 victims of international terrorism sought the funds as partial payment for a $2.7 billion legal judgment made against Tehran for its alleged role in the 1983 bombing of a Marine Corps barracks in Beirut that killed 241 servicemen.

A federal judge's decision to freeze the funds from the central bank, known as Bank Markazi, was the largest seizure of Iranian funds outside Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The funds were deposited in Citibank by Luxembourg-based Clearstream Banking SA.

Bank Markazi has emerged as a target in the West's financial war against Iran, which is partly aimed at forcing Tehran to end its production of nuclear fuel.

U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign new legislation that will ban any business dealings with Bank Markazi, which conducts the majority of Iran's oil sales. The European Union also is considering blacklisting Bank Markazi, as well as imposing an embargo on all purchases of Iranian energy, in a bid to end Tehran's nuclear program and support for Middle East-based militant groups.

Lawyers representing Bank Markazi are arguing in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York that freezing the Iranian funds is illegal under U.S. law, according to recently unsealed court documents. These lawyers cite the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as safeguarding from seizure by litigants the holdings inside the U.S. of any foreign central bank.

Bank Markazi's counsel plans to file a motion in early February to release the funds on these grounds. "Bank Markazi will show that its property is immune from seizure," said David Lindsey of Chaffetz Lindsey LLP, the law firm representing the Iranian central bank.

Lawyers for the terrorism victims believe the new U.S. legislation blacklisting Bank Markazi will strengthen their case for claiming the funds at Citibank.

The 2008 decision by a New York judge to freeze Bank Markazi's assets used information from the U.S. Treasury Department, according to court documents. Treasury showed Bank Markazi deposited debt instruments with the Luxembourg-based financial-services company Clearstream, which placed the securities in the account at Citibank.

The New York court later ordered that $250 million be released on the grounds it didn't ultimately belong to Iran. But lawyers representing the terrorism victims' families have sued Clearstream and a Rome-based trade bank, Banca UBAE, for allegedly fraudulently covering up Iran's ownership of these funds.

Banca UBAE had been controlled by the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi before his government was overthrown this year.

A spokesman for Banca UBAE in Rome declined to comment.

Clearstream has declined to comment on ongoing litigation. The company said in court filings the money held at its accounts at Citibank was Clearstream's property and not Iran's. Clearstream has argued in the New York court that the nearly $2 billion should be released because the bank was protected by Luxembourg banking laws.

Tensions between the West and Iran have intensified in recent weeks due to the international efforts to target Bank Markazi and Tehran's oil revenues. Senior Iranian officials said this week that Iran's navy would stop the flow of international shipping through the strategic Strait of Hormuz if the oil embargo went through. Roughly 15 million barrels of oil pass through the waterway every day.

On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said his government will support further sanctions against Iran, as long as they exclude oil supplies to Italy's biggest energy company that constitute repayment for work the firm did in the Islamic republic.

"There is strong concern on the advancement of Iran's nuclear program reaching a point of nonreturn and the strategy, which Italy agrees with, is the urgency to strengthen instruments of pressure on Iran," he told a news conference.

Write to Jay Solomon at

DPRK News Update: Millions in Pyongyang Mourn Kim Jong Il; Messages of Condolences From Africa

Millions of Pyongyangites, Servicepersons in Grief Bid Last Farewell to Kim Jong Il along 40-odd km Routes in Snowy December

Korean Central News Agency

Pyongyang, December 28 (KCNA) -- The servicepersons and people bid last farewell to leader Kim Jong Il in heart-rending grief Wednesday.

The streets in Pyongyang were wrapped in great sorrow.

Streets extending 40-odd kilometers were crowded with millions of people who turned out to bid farewell to him.

They included servicepersons, workers, farmers, intellectuals, school youth and children and foreign friends staying in the DPRK were waiting for the historic moment, exposed to snow mourning the great man.

As a motorcade of hearse for Kim Jong Il that left the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace amid the solemn playing of the immortal revolutionary paean "Song of General Kim Jong Il" entered Ryonghung intersection, bitter grief pervaded the street.

The motorcade was led by a car carrying a huge portrait of smiling Kim Jong Il.

Last farewell-bidders broke into tears when his portrait came in sight.

The car with the portrait of Kim Jong Il was followed by a car carrying a huge wreath in the name of Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK.

The hearse for Kim Jong Il slowly advanced.

His bier was bedecked by flowers and his coffin draped in the flag of the WPK.

The hearse was followed by a motorcade carrying the members of the National Funeral Committee.

Officials, workers, farmers, intellectuals and school youth and children bitterly wailed over the loss of the father who died on a running train. He worked heart and soul, having uncomfortable sleep and rice-balls and regarding military posts in the forefront areas and every place where people live as his office.

Bitter grief also pervaded premises in front of the April 25 House of Culture.

People bitterly wept, saying they have never thought of the existence of Pyongyang and socialist Korea without him and crying, please don't go.

As the hearse entered Jonsung Square, men and officers of the three services of the KPA, students of Kim Il Sung Military University, Kim Il Sung Political University and other military and political schools at all levels and students of Mangyongdae Revolutionary School bitterly lamented.

They took off their military caps and bid farewell to the Supreme Commander in humble reverence, feeling painful at the loss of Kim Jong Il who performed undying feats in army-building which would shine long with the invincible might of the elite revolutionary armed forces, the army of the party and the leader.

The streets were full of pledges of loyalty to uphold the leadership of Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the WPK and the Korean people, with arms.

In Mansugyo intersection servicepersons of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces and people's security workers burst into tears, unable to repress bitter grief.

The motorcade headed for Chollima Street through Pothongmun rotary.

An old man sank to the ground and bitterly cried, saying: General, the people are weeping. I want to take our General on my back. Indeed, I want to take on my back the General who is making the forced march.


Not only the elder people but youth and students threw themselves into pavement, unable to repress sorrow.

The hearse slowly entered Tongsong Bridge as if the General in jacket seemed to go anywhere with a broad smile on his face, not hearing the voices of the crying people. The moment the portrait of Kim Jong Il in jacket came in sight, the masses wailed and the routes turned into the sea of weepers.

The motorcade of the hearse threaded its way through Phyongchon intersection in which major industrial establishments are located after passing through high-rise buildings standing like a folding screen.

People's lamentation rocked the heaven and earth as they had to bid last farewell to Kim Jong Il who always made journey to mix with people, saying he feels happiest when he is among the people.

More than 100 000 farewell bidders packed the streets leading from Chungsong Bridge to the entrance to Raknang Bridge.

Working people of all social standings bid last farewell in bitter grief, recollecting with deep emotion the days when they received loving care and trust from the fatherly General.

The hearse threaded past Munsu Street overcome with grief amid the solemn playing of a dirge by the military band.

People who were paying last respects to Kim Jong Il in the plaza of the Party Founding Memorial Tower felt their hearts breaking apart.

The motorcade crossed Okryu Bridge and entered Kim Il Sung Square that turned into a sea of weepers and wailers.

The square was packed with masses and reviewing stands were crowded with deputies to the Supreme People's Assembly, labor heroes, men and officers of the KPA and the Korean People's Internal Security Forces, men of meritorious service and officials of ministries and national institutions gave rein to emotion, looking up to the portrait of tender-hearted Kim Jong Il with smile on his face. Foreign friends also expressed deep condolences with great grief at the loss of the great teacher of mankind.

A huge crowd of people of all social standings greeted his bier in bitter grief in front of the Pyongyang Grand Theatre.

Wailing of people greeting and sending off the hearse in tears seemed to shake the land.

The motorcade rolled down at the foot of Moran Hill trembling in bitter tears of grief shed by tens of thousands of farewell-bidders.

The plaza of the Arch of Triumph was another sea of weepers and wailers.

Seeing the portrait of Kim Jong Il in jacket, people hardened their determination to build at an early date on this land a thriving nation where the desire of Kim Il Sung and the ideal of Kim Jong Il come true.

While the crowds evinced their firm pledges, the motorcade slowly rolled toward the Kumsusan Memorial Palace through the Friendship Tower and the Ryonghung intersection.

During his lifetime Kim Jong Il, wishing a bright future of the country being confident of the steady continuity to the Juche cause, said: As there is General Kim Jong Un, the future of the country and the nation is in safe hands.

Kim Jong Un Visits Bier of Kim Jong Il

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- Kim Jong Un, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea and supreme leader of the party, state and army, Tuesday visited again the bier of leader Kim Jong Il and expressed profound condolences.

Overcome with the bitterest grief, Kim Jong Un, together with senior officials of the party, state and armed forces organs, paid silent tribute to his bier, praying for his immortality, and looked round it.

Standing vigil by the side of the bier, Kim Jong Un greeted people of different social standings including representatives of various provinces visiting there to express condolences over his demise.

The hearts of the participants were filled with the firm resolution to unite closer around Kim Jong Un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche and supreme leader of the party, state and army, and live and struggle as human beings of faith that they will believe and follow him only in any adversity.

Among the mourners were senior officials of the party, state and armed forces organs Kim Yong Nam, Choe Yong Rim, Ri Yong Ho, Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Yong Chun, Jon Pyong Ho, Kim Kuk Thae, Kim Ki Nam, Choe Thae Bok, Yang Hyong Sop, Ri Yong Mu, O Kuk Ryol, Kang Sok Ju, Pyon Yong Rip, Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Gak, Kim Yang Gon, Kim Yong Il, Pak To Chun, Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Rak Hui, Thae Jong Su, Kim Phyong Hae, Mun Kyong Dok, Ju Kyu Chang, U Tong Chuk and Kim Chang Sop.

Papers Call for Glorifying Kim Jong Il's Feats for Building Socialist Power

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- Papers of the DPRK Tuesday, in editorials dedicated to its Socialist Constitution Day, call on all the people to eternally glorify the feats performed by leader Kim Jong Il in building a socialist power.

President Kim Il Sung enacted the Socialist Constitution on Dec. 27, Juche 61 (1972).

This provided a legal guarantee for steadily consolidating and developing Korean-style socialism and helped the Korean people dynamically advance the revolution and construction with the powerful weapon for prosperity of the Republic, Rodong Sinmun says, adding:

Kim Jong Il called the Socialist Constitution Kim Il Sung Constitution and made sure that the constitution specified Kim Il Sung as the eternal President of the DPRK. And he had energetically led the work to advance the revolution and construction only in keeping with the idea and intention of the President.

Under his leadership the revolutionary character of Korean-style socialism was reliably defended despite the severe ordeal and trials and the stirring reality was brought in which the ideals of the people are translated into practice.

Kim Jong Il formulated the Songun politics as the powerful political method under socialism and established the Korean-style state machinery with the National Defence Commission as its backbone. Through their practical experience, the Korean army and people have keenly felt how just such steps were.

Now standing in the van of the Songun revolution is the dear respected Kim Jong Un who is identical to Kim Jong Il, the paper says, calling on all the people to accelerate the general onward march for prosperity of the country, closely rallied around him.

Minju Joson says that the socialist government of the DPRK will faithfully uphold the leadership of Kim Jong Un and defend and glorify forever Korean-style socialism, the biggest legacy based on patriotism of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Condolatory Messages from Congolese President

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- The dear respected Kim Jong Un received a condolatory message from Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso on Dec. 21.

He in the message said he learnt in a great shock the news that Chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission Kim Jong Il passed away to his regret.

The message said mourning with Kim Jong Un, he, on behalf of the people and the government of Congo and on his own, expresses deepest condolences to him and the friendly Korean people.

Mourning the demise of outstanding man Kim Jong Il in humble reverence, the message expressed deep sympathy to Kim Jong Un.

Condolatory Messages from Egypt's Party Leader

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- The dear respected Kim Jong Un received a message of condolences from Sayed Abdul Al, general secretary of the National Progressive Unionist Party of Egypt, on Dec 22.

The untimely demise of leader Kim Jong Il is a shock to the party and all the people aspiring after socialism, the message said.

It expressed condolences to Kim Jong Un, the great Korean people and the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea on behalf of leader Khaled Mohieddin, Chairman Dr. Rifat Es-Said, leading members of the Central Committee and members of the National Progressive Unionist Party of Egypt.

Condolatory Messages from Congolese Socialist Party

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- The dear respected Kim Jong Un received a condolatory message from the Central Committee of the Congolese Socialist Party on Dec. 22.

The message said:

On behalf of all members of the Congolese Socialist Party, its Central Committee expresses condolences to you on the sudden demise of Comrade Kim Jong Il, the great leader of the Korean people.

The members of the Congolese Socialist Party will continue their mourning until the day of the ceremony of bidding farewell to his bier.

The Congolese Socialist Party and all its members express solidarity with the courageous Korean people and are sharing sorrow with them.

They hope that you, the creditable successor to the great leader Kim Jong Il, will continue to advance the struggle for the country's reunification and peace and register big successes in leading the DPRK.

Wreath from Benin Political Party

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- The New-Emerging Forces Union of Benin sent a wreath to the bier of leader Kim Jong Il in deep mourning over his demise.

The wreath was laid before his bier at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace on Monday.

Wreath from Nigeria's Senior Party Official

Pyongyang, December 27 (KCNA) -- Ex-President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, chairman of the Credit Committee of the People's Democratic Party of Nigeria, sent a wreath to the bier of leader Kim Jong Il, expressing deep sympathy over his demise.

The wreath was laid before the bier of Kim Jong Il at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace on Tuesday.