UAV Technology: Israel Cuts Turkey Off

Growing political hostility between Turkey and Israel has led to the Israeli military cancelling the export permit for UAVs and support services for Turkey. This will cost the firm that sold Turkey Heron UAVs some $90 million. The Israeli military has veto power over any arms exports and in this case believed it was too risky to complete the supplying of Turkey with UAV technology.

Meanwhile, Turkey has a Plan B. Two months ago, four American Predator UAVs, which had long operated in Iraq, were moved to Turkey. There, the American UAVs will be under the control of the Turkish security forces and assist in tracking Kurdish separatist (PKK) rebels. American UAVs based in Iraq had been helping the Turks track the PKK, but with all American forces gone from Iraq, the Turks were happy to give some of the Iraq-based Predators a new home.

Turkey has six Predator and four Reaper UAVs on order but there is a big backlog. Meanwhile, Turkey has been using ten Israeli Heron UAVs. This has been complicated because of growing Turkish hostility towards Israel. The latest accusations are that Israel is assisting the PKK and the Turkish media is having a good time with this sort of thing. After that sort of thing, the Israeli armed forces decided that the Turks could not be trusted. This was not a sudden change of mind. Last year Israeli UAV technicians and instructors were recalled from Turkey, where they were training Turkish troops on how to operate and maintain Israeli Heron UAVs. The Israeli personnel were withdrawn because it was believed they might be attacked.

The Turkish government has become increasingly anti-Israel in the last seven years. The Islamic politicians, who were elected in 2002, adopted an anti-Israel, anti-West attitude and strove to increase their stature in the Islamic world. Actually, the Turks are trying to regain the stature they used to have in the Islamic world. Until 1924, the Sultan of the Turks was the Caliph (technically the leader of all Moslems). But in the 1920s, Turkey turned itself into a secular state. Although Turkey became a major economic power in the Middle East, with one of the best educated populations, it was still hobbled by corruption and mismanagement. The current Islamic politicians promised to attack the corruption (which they have) and return religion to a central place in Turkish culture (in progress). This has upset a lot of secular Turks. But the Islamic politicians have made it fashionable to hate Israel.

The Turks ordered ten Herons seven years ago but delivery was delayed because of problems with the Turkish made sensor package. Meanwhile, the Turks were still fighting Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq and really needed those UAVs. Four years ago, the Israeli manufacturer made an interim deal to supply Israeli (without the Turkish sensors) Herons, along with support personnel, on a $10 million lease. But now those Herons are inoperable and the Turks have turned to locally made IHA UAVs, which are much less effective.

The Heron Shoval UAVs are very similar to the American Predator A (or MQ-1). The Shoval weighs about the same (1.2 tons) and has the same endurance (40 hours). Shoval has a slightly higher ceiling (9,600 meters/30,000 feet, versus 25,000 feet) and software which allows it to automatically take off, carry out a mission, and land automatically. Not all American large UAVs can do this. Both Predator and Shoval cost about the same ($5 million), although the Israelis are willing to be flexible on price. The Shoval does have a larger wingspan (16.5 meters/51 feet) than the Predator (13.2 meters/41 feet) and a payload of about 137 kg (300 pounds).

StrategyPage

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS

Turkey urges Belgium to investigate fire that killed Turkish woman

Relatives carry coffin of Tuba Küçüksarı Elçi, 25, who was killed in a fire in Belgium, during a funeral in her hometown Kayseri on Dec. 29, 2011. (Photo: Cihan)

Turkey urged Belgium on Thursday to investigate possible wrongdoings by authorities in a fire that killed a Turkish national and severely injured three others, including two children.

The fire took place in a flat in Vilvoorde, near Brussels, on Dec. 25. Tuba Küçüksarı Elçi (26) died after she and her husband, Ramazan Elçi (26), together with their 2-year-old daughter Sıla and 40-day-old son Talha, jumped out of the window to escape from the flames. Ramazan Elçi was severely injured from the fall while the two children reportedly have high chances of survival.

The fire caused outrage among Turkish immigrants living in the area, who said firefighters did not arrive in time to extinguish the flames, leaving the couple with no choice but to jump. Residents said they had called the fire department to report the fire but dispatch officials hung up the phone because none of the callers could speak Flemish.

The fire reportedly began from the floor below when the couple was asleep. A Polish family living in the flat where the fire began was not at home that night.

“We deeply regret the fact that a Turkish national was killed and three others, including two children, were severely injured in the fire,” a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. It noted that the Turkish embassy and consulate were closely following the case and urged Belgian authorities to shed light on the incident, “particularly with regard to allegations concerning the circumstances behind it,” and on the “reason why the fire began.”

TZ

Europe on edge after racist attacks in Belgium and Italy

Recent deadly attacks shake Italy and Belgium. A lone gunman kills four in the city center of Liege while a far-right author shoots dead two Senegalese in Florence. Motives behind attacks have not been uncovered yet.

A woman leaves a stuffed animal in a destroyed bus shelter, one of the targets of the Dec. 13 shooting in Liege. Senegalese immigrants (inset) react after an Italian man with right-wing views opened fire in Florence. AFP photo
A woman leaves a stuffed animal in a destroyed bus shelter, one of the targets of the Dec. 13 shooting in Liege. Senegalese immigrants (inset) react after an Italian man with right-wing views opened fire in Florence. AFP photo

A lone gunman went on a killing spree in Liege, Belgium, shooting dead four people and injuring more than 120 before committing suicide, prosecutors said yesterday.

“Nordine Amrani committed suicide with a bullet to the head,” said prosecutor Daniele Reynders at a press conference. “The coroner said he shot himself in the forehead. He left no message to explain his act.”

The statement cleared speculation that the 33-year-old with a long criminal record may have died accidentally when a fourth grenade he was carrying exploded. Officials found 10 firearms and 9,500 gun parts along with 2,800 cannabis plants. A 15-year-old, 17-year-old and a 17-month-old baby died in Amrani’s lunch-hour grenade and gun attack on Liege’s central square, packed with Christmas shoppers and children just out of school. Approximately 120 people were injured in the attack, said Interior Minister Joelle Milquet, who left European Union talks and rushed to the scene in Liege.
Earlier yesterday, police also discovered the body of a cleaning woman around 40 years old in a shed he used to hide cannabis plants and illegal weapons. “The woman was found dead with a bullet wound to the head,” Reynders said.

Reynders said 40 people have been treated for psychological trauma. It remained unclear what motivated the attack. After searches of Amrani’s house terrorism could be excluded as the driving force, Reynders said.

He had previously been convicted for drug dealing and illegal arms possession, as well as for holding stolen goods and other crimes, he added.

He walked alone to a busy downtown square and got onto a platform that gave him a clear view of the area below, which was bedecked with a large Christmas tree and was crowded with shoppers. From there, he lobbed three hand grenades toward a nearby bus shelter that serves 1,800 buses a day, the explosions sending shards of glass from the shelter across a wide area. He then opened fire upon the crowd.

Two dead in Florence attack

Florence was also in mourning after a far-right Italian author shot dead two Senegalese men and wounded three others yesterday before killing himself in a daylight shooting spree that prompted outpourings of grief.

Witnesses said they saw the gunman calmly getting out of a car at a street market on Piazza Dalmazia, north of the city center, firing three shots that instantly killed the two Senegalese vendors and seriously wounded a third. The white assailant, identified by authorities as 50-year-old Gianluca Casseri, then moved on to the San Lorenzo market in the center, a popular destination for tourists, where he wounded two more vendors.

Some 200 Senegalese marched through the city in an angry protest after the shootings, shouting “Shame!” and “Racists!” Casseri was also a member of Casa Pound, a right-wing community group that is seen as more intellectual than other far-right organizations.

 

TDN

LIEGE / FLORENCE

December/15/2011

Russia’s Putin rules out new election in marathon show

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed  opposition allegations that fraud had helped his ruling party win a parliamentary election and signaled he would not bow to calls at mass protests for the poll to be rerun.
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

In his annual televised call-in question-and-answer session he brushed off the importance of the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule and, while holding out the prospect of relaxing his tight control on the political system, ignored most of the protesters’ demands.

Reaction on the social network Twitter suggested Putin came across as out of touch and, dressed in a suit and tie at a large desk as he took questions by phone and from a studio audience, he looked less at ease than in previous years. “From my point of view, the result of the [parliamentary] election undoubtedly reflects public opinion in the country,” Putin said in the show, which was broadcast live to the nation and was still going after more than three hours. “As for the fact that the ruling force, United Russia, lost some ground, there is also nothing unusual about this. Listen, we have gone through a very difficult period of crisis, and look at what is happening in other countries.”

The former KGB spy presented himself as a reasonable, even-handed national leader during the call-in, which was intended to boost his popularity from a low ebb since he announced plans to reclaim the presidency in an election next March.

The organizers of rallies which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets on Saturday over the allegations of electoral fraud want the Dec. 4 poll rerun, the election commission head dismissed, opposition parties registered and “political prisoners” freed. Putin hinted at liberalizing the political system by letting regional governors be popularly elected — through only after approval by the president — and suggested legislation might be changed to allow small opposition parties to be registered. “We can move in this direction,” Putin said in response to a question about a liberal opposition party, whose leaders include former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, which was barred from the election. But he gave no indication he would respond to any of their other main demands and appears to be intent on riding out the protests and hoping they fade, even though another day of protest is planned by the opposition for on Dec. 24. He said demonstrations were “absolutely normal as long as everyone acts within the framework of the law.”

“I saw on people on the TV screens … mostly young people, active and with positions that they expressed clearly,” Putin said. “This makes me happy, and if that is the result of the Putin regime, that’s good — there’s nothing bad about it.”

But at another point, he turned to the journalist hosting the call-in and said: “I’ve had enough of these questions about the elections.”Putin said that at first he thought that the white ribbons which were worn by the protesters a sign of dissent were a sign of an anti-AIDS campaign, and he had mistaken them for condoms. He also alleged students were paid to go to the opposition demonstrations, adding: “They will at least make some money.” The protest organizers had already accused Putin this week of ignoring their demands and his comments went down badly among many people on Twitter.

 

15 December 2011 / REUTERS/AP, MOSCOW

French court finds Chirac guilty of corruption

A French court found former President Jacques Chirac guilty in a historic verdict Thursday of embezzling public funds to illegally finance the conservative party he long led, and handed him a suspended prison sentence.
Former French President Jacques Chirac arrives at his office in Paris in this June 18, 2007 file picture. (Photo: Reuters)
Former French President Jacques Chirac arrives at his office in Paris in this June 18, 2007 file picture. (Photo: Reuters)

Chirac, a savvy world diplomat and icon of France’s political establishment for decades, is the first former French head of state to face prosecution since the World War II era. But the 79-year-old former leader did not take part in the trial, after doctors determined that he suffers severe memory lapses.

The court said Thursday it had found Chirac guilty in two related cases involving fake jobs created at the RPR party, which he led during his 1977-1995 tenure as Paris mayor. He was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of trust, and illegal conflict of interest.

Chirac repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

He was given a two-year suspended prison sentence, which goes on Chirac’s criminal record but means he does not have to go behind bars. The court said it took into account his age, health and status as a former head of state when determining the sentence.

Unusually, the prosecutor had requested earlier that the case be dropped, saying not enough evidence proved intentional corruption. The court disagreed, saying “his guilt results from long-standing and reiterated practices” of illegal party financing.

“For all those who could have expected a rejection of the case against him, or at least no penalty, the ruling can appear disappointing,” said Chirac lawyer Georges Kiejman. “What I hope is that this ruling doesn’t change in any way the deep affection the French feel legitimately for Jacques Chirac.”

“We have to take a step back and read this ruling, we have to speak of course with the main person involved (Chirac), and we will know tonight if he accepts this decision or, on the contrary, he wants – on principle – to appeal. For the moment, it’s impossible to say more,” Kiejman said.

Contacted by The Associated Press, Chirac spokeswoman Benedicte Brissart declined to comment immediately, saying time was needed to go over the legal decision.

Chirac enjoyed immunity from prosecution during his 1995-2007 presidential tenure, during which he led France into the shared euro currency and strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq.

 

15 December 2011 / AP, PARIS

Cyprus austerity strikes shut down airports, ministries

Cyprus government services and airports came to a halt on Thursday as thousands of civil servants went on strike over austerity measures to reduce a bloated fiscal deficit. Thousands of civil servants backed by air traffic controllers are angry over parliament approving on Wednesday a two-year wage freeze in the public sector to avert an EU bailout.

Two passengers prepare their baggage as they await their flight at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Thursday, Dec.15, 2011. AP photo
Two passengers prepare their baggage as they await their flight at Larnaca international airport, Cyprus, Thursday, Dec.15, 2011. AP photo

 

Powerful civil service union Pasydy effectively shut down the government in a 12-hour stoppage beginning at 7:00 am (0500 GMT), while calling on members to boycott weekend municipal elections.

Apart from government services, hospitals were also operating with reduced staff leading to the cancellation of many operations and other appointments, although schools remained open.

President Demetris Christofias had urged Pasydy to call off the strike to no avail. He said the government was determined to see Sunday’s vote go ahead.

Air traffic controllers unhappy with the austerity drive also launched a 12-hour strike from 9:00 am (0700 GMT) on Thursday at the Mediterranean island’s two international airports at Larnaca and Paphos.

Airport authorities said the stoppage would affect some 5,000 passengers and disrupt around 79 flights.

All flights will be affected except for VIP, state, military, hospital, humanitarian, search and rescue, and emergency flights or those facing technical problems.

Employers, hotels and business groups condemned the air traffic strike, saying it would harm the key tourism industry.

The wave of industrial action follows a three-hour stoppage in the wider public sector on Tuesday and a wildcat Pasydy strike on Wednesday.

Trade unions called Tuesday’s strike to show their anger at not being involved in a “social dialogue” when the austerity measures were agreed.

Other measures parliament approved on Wednesday included a rise in value-added tax to 17 percent from 15 percent from March 1, and an emergency sliding-scale tariff imposed on the self-employed and all public and private sector workers earning more than 2,500 euros ($3,245).

Hitherto universal child benefit and student grants will now be income-linked.

The European Union advised Cyprus to pass a tougher austerity budget by December 15 after the European Commission predicted a deficit of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2012 from nearly seven percent this year.

Eurozone Cyprus needs tighter fiscal austerity to bring its bloated deficit below the EU’s three percent ceiling for 2012.

The state budget was expected to be approved by parliament later Thursday despite the industrial action.

 

NICOSIA – Agence France-Presse

December/15/2011

US forces mark end of Iraq mission

US forces formally marked the end of their mission in Iraq with a low-key ceremony near Baghdad on Thursday, after nearly nine years of war that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Troops wait for the arrival of President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama during a Presidential visit to honor troops returning home from Iraq on December 14, 2011 to Fort Bragg, N.C. America is ending its war in Iraq and all U.S. troops are scheduled to be removed from Iraq by December 31. AFP Photo
Troops wait for the arrival of President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama during a Presidential visit to honor troops returning home from Iraq on December 14, 2011 to Fort Bragg, N.C. America is ending its war in Iraq and all U.S. troops are scheduled to be removed from Iraq by December 31. AFP Photo

There are a little more than 4,000 US soldiers in Iraq, but they will depart in the coming days, at which point almost no more American troops will remain in a country where there were once nearly 170,000 personnel on more than 500 bases.

The withdrawal ends a war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American soldiers dead, many more wounded, and 1.75 million Iraqis displaced, after the 2003 US-led invasion unleashed brutal sectarian fighting.

“Your dream of an independent and sovereign Iraq is now reality,” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said at the symbolic flag-lowering ceremony held near Baghdad’s airport.

“Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism and by those who would seek to divide it, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” he said.

But the US “will stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges.” “This is a time for Iraq to look forward. This is an opportunity for Iraq to forge ahead on a path to security and prosperity,” said Panetta.

“And we undertake this transition today reminding Iraq that it has in the United States a committed friend and partner. We owe it to all of the lives that were sacrificed in this war not to fail.” He described the US withdrawal as “nothing short of miraculous” and “one of the most complex logistical undertakings in US military history.” General Lloyd Austin, the commander United States Forces – Iraq (USF-I), cased the colours at the ceremony, rolling the USF-I flag around its pole and covering it with a camouflage bag.

 

He noted that “eight years, eight months and 26 days ago, as the assistant division commander for manoeuvre for the 3rd Infantry Division, I gave the order for the lead elements of the division to cross the border” into Iraq.

“I was here when we originally secured this airfield,” he said.

The ceremony was also attended by US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General James Mattis, the head of the US Central Command, and about 160 US soldiers.

Iraq was represented by military chief of staff Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari and defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari.

“For over 20 years, Iraq has been a defining part of our professional and personal lives,” said Dempsey.

“We will remember you and those that have gone before — what you risked, what you learned, how you sacrificed… and the fallen comrades for whom we all still grieve.” The ceremony comes a day after hundreds of people in Fallujah marked the impending departure of American forces by burning US flags and shouting slogans in support of the “resistance.” Fallujah, a city of about half a million people west of Baghdad, remains deeply scarred by two American military offensives in 2004, the latter of which is considered one of the fiercest for the United States since Vietnam.

Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing Saddam was endangering the world with weapons of mass destruction programmes.

Saddam was ousted from power and later executed, but such arms were never found.

Obama made his political career by opposing the war. In late 2002, he said he was against “dumb wars” such as Iraq, and rode anti-war fervour to the White House by promising to bring troops home.

The war was launched in March 2003 with a massive “shock and awe” campaign, followed by eight-plus years in which a US-led coalition sought not only had to rebuild the Iraqi military from the ground up, but also to establish a new political system.

Iraq now has a parliament and regular elections, and is ruled by a Shiite-led government that replaced Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime.

The pullout, enshrined in a 2008 bilateral pact, is the latest stage in the changing US role in Iraq, from 2003-2004 when American officials ran the country to 2009 when the United Nations mandate ended, and last summer when Washington officially ended combat operations.

 

 

 

BAGHDAD – Agence France-Presse

December/15/2011

Syria army deserters kill 27 soldiers in Deraa: group

Syrian army deserters killed at least 27 soldiers and security force personnel in a series of clashes in the southern province of Deraa at dawn today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

This image from amateur video made available by the Ugarit News group on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, purports to show security forces in Daraa. AP photo
This image from amateur video made available by the Ugarit News group on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, purports to show security forces in Daraa. AP photo

The British-based group said the deserters fought forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in two locations in the city of Deraa itself, as well as a checkpoint at a crossroads about 25 km (15 miles) to the east of the city.

It did not say how the clashes broke out, but the high casualties among security forces suggested coordinated strikes by the army rebels, who have escalated their attacks on military targets in recent weeks.

Rami Abdulrahman of the Observatory said in the fighting near Musayfrah, east of Deraa, all 15 personnel at a joint army and security checkpoint were killed.

The United Nations says 5,000 people have been killed in Assad’s crackdown on protests against his rule which erupted in Deraa nine months ago, inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

The protests have been increasingly overshadowed by the armed insurgency against Assad’s forces. Authorities say armed groups have targeted civilians and security forces since the start of the uprising, killing more than 1,100 soldiers and police.
 

 

TDN

BEIRUT – Reuters

December/15/2011

Russian opposition set for massive rally, tension mounts

Russian authorities are allowing the opposition to hold a massive protest against election fraud, following a violent police crackdown on a series of unsanctioned demonstrations earlier this week, rally organizers said Friday.

The decision to sanction a rally of up to 30,000 on Saturday on a square across the river from the Kremlin appears to be an attempt to avoid the violence that occurred at demonstrations after last Sunday’s parliamentary election.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party won about 50 percent of the vote, barely holding onto its majority in the lower house. But Russia’s opposition parties and observers said that even that result was highly inflated because of vote-rigging, and international monitors also pointed to ballot stuffing.

The post-election protests in Moscow drew thousands and continued for several days in the biggest ever challenge to Putin, reflecting a growing public frustration with his rule that may complicate his bid to reclaim the presidency in March’s vote. The rallies were brutally dispersed by police, who rounded up hundreds of protesters.

The protesters have used the Internet to coordinate their action. Over 30,000 people have already signed up to a Facebook page on Saturday’s protest, and similar rallies are also planned in many cities across Russia to demand an investigation into the alleged vote fraud and call for a new vote.

Ilya Ponomaryov, a lawmaker who is one of the leaders of the Left Front opposition movement, described the protest planned for Saturday as a watershed event similar to massive rallies that helped bring down Communist rule two decades ago.

“We expect it to become the biggest political protest in 20 years,” he said at a news conference.

Putin served two presidential terms from 2000 until 2008, when he shifted into the prime minister’s job to abide by constitutional term limits, but remained the nation’s No. 1 leader. Putin’s decision to swap seats now with his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, has angered many Russians, who fear it will further strengthen authoritarian trends in his policy and lead to political and economic stagnation.

Putin still seems all but certain to win the March election, but he clearly has been taken aback by the tide of public anger. On Thursday, he accused US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of instigating protesters in order to weaken Russia and warned that his government might take an even harder line against those who try to influence Russia’s political process on behalf of a foreign government. Alexander Gorbenko, a deputy mayor of Moscow who has allowed Saturday’s protest, sternly warned its participants Friday that any attempt to hold a march after the rally will be stopped by police.

09 December 2011, Friday / AP, MOSCOW