Thursday, October 10, 2013

Egypt decries US aid freeze, says it's "incorrect"

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 24, 2013, file photo, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, second left, stands with an Egyptian army official before laying a wreath at the tomb of late President Anwar al-Sadat in Cairo. U.S. officials said Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, that the Obama administration is poised to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt. The U.S. has been considering such a move since the Egyptian military ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader in June. (AP Photo/Jim Watson, Pool, File) 
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt on Thursday decried Washington's decision to freeze a sizable chunk of its annual $1.5 billion aid to Egypt, saying the move was wrong and ill-timed.
In Egypt's first public reaction, the Foreign Ministry said the American move raised questions about Washington's commitment to supporting the Arab nation's security goals at a time when it is facing terrorist challenges, a reference to a burgeoning insurgency by Islamic militants, some with al-Qaida links, in the strategic Sinai Peninsula as well as scattered attacks in other parts of the country.
The U.S. announced the freezing of millions of dollars in aid, most of it meant for the armed forces, as a show of displeasure over the military's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies. Washington said the aid would be restored if "credible progress" was made toward setting up an inclusive, democratically elected government.
In its statement, the Foreign Ministry said Cairo was keen to maintain good relations with Washington, but will independently decide its domestic policies. It also said Egypt will work to secure its "vital needs" on national security, a thinly veiled threat that it would shop elsewhere for arms and military hardware.
The suspension is likely to further hike anti-U.S. sentiment in Egypt, fueling a perception that Washington has sided with Morsi and his Brotherhood. The military ousted Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, on July 3 after massive protests by millions demanding his removal and accusing the Islamists of trying to dominate the country.
Since then, neither the military-backed civilian government nor the Brotherhood have shown any sign of compromise. Security forces have arrested more than 2,000 Brotherhood members, hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed in police crackdowns on protests. Morsi himself will go on trial on Nov. 4 on charges he incited his followers to kill protesters during his year in office. The Islamists, in turn, have pushed ahead with protests demanding Morsi's reinstatement in office.
In its announcement Wednesday, the U.S. State Department did not provide a dollar amount of what was being withheld, most of it is linked to military aid, but officials in Washington said the aid being withheld included 10 Apache helicopters at a cost of more than $500 million, M1A1 tank kits and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The U.S. also is withholding $260 million in cash assistance to the government. The U.S. had already suspended the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled biennial U.S.-Egyptian military exercises.
The military gave no immediate comment on the U.S. move, news of which broke too late to be included in Thursday newspapers in Cairo.
One official said authorities were considering retaliatory actions against the United States, including possibly stripping U.S. warships from the preferential treatment in transiting the Suez Canal or curbing the use of the Egyptian air space by U.S. military aircraft.
The partial aid freeze could also boost military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, now the most powerful man in the country after he removed Morsi. He has not ruled out a presidential run next year. In a country where anti-U.S. sentiments run high, mostly over Washington's perceived bias in support of Israel, anyone seen to be standing up to the United States gains in popularity.
El-Sissi, a career, U.S.-trained infantry officer, said in an interview with the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published Wednesday that Egypt would not tolerate pressure, "whether through actions or hints." He said Egypt's relations with the United States are "strategic" and founded on mutual interests.
Egyptian media has for weeks adopted an editorial policy that is mostly hostile to the United States, propagating the assumption that Washington was sad to see Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood lose power and lambasting it for allegedly meddling in Cairo's affairs.
Former U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson has been a primary target for the media's anti-U.S. campaign. She faced accusations of adopting a bias in favor of the Brotherhood and of trying to dissuade military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi from removing Morsi.
"The popular mood does not seem to care" about the aid suspension, said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian scholar who has a dual-Egyptian-U.S. nationality. "As a matter of fact most Egyptians who can speak out feel 'just as well, we would like to end this Catholic marriage with the U.S.,'" he told the Associated Press Television in an interview.
Cairo's close ties with the U.S. date back to the 1970s when Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel. The aid was supposedly Washington's reward for Egypt's commitment to peace after it fought four wars against Israel between 1948 and 1973.
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's toppled autocratic leader, jealously protected and maintained that that close relationship from the time he took office in 1981 and for the next 29 years. One goal of the revolution that toppled him was to end what many Egyptians see as Washington's undue influence over Cairo's policies under Mubarak.
 

Libyan PM freed after stunning abduction

FILE - In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013 file photo, Libyan's Prime Minister Ali Zidan speaks to the media during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco. Zidan was snatched by gunmen before dawn Thursday from a Tripoli hotel where he resides, the government said. The abduction appeared to be in retaliation for the U.S. special forces' raid over the weekend that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect from the streets of the capital. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar) 
 
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan was freed from captivity just hours after gunmen abducted him Thursday at dawn from the hotel where he resides in the capital, Tripoli, according to the state news agency.The brazen abduction — apparently in retaliation for the U.S. special forces' raid over the weekend that seized a Libyan al-Qaida suspect from the streets of Tripoli — reflected the deep chaos and lawlessness gripping Libya.
Government Spokesman Mohammed Kaabar told the LANA new agency that Zidan has been "set free" and was on his way to his office. The brief report gave no further information and details were sketchy, but it appeared Libyan forces had intervened in some way and that the abductors did not free Zidan voluntarily.
A militia commander affiliated with the Interior Ministry told a private Libyan television station that the prime minister was freed when members of a Tripoli-based militia stormed the house where he was held hostage.
Haitham al-Tajouri, commander of the so-called "Reinforcement Force," told Al-Ahrar television that his men exchanged fire with the captors but that Zidan was not hurt.
"He is now safe in a safe place," he said. His account could not be independently verified.
Zidan's abduction reflected the weakness of Libya's government, which is virtually held hostage by powerful militias, many of which are made up of Islamic militants. Militants were angered by the U.S. capture of the suspected militant, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, and accused the government of colluding in or allowing the raid.
In a sign of Libya's chaos, Zidan's seizure was depicted by various sources as either an "arrest" or an abduction — reflecting how interwoven militias are in Libya's fragmented power structure.
With the country's police and army in disarray, many are enlisted to serve in state security agencies, though their loyalty is more to their own commanders than to government officials and they have often intimidated or threatened officials. The militias are rooted in the brigades that fought in the uprising that toppled autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, and are often referred to as "revolutionaries."
On Tuesday, Zidan said the Libyan government had requested that Washington allow al-Libi's family to establish contact with him. Zidan insisted that Libyan citizens should be tried in their homeland if they are accused of crimes, stressing that "Libya does not surrender its sons."
Al-Libi is alleged to be a senior al-Qaida member and is wanted by the United States in connection to the bombing of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, with a $5 million bounty on his head.
Immediately after the raid, the Libyan government issued a statement saying it was carried out without its knowledge and asking Washington for "clarifications" about the operation.
"The U.S. was very helpful to Libya during the revolution and the relations should not be affected by an incident, even if it is a serious one," Zidan told a news conference in Tripoli.
In Brunei, U.N. Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon condemned the abduction and called it a "clear wake-up call" for countries undergoing democratic transitions.
"It would be very important for the Libyan government and its leadership to ensure inclusive dialogue and rehabilitation so that all the people can join the process," Ban said during an Asian summit.
The White House said it was still trying to get details Thursday morning about the incident and was in touch with senior U.S. and Libyan officials on the ground. The U.S. Embassy staff in Tripoli were all safe, it said.

 

Libyan PM freed after being seized over U.S. raid: officials

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Former rebel gunmen freed Libya's prime minister on Thursday after holding him for several hours in reprisal for the capture by U.S. forces at the weekend of a Libyan al Qaeda suspect in Tripoli, officials said.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan speaks at the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York, September …

A Reuters journalist at the scene said protesters had opened fire at the building where Ali Zeidan was being held to demand that the group, which is affiliated with the government, free the premier.
"The prime minister has been released," a government official said. A security source also said Zeidan was free.
Two years after a revolution ended Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule, Libya is in turmoil, with its vulnerable central government and nascent armed forces struggling to contain rival tribal militias and Islamist militants who control parts of the country.
The militia, which had been hired by the government to provide security in Tripoli, said it "arrested" Zeidan after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Libya had a role in the weekend capture in the city of Abu Anas al-Liby.
"His arrest comes after ... (Kerry) said the Libyan government was aware of the operation," a spokesman for the group, known as the Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries, told Reuters.
Before his release, an official in the Interior Ministry anti-crime department told the state news agency that Zeidan, a former diplomat and exile opposition activist against Gaddafi, was being held there and was being treated well.
The Libyan government in a statement confirmed the premier was taken at dawn to "an unknown place for unknown reasons."
The prime minister was taken from the Corinthia Hotel, where many diplomats and top government officials live. It is regarded as one of the most secure places in Tripoli.
The kidnapping, however brief, raised the stakes in the unruly OPEC nation, where the regional factions are also seeking control over its oil wealth, which provides Libya with the vast bulk of government revenues.
Brent oil prices rose on the news.
"Everybody is watching this... We still haven't seen any disruption to supply from Libya, so we don't expect a spike in prices," said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity sales manager at Newedge Japan.
A mix of striking workers, militias and political activists have blocked Libya's oilfields and ports for more than two months, according to Oil Minister Abdelbari Arusi, resulting in over $5 billion of lost revenues.
He said on October 2 that oil exports could return to full capacity in days once the strikes ended.
Repsol and Eni, involved in western Libya, have seen output largely restored since fields reopened last month. But companies invested in eastern Libya are entering a third month of closures at several important export terminals.
Oil companies have become more wary of North Africa after an attack in January on the Amenas gas plant in neighboring Algeria, a top gas supplier to Europe and an oil-producing OPEC member.
UNKNOWN LOCATION
U.S. special forces on Saturday seized Nazih al-Ragye, known by his alias Abu Anas al-Liby - a Libyan suspected in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Liby is being held on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
After Zeidan was seized, the U.S. State Department said it was "in close touch with senior U.S. and Libyan officials on the ground."
The Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries had been affiliated with the Interior Ministry which assigned them to provide security in the capital as part of a program to reintegrate former fighters.
Guards at the hotel said there were no shots fired or clashes during the incident.
Al-Arabiya television channel quoted Libya's justice minister as saying that Zeidan had been "kidnapped" and showed what it said were video stills of Zeidan frowning and wearing a grey shirt undone at the collar surrounded by several men in civilian clothes pressing closely around him.
Zeidan said on Tuesday Libyans accused of crimes should be tried at home, but that the raid to capture Liby would not harm U.S. ties - trying preserve relations with a major ally without provoking a backlash from Islamist militants.
But the raid angered militant groups, including one blamed for the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in 2012, who called for revenge attacks on strategic targets including gas export pipelines, planes and ships, as well as for the kidnappings of Americans in the capital.


US, Vietnam sign nuclear trade agreement

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei (Reuters) - The United States and Vietnam on Thursday signed a pact that would allow the transfer of nuclear technology to the Southeast Asian nation and open the way for U.S. investment in the burgeoning industry, in another sign that Washington is seeking stronger economic and strategic ties in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S.-Vietnam Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement would allow U.S. firms to tap Vietnam's future nuclear power market, although the State Department said the deal will not allow Vietnam to enrich or reprocess U.S.-origin nuclear materials.
"This agreement will create numerous opportunities for our businesses," Kerry told Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh on the sidelines of an Asian summit in Brunei. "Obviously our nuclear cooperation is quite significant."
Vietnam is working with Russia to build its first nuclear plant in 2014 for completion in 2020 in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, as demand for energy grows rapidly in response to economic growth of around 5 percent a year.
It has also signed an agreement with a Japanese consortium to develop a second nuclear power plant in the same province, with two reactors to become operational in 2024-2025.
Vietnam has the second-largest market after China for nuclear power in East Asia, which was expected to grow to $50 billion by 2030, according to Kerry.
The United States has moved to improve economic and security ties with Vietnam, part of its strategic rebalancing towards Asia that some see as a policy to counter China's rising clout. China's assertive claims over the South China Sea have raised tensions with Vietnam, as well as other Southeast Asian nations.
Vietnam's poor human rights record is a major obstacle to closer ties and U.S. labor and human rights groups have urged Obama to suspend free-trade negotiations with Vietnam because of its treatment of workers and government critics.
Analysts say a sharp increase in the past few years in arrests and convictions of government detractors, in particular, bloggers, could complicate the nuclear deal as Congress needs to be convinced Vietnam is changing its tack.
The deal will be submitted to U.S. President Barack Obama for his review before it is sent to Congress for its approval by the end of the year, a U.S. official said.
"Getting to this stage … moves us closer to an expanded civil nuclear cooperation with Vietnam," the official, who briefed reporters in Washington, said.
"Vietnam is actively taking steps now toward development of a robust domestic infrastructure to support a nuclear energy program," the official added.
With Vietnam at an early stage of nuclear development, the official said the agreement provides the basis for U.S. firms to enter the market early as it builds nuclear power plants and for the U.S. government to ensure the proper safeguards.
The U.S. official said the agreement "will also strengthen the Obama administration's long-standing policy of limiting the spread or enrichment and reprocessing capabilities around the world." The deal stems from U.S. President Barack Obama's Prague initiative, a drive for global nuclear security which he launched in his first term.
Asked whether the provisions of the deal would ward off any concern that Vietnam might someday seek nuclear weapons capability, the official said: "That certainly would close off one path toward that."

Woman denied help gives birth on clinic's lawn

In this Oct. 6, 2013 photo, 29-year-old Irma Lopez talks to her children as her newborn son Salvador sleeps on her lap at her home in the town of Jalapa de Diaz, Mexico. A photo of Lopez grimacing in pain during the first moments after giving birth, with her child still bound to her by the umbilical cord, on the lawn of a clinic has gone viral and served as a reminder of the health disparities still affecting many poor women in Mexico without proper access to health care. A nurse kicked Lopez out of the clinic Oct. 2, claiming she was "still not ready" and had to wait for a doctor. (AP Photo/Chema Alvarez) 
 
MEXICO CITY (AP) — An indigenous woman squats in pain after giving birth, her newborn still bound by the umbilical cord and lying on the ground. It's a photograph that horrified Mexicans because of where it took place: the lawn outside a medical clinic where the woman had been denied help, and it struck a nerve in a country where inequity is still pervasive.
The government of the southern state of Oaxaca announced Wednesday that it has suspended the health center's director, Dr. Adrian Cruz, while officials conduct state and federal investigations into the Oct. 2 incident.
The mother, Irma Lopez, 29, told The Associated Press that she and her husband were turned away from the health center by a nurse who said she was only eight months pregnant and "still not ready" to deliver.
The nurse told her to go outside and walk, and said a doctor could check her in the morning, Lopez said. But an hour and a half later, her water broke, and Lopez gave birth to a son, her third child, while grabbing the wall of a house next to the clinic.
"I didn't want to deliver like this. It was so ugly and with so much pain," she said, adding she was alone for the birth because her husband was trying to persuade the nurse to call for help.
A witness took the photo and gave it to a news reporter. It ran in several national newspapers, including the full front page of a tabloid, and was widely circulated on the Internet.
The case illustrated the shortcomings of maternal care in Mexico, where hundreds of women still die during or right after pregnancy. It also pointed to the persistent discrimination against Mexico's indigenous people.
"The photo is giving visibility to a wider structural problem that occurs within indigenous communities: Women are not receiving proper care. They are not being offered quality health services, not even a humane treatment," said Mayra Morales, Oaxaca's representative for the national Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.
The federal Health Department said this week that it has sent staff to investigate what happened at the Rural Health Center of the village of San Felipe Jalapa de Diaz. The National Human Rights Commission also began an investigation after seeing news reports.
Lopez, who is of Mazatec ethnicity, said she and her husband walked an hour to the clinic from the family's one-bedroom hut in the mountains of northern Oaxaca. It would have taken them longer to get to the nearest highway to catch a ride to a hospital. She said that from the births of her two previous children, she knew she didn't have time for that.
Nearly one in five women in the state of Oaxaca gave birth in a place that is not a hospital or a clinic in 2011, according to Mexico's census. Health officials have urged women to go to clinics to deliver their babies, but many women say the operating hours of the rural centers are limited and staffs small. A receptionist at the Rural Health Center told the AP that the doctor in charge was not available to comment about the case.
Although some have praised Mexico for improving its maternal health care, the mortality rate still stands at about 50 deaths per 100,000 births, according to the World Health Organization, similar to Libya, Barbados and Kazakhstan. The U.S. rate is 16 per 100,000.
Oaxaca is one of Mexico's poorest, most rural states and many women have died of hemorrhaging or preeclampsia, a condition causing high blood pressure and possible kidney or liver failure. The Mexican states with the highest indigenous population have the highest rates of maternal deaths, by a wide margin.
Lopez was taken in by the clinic after giving birth and discharged the same day with prescriptions for medications and products that cost her about $30, she said. Health officials say she and her baby were in good health.
She said that poverty-stricken villagers are used to being forgotten by Mexico's health care system and left to fend off for themselves.
"I am naming him Salvador," said Lopez, a name that means "Savior" in English. "He really saved himself."

 

DEMOCRATS TO AMERICA: WE OWN THE GOVERNMENT!


In the current fight over the government shutdown, Republicans are simply representing the views of the American people. Americans didn't ask for Obamacare, they don't want it, but now their insurance premiums are going through the roof, their doctors aren't accepting it, and their employers are moving them into part-time work -- or firing them -- to avoid the law's mandates. Contrary to Obama's promises, it turns out: You can't keep your doctor, you can't keep your insurance -- you can't even keep your job. In other words, it's a typical government program, but this one wrecks your health care. Also, the president did raise taxes on the middle class in defiance of his well-worn campaign promise not to. Indeed, Obamacare is the largest tax hike in U.S. history. Among the other changes effected by this law are: -- Obamacare will allow insurers to charge 50 percent higher premiums for smokers, but prohibits insurers from increasing premiums for those with HIV/AIDS. -- Nationally, Obamacare will increase men's individual insurance premiums by an average of 99 percent and women's by 62 percent. In North Carolina, for example, individual insurance premiums will triple for women and quadruple for men. -- Health plans valued at $27,500 or more for a family of four will be taxed at a rate of 40 percent. -- No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare. -- A 62-year-old man earning $46,000 a year is entitled to a $7,836 government tax credit to buy health insurance. But if he earns an extra $22 in income, he loses the entire $7,836 credit. He will have more take-home pay by earning $46,000 than if he earns $55,000. (If he's lucky, he already works for one of the companies forced by Obamacare to reduce employees' hours!) -- Merely to be eligible for millions of dollars in grants from the federal government under Obamacare, education and training programs are required to meet racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic and sexual orientation quotas. That's going to make health care MUCH better! -- Obamacare is turning America into a part-time nation. According to a recent report by economist John Lott, 97 percent of all jobs added to the economy so far this year have been part-time jobs. Ninety-seven percent! -- Obamacare is such a disaster that the people who wrote it refuse to live under it themselves. That's right, Congress won a waiver from Obamacare. Responding to the people's will, House Republicans first voted to fund all of government -- except Obamacare. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it. Then the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but merely delay the implementation of Obamacare for one year. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it. Finally, the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but added a requirement that everyone live under Obamacare. No more special waivers for Congress and their staff, and no waivers for big business without the same waivers for individuals. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it. So as you can see, Republicans are the big holdup here. A longtime Democratic operative, Karen Finney, explained the Democrats' intransigence on MSNBC to a delighted Joan Walsh (aka the most easily fooled person on TV) by comparing House Republicans to a teenager trying to borrow his mother's car. "No, I'm not negotiating!" Mother says. "It's MY CAR!" This wasn't a stupid slip of the tongue that other Democrats quickly rejected. Finney had used the exact same metaphor to a panel of highly agreeable MSNBC guests the day before. (MSNBC books no other kind of guest.) The left thinks the government is their car and the people's representatives are obstreperous teenagers trying to borrow the government. Which belongs to Democrats. That's not how the Constitution views the House of Representatives. To the contrary, the House is considered most reflective of the people's will because its members are elected every two years. As a matter of fact, the Republicans who mistakenly assume they have something to do with running the government represent most of the people who pay taxes to run it. So it's more like a teenager who is making the car payments, maintaining the car insurance and taking responsibility for registering the car being told: "It's not your car." But the Democrats refuse to even negotiate. It's their government -- and if you Republicans think you're going out dressed like that, you've got another thing coming! Needless to say, they absolutely will not consider the Republicans' demand that Democrats merely live under Obamacare themselves. Instead, Democrats say "the Koch brothers" are behind the effort to defund Obamacare. They say Republicans are trying to "burn the whole house down" (Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz); "have lost their minds" (Sen. Harry Reid); are trying to negotiate "with a bomb strapped to their chest" (senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer); are "legislative arsonists" (Rep. Nancy Pelosi); and are engaging in "blatant extortion" (White House press secretary Jay Carney). The MSNBC crowd calls Republicans "arsonists" every 15 minutes. They ought to check with fellow MSNBC host Al Sharpton. He knows his arsonists! In 1995, Sharpton whipped up a mob outside the Jewish-owned Freddy's Fashion Mart with an anti-Semitic speech. Sometime later, a member of the mob torched the store, killing seven Hispanic employees. Every single Democrat in the country uses the exact same talking point: We "refuse to negotiate with a gun being held to our head." Which means that the Democrats will engage in no negotiation at all -- not now, not ever. House Republicans have already passed three-dozen bills defunding, or otherwise modifying, Obamacare. Senate Democrats and liberal commentators had a good laugh at Republicans for passing them. Now they're paying attention! If you are in the minority of Americans not already unalterably opposed to Obamacare, keep in mind that the only reason the government is shut down right now is that Democrats refuse to fund the government if they are required to live under Obamacare. That's how good it is!

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