Friday, 9 November 2012

Only ‘ballot box’ can decide our future: Assad


DAMASCUS PRESIDENT Bashar al Assad said his future could only be decided at the ballot box and denied Syria was in a state of civil war, despite fresh attacks and heavy fighting on Friday near the Turkish border.

As the opposition met for crucial unity talks in Qatar, the United Nations underlined the humanitarian crisis by saying more than 11,000 Syrians had fled into neighbouring countries in the past 24 hours alone.

The UN also said it expected the number of people inside Syria in need of emergency humanitarian aid to rise to more than four million early next year.

In an interview with Russian television, Assad said that whether the president can “stay or leave” is a “popular issue” and “the only way (it) can be done (is) through the ballot boxes.” Assad warned that Syria was facing a protracted conflict because foreign powers were backing rebels fighting his regime, but insisted there was no civil war.

He admitted divisions existed in the country, but said “division does not mean civil war,” and denied his forces had committed war crimes.

State-backed Russia Today (RT) had on Thursday released excerpts of the interview in which Assad vowed to “live in Syria and die in Syria” and warned that foreign intervention in his country would have global consequences.

Assad’s comments came as clashes continued and activists staged traditional Friday protests against his regime.

Some of the heaviest fighting saw at least 20 Syrian soldiers killed over the Ras al- Ain border post, one of only two crossings on the Turkish border still in regime hands, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Fighting over the post left at least 16 Syrian soldiers and 10 rebels dead on Thursday, the Observatory said, and forced thousands to flee.

Panos Moumtzis, the regional coordinator for the UN’s refugee agency, said in Geneva that 9,000 people had fled to Turkey and 1,000 each to Jordan and Lebanon in the previous 24 hours, bringing to more than 408,000 the number of registered Syrian refugees in the region.

A car bomb outside a mayor’s office in the town of Muadamiya al-Sham south of Damascus killed four civilians on Friday, the Observatory said, while at least 12 civilians were killed in shelling in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

An AFP correspondent in Damascus said warplanes flew over the city and heavy explosions were heard in the early morning and late afternoon.

On Thursday, 142 people were killed nationwide, including 56 civilians, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground.

Israel warns Syria over conflict spilling into Golan


JERUSALEM ISRAEL’S deputy prime minister Moshe Yaalon warned Damascus on Friday it would act to defend its sovereignty if the bloody fighting in Syria continued to spill over into the occupied Golan Heights.

His remarks, published on his official Twitter account, were made a day after three stray mortar rounds fired from Syria hit the occupied Golan, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.

“We see the Syrian regime as responsible for what is happening along the border,” said Yaalon, a senior cabinet minister and former armed forces chief of staff.

“The current situation in Syria could carry on for an extended and bloody period.

If we see that it spills over in our direction, we know how to defend the citizens and the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” said the minister, who holds the strategic affairs portfolio.

“The other side has received a lot of messages recently and until now, has acted accordingly in Syria. I hope that in this incident too, there will be someone who takes this in hand.” The three mortar rounds which struck the Golan on Thursday were the latest in a string of incidents in which fire has spilled across the ceasefire line onto the Israeli side.

“They are apparently shells fired in error during fighting between different forces inside Syria,” an army spokeswoman said.

On Monday, an Israeli military vehicle patrolling the buffer zone was hit by gunfire, with the army acknowledging it was caused by “stray bullets.” No one was injured but the incident prompted an Israeli complaint to the United Nations Security Council in which it described the gunfire as a “grave violation” of a 1974 agreement on security in the buffer zone.

“This represents a dangerous escalation that could have far-reaching implications for the security and stability of our region,” said Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor.

“Israel has shown maximum restraint. However, Israel views the continued violations of the Separation of Forces agreement by the Syrian military forces with the utmost concern,” he said in a letter to the Security Council.

Economy of China, India set to surpass G7: OECD


LONDON CHINA’S economy is likely to overtake the eurozone’s this year, India is leapfrogging Japan and by 2030 the Asian pair will be bigger than the United States, euro area and Japan combined, the OECD said on Friday.

In a crystal-ball exercise to tease out long-term trends in the global economy, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said the combined gross domestic product of China and India was likely to exceed that of all the current Group of Seven rich economies by around 2025.

Their output in 2010 was less than half the G7’s GDP.

The projections of the Parisbased OECD, a club of industrial democracies, are based on 2005 purchasing power parities (PPP).

At market exchange rates, it will take emerging markets a bit longer to seize the crown - for example, Goldman Sachs reckons the BRICs quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China will overtake the G7 by 2037.

Asa Johansson, one of the authors of ‘Looking to 2060: long-term global growth prospects’, said the report presented a hypothetical scenario rather than a firm projection.

Nevertheless, she said the extent of the expected shift in economic power away from developed countries was striking.

Measured in 2005 PPPs, China and India will account for 28 percent and 11 percent respectively of the output of 42 major economies by 2030, compared with 18 percent for the United States, 12 percent for the eurozone and 4 percent for Japan.

CIA chief Petraeus quits over infidelity


WASHINGTON CIA DIRECTOR David Petraeus resigned on Friday from his post, citing an extramarital affair.

“Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the president to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as director of CIA,” Petraeus said in a message to CIA staff.

“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behaviour is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organisation such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation,” he said.

Petraeus took over the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency just over a year ago in September 2011 after heading US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. He said President Barack Obama had accepted his resignation.

“Dave’s decision to step down represents the loss of one of our nation’s most respected public servants,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement.

“Whether he was in uniform leading our nation’s troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, or at CIA headquarters leading the effort to generate intelligence used to keep our nation safe, Dave inspired people who had the privilege of working with him,” he said.

Sabra elected chief of Syrian opposition


DOHA VETERAN dissident George Sabra, a Christian former communist, was elected president of the Syrian National Council opposition bloc at a meeting in Doha, on Friday.

The SNC’s 41-member general secretariat, itself newly elected, chose Sabra, who garnered 28 votes, as part of efforts to revamp the group working to oust President Bashar al Assad.

Sabra, in his first statement as SNC chief, vowed to “work with other components of the Syrian opposition to accelerate the fall of the (president’s) criminal regime.” However, a major activist network quit the bloc on Friday amid divisions between the opposition, and other anti- Assad groups went ahead with a unity meeting in Doha even though the SNC had asked for a delay.

The SNC had sought to meet on Saturday after choosing a new chief, having already elected the secretariat, a third of them Islamists, and as it faced charges of not being representative enough.

“We requested a postponement of 24 hours — we are in the electoral process,” Ahmad Ramadan, a member of the new team, said before Sabra was elected.

But the Local Coordination Committees, a major network of on-theground activists, said it had withdrawn from the SNC over its failure to adopt “serious and effective” reforms to make it more representative.

Other opposition groups, who were waiting at a hotel in the Qatari capital, decided to go ahead with their meeting brokered by Qatar and the Arab League on Friday evening, regardless of the SNC’s demand for a delay.

The umbrella group elected 11 members to sit on its executive committee, including Sabra. Four members are new and three others are Islamists.

“We hope that these free and transparent elections will be a model for free elections in Syria,” Sabra said, stressing that the new executive represents all sections of society including, for the first time, the tribes.

Representatives of various opposition groups were said to be close to reaching an agreement over a united structure when they gathered on Thursday in the Qatari capital. But SNC representatives voiced reservations about the initiative, based on a proposal tabled by prominent dissident Riad Seif with apparent US support.