JFP 12/23: Iowa antiwar vote could be decisive; urge @BarackObama to announce ceasefire

Just Foreign Policy News, December 23, 2011
Iowa antiwar vote could be decisive; urge @BarackObama to announce ceasefire

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

** Action: Urge @BarackObama to announce Christmas ceasefire
A thousand people have signed our petition to President Obama calling for a Christmas cease-fire in Afghanistan. If you use Twitter, help us get @BarackObama's attention. Post the following update to Twitter:

Dear @BarackObama: a thousand Americans urge you to announce Christmas ceasefire in #Afghanistan http://bit.ly/uKeQiw

If Ron Paul Wins Iowa, Antiwar Democrats and Independents Likely to Provide Margin of Victory
If a recent Public Policy Polling survey gives an accurate forecast, then a key story on election night in Iowa will be that antiwar Democrats and independents provided the margin of victory. If that result occurs, it will be due to the actions of roughly 8,400 people.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/if-ron-paul-wins-iowa-ant_b_1165423.html

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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The Obama administration last month reached a tentative accord with Taliban negotiators that would have included the transfer of five Afghans from detention at Guantanamo and the Taliban's public renunciation of international terrorism, the Washington Post reports. The deal called for the prisoners to be sent to house arrest in Qatar. Opposition from Afghan President Karzai scuttled the deal.
Administration officials said negotiations would continue in the new year. Cease-fire agreements with the insurgents could speed the withdrawal of US troops, the Post notes.

2) Republican Party bosses fear Ron Paul because he represents an older conservative tradition that opposed wars of whim and assaults on individual liberty, writes John Nichols in The Nation. Rush Limbaugh ridicules Paul on his radio show, while Sean Hannity's Fox show has become a nightly Paul-bashing fest, with guests like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett trashing the congressman with lines like: "his notion of foreign policy is impossible." But Paul's notion of foreign policy is in line with what many conservative leaders used to believe, Nichols writes.

3) Bradley Manning's pre-trial hearing concluded without the government providing evidence that his alleged leaks harmed U.S. national security, reports Nancy Youssef for McClatchy. Experts say that makes it unclear whether the government will be able to prove the charge that could send Manning to prison for life - that he "aided the enemy."

4) National security advisers to the Republican presidential candidates have ties to military, homeland security and energy companies that have received at least $40 billion in federal contracts since 2008, Bloomberg reports. Five of Romney's 41 national security and foreign policy advisers have links to companies that last year alone received $7.3 billion in contracts from the Department of Defense. Romney and Gingrich have advisers who sit on the board of BAE Systems, which has received at least $37 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2008.

5) In Latin America, the U.S. government has long declared fraudulent elections to be "free and fair," while working to delegitimize elections that were mostly clean, depending on whether the US wanted to support or destabilize the government in question, write Alex Main and Daniel McCurdy for NACLA. The US is now trying to delegitimize the November Nicaraguan election, although there were no credible claims of fraud and Daniel Ortega won a clear margin of victory.

6) According to a study by the Pew Research Center, American military women are more critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than male peers, USA Today reports. Two out of three female veterans who served since 9/11 say the Iraq War was not worth fighting, and more than half feel the same about the Afghanistan War

Pakistan
7) The military command in Pakistan refuted rumors that it was planning to take power, publicizing a pledge by the top general that it is committed to democracy, the New York Times reports.

Bahrain
8) Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas attacked the headquarters of Bahrain's main opposition party Friday after the group challenged a new government ban on its weekly protests, AP reports. Authorities banned the weekly Friday protests for the first time since emergency laws were lifted in June. Defying government orders, Shiite clerics on Friday held prayer services on the rubble of mosques that had been bulldozed by authorities earlier this year.

Israel/Palestine
9) Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Palestinian unity will spur mass popular protests against Israel, JTA reports. Meshaal likened such protests to those of the Arab Spring, which has so far toppled leaderships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; has spurred mass uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain; and has spurred reforms in other countries.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks Reached Tentative Accord
U.S. deal with Taliban breaks down
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, December 22
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-deal-with-taliban-breaks-down/2011/12/20/gIQAntAXCP_story.html

The Obama administration, as part of an accelerated push toward an endgame in Afghanistan, last month reached a tentative accord with Taliban negotiators that would have included the transfer of five Afghans from U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Taliban's public renunciation of international terrorism.

The deal called for the prisoners to be sent to house arrest in Qatar, where the Taliban planned to open an office, and additional actions by both sides, according to U.S. and European officials who would discuss the sensitive negotiations only on the condition of anonymity. Until now, no Guantanamo detainees have left the prison as bargaining chips in a larger deal.

It was the closest that the parties have come to genuine peace negotiations after nearly a year of talks, officials said. They said the agreement ultimately collapsed after Afghan President Hamid Karzai balked at its terms.

"Right now, things have stopped," said a senior Obama administration official. "Everybody is taking a deep breath." Contacts with the Taliban are expected to be reestablished early in the new year.

The negotiations reflect a marked change over the past year in what the administration believes is both acceptable and achievable in Afghanistan, apart from the core objective of eliminating al-Qaeda and the possibility that it could reestablish an Afghan presence.

Disappointment in the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, economic and political pressures at home, and sheer fatigue with the decade-long effort have led to lowered expectations as the United States and its allies head toward the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.

The need to fashion a comprehensive, realistic exit strategy was also underlined in a newly completed National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, a classified assessment produced by U.S. intelligence agencies. Officials familiar with the document described it as uniformly pessimistic about the future.

"We're not looking for nirvana," said a second administration official. "We're pretty sanguine about Afghan 'good enough.' That's the framework" for current strategy discussions, this official said. "That's why we're working so hard on reconciliation."

U.S. commanders have said that the Taliban's interest in talks stems from coalition gains on the battlefield. But officials said they believe the insurgents are more or less in the same position as the United States in forecasting that the conflict will reach an inconclusive end. Taliban leaders may believe that political accommodation now will better position them for future struggles after the troop withdrawal, officials said.

Short-term agreements with the insurgents, such as the establishment of cease-fire zones, could influence decisions on when to transfer areas to Afghan control. Those transitions could, in turn, dictate the pace of troop withdrawal, as well as longer-term assessments of what "good enough" means in terms of stability and central government control.

Negotiations with Karzai over an ongoing U.S. troop presence beyond 2014 - the Pentagon's working number is somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 - will be influenced by whether other countries in the region perceive that presence as contributing to or undermining their own security goals.

President Obama has already ordered the withdrawal by September of the 33,000 troops he sent to Afghanistan last year. "The big debate," a Defense official said, is "can you come up with another number for what happens over the next 12 months" after that drawdown. "The argument will once again be the military saying let's keep it at 68,000," the number of troops who will remain in September, "and [Vice President] Biden saying let's get it down to 20,000 really quickly, with the reality somewhere in between."

Although Biden lost the argument over the surge in late 2009, officials said the internal administration balance has shifted toward a steeper glide path that would put the Afghans in charge sooner rather than later, in conjunction with a political settlement.
[...]
For now, the administration official said, "we see reconciliation as the most important pillar of our effort. It's one that's intertwined with everything else we're doing, especially the military elements."

The potential transfer of prisoners was the result of at least a half dozen meetings this year between U.S. representatives and a Taliban delegation headed by Tayyib Agha, an aide to Afghan Taliban leader Mohammad Omar. German officials have held other meetings with other Taliban representatives.

"We believe we are talking to the right people, those who have the ability to do confidence-building measures," the senior administration official said.

"We knew what we wanted - a statement against international terrorism" that would amount to a public break with al-Qaeda, the official continued, as well as a similar statement of support for Afghanistan's constitutional democracy, "and an agreement to start negotiations with the Afghan government."

"They want five prisoners from Guantanamo," among about 20 Afghans being held there, the official said. "They would like an office [in Qatar]. We said okay, but only for the purpose of negotiating with the Afghans. Not for propaganda, not for recruitment, not for an alternative government, but about the future of Afghanistan."

As discussions progressed rapidly through the fall, officials grew optimistic that a deal could be announced at an international conference on Afghanistan held in Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 5. Aspects of the transaction, including the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners, were first reported by Reuters on Monday.

Agreement initially bogged down as U.S. lawyers expressed concern over the details, including restrictions Congress has placed on the transfer of any prisoners from Guantanamo - let alone Taliban members. The United States refused to release the detainees and neither side was happy about transferring them to an Afghan prison. Qatar, which had already agreed to host a Taliban office, said it would supervise them under house arrest.

But Karzai refused at the last minute to sign on to the deal.
[...]
Although officials said that Karzai has been "fully briefed" throughout the process, his attitude toward negotiations has been mercurial. Officials said he had failed to build political support at home among powerful Afghan players, particularly ethnic Tajiks and other forces in the northern part of the country, whose opposition to peace talks was fueled when an insurgent suicide bomber killed chief Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani in September.
[...]
After congressional leaders were briefed after the fact on the possibility that such a deal might come to pass in the future, one lawmaker, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) publicly denounced any negotiations with the Taliban. Political pressure against such talks is likely to increase as the U.S. presidential election draws near.

"What you need in a peace process, and surely in this one, is the simultaneous readiness of all major actors ... to risk the absoluteness of their position," the European official said. "You need courage to do this. The problem is that sometimes you have it on one side, but the other side is not ready."
[...]

2) Why Do GOP Bosses Fear Ron Paul?
John Nichols, The Nation, December 22, 2011
http://www.npr.org/2011/12/22/144122913/the-nation-why-do-gop-bosses-fear-ron-paul

Ron Paul represents the ideology that Republican insiders most fear: conservatism.

Not the corrupt, inside-the-beltway construct that goes by that name, but actual conservatism.

And if he wins the Iowa Republican Caucus vote on January 3-a real, though far from certain, prospect-the party bosses will have to do everything in their power to prevent Paul from reasserting the values of the "old-right" Republicans who once stood, steadily and without apology, in opposition to wars of whim and assaults on individual liberty.

Make no mistake, the party bosses are horrified at the notion that a genuine conservative might grab the Iowa headlines from the false prophets. Already, they are claiming a Paul win won't mean anything. If Paul prevails, says Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, "People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third. If [Mitt] Romney comes in a strong second, it definitely helps him going into New Hampshire and the other states."

The party's amen corner in the media is doing its part. Republican-insider radio and television programs have begun to go after Paul, the veteran congressman from Texas who is either leading or near the top in recent polls of likely caucus goers. Rush Limbaugh ridicules Paul on his radio show, while Sean Hannity's Fox show has become a nightly Paul-bashing fest, with guests like former Education Secretary Bill Bennett trashing the congressman with lines like: "his notion of foreign policy is impossible."

Actually, Paul's notion of foreign policy is in line with that of conservatives used to believe. The congressman is often referred to as a libertarian, and he has certainly toiled some in that ideological vineyard. But the truth is that his politics descend directly from those of former Ohio Senator Robert "Mr. Republican" Taft and former Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett-old-right opponents of war and empire who served in the Congress in the 1940s and 1950s and who, in Taft's case, mounted credible bids for the party's presidential nomination in 1940, 1948 and finally in 1952. In all three campaigns, Taft opposed what he described as the "Eastern establishment" of the party-the Wall Streeters who, he pointedly noted, had little in common with Main Streeters.

Taft was a steady foe of American interventionism abroad, arguing very much as Paul does today that it threatens domestic liberty. Indeed, just as Paul joined US Senator Russ Feingold in opposing the Patriot Act, spying on Americans and threats to freedom of speech and assembly in the first days of what would become an open-ended "war on terror," so Taft warned during the cold war that "criticism in a time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government."

"The maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country...more good than it will do the enemy," explained Taft, who challenged President Truman's attempts to use war powers as an excuse to seize domestic industries and otherwise expand what Dwight Eisenhower would eventually define as the military-industrial complex.

Buffett, the father of billionaire Warren, opposed military interventionism during the cold war era, declaring on the floor of the House: "Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home. Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns. Persuasion and example are the methods taught by the Carpenter of Nazareth, and if we believe in Christianity we should try to advance our ideals by his methods. We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics."

When the threat of increased US involvement in Vietnam arose in the early 1960s, the elder Buffett wrote in William F. Buckley's National Review: "When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the Constitution) what freedom is safe at home? Surely, profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man's right to life."

Just as Ron Paul has consistently opposed free-trade deals and schemes to enrich government contractors, the elder Buffett railed against the crony capitalism of his day. "There are businesses that are being enriched by national defense spending and foreign handouts," Buffett warned in 1948. "These firms, because of the money they can spend on propaganda, may be the most dangerous of all. If the Marshall Plan meant $100 million worth of profitable business for your firm, wouldn't you Invest a few thousands or so to successfully propagandize for the Marshall Plan? And if you were a foreign government, getting billions, perhaps you could persuade your prospective suppliers here to lend a hand in putting that deal through Congress."

Buffett campaigned in 1952 to nominate Taft as the Republican candidate for president. That effort was opposed by the Wall Street speculators and banksters of the day, and it failed-although not without a serious fight that went all the way to the GOP convention.

After his defeat, Taft griped, "Every Republican candidate for President since 1936 has been nominated by the Chase National Bank."

That was the pure voice of old-right conservatism speaking.

It is echoed now by Ron Paul, who makes no secret of his high regard for Taft, Buffett and the old-right Republicans of the past, and of his disregard for the neocons and crony capitalists of today. Paul is running ads that propose to "drain the swamp," a reference to the insider-driven politics of a Washington where Republicans such as Gingrich maintain the sort of pay-to-play politics that empties the federal treasury into the accounts of campaign donors and sleazy government contractors.

Paul's ideological clarity scares the wits out of the Republican mandarins who peddle the fantasy that the interventionism, the assaults on civil liberties and the partnerships that they have forged with multinational corporations and foreign dictators represent anything akin to true conservatism.
[...]

3) Bradley Manning hearing ends with no clear sign of harm done to U.S.
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, December 22, 2011 06:57:08 PM
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/12/22/133877/seriousness-of-wikileaks-suspect.html

Fort Meade, Md. - After seven days of testimony and the submission of more than 300,000 pages of documents, a key question remains unanswered in the case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning:

How exactly did his leak of hundreds of thousands of secret documents, logs and at least one video - which he passed to WikiLeaks - directly harm U.S. national security?

It's a near-certainty that Manning, whose pretrial Article 32 hearing concluded Thursday, will next face a court-martial, but experts say that it's unclear whether the government will be able to prove its most serious charge against the former Army intelligence analyst - that he aided the enemy. A conviction on that charge could send Manning, 24, to prison for life.

"Whether or not he did (illegally download and distribute classified documents) is a factual thing. Whether he undermined national security is a judgment thing," explained John Hutson, a former military judge advocate.

Prosecutors at the Article 32 hearing - the military equivalent of an evidentiary hearing - only had to show a "reasonable belief" that Manning committed a crime; if the case proceeds to a court martial, the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction.

In a court martial, "all the defense has to do is raise doubt," Hutson said. "The burden is on the prosecution."

Manning's case may hinge on the question of what constitutes harming national security - which the government charges that Manning did when he entered a classified computer, downloaded thousands of files, burned them onto a CD and provided them to WikiLeaks over his personal computer while deployed as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.
[...]

4) Republican Security Advisers Tied to $40 Billion in Contracts
Roxana Tiron, Bloomberg, Dec 23, 2011 12:01 AM ET
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-23/republican-security-advisers-tied-to-40-billion-in-contracts.html

National security advisers to the Republican presidential candidates have ties to defense, homeland security and energy companies that have received at least $40 billion in federal contracts since 2008.

Five of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's 41 national security and foreign policy advisers have links to companies that last year alone received at least $7.9 billion in federal contracts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government analyst Christopher Flavelle. Of that, $7.3 billion came from the Department of Defense.
Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who are leading in the polls, have advisers who sit on the board of directors of BAE Systems Inc., which has received at least $37 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2008, the most of any of the companies with ties to Republican national security advisers.

William Schneider, an adviser to Gingrich, and Michael Chertoff, who counsels Romney, serve on the board of the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems Plc, Europe's largest defense contractor. The American company makes the Army's Bradley Fighting Vehicle and provides information technology systems to American intelligence agencies and repair services to the U.S. Navy.

Schneider, a former State Department undersecretary for security assistance, science and technology under President Ronald Reagan, is head of International Planning Services Inc., a consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.

He also serves on the board of MBDA Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Europe's largest missile maker. MBDA, which has at least $12 million in U.S. contracts, according to the Bloomberg data, is owned by BAE Systems Plc, Paris and Munich-based European Aeronautic, Defence and Space Co. (EAD) (EADS) and Italy's Finmeccanica SpA. (FINMY)

Schneider also serves on the board of Falls Church, Virginia-based Defense Group Inc., whose focus includes research and development in intelligence and cybersecurity. Defense Group has received about $208 million in contracts since 2008 from agencies that include the Defense and Homeland Security departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to data reviewed by Bloomberg. In 2010, the company had $82.2 million in federal contracts, according to the data.
[...]
The Romney advisers with ties to military contractors include Chertoff, a former Homeland Security secretary; former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden; former CIA and State Department Counterterrorism Director Cofer Black; former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim; and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long.

In addition to BAE Systems, those former government officials are linked to companies that include Alion Science & Technology Corp. and Blackbird Technologies Inc.
Romney has called for boosting shipbuilding and missile defense and a strategy to defend against cyber attacks, terrorism and espionage.

He has said that, as president, he would announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate to 15 a year, up from the current nine ships annually. The Navy paid $3.2 billion in contracts last year to companies now associated with Romney advisers. Those companies include BAE and Alion, according to the Bloomberg Government analysis.

At least six companies that are tied to advisers to Romney's campaign provide cybersecurity services to the federal government, the data shows. They include BAE, InfoZen Inc., and security-clearance company KeyPoint Government Solutions Inc., all of which count Chertoff as a board member; Motorola Solutions Inc. and Alion, whose boards include Hayden; and Blackbird, where Black is a vice president.
[...]

5) The U.S. Double Standard on Elections in Latin America and the Caribbean
Alexander Main and Daniel McCurdy, NACLA, Dec 22 2011
https://nacla.org/news/2011/12/22/us-double-standard-elections-latin-america-and-caribbean

The U.S. government has a puzzling approach to elections in the hemisphere. Back in November 2009, the State Department considered that elections held under Honduras's brutal coup regime were "free and fair," despite widespread press censorship and the imposition of martial law during much of the electoral campaign. Then, in November 2010, the U.S. government endorsed the electoral process in Haiti despite the fact that the country's most popular political party had been arbitrarily excluded and despite a vast number of irregularities identified by both observers and the electoral authorities. Afterwards, the U.S. government, together with Organization of American States (OAS) "experts," arbitrarily changed the elections' first round results and then applied extreme pressure on the Haitian government to force it to accept the change.

Elections were held in Nicaragua in November. Turnout was high and, though some observer groups considered the elections to not be sufficiently transparent, there were no credible claims of fraud. Despite a very clear margin of victory for presidential incumbent Daniel Ortega-who won over 60% of the votes-the U.S. government expressed strong misgivings over the electoral process. At a meeting of the OAS Permanent Council on November 16, a senior U.S. official announced that the United States was "seriously concerned about the irregularities" in Nicaragua's elections. The official called on the OAS electoral observation team to "evaluate all of the possible responses, including diplomatic initiatives . . . to determine the steps for strengthening democracy in Nicaragua."

The U.S. government's approach to elections in the hemisphere is, on the surface, baffling. It begins to make sense, however, if one considers the United States's long-standing political agenda in the region.

In Nicaragua, the U.S. government has, since the late 1970s, consistently sought to undermine the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In Honduras and Haiti-and throughout the rest of the region-the State Department has favored right-wing political movements aligned with elite business and political sectors in the United States. As was the case with previous governments, the Obama administration claims to act solely in the defense of democracy and human rights. In fact, as the contrasting U.S. responses to these three elections demonstrate, the administration is primarily concerned with promoting a narrow political agenda that offers little benefit to Latin Americans or U.S citizens. In many cases, the United States uses its significant leverage at the OAS to obtain support for its positions on elections.
[...]
Nicaragua's November general elections unfolded with few irregularities, though some international observers reported having been initially prevented from accessing certain polling locations and both the European Union (EU) and OAS observation teams criticized the election's "lack of transparency." This criticism appears to have been based primarily on one opposition party's claim that the country's electoral authorities refused to provide their electoral monitors with proper credentials. It should be noted, however, that the party in question requested thousands of credentials only two days before the elections, long after the deadline for such a request had passed.

Whether or not the EU and OAS observation missions were entirely justified in their criticism, it is important to note that neither alleged that fraud took place in the elections. The OAS mission chief, Dante Caputo, stated that OAS observers had seen no "significant irregularities," and a quick count carried out by the OAS team produced results very similar to those of the Nicaraguan electoral council. OAS secretary general Miguel Insulza initially lauded the electoral process, saying "in Nicaragua yesterday, democracy and peace took a step forward." However, a couple days later Insulza had the quote removed from the OAS website. Prior to the elections, independent polls by Cid-Gallup and M&R Consultants had repeatedly predicted a decisive win for Ortega.

Though there is little basis for contesting the results of Nicaragua's elections, the U.S. has sought to use the complaints around transparency issues to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the entire process. It's unlikely that any other government in the hemisphere besides Canada's right-wing administration will back the U.S. position. But it is highly probable that the United States will adopt an increasingly hostile policy toward Nicaragua based on the unfounded assessment that the elections were not free and fair.

After passing a similar judgment on Haiti's 2000 parliamentary elections, the United States mounted a campaign to destabilize the country's left-leaning government that culminated in a coup and the forced exile of the democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. An OAS electoral observer mission initially approved on the elections as valid, calling them a "great success," but later joined the United States in characterizing them as illegitimate.
[...]

6) Poll: Military women more critical than men of U.S. wars
Douglas Stanglin, USA Today, Dec 22, 2011
http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/12/poll-us-military-women-more-critical-than-men-of-iraq-afghan-wars-/1

American military women are more critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than male peers, are more likely to be officers, are more racially diverse and are far more inclined than men in the service to marry other troops, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.
[...]
Two out of three female veterans who served since 9/11 say the Iraq War was not worth fighting, and more than half feel the same about the Afghanistan War, according to the report.

Fewer than half of male veterans who served since 9/11 feel the same about Iraq, and only 39% feel that way about Afghanistan.
[...]

Pakistan
7) Pakistan Military Denies Conspiracy to Seize Power
Salman Masood, New York Times, December 23, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/24/world/asia/pakistan-military-seeking-to-quash-rumors-denies-conspiracy-to-seize-power.html

Islamabad, Pakistan - The military command in Pakistan issued an unusual refutation on Friday of rumors that it was planning to take power, publicizing a pledge by the top general that it is committed to democracy a day after the prime minister warned of conspiracies to subvert the civilian government.

But the pledge, by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, did little to assuage anxieties about a possible coup in a country with a history of military interventions. The anxieties were reinforced on Thursday by an extraordinary outburst about just such a possibility from the normally soft-spoken prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, who also said the military generals in Pakistan behaved as though they were "a state within a state" and that they should be accountable to Parliament.

"The army will continue to support democratic process in the country," General Kayani was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the military command. It said General Kayani had made that pledge on Thursday as he visited troops stationed in the northwestern regions of Mohmand and Kurram.
[...]
The public back-and-forth came as the Pakistan military's relations with the United States, already aggravated by the memo issue, have plunged to new lows over a deadly American-led airstrike on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last month that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan's military has rejected results of a Pentagon inquiry that said both sides were at fault but that Pakistani forces opened fire first. In a new sign of the Pakistani military's anger, a senior official said Friday it had canceled a planned visit by the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, to brief his counterparts on the Pentagon inquiry.
[...]

Bahrain
8) Bahrain Police Attack Shiite Opposition Offices
Associated Press, December 23, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2011/12/23/world/middleeast/AP-ML-Bahrain.html

Manama, Bahrain - Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas attacked the headquarters of Bahrain's main Shiite opposition party in the capital on Friday after the group challenged a new government ban on its weekly protests. Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest elsewhere in the capital.

"I was really shocked to see tear gas and rubber bullets hit our offices," said vice president of the Al Wefaq party, Sheik Hussain Al Daihi. He said he was inside the building with foreign journalists when the security forces attacked and that a 13-year-old girl among those hurt had a serious injury to her thigh.

Friday's clampdown was the latest episode in 10 months of unrest between Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and an opposition movement led by the country's majority Shiites, who have long complained of discrimination.

"We are a people that won't be broken. All this repression and brutality is the source of our strength and determination to continue the struggle and defend our national rights," Al Daihi said later in a statement.

Authorities banned the weekly Friday protests for the first time since emergency laws were lifted in June. The Interior Ministry "gave silly excuses" to ban the event, including that it would block traffic and endanger others in the area, Al Daihi said.
[...]
Defying government orders, Shiite clerics on Friday also held prayer services on the rubble of mosques that had been bulldozed by authorities earlier this year. It was the first time that Shiite clerics have actively taken part in the protest movement, openly defying the government.

The Shiite clerics say at least 38 mosques used by their congregations were destroyed since the protests began in February.

"We will start a campaign to defend our religious sites and the first such activity starts with a protest at the end of the prayer at Diraz grand mosque," senior Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim said during his Friday sermon. Diraz is an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital.

"We demand democracy for one people, Sunni and Shiite, and we understand the approach of the government that aims to divide our people. We are the ones who insist on unity, and because of this we are targeted by the government," he said.

Qassim called on international allies of Bahrain to exert pressure on the government because of what he said was it lack of will to reform.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
9) Meshaal: Palestinian unity will lead to mass protests
JTA, December 23, 2011
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/ap-interview-hamas-leader-touts-new-focus-on-popular-protests-does-not-renounce-violence/2011/12/23/gIQAdC9MDP_story.html

Palestinian unity will spur mass popular protests against Israel, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said.

"Now we have a common ground that we can work on -- the popular resistance, which presents the power of people," Meshaal said Thursday in an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, where Hamas and Fatah agreed this week on the terms for Hamas joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, a precursor to unity.

Meshaal likened such protests to those characterizing the so-called Arab Spring, which has so far toppled leaderships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya; has spurred mass uprisings in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain; and has spurred reforms in other countries.
[...]

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