JFP 8/8: Garzon: by law, UK must respect Ecuador asylum; Iran pushes US to protect hostages
Just Foreign Policy News, August 8, 2012
Garzon: by law, UK must respect Ecuador asylum; Iran pushes US to protect hostages
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
A partial list of August Congressional town halls
*Action: UK: Don't Allow US Extradition of Assange
Under extradition law, Sweden couldn't extradite Julian Assange to the United States without the permission of the UK government. Urge UK Home Secretary Theresa May to publicly state that she would not permit the extradition of Julian Assange from Sweden to the United States.
*Action: JFP at Avaaz: Boot Rep. Bachmann from House Intelligence Committee!
In an effort to reach a broader group of Americans, JFP is hosting a petition at Avaaz calling for Michele Bachmann to be removed from the House Intelligence Committee for refusing to cease her promotion of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. If you sign petitions at Avaaz, please sign and share this one. http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/No_Intelligence_for_fools_Boot_Rep_Bachmann_from_House_Intelligence_Committee/
Former U.S. officials call for Bachmann to be replaced on Intelligence Committee
By promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, Rep. Michele Bachmann is undermining U.S. policy in the Middle East. That's why former U.S. officials are calling for her removal from the House Intelligence Committee.
662 days of cholera in Haiti
662 days, 7,530 dead, 591,882 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there has been no apology, no compensation, no implementation of an effective plan to eradicate the disease. Now the UN is considering renewing the mandate for UN troops in Haiti. Shouldn't addressing the cholera crisis caused by the UN be a condition for renewing the mandate for UN troops?
1) Former Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon says the U.K. can not legally deny Julian Assange passage to Ecuador if Ecuador grants him asylum, China Radio International reports.
2) Iran said it was holding the U.S. responsible for the fate of a group of Iranians held by Syrian rebels, the New York Times reports. The warning by Iran came after three of the 48 hostages were reported killed during an artillery attack on rebel positions by the Syrian Army and their captors threatened to kill the rest if the shelling did not stop. The Foreign Ministry's note to the U.S. was described by Iranian news media as saying that Iran expected the U.S. government to use its "influence" on the rebels in order to secure the release of the Iranians, and that Iran would hold the U.S. responsible if they were harmed.
3) Syria's pluralistic society is now faced with civil disintegration and ethnic cleansing, writes Indian journalist Kapil Komireddi in the New York Times. As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who've been "cleansed" from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.
The rebels' conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad, Komireddi writes. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria's endangered pluralism.
The seeming indifference of the international community to the worsening condition of Syria's religious minorities - and the near total absence of censure of the opposition forces by the Western governments arrayed against Assad - is breeding a bitter anti-Americanism among many secular Syrians who see the U.S. aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the fount of Wahhabism, against the Arab world's most resolutely secular state, Komireddi says.
4) In an editorial, the Richmond Times-Dispatch acknowledges that cutting the military budget could cost jobs in Virginia, the No. 2 recipient of federal defense outlays. But that is not sufficient reason to oppose the cuts, the editorial argues, noting that conservative arguments that government spending displaces private investment apply just as well to military spending. The editorial notes that if the automatic sequester cuts go through, military spending would be reduced to 2007 levels, when the U.S. military was not, in fact, on the brink of collapse.
5) Secretary Panetta says the Pentagon is abandoning for now its push for wide-scale base closures in the continental US in the face of Congressional opposition, focusing instead on plans to draw down military installations overseas, The Hill reports. The majority of bases scheduled for closure will be in Europe, as U.S. forces begin to draw down their military footprint in that region. Maintaining unnecessary U.S. bases across the globe as the department sheds thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from its payrolls is "the very definition of hollowing out the force," Panetta said.
6) Rep. Barbara Lee has introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, which would stop the DOJ from going after medical marijuana dispensaries' landlords through asset forfeiture laws, Think Progress reports. The bipartisan Truth In Trials Act, sponsored by Reps. Sam Farr, Barney Frank, Ron Paul and Dana Rohrabacher, among others. More extensive than Lee's measure, the bill would allow state-licensed medical marijuana users to defend against federal prosecutions or lawsuits, by showing that they were in fact in compliance with state law. It also would prevent the government from seizing cannabis plants that are legal under state law.
7) Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are considering softening penalties legislation designed to crack down on national-security leaks after the measure was attacked by civil liberties groups, The Hill reports. The bill approved by the committee would have stripped intelligence officials of their clearances for leaking to the press. It also would block national-security officials from making contact with the media even after they've left the government.
8) The Syrian workers who once thronged Beirut's southern suburbs have fled, local residents say, in what analysts see as a disturbing sign of how the uprising is spilling over into other countries in the region, the Financial Times reports. The kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in a rebel-controlled area of Syria in May exacerbated tensions, which remain high. This week, relatives of the hostages, who are still in captivity, staged a protest in southern Beirut calling for their release.
9) A Honduran journalist has requested asylum in the US embassy in Tegucigalpa after he said he and his family were repeatedly threatened and attacked, the BBC reports. Jose Chinchilla, who works for a radio station in El Progreso in northern Honduras, said his son was injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside the family home. More than 20 journalists have been murdered over the past three years in Honduras. None of the crimes has been solved.
1) Wikileaks Founder Seeking Asylum
China Radio International, 2012-08-06
Representing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, former Spanish jurist Baltasar Garzon says the U.K. can not legally deny his passage to Ecuador if the South American country grants him asylum.
"Hypothetically, if asylum is granted, Great Britain can't say they won't send him. One can always say no; we are tired of seeing international conventions being breached or not agreed with by different countries. But legally, they can't do it because Ecuador is a sovereign state, a free, democratic state, exactly like the US, nothing more, nothing less."
Assange has been holed up in Ecuador's Embassy in London for six weeks since he broke his bail terms to request asylum by the leftist government of Rafael Correa.
Assange angered Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret US diplomatic cables.
Garzon said Assange's family fear that he will face torture and even execution if deported to the United States.
"What he is afraid of is the current situation and how it is developing in a second scenario to which I'll refer which is that in the US, where that trail would not be a fair trial in any way, with proper guarantees. In addition, it has the clear risk of being a cover or a smokescreen to send him to the US."
Ecuador said it would wait until the end of the London Olympic Games to announce a decision on Assange's asylum request.
2) Iran Warns U.S. on Fate of Hostages in Syria
Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times, August 7, 2012
Tehran - Iran said Tuesday that it was holding the United States responsible for the fate of a group of Iranians held by Syrian rebels, as the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Syria since the antigovernment uprising began there arrived in Damascus to show support for President Bashar al-Assad and attempt to secure the release of the hostages.
The warning by Iran, Syria's last remaining friendly state government in the region, came after three of the 48 hostages were reported killed during an artillery attack on rebel positions by the Syrian Army on Monday and their captors threatened to kill the rest if the shelling did not stop.
The rebels, who released a video of some of the abducted Iranians on Sunday, said the captives were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been heading to the airport after a reconnaissance mission in Syria. Iran said the men were part of a group of religious pilgrims, including women and children, who had visited the shrine of the granddaughter of the prophet near Damascus.
In an unusual move, Iran's Foreign Ministry announced it had sent a diplomatic note to the Obama administration saying that "due to its open support for Syrian terrorist groups" the United States was responsible for the safety of the abducted Iranians.
The leader of Iran's Parliament, Ali Larijani, threatened the United States and regional countries supportive of the Syrian rebels with unspecified consequences if the Iranian hostages were harmed, saying they would receive a response in "due time," the Islamic Students News Agency reported on Tuesday. "The Iranian nation will not ignore these crimes," Mr. Larijani was quoted as saying in response to unconfirmed reports about the deaths of three hostages.
Al Arabiya television aired an interview with a man it identified as Abdel Nasser Shmeir, the commander of a Qaeda-linked group, Al-Baraa Brigade. He said the group would target all Iranians in Syria, whose fate would either be "prisoners or death."
Iran, which has categorically denied any links between the group of hostages and its military forces, says the hostages were abducted by terrorists it says are supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.
The Foreign Ministry's note to the United States was described by the Iranian news media as saying that Iran expected the United States government to use its "influence" on the rebels, in order to secure the release of the Iranians, and that Iran would hold the United States responsible if they were harmed.
The chargé d' affaires of Switzerland, which represents American interests in Iran, was summoned late Monday evening to the Foreign Ministry in protest over the reported deaths and was handed the note.
3) Syria's Crumbling Pluralism
Kapil Komireddi, New York Times, August 3, 2012
[Komireddi, an Indian journalist, has written from South Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.]
Damascus - The day begins here with the call to prayer and ends with the roar of gunfire. Syria's pluralistic society, which once rose above sectarian identity in a region often characterized by a homicidal assertion of religious belief, is now faced with civil disintegration and ethnic cleansing.
In Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of the old city, the magnificently restored Ottoman mansions housing many of the hotels that only two years ago overflowed with Western tourists have become temporary sanctuaries for Syrian minorities fleeing their homes and cities.
A Christian doctor of Palestinian origin huddling with his family of four in a small room in one of the hotels was looking for a way out of the country: "My father came to Syria as a refugee," he told me. "I made it my home. Now I am having to uproot my two young sons."
His home, in Midan in southern Damascus, came under attack during an intense battle last week between the opposition Free Syrian Army and government forces. Midan is now officially a safe area, but hardly anyone believes that peace will endure.
Syria's 2.3 million Christians, constituting about 10 percent of the country's population, have generally known a more privileged existence under the Assad dynasty than even the Shiite Alawi sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs. Yet their allegiance to Assad was never absolute. Some Christians openly clamored for political change in the early months of the anti-government uprising. But as the rebellion became suffused with Sunni militants sympathetic to or affiliated with Al Qaeda, Christians recoiled.
A churchgoing Syrian told me that he used to see himself primarily as "Syrian" and that religious identity, in political terms, was an idea that never occurred to him - until an opposition gang attacked his family earlier this year in Homs. "It's a label they pinned on us," he said. "If their revolution is for everyone, as they keep insisting it is, why are Christians being targeted? It is because what they are waging is not a struggle for freedom, and it's certainly not for everyone."
As Saudi Arabian arms and money bolster the opposition, the 80,000 Christians who've been "cleansed" from their homes in Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan in Homs Province in March by the Free Syrian Army have gradually given up the prospect of ever returning home.
The rebels' conduct has prompted at least some Sunnis who had supported the rebels and once-wavering Syrians to pledge renewed loyalty to Assad. Many who once regarded the regime as a kleptocracy now view it as the best guarantor of Syria's endangered pluralism.
A Sunni shopkeeper in the impoverished suburb of Set Zaynab, which was partly destroyed in the clashes last week, no longer supports the rebellion. "I wanted Assad to go because he is corrupt," he said. "But what happened here, what they did, it scared me. It made me angry. I cannot support the murder of my neighbors in the name of change. You cannot bring democracy by killing innocent people or by burning the shrines of Shiites. Syrians don't do that. This is the work of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia," he added, referring to the ultra conservative Sunni sect.
Repeated attempts by Free Syrian Army fighters to destroy a shrine to Sayyida Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shiites, have not yet caused the area's Sunni minority to flee - many Shiites here have refused to blame their Sunni neighbors for the rebels' crimes.
Over the past week, more than a dozen Syrians - chiefly Alawi and Christian, but also a handful of Sunnis - affirmed to me their determination to pick up arms to defend Assad.
The seeming indifference of the international community to the worsening condition of Syria's religious minorities - and the near total absence of censure of the opposition forces by the Western governments arrayed against Assad - is breeding a bitter anti-Americanism among many secular Syrians who see the United States aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, the fount of Wahhabism, against the Arab world's most resolutely secular state.
Fresh from abetting the suppression of a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia's intervention in Syria is part of its effort to attenuate Iran's influence and cripple what it fears is a growing Shiite corridor of power in the Middle East.
Most Syrians, regardless of their faith, want the power to change their government. But the armed groups that have seized control of the rebellion, now contaminated with Al Qaeda fighters and corrupted by Saudi money, have repelled many people.
A year and a half after the insurrection began, Assad's forces are exhausted and dispirited - but there is no sign yet of a simultaneous mass uprising in any of the major cities. Instead, rebel fighters on Saudi payroll launch coordinated attacks on high-value targets, the Syrian Army retaliates with disproportionate force, and videos of the ensuing devastation are posted on the Internet.
Proponents of a peaceful political solution, like the signatories to the so-called Sant'Egidio appeal last week in Italy, have been eclipsed by sectarian leaders of the Syrian National Council urging the international community to give them anti-aircraft weapons.
Washington is aware of the scale of the problem. As early as June 2011, Robert Stephen Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, briefed his counterparts in Damascus about Al Qaeda's penetration of the opposition forces. By still ploughing ahead with its support for Saudi Arabia's effort to destabilize Syria, Washington, far from assisting Israel or weakening Iran, is helping to fuel a humanitarian crisis that will come back to haunt the United States.
4) Would cuts in defense spending be a bad thing?
Editorial, Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 07, 2012
Gov. Bob McDonnell suggested President Obama hold Congress in session until it hammers out a deal to avert what is known as sequestration - whose effects on Virginia could be profound.
Sequestration is the term applied to automatic budget cuts that will take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts now to prevent them. They are the result of last year's Budget Control Act. That law tasked a special committee with finding $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. If it failed, automatic cuts - half of them in defense spending, half in domestic discretionary spending - would kick in. The committee failed.
Without action soon, the first of $600 billion in defense spending cuts will start to bite. That could mean the loss of tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of jobs here in the commonwealth - which is the No. 2 recipient of federal defense outlays. That is a frightening prospect indeed.
But it is not in itself a sufficient reason to oppose the cuts. National defense is not a jobs program. Many of the very arguments conservative Republicans have made with regard to government spending over the years - about inefficiency, about the displacement of private investment, about gargantuan bureaucracies doling out contracts to the politically connected - might apply just as well to the Pentagon as to any other government agency.
What's more, the alarms being rung about the hollowing out of the military sound considerably less grim when put in context. For example, ask yourself this: Was the U.S. military on the brink of collapse in 2007? Few people would answer yes. Yet if sequestration occurs, then military spending would revert to - you guessed it - 2007 levels. That doesn't sound quite so horrible.
Even after adjusting for inflation, Pentagon spending is now almost double what it was in 2000. And that leaves out the billions lavished on Homeland Security. And the further billions spent on ongoing military operations abroad, which add more than another hundred billion to the tab.
True, federal defense outlays are smaller as a share of the federal budget than they have been in many years, and they are smaller as a percentage of gross domestic product than at any time since World War II. But this is not a very useful comparison. It implies that whenever Washington creates a hugely expensive new entitlement program, or whenever the economy booms, Pentagon spending should be jacked up just to keep the proportions steady.
The real question is how much the U.S. needs to spend to maintain military dominance. To help answer it, consider a more useful comparison: For every dollar the world spends on military outlays, America accounts for 46 cents. China, a distant second, comes in at about 7 cents.
Gov. McDonnell is right to worry about the effect of defense spending cuts here in Virginia. Congress should pass legislation to stave off the sequestration meat ax. However, it needs to make judicious cuts to the defense budget. Overseas bases, redundant weapons systems, even force structures should all be on the table. The nation currently borrows 43 cents of every dollar it spends. And there is simply no way to fix that problem without including military cuts as part of the solution.
5) Panetta says Pentagon will drop base closure plans for fiscal year 2013
Carlo Muñoz, The Hill, 08/06/12 01:49 PM ET
The Defense Department (DOD) is abandoning its push for wide-scale base closures in the continental United States, focusing instead on plans to draw down military installations overseas, Secretary Leon Panetta announced Monday.
"I had no illusions that [base closures] would be an easy sell politically, but we had a responsibility ... to put everything on the table," Panetta said in a speech at the annual conference of the Association of Defense Communities in Monterey, Calif. "It is now clear that there will not be a round of [closures] authorized in 2013."
Beginning in 2005, previous base closures ordered by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) netted DOD roughly $8 billion in savings, according to Panetta. But each round proved to be a politically painful battle, the defense chief noted.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were quick to pounce on DOD's most recent BRAC proposal, declaring it unacceptable the moment it hit Capitol Hill in January. Lawmakers feared additional base closures and the financial toll that would bring on local communities.
Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) put out a joint statement calling the new BRAC round "dead on arrival."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) suggested there were plenty of overseas bases to close before getting to domestic ones, a sentiment echoed among several Senators at the time.
In the end, DOD was not willing to take on Congress over base closure, with lawmakers already charged over partisan fights on spending and taxes.
However, Pentagon officials will forge ahead with plans to shutter several U.S. bases overseas that will no longer be needed to accommodate the smaller total force DOD plans to have in the coming decade.
The majority of those bases scheduled for closure will be in Europe, as U.S. forces begin to draw down their military footprint in that region. That presence will get smaller, as DOD's total force is expected to shrink significantly over the next decade.
Maintaining unnecessary U.S. bases across the globe as the department sheds thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from its payrolls is "the very definition of hollowing out the force," Panetta said during Monday's speech.
As the Pentagon stares down the barrel of a $500 billion budget cut passed by Congress under last year's debt-ceiling deal, and possibly an additional $500 billion in automatic cuts under sequestration, it would have been "irresponsible" to not consider cutting back U.S. military installations around the world, Panetta said.
"I felt that it was an important debate to have, and it is a debate we must continue," Panetta said. "Now may not be the time for BRAC as our economy recovers, but sooner or later, one way or another, [DOD] is going to need to take a hard look at its basing infrastructure as we seek to reduce our overhead costs."
6) New House Bill Tries To Save Medical Marijuana Dispensaries From Justice Department Crackdown
Aviva Shen, Think Progress, Aug 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm
In 2009, the Justice Department formally announced that it would not direct its limited resources towards medical marijuana dispensaries acting in full compliance with state law. According to a memo from then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, federal prosecutors "should not focus federal resources . . . on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." Recently, however, U.S. Attorneys in states such as California and Colorado, where medical marijuana use is legal, have began threatening to seize the buildings that house medical marijuana dispensaries unless the dispensaries' landlords evict their cannabis-providing tenants.
Recently, DOJ set its sights on California's Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, suing to shut down Harborside's two branches in Oakland and San Jose. Yet it is not at all clear how these suits can be squared with the Department's 2009 memorandum. Harborside worked closely with Oakland officials to craft a strict regulatory regime to monitor their industry, and city officials agree that Harborside is in full compliance with state and local laws.
On Thursday, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced the States' Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, which would stop the DOJ from going after dispensaries' landlords through asset forfeiture laws. According to Americans for Safe Access, the mere threat of these kinds of lawsuits have been enough to shutter roughly 400 medical marijuana dispensaries in California.
Lee's bill comes on the heels of the bipartisan Truth In Trials Act, sponsored by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), among others. More extensive than Lee's measure, the bill would allow state-licensed medical marijuana users to defend against federal prosecutions or lawsuits, by showing that they were in fact in compliance with state law. It also would prevent the government from seizing cannabis plants that are legal under state law.
As recently as June 7 of this year, Holder reiterated in a House Judiciary Committee that DOJ would only take action against dispensaries operating "out of conformity with state law." Yet there does not appear to be any evidence that Harborside, which tests all its products in a lab for safety and pays $3 million in federal, state and local taxes, is in violation of California law. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who is responsible for the actions against Harborside, could only point to the fact that Harborside is a large operation, and "[t]he larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws."
While they gear up for a legal battle, Harborside is also calling for an immediate freeze on the patchwork enforcement actions against dispensaries operating under different state laws until a top-level federal review can determine whether U.S. Attorneys are acting appropriately in targeting these dispensaries. The need for one coherent federal policy will only grow, as 17 states and the District of Columbia currently have medical marijuana laws on the books, and more medical marijuana ballot initiatives are likely to pass this year. An unprecedented majority of Americans favor marijuana legalization, while 3 in 4 believe the federal government should leave marijuana users alone as long as they comply with state law.
7) Senators consider softening measure cracking down on security leaks
Carlo Muñoz, The Hill, 08/06/12 06:05 PM ET
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are considering changes that would cut the teeth out of legislation designed to crack down on national-security leaks.
The lawmakers are considering softening penalties for leaks in a committee-approved bill authorizing intelligence agencies before the legislation hits the Senate floor.
The bill approved by the committee would have stripped intelligence officials of their clearances for leaking to the press. It also would block national-security officials from making contact with the media even after they've left the government.
Both of those provisions might now be weakened because of pressure from critics of the bill, according to sources. After the Intelligence panel approved its version of the bill, it came under criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties groups who said it went too far in hampering media access on issues of national security.
A spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Intelligence panel, acknowledged senators are taking these criticisms into account. The spokesman declined to comment on specific changes to the bill, but suggested they were possible.
The full Senate is expected to consider the bill in the tight, eight-legislative-day window in September when lawmakers return from the August recess.
In July, more than a dozen civil-liberties groups sent an open letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee claiming the anti-leak measures could instigate "suspicion, speculation or ... retaliation" against members of the intelligence community. "This policy does not protect our nation's legitimate secrets, but instead opens the door to abuse and chills critical disclosures of wrongdoing," according to the letter.
8) Syrian tensions spill over into Lebanon
Abigail Fielding-Smith, Financial Times, August 7
Beirut - Ali, owner of a small aluminum-fittings factory in the southern suburbs of Beirut, is missing his Syrian laborers. "Syrians gave you good quality work, and you paid them less," he said.
In recent weeks, rising tensions have forced Syrian workers out of the Shiite Muslim-dominated neighborhood, and businessmen such as Ali have had to hire Lebanese hands at double the cost. His business "cannot make it," he said gloomily. "I'm thinking about leaving the country."
The Syrian workers who once thronged Beirut's southern suburbs have fled, local residents say, in what analysts see as a disturbing sign of how the uprising is spilling over into other countries in the region.
"Syrian laborers have been harassed in Shia areas, and I understand that many of them have left the deep south and the southern suburbs of Beirut," said Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.
No reliable statistics are available on the size of Lebanon's Syrian labor force, which has historically moved back and forth across the border. But long before the present political crisis eviscerated the Syrian economy, hundreds of thousands of Syrians - a majority Sunni Muslim population - worked in neighboring Lebanon, especially in the booming construction sector.
Ironically, many felt safer in areas controlled by the Shiite group Hezbollah, closely allied with Damascus, after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's popular Sunni former prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri, a killing widely blamed on Syria.
The uprising in Syria introduced tension into the relationship between migrant laborers and Lebanon's Shiite parties, who still retain close links with the Syrian regime. Even if laborers were not politically active, many are said to have come from the poor rural areas that have driven the Syrian revolt, such as Daraa, Deir al-Zour and the countryside around the northern city of Aleppo.
The kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in a rebel-controlled area of Syria in May exacerbated tensions, which remain high. This week, relatives of the hostages, who are still in captivity, staged a protest in southern Beirut calling for their release.
One Syrian migrant worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was returning to his home in the southern suburbs the night of the kidnapping. He said a man got on the bus and asked the driver whether any Syrians were on board. The driver pointed toward him and another passenger, and they were taken off the bus. He said he was held for more than an hour while his captors talked about whether to kill them. "One was saying, 'We are going to slaughter you,' and then the other would say, 'No, let's not kill them,' " he recalled.
That night he and some other Syrians slept in a building together for safety, but people were shouting taunts outside their window. Eventually, he said, a Lebanese friend came to rescue him, and he hasn't been back to the area since.
After the kidnapping, Hasan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, forbade revenge attacks on Syrians, a message that seems to have reined in abusive behavior in the short term, but local business owners say their staff no longer feel safe enough to stay in the southern suburbs.
9) 'Threatened' Honduran journalist requests US asylum
BBC, 4 August 2012 Last updated at 20:35 ET
A Honduran journalist has requested asylum in the US embassy in Tegucigalpa after he said he and his family were repeatedly threatened and attacked.
Jose Chinchilla, who works for a radio station in El Progreso in northern Honduras, said his son was injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire outside the family home.
More than 20 journalists have been murdered over the past three years in Honduras. None of the crimes has been solved.
Two gunmen on motorcycles drove past Mr Chinchilla's home on Friday night opening fire and injuring his 24-year-old son, he was quoted by local media as saying.
Mr Chinchilla is the correspondent for radio station Radio Cadena Voces in the city of El Progreso. Journalists working for Radio Cadena Voces have been targeted before.
In October 2007, journalist and humorist Carlos Salgado was shot dead as he was leaving the Radio Cadena Voces' offices in the capital, Tegucigalpa. A month later, the station's director, Dagoberto Rodriguez, left Honduras after receiving death threats.
In May of this year, thousands of people marched in cities across Honduras in protest at the wave of violence against journalists
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