- Created on 17 December 2012
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A car bomb exploded in a crowded market in Pakistan's troubled northwest tribal region near the Afghan border Monday, killing 17 people and wounding more than 40 others, officials said.
The bomb went off next to the women's waiting area of a bus stop, which is located near the office of one of the top political officials in the Khyber tribal area, said Hidayat Khan, a local government official. But it's unclear if the office was the target.
The 17 dead included five boys and two women, said Abdul Qudoos, a doctor at a local hospital in Jamrud town, where the attack occurred. At least 44 people were wounded, he said.
The explosives were packed in a small, white car that was parked in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, said Shireen Afridi, who was nearby buying a phone card when the bomb exploded.
"There was fire in which children burned, women burned, poor Afghan people burned, and it caused a lot of destruction," said Afridi. "People's heads were lying in the drain."
Local TV footage showed several cars and shops in the market that were badly damaged. Residents threw buckets of water on burning vehicles as rescue workers transported the wounded to the hospital.
The market was located close to the office of the assistant political agent for Khyber, said Khan, who works in the office. Initial reports wrongly indicated the women's waiting area was for the political office, not the bus stop.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Khyber is home to various Islamist militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, which have waged a bloody insurgency against the government for the past few years.
Taliban militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at an army convoy in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Monday, killing three soldiers and wounding three others, said Nisar Ahmad, a local government official.
The soldiers were escorting a polio vaccination team outside the town of Lakki Marwat when the attack occurred, said Wazir Khan, a local resident.
The Taliban have spoken out against polio vaccination in recent months, claiming the health workers are acting as spies for the U.S. and the vaccine itself cause harm.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman in the South Waziristan tribal area, Asim Mehsud, claimed responsibility in a telephone call to The Associated Press.
"These polio drops are a deadly American campaign to poison us," he said.
The army has carried out offensives against the Taliban in most parts of the tribal region, including Khyber, but militants continue to carry out regular attacks in the country.
On Saturday night, 10 Taliban militants attacked the military side of an international airport in Peshawar with rockets and car bombs, killing four people and wounding over 40 others. Five of the militants were killed during the attack, and five others died the next day in a gunbattle with security forces.
Elsewhere on Monday, gunmen killed a provincial government spokesman in the southwest Pakistan in an apparent sectarian attack, and then shot to death two nearby policemen, police said.
The attackers shot dead Khadim Hussain Noori in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, said local police official Hamid Shakeel. Noori was the provincial spokesman and also a Shiite Muslim.
As the gunmen were speeding away on a motorcycle, they killed two policemen and wounded a third, said Shakeel.
Baluchistan has experienced a spike in sectarian killings in the past year as radical Sunni Muslims have targeted Shiites, who they consider heretics.
The province is also the scene of a decades-long insurgency by Baluch nationalists who demand greater autonomy and a larger share of the province's natural resources.
Associated Press writers Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
- Created on 14 December 2012
(AP) — The U.S. will send two batteries of Patriot missiles and 400 troops to Turkey as part of a NATO force meant to protect Turkish territory from potential Syrian missile attack, the Pentagon said Friday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed a deployment order en route to Turkey from Afghanistan calling for 400 U.S. soldiers to operate two batteries of Patriots at undisclosed locations in Turkey, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters flying with Panetta.
Germany and the Netherlands have already agreed to provide two batteries of the U.S.-built defense systems and send up to 400 German and 360 Dutch troops to man them, bringing the total number of Patriot batteries slated for Turkey to six. The German Parliament is expected to formally agree to the deployment on Friday. NATO foreign ministers endorsed Turkey's request for the Patriots on Nov. 30.
A number of Syrian shells have landed in Turkish territory since the conflict in the Arab state began in March 2011. Turkey has condemned the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, supported Syrian rebels and provided shelter to Syrian refugees. Ankara is particularly worried that Assad may get desperate enough to use chemical weapons.
During a brief stop at Incirlik Air Base, Panetta told U.S. troops that Turkey might need the Patriots, which are capable of shooting down shorter-range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.
He said he approved the deployment "so that we can help Turkey have the kind of missile defense it may very well need to deal with the threats coming out of Syria," he said.
In a statement issued Friday NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said "the deployment will be defensive only."
"It will not support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation. Its aim is to deter any threats to Turkey, to defend Turkey's population and territory and to de-escalate the crisis on NATO's south-eastern border," Lungescu said.
Panetta did not mention how soon the two Patriot batteries will head to Turkey or how long they might stay.
Earlier this week in Berlin, German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Link told lawmakers that current plans call for the missile sites to be stationed at Kahramanmaras, about 60 miles north of Turkey's border with Syria. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Thursday that the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S. are working closely with Turkey "to ensure that the Patriots are deployed as soon as possible." But he predicted they would not become operational before the end of January. Turkey joined NATO in 1952, three years after the alliance was formed.
At Incirlik Air Base, about 60 miles north of the Syrian border, an Air Force member asked Panetta what the US would do if Syria used chemical or biological weapons against the rebels. Panetta said he could not be specific in a public setting, but added, "we have drawn up plans" that give President Barack Obama a set of options in the event that U.S. intelligence shows that Syria intends to use such weapons.
Asked by another Air Force member whether he thought Syria would "react negatively" to the Patriot deployments, Panetta said, "I don't think they have the damn time to worry" about the Patriots since the regime's leaders are struggling to stay in power.
He indicated that Syria's reaction to the Patriots was not a major concern to him.
Separately, NATO will deploy its Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, or AWACS, to Turkey on a training exercise this month, said a NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity because alliance rules do not allow him to speak on the record.
He said the exercise was not connected to the deployment of the Patriots.
The aircraft, which can detect launches of ground-to-ground missiles, will exercise command and control procedures as well as test the connectivity of various NATO and Turkish communications and data sharing systems, the official said.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.
- Created on 11 December 2012
AP) — Thousands of opponents and supporters of Egypt's Islamist president were flocking to key locations in the nation's capital ahead of rival mass rallies Tuesday, four days before a nationwide referendum on a contentious draft constitution.
The protesters were beginning to gather just hours after masked assailants set upon opposition protesters staging a sit-in at Tahrir Square, firing birdshot and swinging knives and sticks, according to security officials. At least 11 protesters were wounded in the pre-dawn attack, according to a Health Ministry spokesman quoted by the official MENA news agency.
The violence stoked tensions ahead of the mass demonstrations in Cairo by supporters and opponents of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi over the disputed draft constitution. The charter has deeply polarized the nation and triggered some of the worst violence since Morsi took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president.
Protests are also planned elsewhere in Egypt, including the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Suez to the east of Cairo.
The latest spate of violence in Egypt has divided the country into two camps: President Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and ultraorthodox Salafis on the one side, and liberals, leftists and Christians, on the other.
It was unclear who was behind the pre-dawn attack on the protesters who have been staging a sit-in at Tahrir for nearly three weeks, the security officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
The Tahrir protesters belong to the liberal opposition, which claims the draft of the charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country. The draft, hurriedly adopted late last month in a marathon session by a constituent assembly dominated by the president's Islamist allies, is going to a nationwide referendum on Saturday.
The dispute prompted hundreds of thousands of the president's opponents to take to the streets in massive rallies — the largest from primarily secular groups since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. Morsi's supporters responded with huge demonstrations of their own, which led to clashes in the streets that left at least six people dead and hundreds wounded.
There have been at least two dozen attacks on offices of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, according to the group's leaders. Meanwhile, senior opposition figures, including former lawmakers, have been badly beaten by pro-Morsi Islamists.
Also in Cairo, several hundred Islamists were camped out Tuesday outside a media complex that is home to several independent TV networks critical of Morsi and the Brotherhood. The Islamists have threatened to storm the complex.
With four days left before the referendum, the opposition has yet to decide whether to campaign for a "no" vote or call for a boycott — something many see as a reflection of divisions within the opposition. The disparate opposition groups are led by reformist and Nobel Peace prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, Egypt's former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.
Cracks in the opposition's unity first appeared last weekend when one of its leading figures, veteran opposition politician Ayman Nour, accepted an invitation by Morsi to attend a "national dialogue" meeting. On Monday, another key opposition figure, El-Sayed Badawi of the Wafd party, met Morsi at the presidential palace.
The opposition has rejected any dialogue with Morsi until he shelves the draft constitution and postpones the referendum. They had also demanded that Morsi rescind decrees giving him near absolute powers. He withdrew those powers on Saturday, but insisted that the referendum will go ahead as scheduled.
Anticipating unrest on the day of the referendum, Morsi has ordered the military to join the police in maintaining security and protecting state institutions until after the results of the vote are announced. The decree went into effect on Monday.
- Created on 12 December 2012
(AP) — Pope Benedict XVI hit the 1 million Twitter follower mark on Wednesday as he sent his first tweet from his new account, blessing his online fans and urging them to listen to Christ.
In perhaps the most drawn out Twitter launch ever, the 85-year-old Benedict pushed the button on a tablet brought to him at the end of his general audience after the equivalent of a papal drum roll by an announcer who intoned: "And now the pope will tweet!"
"Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart," the inaugural tweet read.
At around the same time the message was sent, the number of followers of Benedict's (at)Pontifex account surpassed the 1 million mark with all eight languages of the handle combined, adding some 11,000 followers in the last two hours alone.
The first papal tweet has been the subject of intense curiosity — as well as merciless jokes, spam and commentary. "The pope has an iPad?" comedian Jon Stewart asked earlier this year. The Onion satirical newspaper ran a piece "Pope tweets picture of self with God." And in perhaps a more long-term and problematic issue for the Vatican, the (at)Pontifex handle was flooded with spam from users remarking on the clerical sex abuse scandal.
Vatican officials have said they expected such negativity, but that is a risk they take by putting the Catholic Church's message out.
"These are already all over the Internet, in newspapers, in so many forms of expression," the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Jesuit magazine "Civilta Cattolica" told Vatican Radio this week. "They form part of ordinary communication."
Benedict actually sent his first tweet over a year ago, using a generic Vatican account to launch the Holy See's news information portal. Someone in his name tweeted daily during Lent, part of the Vatican's efforts to increase the church presence in social media.
A personal Twitter account for the 85-year-old Benedict has been the subject of speculation ever since the Vatican's senior communications official said in February the idea was gaining traction.
Vatican officials have acknowledged the pope won't actually type the messages and that someone in the Vatican's secretariat of state will write them on his behalf. And so it happened on Wednesday: Benedict just tapped a button on the tablet to send the inaugural tweet.
But about an hour later, a Vatican official tweeted a question that had been sent to the pope in the long run-up to the launch, asking his advice about how to be more faithful in daily life. "By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need," the responding tweet read.
The Vatican has insisted that the words are the pope's alone, culled from his speeches, homilies or catechism lessons.
As incongruous as it may seem for the 85-year-old Benedict to be on Twitter, Vatican officials have stressed that he is merely walking in the footsteps of his predecessors in using the latest in communications technology to spread the faith.
Pope Pius XI, for example, caused a similar stir when he launched Vatican Radio some 80 years ago to bring the pope's message on radio waves around the globe. The Vatican also has its own newspaper, television service and maintains dedicated YouTube channels and an Internet news portal.
- Created on 11 December 2012
(CNN) -- Nelson Mandela's current hospitalization is due to a lung infection, authorities said Tuesday. A statement from the President Jacob Zuma's office said that tests revealed "a recurrence of a previous lung infection." Mandela is responding to the treatment, the statement from the office said. Mandela is 94.