Mahmoud Abbas Calls Shimon Peres

FILE : Israeli president Shimon Peres (R) welcomes his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas during the first meeting of Israeli and Palestinian heads of state ever to be held in the President's Residence on July 22, 2008 in Jerusalem, Israel.

Jan 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / ISRAEL NATIONAL NEWS) — Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called President Shimon Peres on Wednesday to express his condolences for the death of his wife, Sonia Peres.

The two reportedly discussed issues related to negotiations, during which Peres told Abbas: “I am grateful to your firm stance against provocative attempts to delegitimize the Palestinian Authority and the peace process.”

Abbas responded, saying: “You and us together must stand like a barrier against these efforts. The peace process should not be destroyed.”  (*)

President Karzai inaugurates Afghan parliament, calls on legislators to serve nation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (C) shows respect to members of the new parliament after giving an oath in Kabul, January 26, 2011. Karzai opened parliament on Wednesday, ending a standoff with lawmakers, but setting the stage for a longer battle against an assembly he has long ignored. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

KABUL, Jan. 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / Xinhua)– President Hamid Karzai inaugurated Afghan parliament amid tight security on Wednesday.

The opening ceremony took place amid tight security as the road leading to the parliament building was closed for ordinary people.

It is the second Afghan parliament since the collapse of Taliban regime in late 2001 and 16th parliament in the history of the country. “You are representing the whole Afghanistan and not a particular clan. Let us join hands, stand together and work for the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan,” Karzai said in his lengthy speech lasted for about an hour.

Afghanistan’s second parliamentary election in the post- Taliban country was held in September 18, 2010 and the election body announced the final result on November 24.

More than 2,500 candidates including over 400 women contested the race to secure a seat in the 249-seat Wolesi Jirga or Lower House of parliament.

However, majority of the candidates who lost the race had disputed the result as fraud and approached the Attorney General to take legal action.

The row between the losing candidates and winners had led to postponements of opening the Wolesi Jirga or Lower House of parliament.

It was scheduled to be opened on Sunday January 23 but the president after meeting protesting candidates and promising that special court would continue investigation into fraud allegations opened it Wednesday. “Afghanistan is the common home of all Afghans and only can be built by the hands of the people of Afghanistan,” Karzai emphasized in his opening remarks at Wolesi Jirga or Lower House or parliament.

President Karzai also said that Afghan security forces are ready to take security charges from NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) by the end of 2014 and allows the international troops go their home.

Nevertheless, Karzai called on international partners to further equip and train Afghan security forces.

In his speech, the Afghan president also called on Taliban militants to give up militancy, contribute in peace and rebuilding process and eventually pave the way for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

Emphasizing for enhancing relations with the neighboring countries, U.S., Europe and Islamic world, Karzai said that Afghanistan wants boosting cooperation with Iran, Pakistan, China and all its neighbors. “China is our friendly neighbor. We want farther enhancing trade and economic relations and we are happy over its economic development and progress,” Karzai said in parts of his speech. President Karzai also said his “government wants to boost relations with Russia.”

Calling for more coordination and intensifying the war on terror, the Afghan president said that war on terror in Afghan villages would not deliver; adding terrorists’ sanctuaries would be targeted outside Afghanistan.

Defending his government’s achievements over the past 10 years, the Afghan leader said that the country’s foreign exchange reserve in 2002 was less than 200 million U.S. dollars while today it is about 5 billion U.S. dollars.

He also said that per capita income from 180 U.S. dollars in 2002 has risen to over 500 U.S. dollars today.

In Afghanistan today, he added more than 7.5 million Afghan children go to school while 10 years ago it was unthinkable.

Afghanistan, he added has natural resources worth more than 3 trillion U.S. dollars and the government would do its best to utilize the resources for the progress and prosperity of its citizens.

President Karzai also said that legalizing of the presence of NATO and U.S. troops is the objective of his government and hoped this would be done in the new parliament.

Meantime, Afghan president also expressed his gratitude to the countries contributed troops in the stabilizing security and rebuilding process of his war-torn nation. (*)

Officials: Up to 200 protesters detained in Egypt

A riot police officer stands in a vehicle as teargas is used to disperse demonstrators in downtown Cairo January 26, 2011. Police fired teargas and water cannon to disperse Egyptian protesters in Cairo in the early hours of Wednesday after a long day of unprecedented protests calling for President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30 year rule. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

CAIRO, Jan 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – Egyptian security officials say up to 200 protesters have been detained during clashes with thousands of Tunisia-inspired demonstrators demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

The officials said more people are likely to be detained as authorities review police video tapes of the nationwide protests.

A policeman and two protesters were killed in Tuesday’s clashes and some 250 wounded.

The protests were Egypt’s biggest in years and are likely to fuel dissent in a presidential election year.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Thousands of riot police deployed across Cairo on Wednesday, but the city remained quiet by late morning with no sign of fresh protests.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

Two protesters and a police officer were killed in the nationwide demonstrations inspired by Tunisia’s uprising, which also demanded a solution to Egypt’s grinding poverty and were likely to fuel growing dissent in a presidential election year.

Mobilized largely on the Internet, the waves of protesters filled Cairo’s central Tahrir — or Liberation — Square on Tuesday, some hurling rocks and climbing atop armored police trucks.

“Down with Hosni Mubarak, down with the tyrant,” chanted the crowds. “We don’t want you!” they screamed as thousands of riot police deployed in a massive security operation that failed to quell the protests.

As night fell, thousands of demonstrators stood their ground for what they vowed would be an all-night sit-in inTahrir Square just steps away from parliament and other government buildings — blocking the streets and setting the stage for even more dramatic confrontations.

Egyptian riot police group to push back protesters, unseen, during clashes in downtown Cairo, Egypt, in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

A large security force moved in around 1 a.m. Wednesday, arresting people, chasing others into side streets and filling the square with clouds of tear gas. Protesters collapsed on the ground with breathing problems amid the heavy volleys of tear gas.

The sound of what appeared to be automatic weapons fire could be heard as riot police and plainclothes officers chased several hundred protesters who scrambled onto the main road along the Nile in downtown Cairo. Some 20 officers were seen brutally beating one protester with truncheons.

“It got broken up ugly with everything, shooting, water cannon and (police) running with the sticks,” said Gigi Ibrahim, who was among the last protesters to leave the square. “It was a field of tear gas. The square emptied out so fast.”

Ibrahim said she was hit in her back with something that felt like a rock. “Some people were hit in their faces.”

Some protesters turned violent amid the crackdown. They knocked down an empty white police booth and dragged it for several yards before setting it on fire, chanting that they want to oust the regime. A police pickup truck was overturned and set ablaze behind the famed Egyptian Museum. Protesters also set fire to a metal barricade and blocked traffic on a major bridge over the Nile.

Police at the bridge fired tear gas and protesters mounted a charge, forcing officers to retreat, though they quickly regrouped. Two protesters with bleeding head wounds were carried off in ambulances.

Well after midnight, the smell of tear gas drifted throughout central Cairo and riot police remained deployed in large numbers. Tahrir Square looked like a battlefield covered with rocks and debris. The gates of the ruling party headquarters near the square were smashed.

Protesters stop traffic in the middle of a bridge over the Nile river during clashes in downtown Cairo, Egypt, in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Scattered groups of protesters were holding out in several areas. Many were chased by police vehicles into the Shubra neighborhood, where the streets were strewn with rocks in a sign of a heavy confrontation.

Discontent with life in Egypt’s authoritarian police state has simmered under the surface for years. However, it is Tunisia’s popular uprising, which forced that nation’s autocratic ruler from power, that appears to have pushed young Egyptians into the streets, many for the first time.

“This is the first time I am protesting, but we have been a cowardly nation. We have to finally say no,” said Ismail Syed, a hotel worker who struggles to live on a salary of $50 a month.

“We want to see change, just like in Tunisia,” said 24-year-old Lamia Rayan.

Dubbed a “day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment,” Tuesday’s protests in cities across Egypt began peacefully, with police at first showing unusual restraint in what appeared to be a calculated strategy to avoid further sullying the image of a security apparatus widely criticized as corrupt and violent.

With discontent growing over economic woes and the toppling of Tunisia’s president resonating in the region, it was an acknowledgment of the need to tread softly by an Egyptian government that normally responds with swift retribution to any dissent.

But as crowds filled Tahrir Square — waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags and adopting the same protest chants that rang out in the streets of Tunis — security personnel changed tactics and the protest turned violent.

At one point, demonstrators attacked a water cannon truck, opening the driver’s door and forcing the man out of the vehicle. As protesters hurled rocks and dragged metal barricades, officers beat them back with batons.

Protesters emerged stumbling amid clouds of acrid tear gas, coughing and covering their faces with scarves. Some had blood streaming down their faces. One man fainted. Police dragged some away and clubbed a journalist, smashing her glasses and seizing her camera.

The sight of officers beating demonstrators had particular resonance because Tuesday was a national holiday honoring the much-feared police.

Like the Tunisian protests, the calls to rally in Egypt went out on Facebook and Twitter, with 90,000 people voicing their support. Throughout the day organizers used Twitter to give minute-by-minute instructions about where to gather in an attempt to outmaneuver the police, until the government blocked it in the late afternoon.

Twitter announced that its service had been blocked in Egypt at about 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT), and said that Twitter and its applications had been affected.

A fearful passenger in a passing car covers her face to protect from tear gas during clashes between protesters and riot police in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

After remaining silent throughout the day, Egypt’s government called Tuesday night for an end to the protests. The Interior Ministry, which controls the security forces, said authorities wanted to let the protesters express their opinions and accused the crowds of “insisting on provocation.”

“Some threw rocks at police … and others carried out acts of rioting and damage to state institutions,” it said. The ruling party said some 30,000 protesters had turned out across the country.

“Egyptians have the right to express themselves,” said Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hosam Zaki.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Egypt’s government, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, was stable and Egyptians have the right to protest, though she urged all parties to avoid violence.

The dead in Tuesday’s violence included a policeman who was hit in the head with a rock in Cairo, and two protesters who died in the city of Suez east of Cairo, an Interior Ministry official said.

Nearly half of Egypt’s 80 million people live under or just above the poverty line, set by the U.N. at $2 a day. The widespread poverty, high unemployment and rising food prices pose a threat to Mubarak’s regime at a time when tensions between Muslims and Christians are adding to the nation’s woes.

“I support change,” said Sami Imam, a 53-year-old retired teacher who took part in Tuesday’s protests. “The police cannot kill us because we, to all practical purposes, are already dead,” said the father of four, clutching Egypt’s red, white and black flag.

“I have not visited the butcher in six months,” he said, in a reference to Egypt’s rising meat prices.

An upturned vehicle burns in a street in downtown Cairo, Egypt, during clashes between protesters and riot police in the early hours of Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Egyptian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets and beat protesters to clear thousands of people from a central Cairo square Wednesday after the biggest demonstrations in years against President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Adding to the uncertainty is that Mubarak, 82 and ailing, has yet to say whether he plans to run for another six-year term in office. Mubarak has not appointed a deputy since he became president in 1981 and is widely thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

The protests also follow a parliamentary election marred by allegations of widespread fraud that saw Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party win all but a small number of the chamber’s 518 seats.

In recent weeks, Mubarak and his son have repeatedly vowed to ensure that ambitious economic reforms engineered by the younger Mubarak over the past decade filter down to the poor. But that has not happened and there has been a marked increase in the frequency of street protests over the economy.

In another parallel with Tunisia, the protests drew energy from the death of a single young man: a young Egyptian named Khaled Said whose family and witnesses say was beaten to death by two policemen in Alexandria last year. His slaying has become a rallying point for Egypt’s opposition.

Tunisia’s protests were also sparked by a single death, that of a poor Tunisian vegetable vendor who set himself on fire to protest corruption. That act has been copied by at least six people in Egypt.

On Tuesday, mothers carrying babies joined protesters who chanted, “Revolution until Victory!” and waved signs reading “OUT!” inspired by the Tunisian slogan “DEGAGE!” Men sprayed graffiti reading “Down with Hosni Mubarak.”

Some passers-by dismissed the protests, saying a few thousand of Cairo’s 18 million people coming out on the streets was not nearly enough to force change.

“This is all just a waste of time,” said Ali Mustafa Ibrahim, who works at a cigarette stand. “These are a bunch of kids playing cat and mouse. … It’s just going to create more problems and more traffic in the city.”

Among the protesters in Cairo was Alaa al-Aswany, author of the best-selling “Yacoubian Building,” which portrays corrupt politicians, police brutality and terrorism in Egypt.

A keen observer of Egyptian society, al-Aswany said the demonstrations were an important opening for the government’s opponents.

“They broke the barrier of fear,” he said. “The writers of the regime were saying Egypt is not Tunisia and Egyptians are less educated than Tunisians. But here is the thing: these young people proved they can take their rights forcefully.” (*)

South Korea proposes military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11

FILE : South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C) encourages army soldiers during his visit to a military observation post of the front-line unit in the demilitarized zone in Yanggu, far northeast of Seoul, December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Blue House/Handout

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / Yonhap) — South Korea said Wednesday it has proposed holding working-level military talks with North Korea on Feb. 11, in what would be their first dialogue since the North’s deadly bombardment of a border island in November.

The proposed inter-Korean talks, which would be held at the border truce village of Panmunjom, are aimed at setting the time, place and agenda for a higher-level military meeting, said Kim Min-seok, a spokesman at the South’s defense ministry.

North Korea has yet to respond to the South’s proposal made via a military communications line at Panmunjom, Kim said.

The talks are expected to be led by Col. Moon Sang-gyun of the South and Col. Ri Son-kwon of the North, who have served as representatives of working-level military talks from each side for years. But the level of representatives is likely to be upgraded to general-level officers, depending on the North’s response, Kim said.

“When North Korea sends us a reply message, we will decide on the level of representatives at the working-level talks,” Kim said.
The South’s proposal came less than a week after North Korea suggested that the two sides hold the working-level meeting between defense officials, as well as talks between their defense chiefs, to “resolve pending military issues.”

The defense ministry has said it is willing to hold ministerial-level talks, but only if North Korea takes responsibility for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the torpedoing of a warship last March.

South Korean defense officials have also insisted that North Korea apologize for the two attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans and promise not to provoke the South if the ministerial-level talks take place.

“Our government’s stance is clear. North Korea must take responsible measures to account for the attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island, apologize for the attacks and pledged not to provoke again,” Kim said. “If North Korea refuses to do so, the ministerial-level talks won’t be held.”

In the proposal last week, the North said it wants to discuss its “viewpoint” on the attacks, according to a report by its state media, the Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea has so far denied any involvement in the torpedo attack of the Cheonan warship that killed 46 sailors, although a multinational investigation confirmed the North’s culpability.

Pyongyang has also claimed that its artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, in which two marines and two civilians died, was legitimate because the South provoked first by holding a life-fire drill near the island with some shells falling on the North’s side.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said North Korea is unlikely to meet the South’s demands for ministerial-level talks.

“The possibility of holding ministerial-level talks is low as the South has set the North’s apology over the Cheonan attack as a precondition,” Yang said.

The proposals of military talks between Seoul and Pyongyang come amid renewed efforts by regional powers to reopen the stalled six-party talks on the North’s nuclear programs.

The development followed a U.S.-China summit last week, during which the leaders of the two nations agreed that inter-Korean dialogue is necessary before resuming the six-party talks.

At the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao “expressed concern” about North Korea’s recently disclosed uranium-enrichment facility and called for “necessary steps” to restart the six-party talks.

Also on Wednesday, the South’s Unification Ministry urged the North to agree to hold separate inter-Korean talks on its nuclear programs as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg is visiting Seoul for talks with South Korean officials on the North’s nuclear issues.  (*)

Photostream : Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman meets Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) is welcomed by his Portuguese counterpart Luis Amado before a meeting in Lisbon January 25, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) talks with his Portuguese counterpart Luis Amado during a meeting in Lisbon January 25, 2011. REUTERS/Jose Manuel Ribeiro

Photo : British Foreign Secretary William Hague meets Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

In this handout provided by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague accompanies Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on a tour of The Churchill War Rooms on January 24, 2011 in London, England. During a meeting with his British counterpart, Lieberman responded to al-Jazeera's 'Palestine Papers', stating that extreme Muslim radicals, not Israel, was the biggest threat to the Palestinian Authority's leadership. Lieberman is on a three-day visit to the UK. Meanwhile, the UK said that William Hague stressed the British government’s commitment to a strong bilateral relationship with Israel. The UK, and the Foreign Secretary personally, sees Israel as a close friend of longstanding. The Foreign Secretary underlined the UK’s opposition to efforts to delegitimise Israel. They welcomed efforts to deepen economic and scientific co-operation between the UK and Israel, and confirmed that the next meeting of the UK/Israel Strategic Dialogue would take place in Jerusalem on 17 March. The Ministers discussed regional issues, including their shared determination to see a resolution to Iran’s nuclear programme to avoid an arms race in the Middle East. The Ministers’ discussions centred on the Middle East Peace Process. (Photo : GETTY IMAGES )

Nasrallah: Hezbollah will not control next Lebanon government

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah

Lebanese president taps Hezbollah-backed candidate as next prime minister; Lebanese army reportedly arrests security officials of former PM Saad Hariri as demonstrations against Hezbollah ensue.

Jan 26 (KATAKAMI.COM / HAARETZ) — Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Tuesday that his organization will not be the leader of Lebanon’s new government, despite Hezbollah’s backing of the new Lebanese prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati.

“Hezbollah will not lead the next government… Najib Mikati is not a Hezbollah man,” Nasrallah said in a televised address to the people of Lebanon, in a bid to try to calm the ensuing riots in the country by supporters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose government was recently toppled by Hezbollah.

Nasrallah assured that prime minister-designate Najib Mikati is an unbiased candidate, and said that a government with Mikati’s leadership is an opportunity to calm the political crisis in the country.

The Hezbollah chief urged Mikati to form a national partnership government and called on Saad Hariri and his aides to stand by Mikati and help him in forming a unity government “for the sake of Lebanon’s security.”

“We have supported the nomination of … Mikati and we call on him to form a national partnership government. The Lebanese have a chance to close ranks,” said Nasrallah.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was defeated by Mikati at the end of a two-day consultation to choose a prime minister. Hariri has said he would not take part in the government if Mikati won.

Hezbollah and its allies toppled the government of the Western-backed Hariri two weeks ago, after he refused to reject an international tribunal into the 2005 assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The United Nations-backed tribunal is widely expected to name members of Hezbollah in upcoming indictments, which many fear could reignite hostilities between Lebanon’s rival Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims.

Meanwhile, the Arabic language Al Arabiya TV network reported Tuesday that the Lebanese army has arrested three senior officials in former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s security staff on suspicion of incitement.

Hundreds of supporters of Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri waved flags and burned tires across the country on Tuesday, calling for a “day of wrath” after  Hezbollah won enough support for its pick to replace him as premier.

Hezbollah’s Sunni rivals, who support Hariri, demonstrated for a second day across the country including the capital Beirut and the main highway linking the capital with the southern port city of Sidon. A senior military official said several armed men fired in the air in west Beirut, but the army intervened and dispersed them.

The largest gathering Tuesday was in the northern city of Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni area and a hotbed of fundamentalists where thousands of people converged at a major square. Al-Jazeera said none of its crew was injured when protesters attacked the station’s van.

Soldiers also clashed with demonstrators in the town of Naameh, south of Beirut, and two civilians were wounded, security officials said.  (*)

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