Mandela in good hands, don't panic – S.Africa govt

Former South African President Nelson Mandela waves to the crowd at Soccer City stadium during the closing ceremony for the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg July 11, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Michael Kooren/Files

Jan 28 (KATAKAMI.COM / Reuters) – Former South African President Nelson Mandela is undergoing specialised tests in hospital and there is no reason to panic, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said in a statement on Friday.

A source close to Mandela told Reuters on Thursday the 92-year-old anti-apartheid icon is recovering from a collapsed lung and could be released from hospital as early as Friday.

Motlanthe said Mandela was in good spirits.

“Medically there is no need to panic. Dr. Mandela suffers from (an) ailment common to people of his age, and conditions that have developed over years. We may recall that he has suffered from tuberculosis whilst on Robben Island and has had previous respiratory infections.  (*)

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Egypt: Internet down, police counterterror unit up

Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Suez, Egypt Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Egyptian activists protested for a third day as social networking sites called for a mass rally in the capital Cairo after Friday prayers, keeping up the momentum of the country's largest anti-government protests in years. (AP Photo)

CAIRO, Jan 28 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – Internet service in Egypt was disrupted and the government deployed an elite special operations force in Cairo on Friday, hours before an anticipated new wave of anti-government protests.

The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.

The counter-terror force, rarely seen on the streets, took up positions in strategic locations, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations this week.

Facebook and Twitter have helped drive this week’s protests. But by Thursday evening, those sites were disrupted, along with cell phone text messaging and BlackBerry Messenger services. Then the Internet went down.

Earlier, the grass-roots movement got a double boost — the return of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and the backing of the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

After midnight, security forces arrested at least five Brotherhood leaders and five former Members of Parliament, according to the group’s lawyer, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maksoud, and spokesman, Walid Shalaby. They said security forces had also taken a large number of Brotherhood members in a sweep in Cairo and elsewhere.

The real test for the protest movement will be whether Egypt’s fragmented opposition can come together, with Friday’s rallies expected to be some of the biggest so far.

Social networking sites were abuzz that the gatherings called after Friday prayers could attract huge numbers of protesters demanding the ouster of Mubarak. Millions gather at mosques across the city on Fridays, giving organizers a vast pool of people to tap into.

The 82-year-old Mubarak has not been seen in public or heard from since the protests began Tuesday with tens of thousands marching in Cairo and a string of other cities. While he may still have a chance to ride out this latest challenge, his choices are limited, and all are likely to lead to a loosening of his grip on power.

Violence escalated on Thursday at protests outside the capital. In the flashpoint city of Suez, along the strategic Suez Canal, protesters torched a fire station and looted weapons that they then turned on police. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that more than 90 police officers were injured in those clashes. There were no immediate figures on the number of injured protesters.

In the northern Sinai area of Sheik Zuweid, several hundred Bedouins and police exchanged gunfire, killing a 17-year-old. About 300 protesters surrounded a police station from rooftops of nearby buildings and fired two rocket-propelled grenades at it, damaging the walls.

Video of the shooting of the teenager, Mohamed Attef, was supplied to a local journalist and obtained by APTelevision News. Attef crumpled to the ground after being shot on the street. He was alive as fellow protesters carried him away but later died.

The United States, Mubarak’s main Western backer, has been publicly counseling reform and an end to the use of violence against protesters, signs the Egyptian leader may no longer be enjoying Washington’s full backing.

In an interview broadcast live on YouTube, President Barack Obama said the anti-government protests filling the streets show the frustrations of Egypt’s citizens. “It is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express their grievances,” Obama said.

Noting that Mubarak has been “an ally of ours on a lot of critical issues,” Obama added: “I’ve always said to him that making sure that they’re moving forward on reform, political reform and economic reform, is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt.”

“And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets,” Obama said.

In a move likely to help swell the numbers on the streets, the Muslim Brotherhood ended days of inaction to throw its support behind the demonstrations. On its website, the outlawed group said it would join “with all the national Egyptian forces, the Egyptian people, so that this coming Friday will be the general day of rage for the Egyptian nation.”

However, Internet disruptions were reported by a major service provider for Egypt. Italy-based Seabone said there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time Friday.

For the Brotherhood, still smarting from their recent defeat in a parliamentary election marred by fraud, the protests offer a rare opportunity to seize on what is increasingly shaping up as the best shot at regime change since Mubarak came to office in 1981.

The Brotherhood has sought to depict itself as a force pushing for democratic change in Egypt’s authoritarian system, and is trying to shed an image among critics that it aims to seize power and impose Islamic law. The group was involved in political violence for decades until it renounced violence in the 1970s.

The Brotherhood’s support and the return of ElBaradei were likely to energize a largely youth-led protest movement that, by sustaining unrest over days, has shaken assumptions that Mubarak’s security apparatus can keep a tight lid on popular unrest.

ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and a leading Mubarak opponent, has sought to recreate himself as a pro-democracy campaigner in his homeland. He is viewed by some supporters as a figure capable of uniting the country’s fractious opposition and providing the movement with a road map for the future.

For ElBaradei, it is a chance to shake off his image as an elitist who is out of touch after years of living abroad, first as an Egyptian diplomat and later with the United Nations.

Speaking to reporters Thursday before his departure for Cairo, ElBaradei said: “If people, in particular young people, … want me to lead the transition, I will not let them down. My priority right now … is to see a new regime and to see a new Egypt through peaceful transition.”

Once on Egyptian soil, he struck a conciliatory note.

“We’re still reaching out to the regime to work with them for the process of change. Every Egyptian doesn’t want to see the country going into violence,” he said. “Our hand is outstretched.”

“I wish that we didn’t have to go to the streets to impress on the regime that they need to change,” ElBaradei said. “There is no going back. I hope the regime stops the violence, stops detaining people, stops torturing people.”

With Mubarak out of sight, the ruling National Democratic Party said Thursday it was ready for a dialogue with the public but offered no concessions to address demands for a solution to rampant poverty, unemployment and political change.

Safwat El-Sherif, the party’s secretary general and a longtime confidant of Mubarak, was dismissive of the protests at the first news conference by a senior ruling party figure since the unrest began.

“We are confident of our ability to listen. The NDP is ready for a dialogue with the public, youth and legal parties,” he said. “But democracy has its rules and process. The minority does not force its will on the majority.”

El-Sharif’s comments were likely to reinforce the belief held by many protesters that Mubarak’s regime is incapable, or unwilling, to introduce reforms that will meet their demands. That could give opposition parties an opening to win popular support if they close ranks and promise changes sought by the youths at the forefront of the unrest.

Mubarak has not said yet whether he will stand for another six-year term as president in elections this year. He has never appointed a deputy and is thought to be grooming his son Gamal to succeed him despite popular opposition. According to leaked U.S. memos, hereditary succession also does not meet with the approval of the powerful military.

Mubarak has seen to it that no viable alternative to him has been allowed to emerge. Constitutional amendments adopted in 2005 by the NDP-dominated parliament has made it virtually impossible for independents like ElBaradei to run for president.

Continuing the heavy-handed methods used by the security forces the past three days would probably buy his regime a little time but could strengthen the resolve of the protesters and win them popular sympathy.

The alternative is to introduce a package of political and economic reforms that would end his party’s monopoly on power and ensure that the economic liberalization policies engineered by his son and heir apparent Gamal over the past decade benefit the country’s poor majority.

He could also lift the emergency laws in force since 1981, loosen restrictions on the formation of political parties and publicly state whether he will stand for another six-year term in elections this year.

Mubarak’s regime suffered another serious blow Thursday when the stock market’s benchmark index fell more than 10 percent by close, its biggest drop in more two years on the back of a 6 percent fall a day earlier.

Egypt’s situation is similar to Iran’s manipulation of the Internet during the 2009 disputed elections, said Craig Labovitz, chief scientist for Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass.-based security company.

Blocking the Web in countries that exert strong control over their Internet providers is not difficult, he said, because companies that own fiber optic cables and other technologies are often under strict licenses from the government.

“I don’t think there’s a big red button — it’s probably a phone call that goes out to half a dozen folks,” he said. (*)

IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi Holds Meetings in NATO Conference

IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi (R) and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the United States Military, Admiral Michael G. Mullen (L) held a meeting in Brussels( Jan 27) . During the meeting they discussed the events currently taking place in the Middle East and addressed the mutual strategic and security concerns to both countries and militaries. This evening, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi and his wife will also meet for dinner with USEUCOM Commander, Admiral James G. Stavridi. ( Photo: Ron Sachss / IDF )

Jan 27 (KATAKAMI.COM) — Earlier today (Thursday) the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the United States Military, Admiral Michael G. Mullen held a meeting in Brussels. During the meeting they discussed current events in the Middle East and addressed the mutual strategic and security concerns to both countries and militaries.

This evening, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi and his wife will also meet for dinner with USEUCOM Commander, Admiral James G. Stavridis.

The IDF Chief of Staff, left for Brussels on Tuesday (Jan. 25th) for a two day work visit. During the visit, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi has participated in a conference of the Chiefs of Defense of NATO member countries, and conducted work meetings with his counterparts from around the world.

Escorting the Chief of the General Staff were his wife Ronit, the IDF Spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, Head of the International Military Cooperation Department in the Planning Directorate, Colonel Hani Caspi, Israeli Defense Attache to NATO, Colonel Uri Halperin and Aide-de-Camp, Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Col. Amos HaCohen.

Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi will depart for Israel on Friday morning.  (*)

Souce : IDF

Photostream : French President Nicolas Sarkozy meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) speaks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a bilateral meeting on January 27, 2011 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos. Sarkozy dismissed speculation against the euro on January 27, declaring that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would never allow the currency to fail. (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) shakes hands with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during a bilateral meeting on January 27, 2011 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos. Sarkozy dismissed speculation against the euro on January 27, declaring that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would never allow the currency to fail. (Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

House Speaker John Boehner avoids Nancy Pelosi's strawberry-and-chocolate Air Force shuttle

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) receives the Speaker's gavel from outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) January 5, 2011 in Washington, DC. The 112th U.S. Congress will be sworn-in today, with Republican legislators taking control of the House of Representatives and expected to begin attempts to dismantle portions of U.S. President Barack Obamaï¿?ï¿?ï¿?s legislative agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jan 27 (KATAKAMI.COM / THE OREGONIAN) — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, counts several lobbyists among his closest pals and is no stranger tolavish golf outings paid for by his and other political committees.  But you can see why he was smart to drop his predecessors’ custom of being shuttled around on an Air Force jet.

Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group, has a new batch of documents detailing former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of Air Force planes, both to bring the San Francisco Democrat back and forth from her district and for foreign travel.

All told, the speaker took 43 flights between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1 of last year.  The Air Force provided expenses for just 22 of those flights, which cost taxpayers $1.8 million.

This is probably not an atypical amount of travel for a West Coast member of Congress (although the expense is obviously much more).  But what’s really burning up the internet (to the point that the actual Judicial Watch website had crashed Thursday morning) are the little details that infuriate taxpayers.  Such as her staff requesting “something like chocolate covered strawberries (dark chocolate preferred)” as a birthday treat for the speaker on one flight.

There’s also the trip to Tel Aviv and Baghdad that included these supplies: Johnny Walker Redscotch, Grey Goose vodka, E&J brandy, Baileys Irish Cream, Maker’s Mark whiskey, Courvoisier cognac, Bacardi Light rum, Jim Beam whiskey, Beefeater gin, Dewar’s scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin,Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Corona beer and several bottles of wine.

That well-stocked bar paints in an image in the minds of taxpayers, one that savvy politicians like Boehner know they want to avoid.  (*)

Obama Chooses New Press Secretary

In this image released by the White House, Vice President Joe Biden works with Communications Director Jay Carney on Air Force Two en route to Atherton, Calif., July 8, 2010. President Barack Obama has chosen Jay Carney, the communications chief to Vice President Joe Biden and a former Time magazine journalist, to be the next White House press secretary. (AP Photo/The White House, David Lienemann)

Jan 27 (KATAKAMI.COM/ VOA) — U.S. President Barack Obama has named former magazine journalist Jay Carney as the new White House press secretary.

The announcement was made Thursday by White House Chief of Staff William Daley, who is himself a new hire for President Obama. Carney is a former reporter and Washington bureau chief forTime magazine. He will replace Robert Gibbs, who is expected to step down next month.

Carney currently works as Vice President Joe Biden’s spokesman.

The move is part of an ongoing shakeup of White House staff that will support the president in the second phase of his administration. Daley said the appointment of Carney, and other changes announced Thursday, would bring “greater clarity” to the White House structure and “enhance coordination and collaboration.”

Gibbs has served as White House press secretary since President Obama took office in January 2009. Gibbs is generally well-liked by reporters and has been known for his humor and playful banter with reporters. Gibbs, however, has been criticized for playing favorites among the press corps.

Gibbs has said he would be leaving the White House to be an outside adviser for the president’s 2012 re-election campaign.  (*)

Ill. high court: Rahm Emanuel can run for Chicago mayor

Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel smiles after being endorsed by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley as he awaits a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court regarding his residency which could remove him from the ballot in the upcoming mayoral election, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

CHICAGO, Jan 27 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP)  – Illinois’ highest court put Rahm Emanuel back in the race for Chicago mayor Thursday, three days after a lower court threw the former White House chief of staff off the ballot because he had not lived in the city for a full year.

The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Emanuel’s favor, saying an appeals court decision that said the candidate needed to be physically present in Chicago was “without any foundation in Illinois law.”

“As I said from the beginning, I think the voters deserve the right to make the choice of who should be mayor,” Emanuel said shortly after getting word of the high court’s action. “I’m not quite sure emotionally where I’m at.

“I’m relieved for the city. I’m relieved for the voters because they need the certainty that’s important for them.”

Emanuel lived for nearly two years in Washington working for President Barack Obama. He moved back to Chicago in October, after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he would not seek another term.

When he learned of Thursday’s ruling, Emanuel said he immediately called his wife and took a congratulatory call from his old boss, the president.

Political observers said the ruling resurrecting Emanuel’s candidacy would probably give him added momentum heading into the last month of the campaign.

Don Rose, a longtime analyst of Chicago politics, said he thought the saga would bring Emanuel “even greater sympathy” and could lift him to victory.

“It’s over,” Rose said. “The only open question is whether he wins it in the first round or whether there’s a runoff.”

But the other contenders in the race did not give any ground.

“Game on,” said Gery Chico, the city’s former school board president and one of Emanuel’s more prominent rivals. He complained that the recent “drama” surrounding Emanuel had “made this election into a circus instead of a serious debate about the future of Chicago.”

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun said she did not question the court’s decision.

“The fact is that the field hasn’t changed. We’re all still in this, and we’re all trying to get our message out,” she said Thursday at a televised debate, where she was joined by Emanuel, Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

However, if Emanuel does not get more than 50 percent of the vote on Feb. 22, a runoff election could be more difficult to win.

“It would show he wasn’t strong enough,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It’s going to be very turbulent in the next week or two. A number of voters will reconsider.”

Emanuel never stopped campaigning as the case unfolded. Within minutes of the ruling, he was at a downtown transit station shaking hands.

The former White House aide has said he always intended to return to Chicago.

The Supreme Court took special note of Emanuel’s testimony before the election board in which he listed all the personal items he left in the house in Chicago when he moved to Washington — including his wife’s wedding dress, photographs of his children and clothes they wore as newborns, as well as items belonging to his grandfather.

The board “determined that, in this situation, the rental did not show abandonment of the residence,” the court wrote. “This conclusion was well supported by the evidence and was not clearly erroneous.”

In a conclusion that was unusually critical of the appellate ruling, the justices said Illinois’ residency law “has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th century.”

While all seven justices ruled in Emanuel’s favor, two of them issued a separate opinion that was more sympathetic to the lower court, saying Illinois residency law was not as clear-cut as the majority believed.

“It is for this reason that the tone taken by the majority today is unfortunate,” the two justices wrote. “Because our own case law was, until today, unclear, it is unfair of the majority to state that the appellate court majority ‘tossed out’ 150 years” of precedent.

Chicago-based election attorney Adam Lasker said the reasoning behind the lower court ruling was sound, but he acknowledged that “there was a lot of pressure from the public.”

“The court of public opinion may have won this one,” he said.

In the future, the decision could allow less prominent or desirable figures than Emanuel to get on the mayoral ballot.

“It could become known as the Landlord Rule,” he said. “Now anyone who rents his house, leaves clothes in it and moves out of Chicago, can come back, and they can be a candidate.”

But Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, said the high court ruling made sense.

“This wasn’t a slam-dunk for Emanuel going in,” said. “But it shows the justices saw the appellate court ruling as a hiccup.”

When faced with an ambiguity in election law, he said, the justices “decided that you want to err on the side of letting voters vote for candidates that they want to.”

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Emanuel’s attorneys called the appellate court decision “one of the most far-reaching election law rulings” ever issued in Illinois, not only because of its effect on the mayoral race but for “the unprecedented restriction” it puts on future candidates.

His lawyers raised several points, including that the appeals court applied a stricter definition of residency than the one used for voters. They said Illinois courts have never required candidates to be physically present in the state to seek office there.

Monday’s surprise ruling threw the mayoral race and Emanuel’s campaign into disarray. The following day, the state Supreme Court ordered Chicago elections officials to stop printing ballots without Emanuel’s name on them.

Chicago election officials said they had printed nearly 300,000 ballots without Emanuel’s name before they abruptly stopped.

Emanuel had been the heavy favorite to lead the nation’s third-largest city, and he raised more money than any other candidate vying to replace Daley, who is retiring after more than two decades as mayor.

When Emanuel’s candidacy appeared in doubt, the other main candidates in the race moved quickly to try to win over his supporters.

The residency questions have dogged Emanuel ever since he announced his bid. He tried to move back into his house when he returned to Chicago, but the family renting it wanted $100,000 to move out early.

The elections board and a Cook County judge had previously ruled in favor of Emanuel, a former congressman.

In the Emanuel family, Thursday’s decision was to have lasting implications.

“I have banned the word resident in Scrabble in our household. I never want to see it again,” said Emanuel, adding that his family enjoys the board game. “Even if you get it on a triple word you’re not allowed to use it.”   (*)

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