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Friday, July 6, 2012

Manaf Tlas a commander who defected this week, has told friends Assad is leading Syria ‘to hell

Syrian defector Manaf Tlas, formerly one of President Bashar Assad’s closest friends and most trusted military colleagues, is en route to Paris after first fleeing Syria to Turkey, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday. A childhood friend of the president, Tlas seems set now to play a leading role in the opposition to Assad’s regime.

“A senior official from the Syrian regime, a commander in the Republican Guard, has defected and is headed to Paris,” AFP quoted Fabius as saying at a Friends of Syria conference in Paris. Tlas’s wife, Thala Khair, is reportedly already in the French capital.

Tlas is also the son of the Assad regime’s former long-serving defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, who is also now in Paris. Manaf Tlas’s defection is the first from the president’s inner circle and was described by an Israeli analyst Thursday as the gravest blow yet to Assad’s regime.

The BBC on Friday quoted friends of Tlas as saying he told them in recent days that Assad’s regime is “taking the country to hell.”

Manaf Tlas and Bashar Assad have been friends since childhood, and the Tlas family, who are Sunni Muslims, have played a critical role in maintaining support for the Alawite Muslim Assads within the Syrian Sunni community. Brig.-Gen. Tlas was a battalion commander in Assad’s elite Republican Guard.

According to Israel’s Channel 2 news, Tlas’s father Mustafa, who was the Syrian army’s chief of staff from 1968-1972, and then served as minister of defense from 1972-2004, has also abandoned Bashar Assad, though more discreetly. “He has slipped quietly away to Paris,” said Channel 2′s Ehud Yaari, a respected Arab affairs analyst.

Many other members of the Tlas family hold senior positions up to and including the rank of general in the Syrian army, Yaari said, and it was hard to imagine that they would long continue in those positions now that Manaf Tlas had defected.

Manaf Tlas held failed talks with Syrian opposition leaders soon after anti-Assad unrest erupted in March of last year, the BBC reported at the time. Tlas was quoted then as saying that while Syria needed reform, Bashar Assad was the reformers’ best hope.

Manaf’s brother, Firas, is a billionaire businessman and part of the Sunni merchant class who have hitherto widely supported the Assad regime, Yaari noted. Now based in Dubai, although also reportedly often in Paris, Firas has lately been in contact with the Syrian opposition, Yaari said.

Yaari said Syrian state media briefly reported online on Manaf’s defection earlier Thursday, calling him a traitor, but then removed the item and had since issued no official comment.

The BBC said Friday that Manaf had told friends shortly before defecting that Bashar Assad should have resigned early in the uprising against him. The report said Tlas had been kept under partial houses arrest since May of last year, because he made clear his opposition to Assad’s handling of the uprising.

The report said Tlas had helped negotiate the release of prisoners held by the regime and sought to negotiate with the Syrian opposition, in vain. It said “the turning-point” for Tlas came in May 2011 at the city of Rastan. “In May 2011, power and mobile networks were cut off Rastan in preparation for an attack on the city by the official forces. Manaf Tlas ordered the services to be restored and promised the protesters they had the right to demonstrate peacefully. Celebrating this, protesters chanted his name, which was enough to anger Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother and head of the presidential guard, who ordered Manaf Tlas to stay at home. Gen Tlas continued going to his base but no longer with any power to issue orders.”

According to the BBC, many in the Syrian opposition “see Manaf Tlas as someone who has not been involved in bloodshed and believe he could play an important role in a transitional phase in rebuilding the military establishment.”

The Times of Israel

US Will Sign Gun Control Treaty on July 27! Dick Morris

Strong earthquake rattles Pacific island nation of Vanuatu

SYDNEY — A strong earthquake has rattled the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. There are no immediate reports of damage or injuries, and no tsunami alert has been issued.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-6.3 quake struck Friday, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the island of Santo, at a depth of 179 kilometers (111 miles).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue an alert.

Vanuatu is part of the Pacific “ring of fire.” That’s an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga in the South Pacific.

The Washington Post

Rep. Carson: America's schools should use madrases as "model", where the foundation is Koran

Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson claimed in late May that America’s schools should be modeled after Islamic madrassas in video that recently surfaced.

“America will never tap into educational innovation and ingenuity without looking at the model that we have in our madrassas, in our schools, where innovation is encouraged, where the foundation is the Quran,” Carson said in the speech. “And that model that we are pushing in some of our schools meets the multiple needs of students.”

Carson’s comments were made during a May 26 speech in Hartford, Conn. at the 37th Annual Islamic Circle of North America-Muslim American Society Convention.

Madrassas are Islamic schools. Some claim that madrassas have a tendency to promote sexist, anti-Semitic teachings.

The Indiana Democrat is one of two Muslim congressmen in the United States. He made headlines last summer for claiming that the Tea Party wanted to see blacks “hanging on a tree.”

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/07/05/rep-carson-americas-schools-should-use-madrassas-as-model/#ixzz1zqzYWTaZ

Libya elections: Muslim Brotherhood set to lead government

While the elections for a 200-member National Congress is unlikely to grant a majority to any one faction, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are confident they can join their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt at the helm of leadership.

Negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular-based political movement led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril have focused on forming a post-election government as soon as the result is known.

An adviser to Mr Jibril said the former prime minister was likely to take the post of figurehead president with Mustafa Abu Shagour, currently interim deputy prime minister of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking the prime minister's slot as head of government.

The Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the ministries.

In the run-up to the elections, Libya's interim government has struggled to maintain law and order.

A threatened electoral boycott by federalists in Benghazi, the second city, has rattled Libya's rebels turned leaders. Leading figures fear that large numbers in the city that triggered the rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi may shun the polls, undermining the legitimacy of the election.

Recent attacks on foreign diplomats in Benghazi by Jihadists, a series of ugly micro-conflicts between militias in the Nafousa mountains leaving 105 dead and 300 wounded in the last fortnight and fierce clashes between Arabs, Tebu tribesmen and Tuaregs in the south have put the country on edge.

"We need to ensure stronger and more capable leadership soon after the elections," said a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction Party. "That is what Libyans want – more security and stability and progress being made to improve their day-to-day lives. They don't want deadlock."

Any coalition government would grant a prominent place to the al-Watan party of Abdulhakim Belhaj, sources said. Mr Belhaj acknowledged that the talks were under way. He said: "I negotiate with anyone who cares about Libya and wants to unite it."

The presence of Mr Belhaj in a Libyan government would complicate relations between Tripoli and London.

Mr Belhaj, the former commandant of the now dissolved terrorist outfit, Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had ties with al-Qaeda before disavowing violence, is suing the British government for approving his 2004 rendition to Gaddafi's regime.

Libya is using a complicated electoral system designed to ensure that no party sweeps the board in the elections for the assembly, which will oversee the new government and draw up a constitution.

One hundred and twenty seats are reserved for individuals – 2,501 candidates are challenging for those – and 80 seats will be allotted according to party lists. There are 1,206 party candidates.

But Islamic parties are likely to predominate, experts believe.

"I'd be surprised if Islamists, from the Brotherhood and other parties, don't secure most of the seats and a great chunk of the vote," says Dartmouth University professor Dirk Vandewalle, who's been advising the UN mission here.

The outgoing National Transitional Council, which has ruled Libya since Gaddafi's fall, announced yesterday that Islamic Sharia law should be the "main" source of legislation and that this principle should not be subject to a referendum.

"The Libyan people are attached to Islam, as a religion and legislation ... As such the National Transitional Council recommends that the (next) congress make Sharia the main source of legislation," Saleh Daroub, NTC spokesman, said.

Some secular Libyans fear the Brotherhood rising influence, despite promises from the Justice and Construction Party that it won't seek to impose religious views through control of the bureaucracy.

"If the Brotherhood gets in we will see a repeat of what's happening in Tunisia with underhand pressure on women to cover up and raids on art galleries," warns Majid Wanis-Gaddafi, the son of Libya's last prime minister before Gaddafi seized power in 1968.

The main storage centre for election materials in the eastern Libyan town of Ajdabiya was set on fire late Thursday night. The ballot papers for the town were burnt. The election commission is trying to print replacements in time for the polls.

Hundreds of protesters stormed the election commission's office in Benghazi last Sunday, ransacking files and smashing computer equipment. If they had managed to destroy ballot papers or voter lists, they could have derailed the election.

The Telegraph

As U.N. Finalizes Arms Trade Treaty, Opponents Warn of Global Gun Grab

Amid energetic lobbying from both sides, the Obama administration is taking part in month-long negotiations at United Nations headquarters aimed at finalizing a conventional arms trade treaty, which supporters say will save millions of lives but opponents fear threatens to restrict Second Amendment rights at home and U.S. arms sales policies abroad.

U.N. bureaucrats insist that the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) will have no impact on civilian gun ownership, saying that it will deal only with the arms trade across borders. They also stress that its outcome will not be imposed on any country, noting it will only be binding on countries that ratify it.

In a letter to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the eve of the conference, 130 Republican lawmakers outlined their concerns that the treaty being negotiated could negatively affect U.S. security, foreign policy and economic interests – as well as Americans’ constitutional rights.

“The ATT must not accept that free democracies and totalitarian regimes have the same right to conduct arms transfers: this is a dangerous piece of moral equivalence,” the letter stated.

“Moreover, the ATT must not impose criteria for determining the permissibility of arms transfers that are vague, easily politicized, and readily manipulated,” it continued, referring in particular to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and Israel.

The lawmakers warned that they would oppose the appropriation or authorization of any taxpayer money to implement a “flawed” treaty.

The Bush administration in 2006 cast the lone negative vote when 153 nations passed a U.N. General Assembly resolution that began the treaty-drafting process, which is now in its final phase in New York. President Obama reversed that position in 2009, backing the initiative but making its support conditional on consensus decision-making.

The “Knotted Gun” sculpture, by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reutersward, on display at the Visitors’ Plaza at U.N. headquarters in New York. (UN Photo by Rick Bajornas)

Alert to the political sensitivity of the issue as the election looms, the administration says it has clear red lines that it will not allow to be crossed.

At home, it says, the Second Amendment must be upheld: “There will be no dilution or diminishing of sovereign control over issues involving the private acquisition, ownership, or possession of firearms, which must remain matters of domestic law.”

Abroad, the U.S. will oppose any provisions that would “unduly interfere with our ability to import, export, or transfer arms in support of our national security and foreign policy interests,” it says.

Further, the administration pledges not to accept a treaty that covers ammunition or explosives, or one that establishes an international enforcement body.

Some of Washington’s closest allies differ with at least some of those positions.

For example the British, French, German and Swedish governments in a joint position published this week said, “We believe that an arms trade treaty should cover all types of conventional weapons, notably including small arms and light weapons, all types of munitions, and related technologies.”

Britain, France and Germany are among the world’s top six arms suppliers, along with the United States – the leader by far – as well as China and Russia.

A powerful coalition of non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International and Oxfam says the negotiated treaty must be workable and enforceable, with international reporting of sales and a mechanism for monitoring compliance.

On the issue of consensus, the Control Arms coalition also wants the conference to follow usual U.N. practice, requiring “wide agreement” on a final text but not giving countries veto power.

‘Goal is clear: A robust and legally-binding arms trade treaty’

The month-long negotiating conference got off to a slow start this week after demands by Arab states that the Palestinian Authority be allowed to participate as a voting delegate, citing the precedent set by UNESCO in admitting “Palestine” as a full member nine months ago. After reported boycott threats by the U.S. and Israel, the P.A. was seated as an observer, without voting rights.

In his opening remarks, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said poorly-regulated international arms transfers fuel civil conflicts, destabilized regions, and empowered terrorists and criminal networks.

“Our common goal is clear: a robust and legally-binding arms trade treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence,” he said.

One of the key issues under discussion is criteria that should be met when countries decide on selling arms. Any deal that would contribute to war crimes, human rights violations or terrorism should not be authorized, although who would make such determinations remains fuzzy.

If left up to countries themselves, argue proponents of a strong treaty, this would allow Russia, for example, to continue selling arms to Syria since Moscow views the regime’s actions against the anti-Assad opposition as lawful.

Arms Control Association executive director Daryl Kimball argued in a recent paper that the treaty must require countries to withhold problematic arms transfers, not merely require them to take any potential risks into account.

On the other hand, global regulation of sales could impact the right of the U.S. to sell arms to allies that have powerful enemies in the international community, such as Israel and Taiwan.

“Washington is the only capital that now sells weapons to Taipei, aiding its defense against Beijing’s unprecedented arms buildup,” Heritage Foundation senior fellow Peter Brookes wrote in an op-ed Tuesday. “China would love to cut off those sales.”

Also unclear is how arms sales benefiting terrorists would be restricted, given the U.N.’s failure over many years to define terrorism – largely because Arab and Muslim states insist on exclusions for those fighting “foreign occupation.”

Less controversial proposed criteria for arms sales include not fostering corruption or harming the economy of the country buying the weapons.

ATT proponents and the U.N. say the initiative will not affect domestic gun ownership, but Second Amendment advocacy groups are adamantly opposed to the treaty, which Gun Owners of America calls “a backdoor attempt by the Obama administration to impose radical gun control on America citizens.”

Addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference last February, National Rifle Association vice-president Wayne LaPierre accused Obama of working behind the scenes with the U.N. on a “treaty that could effectively ban or severely restrict civilian ownership of firearms worldwide.”

“I've been around long enough to know that the U.N. has little regard for our Constitution and none at all for the Second Amendment,” LaPierre said. “But I never thought I’d see the day when an American White House would tolerate a proposal that would literally gut one of our most fundamental freedoms in this country.”


Ahmadinejad invites Egypt's Morsi to Tehran summit

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has invited his newly elected Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Morsi, to a summit of Non-Aligned Movement nations to be held in Tehran in late August, his presidency website said on Thursday.

"Your excellency's presence as the current head of the Non-Aligned Movement at Tehran's summit would be effective in progressing negotiations and decisions," Ahmadinejad was quoted telling Morsi by telephone.

"Egypt's role in this movement is undeniable, and constructive cooperation between Iran and Egypt in this movement can have many positive outcomes," he added.

The presidency website said that Morsi replied by saying he "hoped' to meet Ahmadinejad in the Tehran summit. It did not say when the telephone conversation took place.

The site quoted Morsi also saying: "The Non-Aligned Movement is an important meeting which is like an umbrella covering many Islamic and non-Islamic nations, and I hope to witness the realisation this international organisation's aims."

The Non-Aligned Movement is a grouping of nations that consider themselves independent of the world's major political blocs.

Ahmadinejad last month called for stronger ties between Iran and Egypt after Morsi's presidential election victory.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have been cut for the past three decades, following Iran's Islamic revolution and Egypt's signing in 1980 of a peace pact with Iran's arch-foe Israel.

Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood politician who quit the powerful Islamist movement after his victory, became Egypt's first democratically elected president since the ouster of veteran pro-US leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Iran's clerical leadership contends that the Arab Spring that toppled Mubarak and other long-time US allies in the Arab world last year was inspired by its own 1979 Islamic revolution.

Although Iran's predominant faith is Shiite Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood adheres to the Sunni branch of Islam, Tehran has been reaching out to the organisation in Egypt in recent months.

Yahoo News

Clinton: Russia & China will 'pay price' for supporting Assad

Biometrics....Customize your computer or toilet

You might want to take a seat before reading through a recent patent application made by Sony it was awarded this week. The application examines a computer mouse with vein recognition software, and is designed to make computers more customizable and accessible for users, according to Engadget.

When you hold the mouse in the patent, the vein readers in the device will instantly recognize you based on a customized user database. With it you can sign into your computer with your biometric signature instead of with a username and password, much like fingerprint readers do today.

According to the patent, the information gathered can also be used to switch to your preferred settings for your computer, including the size of text for readability or the brightness settings for your monitor.

But that's not all -- the patent application also includes diagrams exploring other uses of the technology, including a toilet.

In one diagram, the vein reader is attached to the doorknob of the bathroom. When you open the door, the reader detects your preferences for the toilet, including moving the seat up or down depending on gender, and the water pressure for a bidet (the application uses the example of lower water pressure for younger users).

While the jump from the desktop computer to the lavatory may seem like a non sequitur, it got us at the CBC Community Team wondering about other applications for the vein reader or other personal authentication methods.

Perhaps you could set the living room to your favourite channel on the television as well as the perfect temperature with the swipe of your index finger. Or how about adjusting the rear-view window and radio station in your car in less time than it takes to put on your seat belt?

Your Community

Moody’s slashes Barclays

LONDON/SYDNEY — Ratings agency Moody’s changed its outlook for Barclays’s standalone bank financial strength rating to negative from stable, citing the resignations of senior executives including chief executive Bob Diamond in the wake of an interest rate-rigging scandal.

Moody’s said on Thursday the downgrade reflected concerns that the departures and the consequent uncertainty surrounding the bank’s direction would be negative for bondholders.

The ratings agency said shareholder and political pressure on Barclays could lead to pressure on the bank to shift its business model away from investment banking and to reform perceived failures in its business culture.

“Although this could have potentially positive implications over the longer term, the uncertainty surrounding such a change in direction is credit-negative in the short term,” Moody’s said in a statement.

Barclays announced Diamond’s resignation on Tuesday and his departure was followed hours later by that of chief operating officer Jerry del Missier. Chairman Marcus Agius has also announced his intention to leave once successors are found.

Moody’s said Barclays could struggle to find a suitable candidate to step into Diamond’s shoes.

“The bank could be challenged to replace the three senior staff and in particular find a new CEO who not only has a sufficient understanding of the investment banking business to run Barclays, but also has the credibility and ability to swiftly address the weaknesses that the Libor incident revealed and stakeholders’ perceptions of the investment bank,” it said.

Moody’s cut its outlook on Barclays’ C-/baa2 standalone bank financial strength rating (BFSR) to negative from stable. The C-/ baa2 standalone BFSR as well as the A2 long-term and Prime-1 short-term debt ratings remain unchanged.

Financial Post