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Wednesday
Feb232011

Obama Targets Two More Iranian Officials for Sanctions

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Last September, President Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on eight Iranian officials responsible for serious human rights abuses.

On Wednesday,  the Obama administration added two to that list: Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ notorious Basij Forces, Mohammed Reza Naqdi.

Appointed Tehran prosecutor general in August 2009, Dolatabadi and those under him have charged Iranian protesters with the capital offense of “Muharebeh” -- literally “fighting,” in Arabic, but, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, it’s “the term used in Iran’s Sharia law to describe a major crime committed against Islam and the state. It carries a punishment ranging from imprisonment to death.”

According to the Obama administration, Dolatabadi’s office has denied due process to those facing the death sentence, arrested human rights activists, reporters, and demonstrators. Dolatabadi’s predecessor in the position, Saeed Mortazavi, was targeted by President Obama for sanctions last September.

Dolatabadi is the lead prosecutor in a regime that is significantly increasing its executions. Human rights groups say that at least 83 Iranians were executed by the Iranian regime in January alone. One of them was 45-year-old Zahra Bahrami, a citizen of both Iran and the Netherlands, arrested in the round-ups of anti-government demonstrators and hanged for the crime of drug possession.

Last week, after anti-government protests in Tehran resulted in the arrest and detention of dozens of Iranian activists, reporters, and political figures, Dolatabadi, justified the arrests as having been carried out for "security reasons."

Dolatabadi is also leading the prosecution for espionage of American hikers Joshua Felix Fattal, 28, and Shane Michael Bauer, 28.

According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, Naqdi is known as the “Tyrant of the Campus” and in the late '90s was “allegedly involved in the imprisonment and torture of Tehran mayor Qolam-Hossein Karbaschi as well as other prominent city officials.” He is said to have played a critical role in the formation of Ansar-i-Hezbollah, involved in the 1999 attacks on Tehran University students.

More recently, Naqdi was present during the summer 2009 torture of protesters at Kahrizak prison, according to journalist and former Basiji Amir Farshad Ebrahimi.

The Obama administration says Naqdi is responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses committed by the Basij Forces, including the response to the December 2009 Ashura Day protests.

In a statement, the Director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, Adam J. Szubin, said that the “designations highlight the complicity of two Iranian officials in significant human right abuses against the Iranian people. Dolatabadi and Naqdi have no place in the international financial system.”

State Department Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said Wednesday's action underscores our enduring commitment to support Iranians seeking to exercise their universal rights and expresses our solidarity with victims of torture, persecution and arbitrary detention.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb232011

Iran Warships Cross Suez Canal

Photo Courtesy - US State Dept.(JERUSALEM) -- Israel's navy is continuing to closely monitor two Iranian warships bound for Syria that crossed the Suez Canal Tuesday for the first time in 30 years. 

Israel sees the Iranian move as a provocation and an attempt to expand its influence amid all the political turmoil in the Middle East.  Now there are concerns in Israel that Iran is using the ships to smuggle arms in violation of U.N. sanctions.  

A report in the Israeli paper Ma' ariv claims a weapons shipment has been stashed on the two Iranian warships heading to Syria meant for the militant Islamic group Hezbolllah.  Relying on unnamed Israeli military sources, the report says rockets of various ranges, rifles and ammunition are on board.

Officials at Israel's Defense Ministry are not commenting on the report. Less than two years ago, Israel discovered 500 tons of weapons hidden in an Iranian shipment on a German freighter bound for Syria.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb232011

US Begins Evacuating Americans from Libya by Ferry

Photo Courtesy - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Amid fears of a civil war in Libya, the U.S. will begin evacuating thousands of American citizens from the country Wednesday.

The U.S. embassy in Tripoli issued a statement Tuesday saying a government-chartered ferry will transport Americans from Tripoli to the island of Malta.  The ferry will depart from the As-shahab port no later than 3:00 p.m., and those seeking to leave Libya must bring valid travel documents and should arrive at the pier no later than 10:00 a.m.

Americans who request evacuation will also be required to sign paperwork agreeing to repay the U.S. government for the cost of the trip, which is unknown at the moment.

Demonstrations began in Libya early last week as protesters called for the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.  Since then, violence has escalated between the anti-government protesters and security forces, leaving hundreds dead and hundreds more injured.

Gadhafi refuses to step down and has vowed to fight on to his "last drop of blood" and die a "martyr."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb232011

Prince Harry's Plans His Brother's Last Blast As a Single Man

Photo Courtesy - Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Party-loving Prince Harry is planning his brother's farewell homage to the single life, but some things are off limits for Prince William's bachelor party, ABC News' royal contributor said.

"[Prince Harry] made a secret plan with the guys that run one of the best water sports companies, and they're going to be out with speed boats, wake boards, water skiing; spend the whole day basically on the English Channel having fun," Duncan Larcombe said.

Drinking is prohibited on the water, so a private pub crawl is being planned for the end of the day on the last weekend before the April 29 weekend.

"They've put a lot of thought into choosing the right place for the stag and one of the concerns that they had is being too public, so what Harry's hatched is the plan to speedboat at the end of the day...go up the river to a couple of little pubs that are only accessible by boat or on foot," Larcombe said.

To set a tone of discretion, they have decided not to go to South Africa, but instead stay in the United Kingdom.

"One of the other plans they looked into was to rent or stay in a French ski chalet in the French Alps," Larcombe said. "I think William's made it quite clear that while Harry's doing the plans in secret and it's all a surprise for William, he has set ground rules: not too lavish, nothing that's going to get him criticism at home and abroad for spending too much money when the economy is not rosy."

The guest list is 20 good friends of the future king of England.

"The people going on the stag weekend are absolutely the inner circle, William's closest friends, a couple of guys from military, his colleges, and guys he's known since growing up," Larcombe said. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb232011

WikiLeaks on Moammar Gadhafi: Very Strange, Very Wily

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may be fighting desperately in his characteristically unusual way to stem a popular uprising that threatens his 42-year reign, but dozens of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show that in dealings with the eccentric strongman, U.S. officials have learned one thing: do not mistake personal quirks for weakness.

From a fear of the upper floors of buildings to his flair for flamenco dancing and horse racing, U.S. ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz said of Gadhafi in one 2009 cable, "While it is tempting to dismiss his many eccentricities as signs of instability, [Gadhafi] is a complicated individual who has managed to stay in power for nearly forty years through a skillful balancing of interests and realpolitik methods."

That cable, which was posted along with the others on the website WikiLeaks, allows a rare glimpse into Gadhafi's abnormal proclivities ahead of his 2009 U.N. appearance in New York. In the cable, Cretz describes Gadhafi as having a fear of flying over water, a near obsession with those closest to him, including his "voluptuous blond" Ukrainian nurse, and a refusal to climb more than 35 steps at a time. The cable notes that Gadhafi does not like to fly more than eight hours at a time and plans overnight layovers to accommodate his rest.

The cable also discussed his plans to erect a massive Bedouin tent during his visit to New York -- the one that was temporarily erected on property owned by Donald Trump.

"Moammar Gadhafi has been described as both mercurial and eccentric, and our recent first-hand experience with him and his office... demonstrated the truth of both characterizations" said Cretz, who was called back to Washington after the cable's publication by WikiLeaks.

Descriptions of personal foibles, however, are mixed with allegations of cold-blooded backroom finagling that would make any despot proud. Long before Gadhafi used a foreign mercenary army and his own air force to allegedly kill and injure hundreds of protesters, the leaked cables describe years of savvy political strong-arming that includes secret arms deals, regional power grabs, international blackmail and corruption.

One series of cables describes Libya's nuclear disarmament -- announced in December 2003 and hailed as a victory for then-President George Bush -- as a grueling process in which Libyan officials argued six years after the agreement that they had not been properly "rewarded" by the U.S. government, while U.S. officials claimed Libya was intentionally delaying the dismantling program.

Since the agreement, the U.S. has taken Libya off a list of states that sponsor terrorism and spent millions in aid to Libya "focused on bolstering Libya's commitments to renouncing weapons of mass destruction," according to the State Department and USAID.

Other cables describe arms deals with contacts in China, Romania and the U.K. that indicate Gadhafi wanted to buy far more weapons than were needed by the Libyan military, either because of regional ambitions or a foreseen need for more armed men within his own borders. In August of 2008, a cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Tripoli alerted the State Department offices in Washington, D.C., that Libya had reportedly ordered 130,000 Kalashnikov rifles from a British arms company that acted "as an intermediary" for an unnamed Ukrainian manufacturer.

The problem, the cable said, was that current estimates put Libya's entire number of ground-force soldiers around 60,000, fewer than half the number of rifles the country had ordered.

"Attempts to solicit further information... have raised more questions than they answered," the cable said. One British official believed Gadhafi's government intended to turn around and sell the guns to "armed rebel factions... in the Chad/Sudan conflict," according to the cable. At the time, U.N. officials said up to 300,000 people had been killed by warring factions in Sudan alone.

Because of that concern, a later cable reported that the British stopped the deal after a month-long investigation. In the same cable, however, a Libyan businessman told a U.S. official he had signed a deal with a Romanian company to import 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. The businessman was "open about the contract, but avoided the question as to whether the rifles were to be used in Libya or re-exported to another destination."

Another cable reported that in February 2007, Italian police arrested arms dealers who were allegedly brokering an agreement between Libya and Chinese manufacturers for 500,000 automatic rifles, the first half of a million-rifle deal.

In 2008, Gadhafi's government was accused of using outright blackmail and extortion to force visa approval for "well-connected" Libyans from two European countries, another cable said.

In one case, 12 unnamed Libyans were requesting visas from Greece -- not because they wanted to visit there, the cable said, but because "Greece has not yet incorporated biometric requirements into its visa application procedure." When Greece refused, officials from the Libyan government informed their Greek counterparts Libya would not be clearing shipments of diplomatic goods through customs until the visa matter was resolved.

In a similar case, a Swiss official told the U.S. the Libyans had refused to register one of their embassy employees until Switzerland approved a tourist visa for a Libyan applicant who had been denied, the cable said.

"The willingness of the [government of Libya] to extort other diplomatic missions to issue visas to prominent but unqualified Libyans reflects the extent to which politically-connected individuals are able to manipulate public institutions for their own benefit," a U.S. official said in the cable. "In an opaque regime in which lines of authority are deliberately blurred to obscure power structures and mitigate accountability, corruption is pervasive."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb222011

Gadhafi's Private Mercenary Army 'Knows One Thing: To Kill'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Moammar Gadhafi is using foreign mercenaries from Africa who don't speak Arabic as a private army to protect his regime, and they have shown no hesitancy to fire on civilian protesters, witnesses have said.

A doctor in Benghazi told ABC News several foreign mercenaries were captured by Libyan police who have sided with the protesters. The captives, the doctors said, can't speak English or Arabic, and when confronted by locals, they had a hard time communicating.

The mercenaries have quickly earned a reputation for brutality.

"They know one thing: to kill whose in front of them. Nothing else," said the doctor who was reached by phone but asked to not be publicly identified. "They're killing people in cold blood."

The doctor said he didn't know which country the mercenaries were from, but said they were black, spoke French and were identified by wearing yellow hats.

Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American activist, said his sister lives in Tripoli and reported similar scenes.

Experts say that Gadhafi is so paranoid about his own military that he has purposely kept it weak so they won't turn on him.

In Benghazi, the doctor ABC News reached by phone described a more calm scene, saying police and military forces have joined civilians to take over the leadership of the country.

"People [in Benghazi are] very happy now because Gadhafi is gone from Benghazi. He no more control the area," the doctor said. "Now everything is secure. No more blood, but in Tripoli it's a disaster."

In Tripoli, witnesses describe a chaotic scene, with helicopters attacking protesters as Gadhafi supporters in Land Cruisers fire at people at will.

"Tripoli is burning," Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali, said on Good Morning America on Tuesday. "The people are being killed in a brutal way. The people are armless."

Even residents holed up in their homes aren't safe, eyewitnesses say.

"It's really bad out there. Everyone's getting killed. I mean, it's getting worse and worse right now," said one Libyan woman based in Tripoli. "They're just killing people in the streets."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb222011

Powerful Earthquake Kills Dozens in New Zealand

Photo Courtesy - Martin Hunter/Getty Images(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) -- At least 75 people are dead and dozens more injured after a powerful earthquake struck the New Zealand city of Christchurch Tuesday.

The 6.3 magnitude quake was very shallow in depth, measuring just 2.5 miles beneath the surface, causing violent shaking and widespread damage.  Video footage showed buildings collapsed, bricks scattered onto streets and roads and sidewalks cracked.

Nearly 200 people are feared trapped in the collapsed structures, according to Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker.  Local officials expect the death toll to rise substantially once rescue and recovery operations are fully underway.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Tuesday's quake was centered three miles from the city.  Two large aftershocks -- one magnitude 5.6 and another 5.5 -- shook Christchurch within hours of the initial quake.

The latest tremor came just five months after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the same city, causing widespread damage but no deaths.

This time, however, the disaster was far greater, with Prime Minister John Key calling Christchurch "a scene of utter devastation."

Mayor Bob Parker declared a state of emergency shortly after the quake hit and ordered people to evacuate the city center.

Troops were deployed to help trapped victims, the airport was closed, and Christchurch Hospital was briefly evacuated before it was deemed safe for patients to return.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb222011

Will Moammar Gadhafi Step Aside? Libya's Leader Appears Defiant

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- A defiant Col. Moammar Gadhafi declared Tuesday that he won't quit until he dies and blamed the Libyan uprising on foreigners and "rats" of international governments.

"I will not leave the country. I will die as a martyr in the end," Gadhafi, who has ruled Libya for 42 years, said in a speech televised on state television.

An angry and rambling Gadhafi said he was broadcasting from houses bombed by the United States and the United Kingdom. As for the protesters, he blamed the uprising on "rats" and agents of foreign governments and blamed Tunisia for manipulating the youth.

The embattled dictator, swaddled in brown clothes and speaking often in a passionate but erratic style, took to the television for the second time since the uprising began in the eastern part of the country this past weekend.

Libya's ambassador to the United States on Tuesday described a brutal scene playing out in the streets of Tripoli, where government supporters and parts of the military have been called by Col. Moammar Gadhafi's regime to take on protesters demanding the leader’s exit. Aujali said Gadhafi's supporters are using tanks and gunfire to kill not just protesters but also the capital's residents, adding that he's seen images of "people cut in half, just like they're being killed by bulldozers."

Aujali has resigned from serving the government, but not his ambassador's post.

The 42-year regime of the colorful dictator is now under the worst assault it has ever faced. In an oil-rich country where people have lived in fear for so long, they are now suddenly taking to the streets and demanding that Gadhafi leave and there are no signs of the dissent abating.

With borders closed and TV and Internet jammed, it is impossible to get an accurate picture of what is happening in Libya but there are clear signs that this uprising is turning out to be far bloodier than that in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. A conservative tally puts the death toll at around 300 from the crackdown.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb222011

Prince William Has No Say on Ushers; Friends Out of the Question

Photo Courtesy - Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Traditionally at weddings, the groom chooses friends to act as ushers, but Prince William won't have this option for the royal wedding.

Gentlemen ushers are used for state banquets and ceremonies, including royal weddings, according to People magazine. Each member of this 10-man group is chosen from the three branches of the Armed Forces, and appears in full uniform for the ceremony. Gentlemen ushers have worked for the royal family since the 15th century, when they were assigned to stand at the doors of whatever room the monarch occupied.

For the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the "gentlemens'" main assignment will be to guide guests to their seats. According to tradition, members of the royal family are seated on the right side of Westminster Abbey.

In other words, none of the prince's friends who chose William to usher at their weddings will get to repay the favor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Feb222011

China Activists Detained After Calls for 'Jasmine Revolution'

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BEIJING) -- The anonymous group that called for Sunday's "jasmine revolution" in China has issued another online statement demanding the release of activists who have been "put under house arrest or detained without due legal process" in the wake of the abortive protests.

The group urged people to participate in continued protests, with information on the venue and timing to be released Wednesday.

In the declaration, they criticize China's government as "fascist with a corrupt political system and degrading judicial system" where "officials and their offspring enjoy the monopoly of various resources." The group complains of sky-rocketing property prices, lack of opportunities for ordinary Chinese, a widening wealth gap and a lack of civil rights.

At a press conference Tuesday the foreign ministry refused to comment on the calls for a "jasmine revolution," saying only that most Chinese people want stability and that "this is something that no person or force can shake."

In the northern city of Harbin, a lawyer for a Chinese Internet user who goes by the name of Miao Xiao, said that his client had been charged with "inciting subversion of state power" for spreading information about the jasmine revolution. He is in police custody.

In Shanghai, human rights activist Feng Zhenghu, told ABC News police had come to his house on Sunday afternoon after he posted photographs of the protests on Twitter.

Chinese police were out in full force on Sunday after anonymous calls for a "jasmine revolution," borrowed from the name of Tunisia's revolt, went out online. The message first went up on a U.S.-based Chinese language website, which is blocked in China, and quickly spread to microblogs and social networking sites. It called on people to protest in 13 cities and chant, "we want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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