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Saudi Arabia’s struggle for influence – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

Saudi Arabia’s struggle for influence – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn in aid to the Lebanese armed forces, a gift that comes in a time when tensions run high, both inside Lebanon and across the region.Lebanese President Michel Sleiman announced the donation on Sunday describing it as the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces. It is almost double the amount of Lebanon’s entire defence budget for last year.

We faced a lot of objections from the United States in the past to re-arm and to enhance the ability of the army because they think that this could threaten the stability of Israel, but now apparently the Saudis decided to go ahead and disregard the United States’ objection.Mustafa Alani, a military analyst, senior adviser at Gulf Research Centre

“This aid aims to support Lebanon in all its religions and support the Lebanese army that is known for supporting national unity. We will provide it with all the needed conditions to achieve the great national cause that it was set up for,” he said.

Sleiman made the announcement after the funeral of senior Lebanese politician Mohamed Shatah who was killed in a car bomb on Friday.

Shatah was critical of Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah and Syria’s president, which Hezbollah supports. But there has been no claim of responsibility for his killing.

Lebanon’s army has struggled to deal with violence spilling over from Syria’s civil war and is seen as weak in dealing with armed internal groups, especially Hezbollah.

In the last three years, Saudi Arabia has been pushing to be the Middle East’s most powerful player.

In Egypt, the Saudis backed the military coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi; within two hours of the coup, they pledged $5bn in aid.

They have also positioned themselves as crucial players in Syria, funding the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and providing them with weapons.

And in Yemen, Saudi Arabia carefully brokered the power transition in 2011 following the uprising there. That allowed its long-time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to leave office with immunity from prosecution.

So, is the donation to Lebanon a recipe for further turmoil or will it allow for greater security? And what does it mean for Saudi Arabia’s role in the region?

Inside Story explores the reasons behind this donation and the potential ramifications. Presenter Laura Kyle discusses with Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general and head of the Middle East Centre for Studies and Research; Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at Tehran University; and Mustafa Alani, a military analyst and senior adviser at the Gulf Research Centre.

“Two years ago, Iran presented its will to give the Lebanese army equipment, and many political voices said ‘no!’ because they said there are political conditions. Now on the other side they said also ‘We do accept the Saudi grant without political conditions’. In my opinion we have to accept all grants for the army to build up an army and to stop this discussion and to leave this army weak. I don’t think the United States of America will provide this army any air defence system because Israel says ‘no’.”Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.

Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.

At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.

The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.

Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.

While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.

Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.

In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.

“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.

 

Olduvai’s Top Ten 2013

OLDUVAI’S TOP TEN

TOP TEN POSTS:

  1. Fukushima Debris Island (292)
  2. Collapse of Trust and Faith in the System (241)
  3. Summarizing the Known Rigged Markets (226)
  4. David Suzuki’s Fukushima Warning (221)
  5. 4 Articles: Grid Ex II-Nov 13/14 North American Grid Failure Exercise (165)
  6. How the NSA Hacks Your iPhone: Presenting Dropout Jeep (145)
  7. Peak Oil Responds: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” (138)
  8. Jeremy Grantham: We have been conned. (110)
  9. Meet Saudi Arabia’s Prince Bandar Bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind the Syrian War (94)
  10. Protesting Veterans Tear Down DC Barricades, Chant “Shut Down the White House” (89)

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US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English

US names six drone research sites – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

FAA does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop guidelines by 2015 [AFP]
The US has named six states that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the move of the unmanned aircraft into domestic skies.The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected.

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market.

Many universities are starting or expanding drone programmes.

Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, providing diverse climates, geography and air-traffic environments, Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, said on Monday.

At least one of the six sites will be up and running within 180 days, while the others are expected to come online in quick succession, Huerta said.

The growing US drone industry has critics among both conservatives and liberals.

Giving drones greater access to US skies moves the nation closer to “a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinised by the authorities”, the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.

Huerta said his agency is sensitive to privacy concerns involving drones. Test sites must have a written plan for data use and retention and will be required to conduct an annual review of privacy practices that involves public comment.

While selecting the sites, the FAA considered geography, climate, ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk. New York’s site will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast US airspace.

Nevada offered proximity to military aircraft from several bases.

In choosing Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of locations in seven climatic zones.

“These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation’s skies,” Anthony Foxx, US transportation secretary, said in a statement.

 

Al Jazeera demands Egypt release Cairo team – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera demands Egypt release Cairo team – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Conditions for journalists have become difficult since President Morsi’s overthrow in July, rights groups say
Al Jazeera has condemned the arrest of four of its journalists held by Egyptian authorities since Sunday night and demanded their immediate release.

Award-winning Nairobi-based correspondent Peter Greste, Al Jazeera English bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Cairo-based producer Baher Mohamed and cameraman Mohamed Fawzyre have been held in custody since their arrest by security forces on Sunday evening.

Al Jazeera under fire in Egypt in 2013
 
June 28
AJMM’s Mohammad Farhat beaten by gangs, spending
two weeks in intensive care.

July 3

AJA crew were detained inside AJA bureau for six hours.
Ahmad Hassan was detained for four days.

July 12

Five AJE crew members were detained in Suez for a
few hours.

July 15
AJMM’s Mohammad Bader arrested and in custody for 15
days. He was detained until mid September.

August 14

AJA’s Abdulla al-Shami arrested for 15 days, then on
August 27 he was detained for further a 12 days.
Mohammad el-Zaki shot by snipers at
Rabaa al-Adaweya.

August 27

AJE’s Baher Mohammed detained and released after two
days. Wayne Hay, Adil Bradlow and Russ Finn detained
for five days and deported to UK.

August 14

AJMM crew detained and beaten for hours and equipment
confiscated.

August 29

Shihab El-Din, AJM exec producer, detained for two days.

September 1
Mostafa Hawwa detained for one day and equipment
confiscated.

The arrests follow a period of sustained intimidation towards Al Jazeera staff, property and coverage since the military-orchestrated removal of President Mohamed Morsi in July.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network’s spokesperson said of the latest arrests: “We condemn the arbitrary arrest of Al Jazeera English journalists working in Cairo and demand their immediate and unconditional release.

“Al Jazeera Media Network has been subject to harassment by Egyptian security forces which has arrested of our colleagues, confiscated our equipment and raided our offices despite that we are not officially banned from working there.”

These arrests are part of what Reporters Without Borders has called growing hostility towards journalists in Egypt.

There has also been a campaign against Al Jazeera in particular as the channel’s offices were raided in August and security forces seized equipment which has yet to be returned.

Al Jazeera called on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release all its detained staff unconditionally along with their belongings and equipment.

Greste is a veteran journalist who previously worked for Reuters, CNN and the BBC over the past two decades.

Human-rights groups say conditions for journalists in Egypt have become difficult since Morsi was removed by the military on July 3, 2013.

The latest arrests come after a series of clashes between police and Muslim Brotherhood supporters across Egypt.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Monday that Egypt, Syria and Iraq have become among the deadliest countries for journalists to work in.

In a special report released by the New York-based organisation said conditions in the country had “deteriorated dramatically”.

“Amid stark political polarisation and related street violence, things deteriorated dramatically for journalists in Egypt, where six journalists were killed for their work in 2013.”

 

Egyptian military injured in bomb attack – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptian military injured in bomb attack – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

A car laden with 20kg of explosives was detonated remotely near the entrance to the military building [Reuters]
At least four people have been injured in an explosion near the military intelligence building in Sharqiya, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, the third bombing on the mainland in less than a week.Three men left a car laden with 20kg of explosives by the entrance to the building on Sunday morning, and detonated it from a distance with a remote control, according to an Egyptian army spokesperson. The military is conducting a search of the the area for the assailants.

Colonel Ahmed Ali, a spokesman for the army, said the intelligence building was partly damaged by the blast. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Attacks on police and military installations have become a regular occurrence in Egypt.

On Tuesday, a powerful car bomb exploded near a police station in Mansoura, another city in the Delta, killing 14 people and injuring more than 150 others. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Sinai-based group, claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement posted online.

But the army-backed interim cabinet nonetheless blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, and the next day designated the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation.”

Hundreds of members have been arrested over the past few days for staging protests, and there were reports in local newspapers on Sunday that some of the group’s remaining leadership had fled the country.

On Thursday, a homemade bomb exploded near a bus in Cairo, injuring five passengers. Police said they defused two other bombs planted in the same area. It was one of the first attacks in Cairo that targeted civilians.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has staged hundreds of attacks against police and soldiers on the Sinai peninsula, but it has recently carried out several high-profile bombings on the mainland.

The group claimed credit for a September assassination attempt on the interior minister in Cairo.

 

Protester killed during clashes in Bangladesh – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English

Protester killed during clashes in Bangladesh – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English.

Supporters accuse authorities of keeping opposition figure Khaleda Zia under de facto house arrest. [AFP]
Bangladesh police fired water cannon and shotguns at opposition protesters in the capital, killing one person, at the start of a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election.Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police on Sunday as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout Dhaka for the so-called “March for Democracy”.

The opposition says an election scheduled for January 5 must be held under a neutral caretaker government, as in the past, to prevent ballot-rigging.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia, a two-time former prime minister and Hasina’s arch-rival, has urged supporters to defy the ban on Sunday’s march and converge on the capital.

In Rampura neighbourhood, more than 200 demonstrators threw small bombs at police who responded with shotgun blasts during clashes there that left one person dead, a senior officer said.

Police have banned the so-called “March for Democracy” amid fears that the rally would become a focal point for more unrest after what has already been the deadliest year of political violence in the country’s history.

Police have detained more than 750 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure”, while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting off the city from the rest of the country.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies have staged weeks of deadly protests, strikes and transport blockades to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign. Dozens of people have been killed.

Sticks and rocks

Running battles erupted between police and protesters near the BNP headquarters where Zia was scheduled later Sunday to address the rally, TV footage showed.

Ruling party activists, armed with sticks and rocks, also clashed with opposition protesters outside the press club.

Scores of police stopped Khaleda Zia’s car as it tried to drive from her house to the march in the capital, where hundreds of her supporters are clashing with security forces, aide Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said.

“Khaleda Zia boarded her car and tried to leave her house to lead the march. But police barred her car from leaving,” Chowdhury, who is also a vice-president of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told AFP news agency.

Police and security forces have conducted nationwide raids, searching trains and buses to arrest opposition supporters.

They have also set up check posts for passengers and commuters at the entry points to Dhaka.

Security has been tight in the city with around 11,000 officers and the elite Rapid Action Battalion patrolling the streets and key flashpoints.

 

Egyptian students clash with security forces – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egyptian students clash with security forces – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Egyptian students opposed to the July 3 coup have clashed with police at a university campus in Cairo and set two buildings on fire, state television reported.

A student activist was killed after being hit in the face with a birdshot, and four others were injured, during the violence on Saturday at the Al-Azhar University campus, according to the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Interior said that at least 60 students have been arrested.

State-run newspaper Al-Ahram said the clashes began when security forces fired tear gas to disperse pro-Brotherhood students who were preventing their colleagues from entering university buildings to take exams. Protesters threw rocks at the police and set tyres on fire to counter tear gas attacks.

State TV broadcast footage of black smoke billowing from the faculty of commerce building, and reported that protesters also set the agriculture faculty building on fire.

Al-Azhar, a centre of Sunni Islamic learning, has for months been the scene of protests against what the Brotherhood calls a “military coup” that deposed former President Mohamed Morsi after a year in office.

Youssof Salheen, a spokesman of the pro-Brotherhood “Students Against the Coup” movement, told Al Jazeera that Khaled El-Haddad, a student at Al-Azhar’s School of Commerce died at campus, but did not clarify the cause of death.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the student’s account, and a security source denied there had been any deaths.

The violence followed a day of clashes across the country that left five people dead.

Supporters of the Brotherhood took to the streets on Friday after the government designated the group a terrorist organisation – a move that increases the penalties for dissent against the military-led government installed after Morsi was overthrown.

Morsi was the country’s first elected president who took the power after the toppling of veteran leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011

 

Thai anti-government protest turns deadly – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Thai anti-government protest turns deadly – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English.

The proposed introduction of an amnesty law has sparked the latest round of protests [AFP]
A Thai police officer has been killed and dozens of people wounded in clashes between security forces and opposition protesters in the capital, Bangkok, on a day the election commission urged the government to postpone February polls.More than 60 people were injured during the running battle between anti-government protesters, calling for government to resign and postponment of polls, and the police, according to the emergency services.

“He was shot in his chest and brought to hospital by helicopter,” said Jongjet Aoajenpong, director of the Police General Hospital.

“A team of doctors tried to resuscitate him for more than half an hour.”

Violence broke out as demonstrators tried to force their way into a sports stadium in the Thai capital, where representatives of about 30 political parties were gathered to register for parliamentary elections.

Scores of demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, threw rocks and attempted to break through police lines prompting the police to use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.

Inside the stadium the lot-drawing process was apparently unaffected by the unrest outside the gates.

However, some election officials later left the stadium by helicopter to avoid the unrest and because protesters were blocking the exits.

The election commission said in a statement that it was urging the government to consider “postponing the elections”, citing the security situation.

“We cannot organise free and fair elections under the constitution in the current circumstances,” Election Commission member Prawit Rattanapien said at a news conference.

Government officials did not immediately answer calls seeking a response.

Amnesty law

The clashes are the first violent incident in almost two weeks of daily demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok and the worst civil disturbance since 2010, when more than 90 civilians were killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests.

This latest unrest, which has drawn tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets, has left five people dead and more than 200 wounded.

“Protesters are not peaceful and unarmed as they claimed,” Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in a televised address on Thursday.

“They are intimidating officials and trespassing in government buildings.”

Protesters want Yingluck to step down and they oppose the elections, due to take place on February 2, because she is seen as sure to win them.

Her brother is the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid imprisonment on corruption charges.

He or his allies have won every election for the last 12 years.

In mid-October Yingluck tried to introduce an amnesty law that would have allowed Thaksin to return as a free man, a move that sparked the latest round of protests.

On Wednesday, protesters rejected a compromise from Yingluck, who announced a proposal for a national reform council. They are planning more civil disobedience and street protests to force her to resign as caretaker prime minister.

Police have not tried to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.

Protesters were on the way to the Yingluck’s residence to continue their demonstration, where about 500 police officers have been stationed.

 

Egypt declares Brotherhood ‘terrorist group’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Egypt declares Brotherhood ‘terrorist group’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Egypt’s interim government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, a move that gives authorities greater freedom to crack down on the group.Hossam Eissa, a deputy prime minister, announced the decision on Wednesday night after a lengthy cabinet meeting.

“The cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood and its organisation as a terrorist organisation,” he said.

The cabinet’s announcement came one day after a deadly car bombing outside a police headquarters in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura. Fourteen people were killed in the blast, most of them officers, and more than 150 others were wounded.

A Sinai-based militant group, Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the blast in a statement published online on Wednesday.

But the government blamed the Brotherhood for the attack, though it provided no evidence connecting the group to the attack.

The Brotherhood’s London press office issued a statement on Tuesday that “strongly condemned” the bombing.

“Egypt suffered an ugly crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Eissa said. “It is a clear declaration from [the group], which has not known anything but violence since its beginning.”

The Brotherhood has staged near-daily protests since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the army in July following widespread popular protests. Thousands of its members have been killed and jailed since then, and the group has faced mounting legal problems.

In September, a court ordered the Brotherhood banned and its assets seized, a decision that was upheld on appeal in November.

Wednesday’s decision takes the ban a step further: Under the Egyptian penal code, members of the Brotherhood could now face up to five years in prison simply for belonging to the group.

Morsi himself is already in prison, facing charges that include espionage and terrorism. Most of the Brotherhood’s leadership has also been jailed since the coup.

Ahmed el-Borai, the minister of social solidarity, said that the cabinet also would notify other Arab states which are signatories to international conventions against terrorism.

The Brotherhood has sister organisations, and extensive fundraising operations, in many countries around the region.

 

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