March 27th, 2012
03:31 AM ET

Kofi Annan visits China to discuss Syrian crisis as reports of deaths mount

U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Beijing on Tuesday to rally support in helping end the bloodshed in Syria.

Annan's visit to China comes after a stop in Russia, the other country that has stymied U.N. Security Council attempts to condemn the Syrian regime.

During his two-day trip to China, Annan will meet with foreign ministry officials, China's state-run Xinhua news agency said.

Both China and Russia have said they want the violence to stop but argued that draft resolutions by Security Council peers were not evenhanded. Both countries have major trade ties with Syria, but have said they are not trying to protect a regime.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 26th, 2012
04:54 AM ET

Syrian opposition groups gather in Turkey, try to unify voice

Disjointed factions of the Syrian opposition are meeting Monday in Istanbul in an effort to form a unified voice ahead of the next week's "Friends of Syria" conference.

Observers of the Syrian crisis have bemoaned a lack of unity among the various Syrian opposition groups as they struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

The goal of Monday's conference is "for all forces and parties of the opposition not to be a union, but at least to have a united purpose," said Amar Qurabi, leader of the National Change Current opposition group.

At least nine people were killed across Syria on Monday, the opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said. The dead include four men gunned down in Homs when residents tried to retrieve two bodies, the group said.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 25th, 2012
06:06 AM ET

U.S., Turkish leaders agree on next steps on Syria

The United States and Turkey are in "full agreement" on the next steps on Syria as world leaders continue trying to stop the year-long massacre that has killed thousands.

U.S. President Barack Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday in South Korea, ahead of this week's nuclear summit in Seoul.

The meeting was aimed at "syncing up" with Turkey - a former Syrian ally - before Istanbul hosts the next "Friends of Syria" meeting on April 1, a senior Obama administration official said. A goal of that conference is to exert pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime for its brutal crackdown on civilians.

Obama and Erdogan expect the upcoming conference to enhance ways to provide "non-lethal" aid to the opponents of the Syrian regime, such as medical supplies and communications equipment, said Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security advisor.

"We cannot be spectators," Erdogan said Sunday.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 24th, 2012
06:20 AM ET

Military defectors unite under Free Syrian Army

A top defector from the Syrian military is urging armed rebel groups to align and follow the leadership of the Free Syrian Army.

Uniting all efforts will strengthen the anti-government movement and safeguard the nation, Brig. Gen. Mustafa Sheikh said in a video posted on YouTube on Saturday.

Sheikh was the first brigadier general to announce his defection from President Bashar al-Assad's forces. He was accompanied in the video by Free Syrian Army commander Col. Riad al-Assad.

The move addressed a key concern for observers of the Syrian crisis both inside and outside the country - that armed rebel groups were disjointed and divided.

"The division is over. All the parties involved in the revolution carried out all the efforts to form one united front to better represent and defend the Syrian people," Free Syrian Army Lt. Riad Ahmed said. "In the past, there were some minor technical disagreements, but this is all behind us from now on."

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 20th, 2012
12:36 PM ET

As party chief in Yemen, Saleh threatens new political order

Ali Abdullah Saleh is no longer Yemen's president, but he is still wielding political clout as the head of the ruling party.

Saleh has threatened to withdraw all members of his party from the national government and warned the prime minister he could face imprisonment.

Protesters took to the streets in mass demonstrations over the past year, calling for Saleh's departure from office. He finally stepped down last month in exchange for immunity in part of a power transfer deal brokered by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

However, he remains president of the ruling General People's Congress party.

Tension has escalated between Saleh and the new regime after new President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi said he was planning major reforms, said Yahya al-Arasi, Hadi's spokesman.

Prime Minister Mohammed Saleh Basendowah recently attended a ceremony at Change Square in Sanaa and condemned the old regime's attacks against unarmed youth protesters. The square was the base of the protests that erupted last year against Saleh's rule.

As a result, Saleh threatened to imprison Basendowah if he does not listen to his orders, al-Arasi said.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Yemen
March 20th, 2012
04:09 AM ET

Bahrain king to receive report on changes after crackdown

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain is expected Tuesday to receive a report on the implementation of recommended changes to the Middle Eastern state's laws and security forces in the aftermath of unrest last spring.

In November, Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry issued a report that was highly critical of the authorities' reaction to the protests, which began in February 2011 - spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The demonstrations failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings following a crackdown by the authorities in the island state - backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The independent commission, set up by the king, concluded that the police had used excessive force and torture in their response to the protests.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Bahrain • Middle East
March 18th, 2012
04:13 AM ET

Syrian regime staged deadly attacks in Damascus, rebel captain says

A Syrian rebel leader vehemently refuted the government's claim that so-called "terrorists" - not the regime itself - launched a series of explosions in Damascus that killed dozens.

"This is the regime's game. This is how they play their dirty tricks. They carry out these types of explosions from time to time to get more international support and compassion," Capt. Ammar al-Wawi of the rebel Syrian Free Army said Sunday. "They are desperately trying to prove to the world that they are fighting against armed gangs, but the reality is they are the ones who are doing all the killings."

Two explosions rocked parts of Damascus on Saturday, including Syrian government facilities, state-run media reported.

The Syrian Arab News Agency said 27 people were killed after two "booby-trapped" cars exploded in crowded areas in the capital. The blasts also injured 140 people and caused serious damage to surrounding buildings, SANA said.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 13th, 2012
02:19 AM ET

U.N.: More than 8,000 have been killed in Syrian crisis

Opposition activists have declared Tuesday a day of mourning across Syria as the death toll from a year of government attacks escalates out of control.

More than 8,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, including many women and children, said Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the U.N. General Assembly. Opposition activists have put the toll at more than 9,000.

"Violations of human rights are widespread and systematic," Al-Nasser said Monday. "The international community has a responsibility to act."

But how to act remains a point of contention.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • United Nations • World
March 12th, 2012
04:47 PM ET

Syria dominates U.N. Security Council meeting

The U.N. Security Council focused Monday on the crisis in Syria, with the United States and Britain pushing for quick action on a resolution and Russia warning against a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach.

All sides called for an immediate end to the violence.

"There is a growing understanding of the need not to talk to each other on the basis of take-it-or-leave-it, but bring the positions together and be guided not by the desire of revenge, of punishment, who is to blame and so on and so forth, but by the basic interests of the Syrian people," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters after the Security Council met. "And this requires an immediate end of violence as the number one priority."

Lavrov invoked the specter of Libya, whose government was overthrown last year after U.N. Security Council resolutions authorizing NATO enforcement of a no-fly zone to protect innocent civilians led to widespread bombing of Libyan military forces.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Russia • Syria • U.S. • United Nations
March 11th, 2012
03:33 AM ET

Annan to meet again with Syrian president in hopes of agreement

After laying out plans aimed at halting the bloodshed in Syria, Kofi Annan, the special U.N. envoy to the country, will meet again with President Bashar al-Assad on Sunday in hopes of getting answers to his proposals.

In what he described as a candid and comprehensive discussion, Annan met with al-Assad on Saturday about a cease-fire, the release of detainees and allowing unfettered access to agencies like the Red Cross to deliver much needed aid, a U.N. statement said.

But while Annan waited for answers in Damascus, fresh violence erupted once again in cities across the country.

Clashes broke out between the Syrian army and rebel fighters in the Damascus suburbs and Aleppo, said the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.

And in a phone call with a Binish town elder, a major general in al-Assad's military demanded the people of Binish hand over weapons used by defected soldiers and the rebel Free Syrian Army within 24 hours - or the town will be bombed and stormed early Monday morning, according to the Binish Coordination Committee, part of the LCC.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
March 10th, 2012
07:03 AM ET

Kofi Annan meets with Syrian president; Qatar says it's time to send troops

A former United Nations secretary-general met with Syria's president Saturday in the latest diplomatic attempt to halt the bloodshed in the country.

But on the same morning, at least 15 people died from fresh violence across Syria, opposition activists said.

Kofi Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, met President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus "to seek an urgent end to ... human rights violations and to initiate efforts to promote a peaceful solution" to the violence that has wracked the country for nearly a year, his spokesman said.

Time is running out for a diplomatic way of ending the crisis, said Haytham Manna of the opposition Coordinating Committee of Democratic Transition in Syria.

"We are at the last moments of reaching a political solution. We are getting to the point of no return," said Manna, a Paris-based dissident. "If we can't reach a political agreement today, we will head toward the abyss. ... The regime is pushing the country as a whole toward a full scale armed struggle between the very well organized military institution and our people."

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 28th, 2012
04:54 AM ET

Syrian official: No one dying from hunger, sickness even as deaths mount

While carnage mounts in the streets of Syria, the war of words rages on as well.

"We are not happy to see brothers killing each other," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said, insisting that no regime cares more about the Syrian people than his government.

The foreign minister told reporters no one is dying in Syria because of hunger or sickness, and said that despite an "economic international boycott," his government is providing all necessary services.

His words fly in the face of opposition activists and world leaders who say the regime's sustained slaughter has killed thousands.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 26th, 2012
02:00 AM ET

Syrian constitutional referendum starts, but violence doesn't stop

In what the government touts as a move toward reform, Syria's constitutional referendum kicked off Sunday to widespread skepticism that the regime would stop slaughtering civilians.

The referendum on a draft constitution began in polling centers across the country Sunday morning, Syrian state-run TV reported.

But the unabated violence on the ground indicated nothing has changed in the nearly year-long onslaught by government forces.

At least 100 people were killed on the eve of the vote, almost half of them in Homs, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition activists.

And on Sunday morning, rockets fell once again on the besieged Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition activist group

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 25th, 2012
07:13 AM ET

Syrian forces pound opposition centers amid calls for cease-fire

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces pounded resistance strongholds Saturday, the opposition said, raising questions about what immediate effect a plan by world powers to end the violence will have in the hardest-hit areas.

At least 33 people were killed Saturday across Syria, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a network of opposition groups. Casualties included 17 people killed in the besieged city of Homs, the group said. The city at the center of resistance has endured more than three weeks of daily shelling.

Reports of renewed violence followed news Friday that dozens of countries agreed to increase pressure on al-Assad while laying groundwork for a political transition in Syria not unlike the international planning that preceded the fall of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi last year.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 25th, 2012
02:43 AM ET

Yemen swears in new president after Saleh's longtime rule

Yemen swore in its new president Saturday, cementing a power transfer deal reached in November to end months of protests and violence over outgoing leader Ali Abdullah Saleh's longtime rule.

Abdurabu Mansur Hadi - who served as Saleh's vice president and became acting president in November in an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council - was sworn in Saturday in front of Yemen's parliament. Members of the parliament erupted in applause.

Saleh, who led Yemen for 33 years, was wounded in a June assassination attempt at his presidential palace during battles between government troops and tribal fighters.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • World • Yemen
February 25th, 2012
02:38 AM ET

Freelance cameraman provides a rare glimpse into Homs, Syria

A freelance cameraman who visited Homs recently put together a video that provides a rare glimpse of life in the embattled city and an even rarer close-up of the opposition movement in Syria.

At the headquarters of the government secret police, the cameraman - who uses the name Mani to avoid retribution by the government if he returns - finds himself in the thick of a battle. Some 200 members of the Free Syrian Army, made of military defectors, are involved in the attack. They explode a bomb below a rooftop position, where government snipers are trapped.

Mani's camera follows opposition fighters as they enter the government building, where room-to-room and stairwell-to-stairwell fighting ensues.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 21st, 2012
03:35 AM ET

Relentless shelling in Syria kills 7, including baby, opposition group says

While aid workers struggle to access the most devastated parts of Syria, families in the ravaged city of Homs wonder when the misery inflicted by government forces will end.

Seven people - including a baby - died Tuesday from fresh shelling on three Homs neighborhoods, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group.

"My husband died on the first day of the bombing. They didn't let me see his body; it was shredded to pieces. His blood is still in the streets," says Umm Khidir, one of several mothers holed up in a makeshift shelter after a weeks-long bombing campaign on the city.

She said her son is sick with a fever, but there's no medicine.

"He keeps crying and saying, 'I want daddy, I want daddy.' I can't bring his daddy back," she said, demanding to know why the world is not coming to their aid. "What is the world waiting for? For us to die of hunger and fear?"

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • World
February 20th, 2012
12:31 PM ET

Senator 'optimistic' Egypt NGO standoff near end

A key U.S. senator said Monday he has high hopes for a positive resolution soon to the growing diplomatic crisis revolving around 19 American overseas aid workers facing charges as part of an Egyptian crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.

"Quite frankly, I'm very optimistic we're going to get this episode behind us," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN. "It's my hope (this will happen) sooner rather than later."

Graham spoke from Cairo after meeting with top Egyptian military and political leaders. He's joined on the trip by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John McCain of Arizona. McCain is chairman of the board of the International Republican Institute, one of the organizations affected by the Egyptian crackdown.


Filed under: Arab Spring • Egypt • John McCain
February 18th, 2012
04:16 AM ET

Syrians plan to protest, hold joint funeral near al-Assad's palace

Resolute in the face of their government's bloody, incessant crackdown, opposition activists are planning a massive protest and joint funeral Saturday - not far from President Bashar al-Assad's palace

"Protesters are planning a funeral for three martyrs that were killed by Assad forces. The place we are going from is only two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the Assad palace," opposition activist Abo Yasser said.

Across town, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun is scheduled to meet with al-Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Moallem "to explore ways to boost bilateral ties" and discuss the situation in Syria, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • China • Syria • World
February 15th, 2012
02:18 AM ET

Opposition: Syrian war planes blow up oil pipeline in Homs

A massive plume of thick, black smoke billowed from the Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday, punctuating the chaos that has plagued the opposition stronghold for months.

According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist group, government war planes flew over Homs and blew up an oil pipeline.

The Syrian government did not immediately issue a statement on the situation in Homs.

Meanwhile, after repeated U.N. failures to formally denounce the Syrian regime, the latest U.N. draft resolution condemning Syria could be voted on in the General Assembly as early as Wednesday.

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Filed under: Arab Spring • Syria • United Nations • World
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