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27 Dead After Syrian Government Forces, Defectors Clash December 16, 2011

Reports from Syria say military defectors killed at least 27 soldiers Thursday in intensifying bouts of armed resistance against embattled President Bashar al-Assad.  At least a half dozen anti-government protesters also were killed across the country on the fifth day of an opposition-led general strike.

An escalating insurgency pitting growing bands of Syrian Army defectors against their former comrades has left several Assad loyalists dead.  The heaviest fighting took place outside the southern city of Dara’a, where an anti-government rebellion first began in March.

Similar clashes were reported both Tuesday and Wednesday in the northern border province of Idlib, as well as the besieged central city of Homs, and in towns surrounding Dara’a.  A group calling itself the “Free Syrian Army” has been spearheading the growing number of clashes.

Syrian opposition sources put the number of defectors at anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 soldiers, out of a military force of 400,000 men.  Middle east analyst Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group said there are small but growing numbers of defectors:

“You have a steady flow of low-level defections,” said Harling. “The numbers are gradually picking up.  Now, you don’t see units defecting, and that would make far more of a difference on the ground.  So, you have this trickle of defectors feeding into what now is a nascent insurgency across the country.  Armed groups are being formed on a local basis, most often out of civilians.”

Meanwhile, an 88-page report by Human Rights Watch describes “direct and standing orders” by Syrian military and secret police commanders to “use lethal force” against protesters during the uprising.

The report, which includes the testimony of soldiers and officers who defected from Syria’s security forces, said that violence was “directly ordered, authorized, or condoned at the highest levels” of the regime.  Nadim Houry of HRW in Beirut details those orders:

“Contrary to what President Bashar al-Assad has stated in his recent interview with Barbara Walters [of ABC News in the United States], there were orders to shoot at unarmed protesters and there were orders to detain arbitrarily many of the protesters, and there were orders to torture,” said Houry. “It’s no accident.  It’s not the act of a few rogue officers that more than 5000 people have been killed and tens of thousands have been detained.”

Houry said witnesses told Human Rights Watch that commanders handed out live ammunition to soldiers and ordered them to disperse protests “by any means possible.” He added that defectors described instances where intelligence officers shot “soldiers who refused to open fire or who fired in the air.”

Analyst Harling said, however, that growing ranks of defectors are now often inflicting casualties on government forces that “exceed the number of victims among protesters.”  He added that the “dynamics on the ground appear to be shifting in favor of the insurgency.”

Harling insists that he sees “ominous trends” pointing to “regionalization of the Syrian conflict.”  Despite those trends, though, he argues there is “no strong, tangible evidence that a regional proxy war has started yet.”  Syrian forces, meanwhile, continue to target defectors whom they see as a growing threat.

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The Americans occupying the London Stock Exchange December 12, 2011

The Corporation of London has issued some protesters with eviction orders

The Occupy London Stock Exchange camp is now 59 days old – the same age as the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park was when it was taken down. The survival of the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral owes something to the Americans in the UK who have been among its keenest supporters.

Visitors pose for pictures as if it was a tourist attraction. Workers in sharp suits walk quickly past, and others simply point in surprise – it is not every day you see 200 tents pitched outside one of the capital’s main landmarks.

The camp is closely modelled on Occupy Wall Street. Though it began a month later, it is still going almost a month after its New York counterpart was dismantled with violent exchanges between police and protesters.

“There is a great deal of solidarity with camps within the movement in New York and Oakland and other places,” says Anthony, a New Yorker who now lives in London.

He has been involved in Occupy London since the beginning, helping in a number of ways, including keeping watch at night.

“Attacks on Occupy in the US have been absolutely dreadful.”

The protesters asked to speak to US ambassador Louis Susman

A protest took place outside the US embassy the day Zuccotti Park camp was removed, which Anthony attended with a handful of other Americans.

While that was happening, Ryan H, who lived in a tent at St Paul’s for the first few weeks of the camp’s existence, flew to home to New York with two friends – one American and one British.

“We felt like we had to go help out,” he says. “I was really sad and really, really angry when I saw it happen.”

Proud again

The anger felt by other London occupiers was expressed in a banner calling for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to resign that hangs between two trees at a second camp in Finsbury Square, which opened on 22 October to ease crowding at the cathedral.

“We are a worldwide movement,” says Adam Fitzmaurice, another of the 200,000 Americans living in the UK, who helped organise a precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement last summer, known as Bloombergville.

Rod Schwartz (right), a former Wall Street analyst, is giving moral support

On returning to London in the autumn, he helped plan Occupy London, and camped at the St Paul’s and Finsbury Square sites.

Liberals outside the US have long taken a dim view of America’s influence in the world, particularly since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Anthony believes “the Occupy movement in the US has humanised Americans” for many foreigners.

Similarly, George Por, 67, a Hungarian-American in London says Occupy Wall Street “has made me proud again of being American”.

“In the 60′s, I was an organiser of the student movement in Hungary. Since then, I’ve never stopped yearning for a time of large-scale awakening to the need for social, economic, and political justice,” he says.

Numerous Americans I spoke to in London expressed a similar sense of optimism and a similar feeling that perceptions of America are changing, thanks first to the election of Barack Obama and then the Occupy movement.

Among those taking part in Occupy London is someone who once occupied Wall Street himself – as a high-flying executive.

A top financial service analyst in New York during the 1980s, Rodney Schwartz worked for Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, moving to the UK in 1987 to become head of equities for Lehman Brothers in Europe.

“I hated it,” Schwartz says bluntly. So he left and set up a company that helps charities raise money through investment.

Schwartz, 54, has given a talk at Occupy in Finsbury Square about this “social enterprise business model”. As someone who understands the financial sector from the inside, he also wants to enlighten occupiers about what went wrong economically in the last few years.

‘Real inspiration’

Ruth, from Connecticut, who has been in the UK for about 40 years, helps organise talks at Tent City University – the St Paul’s sanctuary that houses the camp’s library.

“The US… has been a real inspiration to us here,” she says.

She took part in a number of meetings to decide how to respond to the Corporation of London’s threats to evict the occupiers – including its attempt to agree a date on which the occupiers would leave voluntarily.

Continue reading the main story

UK Occupy camps

There are about 30 Occupy camps in British cities, including:

  • Liverpool
  • Bristol
  • Manchester
  • Cardiff
  • Edinburgh
  • Belfast

“When we came together to discuss whether we would accept the deal with the Corporation of London, people were saying, ‘Look what they faced in Oakland,’” she says, referring to the California camp, which was eventually taken out on 14 November.

“They faced tear gas and rubber bullets – are we going to just go because they say so? Are we going to roll over?

“We thought, ‘We can’t let down the other occupies in other places. We have to stand firm like they did in the US.’”

Sean Ganley, who grew up on US Air Force bases in the US and the UK and elsewhere, sees Occupy as a form of “solidarity with all of the freedom movements”, including those of the Arab Spring.

“We view them as components of the same thing,” he says.

He has worked at all three London sites – St Paul’s, Finsbury Square, and an empty building owned by the Swiss bank UBS, which has been occupied and christened the Bank of Ideas.

He and other technically-minded protesters have helped set up live-stream video conversations with protesters in Syria and elsewhere, including the Occupy movements in the US.

When protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square erupted once more just prior to elections in November, people at St Paul’s wrote notes of support, which were then mailed to a point person in Cairo.

“The more they try to destroy the movement there and really anywhere,” Mr Ganley says, “the more the movement and the public come back fighting.”

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HP donates WebOS to open sourcers December 10, 2011

The fate of WebOS had been uncertain after HP decided to abandon its tablet computers in August

The code behind the mobile operating system, WebOS, is being released to open source software developers by Hewlett Packard.

The tech company acquired the software when it bought the smartphone maker Palm for $1.2bn (£767m) last year.

HP used the code to power its short-lived range Touchpad tablet computers before it abandoned the product line.

The firm said it would continue investing in the project to help third parties add enhancements.

“By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices,” said the firm’s president and chief executive, Meg Whitman.

Investment

A statement from the company said it would make the underlying code behind WebOS available under an open source licence. It said third-party developers, partners and HP’s own engineers could then “deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace”.

The firm added that it intended to be “an active participant and investor in the project”.

‘U-turn’

Analysts said the decision secured the platform’s future, at least in the short to medium term.

“Given how successful HP was in selling off their tablet computers cheaply when they scrapped the platform we always suspected there would be some sort of u-turn,” said Chris Green, principal technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group Europe.

“However we still don’t think it will become a major platform to rival Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. It will appeal to many generic tablet makers out there – but its long term future will probably be to power HP printers, and other peripheral devices.”

Colin Gillis, senior tech analyst at BGC Partners, said HP had ultimately missed an opportunity to disrupt the market with a line of mobile computers powered by its own software.

“The real winner here is Microsoft,” he said.

“It no longer has to contend with what would have been another viable operating system as it prepares to launch its Windows 8 tablets.”

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YouTube rolls out site redesign December 2, 2011

Google says the refresh “will improve your life on YouTube”, but members are unconvinced

YouTube has revamped its website putting channels at the core of the service.

A channel is a curated list of video clips chosen by a specific YouTube member or celebrity.

Channels are now displayed in a central column on the site’s home page resembling news feeds on social networks such as Facebook or Google+.

Experts say the redesign may mean people spend longer on the site, but some users have attacked the change.

Complaints

Around 17 hours after an official “Get More Into YouTube” clip explaining the move went live, 6,703 members had clicked the “dislike” button compared to 2,280 who had clicked “like”.

“The layout is a mess! Why can’t I remove vids which I’ve already watched?” wrote one member.

Others wrote “R.I.P. Youtube” and “Change it back”, although some complimented the change.

The site’s owner, Google, has posted a blog saying that the new design was “focused on helping you discover a broader range of entertainment“, but said there might be “further tweaks” depending on members’ feedback.

It highlighted the fact that the site now offered deeper integration with Google+ and Facebook, helping members see what their friends were sharing without leaving YouTube’s site.

Channels from broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, are also promoted.

Google is also in the process of launching around 100 channels curated by celebrities and other well-known content providers. The firm is investing tens of millions of dollars into the project.

Reports suggest the singers Madonna and Jay-Z, the actor Ashton Kutcher, the creator of the CSI TV shows Antony Zuiker, and the skateboard legend Tony Hawk will be among those providing content.

Conference organiser TED’s channel will soon compete against Madonna and Jay-Z for attention

The majority of the new channels are expected to launch next year.

Google said the site already attracts over 3 billion clip views per day.

Yearning

Company watchers believe the revamp will help make the site more “sticky”.

“This does the obvious thing of keeping people longer on their site,” said Theresa Wise, an independent media analyst.

“But it is also taking the behaviour we’ve seen of people going to sites such as Facebook and Twitter to see what videos are trending, and allows them to do it easily from within YouTube itself.”

Analysts also believe the backlash will be short-lived, noting similar reactions after refreshes by other sites.

“The trouble with the kind of instant reaction is that most of the people who post their comments are those with extreme reactions, and their yearning for the old design will probably dissipate as they get used to it,” said Ian Maude, internet analyst at Enders Analysis.

“But I like it – it feels fresher and more up to date and the shift to channels helps YouTube move towards professional programming to create a more TV like service.

“That makes it a more attractive environment for both content providers and advertisers.”

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Bradley Manning lawyer: White House review found ‘leak’ did no real damage November 29, 2011

The US army intelligence analyst suspected of giving classified material to WikiLeaks says a White House review has concluded that the alleged leaks did no real damage to national security.

Bradley Manning‘s defence attorney made the claim in a court filing he released publicly on Monday.

The filing also claims a defence department review found that all the information allegedly leaked was either dated, represented low-level opinions, or was already known because of previous public disclosures.

Manning is seeking the reports to aid in his defence.

His lawyer also contends it was common for soldiers to add unauthorised software to their work computers. Two of the 22 counts Manning faces allege he added unauthorised programs to his work station.

Manning’s first hearing is set for 16 December at Fort Meade.

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Kindle Fire: Amazon’s bid to challenge iPad for tablet market September 28, 2011

Amazon is set to join the tablet wars on Wednesday as it launches a rival to Apple‘s best-selling iPad, a device that has made digital tombstones of all the competition so far.

The online retailer is set to unveil the tablet at a press conference in New York. Amazon has released no details ahead of the event but the device is reportedly called Kindle Fire, to tie in with its existing ebook reader.

If the Fire does prove to be an iPad rival it will pitch the brainchildren of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, two of Silicon Valley’s most innovative tech giants, against each other in a battle analysts say will present the biggest challenge yet to Apple’s dominance of the tablet market.

With so little detail available Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg said he was reluctant to speculate too much. “But it feels like something big is about to happen,” he said.

Apple has increasingly encroached on Amazon’s business in recent years as its iTunes store has poached more music, movie and now books and magazine sales. Amazon has been building its online presence, too, and entered the hardware business with the launch of Kindle.

The retailer is the biggest online books seller and the US’s second largest seller of music online after Apple’s iTunes, and it has been increasingly building up its online movies and TV sales and rentals business. The company signed a deal with Fox this week that it said means it now offers more than 11,000 movies and TV shows available via its Amazon Prime service.

Amazon is also competing with Apple to offer a cloud-based media storage service that would allow customers to access anything they buy on any device connected to the internet. Amazon has its own app store already and access to the purchasing habits of its millions of customers and their credit card accounts.

“Amazon has tremendous reach. That makes a huge difference,” says Gartenberg. The retailer has a very different approach to Apple, he said, but that is what may make them Apple’s biggest threat to date.

“The Kindle for Amazon was about selling books and magazines. Apple’s business is about selling devices. You are looking at very different approaches,” he said.

Amazon hopes its brand recognition and loyal book-buying customer base will enable it to do battle with Apple, which produced 75% of the tablets sold this year.

Research firm Forrester reckons the Kindle tablet could sell between 3m and 5m units in its first year.

But for all Amazon’s muscle, Apple has so far proved a tough competitor. Rival products from Dell, Hewlett Packard and Blackberry maker RIM have all bombed.

According to reports from technology website TechCrunch, the Kindle Fire looks like the BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM said recently it had sold 200,000 of its PlayBooks in the last three months — about what Apple sells in three days.

TechCrunch says Kindle Fire will be a 7in tablet with a $250 price tag. The initial version will offer wireless functionality but no 3G; it will also have a USB port and speakers, but no camera. A bigger, more expensive model will launch next year.

For Colin Gillis, analyst at of BGC Financial, the Kindle Fire sounds more iPod than iPad. Its slimmed-down design sounds like it will be aimed a mass market of people who want a device to watch movies on, read books, listen to music and don’t need all the bells and whistles of a fully functioning iPad, he said.

The Kindle Fire is expected to receive a full release in the second week of November seeking to target the important Christmas market. Apple, too, is said to be working on a new iPad for imminent release – and will be watching very carefully for any signs of new gaps in the market.

Gillis this to be a vicious fight. “The tablet is the new store front,” he said. Of all the tech giants to enter the tablet wars so far, Amazon is the one with the most to offer and the most to lose.

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