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Syria Faces New Sanctions as Violence Continues December 5, 2011

Syria faced new sanctions Sunday after ignoring an Arab League deadline to let observers into the country as part of a plan to end a military crackdown on protests, which the U.N. says has killed at least 4,000 people.

Senior league officials said that failure to reach an agreement could lead to outside involvement in the Syrian crisis.

The latest standoff between the two sides came as activists said new violence killed at least nine civilians Sunday, including a father and his three children and a female university professor.  At least 25 people died across Syria in anti-government unrest Saturday.

A local activist network put the death toll from violence Sunday at at least 21, but the number could not be independently verified.  

Meanwhile, Reuters news agency quoted Syrian activists Sunday as saying that about a dozen secret police have defected from an intelligence compound in Idlib province, near the Turkish border.  The activists said a gunfight broke out overnight after the defectors fled the compound and 10 people on both sides were killed or wounded.

A senior U.S. official said Sunday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for deepening the sectarian division in the country.  Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State ((for Near Eastern affairs)), accused Mr. Assad of forcing his minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, into a bloody conflict with other sects and “fulfilling his own prophecy that Syria is going to move into more chaos and civil war.”

Speaking in Amman, Jordan, Feltman also charged that Syria’s ally Iran was “actively engaged” in supporting the Syrian regime’s lethal crackdown and “facilitating” the murder of Syrian people.  He added that both Hezbollah and Iran had agents in Syria to bolster Mr. Assad’s waning regime.

The Arab League on Saturday froze assets of 19 top Syrian officials and banned them from traveling to Arab states.  

Syria’s failure to meet an earlier league deadline resulted in the enactment of a series of measures including a ban on dealings with the central bank, a halt to Arab funding of projects in Syria and a freezing of Syrian government assets.

In Istanbul Saturday, visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised Turkey for taking steps to address repression in Syria.  He added his voice to those calling for Mr. Assad to step down.

Syria has contended its actions are not a crackdown on protests, but a necessary response to attacks by “armed terrorists” on civilians and security personnel.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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US Hands Over Former Military Hub to Iraq December 2, 2011

The base that once served as headquarters for the U.S. military in Iraq is now under Iraqi control.

A United States military spokesman said U.S. officials handed over Camp Victory to Iraq Friday, after officials from both countries signed the necessary paperwork. There was no formal handover ceremony.

About 13,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, but are scheduled to leave by the end of the month. The pullout will end a military presence that began with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.

Camp Victory, a sprawling U.S. military compound on the outskirts of Baghdad, had served as the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq since 2003.

Top U.S. military officials lived at the site, which is encircled by 42 kilometers of protective walls.

At its height, the base was home to more than 40,000 troops and military-related personal.

The sprawling base was built on and around a lavish palace complex constructed by late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Saddam was imprisoned at the compound before his trial and execution in 2006.

The Wall Street Journal says Iraqis are considering a number of ideas on the future use of the complex, including as a military barracks, a cultural center or five-star hotels.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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BPA levels soar after eating canned soup: Study November 24, 2011


November 23, 2011

by legitgov

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BPA levels soar after eating canned soup: Study 23 Nov 2011 A new study shows that the urine of people who consume canned soup can contain surprisingly high levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone-disrupting compound linked to health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. People who consumed one serving of canned soup a day for five days had a more than 1,000 percent increase in urinary BPA over people who consumed fresh soup for five days, the study showed.

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Seven members of Amish breakaway group arrested over haircut attacks November 23, 2011

US authorities have raided the compound of a breakaway Amish religious group and arrested seven men on federal hate crime charges in haircutting attacks against Amish men and women.

Cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the traditional Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. Several members of the breakaway group forcefully cut the beards and hair of Amish men and women in September and October, authorities said.

Among those arrested Wednesday were the group’s leader, Sam Mullet, and three of his sons, said Mike Tobin, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Cleveland. He said authorities were planning to hold a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to explain why they charged the men with hate crimes.

The attacks struck at the core of the Amish identity and tested their principles.

The Amish strongly believe that they must be forgiving in order for God to forgive them, which often means handing out their own punishment and not reporting crimes to law enforcement.

The Amish have a modest lifestyle and are deeply religious. Their traditions of travelling by horse and buggy and foregoing most modern conveniences distance themselves from the outside world. Ohio has an estimated Amish population of just under 61,000, second only to Pennsylvania in the US.

Mullet told the Associated Press in October that he did not order the haircutting, but didn’t stop his sons and others from carrying it out. He said the goal was to send a message to local Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

“They changed the rulings of our church here, and they’re trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we’re not going to do that,” Mullet said.

The seven men were sleeping when the FBI and local police showed up at their homes before dawn Wednesday, Jefferson County sheriff Fred Abdalla said. All were arrested without incident, he said.

The attacks came amid long-simmering tension between Mullet’s group, which he established in 1995, and Amish bishops. Arlene Miller, the wife of one victim, said several bishops had condemned Mullet’s decision to excommunicate several members who previously left his community, saying there was no spiritual justification for his action.

Five men were charged in state court last month in Holmes County, the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, in an attack on an Amish bishop and his son. They allegedly were held down while men used scissors and a clipper to cut their beards. Similar alleged attacks were under investigation in Amish communities in eastern and northeastern Ohio.

Two of the men arrested Wednesday, Mullet’s sons Johnny and Lester, were among the five charged last month. The charges are pending.

Authorities have said some Amish refused to press charges, following their practice of avoiding involvement in the courts.

One couple refused to press charges even after acknowledging that their two sons and another man came into their house, held them down, and cut the father’s beard and the mother’s hair. But others have said they decided to press charges to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.

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Liberian Vote on Schedule Despite Killing at Opposition Protest November 8, 2011

At least one person is dead in Liberia after fighting between riot police and supporters of an opposition candidate who is boycotting Tuesday’s presidential runoff election over allegations of vote fraud. Liberia’s government says that poll will go ahead as scheduled.

Liberian riot police stormed the headquarters of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change party, firing tear gas in running battles with stone-throwing supporters of former Justice Minister Winston Tubman.

He is President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s challenger in Tuesday’s runoff election, but he wants people to boycott that vote because of what he says was electoral fraud in last month’s first round of balloting.

Tubman supporter Omar Keita was at party headquarters when the violence began.

“Our standard-bearer called us to the party headquarters to come and assemble and have a peaceful demonstration right in the compound, without getting out there to create a problem for anybody,” said Keita.

Keita says that is when they were attacked by Liberia’s Emergency Response Unit, or ERU.

“We were in the compound and we only saw the ERU running on us firing, firing, firing, firing,” he said.

United Nations peacekeepers stepped in to separate the sides, pushing back Liberian riot police after they continued to fire tear gas into the compound.

Yazmina Bouziane is a spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Liberia:

“We can confirm one casualty, and the mission deplores the loss of life and calls on all of the parties and supporters, and all Liberians actually, to exercise maximum restraint and not resort to violent acts to ensure that peace is maintained in Liberia,” said Bouziane.

Deputy information minister Norris Tweh says Monday’s violence will not disrupt the vote.

“The government remains committed to the rule of law, and we will err on the side of the law,” said Tweh. “The police and the joint security team of this nation is going to be tough, as it has been.  We will not allow this particular incident to distract us from the process.”

The secretary general of Mr. Tubman’s party, Acarous Gray, told a local radio station that party members were assassinated by government forces.  Justice Minister Christina Tah called that “nonsense” because, she said, the Liberian government does not conduct assassinations.

“You know we don’t get engaged in clandestine operations or secret killings or torturing our people or putting people in jail unnecessarily,” said Tah. “So anyone who is on the airwaves or on the radio trying to tell the public this position is really dangerous to this society.”

Tah said government authorities are investigating reports that some of the shooting came from inside the opposition compound.

With tensions high ahead of only the second nationwide vote since the end of a 14-year civil war, Yazmina Bouziane says the United Nations is here to help.

“All registered voters who have decided to cast their votes, or not, should be able to do so in a democratic way and in a peaceful manner,” she said. “That is what the mission’s mandate is here in Liberia – to ensure peace and security in order for this process to happen.”

President Sirleaf says the opposition boycott violates the constitution because it deprives Liberians of their right to vote.  Mr. Tubman says Liberians have the right not to vote as an expression of displeasure with the government.

He wants the vote postponed, so officials can investigate his party’s claim of tampered ballot boxes and falsified tally sheets.  Election observers from the Carter Center and the Economic Community of West African States say last month’s vote was largely free and fair.   

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