July 12, 2012
By ALBERT AJI and ZEINA KARAM | Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan tried to breathe new life Monday into his moribund peace efforts in Syria, saying he has reached a new framework with President Bashar Assad and would discuss it soon with rebel leaders. Opposition activists raised the death toll in the conflict to more than 17,000.
Annan, the architect of the primary international plan to end Syria’s 16-month-old crisis, arrived in Iran late Monday for talks with leaders there. With the violence in Syria growing increasingly chaotic and diplomatic efforts faltering, Annan has said Iran, a staunch Syrian ally, must be a part of a solution to the conflict.
“We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,” Annan told reporters following a two-hour meeting with Assad which he described as “candid and constructive” Monday.
“I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue which the president accepts,” he said. Annan did not disclose details of the framework he reached with Assad.
Annan’s efforts to broker an end to the Syrian conflict as the U.N.-Arab League envoy have unraveled as the uprising that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 has spiraled toward civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 17,129 people had killed since March 2011 are 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors.
The group has a network of activists on the ground who document deaths and rights violations through eyewitness, accounts, hospitals and video footage. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, says 14,841 civilians and fighters have been killed. The LCC does not report Syrian military deaths.
The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it impossible to independently verify death tolls.
The violence has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months as rebels gain more arms, and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the carnage as the country spirals toward civil war. Activists have reported an average of about 100 people killed on some days in the past few weeks.
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde on Saturday, Annan acknowledged that the international community's efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. He added that more attention needed to be paid to the role of longtime Syrian ally Iran, saying Tehran “should be part of the solution.”
It is unclear what role Annan envisions for Iran, a staunch Syrian ally that has stood by Assad throughout the uprising. Tehran’s close ties could make it an interlocutor with the regime, though the U.S. has often refused to let the Islamic Republic attend conferences about the Syria crisis.
Annan’s six-point peace plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. But the truce never took hold, and almost 300 U.N. observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are now confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.
“President Assad reassured me of the government’s commitment to the six-point plan which, of course, we should move ahead to implement in a much better fashion than has been the situation so far,” Annan told reporters Monday.
State-run news agency SANA said Assad discussed with Annan “mechanisms” that could ease the violence in Syria and told him the success of his plan hinged on regional countries ending their support for the “terrorism” in Syria. Damascus blames Arab Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar for fueling the crisis in Syria by funding the rebels.
Despite agreeing to a series of peace proposals in the past 16 months, the Syrian regime has repeatedly ignored its commitments and instead continued to wage a brutal crackdown on dissent. The rebels have also stepped up their attacks against government troops, dealing heavy losses among their ranks.
Annan said his team in Syria will follow up on the agreement reached with Assad.
“I also encourage governments and other entities with influence to have a similar effort,” he added.
Russia, another strong of ally of the Syrian regime, said Monday it will not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down.
Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, told Russian news agencies on the sidelines of the Farnborough airshow south-west of London that Russia will continue, however, with previously agreed exports.
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s powerful military has delivered a thinly veiled warning to the country’s new president, saying it expects all state institutions to respect the constitution.
Monday’s statement followed a decision by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to revoke last month's executive order by the then-ruling military to dissolve parliament after the country’s highest court said a third of its members were illegally elected.
The military also defended a “constitutional declaration” giving it far-reaching powers after handing over power to Morsi June 30.
The statement says the military will continue to support “legitimacy, the constitution and the law” — language that means the generals would likely oppose attempts to reconvene parliament in defiance of the court’s ruling.
By AHMED SAKA | Associated Press
JOS, Nigeria (AP) — Raids and reprisal attacks have left 52 people dead in Christian villages near a Nigerian city where authorities have struggled to contain religious violence, officials said Sunday.
Assailants launched "sophisticated attacks" on several villages near Jos early Saturday, said Mustapha Salisu, spokesman for a special taskforce made up of policemen and soldiers deployed in the area to curb years of violence.
"They came in hundreds," Salisu said. "Some had (police) uniforms and some even had bulletproof vests."
He said the special taskforce fought back for hours and lost two policemen in the battle. Salisu initially said that 37 people were killed including 14 civilians and 21 assailants.
However, later in the day, Nigerian Red Cross official Andronicus Adeyemo said aid workers had counted 52 dead and more than 300 displaced people from the attacks. He did not give a breakdown.
He said a federal lawmaker and a state lawmaker were ambushed and killed Sunday afternoon on their way to a mass burial for the victims.
The state government's press officer, James Mannock, said they were Senator Gyang Dantong and majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly Gyang Fulani.
"As a nation, we must rise against those who are determined to return us to a state of nature where life has little or no value," Nigerian Senate President David Mark said in a statement.
Authorities declined to comment on who they suspect, but similar raids have been blamed on Muslim herdsmen in the past.
Mark Lipdo, who runs a Christian advocacy group known as the Stefanos Foundation, gave a list of the 13 villages where he got reports of attacks. He said they were all Christian.
He blamed Muslim herdsmen of the Fulani ethnic group for the attacks. However, Nurudeen Abdullahi, Plateau State Chairman of Miyetti Allah Fulani Herdsmen Association, denied any involvement by the herdsmen.
"This a usual propaganda used on our people but we are not the ones that attacked the villages in the area," he said.
Abdullahi accused Christian farmers of attacking Muslim settlements and stealing their cows.
Jos and surrounding Plateau state have been torn apart in recent years by violence pitting its different ethnic groups and major religions — Christianity and Islam — against each other. While divided by religion, politics and economics often fuel the fighting.
These are just the latest killings to target the Riyom and Barkin Ladi local government areas, regions of farmlands that supply produces like potatoes, corn and tomatoes to the rest of the nation.
Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people, is largely divided into a mainly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north. Jos is located in the "middle belt," at the meeting point of these two regions.
Human Rights Watch says at least 1,000 people were killed in communal clashes around Jos in 2010.
However, the rise of a northern-based Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram has added a new dimension to the long-running conflict, fanning religious tensions in this flashpoint area.
Salisu said authorities discovered a bomb and safely detonated it late Friday in a populated neighborhood in the city of Jos.
They declined to say who they suspect but sect members have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Jos in the past.
All previous Jos attacks have targeted churches, a deliberate move to trigger more religious violence, many have said. They all sparked reprisals.
By DAVID MERCER |
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A Chicago man who spent more than 30 years behind bars before DNA evidence helped overturn his conviction in the rape and killing of a 3-year-old girl was released from prison late Friday, just hours after prosecutors dropped the case against him.
An Illinois appeals court in March had ordered a new trial for 50-year-old Andre Davis after tests found that DNA taken from the scene of the 1980 killing of Brianna Stickle wasn’t his. The girl was attacked in Rantoul, about 20 miles north of Champaign.
Davis was released from the super-maximum security prison in Tamms in far southern Illinois around 7:30 p.m., said Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero. Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz had decided earlier in the day not to pursue charges against him.
Judy Royal of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, which represented Davis, said he was the longest-serving of the 42 people exonerated by DNA evidence in Illinois.
“Mr. Davis served 32 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit,” Royal said. “Tamms is a difficult place to do time. He's hoping to rebuild his life, with the support of his family.”
It wasn’t immediately known if Davis’ family was at the prison when he walked out. Davis’ father was traveling to Tamms on Friday afternoon and couldn't be reached for comment.
Reitz said that while she didn't doubt the results of the DNA tests, she decided not to retry Davis because of the difficulty in taking a 32-year-old case to trial — not because of those tests.
“After 30 years, witnesses are either deceased, missing or no longer credible to testify,” said Rietz, who has been state’s attorney in Champaign County since 2004. “Based on the age of the case and the current state of the evidence, we elected to dismiss.”
She noted that Davis was twice convicted by juries. His first conviction was overturned because of a mistake made by a bailiff during jury deliberations.
Rietz said any further steps in the investigation of Briana’s death will be up to police. Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber did not return a call regarding the status of the investigation.
Davis was arrested shortly after Briana was found on Aug. 8, 1980, in a house on the street where she lived with her mother and stepfather in Rantoul.
According to trial testimony, Davis — who was 19 at the time — was visiting his father in Rantoul. He spent the day the girl died drinking at the home where she was eventually found with the two brothers who lived there. At some point the brothers left, leaving Davis there alone.
Briana’s stepfather, Rand Spragg, said he left the girl playing in the family’s front yard and last saw her sitting under a tree.
The family later searched for her. She was found in the brothers’ home, naked and under bed clothes in a utility room. She died that night at a local hospital.
An acquaintance of Davis told police that Davis said he’d killed “a woman” at the home.
DNA testing wasn’t available in 1980. But in 2004, Davis requested that evidence gathered at the scene of Briana’s death be DNA tested.
According to the tests, blood and semen found at the scene weren’t from Davis. That led to the March appellate court decision.
Friday’s planned release caught Davis’ attorneys off guard. Most were on vacation, expecting that he might be released next week.
Royal, who works closely with Davis’ lead attorney, Jane Raley, didn’t represent him. She wasn’t sure what plans Davis had, but she said that after so many years he was fortunate that family members were still alive to greet him and help him acclimate to life outside prison.
“A lot of times when people are incarcerated for lengthy periods of time, family members die,” Royal said. “That is one good thing, that he will have their support.”
“I think it’s difficult for him to know exactly what to do,” she added, noting that the Center on Wrongful Convictions works with the people it helps free to aid in their adjustment. “I know that he’s very intelligent and he has been assisting in the preparation of his appeal for years and giving some good suggestions in that regard.”
Attempts to reach members of Briana’s family were not successful.
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