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Syria slams Clinton comments; 'national dialogue' ends

Damascus, Syria (CNN) -- The embattled Syrian government lashed out Tuesday at U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her criticism of Bashar al-Assad's regime and hailed the political leadership's initiative to pursue reforms, one of which is the just-completed "national dialogue" meeting.

Quoting an official Syrian source, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency Tuesday upbraided Clinton, who had criticized Syrian authorities Monday for not protecting the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus, which were attacked by demonstrators.

Clinton said President al-Assad "has lost legitimacy" and wants to deflect attention from the government's four-month crackdown on peaceful protesters.

The Syrian source called the comments "additional evidence of the flagrant U.S. interference in Syrian domestic affairs." There has been criticism of U.S. officials since last week, when U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford visited the city of Hama and met protesters there.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that about 1,400 civilians and 350 security and military forces have died since the unrest began.

The issue emerged Tuesday at the United Nations, where U.N. Security Council President Peter Wittig, of Germany, condemned the attacks and urged Syrian authorities to protect diplomatic property and personnel.

Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja'afari said the United States and France have exaggerated the facts about the attacks.

"Describing what happened in Damascus as mobs' attacks is very indicative of the real intentions of these two countries against my government," he told reporters.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the embassy was reopened Tuesday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry returned the American flag that had been taken down Monday from the U.S. Embassy, and embassy officials had returned to the Syrian government the Syrian flag that had been left on the embassy gates.

"So, things are improving on that front, and we do think that there's better attention now to our security," she said, adding that Syrian law enforcement arrested some six people.

As for Clinton, she insisted that Syria meet its "international obligations immediately" to safeguard diplomats and property, hours after U.S. officials say that hundreds descended on its embassy for the third time in four days, scaling its walls and inflicting damage.

While not calling for al-Assad's ouster, Clinton condemned his government and stressed that he is "not indispensable." She said his regime "will not succeed in deflecting attention" from the violence.

"From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy, he has failed to deliver on the promises he's made," she said Monday.

Shaaban Bouthaina, an adviser to al-Assad, said Clinton's criticism was out of line. "I would like to say to the secretary of state it is not herself who gives legitimacy to President Bashar al-Assad," she told CNNI on Tuesday. "It is the people of Syria, and I think they should give up this imperial attitude of saying who is legitimate and who is not legitimate."

The United States, as the world's largest democracy, should support Syria's peaceful transition to democracy "rather than to support no dialogue and to support armed elements and people who obstruct roads and kill people on the streets."

Despite reports to the contrary from witnesses and human rights groups, the government insists it is not behind the violence that has wracked the nation since widespread demonstrations erupted, blaming the problems on armed groups.

The government-backed "national dialogue" conference, which started Sunday at the Sahara Hotel complex in Damascus and ended Tuesday, is among the reforms the government has said it is seeking to bring about.

The government said the dialogue was designed to take into account viewpoints of a cross-section -- not only of al-Assad's loyalists, but also those wanting real change.

Many activists boycotted the meeting, calling its stated mission to address calls for reform a farce, given their claims that the government behind it has violently targeted hundreds who have openly made such demands since mid-March.

A result of the conference is a plan to establish a committee that will look into redrafting the constitution and laws involving political parties, media and elections.

A statement issued at the end of the meeting addressed a range of principles. It said dialogue and forgiveness are key to ending the crisis and the voices and demands of Syrian youth should be heard.

It also called for political prisoners to be freed along with "prisoners of opinion who have not been released in amnesty decrees and haven't committed crimes punishable by law."

Freedom of expression should not be violated and should be respected under the constitution, it said. Human rights should be respected as well, and a suggestion was made to establish a "higher council for human rights."

The statement said Syria is a state for everyone, national opposition is an integral part of the country, and voting should be the base for "political representation."

The dialogue stressed the importance of the rule of law and said that no one suspected of crime should avoid accountability.

It called for respect of the state and rejected any foreign intervention into affairs of the state. The statement also declared that the "liberation of the Golan" is "one of the aims that represents national consensus." Israel took the Golan Heights in the 1967 war.

The State Department's Nuland offered this recipe for a successful dialogue: "What we would say back to the Syrian government is: End the violence. End the political imprisonments. End the torture. Pull your forces back. And then maybe you will get a better response from your people in terms of joining in this dialogue.

The half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shot dead at his home in Kandahar on Tuesday, authorities said.

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) --
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar provincial council chief, was killed during a gathering, said provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa. He did not know a motive.

While the governor initially said a friend killed Karzai, his spokesman later clarified that the death was at the hands of a guard.

Saidkhan Khakrezwal, a member of Kandahar provincial council, told CNN he and others were with Ahmed Wali Karzai when a guard named Sardar Mohammad came into the room and asked to talk to him.

The guard then "takes Wali to another room and shoots him with a pistol that he had in his hand," Khakrezwal said.

Sardar Mohammad was a trusted man who had worked as a guard for Karzai for eight years, Khakrezwal said. He was also a commander for a police post where there were about 30 policemen.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying that the guard accused of shooting him was working for them.

Karzai suffered bullet wounds to his head and chest, said Mohammad Dawood Farhad, the head of Kandahar Hospital.

"My brother Ahmad Wali Karzai was killed today," said the Afghan president in a previously-scheduled news conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"The Afghanistan people have suffered a lot. Every Afghan family has suffered. I hope one day these sufferings end."

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered his condolences to the Afghan president and said ISAF will help the Afghan government "bring justice" to those involved in the killing.

"President Karzai is working to create a stronger, more secure Afghanistan, and for such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is unfathomable," Petraeus said.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning the assassination.

In a meeting with a senior U.S. diplomat, Ahmed Wali Karzai once made the case that he, not the governor of Kandahar, was "the most powerful official in Kandahar and could deliver whatever is needed," according to a cable about the meeting leaked last year by WikiLeaks.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has been dogged by drug dealing accusations, also brought the subject up in the meeting, according to the cable.

"Unprompted, AWK (Ahmed Wali Karzai) raised allegations of his involvement in narcotics, telling the (U.S. official) that he is willing to take a polygraph anytime, anywhere to prove his innocence," the cable said.

Karzai said the drug-dealing rap is part of a campaign to discredit him, "like a spice added to a dish to make it more enticing to eat."

After a separate meeting with Ahmed Wali Karzai, a U.S. official who authored another cable wrote, "While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker. End Note."

The cable concluded: "The meeting with AWK highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan. How to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt. Given AWK's reputation for shady dealings, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism."

In the first cable, Ahmed Wali Karzai offers suggestions on how to stop drug dealing. "He suggested that the coalition pay mullahs to preach against heroin, which would reduce demand for poppy cultivation."

The author of the cable also wrote that Ahmed Wali Karzai "appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police."

In addition to discussions of war, drugs and Afghan politics, a comment in one of the cables also addressed an American sports landmark.

"Further emphasizing his links to the United States, AWK fondly recalled his days in Chicago as a restaurant owner close to Chicago's Wrigley Field. His restaurant was a hub for American(s) in the Midwest who had worked or lived in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion," the cable read.

Obama lobbies GOP senators to back arms pact

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama tried to sway reluctant Republican senators on Monday to back a new arms control treaty with Russia as GOP aversion to giving a politically damaged president another victory intruded on his national security agenda.

The White House and senior Democrats expressed confidence that they had the votes for the accord that was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April. The two countries negotiated the New START pact to cap nuclear weapons and restart weapons inspections in the spirit of U.S. efforts to reset the relationship between the former Cold War foes.
[ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

Proponents edged closer to getting the two-thirds vote they needed for ratification as Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts announced he would support the treaty. In recent days, Brown had received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who also heard from Clinton, sent the strongest signal yet that he would support ratification.

Treaty backers also were heartened as several Republicans broke ranks, voting against three GOP amendments that would have effectively killed the treaty. With the help of eight Republicans, Democrats beat back an amendment to increase the number of weapons inspectors on a 64-33 vote. They also rejected a measure to change the accord and increase the number of deployed launchers on a 64-33 vote. An effort to change the treaty to include tactical nuclear weapons also failed, 62-35.

Obama, who delayed his holiday vacation, lobbied senators by phone as he pressed to complete the treaty before January when Republicans increase their numbers by five in the Senate, casting the accord's fate in doubt. Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton also called lawmakers to push for ratification.

Bolstering Obama's argument for quick action, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to lawmakers reiterating support for the accord.

"This treaty enhances our ability to do that which we in the military have been charged to do: Protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better," Mullen wrote.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., read parts of Mullen's letter at the closed briefing.

Despite the letter, several conservative Republicans insist the treaty would restrict U.S. options on a missile defense system to protect America and its allies and argue that the accord has insufficient procedures to verify Russia's adherence.

Politics coursed through the debate on Monday as Republicans were still peeved by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's decision to interrupt the six days of treaty consideration for votes on the gay ban and an unsuccessful immigration measure, legislation they considered a sop to the Democratic Party's liberal base.

"No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone's political check list before the end of the year," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

Obama suffered a self-described "shellacking" in the Nov. 2 midterm elections as his party lost control of the House and suffered an erosion in its Senate majority. Yet he has scored two major political wins in Congress' postelection session — overwhelming bipartisan passage of the tax deal he cut with Republicans and repeal of the ban on openly gay members serving in the military.

His top foreign policy priority before the year's end is ratification of the treaty.

Kerry bemoaned the politics atypical for arms control treaties.

"When the leader comes to the floor and says that our national security is being driven by politics, we really need to step back for a moment and calm down and think for a moment about what is at stake," the Massachusetts Democrat said. He later added: "I mean is there no shame ever with respect to the arguments that are made sometimes on the floor of the United States Senate."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Republican lawmakers had legitimate concerns, but "we believe that we've answered those concerns." So at this point, he said, objections "are more about politics than substance."

Senior Democrats pushed toward a possible decisive vote on Tuesday to cut off debate and set the stage for a final vote later in the week. Republicans and Democrats were discussing amendments to the accompanying resolution — not the treaty — that would address GOP concerns about missile defense and build support for the agreement.

"It's going to be a real slog, house by house combat if you will, but I think we'll be there," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday. Schumer also said longtime Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran was on board, but when questioned later in the day, the Republican told reporters he didn't want to talk about his vote.

Laugh = Sport?

Some exercises can keep our body fit. However, if you do not have enough time to do the exercise, Just make the body fit by laughing? A study in U.S. revealed that laughter seems to have a similar effect of exercise on the body.

Based on the study that was conducted by a number of researchers in Loma Linda University Schools of Allied Health, laugh is not only able to lower the production of stress hormones, but also can increase the immunity, reduce the cholesterol, and blood pressure.No wonder in Christ Embassy Church, members are taught to LAUGH ALWAYS.

The study involved 14 healthy volunteers for about three weeks. Then, to see the effects of laughing merrily, the volunteers were asked to select and watch a video with duration of 20 minutes. Some of them got a video with genre of humor (eustress), and the other movies could trigger the tension (distress). During the study, the researchers routinely measured the blood pressure of those volunteers and also took blood samples from each of them before and after watching the movie.

The results showed that the volunteers who watched the suspenseful movie did not experience a beneficial change. Meanwhile, those who watched funny videos experienced change in their blood pressure and improved health condition. “These results showed a variety of modulation and the response of the body due to repeated laugh is same with the effect of regular exercise,” said Dr. Lee S. Berk, an expert in psychoneuroimmunology, who was involved in the study. Study results were presented at the conference ‘Experimental Biology’ 2010.
In order words Laughter is a medcine.

Find below some images on laughter:

So what will you do with this information?
Keep laughing to health...

And PLEASE, Remember to SHARE THIS....

By David Otaru

NEWS AFRICA-Sudan's President Bashir 'siphoned off millions' - ICC

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been accused of siphoning off up to $9bn (£5.6bn; 7bn euros) of his country's funds by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Luis Moreno Ocampo told the BBC that President Bashir had hidden the money in personal accounts outside Sudan.

Mr Ocampo's suspicions originally came to light when a diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks was published by the Guardian newspaper.

Sudan has forcefully denied the claims.

The ICC's chief prosecutor has charged Mr Bashir with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide over alleged atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.
'Not in London'

Mr Ocampo told the BBC he had looked into Mr Bashir's financial affairs as part of the overall case against him.

He said the court had "strong reason to believe that Bashir has a lot of money" held in personal accounts outside Sudan - but that he could not be sure of the precise amount, with estimates ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars up to $9bn.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Ocampo suggested if Bashir's stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at possibly $9 billion), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a 'crusader' to that of a thief ”

End Quote Senior US diplomat, author of cable revealed by Wikileaks

In the leaked diplomatic cable, US diplomats report Mr Ocampo as saying that "Lloyd's Bank in London might be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money".

But Lloyd's has denied holding any funds in Mr Bashir's name, and in his BBC interview, Mr Ocampo agreed that the money was not held in a London account. "This is a confusion," he said, and he said he did not know where the money was.

"The money is not in UK and it's sad because in UK it would be easy to get the money. In UK, some banks [have] official accounts of the Sudanese government - that's different. The personal accounts of President Bashir are not there."

Asked why he did not reveal his suspicions about siphoned funds at the time the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir in March 2009, Mr Ocampo said he was not bringing financial charges against Mr Bashir but that any funds uncovered could be used to compensate his victims.

Correspondents say that if Mr Bashir does indeed hold a fortune of $9bn in secret bank accounts, that would be equivalent to one tenth of the country's annual GDP.

"Ocampo suggested if Bashir's stash of money were disclosed... it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a 'crusader' to that of a thief," one senior US official was quoted as saying in the leaked cable.
'No credibility'

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the Sudanese government, Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, dismissed the claims made by Mr Ocampo.

"I know that we have a government, we have a treasury, we have a system, we have a civil service," Dr Mubarak said.

"And that we are not the sort of country in which the president puts all the money under his pillow and decides to deal with it the way he does... We are a country with rules and regulations, and a civil service."

He said Mr Ocampo had "lost all credibility as far as Sudan is concerned. He has been proven wrong more than once about Sudan and he has exaggerated many things about Sudan.

"And this is the reason why Sudan as a whole is being targeted," Mr Mubarak said.
More story

US Senate lifts 'don't ask, don't tell' gay soldier ban

US Senate lifts 'don't ask, don't tell' gay soldier ban
Activists rally for the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in Washington, DC, 10 December Activists have urged President Obama to deliver on the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'
Continue reading the main story
Related stories

* Stopped from serving for being gay
* House passes gay military repeal
* US troops 'OK with gay ban end'

The US Senate has approved landmark legislation allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.

Senators voted 65-31 to overturn the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law, which bars gay people in the military from revealing their sexual orientation.

The House of Representatives had already approved the repeal bill. President Barack Obama says he is looking forward to signing it into law.

Opponents argue that the change will damage troop morale at a time of war.

More than 13,000 service members have been dismissed under "don't ask, don't tell", enacted under President Bill Clinton.

Saturday's vote was along broad party lines, with a few moderate Republicans joining the Democratic majority in favour of lifting the ban.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

The Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change”

End Quote Robert Gates US Defence Secretary

* Losing battle for the status quo

The BBC's Iain Mackenzie in Washington says the vote is a major victory for Mr Obama, who had made overturning "don't ask, don't tell" a key policy objective.

The president said it meant "thousands of patriotic Americans" would not be forced to leave the military "because they happen to be gay".

The repeal will take effect after a 60-day period allowing the defence department to consider how to implement the new policy.

Defence secretary Robert Gates also welcomed the Senate vote.

"Once this legislation is signed into law by the president, the Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully," he said.

Aubrey Sarvis, head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group, said: "Until the president signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day Congressional period is over, no-one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law."

Earlier this month, a Pentagon report said that allowing openly gay troops would have little impact on the cohesion of US forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Democrats, who still control both house of Congress, have said they want to approve the repeal before the start of a new Congress in January.

What effect will this have in the US military? Do you believe that it is right to lift the ban on gay people in the military revealing their sexuality? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.