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Bahrain king orders release of political prisoners

Posted by Admin on February 23, 2011

Some thousands of Bahraini mourners participate ...
Some thousands of Bahraini mourners participate in a funeral march Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011, in Malkiya
By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI and BARBARA SURK, Associated Press Hadeel Al-shalchi And Barbara Surk, Associated Press 1 hr 15 mins ago

MANAMA, Bahrain – Tens of thousands of red-and-white draped, flag-waving protesters flooded this tiny kingdom’s capital Tuesday, a massive show of force against the embattled monarchy as the king made another concession to the marchers — a promise to release an unspecified number of political prisoners.

Upbeat, determined demonstrators took over Manama for the day, circling the Bahrain Mall and Manama’s financial district, symbols of the country’s recent prosperity, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

“Egypt, Tunisia, are we any different?” marchers chanted, calling for the Sunni rulers they accuse of discriminating against the island’s Shiite majority to fall as the presidents of two other Arab countries have in recent weeks.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week, and the size of the event rivaled any of the major demonstrations so far in the eight-day uprising.

The decree issued earlier Tuesday by Bahrain’s king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa covers several Shiite activists accused of plotting against the state. It underlined how much the absolute rulers of Bahrain want to kick start reform talks with opposition leaders, and the huge march in a nation of 525,000 citizens showed how much they need to.

The exact number of prisoners to be freed remains unclear, government spokeswoman Maysoon Sabkar said. But the inmates will include some of the 25 Shiite activists on trial for allegedly plotting against the monarchy, a leading member of Bahrain’s Shiite opposition, Abdul Jalili Khalil, told The Associated Press.

He called the prisoner release “a good step” and a “positive gesture.”

Two of those in the case are being tried in absentia, including prominent opposition leader Hassan Meshaima, who has been in self-exile in London since last year. Meshaima’s return to Bahrain was imminent, his supporters said.

The activist’s presence could bolster opposition forces seeking a harder line against the Bahrain dynasty, including some who have called for the complete ouster of the king and the family that has ruled for more than 200 years.

Meshaima’s group, known as Haq, is considered more radical than the main Shiite political bloc that has taken a central role in the revolt and is seeking the establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

A small group of Bahraini army officers joined the ranks of protesters to demand reforms and the resignation of the current government. They condemned the soldiers who shot at protesters on Friday.

“What we did to the people was not heroic,” said Yeussif Najri, an army officer. “We ask the people to forgive us, we ask the people for forgiveness.”

The government said Tuesday that the overall death toll was seven from last week’s clashes. Previous reports from opposition groups and hospital officials in the past week set the death toll at eight, but the government tally now appears accurate.

The government also said 25 people were hospitalized, but it’s unclear what degree of injury authorities used to arrive at that figure. Opposition groups place the figure at more than 200. Associated Press journalists at the main state hospital witnessed many dozens of people being treated.

The attacks on protesters have brought stinging denunciations from Bahrain’s Western allies, including the United States. The U.S. maintains very close ties with Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Bahrain authorities withdrew the military Saturday and allowed protesters to reclaim Pearl Square, the gathering point for the uprising and now a tent city of protesters.

Bahrain’s Shiite majority has complained of discrimination and political persecution in the kingdom. They have staged protests in the past, but the current unrest is the most serious against the Sunni rulers.

On Monday, Bahrain’s crown prince called off Formula One’s season-opening race scheduled for March 13, handing another victory to protesters. Shiite leaders said it would have been disrespectful the hold the race to which Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa owns the rights

Sabkar told reporters the “immediate priority is to keep the peace and maintain calm.” She said the government, led by the same prime minister — the king’s uncle — for 40 years, was “deeply saddened by the tragic events of the past few days and its condolences go out to those families who have lost loved ones.”

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Pirates kill four U.S. hostages near Somalia

Posted by Admin on February 23, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110222/ts_nm/us_somalia_pirates_usa;_ylt=AmQoAqYx4fh5dsKMCkCttcd34T0D;_ylu=X3oDMTJybzVyZWM5BGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTEwMjIyL3VzX3NvbWFsaWFfcGlyYXRlc191c2EEcG9zAzQEc2VjA3luX2FydGljbGVfc3VtbWFyeV9saXN0BHNsawNwaXJhdGVza2lsbGY-

Somali Islamists, pirates dispute ransom cuts
Armed Somali Pirate watches on…
By Phil Stewart Phil Stewart 13 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Pirates shot dead four U.S. hostages on a private yacht on Tuesday, the deadliest incident involving Americans kidnapped for ransom in the increasingly dangerous waters off Somalia.

The U.S. military said the pirates shot the hostages before American special forces boarded the vessel.

U.S. troops killed two pirates as they took control of the boat, and took 15 pirates into custody. Another two pirates were found dead when U.S. special forces arrived but they were not killed by U.S. forces, the military said.

“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” said Gen James N. Mattis, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command.

Pirate gangs preying on shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean typically target large merchant ships, with oil tankers the prize catch, but the snatching of foreigners can also yield high ransoms. There were around 750 pirate hostages at the end of January.

The Americans killed on Tuesday were Jean and Scott Adam, from California, as well as Phyllis Macay, Bob Riggle, from Seattle, Washington.

U.S. forces learned of the hijacking on Friday.

The U.S. military said negotiations with the pirates had been under way when on Tuesday morning, without warning, a pirate fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.

Then gunfire broke out inside the pirated vessel.

“The intent always had been that this would be a negotiated process and not ever go into a point where we actually had gunfire,” said Vice Admiral Mark Fox, the head of U.S. naval forces in the turbulent region.

President Barack Obama had authorized the use of force in the case of an imminent threat to the hostages, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Obama was notified of the deaths at 4:42 a.m. EST

REVENGE

Two Somali pirates who spoke with Reuters by telephone said the hostages were ordered killed since the pirates themselves were under attack by U.S. forces.

“Our colleagues called us this morning, that they were being attacked by a U.S. warship,” Mohamud, a Somali pirate, told Reuters. “We ordered our comrades to kill the four Americans before they got killed.”

Pirate leader Farah, speaking from Bayla, a pirate haven in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland, vowed to avenge the deaths and capture of his comrades.

“I lost the money I invested and my comrades. No forgiveness for the Americans. Revenge. Our business will go on,” he said, adding he had spent $110,000 so far in the hijacking, including on weapons and food and salaries.

Vice Admiral Fox said the incident was yet another sign of how pirates are using larger “mother ships” to move further out to sea, and cautioned vessels to heed warnings about pirate activity in the region.

“The pirates have been able to go for long distances out to sea, up to 1,300, 1,400 nautical miles away from Somalia,” Fox said, saying pirate activity went all the way to off the coast of India and down to Madagascar.

In April 2009, U.S. Navy special forces freed the captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama by killing three Somali pirates who held him hostage in a lifeboat. Obama had authorized the use of force in that incident as well.

(Additional reporting by Alister Bull in Washington and Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Editing by Vicki Allen and Frances Kerry)

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US admiral: Carrier killer won’t stop US Navy

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2011

FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2009 file photo, military ...
In this Oct. 1, 2009 file photo, military vehicles carrying the Dong Feng 21D missiles for a parade.
By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press Eric Talmadge, Associated Press Tue Feb 15, 6:55 am ET

YOKOSUKA, Japan – A new “carrier killer” missile that has become a symbol of China’s rising military might will not force the U.S. Navy to change the way it operates in the Pacific, a senior Navy commander told The Associated Press.

Defense analysts say the Dong Feng 21D missile could upend the balance of power in Asia, where U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups have ruled the waves since the end of World War II.

However, Vice Adm. Scott van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, told the AP in an interview that the Navy does not see the much-feared weapon as creating any insurmountable vulnerability for the U.S. carriers — the Navy’s crown jewels.

“It’s not the Achilles heel of our aircraft carriers or our Navy — it is one weapons system, one technology that is out there,” Van Buskirk said in an interview this week on the bridge of the USS George Washington, the only carrier that is home-based in the western Pacific.

The DF 21D is unique in that it is believed capable of hitting a powerfully defended moving target — like the USS George Washington — with pinpoint precision. That objective is so complex that the Soviets gave up on a similar project.

The missile would penetrate defenses because its speed from launch would not allow enough time for carriers or other large ships to complete countermeasures.

That could seriously weaken Washington’s ability to intervene in any potential conflict over Taiwan or North Korea, as well as deny U.S. ships safe access to international waters near China’s 11,200-mile (18,000-kilometer) -long coastline.

Van Buskirk, whose fleet is responsible for most of the Pacific and Indian oceans, with 60-70 ships and 40,000 sailors and Marines under its command, said the capabilities of the Chinese missile are as yet unproven. But he acknowledged it does raise special concerns.

“Any new capability is something that we try to monitor,” he said.

“If there wasn’t this to point to as a game changer, there would be something else,” he said. “That term has been bandied about for many things. I think it really depends in how you define the game, whether it really changes it or not. It’s a very specific scenario for a very specific capability — some things can be very impactful.”

The development of the missile comes as China is increasingly venturing further out to sea and is becoming more assertive around its coastline and in disputes over territory.

Late last year, China and Japan were locked in a heated diplomatic row over several islands both claim in the East China Sea, an area regularly patrolled by U.S. Navy vessels. A flotilla of 10 Chinese warships, including advanced submarines and destroyers, passed through the Miyako Strait last April in the biggest transit of its kind to date.

Experts saw it as an attempt by China to test Japan and the United States and demonstrate its open water capabilities.

China has also expressed strong displeasure with U.S. carrier operations off the Korean Peninsula, saying that they posed a security risk to its capital.

Still, van Buskirk said the Navy has no intention of altering its mission because of the new threat and will continue to operate in the seas around Japan, Korea, the Philippines and anywhere else it deems necessary.

“We won’t change these operations because of this specific technology that might be out there,” he told The AP while the USS George Washington was in its home port just south of Tokyo for repairs last week. “But we will carefully monitor and adapt to it.”

The faster-than-expected development of the missile has set off alarm bells in Washington. Further, China is developing a stealth fighter jet that could be used to support its navy in a potential conflict and hopes to deploy its first aircraft carriers over the next decade.

Before visiting Beijing last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he has been concerned about the anti-ship missile since he took office.

In December, Adm. Robert Willard, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper he believed the missile program had achieved “initial operational capability,” meaning a workable design had been settled on and was being further developed.

The missile is considered a key component of China’s strategy of denying U.S. planes and ships access to waters off its coast. The strategy includes overlapping layers of air defense systems, naval assets such as submarines, and advanced ballistic missile systems — all woven together with a network of satellites.

At its most capable, the DF 21D could be launched from land with enough accuracy to penetrate the defenses of even the most advanced moving aircraft carrier at a distance of more than 900 miles (1,500 kilometers).

To allay regional security fears, van Buskirk said, China needs to be more forthcoming about its intentions.

“It goes back to transparency,” he said. “Using the United States as an example, we are very clear about our intent when conducting routine and normal operations in international waters … That is what you might expect from other nations that might operate in this region.

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Bahrain protesters gather in capital for third day

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2011

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_bahrain;_ylt=A0wNdPF9dFtNT28BHxas0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNhbGphY2EzBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMTEwMjE2L3VzX2JhaHJhaW4EY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwMxBHBvcwMyBHB0A2hvbWVfY29rZQRzZWMDeW5fdG9wX3N0b3J5BHNsawNiYWhyYWlucHJvdGU-

Protesters serve coffee and tea at the Pearl ...
Reuters – Protesters serve coffee and tea at the Pearl Roundabout, a famous landmark of Bahrain
By Cynthia Johnston Cynthia Johnston 30 mins ago

MANAMA (Reuters) – Thousands of Shi’ite demonstrators, inspired by popular revolts that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, gathered in Bahrain’s capital on Wednesday to mourn for a second protestor killed in clashes this week.

Several hundred gathered at a funeral procession for a man shot dead when police and mourners clashed at an earlier funeral procession on Tuesday.

“We are requesting our rights in a peaceful way,” said Bakr Akil, a 20 year-old university student, wearing a sheet stained with red ink that he said was a symbol of his willingness to sacrifice his life for freedom.

“I am optimistic that our big presence will achieve our demands,” Akil said.

Women dressed in black abayas followed the procession with their own chants calling for peace and Bahraini unity.

Elsewhere in central Manama, witnesses say about 2,000 protestors had spent the night in tents at Bahrain’s Pearl Roundabout, similar to the number marching on the streets a day earlier.

It remains to be seen whether the number would rise or fall during Wednesday. Some will have to return to work, after a public holiday on Tuesday to mark the Prophet Mohammed‘s birthday.

Police kept their distance, mostly confining themselves to a nearby dirt lot with dozens of SUV police vehicles. The ministry of Interior announced that all roads were open.

The demonstrators from Bahrain’s Shi’ite majority say the ruling Sunni minority shuts them out of housing, healthcare and government jobs.

“The United States is very concerned by recent violence surrounding protests in Bahrain,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement. “We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence.”

The main Shi’ite opposition bloc Wefaq, which boycotted parliament to protest the clampdown by Sunni security forces, said it would hold talks with the government on Wednesday.

Protesters said their main demand was the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed the Gulf Arab state since its independence in 1971.

An uncle of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he is thought to own much land and is seen as a symbol of the wealth of the ruling family.

DEMOGRAPHIC BALANCE

Activists say they also want the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and the creation of a new constitution.

Poverty, high unemployment and alleged attempts by the state to grant citizenship to Sunni foreigners to change the demographic balance have intensified discontent among Bahrain’s Shi’ites.

Around half of the tiny island kingdom’s 1.3 million people are Bahraini, the rest being foreign workers.

Analysts say large-scale unrest in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a regional offshore banking center, could embolden marginalized Shi’ites in nearby Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

King Hamad expressed his condolences for “the deaths of two of our dear sons” in a televised speech and said a committee would investigate the killings.

Bahrain, in a move appeared aimed at preventing Shi’ite discontent from boiling over, had offered cash payouts of around 1,000 dinars ($2,650) per family in the run-up to this week’s protests.

(Reporting by Frederik Richter; writing by Reed Stevenson; editing by Matthew Jones)

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