Friday, July 6, 2012

More bloodshed sweeps across Syria

DAMASCUS: Fresh bloodshed swept Syria on Wednesday after Western powers and the Arab League demanded immediate UN action to stop the regime’s “killing machine” but holdout Russia vowed to veto any proposal it deemed unacceptable.

Wrangling at the United Nations came as fierce clashes raged across Syria’s powder keg regions killing 59 people, mostly civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Britain-based monitoring group said at least eight civilians were killed in shelling by regime forces in the restive central city of Homs while 24 were killed in fighting in the Damascus region.

Activists said the unrest had killed nearly 200 people nationwide over the previous three days while France said on Wednesday 6,000 people had been killed since the beginning of the uprising nearly 11 months ago.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, backed by her French and British counterparts and Qatar’s premier, led the charge on Tuesday for a tough UN resolution that would call on Assad to end the bloodshed and hand over power.

“We all know that change is coming to Syria. Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime’s reign of terror will end,” Clinton told the UN Security Council. “The question for us is: how many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward?” But on Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov appeared to snuff out any hopes of a quick vote.

“Attempts are being made to find a text that is acceptable to all sides and would help find a political solution for the situation in Syria. Therefore there is going to be no vote in the next days,” he told Interfax news agency.

Analysts warn that the conflict, between a guerrilla movement backed by growing numbers of army deserters and a regime increasingly bent on repression, has largely eclipsed the peaceful protests seen at the start of the uprising.

“It is the beginning of an all-out armed conflict,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“We are heading toward real chaos,” he added. “The Syrian public in general is beginning to (realise) that there isn’t a magic ending to this, there isn’t a regime collapse.”

The new French death toll comes after UN human rights Chief Navi Pillay said on January 25 that her organisation had stopped counting the dead from Syria’s crackdown on the protests because it is too difficult to get information. Early in January, UN data showed more than 5,400 people killed in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began in mid-March.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, speaking at the Security Council on behalf of the Arab League, said Assad’s regime had “failed to make any sincere effort” to end the crisis and believed the only solution was “to kill its own people.”

“Bloodshed continued and the killing machine is still at work,” he said. But Russia, a longstanding ally of Assad and one of the regime’s top suppliers of weapons, declared that the UN body did not have the authority to impose a resolution that called for regime change in Syria, a position supported by China.

“If the text is unacceptable then we will vote against,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Russia would not approve a text it viewed as “incorrect” and would “lead to a deepening of the conflict”, he said.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

U.S. military says budget constraints to help spur growth of innovation

Despite its adverse effects, the current budget constraints will also help drive the growth of innovation in the U.S. military to maintain the U.S. status as the world's leader, a senior Pentagon official said on Wednesday.

"We have objectives for the United States as a leader in the international environment that are aggressive," said Kathleen Hicks, deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and forces, in an interview with the Pentagon Channel TV.

To achieve such objectives, U.S. forces and other instruments of national power must think through innovative approaches for executing their mission, Hicks said.

"I think you'll see an era of real innovation -- a transformation," she said.

Innovations are under way in the cyber domain and in space, as well as in the Navy-Air Force air-sea battle concept, in which air and naval forces integrate capabilities across domains, Hicks said.

"They're also taking place in missile defense, and in leveraging advantages in undersea warfare and in prompt global strike -- an effort to develop a system that can deliver a precision conventional weapon strike anywhere in the world within an hour," she added.

Other new approaches acknowledge realities of the recent defense budget preview on spending cuts, delivered on Jan. 26 by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hicks said.

Under the new budget plan, the U.S. military will produce a smaller, more agile and technologically enabled force by 2020, while putting stress on developing advanced military technologies to ensure the U.S. supremacy in its military might.

The plan was aimed at implementing President Barack Obama's defense strategy guidance, which includes cutting force structure, drawing down ground forces, maintaining the current focus in the Middle East and increasing the commitment in Asia.

Partnerships and smaller footprints will take up the slack for the U.S. military in places such as Africa and Latin America, where the new budget control plan has curtailed growth in military capacity building, Hicks said.

In areas of increasing importance, such as Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region, the U.S. military "is seeking new ways to partner," she said, noting that there will be a rotational deployment of U.S. troops in Australia and an agreement with Singapore will base four U.S. littoral combat ships there.

"That will really be the hallmark of our approach going forward," Hicks said. "These seemingly small investments are incredibly beneficial in terms of what we get and what the partners get in terms of engagement and stability."

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

US, allies urge UN action to end violence in Syria

Vowing to avoid "another Libya," the U.S. and its allies challenged Russia on Tuesday to overcome its opposition to a U.N. draft resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar Assad yield power and end the violence that has killed thousands.

"It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the U.N. Security Council in backing an Arab League plan for the country.

Russia, one of Assad's strongest allies, has signaled it would veto any U.N. action against Damascus, fearing it could open the door to eventual international military involvement, the way an Arab-backed U.N. resolution led to NATO airstrikes in Libya.

But Clinton said U.N. action in Syria would not involve military intervention, unlike the NATO-led efforts that resulted in the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.

"I know that some members here may be concerned that the Security Council is headed toward another Libya," Clinton said. "That is a false analogy."

The top diplomats from Britain, France and Arab League pressed the same point: The objective of the draft resolution was not military involvement and a continued delay would come at the cost of the lives of innocent civilians.

"We all have a choice: Stand with the people of Syria and the region or become complicit in the continuing violence there," Clinton told council members.

"Despite its ruthless tactics, the Assad regime's reign of terror will end and the people of Syria will have the chance to chart their own destiny," she said. "The question for us is: How many more innocent civilians will die before this country is able to move forward toward the kind of future it deserves?"

The diplomatic showdown came as Syrian government forces took back control of the eastern suburbs of the capital, Damascus, after rebel soldiers briefly captured the area in a startling advance last week. The two-day offensive left more than 100 people dead, making it among the bloodiest days since the uprising began in March, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group.

The U.N. estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government crackdown, but has not been able to update the figure.

Russia has stood by Assad as he tries to crush the uprising. In October, Moscow vetoed the first Security Council attempt to condemn Syria's crackdown and has shown little sign of budging in its opposition.

Moscow's stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defense ties, including weapons sales, with Syria. Russia also rejects what it sees as a world order dominated by the U.S.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Moscow "would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya."

Saying the U.N. should not choose sides, Lavrov told the ABC that all parties should cease violence and engage in dialogue. Russia "would not support anything that would be imposed on Syria," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd emphasized that Assad must go and urged Russia to overcome its reservations regarding the Security Council resolution in lengthy discussions Tuesday with Lavrov.

"We cannot stand idly by while we see the death of Damascus unfold before us," Rudd told reporters in his hometown of Brisbane on Wednesday. "It's time that we had action from the U.N. Security Council to start to draw this appalling conflict — this appalling loss of life — to a close."

"Australia's position is clear as we put it to the Russian foreign minister yesterday and that is we need to take action in New York through the U.N. Security Council. President Assad must go, he must step down, a government of national unity must be formed which brings together elements of the Syrian opposition as well as all those other elements representatives of Syrian society," he added.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also criticized the Western draft Security resolution on Syria. He wrote Tuesday on Twitter that it "does not lead to a search for compromise. Pushing this resolution is a path to civil war."

Still, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin indicated in his address to the council that agreement could still be reached with more negotiation. He said his country found "some of the elements of our text" in the current draft, "and that gives rise for hope."

An earlier proposal on Syria circulated by Russia had been rejected by some Western and Arab nations for not being strong enough. "We hope the council will come to consensus," Churkin said.

Clinton suggested that more negotiation on the text was necessary before a vote later in the week. "We will have a concerted effort over the next days to reach agreement in the Security Council to put forth a resolution that sends a message to President Assad and his regime," she told reporters.

Earlier in the session, the Arab League made a rare call to the council to condemn violence in a fellow Arab country, and adopt its peace plan.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby told the council that the league wanted the Security Council to act "to support our initiative and not to take its place."

"We are attempting to avoid any foreign intervention, particularly military intervention" in Syria, he said. "We have always stressed full respect of the security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian people."

British Foreign Minister William Hague called for speedy action.

"How long do Syrian families have to live in fear that their children will be killed or tortured, before the Security Council will act?" Hague asked. "How many people need to die before the consciences of world capitals are stirred?"

In its current form, the resolution demands that Assad halt the crackdown and implement an Arab League peace plan calling for him to hand over power to his vice president. If Assad fails to comply within 15 days, the council would consider "further measures," a reference to a possible move to impose economic or other sanctions.

In his response, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari lashed out at the league, accusing it of acting without consulting the Syrian leadership."How strange it is for us to see some members of the League of Arab States seeking the support of the Security Council against Syria," Ja'afari said. He noted that the Security Council often has voted in support of Israel against Arab-backed measures.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday at a news conference in Amman, Jordan, that he was "encouraged by the League of Arab States' initiative to seek a political solution" to the Syrian crisis.

"It is more urgent than ever to put an end to this bloodshed and violence, to start a credible political solution that addresses the legitimate aspiration of the Syrian people and to protect their fundamental freedoms," Ban said.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Russians should skip protest due to cold: Chief doctor

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russians should avoid attending the protest against the rule of Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the weekend to protect their health amid a spell of cold weather, the country's chief doctor said on Thursday.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to rally for a march in the Russian capital on Saturday in the third mass protest challenging Putin ahead of next month's presidential elections.

'The forecast for Saturday is extremely unfavourable with temperatures of minus 18 deg C predicted. This is a very low temperature for Moscow,' said Dr Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief sanitary doctor.

'If this forecast is true then I categorically advise people not to take part in these protests,' Dr Onishchenko, who is also the head of Russia's consumer protection watchdog, told the Interfax news agency.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Muhammad Ali's legendary trainer, Angelo Dundee, dead at 90

Mastermind of the "rope a dope' strategy ... legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
Angelo Dundee, the renowned trainer who guided Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard to boxing glory, died Wednesday in Tampa, Florida. He was 90.
His death was announced by his son, Jimmy, The Associated Press said.

In more than 60 years in professional boxing, Dundee gained acclaim as a brilliant cornerman, whether healing cuts, inspiring his fighters to battle on when they seemed to be reeling or adjusting strategy between rounds to counter an opponent's style.

Muhammad Ali has his hands bandaged by his manager Angelo Dundee in 1963"In that one minute, Angelo is Godzilla and Superman rolled into one," Dr Ferdie Pacheco, who often worked with Dundee and then became a TV boxing analyst, once remarked.
"You come back to the corner and he'll say, 'The guy's open for a hook, or this or that,"' Ali told The New York Times in 1981. "If he tells you something during a fight, you can believe it. As a cornerman, Angelo is the best in the world."
Dundee's first champion was Carmen Basilio, the welterweight and middleweight titleholder of the 1950s from upstate New York. Although best remembered for Ali and Leonard, he also trained the light-heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano, the heavyweight titleholder Jimmy Ellis and the welterweight champion Luis Rodriguez. Dundee advised George Foreman when he regained the heavyweight title at age 45. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.

Angelo Dundee (r) celebrates as Cassius Clay [Muhammed Ali] is lifted off the ring floor after beating Sonny Liston in 1964.Born Angelo Mirena, a Philadelphia native and the son of a railroad worker, he became Angelo Dundee after his brother, Joe, fought professionally under the name Johnny Dundee, in tribute to a former featherweight champion, and another brother, Chris, also adopted the Dundee name.After working as a cornerman at military boxing tournaments in England while in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Dundee served an apprenticeship at Stillman's Gym near the old Madison Square Garden in New York, learning his craft from veteran trainers like Ray Arcel, Charley Goldman and Chickie Ferrara. In the early 1950s, he teamed with his brother Chris to open the Fifth Street gym in Miami Beach, Florida. It became their longtime base, Angelo as a trainer and Chris as a promoter.In the late 1950s, Dundee gave some tips to a promising amateur heavyweight named Cassius Clay, and in December 1960, after Clay's first pro bout, Dundee became his trainer, working with him in Miami Beach. He guided him to the heavyweight title with a knockout of Sonny Liston in February 1964.

Angelo Dundee with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987.
In his memoir, Dundee said that he and Ali "had this special thing, a unique blend, a chemistry.""I never heard anything resembling a racist comment leave his mouth," he said. "There was never a black-white divide."Dundee knew all the tricks in the boxing trade, and then some.When Ali — or Clay, as was still known at the time — sought to regain his senses after being knocked down by Henry Cooper in the fourth round of their June 1963 bout, Dundee stuck his finger in a small slit that had opened in one of Ali's gloves, making the damage worse. Then he brought the badly damaged glove to the referee's attention. Dundee was told that a substitute glove wasn't available, and the few seconds of delay helped Clay recover. He knocked Cooper out in the fifth round.In the hours before Ali fought Foreman in Zaire in 1974 — the Rumble in the Jungle — Dundee noticed that the ring ropes were sagging in the high humidity. He used a razor blade to cut and refit them so they were tight, enabling Ali to bounce off them when Foreman unleashed his "anywhere" punches from all angles. Ali wore Foreman out, hanging back with the "rope-a-dope" strategy Ali undertook on his own, and he went on to win the bout.Dundee became Leonard's manager and cornerman when he turned pro in 1977. He taught Leonard to snap his left jab rather than paw with it and guided him to the welterweight championship with a knockout of Wilfred Benitez in 1979.Roberto Duran captured Leonard's title on a decision in June 1980, but Leonard won the rematch in November when Dundee persuaded him to avoid a slugfest and instead keep Duran turning while slipping his jabs. A thoroughly beaten Duran quit in the eighth round, uttering his inglorious "no mas."Dundee enjoyed chatting with reporters — he called himself a "mixologist" — and he tried to "blend" with his fighters, creating a rapport rather than imposing himself on them.In talking about his boxing savvy, he liked to say "when I see things through my eyes, I see things.""When Dundee speaks, traditional English usage is, to say the least, stretched and malapropisms abound," Ronald K. Fried wrote in "Cornermen: Great Boxing Trainers.""Yet the language is utterly original and Dundee's own — and it conveys exactly what Dundee knows in his heart."After retiring from full-time training, Dundee had stints in boxing broadcasting. He taught boxing technique to Russell Crowe for his role as the 1930s heavyweight champion Jimmy Braddock in the 2005 Hollywood movie "Cinderella Man."A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.Dundee once remarked: "I'm not star quality. The fighter is the star."But he took pride in his craft. As he put it: "You've got to combine certain qualities belonging to a doctor, an engineer, a psychologist and sometimes an actor, in addition to knowing your specific art well. There are more sides to being a trainer than those found on a Rubik's Cube."
George Foreman is tended to by Angelo Dundee in 1991.
Dundee avoided the temptation to tamper with the brilliance of his young and charismatic fighter, and he used a bit of psychology in honing his talents."I never touched that natural stuff with him," Dundee recalled in his memoir, My View From the Corner, written with Bert Randolph Sugar. "However, training Cassius was not quite the same as training another fighter. Some guys take direction and some don't, and this kid had to be handled with kid gloves. So every now and then I'd subtly suggest some move or other to him, couching it as if it were something he was already doing. I'd say something like: 'You're getting that jab down real good. You're bending your knees now and you're putting a lot of snap into it.' Now, he had never thrown a jab, but it was a way of letting him think it was his idea, his innovation."When Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali soon after winning the heavyweight title, his boxing management and financial affairs were handled by the Nation of Islam. Dundee was the only white man in his camp, and he grew disturbed over references to that fact.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dhoni gets vote of confidence from former skippers

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni 

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's offer to step aside as India captain if a "better" candidate can be found is a noble gesture given the team's woeful run of test form, but several former skippers believe the wicketkeeper remains the best man for the job.

Under Dhoni, India won the Twenty20 (2007) and 50-over (2011) World Cups and also became the top-ranked test team, prompting many observers to hail him the country's greatest ever leader.

In less than a year since India hit those heady heights, that assessment has been revised after India's eight consecutive overseas test defeats, seven under Dhoni, and some believe the side need a new captain in the longer format of the game.

Former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram, however, is not among them.

"Captain-bashing is a favourite pastime of cricket pundits in the Indian subcontinent and the media just loves it," Akram wrote in his column for

"I believe Dhoni is the best man to lead India and will remain so in the immediate future," wrote the former player, considered one of the greatest left-arm bowlers the game has seen.

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar agreed.

"In my view, he is still the best bet," Gavaskar told NDTV channel, hailing Dhoni's announcement to pave way for a more suitable candidate after his team got blanked in Australia.

"Dhoni must have deeply felt it, the 4-0 loss. So what he wanted to say is that he is ready to play under a captain if the BCCI (India board) can get one, and that is exactly what you expect from a team man like him," Gavaskar added.

Former Australia captain Steve Waugh also saw no logic in the demand to replace Dhoni.

"...there is no point in changing captains for the sake of it," Waugh wrote in a column that appeared in Wednesday's Times of India newspaper.

Especially if it meant entrusting swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag with the duty, as has been suggested in the Indian media.

"I don't think Sehwag has shown the inspiration, responsibility and form to assume the mantle right now, and truth be told, I'm disappointed with the way he has not shouldered his responsibility in the series," Waugh said.

With Dhoni serving a one-match ban because of the team's slow over rate in the previous test at Perth, Sehwag led India in the fourth and final test at Adelaide, where Australia won by 298 runs to complete the rout.

Akram too laughed off the suggestion.

"What did Sehwag do to salvage India's pride at Adelaide? I sometimes see streaks of {Pakistan all-rounder) Shahid Afridi in Sehwag. That dreadful propensity to self-destruct," he said.