Lavrov Rejects Syrian leadership's Exit as Precondition for Dialogue

CHERNIVTSI, (ST) – Moscow believes that Syrian leadership's  exit cannot be a precondition for a deal to resolve the country’s crisis, Russia’s foreign minister said on Sunday.

“Our partners are convinced that the Syrian leadership's  exit is essential as a precondition. This is a precondition, which is not mentioned in the Geneva Communique and cannot be fulfilled, because this does not depend on anyone,” Sergei Lavrov said in comments on Friday’s three-party Syria meeting with international Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and US diplomats,according to RIA NOVOSTI.

“President Al-Assad announced initiatives to invite all opposition members for a dialogue. Yes, probably, these initiatives are not far-reaching, someone may think they are not serious enough. But this is a proposal,” Lavrov said after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kozhara commenting on President Al-Assad’s peace plan.

Last week, President Al-Assad proposed a plan to resolve the country’s crisis which includes a national reconciliation conference, the formation of a new government and an amnesty.

Russia’s foreign minister called on Syria’s opposition to announce their ideas on “how to enter a dialogue.”



ECOWAS to hold extraordinary summit in Abidjan on Mali situation

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is to hold an extraordinary summit in Abidjan, capital of Cote d'Ivoir, on Wednesday to discuss the security situation in Mali, a minister of Cote d'Ivoir announced Sunday, according to Xinhua.

"The presidents will meet to discuss and evaluate the situation" in Mali, said Ali Coulibaly, African Integration Minister of Cote d'Ivoir.

Coulibaly also said that an emergency contingent of ECOWAS troops would start arriving in Bamako, capital of Mali, on Sunday.

Cote d'Ivoir President Alassane Ouattara, chairman of ECOWAS, on Friday declared the start of a U.N.-mandated operation to deploy some 3,000 African soldiers to Mali.

As part of support to the Malian army against rebel forces, groups of French and Nigerian soldiers landed Bamako on Saturday afternoon, Malian military sources said.

Military sources said the French soldiers came from Chad and Cote d'Ivoire, where they were based. They came with their materials and food.

Shortly after their arrival, a Nigerian military aircraft also landed in Bamako, sending Nigerian troops to join regional forces to flush out rebels in northern Mali.

Earlier, France have dispatched 200 troops from Chad to back the Malian government forces to block the rebel fighters from further southward movement.

It was reported that with the support of French air raid, the Mali army has successfully pushed back the rebels in the last few days from Konna, a military base of the army invaded by the rebels on Thursday.

Malian government forces are fighting against the rebels who occupied the northern part of the country since March 2012 following a military coup.

Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs Mankeur Ndiaye announced that his country was to send 500 troops to Mali to assist the Malian army to regain the occupied land. Burkina Faso and Niger have earlier announced each of them would send 500 soldiers to Mali. The United Nations recently asked the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS to produce a detailed plan for a possible military intervention in northern Mali.


Syrian Scholars Support Peace Plan

The peace plan proposed by President Bashar Al -Assad has today in Syria new support in religious circles, from its premises to defend national unity, sovereignty and self-determination.

Religious leaders and officials responsible for these matters joined the expression of support to the president's initiative by political parties and social organizations, according to Prensa Latina.

Muhammad Abdulsattar Assayed, Minister of Religious Issues (AWKAF) and mosque preachers, called on all sectors of the Syrian people to participate in the national dialogue. Meanwhile, the leader of the" Union of Cham Scholars" urged for support to the proposal that aims to end the crisis in Syria.

During his weekly Friday sermon, Al Bouti argued that there is a chance to correct the mistakes of those who are armed and declare Jihad (holy war) against their brethren to return to reason through the political plan put forward by President Bashar  Al -Assad.

The peace plan presented on Sunday by the President Al-Assad  seeks to concrete a negotiated solution through a cessation of hostilities, the call for a national dialogue, the call to a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution, and an approving referendum.

It highlights the fact that the initiative proposes dialogue with all sectors of society, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, provided it is based on national sovereignty.


Russia rejects prepared recipes for ending crisis in Syria

Russia voiced support on Saturday for international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi but insisted the  Syrian leadership exit cannot be a precondition for a deal to end the country's conflict,according to Reuters.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement following talks on Friday with the United States and Brahimi reiterated calls for an end to crisis in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said: "As before, we firmly uphold the thesis that questions about Syria's future must be decided by the Syrians themselves, without interference from outside or the imposition of prepared recipes for development."

Brahimi, who is trying to build on the agreement reached in Geneva on June 30, has met three times with senior Russian and U.S. diplomats since early December and met Assad in Damascus.


Mali Crackdown Should be UN/Africa-Led – Kremlin Envoy

The ongoing military operation against the rebels  in Mali, which was recently joined by French forces, should be led by either the United Nations or countries of the region, the Kremlin’s envoy to Africa said on Saturday.

"The situation in Mali is understandable, but I believe that any military operation in Africa can and should be flying the flags of the UN and the African Union,” Mikhail Margelov said.

"Nobody but the Africans can and should be solving the continent’s problems,” Margelov, who sits on the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, told RIA Novosti.

France deployed earlier this week a military forces to aid Mali’s government, whose army had been retreating before the attack of armed groups.

The French intervention allowed Mali’s government on Friday to recapture the strategic town of Konna in the country’s central region, taken by rebels earlier this week, BBC reported.

Mali, a French colony until 1960, is in turmoil since last March’s military coup, which triggered an uprising of separatist Tuareg tribes that seized control of the country’s south.

Unlike the Mali attack, the Somali raid failed, with French commandos repelled, at least one of them missing and Allex’s faith unclear, the report said.


Becker: Armed Opposition, Foreign Parties Impede Application of Geneva Statement

WASHINGTON, (ST) - Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the anti-war group ANSWER Coalition, affirmed that armed opposition in Syria and the parties that support are impeding the application of Geneva statement because they refuse dialogue and insist on continuing  the policy of war with the support of Qatar, Turkey , Saudi Arabia, the United States and NATO.
In an interview with Channel (Russia Today), Baker said the only party that has the desire to negotiate and finding a solution is the Syrian government pointing out that the developments of the situation on the ground show that the armed opposition, despite military support it receives from the United States and Turkey, will not be able to defeat the Syrian government because the Syrian army is strong and because the government has a base of wide public support as well as the position of Russia and China, which prevents repeat the Libyan scenario that destroyed Libya.

"The negotiations on a peaceful solution to the crisis is directly rejected by the West and therefore the  international envoy Lakhdar Alibrahimi can't do more than he did," Baker concluded.

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Death toll from SW China landslide rises to 46

The death toll from a landslide that hit a mountainous region in southwest China's Yunnan Province Friday rose to 46 as bodies of the last two missing were found Saturday morning, rescuers said,according to Xinhua.

The landslide hit the Zhaojiagou area of Gaopo Village, Zhenxiong County around 8:20 a.m. Friday. Zhenxiong is some 550 km northeast of the provincial capital, Kunming.

Forty-six residents -- 27 adults and 19 children -- were buried in the landslide, according to the local civil affairs bureau.

A State Council work group, comprising of officials from several ministries, arrived at the scene at 4 a.m. Saturday to coordinate rescue and disaster relief efforts.

The rescue and disaster relief operation involved more than 1,000 rescue workers with the help of excavators, shovels and life detectors.


Venezuelan Vice President Travels to Cuba to Visit Chavez

Venezuela''s Executive Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, said he will travel to Cuba to visit President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from a surgery since last December 11.

Maduro said the political team has maintained its pace of work, compatriots Diosdado Cabello, Rafael Ramirez, Cilia Flores, Jorge Arreaza, and Adan Chavez have been in Havana. "We have been permanently supporting our commander".

He added, "the president of our sister Republic of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has arrived to Cuba. She is a sister of struggle, one of the bravest women existing in the history of our continent, of our President Hugo Chavez; and also there will be the fighting fellow of our commander Hugo Chavez, the commander Ollanta Humala president of our sister Republic of Peru".

"So, in the next 24 hours we have some activities to carry out. Coordination is in charge of executive vice president Héctor Navarro, and the government team is working hard", he said.

Foreign Minister of the Republic said that on days 9 and 10 they had the presence of 27 official delegations from the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean.