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William Hague has called for a stepping up of the fight against Somali-based terrorism as he became the first British foreign secretary to visit the war-torn state for 20 years.

His arrival in the capital Mogadishu amid tight security marked the start of a major diplomatic push to bring stability to a country he described as "the world's most failed state".

Mr Hague said recent gains by the 10,000-strong African Union force in the country (Amisom) had driven back the radical Islamist group al Shabaab from the capital. But with much of the south of the country still controlled by the organisation, which has links to al Qaida, he said there must be no let-up in the pressure.

Britain is hosting a major conference on Somalia in London later this month, attended by representatives of 50 nations in international organisations. Mr Hague promised that counter-terrorism would be high on the agenda as well as tackling piracy and Somalia's deep humanitarian problems.

"One of the objectives of our conference in London is to strengthen counter-terrorism co-operation to make it easier for countries in this region to disrupt terrorist networks, to disrupt their financing and the movement of potential terrorists," he said.

In 2010, MI5 director-general Jonathan Evans warned it was "only a matter of time" before terrorists trained in Somali camps inspired acts of violence on the streets of the UK. However, ministers believe the success of the Amisom offensive last August in driving al Shabaab from Mogadishu has opened up a window of opportunity.


Pakistan on Wednesday hit out angrily at a leaked NATO report accusing its spies of secretly aiding the Afghan Taliban, saying that pre-dawn air strikes killed at least 20 local Taliban fighters.

Pakistan's alliance with the United States and NATO plummeted to an all-time low after US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26 and Islamabad has since shut its Afghan border to NATO supply convoys.

Relations with Afghanistan are also notoriously frosty over mutual blame for insurgencies plaguing both countries, but top-level talks in Kabul on Wednesday had been aimed at charting new cooperation.

But the leaked NATO document claims that Islamabad, via Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency, is "intimately involved" with the insurgency and that the Taliban assume victory is inevitable once Western troops leave in 2014.

The BBC said the report was based on material from 27,000 interrogations of more than 4,000 captured Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives.

"Pakistan's manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly," the report was quoted as saying.

Taliban captives said Islamabad was using a web of intermediaries and spies to provide strategic advice to the Taliban on fighting US and NATO troops.

Related article: Pakistan jet strike kills 20 Taliban

"This is frivolous, to put it mildly. We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan and expect all other states to strictly adhere to this principle," Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP.

A senior security official condemned the leak, as reported by the BBC, which also broadcast a documentary "Secret Pakistan" last year accusing parts of Pakistan's intelligence service of complicity with Taliban militants.

"The report is not available, leaks not worth commenting," he told AFP.

 

 

On January 19, a new Minister of Finance was appointed in Ukraine. This is a former head of the Ukrainian security services, 43-year old Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy. One should not be surprised that the Ukrainian General has chaired the financial sector: first of all, he is known as a businessman and financial expert, as a top-manager.


Khoroshkovskiy started his career in business early and was always reaching great results in almost all the areas of his activities. At the age of 29, he became a member of the parliament and one of the leaders of the most influential party of those times – the People’s Democratic Party. At the age of 32, he became a Minister of Economy in the first government of Viktor Yanukovych. In 2005 – 2007, he was chairing one of the largest transnational corporations – “Evrazholding” with its headquarters in Moscow. Then he came back to Ukraine and worked as a deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council under President Yushchenko, he was chairing the Customs, and during the last two years – the Security Service of Ukraine.

Almost all the people who I have spoken to in Kyiv highly appreciate managerial talents of Khoroshkovskiy. “He is a liberal and a manager of the modern European style, a supporter of reforms and Ukraine’s integration into the European community”, the director of the Institute of Ukrainian politics Dr. Konstantyn Bondarenko says. “Khoroshkovsky is accompanied by luck in everything, and it was for a reason that President Yanukovych appointed him to be in charge of such a crucial field of ​​work: he knows the difficulties that Ukraine has faced during the recent time in terms of the economy, and understands that these difficulties are to be overcome by a type of people like Khoroshkovskiy, but not the economists of conservative and administrative type, who were managing the financial sector of the government before”.

Experts say that it will not be easy for Khoroshkovskiy to be in the government. The Prime Minister Mykola Azarov is a man of the old school of management. He is considered to be a “lame duck” in Kyiv, and they speak about his dismissal in the nearest future. This is the last year of Azarov being a Prime Minister: this year he turns 65, and according to Ukrainian legislature this is a maximum tenure of a politician in office. Khoroshkovskiy is mentioned among the possible contenders for the post of a Prime Minister after Azarov leaves. At his time, Khoroshkovskiy voluntarily left work in the government because of the conflict with Azarov. Now they will have to work together for some time, although the previous minister of finance, Fedir Yaroshenko, was Azarov’s protégé, and Azarov tried to postpone his dismissal.

A month after he became the lonely man of Europe, Prime Minister David Cameron's efforts to win friends and influence people met with mixed results at the latest summit in Brussels.

He won a new ally when the Czech Republic joined Britain on the outside of a fiscal treaty signed by the rest of the European Union -- but then found himself embroiled in a spat with an old ally, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cameron is also on a political tightrope between the EU, Britain's biggest export market, and his own party, which wants him to take a tough stance against the bloc or even leave it altogether.

So, it was not the firebrand Cameron of December on show Monday but a more subdued figure keen to appease other leaders -- and receiving a kiss on the cheek from German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his pains.

He kept up his rhetoric about ensuring that Britain's interests are not hurt by the new treaty.

"We will be watching like a hawk," he said, reiterating calls for eurozone countries to recapitalise their banks, deal with Greece's debt drama and establish a financial "firewall".

Cameron also insisted that he had kept Britain out of a treaty that it did not need or want.

He received some vindication for his stance when the Czechs decided that they too could not endorse the fiscal pact.

But he had already backed down on an earlier threat made in December to veto the use of EU institutions by other countries that join the pact.

He had also softened his language from the previous week, when he launched a stinging attack on his EU partners, slammed the eurozone as uncompetitive and branded as "madness" a planned transaction tax.

Cameron had also picked a fight over the European Court of Human Rights last week, saying it needed urgent reform to stop it overriding the decisions of democratic member nations.

Tensions rose to the surface again when Cameron and Sarkozy took digs at each others' countries.

First Sarkozy said in a speech on Sunday that Britain had "no industry" left.

That prompted Cameron to say that the French president's "mad" plans for a financial transactions tax would drive French banks over to Britain.

"In the spirit of this healthy competition with France, if France goes for a financial transactions tax then the door will be open and we'll be able to welcome many more French banks, businesses and others to the UK," Cameron said.

But asked if he would be backing the French president's re-election this year -- as Merkel's party said she would -- Cameron tried to play it down lightheartedly.

"I am a big supporter and friend of Nicolas Sarkozy and I wish him well," he said.

"Every now and again he says something I don't agree with -- today when he said that Britain is short of industry, we actually have a larger industrial sector than France."

 

Germany is proposing that Greece should temporarily cede sovereignty over tax and spending decisions to a powerful eurozone budget commissioner before it can secure further bailouts, an official in Berlin has said.

The initiative is being discussed among the 17-nation currency bloc's finance ministers because Greece has repeatedly failed to fulfil its commitments under its current multi-billion pound lifeline, the official said.

The proposal foresees a commissioner holding a veto right against any budgetary measures and having broad surveillance ability to ensure that Greece will set its priorities on repaying its debt as scheduled, the official said.

Greece's international creditors - the so-called troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank - are currently negotiating another 130 billion euro rescue package for the heavily indebted country.

But German news magazine Der Spiegel cited an unnamed troika official as saying that Greece might need a total of 145 billion euros in its second bailout package amid the country's prolonged and sharp recession.

The German proposal is likely to spark controversy in Greece. A powerful budget commissioner would further diminish the political leeway of Greece's government, just as politicians there are gearing up for an election set to take place this spring.

 

The Arab League on Saturday suspended its controversial observer mission in Syria, a day after the monitors' chief said killing had spiked this week, with the death toll approaching 200.

The announcement came as the opposition Syrian National Council said its leader would travel to New York to appeal to the UN Security Council for protection from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

SNC chief Burhan Ghaliun's trip comes amid a new bid by Arab and European states for UN action over the deadly 11-month crackdown on dissent hit immediate opposition from staunch Syrian ally Russia.

"The decision to suspend the Arab League mission in Syria has been taken because of the upsurge in violence, and an official announcement will be made later," an Arab League official in Cairo told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The head of the Arab League monitors said unrest had soared since Tuesday "in a significant way," especially in the flashpoint central cities of Homs and Hama and in the northern Idlib region.

The violence "does not help... to get all sides to sit at the negotiating table," General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi said.

According to a tally by AFP taken from reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and official Syrian media, 193 people have been killed since Tuesday.

That compares with the figure of more than 5,400 given by the United Nations last month since anti-regime protests erupted in March.

Amid the upsurge in killing, the country's umbrella opposition group has "decided to head to the Security Council tomorrow, led by Burhan Ghaliun, to present the Syrian case... and demand protection," executive committee member Samir Neshar told an Istanbul news conference.

He spoke after the Gulf Arab states and Turkey, which have led regional condemnation of the Damascus regime, met in Istanbul and called on Assad to accept an Arab League proposal for him to step down and turn over power to his deputy before formation of a unity government.

Syria has categorically rejected the proposal.

Ministers also agreed that international efforts should focus on bringing the bloodshed to an "immediate end" and paving the way for the initiation of a political transition process in line with "legitimate demands of the people."

"We are adamant to turn the Middle East region into a basin for peace, stability and prosperity," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

Deadly clashes and an ambush on a bus transporting soldiers claimed at least 15 lives on Saturday, according to activists and state media.

Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP three deserters were killed in Rastan, and five soldiers were killed in similar clashes in nearby Al-Hula, also in Homs province.

The Observatory also reported fierce clashes on the outskirts of Damascus as security forces backed by tanks raided the towns of Saqba, Hamuriyeh, Jisrin and Erbin. There was no immediate word on casualties.

And an ambush on a bus near the rebel stronghold of Douma, just north of Damascus, killed seven soldiers, the official SANA news agency reported, blaming a "terrorist group."

Damascus does not recognise the scale of the protest movement, insisting instead that it is fighting "terrorist groups" seeking to sow chaos as part of a foreign-hatched conspiracy.

Elsewhere, the Observatory said a child was killed in the oil province of Deir Ezzor when a shell struck his house, and a pipeline was also ablaze in Quriah in Deir Ezzor.

At least 384 children have been among the dead in the uprising against Assad's regime, and almost the same number detained, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

 

 

French police on Thursday arrested Jean-Claude Mas, the founder of the PIP breast implant company that sparked a global health scare by using substandard silicone, as part of a manslaughter probe.

"Jean-Claude Mas was arrested at 7:00 am and taken into custody" on the orders of an investigating judge, Marseille prosecutor Jacques Dallest told AFP.

He said the arrest was made in connection with a manslaughter investigation opened by prosecutors in the southern port city of Marseille in December and that Mas could be held in custody for up to 48 hours.

A police source told AFP that Mas was arrested at the home of his companion in the south of France.

Dallest said police were carrying out a search of his companion's home, in the town of Six Fours, for evidence in the case.

 

The European Central Bank (ECB) has revealed it lent nearly 489 billion euro (£409.3 billion) to the continent's banks in a bid to boost confidence in the eurozone.

The ECB said 523 unnamed banks had taken up the loans, which will be offered on a three-year term for the first time, in the biggest liquidity operation ever for the central bank, surpassing the 442 billion euro (£369 billion) in one-year loans in June 2009.

The move boosted sentiment towards the wider sector with Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays all climbing to the top of the FTSE 100 Index.

But Martin van Vliet, analyst at ING Bank, said doubts remain over whether the money will be used to support weaker eurozone economies.

 

President Barack Obama has saluted troops back from Iraq, applauding their "extraordinary achievement" and declaring that the nearly nine-year conflict was ending "not with a final battle, but with a final march toward home."

Marking the conclusion of the war at Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed several thousand troops and several hundred military families.

All US troops are to be out of Iraq by December 31, although Mr Obama has pledged the US will continue to help Iraq.

"The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said.

He highlighted the human side of the war, reflecting on the bravery and sacrifices of US forces now on their way back home. He recalled the start of the war, a time when he was only an Illinois state senator and many of the warriors before him were in grade school.

 

Syria has entered a state of civil war with more than 4,000 people dead and an increasing number of soldiers defecting from the army to fight President Bashar Assad's regime, the UN's top human rights official has said.

Civil war has been the worst-case scenario in Syria since the revolt against Mr Assad began eight months ago.

Damascus has a web of allegiances that extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy, raising fears of a regional conflagration.

The assessment that the bloodshed in Syria has crossed into civil war came from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

The conflict has shown little sign of letting up. Activists reported up to 22 people killed on Thursday, adding to what has become a daily grind of violence.

"We are placing the (death toll) figure at 4,000 but really the reliable information coming to us is that it's much more than that," Ms Pillay said in Geneva.

"As soon as there were more and more defectors threatening to take up arms, I said this in August before the Security Council, that there's going to be a civil war," she added. "And at the moment, that's how I am characterising this."