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UN observers suspended their mission to Syria on Saturday, blaming intensifying violence as troops reportedly rained shells down on rebel strongholds, trapping more than 1,000 families in one city alone.

The unarmed observers have been targeted almost daily since deploying in mid-April to monitor a UN-backed but widely ignored ceasefire, and they were likened to "sitting ducks in a shooting gallery" by Susan Rice, the US envoy to the United Nations.

Explaining the decision, mission head Major General Robert Mood spoke of an escalation in fighting and of the risk to his 300-strong team, as well as the "lack of willingness" for peace by the warring parties.

"There has been an intensification of armed violence across Syria over the past 10 days," General Mood said in a statement.

"This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects -- basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate.

"The lack of willingness by the parties to seek a peaceful transition, and the push towards advancing military positions is increasing the losses on both sides: innocent civilians, men women and children are being killed every day.

"It is also posing significant risks to our observers.

"In this high risk situation, UNSMIS (United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria) is suspending its activities," Mood said.

The observers "will not conduct patrols and will stay in their locations until further notice," he said, adding that "engagement with the parties will be restricted."

Mood said the suspension would be reviewed daily, and that "operations will resume when we see the situation fit for us to carry out our mandated activities."

As the decision was announced, a watchdog reported 31 people killed across Syria as government forces shelled rebel strongholds including Douma near the capital and the flashpoint central city of Homs.

Regime forces targeted several districts of Homs city -- including Bab Tadmur, Jourat al-Shiah, Khalidiyeh and Safsafa -- killing at least five people, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 14,400 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted in mid-March 2011, according to the Britain-based watchdog.

In the latest bloodshed, families were trapped in the Khalidiyeh, Jourat al-Shiah, Qarabees, old city and Qusour areas of Homs, an opposition stronghold, according to the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman.

"They have no food and no medical equipment," he told AFP.

The Observatory issued an "urgent call" to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon "and all those with a sense of humanity to intervene immediately, in order to put a stop to the continuous shelling."

The watchdog also called for the "evacuation and protection of dozens of injured."

"More than 100 people are injured, many of them badly, and the lack of medical equipment means some of them will die," Abdel Rahman said, adding there was also a lack of medical staff.

Home to several Free Syrian Army bastions, Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces ever since the Baba Amr district was relentlessly pounded for a month earlier this year, according to the Observatory, and retaken by the regime.

An escalation of violence over the past week has engulfed several areas of the country, including Homs, and France's foreign ministry said Friday it was deeply concerned at reports of "an imminent, large-scale operation" by regime forces in the city.

The Observatory reported another 31 people killed on Saturday, taking the countrywide death toll to 169 in the past three days.

It said troops shelled a rebel bastion in the Damascus northern suburb of Douma overnight, killing seven people, while also among the dead was a family of three whose house in Irbin was hit by a shell, and a soldier who died in a blast.

Three other regime troops died in clashes in rebel bastion Rastan in Homs province, while two rebel leaders were killed near a regime checkpoint in the southern province of Daraa, the Observatory said.

Anti-regime activist Abu Rawan described the shelling of Rastan as "insane."

Japan Airlines, the flag-carrier that went bust in one of the nation's biggest-ever bankruptcies, is aiming to re-list its shares by September, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday.

The airline, whose shares were delisted in February 2010, will file an application with the Tokyo Stock Exchange this month with plans to have its stock publicly traded again on September 19, the report said.

JAL went bankrupt in January 2010 with debts totalling 2.32 trillion yen ($29 billion), but it continued flying during an overhaul that included massive cuts to jobs and routes.

It exited bankruptcy protection last year and logged an annual net profit of $2.3 billion in the fiscal year to March 2012.

The airline's market value after the float would be between 600 billion and 700 billion yen, vaulting it ahead of rival All Nippon Airways' market capitalisation of roughly 550 billion yen, the report said.

Two car bombs in the central Iraqi city of Hilla killed at least 13 people Wednesday, while Baghdad was rocked by a spate of shootings and bombings, officials said.

The first car bomb, which detonated near a restaurant in Hilla, killed six people and wounded 20, according to a police captain and doctor Ali al-Khafaji in the city's hospital.

A second blast, minutes later, killed seven people and wounded 25, they said.

Baghdad meanwhile was hit by five bomb attacks and two shooting incidents, an interior ministry official said.

Spain paid sharply higher borrowing costs to lure buyers for its bonds Thursday as the crisis-torn banking sector tottered towards a bailout.

The treasury raised 2.074 billion euros ($2.6 billion) in the auction of two-, four- and 10-year bonds, comfortably beating its own target range of 1.0-2.0 billion euros, Bank of Spain figures showed.

The sale attracted healthy demand.

But the state had to pay a high price, with the 10-year bonds fetching more than 6.0 percent -- a rate widely regarded as unsustainable over the longer term.

Investors fret over the huge, as-yet unknown sums required to rescue Spain's weakened banks, weighed down by a vast exposure to the property sector, which collapsed in 2008.

Stricken lender Bankia, recently nationalised to save it from collapse, has asked for a total of 23.465 billion euros in capital from the state, of which 19 billion euros have yet to be found.

Three other banks could need another 30 billion euros, according to some Spanish reports.

An IMF report on Spanish banks to be released on Monday will price their capital needs at 40-80 billion euros, Spanish newspaper ABC said Thursday, citing a draft of the document.

The Spanish authorities have given themselves two weeks to take a decision on how to recapitalise weakened banks.

In addition to the IMF report, officials are waiting for assessments by two private consulting firms, Roland Berger and Oliver Wyman, on the state of the banks' balance sheets.

Markets have eased the pressure on Spain, however, as expectations mount that Europe will step in to save the banks.

Spain, the eurozone's fourth largest economy, is fighting tooth and nail to avoid an all-out bailout in the style of Portugal, Ireland or Greece and is seekign instead aid directed only at the banks.

Madrid is pushing for European rescue funds to be authorized to intervene directly in the region's banks without the need for a broad rescue that would come with attached austerity conditions.

It is unclear if the European authorities would make such a concession, however.

"What is sure is that things are moving: it seems Spain will manage to obtain a tailor-made rescue for its problematic banking sector," said a report by Bankinter analysts.

A breakdown of the latest Spanish bond sale showed the rate on benchmark 10-year bonds climbed to an average 6.044 percent from 5.743 percent in the previous comparable auction April 19.

But that was still short of the euro era record of 6.975 percent struck November 17, 2011.

The United States will shift the bulk of its naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 as part of a new strategic focus on Asia, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told a summit in Singapore on Saturday.

The decision to gradually deploy more ships to the Pacific Ocean, along with expanding a network of military partnerships, was part of a "steady, deliberate" effort to bolster the US role in an area deemed vital to America's future, he said.

The move reflects US concern over China's rising economic and military might but Panetta insisted the strategy was not a challenge to Beijing.

Panetta said "by 2020, the Navy will re-posture its forces from today's roughly 50/50 percent split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60/40 split between those oceans.

"That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, and submarines." 

The US Navy currently has a fleet of 285 ships, with about half of those vessels deployed or assigned to the Pacific.

Although the total size of the fleet may decline in coming years depending on budget pressures, Pentagon officials said the number of naval ships in the Pacific would rise.

The United States also planned to expand military exercises in the Pacific and to conduct more port visits over a wider area extending to the Indian Ocean.

Panetta spoke to mainly Asian defence officials and officers from 27 countries at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual summit organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Unlike previous summits, China chose not to send a high-level delegation to the event, prompting speculation as to what lay behind the move.

But China's official news agency warned Saturday it was no time to "make waves" in the disputed South China Sea and suggested Washington may have "emboldened" some states to make claims in the area.

"As regards the South China Sea tensions, it is some other claimants, whether emboldened by the United States' new posture or not, that sparked the fire and have been stoking the flames," said Xinhua. 

Since President Barack Obama unveiled plans in January to shift towards Asia, the Pentagon has offered up few details about how it intends to achieve its goal.

Saturday's announcement provided the clearest evidence yet of a shift to Asia, and the speech appeared designed to reassure allies that Washington will back its much-publicised "pivot" to Asia with tangible action.

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen praised the plan to send more US warships to the Pacific, describing it as a "sizeable commitment."

Singapore later said it had agreed in principle to allow four new US naval vessels to deploy to its ports, though officials from both governments stressed the littoral combat ships would not be permanently based there.

With America's military budget under mounting pressure, some analysts and lawmakers questioned if the US Navy had the resources to carry out Obama's vision.

In his speech, Panetta said budget woes in Washington would not affect the plan to tilt towards Asia.

As part of its Asia strategy, the United States has already started to deploy up to 2,500 US Marines in northern Australia, a move that has rankled China.


Poland's prime minister said Wednesday that remarks by President Barack Obama erroneously identifying a Nazi death camp as Polish had hurt all Poles and he expected more from the US than "regret".

"I am convinced that our American friends can today allow themselves a stronger reaction than a simple expression of regret from the White House spokesman -- a reaction more inclined to eliminate once and for all these kinds of errors," Donald Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.

Obama on Tuesday mistakenly called a Nazi facility used to process Jews for execution as a "Polish death camp." The White House later said the president "misspoke" and expressed "regret".

The linguistic faux pas overshadowed his posthumous award of America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Jan Karski, a former Polish anti-Nazi underground officer who provided the Allied powers with early eyewitness accounts of the Germany's Holocaust against Jews.

Obama's words had "hurt all Poles," Tusk said Wednesday.

"Today this is a problem for the reputation of the United States. This can be an opportunity for the US administration and for President Obama to support Poland in its activity for historic truth," Tusk added.

The Polish government keenly watches the global media for descriptions of former concentration camps as "Polish" because it says the term -- even if used simply as a geographical indicator -- can give the impression that Poland bore responsibility for Nazi Germany's World War II genocide.


Three men arrested when police raided a Chicago apartment ahead of the Nato summit had been planning to attack President Barack Obama's campaign headquarters, US prosecutors have said.

They also allegedly plotted to hit Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home and other targets, including police stations and squad cars.

The men were arrested on Wednesday in a night raid in the Bridgeport neighbourhood on the South Side.

They are accused of trying to make Molotov cocktails ahead of the two-day Nato summit which starts on Sunday.

The three were charged with providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives.

The suspects were named as Brian Church, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, New Hampshire; and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, of Oakland Park, Florida.



World leaders will huddle at Camp David Friday with the focus on Greece as it stumbles toward an unprecedented eurozone exit that holds wildly uncertain repercussions for the global economy.

Leaders from the Group of Eight industrialised nations will gather at the history-imbued US presidential retreat near Washington for a two-day summit, with the dramatic denouement of Greece's economic crisis firmly at the top of the agenda.

The recent clobbering of Greek parties that back austerity measures under the country's 173-billion-euro ($220 billion) bailout has sparked a fresh round of market panic and left the two-year-old effort to prevent a Greek default on life support.

Governments in many G8 countries believe the odds of a chaos-inducing Greek default and exit from the euro have risen spectacularly since the polls.

Already, markets across the globe have been rocked by speculation that the crisis is slipping beyond control.

Fresh Greek polls are scheduled for June 17, but there is no certainty that supporters of the painful reforms will win, and already nervous Greeks have been pulling money from bank accounts. 

"The crisis in Greece is a very serious and immediate problem," said Uri Dadush, a former senior World Bank official. "Bank deposits are leaving Greece today."

While G8 governments are trying to frame the choice for Greek voters as starkly as possible, donors could yet face a tough choice: Acquiesce to Greek demands for some slack -- risking the ire of taxpayers -- or cut off funding to Athens, a move likely to trigger default and Greece's exit from the euro.

But elections France and Germany have shattered a long-standing consensus that spending cuts are the answer to Greece -- and Europe's -- woes leaving the G8 divided as the end game approaches.

Freshly elected French President Francois Hollande is sure to use his maiden G8 to press for pro-growth policies, and is likely to win the backing of most people around the table.

That puts German Chancellor Angela Merkel firmly in the hot seat. 

Wary of German taxpayer anger about repeated bailouts for countries on Europe's periphery, Merkel has insisted on a toolkit of austerity first, second and third.

But the resulting slow-down in growth has made it even more difficult for governments to get tax revenues and boost their coffers.

"The medicine that they have been taking is not working" said Dadush.

"This will be an opportunity for the US, Italy and France, not to gang up, but to work together on Merkel to say 'look, you need a somewhat different approach.'"

Merkel may even find herself arguing with her host, President Barack Obama.

Fearing the impact of European financial chaos on the United States as it approaches elections in November, Obama seems poised to wade into what has largely been a European debate.

At the summit, Obama will raise "specific" actions Europe could take, as the US welcomes the "debate in Europe about the imperative for jobs and growth," according to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

Still, with Obama unwilling or unable to put more cash on the table, he may find himself with minimal leverage.

A compromise may be found in the creation of joint European bonds for specific infrastructure or investment projects in hard-up countries.


Voters in North Carolina approved a state constitutional amendment explicitly forbidding gay marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The measure was passed by 61 percent against 39 percent as of 0230 GMT, according to preliminary results from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Similar state constitutional amendments have been approved in some 30 US states.

The amendment solidifies and expands already enacted North Carolina law forbidding same-sex marriage.

Money from national interest groups poured into North Carolina ahead of the election -- the National Organization for Marriage contributed $425,000 to the Vote for Marriage campaign, according to the latest reports, and the Human Rights Campaign contributed some $257,000 to the opposition, the Coalition to Protect All N.C. Families.

The Rev. Billy Graham, an evangelical preacher who was born and lives in North Carolina and at 93 remains enormously influential, took out full-page newspaper ads across the state supporting the ban.

"At 93, I never thought we would have to debate the definition of marriage," Graham said in the ads.


The world's leading brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, Beck's and Stella Artois, posted on Monday a 75 percent jump in first quarter net profit to $1.69 billion (1.28 billion euros).

The Belgium-based company attributed the increase to a strong operating performance, lower net finance costs and a lower effective tax rate, one year after recording profits of $964 million over the same period.

The first quarter 2012 result was well above the $1.39 billion forecast by analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

AB InBev recorded a 6.2 percent rise in turnover to $9.33 billion in the first quarter, "driven by good performances" in North America, Latin America and the Asia Pacific region, the company said in an earnings statement.

The company's three global brands, Budweiser, Stella Artois and Beck's, performed well with growth of 4.8 percent.