- Created on 14 November 2012
(AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Europe's beleaguered citizens went on strike or snarled the streets of several capitals Wednesday, at times clashing with riot police, as they demanded that governments stop cutting benefits and create more jobs.
Workers with jobs and without spoke of a "social emergency" crippling the world's largest economic bloc, a union of 27 nations and half a billion people.
The protests were met with tear gas in Italy and Spain, but were largely limited to the countries hardest hit by the austerity measures designed to bring government spending into line with revenues. Wealthier nations like Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark saw only small, sedate demonstrations.
Governments backing the line of stringent austerity were not impressed by the show of force.
"We must nevertheless do what is necessary: break open encrusted labor markets, give more people a chance to work, become more flexible in many areas," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "We will of course make this clear, again and again, in talks with the unions."
Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos spoke of "a long crisis that has meant sacrifice and uncertainty," but said: "The government is convinced that the path we have taken is the only possible way out."
To combat a three-year financial crisis over too much sovereign debt, governments across Europe have had to raise taxes and cut spending, pensions and benefits. As well as hitting workers' incomes and living standards, these measures have also led to a decline in economic output and a sharp increase in unemployment.
The zone of the 17 countries that use the euro currency is expected to fall into recession when official figures are released Thursday. Unemployment across those countries has reached a record 11.6 percent, with Spain and Greece seeing levels above 25 percent.
With no end in sight to Europe's economic hardship, workers were trying to take a stand on Wednesday.
"There is a social emergency in the south," said Bernadette Segol, secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation. "All recognize that the policies carried out now are unfair and not working."
Spain's General Workers' Union said the nationwide strike — the second this year — was being observed by nearly all workers in the automobile, energy, shipbuilding and construction industries. The country, reeling from austerity measures designed to prevent it from asking for a full-blown international bailout, is mired in recession with 50 percent unemployment among its under-25s.
Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, a CCOO Spanish union leader, called Wednesday's actions "a political strike against the policies of a suicidal and anti-social government."
The Spanish strike shut down most schools, and hospitals operated with skeleton staffs. Health and education have both suffered serious spending cutbacks and increased moves toward privatization.
Frustration spilled into violence when riot police clashed with demonstrators in Madrid and other Spanish cities. By late afternoon, 110 people had been arrested and 40 people, including 18 police, injured.
In Italy, protests turned violent as well, with some of the tens of thousands of students and workers clashing with riot police in several cities. Dozens of demonstrators were detained and a handful of police were injured, according to Italian news reports.
In bailed-out Portugal, where the government intends to intensify austerity measures next year, the second general strike in eight months left commuters stranded as trains ground to a virtual halt and the Lisbon subway shut down. Some 200 flights to and from Portugal — about half the daily average — were canceled. Hospitals provided only minimum services and municipal trash was left uncollected.
Protest marches in 40 Portuguese cities reportedly were peaceful but as night fell a small group of protesters threw rocks and bottles at riot police protecting the parliament building in Lisbon.
Airports across Europe were forced to cancel flights to and from striking nations.
In Belgium, a 24-hour rail stoppage severely disrupted the Thalys and the Eurostar high-speed rail services — vital links that connect Brussels, London and Paris.
Philippe de Buck, chief of the EU employers' federation Eurobusiness, said the strike would cost billions of euros and hurt Europe's ability to attract investors.
"If you start striking at national level and in companies you only will harm the economy," he said. "And it is not the right thing to do today."
Europe has a long history of union action, and workers' rights and benefits have been one of the cornerstones of its welfare state, with its guaranteed medical care, generous unemployment benefits and often comfortable pensions.
The union action was not felt across the entire region, however, with countries where austerity has not hit as hard experiencing little disruption.
In Austria, which has the eurozone's lowest unemployment at 4.3 percent, only about 350 people gathered in a central square in Vienna to express solidarity with Greece. Many danced a sirtaki, Greece's traditional dance.
"So far, there are only symbolic demonstrations here in Germany, because we were able to avoid the crisis," said Michael Sommer, the head of Germany's main labor union federation.
In Denmark, too, there were no strikes, since cooperation between workers and employers has largely survived the crisis.
"The employers speak the same language as we do and we understand each other's needs and demands," said Joergen Frederiksen, a 69-year-old retired worker and former shop steward. "There are good vibes between us and that means a lot."
Among the Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Ciaran Giles in Madrid; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands; Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal; Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy; and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece.
- Created on 13 November 2012
(AP) — The sex scandal that led to CIA Director David Petraeus' downfall widened Tuesday with word the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is under investigation for thousands of alleged "inappropriate communications" with another woman involved in the case.
Even as the FBI prepared a timeline for Congress about the investigation that brought to light Petraeus' extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed that the Pentagon had begun an internal investigation into emails from Gen. John Allen to a Florida woman involved in the case.
Allen succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011, and his nomination to become the next commander of U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe has now been put on hold, as the scandal seemed certain to ensnare another acclaimed military figure.
In a White House statement early Tuesday, National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor said President Barack Obama has held Allen's nomination at Panetta's request. Obama, the statement said, "remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who Gen. Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year."
It was Broadwell's threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a Florida woman who is a Petraeus family friend, that led to the FBI's discovery of communications between Broadwell and Petraeus indicating they were having an affair. Petraeus acknowledged the affair when he resigned from the CIA post on Friday.
In the latest revelations, a Pentagon official traveling with Panetta to Australia said "inappropriate communications" — 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents from Allen's communications with Kelley between 2010 and 2012 — are under review. He would not say whether they involved sexual matters or whether they are thought to include unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He said he did not know whether Petraeus is mentioned in the emails.
Allen has denied wrongdoing. If Allen was found to have had an affair with Kelley, he could face charges of adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The decision by the FBI to hand off the Allen information to the military seems to indicate the issue is not one involving the handling of classified information, but rather some other issue.
The Petraeus case has sparked an uproar in Congress, with lawmakers complaining they should have been told earlier about the probe that has roiled the intelligence and military establishment.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the latest revelations in the case "a Greek tragedy."
"It's just tragic," King said Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show. "This has the elements in some ways of a Hollywood movie or a trashy novel."
The issue of what the FBI knew, when it notified top Obama administration officials, and when Congress was told, has brought criticism from lawmakers, who say they should have been told earlier.
The White House wasn't informed of the FBI investigation that involved Petraeus until Nov. 6, Election Day, although agents began looking at Petraeus' actions months earlier, sometime during the summer. Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., complained that she first learned of the matter from the media late last week, and confirmed it in a phone call to the then-CIA director on Friday.
That was the same day Obama accepted Petraeus' resignation, and the 60-year-old retired Army general, who headed U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan before taking charge of the CIA, acknowledged an affair with Broadwell, and expressed regret.
Defending the notification timing, a senior federal law enforcement official pointed Monday to longstanding policies and practices, adopted following abuses and mistakes that were uncovered during the Nixon administration's Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. The Justice Department — of which the FBI is part — is supposed to refrain from sharing detailed information about its criminal investigations with the White House.
The FBI also looked into whether a separate set of emails between Petraeus and Broadwell might involve any security breach. That will be a key question Wednesday in meetings involving congressional intelligence committee leaders, FBI deputy director Sean Joyce and CIA deputy director Michael Morell.
A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation, said the FBI had concluded relatively quickly — and certainly by late summer at the latest — that there was no security breach. Absent a security breach, it was appropriate not to notify Congress or the White House earlier, this official said.
Extramarital affairs are viewed as particularly risky for intelligence officers because they might be blackmailed to keep the affair quiet. For military personnel, adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
According to two federal law enforcement officials, the FBI initially began a criminal investigation of unsigned, harassing emails that were sent, beginning last May, to Kelley, a Tampa socialite. She and her husband, Scott, were longtime friends of Petraeus and his wife, Holly. FBI agents traced the alleged cyber harassment to Broadwell and during that process discovered she was exchanging intimate messages with a private Gmail account. Further investigation revealed that account belonged to Petraeus, under an alias.
Petraeus and Broadwell apparently used a trick, known to terrorists and teenagers alike, to conceal their email traffic, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Rather than transmitting emails to the other's inbox, they composed at least some messages and instead of transmitting them, left them in a draft folder or in an electronic "dropbox," the official said. Then the other person could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there. This avoids creating an email trail that is easier for outsiders to intercept or trace.
Agents later told Petraeus that Broadwell sent emails warning Kelley to stay away from the general and carrying a threatening tone.
Friends and former staff members of Petraeus told The Associated Press that he has assured them his relationship with Kelley was platonic, although Broadwell apparently saw her as a romantic rival. They said Petraeus was shocked to learn last summer of Broadwell's emails to Kelley.
Petraeus also denied to these associates that he had given Broadwell any sensitive military information.
FBI agents who contacted Petraeus told him that sensitive, possibly classified documents related to Afghanistan were found on her computer, the general's associates said. He assured investigators they did not come from him, and he mused to his associates that they were probably given to her on her reporting trips to Afghanistan by commanders she visited in the field there.
One associate also said Petraeus believes the documents described past operations and had already been declassified, although they might have still been marked "secret."
Broadwell had high security clearances as part of her former job as a reserve Army major in military intelligence. But those clearances are only in effect when a soldier is on active duty, which she was not at the time she researched the Petraeus biography.
The FBI concluded there was no security breach.
Nevertheless, FBI agents conducted a search of Broadwell's Charlotte, N.C., home on Monday. And the criminal investigation continued into the emails to Kelley, including whether Petraeus had any hand in them. At that point in late summer, FBI Director Robert Mueller and eventually Attorney General Eric Holder were notified that agents had uncovered what appeared to be an extramarital affair involving Petraeus.
Broadwell and Petraeus have each been questioned by FBI agents twice in recent weeks, with both acknowledging the affair in separate interviews. The FBI's most recent interviews with Broadwell and with Petraeus both occurred during the week of Oct. 29, days before the election, one of the law enforcement officials said. The FBI notified Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, of the investigation on Tuesday, Nov. 6 — Election Day.
In another twist, an FBI agent who was a friend of Kelley and who passed along information from her to the agents who conducted the investigation, was subsequently told by his superiors to steer clear of the case because they grew concerned that the agent had become obsessed with the investigation, a federal law enforcement official said. Before the case involving Petraeus got under way, the agent had sent Kelley shirtless photos of himself, according to this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the investigation.
Broadwell co-authored a biography titled "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," published in January. She wrote that she met Petraeus in the spring of 2006 while she was a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and she ended up following him on multiple trips to Afghanistan as part of her research.
Petraeus, 60, told one former associate he began an affair with Broadwell, 40, a couple of months after he became CIA director in September 2011. They mutually agreed to end the affair four months ago, but they kept in contact because she was still writing a dissertation on his time commanding U.S. troops overseas, the associate said.
Petraeus told former staffers and friends that he had regularly visited the Kelleys' home overlooking Tampa Bay. Kelley, 37, served as a sort of social ambassador for U.S. Central Command, hosting parties for the general when Petraeus was commander there from 2008-10.
Jill Kelley regularly kept in touch with Petraeus when he became commander of the Afghanistan war effort, the two exchanging near-daily emails and instant messages, two of his former staffers said. But those messages were exchanged in accounts that his aides monitored as part of their duties and were not romantic in tone, the staffers said.
Petraeus and his family are devastated over the affair — especially Mrs. Petraeus, who "is not exactly pleased right now" after 38 years of marriage, said Steve Boylan, a friend and former Petraeus spokesman who spoke to him over the weekend.
Broadwell, married with two young sons, has not returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.
National Security writer Robert Burns reported from Perth, Australia. Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Larry Margasak and Adam Goldman contributed to this report.
- Created on 09 November 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — Seven members of the secretive Navy SEAL Team 6, including one involved in the mission to get Osama bin Laden, have been punished for disclosing classified information, senior Navy officials said Thursday.
Four other SEALs are under investigation for similar alleged violations, one official said.
The SEALs are alleged to have divulged classified information to the maker of a video game called "Medal of Honor: Warfighter."
Each of the seven received a punitive letter of reprimand and a partial forfeiture of pay for two months. Those actions generally hinder a military member's career.
The deputy commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Garry Bonelli, issued a statement acknowledging that nonjudicial punishments had been handed out for misconduct, but he did not offer any details.
"We do not tolerate deviations from the policies that govern who we are and what we do as sailors in the United States Navy," Bonelli said. He alluded to the importance of honoring nondisclosure agreements that SEALs sign.
He said the punishments this week "send a clear message throughout our force that we are and will be held to a high standard of accountability."
The two main complaints against the SEALs were that they did not seek the permission of their command to take part in the video project and that they showed the video designers some of their specially designed combat equipment unique to their unit, said a senior military official. The official was briefed about the case but was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
SEALs, including some of those involved in the bin Laden raid of May 2011, have been uncharacteristically prominent in the news this year.
Matt Bissonnette, who participated in the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, but later retired from the SEALs, wrote a firsthand account under the pseudonym Mark Owen, but he landed in hot water with the Pentagon even before it was published in September. The Pentagon accused him of disclosing classified information in violation of the nondisclosure agreements he had signed as a SEAL. He disputes the charge.
The SEAL mission to capture or kill Laden, while stunningly successful, encountered a number of unexpected obstacles, including the loss of a stealthy helicopter that was partially blown up by the SEALs after making a hard landing inside bin Laden's compound.
The head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, responded to the Bissonnette book by telling his force that "hawking details about a mission" and selling other information about SEAL training and operations puts the force and their families at risk.
SEALs, both active duty and retired, possess highly sensitive information about tactics and techniques that are central to the success of their secret and often dangerous missions overseas. That is why they are obliged to sign nondisclosure agreements when they enter service and when they leave, and it is why the Pentagon seeks to enforce such written agreements.
The punishments were first reported by CBS News.
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.
- Created on 12 November 2012
(CNN) -- The Syrian government has told the parents of a missing American journalist that it doesn't know where their son is, the man's father said Monday at a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon.
Austin Tice last contacted his family on August 13 while in Syria reporting on the uprising there against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. He was reportedly preparing to leave Syria for Lebanon when he went missing, according to his family.
In October, a shaky video surfaced on YouTube showing a man believed to be Tice surrounded by armed men walking him up a hill.
Tice's father, Marc Tice, said that family members have been in touch, "directly and indirectly," with Syrian government officials, but they have learned nothing about his son's location despite traveling to Beirut to seek his release.
"We're reaching out to everyone that we can get in touch with," he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Thursday that U.S. officials have no idea where Tice is but have enlisted the help of Poland, which represents U.S. interests in Syria as a "protecting power" after the closing of the American Embassy in Damascus.
"We continued to work through our various channels, including the protecting power, to urge the Syrian regime to be more forthcoming," she said.
Nuland previously said U.S. officials believe Tice was detained by Syrian officials in August as he was preparing to leave the country. Tice had smuggled himself into the country to report on the uprising.
State Department officials have questioned the veracity of the October video, which purports to show Tice in the custody of rebels fighting the Syrian government.
Tice's mother, Debra Tice, again called on her son's captors to release him.
"Austin is a cherished son and beloved brother. If he were your son or brother, I ask, what would you do to find him and return him to your family?" she told reporters in Beirut.
- Created on 08 November 2012
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed defiantly to "live and die" in Syria, saying in an interview broadcast Thursday that he will never flee his country despite the bloody, 19-month-old uprising against him.
The broadcast comes two days after British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Assad could be allowed safe passage out of the country if that would guarantee an end to the civil war, which activists estimate has killed more than 36,000 people.
"I am not a puppet, I was not made by the West for me to go to the West or any other country," Assad, 47, said in the interview with the English-language Russia Today TV. He spoke in English and excerpts of the interview were posted on the station's website Thursday with an Arabic voiceover.
"I am Syrian, I am made in Syria, and I will live and die in Syria," he said.
Assad also warned against foreign military intervention at a time when the West is taking steps to boost the opposition.
"I don't think the West is headed in this direction. But if it does, nobody can predict the consequences," he told the station. The full interview will be broadcast on Friday, the station said.
The excerpts show Assad casually talking and later walking with RT's reporter outside a house, wearing a gray suit and tie. It was not clear where the interview took place.
The uprising against Assad's regime began as mostly peaceful protests in March last year but quickly morphed into a civil war. The fighting has taken on grim sectarian tones, with the predominantly Sunni rebels fighting government forces. Assad's regime is dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his country will deal directly with Syrian rebel military leaders. He spoke during a trip to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan. Previously, Britain and the U.S. have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures — some connected to rebel forces — inside Syria.
He called on the U.S. to join his country in doing more to shape the Syrian opposition into a coherent force, saying the re-election of President Barack Obama is an opportunity for the world to take stronger action to end the deadlocked civil war.
Washington has been pressing for a new, more unified opposition leadership that will minimize the role of exiles and better represent those risking their lives on the front lines. The initiative was being discussed Thursday at an opposition conference in the Qatari capital of Doha.
The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, both leading backers of the Syrian rebels, as well as Western diplomats and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby. On the table is a proposal to set up a new leadership team that would become the conduit for international support to rebel-held areas in Syria. The U.S. has suggested that the main group in exile, the Syrian National Council, can no longer claim a key leadership role and must make way for those representing activists inside Syria.
Under the plan, the SNC would receive only 15 of 50 seats in the new group and effectively be sidelined. The author of the plan, Syrian dissident Riad Seif, SNC leaders and other opposition groups were meeting in a Doha hotel to try to hammer out an agreement.
Further down the road, the international community hopes for negotiations on a political transition between the opposition and those in the Assad regime who were not involved in bloodshed and corruption. The opposition has agreed to such talks, in principle, but said it could take many more months of a war of attrition before Assad is ready to leave Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whose government has remained one of Syria's most loyal and powerful allies, criticized the West for supporting the opposition, saying foreign powers should try to force both sides to stop fighting. Russia has shielded Damascus from strong international action at the U.N. Security Council.
He said Moscow would not support any resolution that would threaten the Syrian regime with sanctions. The remarks were posted on his ministry's website Thursday.
"If their priority is, figuratively speaking, Assad's head, the supporters of such approach must realize that the price for that will be lives of the Syrians, not their own lives," Lavrov said. "Bashar Assad isn't going anywhere and will never leave, no matter what they say. He can't be persuaded to take that step."
Assad has rarely appeared in public since the revolt began in March 2011. Last month, state TV showed him attending prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in Al-Afram Mosque in the Al-Muhajireen district of Damascus, sitting on the floor and praying.
In several televised speeches this year, Assad has blamed the uprising on a foreign plot to destroy Syria and accused rebels of being mercenaries of the West and Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The daily death toll in the civil war has been averaging 100 people or more recently, killed in clashes between rebels and troops, and in artillery shelling and regime airstrikes on rebel-held areas.
At least 104 people were killed in fighting on Wednesday, according to the Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Most casualties — 31 people — were killed in the fighting between rebels and government troops in the suburbs of Damascus as the rebels made a new push into the capital, said Rami Abdul-Rahman, the Observatory's chief.
The Observatory said it has received reports of fresh fighting in the Damascus suburbs and in the neighborhood of Souseh in the capital on Thursday. It also said there were heavy clashes in northern Idlib province and in Aleppo, Syria's largest city which has been a major front in the civil war since the summer.
Regime forces also battled opposition fighters trying to take control of a region in the far northeastern corner of the country, Turkey's state-run agency reported. Two people in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar were wounded by stray bullets from the fighting.
The clashes broke out in the town of Ras al-Ayn in al-Hasaka province in northeastern Syria, a few hundred meters (yards) from Ceylanpinar, the Anadolu Agency said.
The mayor for Ceylanpinar told The Associated Press that the rebels had taken over the border crossing of Ras al-Ayn on Thursday. Ismail Aslan said in a phone interview that the rebel flag was flying on a building across the Turkish border. However, fierce fighting between rebels and government troops continued around what Asalan said was an "intelligence building" on the Syrian side of the border where the regime troops had retreated to.
Around 5,000 Syrians from Ras al-Ayn crossed into Ceylanpinar Thursday to escape the fighting and at least 14 Syrians were being treated for injuries in hospitals around the region, Aslan said.
More than 111,000 Syrians are being sheltered in refugee camps in Turkey.
Turkish authorities also inspected the cargo of a Syria-bound plane from Armenia to make sure it was not carrying military equipment.
In Geneva, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, said the downward spiral in violence since the summer makes it impossible for the organization to cope with some of Syria's humanitarian needs. He also said there has been no "major progress" on gaining better access to prisoners.
Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Doha, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.