US President Barack Obama has condemned the Syrian authorities’ crackdown on protesters on Sunday, which activists say has left more than 130 dead.
Mr Obama said he was appalled by the government’s use of brutality against its own people and promised to work to isolate President Bashar al-Assad.
Security forces killed dozens in the city of Hama, the hardest-hit area.
The government said troops were sent to Hama to remove barricades erected by the protesters.
But an official at the US embassy in Damascus dismissed those claims as “nonsense”, saying the government had launched “full-on warfare” against its own people.
Mr Obama said the reports from Hama were horrifying and demonstrated the true character of the Syrian regime.
“Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people,” he said.
Mr Obama said he was appalled by the government’s use of “violence and brutality against its own people”.
Ministers from France and Germany also condemned the day’s violence, and Italy called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to adopt a firm position on Syria.
Washington (CNN) — The Senate’s top Democrat said Sunday that he has signed onto a debt ceiling deal with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders, pending approval of his caucus.
The statement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was the first confirmation of a pending deal after legislative leaders dropped hints all day that an agreement was close.
“Senator Reid has signed off on the debt-ceiling agreement pending caucus approval,” said the statement his office issued.
A senior Senate Democratic aide told CNN on condition of not being identified that while some grumbling was occurring among Democratic senators, they are likely to support the compromise and it “will get the votes.”
However, a House Democrat as well as GOP sources said final details still were being worked out.
“Obviously when you put together a compromise there are some things you don’t like and some things you may like, but how that mix balances out is something we’re looking at right now,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, adding: “As far as I know, our Republican colleagues haven’t signed off either.”
Republican congressional leadership aides in the House and Senate also told CNN on condition of not being identified that GOP leaders were still working on an agreement.
Syrian security forces have continued their clampdown on the pro-democracy movement, killing four protesters and arresting two leading activists on the eve of more mass rallies.
In the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, where security forces were carrying out operations in nearly all neighbourhoods, two civilians were shot dead on Thursday night, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, told the AFP news agency.
Afterwards, some 3,000 people gathered in front of the house of the new governor, Samir Othman al-Sheikh, to “demand an end to the killing,” he said.
Earlier, residents were out in the streets trying to prevent security forces from carrying out arrests, he said.
To the west, in Madaya, near the capital Damascus, residents told the Reuters news agency two civilians were also killed in a security sweep on the town on Thursday.
Opposition figures arrested
In Qatana, 25km south of Damascus, security forces armed with machine guns and other weapons arrived in the town in pickup trucks overnight and carried out the arrests before searching for more protesters.
The sweep came as people took to the streets of Damascus and Qatana to protest after security forces killed 11 people on Wednesday in Kanaker, 50km southwest of the capital, said human rights activists.
Among those said to have been detained were two prominent members of a national co-ordination committee for democratic change, the London-based Observatory said.
“Security forces … arrested two known Syrian opposition figures Adnan Wehbe and Nizar al-Samadi,” it said, adding that their fate “remains unknown”.
Wehbe is a leader of the Democratic Socialist Arab Union Party while Samadi is a well-known Islamic personality from Douma, a protest hub in Damascus’s outer suburbs.
Around another 100 people were arrested overnight in raids on houses in Damascus, the Observatory told AFP in Nicosia by telephone.
“A demonstration was held on Wednesday night on Khaled Ben al-Walid Avenue in Damascus, bringing together many young men and women who blocked the avenue for a short time,” said the Observatory.
Syria has since March 15 been shaken by an unprecedented revolt against the regime of al-Assad, which accuses “armed terrorist groups” of wanting to spread chaos in the country.
Despite the ongoing crackdown, the pro-democracy movement has called on people who have remained silent so far to turn up on Friday for yet more anti-regime demonstrations.
Security forces have arrested almost 3,000 people in the crackdown.
A US soldier who was absent without leave will face federal charges after guns and bomb-making materials were found in his motel room, the FBI says.
Pfc Naser Abdo, 21, was arrested in Killeen, Texas, near the Fort Hood US army base, and had been planning to target military personnel, police said.
The Muslim infantry soldier was granted conscientious objector status last year because of his religious beliefs.
Fort Hood was the scene of a gun rampage in 2009 that claimed 13 lives.
The Norwegian terrorist who murdered more than ninety innocent civilians – many of whom were teenagers – did not act alone. Or rather, he acted within a cultural and political context that legitimises his fearful and hate-infested worldview. It is now clear that Anders Behring Breivik was exposed to large amounts of right-wing propaganda. This tragedy underlines the urgency with which normal people around the world must combat fundamentalist nationalists and chauvinists wherever they may be. But it also demonstrates the extent to which reactionary bigotry has infected mainstream thought.
Many reacted to the news from Oslo with wide eyes and a pointed finger. The most animated reactionaries took to the pages of the New York Times comment section to issue sweeping proclamations about the Clash of Civilisations and something called “the cult of death”. In many ways, readers were merely reinforcing the paper’s woefully editorialised reportage. As Glenn Greenwald helpfully pointed out, the editors of the NYT – America’s allegedly liberal newspaper – reserve the word “terrorist” solely for use in conjunction with the word “Muslim”.
When news emerged that the perpetrator of the murders – the terrorist – was a man whose religion and skin pigmentation closely resembled those of the editors of the NYT, the story changed. The terrorist became a deranged “Christian extremist” whose tactics clearly mirrored “Al Qaeda’s brutality and multiple attacks”. In that way, the paper linked the terrorist with Muslims, despite his strong antipathy for them.
Blame for the Western media’s panting pursuit of a non-existent Muslim triggerman quickly focused on the feckless, credulous, overeager and inept source of the NYT’s journalistic failure. Will McCants – proclaimed by one of his acolytes to be at the top of a “list of five terrorism experts you can trust” – was quickly discredited. In his defence, he only sought to affirm the confirmation bias that he and the editors of the NYT suffer from. The meme that underpins their worldview goes something like this: “Muslims are bad. When bad things happen, Muslims are responsible.” This is a mainstream view in the US today; it cuts across party lines.
Shaping both sides of the narrative
That the purported American left maintains this bigoted outlook is an indication of how successful the right has been at constructing the stage upon which public debate is conducted. Two main anti-Muslim talking points are now taken for granted in this country: First, all terrorists in the West are Muslims; second, we are in the midst of a global civilisational war. These are the dual planks upon which Uncle Sam squats in his Afghani outhouse.
Objective sources have done an excellent job of discrediting the first of the two claims that inform the 21st century American experience. The second point however – that we are engaged in a war of civilisations – is one that I agree with. But the combatants are not Islam and the West. Instead, the war is between the normal, sane people of the world and the right-wing zealots who see doom, destruction, hellfire and God’s Will at every turn.
Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck – the peddlers of the faith – all share the same core afflictions.
These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves – and the rest of us with them.
The war continues
All indications are that the hate-mongers – who are on the same side of this war, irrespective of religion – are winning in America. The unreflective, superficial, wan editors of the NYT are an indication of just how successful the right wing has been at eviscerating the left.
But not all liberals are created equal.
It is a credit to the Norwegian people that their prime minister did not respond to the terror attack with scorched-earth rhetoric or a carpet-bombing campaign. A real liberal with strong principles, he did not succumb to fear or vicious speculation.
Instead, he pledged to strengthen Norwegian democracy. This is what he said shortly after the terrorist attacks: “Our answer is more democracy, more openness to show that we will not be stopped by this kind of violence.” His words illustrate the difference between a society that takes liberal principles as a foundation and one that treats them as an inconvenient luxury.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s words make it clear where Norway stands on the global war on right-wing extremism. Where does the US stand?
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American freelance journalist based in Cairo. He was born in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
New York (CNN) — A city official married the first couple in New York City to wed under the state’s new law allowing same-sex marriage Sunday.
Phyllis Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, were married in a chapel at the city clerk’s office as a crowd of onlookers cheered.
The two, of New York, have been together for 23 years. Kopelov left the clerk’s office in a wheelchair, but used a walker to approach reporters.
Hundreds of same-sex couples heard the news Friday that they made the cut in the marriage lottery that New York state instituted for Sunday, the day that the state’s Marriage Equality Act took effect.
“These are two independent people who are joining together because they can see and they can feel how much better their lives will be,” city clerk Michael McSweeney said as he married Siegal and Kopelov. “We are grateful that they are allowing us to share this truly momentous ceremony with them.”
The New York City clerk’s office has been flooded with more than 2,600 requests for marriage licenses since the wording on the online application was changed from “Groom and Bride” to “Spouse A and Spouse B.”
The office could handle less than a third of those requests — gay or straight — on Sunday, according to a press statement the city released earlier in the week. The lottery was set up to allocate 764 slots for couples who want to obtain marriage licenses and/or be married at city clerk’s offices on Sunday.
Couples began lining up outside the clerk’s office before the ceremonies began Sunday. Some women wore wedding gowns, while some men wore suits or tuxedos.
If all 764 weddings actually take place on Sunday, it will set a one-day record for the city.
“Marriage equality is alive and well in every borough of New York City right now,” said Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, who is also gay. She said watching the weddings “sent a chill up my spine.”
Marcos Chaljub and Freddy Zambrano were married after Siegal and Kopelov. The two tearfully said their vows as friends hovered and snapped pictures. “You’re married!” one declared as celebratory hugs were exchanged afterward.
Chaljub and Zambrano conducted last-minute preparations Saturday for their wedding, picking up bouquets of wildflowers for their bridesmaids and champagne for a family brunch afterward. The couple has been together for five years.
“I have certain people in my life, they’re not totally OK with it, but they accept it, and just the fact they respect us because of that, it’s really the most that I can ask for,” Chaljub told CNN’s Susan Candiotti.
The two have been wearing rings for five years, and said they don’t plan to exchange new ones. “We’re just going to polish them up and exchange them again,” Chaljub said.
New York Rabbi Shaaron Feinbaum of Beit Simchat Torah congregation, who has lobbied for legalizing same-sex marriage, set up a station for couples desiring a religious ceremony after the civil one.
New York legalized same-sex marriage in June. The Marriage Equality Act was a priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo after winning election in November. The law was passed under a Republican-led Senate after days of delays and negotiations between the two parties.
Quinn announced that a drawing will take place Monday to award a honeymoon package to one newly-married couple in each borough. The package will include two nights in a Manhattan hotel; dinners; tickets to a museum, the Empire State Buidling, a Broadway show and Cirque du Soleil; and Macy’s gift certificates.
Quinn told CNN that New York is the place where the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movement was born, and a place the world looks to.
“All eyes are upon it, and I believe it is going to help propel this movement forward faster than any of the other states have,” Quinn said.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire also allow same-sex marriage, as does the District of Columbia.
CNN’s Jesse Solomon and Steve Kastenbaum contributed to this report.
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — An 8 year-old boy was hanged by militants in Afghanistan’s Helmand province after the boy’s father — a police officer in the southern city of Gereshk — refused to comply with militants’ demands to provide them with a police vehicle, officials said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the hanging, saying “this action is not permitted in any culture or any religions,” according to a statement Sunday, which provided details of the incident.
Karzai said he has ordered local authorities to root out the militants and arrest them “as soon as possible.”
The boy was kidnapped Friday. It was unclear when he was killed.
The incident comes amid a recent wave of attacks on local officials who are considered anti-Taliban. Less than two weeks ago, Ahmed Wali Karzai, Karzai’s half-brother and a provincial council chief in neighboring Kandahar, was killed in his home by a longtime bodyguard.
Elsewhere on Sunday, formal ceremonies marking the handover of security to Afghan forces took place in Kabul and Panjshir province.
They are the fifth and sixth areas to be transferred to national forces.
Last week, the capital of Helmand province — Lashkar Gah — was transferred to local control as NATO begins a drawdown of troops.
The area was a scene of heavy fighting and stiff resistance last year as a coalition “surge” swept southward in an effort to drive Taliban forces from their traditional heartland.
Officials in Norway have charged a 32-year-old Norwegian man with killing at least 92 people in a gun and bomb attack described as the worst act of violence in the country since World War II.
Police confirmed to Al Jazeera on Saturday that the suspect had been named as Anders Behring Breivik.
Breivik, who confessed to firing weapons during questioning on Saturday, belonged to right-wing political groups. But officials said they are not jumping to conclusions about his motives.
Reports suggest he belonged to an anti-immigration party, wrote blogs attacking multi-culturalism and was a member of a neo-Nazi online forum.
But Norwegian authorities said Breivik, detained by police after 85 people were gunned down at a youth camp and another 7 killed in an Oslo bomb attack on Friday, was previously unknown to them and his internet activity traced so far included no calls to violence.
Breivik bought six tons of fertiliser before the massacre, a supplier said on Saturday, as police investigated witness accounts of a second shooter in the attack on Utoya.
If convicted on terrorism charges, he would face a maximum of 21 years in jail, police have said.
Norway’s royal family and prime minister led the nation in mourning, visiting grieving relatives of the scores of youth gunned down at an island retreat, as the shell-shocked Nordic nation was gripped by reports that the gunman may not have acted alone.
The shooting spree began just hours after a massive explosion that ripped through an Oslo high-rise building housing the prime minister’s office.
“This is beyond comprehension. It’s a nightmare. It’s a nightmare for those who have been killed, for their mothers and fathers, family and friends,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Saturday.
Though the prime minister cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the gunman’s motives, both attacks were in areas connected to the left-leaning Labour Party, which leads a coalition government.
The youth camp, about 35km northwest of Oslo, is organised by the party’s youth wing, and the prime minister had been scheduled to speak there on Saturday.
‘Christian fundamentalist’ views
The blond-haired Behring Breivik described himself on his Facebook page as “conservative”, “Christian”, and interested in hunting and computer games like World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare 2, reports say.
The man in the police uniform shouted for the campers to come closer. When they did, he killed them.
The gunman who killed at least 80 people at an island youth camp north west of Oslo used his disguise to lure in his victims, then shot them twice to make sure they were dead, survivors said in the village of Sundvollen, where they were taken after the massacre.
Speaking on the phone to Sky News Adrian Pracon said he heard the killer shout that everyone was going to die.
The 21-year-old said: ‘He yelled out that he was going to kill us all and that we must all die. I started speculating and thinking this can’t be real because Norwegian people wouldn’t attack Norway.’
Mr Pracon also described how he could hear the gunman’s boots as he walked along the rocks and felt his breath moments before he shot him in the back.
‘I was lying on a rock, face down and I could hear him coming. I could feel his breath.
‘As he approached, he shot at me to see if I was dead and fortunately I didn’t move so he thought I was dead.
‘I was laying there for two hours, still healthy but very cold.’
Before he was shot Mr Pracon said he had tried to escape the island by swimming into the ocean but only managed a short distance before deciding to turn back.
‘I jumped into the water like the rest of the people but I did not have time to take my clothes off and it had started to rain.
‘When I had swum about 100 metres I felt I had to turn back because I started to get very cold and felt I might meet a certain death.’
Once he reached the shore he saw Breivik who pointed his gun at him.
‘I screamed to him, please no please. I didn’t know if he didn’t want to just kill me because I was one person or if he preferred to kill a group of people.
‘Later he started shooting out of nowhere and I was hiding behind the bodies.’
Elise, 15, said was just feet away from the gunman when he opened fire in the camp on Utoya island: ‘I saw many dead people.’
Elise said she had just come out from an information meeting in a nearby building when she heard gunshots. She saw a police officer and thought she was safe, but then he started shooting.
‘He first shot people on the island. Afterwards he started shooting people in the water,” she said.
Elise said she hid behind the same rock that the killer was standing on. “I could hear his breathing from the top of the rock,” she said.
In panic, the girl phoned her parents, whispering to them what was going on.
‘They told me not to panic and that everything would be OK,” she said.
Her parents also told her to get rid of a brightly coloured jacket she was wearing to not draw attention to herself.
She said it was impossible to say how many minutes passed while she was waiting for him to stop.
Survivors described a scene of sheer terror at the camp, which is organised by the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labour party.
Hundreds of young people were eagerly awaiting a speech the prime minister was to give there today.
Several of the survivors seemed calm as anxious parents picked them up at a Sundvollen hotel, but the stories they told were of utter terror.
Dana Berzingi said the fake police officer ordered people to come closer, then pulled weapons and ammunition from a bag and started shooting.
Several victims “had pretended as if they were dead to survive,” the 21-year-old said. But after shooting the victims with one gun, the gunman shot them again in the head with a shotgun, he said.
“I lost several friends,” said Mr Berzingi, whose trousers were stained with blood. He said he used the mobile phone of one of his fallen friends to call police.
At least 20 people have been killed and dozens more injured in continued violence between rival groups in Pakistan’s largest city, police and officials said.
The recent spate of pitched battles in the eastern neighbourhoods of Karachi, the commercial hub of the country, killed 12 people on Friday and eight more on Saturday, according to police sources.
The violence is said to be a result of clashes between armed activists of Karachi’s most powerful political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and its breakaway faction, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H).
Saud Mirza, a police official in Karachi, said on Friday that the violence erupted when “some men of a group entered Khokhrapar area of Malir and targeted their opponents”.
Late on Saturday, hundreds of people, including officials and supporters of MQM attended the funeral of two of the victims.
“The unarmed innocent people were brutally killed in their houses and on the streets in the morning at around
7:30am,” Mustafa Kamal, an MQM official told reporters.
He said most of the victims were either workers or supporters of MQM, but did not speculate on who the killers were.
The violence in Karachi has escalated since earlier this month, and has taken the lives of more than 150 people.
Police, in their attempts to return order to the city, declared a “shoot on sight” policy on July 9 after at least 98 people were killed in street violence over a span of three days.
“We have issued orders to the security forces to shoot anyone involved in violence on the spot,” Sharjeel Memon, the provincial information minister, told the Reuters news agency on Friday.
“In addition to the police and Rangers, another 1,000 personnel of the Frontier Constabulary will be deployed in the city to control the violence,” he said.
Karachi, home to more than 18 million people, has a long history of ethnic, religious and sectarian violence.
A recent report from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 1,138 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of 2011, of whom 490 were victims of political, ethnic and sectarian violence.
According to officials, Karachi contributes 68 per cent of the government’s total revenue and 25 per cent of country’s GDP.