Russia says no talk on Syria’s post-Assad future

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s foreign minister said Friday that Moscow isn’t discussing Syria’s future without President Bashar Assad as Washington has claimed, in the latest volley in a contentious back-and-forth on how to end the bloody conflict.

Sergey Lavrov denied Thursday’s statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that Moscow and Washington “are continuing to talk about a post-Assad transition strategy.”

Lavrov, who met with the State Department’s No. 2 official William Burns in Kabul on Thursday, maintained that Russia believes it’s up to the Syrians to determine their country’s future and said foreign players shouldn’t meddle.

“It’s not true that we are discussing Syria’s fate after Bashar Assad,” Lavrov said following talks in Moscow with his Iraqi counterpart. “We aren’t dealing with a regime change either through approving unilateral actions at the United Nations Security Council nor through taking part in some political conspiracies.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued increasingly harsh words over Russia’s refusal to take tougher measures on Syria, though her accusation that Russia “dramatically” escalated the crisis in Syria lost steam Thursday when the State Department acknowledged the helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime.

The claim had complicated the Obama administration’s larger goals for Syria and U.S.-Russia relations.

Despite pressure from the West, Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Syria, its last remaining ally in the Arab world, from international sanctions over Assad’s violent crackdown on protests that have left 13,000 people dead, according to opposition groups.

Lavrov argued that an international conference on Syria that Russia has proposed should focus on persuading the Syrian parties to sit down for talks. He said that a June 30 meeting on Syria in Geneva proposed by U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, should pursue the same goal, warning that Russia would oppose any attempt to use the conference to determine Syria’s future.

“This meeting should be aimed at mobilizing resources that foreign players have to create conditions needed to start an all-Syrian political process, not to predetermine its direction.”

He warned against using the conference to “justify any future unilateral actions.”

Lavrov said that Russia believes that a conference on Syria it’s proposing should bring together the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council along with all Syria’s neighbors, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Arab League, the European Union and Iran.

In an apparent reference to the U.S. objections against Iran’s participation, Lavrov said the conference organizers should be driven by a desire to settle the conflict, not “ideological preferences.”

In an opinion piece in the Huffington Post, Lavrov insisted that “Russia is not a defender of the current regime in Damascus and has no political, economic or other reasons for becoming one.”

He also reaffirmed criticism of Assad, saying that “the main responsibility for the crisis that has swept over the country lies with the Syrian government, that has failed to take the course of reform in due time or draw conclusions from the deep changes unfolding in international relations.”

But Lavrov also argued that a push for an immediate ouster of Assad would plunge Syria into an all-out war. “Pressing for an immediate ousting of Bashar al-Assad, contrary to the aspirations of a considerable segment of Syrian society that still relies on this regime for its security and well-being, would mean plunging Syria into a protracted and bloody civil war,” Lavrov wrote.

Source : Russia says no talk on Syria’s post-Assad future – The Associated Press


WASHINGTON: US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has warned Russia that its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will have negative consequences.

“The situation is spiralling towards civil war, and it’s now time for everyone in the international community, including Russia and all Security Council members, to speak to Assad with a unified voice and insist that the violence stop, and come together with Kofi Annan to plan a political transition going forward,” Clinton said Wednesday at a joint press conference with Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna.

“It is something that we believe is in everyone’s interests, most particularly the Syrian people. And Russia says it wants peace and stability restored. It says it has no particular love lost for Assad. And it also claims to have vital interests in the region and relationships that it wants to continue to keep. They put all of that at risk if they do not move more constructively right now,” she said.

According to UN estimates, over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria and thousands displaced since the uprising against Assad began about 15 months ago.

Russia – along with China – has twice vetoed UN resolutions against Damascus over what it says is a pro-rebel bias. Moscow has, however, fully backed UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria.

Clinton also urged Russia to stop arms deliveries to Syria.

“We have repeatedly urged the Russian government to cut these military ties completely and to suspend all further support and deliveries,” she said.

Clinton earlier said Russia was supplying attack helicopters to Syria, but Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the claims, saying Russia was “completing the implementation of contracts that were signed and paid for a long time ago”.

He said the contracts “concern exclusively anti-aircraft defence”.

Syria is one of Russia’s major weapons clients, and Moscow has opposed proposals for an arms embargo on Damascus, saying this would give rebel forces an unfair advantage in the conflict.

Lavrov said Russia does not supply to Syria or other countries any special equipment that may be used against peaceful demonstrators, adding that the US, on the contrary, “delivers riot control equipment to the region”.

Clinton has dismissed claims that the US has armed the Syrian opposition.

“I would emphasize that the US has provided no military support to the Syrian opposition, none. All of our support has been medical and humanitarian to help relieve the suffering of the Syrian people, a total of $52 million so far. We have also provided non-lethal support to the opposition, including things like communications gear,” she said.

Source : US warns Russia over Syria policy – Times of India

BOSTON—After weeks of light campaigning, Mitt Romney will kick off his general election push in a major way on Friday, launching a five-day tour of six must-win battleground states this fall.

Romney’s trip, titled the “Believe in America: Every Town Counts” tour, will kick off Friday morning at a Stratham, N.H., farm where he officially launched his 2012 bid just over a year ago.

From there, the Republican nominee will travel by bus and plane deep into states President Obama won in 2008 but are up for grabs in November, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. Romney will wrap up his trip on Tuesday, with several scheduled rallies in his home state of Michigan, where recent polls have found him in a statistical tie with Obama heading into the fall.

According to Romney aides, the tour will take the Republican nominee through several small towns per day as the campaign seeks to undermine Obama’s bid for a second term by highlighting how the struggling economy has negatively impacted middle class America.

But the trip also offers a major test for Romney, as he tries to convince average Americans who are still undecided about the election that he understands their plight and can lead the country better than Obama. It’s an argument that Romney has struggled to make at times, amid criticism that he’s too stiff and awkward on the stump and has trouble connecting with voters.

Not only will the tour mark Romney’s most intense period of campaigning since early in the GOP primaries, the schedule appears to force Romney well out of his comfort zone on the trail. The Republican nominee is set to hold at least three formal events a day, but will also make impromptu stops at smaller venues along the way to meet and talk to random people.

[Get more updates from Romney’s bus tour by following @hollybdc on Twitter]

Speaking extemporaneously has not been Romney’s strength on the trail—though his aides have frequently countered that criticism by insisting voters will choose the candidate who offers the most compelling argument on how to revive the economy.

On that front, recent polls, including a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week, have found Romney with a slight edge over Obama when it comes to who voters believe will best handle jobs and the economy.

But Obama has long held an edge over Romney when it comes to who voters personally like the most. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found Obama with an 11-point lead of Romney in favorability. It was one of the smallest gaps this year, but it was still enough to give many Republican operatives close to the Romney campaign pause, amid concerns that a too-close-to-call election could very well come down to which candidate voters like the most.

In recent weeks, Romney has stepped up his efforts to demonstrate that he’s connecting with average Americans on the trail and feels the pain they are going through. Before almost every public event, the Republican nominee holds a private meeting with local residents to hear their tales of life under the struggling economy, and Romney often repeats the stories he’s hearing on the stump.

Source : On bus tour, Romney aims to connect with undecided voters – ABC News

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive in New York June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive in New York June 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Fri Jun 15, 2012 12:05am EDT

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama challenged reporters on Thursday to check out his analysis of the Republicans’ plan for taxes, the budget and the deficit – a plan sketched so far only in vague terms.

The president said his rival Mitt Romney and other Republicans want to keep the tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush, “add another $5 trillion in tax cuts on top of that,” cut $1 trillion from the budget, and reduce the deficit.

Obama’s main point was that, in his view, the Republicans’ math does not add up – that they could not reduce the deficit and cut taxes without gutting core federal spending and ending middle-class tax breaks for things like mortgage interest.

“Now, I’m looking forward to the press following up and making sure that, you know, I’m not exaggerating,” Obama said in a campaign speech in Cleveland, Ohio, a key battleground state.

He said Republicans had not specified spending cuts, but he warned that if cuts on the scale he described were made, then “10 million college students would lose an average of $1,000 each in financial aid; 200,000 children would lose the chance to get an early education in the Head Start program.”

Fewer medical and scientific research grants would be available, millions would not benefit from the healthcare reform law Republicans want to repeal, and there would be major changes to coverage for millions on Medicaid and Medicare, he said.

“The cuts to this part of the budget would be deeper than anything we’ve ever seen in modern times,” Obama said. “This is not spin … This is what they’re presenting as their plan.”

Except that Romney and the Republicans have not laid out a complete, comprehensive plan for what they want to do on taxes, the budget and the deficit.

Instead, they have made some general proposals, avoiding details on the hard parts, and preserving room for political maneuver, while largely focusing on attacking Obama in their campaign to unseat him in the November 6 elections.


Romney, in particular, has offered few specifics. In February, while still fighting for the nomination, he offered a tax plan, the basics of which are still on his web site.

Romney vowed to slash marginal tax rates for all Americans by 20 percent; scrap the Alternative Minimum Tax and the estate tax; eliminate taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends for those earning less than $200,000; and cut the top corporate income tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent, along with making a handful of additional corporate tax law changes.

Various budget-cutting proposals have been put forward by Republican lawmakers, including Representative Paul Ryan.

Obama appeared to get some of the figures he mentioned in his speech from Ryan’s budget plan, which Romney has embraced, but which is also short on specifics about targeted programs.

The Tax Policy Center, a centrist think tank, estimated in March that the Romney plan would cut federal tax liability by $480 billion in 2015, or just under $5 trillion over 10 years.

The center noted its analysis was incomplete because Romney has not spelled out how he would “broaden the base” of taxpayers to help lower rates. Romney has said that some tax benefits for the wealthy might have to be curtailed.

Obama also said 70 percent of the benefits from Romney’s proposed tax cuts would go to those making more than $200,000 a year. A Tax Policy Center analysis shows 67 percent of Romney’s proposed tax cuts benefit those in upper income groups.

The Romney campaign did not immediately return an email requesting comment on Obama’s charge that Romney’s economic plan would lead to $5 trillion in tax cuts and massive cuts in government spending. Romney has said repeatedly that his policies would boost economic growth and tax revenues.

“I am absolutely convinced that you are going to see an extraordinary resurgence of America’s economy. It’s going to come roaring back with the right policy,” Romney told supporters at a campaign fundraiser in Chicago on Thursday evening.

(Additional reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

Source : Obama challenges on vague Romney tax, budget plan – Reuters

>>> today in ohio before president obama and mitt romney ‘s back to back speeches on the economy, the brains at the romney campaign decided to make some noise. nbc news tweeted, the campaign bus is driving around president obama ‘s speech site honking its horn. mitt romney spoke first in cincinnati before a crowd of no more than 200 people, working without a teleprompter meant romney did not get into the specifics of his economic plan. oh, and the other reason he didn’t get into the specifics is that he knows he would lose ohio in a landslide if he did. so he tried to put some spin on the president’s speech.

>> he’s going to be a person of eloquence as he describes his plans for making the economy better. but don’t forget, he’s been president for 3 1/2 years and talk is cheap . actions speak very loud.

>> romney dids veer into a new version of his big hit , i like being able to fire people .

>> in my experience in thinking about people who i want to have work for me, whether it’s my doctor or the person that’s going to be painting the house, i want to make sure they did a good job the first time. and if they didn’t, i want someone who can’t can do a better job.

>> minutes after romney ‘s speech, president obama took the stage before a cheering crowd of 12500 people at a community college . the president wanted ohio to be ready for the bombardment of negative campaign ads that will fill that state.

>> the other side will spent billions of dollars on ads that will tell you the economy is bad, it’s all my fault, that i can’t fix it because i think government is always the answer or because i didn’t make a lot of money in the private sector and don’t understand it or because i’m in over my head or because i think everybody and everything is doing just fine. that’s what the scary voice in the ads will say. that’s not a plan to create jobs. it’s not a plan top grow the economy.

>> the president went into much detail, but summarized his plan for economic growth and economic fairness this way —

>> that’s my vision for america — education, energy, innovation, infrastructure, and a tax code focused on american job creation and balanced deficit reduction.

>> the president told ohio voters it is now up to them to break the stalemate in washington.

>> what is holding us back is a stalemate in washington between two fundamentally different views of which direction america should take. and this election is your chance to break that stalemate. this november you can provide a mandate for the change we need right now. you can move this nation forward and you can remind the world just again why the united states of america is still the greatest nation on earth. thank you.

>> i’m going to get into the very weirdest thing romney said in the speech, but my favorite substantive point he said was something that will be, i’m sure, ignored by all the political media until now. and that was, of course, the tax increase that he proposed. let’s listen to romney proposing a tax increase on day one.

>> well, on day one, i’ll label china a currency manipulator and that will allow me to apply tariffs where they steal property and jobs.

>> no uh that comes under the jurisdiction of the tax committee because they’re a sales tax paid by americans on chinese goods. a lex, it’s not every day that you hear a republican candidate for president saying on day one, i’ve got a sales tack increase for you.

>> yeah. it’s not every day that you hear a republican candidate trying to gin up enthusiasm at a pivotal point in his campaign by channelling anger, economic frustration at china. this romney day one, lawrence, day one based on the ads is going to be the longest day in history. i’m not quite sure it’s the kind of day we measure on the current calendar. apparently he’s going to do everything that day. he’s going to balance the deficit, repeal obamacare with something else, we don’t know what. he’s going to deal with our relationship with china. i mean, these are platitudes. you know, mitt romney has railed against the president’s lack of substance on these issues. he has offered us nothing in the way of actual policy prescriptions. aside from putting his arm around paul ryan ‘s budget plan. now, i think the president was masterful today in really wrapping mitt romney and the extreme wing of the republican party together and saying, in effect, these guys are outliars, they are even divorced from traditional republicans who have been great through the country through time. he channelled nixon. he talked about abe lincoln and talked about ronald reagan and positioned mitt romney as somebody who’s distinctly out of touch and has policies that will be incredibly detrimental to this country.

>> i agree the president was good and clear at outlying what is the romney economic plan. rockne didn’t bother to do that, really. let’s listen to how romney outlined the car.

>> they’ll cut $1 trillion from the part of the budget that includes education, job trainer to medical research and clean energy . it would also take away coverage from another 19 million americans who rely on medicaid. and they propose turning medicare into a voucher program which will shift more costs to seniors and eventually end the program as we know it. tens of millions of middle class families will end up paying higher taxes. many of you would end up paying higher taxes to pay for this other tax cut .

>> and ari, the truth of it is, the president was being way too fair there because he wasn’t factoring in that the republicans at the same time are promising to close the budget deficit , also cut taxes. if you’re to do that, you’re basically going to be closing down the federal government .

>> i think that’s about right. and that’s the whole problem here. there’s this language about the president being in over his head, but has alex wagner is saying so many of these plans are not detailed. there was the big fed study out last week that showed people in the bottom fifth saw their network go from about $1,500 down to 0 the past three years. if you have something set aside and you’re down to zero, you’re in a lot of trouble. 4 medical insurance and safety net , uh yo know, cutting that basically takes people and puts them one medical emergency away from bankruptcy or homelessness. i don’t mean to sound very dramatic from this, but this is very real. and that’s what they’re talking about doing, not targeting the middle or upper middle . these are not questions about tradeoffs. this is literally taking programs there for the neediest and trying to go right at them to. and basically a huge risk to people who need the most help right now.

>> it was a long speech, 54 minutes. those of us who have to watch it to review it and those in the hall are the ones that saw the whole thing. eand the president knows that. he doesn’t expect anyone to get through the whole thing. one of the passages that struck me a lot was he did something that indicates a kind of confidence in a campaign. he got to a point where he was saying if you agree with that, vote for the other guy. he got into a rhythm of go ahead and vote for h imif you agree with that and if you agree with that. and then he did a little chuckling challenge to the press saying i look forward to the media checking out the facts of how i, president obama , have described the romney plan.

>> i totally agree with you, lawrence. that stood out. also as part of that, this sort of shift in narrative. the president has been making a lot of “i” statements, “we” statements. this is the first speech where he said you, american voter, you have a chance to break this stalemate. the other thing that does is it gets people to buy into this election. there’s a lot of talk about dis disenfranchisement, lack of enthusiasm. and here was the president clearly laying out two incredibly different paths for the country and saying you, american voter, this is your country. this is your america . if you want one thing, go for the republicans. if you want the country that i am proposing, vote in november. this is the future and you are part of it and you have a chance to make a difference.

>> alex wagner and ari melmer, thank you.

>> you don’t want to miss the speech. we’re going to also go into why ohio is so important this year and every year. joe kleine is in ohio along with nina turner. and later, rush limbaugh tries to tell nuns what to do. that is not going to work out so well for rush. sister simone will join me. and rush is so lucky he’s not here. but lisaling is here and she’s done a closeup look at the work american nuns are doing. the top academic performers surprised some people. so did the country that came in 17th place.

Source : Obama speech reveals Romney economic plan –

CAIRO — Egypt’s highest court ruled Thursday that the Islamist-dominated parliament should be dissolved because one-third of its members were elected unlawfully, blunting the astonishing political ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood and imperiling the country’s transition to democratic rule.

The decision and a second one safeguarding the presidential candidacy of former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq quickly strengthened the hand of forces linked to Egypt’s old regime, and significantly raised the stakes of the weekend’s runoff vote between Shafiq and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.

Source : Egypt’s high court calls for dissolution of parliament, raising new transition … – Washington Post

The Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A teenager doused with alcohol and set ablaze by middle school classmates testified Thursday he thought he would die and feared the alleged ringleader but also revealed for the first time a marijuana pipe and not a video game was the original cause of their dispute.

Election 2012: Across the nation

Michael Brewer, now 17, testified in the attempted second-degree murder trial of Matthew Bent that he didn’t to school that October 2009 day because he feared reprisals. Bent, also 17, had been arrested the day before on a charge that he tried to steal a bicycle belonging to Brewer’s father. Those charges remain pending.

“I thought Matthew Bent was going to hurt me because I got him arrested,” Brewer testified.

Brewer said the reason behind their dispute was Bent’s supposed attempt to force him to buy a “bowl” used to smoke marijuana. In previous sworn statements, Brewer had said their beef was over a $40 video game based on “The Little Mermaid” story.

“This is the first I’m hearing this,” said Bent attorney Johnny McCray. “Are you telling us you lied to us back when we took your deposition?”

“Yes, sir,” Brewer replied, without offering further explanation.

McCray and Bent’s other attorney, Perry Thurston Jr., said outside the courtroom that Brewer’s testimony might unfairly link Bent to drug use and taint him in the jury’s eyes.

Brewer, 15 at the time, was set on fire after encountering Bent and several other boys down the street from Deerfield Beach Middle School. He survived after leaping into an apartment complex swimming pool, suffering second- and third-degree burns over 65 percent of his body.

Assistant State Attorney Maria Schneider asked what he remembered about the attack.

“I just remember a cold liquid going down my back. I started walking and I started feeling burning,” Brewer testified. “I started running towards the pool. I jumped a fence and dove into a swimming pool. I remember looking down and seeing skin hanging from my arms. I felt like I was going to die.”

Denver Colorado Jarvis, 17, and 18-year-old Jesus Mendez have both pleaded no contest to attempted murder charges — Jarvis for pouring the alcohol and Mendez for flicking the lighter that set Brewer on fire. Jarvis is serving an eight-year prison sentence; Mendez was sentenced to 11 years.

Bent is accused of orchestrating the attack, which came after the boys by chance found a jug of rubbing alcohol sitting along a low apartment complex wall. If convicted, Bent faces a maximum 30-year prison sentence. Jarvis testified earlier that Bent offered him between $5 and $10 to pour the alcohol on Brewer.

Under questioning from McCray, Brewer said he did not see Bent give any signals or say anything leading Jarvis to pour the liquid. In fact, Brewer said he couldn’t recall any of the other boys surrounding him before the attack, as several of them have testified previously.

“He told me that nothing was going happen. ‘Nobody’s going to do anything to you.’ I just stand there. He came closer and closer, cause he was trying to distract me or something,” Brewer said.

It’s unclear if Bent will testify in his own defense. Either way, closing arguments could come as early as Friday. Brewer was the prosecution’s final witness.

Brewer, whose case and recovery have made national headlines, appeared physically fit, wearing a dark blue shirt and striped tie. He and his family moved north to West Palm Beach after his lengthy hospital stay and rehabilitation. He still requires physical therapy and testified that he has many scars on his back and legs.

“I get a burning sensation on my back. When I stand too long my legs start to burn,” said Brewer, adding that when temperatures get cold his scarred skin tightens up.

“I can barely move.”


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June 14, 2012 06:11 PM EDT

Copyright 2012, The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source : Burned Fla. teen thought he would die from attack – Atlanta Journal Constitution