SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Thirty Saudi women have taken seats in Saudi Arabia's Shura Council, for the first time in the conservative kingdom's history, as they were sworn in before King Abdullah at his palace in the capital, Riyadh.
The women took their seats in the same room with their 130 male colleagues and were sworn in collectively, state television said on Tuesday.
"The development we are woring at must be gradual," King Abdullah said in a brief statement broadcast on state television.
He recommended that the council, an advisory body, show "realism" in its discussions and allow "reason to prevail in issues it has to deal" with.
On January 11, the king appointed the women, which include university graduates, human rights activists and two princesse, to the body, also known as the Saudi Consultative Council.
His decree marked a breakthrough in a kingdom that imposes stringent restrictions on women, with females banned from driving and denied the right to travel without the consent of a male guardian.
The monarch took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, which applies a strict version of Islamic law.
Abdullah has been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in 2005.
In 2011, he granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the next local election, set for 2015, saying "we refuse to marginalise women's role in Saudi society".-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The UN Security Council has denounced the recent hostage taking by a group of militants at a remote natural gas facility in eastern Algeria.
On Friday, the 15-member international body stressed the need for prosecution of the assailants and their supporters, AFP reported.
"The Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in the In Amenas, Algeria," the council said in a statement.
The Security Council voiced "deep sympathy and sincere condolences to the victims of these heinous acts and their families and to the people and governments of Algeria and those countries whose nationals have been affected."
It "underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice."
It also called on all countries "to cooperate actively with the Algerian authorities" in compliance with international law and Security Council resolutions.
The statement also said it was incumbent upon countries to guarantee that "measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law."
"Signatories in Blood" gunmen stormed the In Amenas gas field operated by BP, Norway’s Statoil, and Algeria’s state firm on Wednesday, kidnapping dozens of foreigners and perhaps hundreds of Algerian workers.
They said that the hostage crisis was in response to France’s military intervention in neighboring Mali.
The Algerian military mounted a rescue operation at the facility on Thursday that reportedly resulted in casualties.
An Algerian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the operation left 12 hostages and 18 captors dead.
International criticism has been mounting over the Algerian military's attempt to retake the compound and rescue the hostages.-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- An Italian consul has come under fire in his car in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi but was unhurt, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
"He is completely unharmed," said the spokesman on Saturday.
"They shot at his car, but the car was armoured. He is fine, there are no injuries," a security source in Libya who declined to be named told the Retuers news agency.
The consul, Guido de Sanctis, is based in Benghazi.
Security for Westerners in Libya's second city has been an acute concern since the US ambassador was killedalong with three other US embassy staff in an assault on the US consulate in the city on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Hot spot for violence
A police source in Benghazi said the shots had been fired from a car passing De Sanctis's residence. A Reuters reporter saw two bullet holes in the building, which was surrounded by police.
The Italian spokesman said security around officials in Benghazi was already high before Saturday's attack.
The city was where the anti-Gaddafi uprising broke out in February 2011. But Libya's new elected rulers in Tripoli have struggled to impose their authority on a country where armed groups wield the real power, and Benghazi's multitude of armed factions now make it a hot spot for violence.
In November, the city's police chief was shot dead. And last June, a convoy carrying the British ambassador was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade that injured two of his bodyguards.
The offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the city were also attacked last year, as was a convoy carrying the United Nations' former special envoy to Libya.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia has appointed 30 women to the previously all-male consultative Shura Council, marking a historic first as he pushes reforms in the kingdom.
The decrees, published by the official SPA news agency on Friday, give women a 20 percent quota in the Shura Council, a body appointed by the king to advise him on policy and legislation.
One decree amended an article in the council's statute to give women representation on the body, while the other named the 150 members, among them 30 women.
King Abdullah took the decisions following consultations with religious leaders in the kingdom, where women are subjected to many restrictions and are not allowed to mix with men, according to the decrees published by the SPA.
They stipulate that men and women will be segregated inside the council, with a special area designated for females who will enter through a separate door so as not to mix with their male colleagues.
King Abdullah had been carefully treading towards change, introducing municipal elections for the first time in Saudi Arabia in 2005.
In September 2011, he granted women the right to cast ballots and run as candidates in the next local vote, set for 2015. In announcing those changes, he also said he was planning to name women to the Shura Council.
'Issues still hanging'
Women's rights activists have long fought for the right to vote in the oil-rich Gulf kingdom, which applies a strict version of Sunni Islam and bans females from driving or travelling without the consent of a male guardian.
"The [latest] decision is good but women issues are still hanging," said Wajeha al-Hawidar, a prominent Saudi female activist.
"For normal women, there are so many laws and measures that must be suspended or amended for women to be dealt with as grown-ups and adults, without a mandate from guardians."
But she said that having female members of the council could help to change the image of women in society.
"Men can finally respect women when they see them playing a (traditional) male role," she said.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organisation of parliaments, commended the move as "another step forward" for women's political rights in Saudi Arabia.
"Until the announcement last September by King Abdullah to give women the right to vote, stand for election in municipal elections and be appointed to the Shura Council, the Gulf country remained the only country in the world where women remained excluded from the political process," the IPU said in a statement.
Although the council does not have law-making powers, the IPU said the 20 percent quota given to women in the Shura Council makes Saudi Arabia the fourth highest in the Arab region in terms of women's political participation in parliament.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – For the first time, Saudi Arabian women will advise the king on policy and legislation. King Abdullah appointed 30 female advisors to the all-male Consultative Council. They will have a separate entrance to the chamber and sit apart from the men.
In two royal decrees King Abdullah signed Friday he reconstituted the Shura Council for a new four-year term and changed the 150-member consultative body’s law to state that at least 20 per cent of its members should be women.
The Consultative Assembly functions as the formal advisory body of Saudi Arabia’s leader and, just like a parliament (but without formal powers), is authorized to propose draft laws and forward them to the king, who will pass and enforce them.
Its members – always appointed academics, clerics, businessmen and former civil servants, vets legislation – also have a right to review the country's annual budget, call in ministers for questioning and recommend changes or additions to the government.
The female members to committees within the council will be chosen in compliance with the “committees' need, the specialization of the member and the women's participation in the committees,” according to the decree.
The women will enjoy in their “membership at the Shura Council complete membership rights and will abide by the obligations and responsibilities and assumes tasks,” the text of the second amendment reads. The decree also requires women to observe Islamic law and be properly covered.
King Abdullah signed a decree allowing women in politics and legislation following consultations with religious leaders of the kingdom, where women face many restrictions
In order to reform an ultra-conservative country, King Abdullah has been taking measures to expand women’s rights in the kingdom since he took power in 2005.
Thus, in September 2011 he granted women the right to vote and run as candidates in the next municipal elections slated for 2015.
Some powerful conservative Sunni Muslim clerics have sometimes argued against allowing women a role in politics, Reuters reports.
Women in Saudi Arabia live under strict Islamic law and are forbidden from behavior that is common in Western cultures. They cannot travel, work or open a bank account without the permission of a male ‘guardian’.
The oil-rich Gulf kingdom is the only state in the world where women are still not allowed to drive vehicles, even though there is no law specifically banning them from driving.
Around 15 per cent of women, according to some estimates, are represented in the workforce.
In some Saudi’s existing industrial cities already have factories owned by women, as well as companies that employ a small portion of the female population.
To make things easier for women who embrace a Western lifestyle, the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon) suggested building a new city exclusively for women.
The recent decree allowing female in the government’s body is not the first time women have been offered jobs in state structures.
In October the head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police – the mutawa – said that there was an urgent need to employ more women in the force.
But not everyone welcome expanded freedoms for female in Saudi Arabia.
In July 2012, women, for the first time ever, also obtained the right to represent their country at the Summer Olympic Games. However, though hailed as heroes in England, the young sportswomen were pilloried as prostitutes in their home country.
Similarly, while some viewed the announcement of women’s representation in the council as a step toward equal rights for women in the Arab state, others considered their participation to be disrespectful to the country’s traditions.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The UN Security Council has called on rebels in the Central African Republic to halt their military offensive and withdraw from towns and cities they have seized.
The council said in a press statement late on Friday that these military activities "gravely undermine" the country's security and stability, "constitute a threat to the civilian population, and hinder the provision of humanitarian assistance".
Rebels calling for President Francois Bozize to step down have seized 10 towns in a month, but they halted their advance on the capital Bangui on December 29 pending negotiations.
The Security Council called on all parties to seek a peaceful solution and engage in negotiations scheduled to be held in Libreville, Gabon starting January 8 "without preconditions and in good faith".
It encouraged the government, armed groups, the political opposition and other interested parties to use the talks "to negotiate a comprehensive political solution".
Pakistan's UN Ambassador Masood Khan, the current council president who read the press statement, was asked whether the talks would definitely take place given uncertainty about participation of all the rebels and other groups.
"Right now preparations are being made and we're hoping the talks will take place, and all parties are being urged in that direction," Khan said.
"The talks are important to reduce tension and de-escalate the situation and look towards diplomatic solutions."
The rebel coalition Seleka, which means alliance in the local Sango language, is made up of four separate groups which have previously fought one another.
Bozize has offered to form a government of national unity but the rebels have questioned his sincerity and are demanding that he relinquish power.
They also want the government to respect previous peace accords providing for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former rebels into society.
The council expressed concern about reports of arrests, detention, looting and the targeting of ethnic minorities as well as the recruitment and use of children in the conflict.
Council members urged all parties to stop violence against civilians and to respect human rights and said those responsible should be held accountable.
The UN children's agency on Friday said it has received "credible reports that rebel groups and pro-government militias are increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict".
Central African Republic is a desperately poor, landlocked nation that has suffered numerous rebellions since independence from France.
President Bozize himself came to power in 2003 through a rebellion that was backed by Chadian forces and has since won two elections. He says he will not leave before finishing his term in 2016.
Despite the nation's wealth of gold, diamonds, timber and uranium, the government remains perpetually cash-strapped.
The nation's woes also have been compounded by its proximity to other conflict-ridden states including Sudan's Darfur region. Uganda's notorious rebel Lord's Resistance Army also has taken advantage of the weak state to take refuge in the Central African Republic - attacking and abducting civilians with near-impunity.- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - The United Nations Security Council has approved foreign military intervention in Mali to help the Malian government battle the militants controlling the northern part of the West African country.
On Thursday, the 15-member council authorized an initial one-year-long deployment of African Union forces in the country.
The resolution, drafted by France, also authorized all European Union member states to help rebuild Mali's security forces.
In November, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to send 3,300 troops, mostly from Nigeria, Niger, and Burkina Faso, to help Mali's government regain control of the north.
On November 29, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned against a hasty military intervention in northern Mali, saying it could lead to a humanitarian crisis.
Chaos broke out in the West African country after Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup on March 22. The coup leaders said they mounted the coup in response to the government's inability to contain the two-month-old Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.
However, in the wake of the coup d’état, the Tuareg rebels took control of the entire northern desert region, but the Ansar Dine extremists pushed them aside and wrested control of all the northern desert regions, which are larger than France or Texas.- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) --The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's successful rocket launch on Wednesday and said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response."
Whether that response includes new sanctions against the North, which the United States and its European allies are seeking, depends first and foremost on China, the North's closest ally which has not made its position clear.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei cautioned Wednesday in Beijing that the council's response should be "prudent and moderate and conducive to maintaining stability and avoiding escalation of the situation."
The Security Council said in a brief statement after closed consultations that the launch violated council resolutions adopted after North Korea's nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and a ban on "any launch using ballistic missile technology."
The U.N.'s most powerful body recalled that after the North's failed launch in April it demanded that Pyongyang halt any further launches using ballistic missile technology and expressed its determination to take action in the event of another launch.
"Members of the Security Council will continue consultation on an appropriate response ... given the urgency of the matter," the council statement said.
The successful rocket launch is widely seen as a test that takes North Korea one step closer to being capable of sending a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California. North Korea officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns, and Pyongyang maintains its right to develop a civilian space program.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said that no matter how the North Koreans choose to describe the launch it violates two council resolutions and shows that the country "is determined to pursue its ballistic missile program without regard for its international obligations."
"The initial statement out of the council is one of the swiftest and strongest — if not the swiftest and strongest — that this council has issued," she said. "Members of the council must now work in a concerted fashion to send a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences."
She told reporters that the United States will be working with the council, South Korea, Japan and other countries in the international community "to pursue appropriate action."
Rice indicated that there were tough negotiations on Wednesday's press statement.
A council diplomat said China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong wanted several words and phrases dropped from the original U.S. draft: the word "rocket" to describe the launch, the phrase "ballistic missile technology," and a reference saying the launch "undermines regional security."
After negotiations among the five permanent council members — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — the word "rocket" and the reference to regional security were dropped but the phrase "ballistic missile technology" remained in the statement, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the consultations were private.
The Chinese ambassador also indicated that pressure and sanctions would not be conducive to preserving peace, the diplomat said.
The closed Security Council consultations were also attended by the five nations that will join the council on Jan. 1, including South Korea.
South Korea's U.N. Ambassador Kim Sook told reporters afterward that the launch was "a blatant violation" of council resolutions and "constitutes a very dangerous challenge to the security of the Republic of Korea and the security situation in Korean peninsula and northeast Asia."
He said consultations will continue, and "I believe the Security Council will take appropriate action in swift and robust manner."
Just before the meeting, the United States and its European allies called for the Security Council to deliver a strong reaction to Wednesday's launch.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in Washington that "the international community must work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions have consequences."
The Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions against the North, following each of its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said said, "I think it's time to ... send out a clear message to DPRK sooner rather than later," using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said that in his country's view, the council "should react quickly and should react strongly to this provocation."
The British government summoned North Korea's ambassador to the U.K., Hyon Hak Bong, to the Foreign Office to condemn the rocket launch, saying the move threatened regional stability.
Britain's Foreign Office said senior civil servant Simon Fraser urged Pyongyang to immediately re-engage "constructively" with the international community and pointed out that the money spent on the launch could have been used to bring food and modernization to North Korean citizens.
Council diplomats have speculated that existing sanctions could be widened to include financial measures and additional companies and individuals in North Korea. The council could also consider measures that would lead to more robust implementation of sanctions, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.
The Security Council in 2006 imposed an arms embargo on heavy weapons, a ban on material that could be used in missiles or weapons of mass destruction and a ban on luxury goods favored by North Korea's ruling elite. It also ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the North's nuclear and weapons programs.
In 2009, the council toughened the arms embargo and authorized searches of North Korean cargo at airports, seaports, on land and on the high seas if there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that the shipment contains banned arms or weapons or the material to make them. It calls on all countries to prevent financial institutions or individuals in their countries from providing financing or resources that could contribute to North Korea's weapons-of-mass-destruction and missile programs — but it does not require that they do so.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The United Arab Emirates succeeded on Monday in its bid for election to the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council for a three-year term starting from early 2013.
The Gulf state was elected in a secret ballot conducted by the U.N. General Assembly in which 21 candidate countries from 18 geographical groups competed for 18 vacant seats.
The UAE got 184 votes, the highest vote turnout of the total votes garnered by the four winning Asian countries and the second highest votes of the total 18 winners.
Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, and Sierra Leone were elected from Africa, and Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea joined the United Arab Emirates from the Asia Group.
Estonia and Monte Negro were elected from Eastern Europe, while Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela secured seats on behalf of the Latin America and Caribbean Group.
The UAE foreign affairs minister, Anwar Mohammad Gargash, welcomed the UAE’s victory.
“The win crowned a series of achievements made by the UAE in its human rights record over the recent years, particularly in areas of legislations to uphold and protect fundamental freedoms and legal rights of individuals, rights of women and children and advanced regulations on rights of foreign workforce,” the official said, according to AFP news agency.
He added: ‘The UAE win of the seat for the next three years will lay on our shoulder additional onus and commitment to stay our course firmly in consistence with constitutional principleson which the UAE state is built and which place respect for human rights at the top of national priorities.’’
The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly also elected 17 other countries for terms beginning in January. The United States won the most votes of the regional group “Western Europe and Others,” followed by Germany and Ireland.
‘Excessive, unbalanced focus on Israel’
The United States succeeded in its bid for re-election to the Council, a Geneva-based watchdog that has been criticized by Washington and Israel for singling out the Jewish state for criticism.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed Washington’s re-election, saying that the Human Rights Council “has delivered real results” since the United States first joined it in 2010 after running for a seat on it in 2009. She cited council action on Syria as a positive example of its work.
However, she criticized the rights council’s “excessive and unbalanced focus on Israel,” according to Reuters news agency.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Rice’s comments.
“We pledge to continue to work closely with the international community to address urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide and to strengthen the (rights) council,” Clinton said in a statement.
The United States had boycotted the Human Rights Council until 2009, when the administration of President Barack Obama reversed U.S. policy and ran for a seat on the body in an effort to reform it from within.
Greece and Sweden failed to secure spots on the council in the “Western Europe and Others” category, the only regional group that had a competitive slate. Other regional groups had uncompetitive slates that assured victory for those in the running as there were enough seats for all candidates.."— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - West London Today reports that Westminster City Council will install the lights over the next four years as part of a £3.25 million ($5.2 million) investment, but will allow the council to recoup all of its money within seven years, saving tax payers £420,000 ($680,000) a year from 2015/16 onwards.
The new lights will form part of the UK’s first electronically monitored lighting infrastructure, reducing Westminster Council’s energy bill by £1 million ($1.6 million) every two years. Council engineers will be alerted if a bulb needs replacing or and is smart enough to monitor when a bulb is about to fail.
Engineers will be able to pull out an iPad and change the brightness of a street light, operating much in the same way as the Hue consumer lighting system from Philips.