SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) Four Italian journalists who were being held hostage in Syria have been freed, Prime Minister Mario Monti has said in a statement.
The four, three freelancers and a reporter, working for the Italian public broadcaster RAI, had been abducted sometime between April 5 and 6 while filming in northern Syria.
Monti's statement on Saturday did not provide any details of how the four were released, only thanking those involved for professionalism that "enabled a positive outcome of this affair, which was made all the more complicated by the extreme danger of the situation".
Local media reports said the four were currently in Turkey.
In February, an Italian citizen and two Russians kidnapped on December 12 in the west of Syria were freed as part of an exchange for fighters.
Abductions for religious, political or purely financial reasons are becoming increasingly frequent in Syria which has been racked by more than two years of civil war.
Syria's government on April 2 offered kidnappers an amnesty deal, giving them 15 days to hand over victims or face sentences ranging from life with hard labour to execution, if their victims were murdered or sexually abused.
Meanwhile, at least 12 civilians were killed in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province in government air strike, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
An air raid killed the civilians, four of which were members of the same family. Many others were wounded and the death toll was expected to rise, the Observatory said.
In another attack, at least 12 opposition fighters were killed south of Saraqeb, outside of the town of Maaret al-Numan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, after Syrian government troops trying to relieve a besieged military base ambushed an opposition-held checkpoint.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was part of government efforts to resupply the embattled military base at Wadi Deif, which they must pass through opposition-held territory to reach.
Opposition fighters have gained much of the countryside of Idlib and other provinces in northern Syria from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, although government troops still control many military bases in the region from which they launch attacks, including air strikes, on opposition-held areas.
The Syrian government's air power is its biggest advantage in the civil war, and it has used its warplanes to try to check rebel advances.
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said in a report titled "Death from the Skies" that Assad's government has committed war crimes by indiscriminate and sometimes deliberate air strikes against civilians, killing at least 4,300 people since July last year.
Also on Saturday, Syrian state-run daily Al-Thawra accused UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of being a "false witness".
The daily said he had taken sides in the conflict and that his upcoming briefing at the UN "will not alleviate the suffering of Syrians".
Brahimi angered the Syrian government in December by saying that the four-decade rule of the Assad family had gone on "too long".
Brahimi is scheduled to address the UN Security Council on Thursday.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Italian newspaper, west, wrote in its website that 51% of insults towards Muslims are carried out by the media and they are the main culprits for these types of actions. This newspaper added that studies by European Network Against Racism (ENAR) showed Islam is under attack in 27 countries of European Union. The Italian newspaper believes the main cause for these insults are based on racism by the media and political groups. It added that in most occasions the decisions made or opinions expressed in these countries are based on racism against religions. The Italian newspaper also said that a member of European parliament, Mario Purgizo, suggested increasing taxes for Muslim families who have many children in order to stop Muslims entering Europe.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –Two Italian marines have arrived back in India's capital, New Delhi, to face murder charges following a last-minute climbdown by their government, ending a bitter diplomatic standoff between the countries.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of shooting two Indian fishermen, touched down in an Italian military plane in the evening on Friday after being flown from their homeland, Syed Akbaruddin, Indian foreign ministry spokesman, told AFP news agency.
Italy's government on Thursday reversed a March 11 decision not to send the marines back from a home visit after Rome secured a promise from New Delhi that the two would not face the death penalty if convicted, officials said.
The marines, part of a military security team protecting a tanker from piracy, are accused of shooting two fishermen off the coast of the southern Indian state of Kerala in February last year.
They say they fired warning shots at a fishing boat believing it to be a pirate vessel.
President Giorgio Napolitano paid tribute to the pair's "sense of responsibility" in agreeing to return.
India and Italy have been embroiled in an escalating row over the marines, who had been allowed home to vote in the
Italian elections in February on condition they returned to India by Friday.
The Indian government, which last week issued orders to immigration authorities to prevent Rome's ambassador to New Delhi from leaving the country, hailed Italy's U-turn as a victory for diplomacy.
The decision to return the marines has stirred anger in Italy and calls for Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi to resign.
Michele Emiliano, the mayor of Girone's hometown of Bari, said he had been comforting the marine's "despairing" family.
"A hypocritical government is trying to end its embarrassment by sending the sailors back to India after exhibiting them as 'free' during the election campaign," Emiliano wrote on Twitter.
Foreign Minister Terzi defended the move in an interview with la Repubblica daily on Friday, rejecting calls from centre-right politicians for him to quit.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- The court had allowed the marines to go home to vote in last month's elections.
Ambassador Daniele Mancini had personally assured the court the marines would return by 22 March.
On Wednesday, PM Manmohan Singh warned that "there will be consequences" unless Italy returned the marines.
In unusually strong language, the prime minister said that Italy's refusal to send back the marines was "unacceptable".
Rome's decision has come as a major embarrassment for the Indian government and opposition parties have been demanding their immediate return.
'Breach of undertaking'
On Thursday morning, the court headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir issued a notice to the Italian ambassador, restraining him from leaving without its permission.
The ambassador has been asked to respond to the notice by 18 March.
India's Attorney General GE Vahanvati told the judges that Rome's failure to return the two marines "is a breach of undertaking given to the highest court of the land and the government is extremely concerned about it".
In February, the Supreme Court allowed Massimilian Latorre and Salvatore Girone to go home to vote in the Italian elections. They were ordered to return within four weeks.
But on Monday, Italy informed India that the marines would not be coming back, prompting a diplomatic row.
The marines are accused of shooting the fishermen in February 2012. They said they mistook them for pirates.
Italy argues that because the case is now the subject of international maritime law, it has been decided that the pair will not return to India "on the expiration of the permission granted to them".
Rome says that it wants its nationals to be tried in Italy. Because the incident took place in international waters, Italy believes India has no jurisdiction in the case.
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) -- Hours earlier on Saturday, former Prime Minister Berlusconi, who was forced to resign last year amid a sex scandal and a debt crisis, said he will run for office again next year.
Berlusconi said his party, the People of Freedom (PDL), will stand on a platform that will attack Monti's stewardship of the economy.
"I am running to win," Berlusconi, 76, said in Milanello, near the northern city of Milan.
"When I did sport, when I worked and studied, I never entered into a competition to be well-placed but always to win."
PDL withdrew its support for the government on Thursday.
Monti's decision to step down paves the way for early elections a year after the unelected economist helped pull the country back from the brink of financial disaster.
A statement from the office of President Giorgio Napolitano said that the former EU commissioner "does not think it possible to continue his mandate and consequently made clear his intention to present his resignation".
If the law for next year's budget can be passed "quickly", Monti would immediately confirm his resignation, the statement said.
Monti's government had in any case been due to step down in spring next year. A general election had been expected in March or April, though the precise date has not been set.
The Italian parliament is poised to pass the budget by Christmas, and Monti's resignation probably brings the expected vote forward to February.
Monti took over as prime minister at the head of an unelected government of technocrats in November last year and introduced a policy of tax rises and austerity measures to get the economy under control.
Berlusconi ended weeks of speculation by announcing he will run again for the job of prime minister.
In October, Berlusconi, Italy's biggest media magnate, said he would not run again for the premiership. On Wednesday evening, however, he said he had been assailed by requests to return to the field as soon as possible.
This will be his sixth bid to become prime minister, a post he has already held three times over a political career spanning two decades.
Monti's announcement itself will also increase speculation that he could be eyeing a run as a candidate in the election.
Monti, widely credited with restoring Italy's international credibility after the scandal-plagued Berlusconi era, appeared to take aim at Berlusconi, warning against "populism" as he spoke at a conference in Italy.
He said Italy should not go back to where it was when he took over for Berlusconi a year ago.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Thousands of students and teachers have marched through central Rome to protest against education spending cuts.
Saturday's demonstration comes as Mario Monti, the prime minister, pushed through "austerity measures"; raising taxes and reining in public spending, at a time when schools and universities say they desperately need more support.
"We need to fight for our rights. This government doesn't represent us and these austerity measures and all the cuts they've introduced are totally anti-democratic," Tommaso Bernardi, student protester, said.
Italy's education system is "crumbling into pieces", Michele Orezzi, a university union co-ordinator, said.
"We need to change this country, starting from investments in schools, universities and culture."
Youth unemployment stands at about 35 per cent, more than three times the national average, and with Monti's austerity policies biting into education spending, school pupils and university students have taken an active role in anti-government protests.
Students have occupied schools around Rome in recent weeks to express their anger and frustration at repeated funding cuts, chaining gates shut and camping inside classrooms.
Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying his technocrat government - appointed a year ago when Italy faced a Greek-style debt crisis - would be remembered for having helped Italy pull itself out of a deep economic malaise without resorting to borrowing from foreign lenders.
"Rome is a city in lockdown," Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga reported from the Italian capital.
"As for now, it has been a peaceful demonstration, but most of the roads into the city centre are still closed."
Several other protests are due to take place in Rome later on Saturday, including a rally organised by a far-right group and another by an opposing anti-fascist demonstration.
Police have organised different routes and times for the rallies to reduce the risk of violence, after scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators during recent protests that saw officers criticised for heavy-handed tactics.
"I hope we'll see a lot of people here today because we need to make ourselves heard," Davide Marini, a student, said.
"The demonstration on November 14 was a great one but I hope today there will be no clashes because the thing is when there are clashes that's all everyone then talks about - and no attention is given to the real reason we are demonstrating."
Earlier, a summit to try and agree the European Union's new trillion-dollar budget ended in failure on Friday.
After two days of bitter bargaining in Brussels, EU leaders remain divided over whether to continue with austerity programmes or to spend more to boost growth.– www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Hundreds of Italian mayors have marched in Milan and threatened to resign en masse to protest against tough austerity measures introduced by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti.
On Wednesday, around 1,000 mayors, including the heads of important cities such as Milan, Rome, Turin, and Venice, gathered in Italy's financial capital under the banner "Free towns from the Stupidity Pact," a reference to spending cuts imposed on local authorities under a so-called Stability Pact, Reuters reported.
The pact, which includes a series of austerity measures, ranging from tax hikes to spending cuts in health and education sectors, won three confidence votes in the parliament's lower chamber on Wednesday, and is now expected to be approved by the Senate, or the upper chamber, by the end of the year.
The mayors warned Minister for Relations with Parliament Dino Piero Giarda of mass resignations if the law is not changed.
The Italian premier pushed through a series of budget-cutting measures that, Italians say, has hurt the country’s working class and the poor.
However, Monti says that the austerity measures are needed to reduce Italy’s budget deficit.
The continued recession in the eurozone’s third-largest economy is gloomy news for Italians, who have seen a series of austerity packages and pension charges.
Over the past decade, Italy has been the slowest growing economy in the eurozone.
The worsening debt crisis has forced the EU governments to adopt harsh austerity measures and tough economic reforms, which have triggered incidents of social unrest and massive protests in many European countries.– www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Gunmen kidnapped an Italian embassy security officer in Yemen on Sunday and some 100 armed tribesmen loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh stormed the Interior Ministry, demanding to be enlisted in the police force, officials said.
A spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome said a security officer who is a member of the country's Carabinieri military police had been seized in Yemen and that a crisis committee had been activated. The spokesman declined to give further details.
A security source in Yemen, who told Reuters the kidnap victim was a diplomat, said he had been near the Italian embassy when "men came by in a car and took him by force".
Earlier, tribesmen briefly held interior ministry employees hostage. They freed the ministry personnel a few hours later but continued to occupy the building, a ministry official said.
The incidents highlighted the continuing turmoil in Yemen despite a peace deal under which Saleh stood down after months of protests against his 33-year rule and was replaced in February by his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The ministry storming was a direct challenge to Hadi's authority. He is trying to restructure the armed forces and stabilize the impoverished Arab nation, where Saleh's legacy still looms large.
The Interior Ministry official said the tribesmen were Saleh loyalists, who were promised they would be enrolled in the police force in return for helping tackle last year's uprising. The promise has not been fulfilled.
"At midday, the armed tribesmen... stormed the ministry building, took control of it and climbed onto the roof with their guns," the official said. "They refuse to leave until their demands are met."
Tribesmen have fought alongside government troops in a U.S.-backed offensive against al Qaeda-linked militants that drove insurgents out of several towns in the south of the country last month. Many tribal fighters also sided with Saleh who was toppled by a popular uprising.
Disgruntled tribesmen often kidnap foreigners and bomb oil and gas pipelines as a way to press demands on authorities.
In April, officers and tribesmen loyal to Saleh forced Yemen's main airport to close for a day in protest at the sacking of the air force commander, a half-brother of Saleh.—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia News Association) — Moody's Investors Service has slashed the credit ratings of 13 Italian banks, three days after downgrading the Italian government’s credit rating.
On Monday, the ratings agency lowered the debt ratings of the banks, including giants Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, by one to two notches, citing the Italian government’s weakened creditworthiness.
The ratings of UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo were cut two notches to Baa2. The two banks account for a third of the Italian banking market by assets.
Italian banks had previously been downgraded in mid-May as part of an international bank rating review.
Last week, Moody’s downgraded Italian government bonds by two notches due to concerns over the country’s higher funding costs and slowdown in growth and the risk of contagion from the economic crises in Greece and Spain.
The firm lowered Italy’s rating to Baa2 from A3, saying that Italy “is now more likely to experience a further sharp increase in its funding costs or the loss of market access" for borrowing to service its financial plan.
The downgrade is a fresh blow to Italy, which has been in recession since mid-2011.
Over the past decade, Italy has been the slowest growing economy in the eurozone single currency area.
Various eurozone member states, such as Greece, Spain, and Italy, have been struggling with deep economic woes since the bloc's financial crisis began roughly five years ago. — www.shafaqna.com/english/