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US President Obama will give speech about the Libyan situation on Monday

Obama grin
© unknown
Battered by a week of air strikes, forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi still remain a potent threat to civilians, according to Pentagon officials, who are considering more firepower and airborne surveillance systems to find and attack the enemy troops.

As the military eyes other tools in its arsenal, the White House announced late Friday that President Barack Obama will give a speech to the nation Monday evening explaining his decision-making on Libya to a public weary of a decade of war.

The timing comes as Republicans and Democrats have complained that the president has not sought their input about the U.S. role in the war or explained with enough clarity about the U.S. goals and exit strategy.

Among the weapons being eyed for use in Libya is the Air Force's AC-130 gunship, an imposing aircraft armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors with precision. Other possibilities are helicopters and drones that fly lower and slower and can spot more than fast-moving jet fighters.

With the U.S. pressing to shift full command of the Libya air campaign to the NATO alliance, the discussion of adding weapons to step up the assault on Gadhafi's ground troops reflects the challenges in hitting the right targets.

U.S.-led forces began launching missile strikes last Saturday against the defenses of embattled Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to establish a no-fly zone and prevent him from attacking his own people.

Eagle

Former President Jimmy Carter to visit Cuba

Jimmy Carter
© Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Referendum observer and former President Jimmy Carter speaks during an interview in Khartoum January 15, 2011.
Former President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalynn will visit Cuba next week to meet with President Raul Castro and discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, a Carter spokeswoman said on Friday.

The visit, made at the invitation of the Cuban government, raised the possibility that Carter would get involved in the case of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing illegal Internet access to Cuban groups.

The case has strained U.S.-Cuba relations after a brief warming under President Barack Obama.

Carter, 86, was to arrive in Havana on Monday for a three-day trip "to learn about new economic policies and the upcoming (Communist) Party congress and to discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations," said a statement from Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo.

He was to meet with President Castro and "other Cuban officials and citizens," the statement said.

It said the trip was a follow-up to the Carters' May 2002 visit to the island 90 miles from Florida and was a "private, non-governmental mission under the auspices of the not-for-profit Carter Center."

Carter is set to go to North Korea soon, where last year he went to secure the release of a jailed American.

During his time in the White House, Carter took significant steps to improve relations with Cuba, including lifting all restrictions on U.S. travel to the island, which has been generally banned during most of a 49-year-long U.S. trade embargo.

Bad Guys

Canadian general taking over command of NATO's no-fly mission in Libya

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© The Canadian Press / HO, DND - M.Cpl. France Huard
Then Major-General Charles Bouchard, give a welcome speech at a graduation ceremony in Jamaica in 2006. A senior White House official says a Canadian will take over command of the NATO mission in Libya. The official says Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, stationed in Naples, has been designated by NATO as head of the alliance's military campaign in Libya.
Canadian general Charles Bouchard is taking over command of NATO's military operations in Libya.

Bouchard, a native of Chicoutimi, Que., has been designated by NATO as head of the alliance's campaign in Libya. He will work with "his naval and air component commands" to enforce the no-fly zone and the so-called civilian-protection mission in Libya, a senior White House official said Friday.

Bouchard, a lieutenant-general whose rank is equivalent to a three-star U.S. general, is currently stationed in Naples, Italy, at the Allied Joint Force Command.

His appointment did not come without considerable debate among the allies. "There were a lot of egos involved," a Canadian government source said.

The source said a British general was touted for the job at one point, but the United States wanted to see a face that nervous allies _ particularly the Turks _ trusted. The tipping point came when the French got behind the appointment, senior Canadian officials said.

There was some political hesitation in Ottawa about the appointment as it represents an escalation of Canada's engagement in Libya just as politicians are about to hit the hustings, the source said.

Stormtrooper

Bahrain Forces Quash Protests

Bahrain protest
© Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters
Small protests broke out in Bahrain's capital for a planned "Day of Rage" today despite a ban under martial law imposed last week, but were quickly crushed by security forces fanned out across Manama.

Helicopters buzzing overhead, extra checkpoints erected on major highways and a large troop presence prevented any major demonstration from kicking off in the small Gulf Arab island kingdom, where a security crackdown last week quelled a month of protests by the mostly Shi'ite Muslim demonstrators.

Bahrain has great strategic importance because it hosts the US 5th Fleet, facing non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran across the Gulf, and is situated off-shore from Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter.

Confronted by mass protests demanding constitutional reform, Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa family, from the minority Sunni population, declared security their priority, called in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states and imposed martial law.

But a few hundred protesters managed a short rally in the Shi'ite village of Diraz today, shouting "down with the regime" as women swathed in black waved Bahraini flags and held up copies of the Koran. But they fled when when around 100 riot police fired tear gas and tried to chase them down.

Bad Guys

Syria Unleashes Force on Protesters Demanding Freedom as Unrest Spreads

Troops reportedly open fire on anti-regime demonstrators as protests spread from Syria's south to Damascus and Aleppo

Pro-Assad demonstrators in Syria
© Hussein Malla/AP
Pro-Assad demonstrators in Syria. Brief clashes in Damascus were reported between anti-regime demonstrators and loyalists.
Demonstrations in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and elsewhere were met with force as security forces struggled to contain unrest that had begun in the southern city of Deraa a week ago.

Thousands once again joined funeral processions in Deraa on Friday, chanting: "Deraa people are hungry, we want freedom."

Hundreds took to the streets in the cities of Homs, Hama, Tel and Latakia and in towns surrounding Deraa, with smaller protests in the major cities of Damascus and Aleppo, which are more firmly under the watch of security forces. Troops reportedly opened fire in some cases.

Protests in the capital are rare and not tolerated by the Ba'athist regime. A witness told the Guardian that efforts at protests in Damascus were broken up by plain-clothed agents using batons.

By nightfall, a counter-demonstration had been mounted near the historic Umayyad mosque in the heart of the capital. Brief clashes were reported between anti-regime demonstrators and loyalists. A large rally then began in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Hundreds drove around the capital beeping horns and waving flags, whilst posters of the president were put up in the city.

Attention

Canada: Government's defeat sets up election call

Image
© Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Government falls Prime Minister Stephen Harper votes against a Liberal contempt of Parliament motion in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill Friday.
It's official - the government has fallen from power, clearing the way for a spring election.

The opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois came together Friday afternoon in a historic vote to say they no longer have confidence in the Conservative government.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed reporters after the vote and said he would meet with the Governor General on Saturday "to inform him of the situation and to take the only course of action that remains," referring to the dissolution of Parliament and an immediate election campaign.

Harper began his remarks by saying that while Canada's economic recovery has been strong, the global economy is still fragile.

"The budget presented this week by the minister of finance, the next phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan, is critically important," Harper said.

"There's nothing - nothing - in the budget that the opposition could not or should not have supported. Unfortunately Mr. Ignatieff and his coalition partners, the NDP and the Bloc, had already decided they wanted to force an election instead," Harper said. "The fourth election in seven years. An election Canadians clearly don't want."

"Thus the vote today that disappoints me, will, I expect, disappoint Canadians," Harper said.

He did not take questions.

Wolf

Government tightens lid on dolphin death probe

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Baby Bottlenose Dolphin dead on beach at Gulf of Mexico (2011)
BP marine life massacre continues

Biloxi, Mississippi - The U.S. government is keeping a tight lid on its probe into scores of unexplained dolphin deaths along the Gulf Coast, possibly connected to last year's BP oil spill, causing tension with some independent marine scientists.

Wildlife biologists contracted by the National Marine Fisheries Service to document spikes in dolphin mortality and to collect specimens and tissue samples for the agency were quietly ordered late last month to keep their findings confidential.

The gag order was contained in an agency letter informing outside scientists that its review of the dolphin die-off, classified as an "unusual mortality event (UME)," had been folded into a federal criminal investigation launched last summer into the oil spill.

Stormtrooper

Syrian People Outraged Over Government Shootings in Deraa

Human rights groups say that more than 100 people may have been killed when troops opened fire on a mosque

protesters in daraa
© Reuters
Protesters drag away a body as it lies among others in a street during a demonstration in Daraa.
Syria's government pledged to consider protesters' "legitimate demands" after thousands took to the streets for the funerals of nine people killed by the military.

Rights activists described Wednesday's shootings in the southern city of Deraa as a massacre, claiming that more than 100 people may have been killed when troops fired on a mosque in the early hours and throughout the day.

With protests called for after Friday prayers, Buthaina Shaaban, adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, announced that the government would consider ending Syria's emergency law and revise legislation for political parties and the media. Similar reform pledges have been announced in the past, and are unlikely to satisfy protesters.

In Deraa, funeral-goers chanted "God, Syria, Freedom" and "The blood of martyrs is not spilt in vain!", Reuters news agency reported. Some reports said that up to 20,000 people attended, but this could not be verified. The city has been cordoned off .

Deraa's hospital reported receiving 37 bodies from Wednesday's violence. YouTube videos apparently showed bloody scenes at the mosque.

Radar

Japan Requests U.S. To Block Popular Websites?

Image
© Unknown
In a recent effort to improve recovery efforts from the recent earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, the military has decided to block the use of certain websites from its network. Japanese military has reported that these sites are not being blocked due to any content reason but solely to improve the bandwidth necessary for militaristic needs. On Monday the U.S. Pacific Command received a request to block the 13 highest traffic usage sites commonly used on military networks such as YouTube, Google Video, Amazon, eBay, Myspace, and MTV.com.

On a more interesting note to the bandwidth control is the continuing use of Facebook in Japan. The site is considered one of the highest bandwidth usage portals in the region, but it will stay up and running due to its growing use by deployed military personnel. Facebook is the most common way to stay in contact with loved ones and was decided to be an important tool in the recovery of the disaster.

Green Light

Whistling Past the Graveyard: China to Sell Outdated Nuclear Reactors to Pakistan

Image
© Agence France-Presse
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responds to questions during a press briefing in Beijing, March 22, 2011
China is pressing ahead with nuclear energy cooperation with Pakistan, despite concerns that it is shipping decades-old technology to its South Asian neighbor. This comes as China suspended approvals for new nuclear power plants within China to review safety standards following the recent earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan.

Chinese authorities have already suspended approvals of new nuclear plants within the country because of safety concerns sparked by the disasters in Japan.

But when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu was asked Thursday about whether Beijing is similarly concerned about exporting outdated nuclear technology to Pakistan, she dismissed it as unrelated.

Jiang says there are no direct links to the two issues. She says the Chinese government wants to see "orderly and reasonable" nuclear development in China, and is especially concerned about safety.

As for Pakistan, though, she said only that China and Pakistan's nuclear cooperation has been under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Comment: Even after the illusion of safety in nuclear power has been torn down, with consequences yet to be seen, the powers that be will continue to build nuclear reactors.

With the accelerating Earth changes we are all witness to, these power plants equate to over-sized 'dirty bombs', just waiting for an environmental trigger to set them off.