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Sunday, 24 April 2011

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Syrian forces shot dead at least 72 people

According to AFP reports, Syrian forces shot dead at least 72 people as they tried to disperse thousands who had gathered on the streets for Good Friday protests to test long-sought freedom, activists said.

A day after President Bashar al-Assad scrapped decades of emergency rule, his forces used live ammunition against demonstrators in several towns and cities nationwide, witnesses and activists said.

The official SANA news agency said security forces intervened using tear gas and water cannon to "prevent clashes" between protesters and passers-by. SANA spoke of 10 dead, including police.

"The Syrian security forces committed massacres in several towns and regions today, so far killing 72 people and wounding hundreds," the London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee said.

Several rights activists also published provisional lists recording the deaths of more than 70 people on one of the bloodiest days since pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria in mid-March.

Chairman of the Syrian National Human Rights Organisation, Ammar Qurabi spoke to AFP of "49 deaths and 20 people reported missing" on Friday.


Rebels make advances in Libya

The government of Muammar Gaddafi has suffered setbacks on multiple fronts as rebels in the western mountains seized a Tunisian border crossing and fighters in the besieged city of Misrata said they were gaining ground.

Rebels took control of a border crossing in the town of Wazen after an early-morning battle that sent a small number of Libyan soldiers fleeing across the frontier, the official Tunisian news agency reported. The news agency said 13 Libyan soldiers, including a colonel and two commanders, had been detained, while a rebel spokesman in the eastern city of Benghazi asserted that more than 100 had sought asylum.

As fighting in the mountains has escalated over the past two weeks, UN aid workers say that more than 14,000 Libyan refugees - many of them members of the Berber minority, which is prevalent in the area - have fled across the same border, with as many as 6000 a day crossing recently, a spokesman for the UN Human Rights Commission said.


Drones join Libya war

Drones have been introduced into the war in Libya, further evidence that allied forces are finding it increasingly difficult to counter the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Drones were being used for a second day on Friday after US President Barack Obama gave permission for their use. A first-up mission was aborted on Thursday because of bad weather.

The Predator is fitted with Hellfire missiles. The decision to use the pilotless aircraft - which have been used with devastating effect in remote areas of north-western Pakistan since 2004 - in Libya marks a resumption of direct US involvement in the conflict after its planes took a lead role in establishing the "no-fly" zone that was endorsed by the UN Security Council.

As fighting between the rebels and forces loyal to Gadaffi intensified, US President Obama ordered unmanned drones to attack Gadaffi's forces.

Armed US Predator drones are to carry out missions over Libya, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said their use had been authorised by President Barack Obama and would give "precision capability" to the military operation.

Unmanned US drones are already used to target militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Libyan rebels have been battling Col Gaddafi's troops since February, but have recently made little headway.

"President Obama has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those," Gates told a news conference.

He said two Predators were being made available to NATO as needed, and marked a "modest contribution" to the military operations. Gates denied that the drone deployment was evidence of "mission creep" in Libya and said there were still no plans to put US "boots on the ground" in Libya.

Hundreds of foreign workers, Libyans and injured people are being evacuated from Misrata by sea to the rebel-held city of Benghazi in the east.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the Libyan authorities to "stop fighting and stop killing people".


Emergency budget in Japan

The Japanese government has announced a four trillion yen emergency budget for disaster relief, after March's earthquake and tsunami.

The budget still needs approval from parliament later this month, and could be implemented in May.

Authorities say no new bonds were issued to fund the spending, to prevent adding to Japan's huge public debt. The government estimates it will cost as much as 25 trillion yen to rebuild the country.

The emergency budget is aimed at disaster relief, including providing temporary housing, restoration of infrastructure and disaster-related loans. The March 11 earthquake left more than 27,000 people dead or missing.

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