Israel authorizes more reservists after rockets target cities

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Israel’s cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists late on Friday, preparing the ground for a possible Gaza invasion after Palestinians fired a rocket toward Jerusalem for the first time in decades.

Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial centre, also came under rocket attack for the second straight day, in defiance of an Israeli air offensive that began on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching cross-border attacks that have plagued southern Israel for years.

Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for firing at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel said the rocket launched toward Jerusalem landed in the occupied West Bank, and the one fired at Tel Aviv did not hit the city. There were no reports of casualties.

The siren that sounded in Jerusalem stunned many Israelis. The city, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was last struck by a Palestinian rocket in 1970, and it was not a target when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq fired missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilization level.

Political sources said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000. The move did not necessarily mean all would be called into service.

Hours earlier, Egypt’s prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited Gaza and said Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Officials in Gaza said 29 Palestinians – 13 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman – had been killed in the enclave since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

The Israeli military said 97 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel on Friday and 99 more were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Dozens of Israeli bombing raids rocked the enclave, and one flattened the Gaza Interior Ministry building.

In a further sign Netanyahu might be clearing the way for a ground operation, Israel’s armed forces announced that a highway leading to the territory and two roads bordering the enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians would be off-limits to civilian traffic.

Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.

Netanyahu is favorite to win a January national election, but further rocket strikes against Tel Aviv, a free-wheeling city Israelis equate with New York, and Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its capital, could be political poison for the conservative leader.

“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.

Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid, and they should bring their body bags.”

SOLIDARITY VISIT

A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.

Kandil said: “Egypt will spare no effort … to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce.”

But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration of Kandil’s visit never took hold.

Israel Radio’s military affairs correspondent said the army’s Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.

It is the biggest test yet for Egypt’s new President Mohamed Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year’s protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.

Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister’s visit was intended to further.

A Palestinian official close to Egypt’s mediators told Reuters Kandil’s visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis died.

Tunisia’s foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.

The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognize Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Abbas’s supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.

                                                                                              –Thomson Reuters

Anti-austerity strikes sweep Europe

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Hundreds of flights were cancelled, car factories and ports were at a standstill and trains barely ran in Spain and Portugal where unions held their first ever coordinated general strike.

Riot police arrested at least two protesters in Madrid and hit others with batons, witnesses said, and in Rome students pelted police with rocks in a protest over money-saving plans for the school system.

International rail services were disrupted by strikes in Belgium and workers in Greece, Italy andFrance planned work stoppages or demonstrations as part of a “European Day of Action and Solidarity”.

“We’re on strike to stop these suicidal policies,” said Candido Mendez, head of Spain’s second-biggest labor federation, the General Workers’ Union, or UGT.

More than 60 people were arrested in Spain and 34 injured, 18 of them security officials after scuffles at picket lines and damage to storefronts.

Protesters jammed cash machines with glue and coins and plastered anti-government stickers on shop windows. Power consumption dropped 16 percent with factories idled.

International lenders and some economists say the programs of tax hikes and spending cuts are necessary for putting public finances back on a healthy track after years of overspending.

While several southern European countries have seen bursts of violence, a coordinated and effective regional protest to the austerity has yet to gain traction and governments have so far largely stuck to their policies.

Spain, where the crisis has pushed millions into poverty, has seen some of the biggest protests. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying to put off asking for European aid that could require even more budget cuts.

Passion was inflamed when a Spanish woman jumped to her death last week as bailiffs tried to evict her from her home. Spaniards are furious at banks being rescued with public cash while ordinary people suffer.

In Portugal, which accepted an EU bailout last year, the streets have been quieter but public and political opposition to austerity is mounting, threatening to derail new measures sought by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

His centre-right government was forced by protests to abandon a planned increase in employee payroll charges, but replaced it by higher taxes.

Passos Coelho’s policies were held up this week as a model by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is despised in much of southern Europe for insisting on austerity as a condition of her support for EU aid.

“I’m on strike because those who work are basically being blackmailed into sacrificing more and more in the name of debt reduction, which is a big lie,” said Daniel Santos de Jesus, 43, who teaches architecture at the Lisbon Technical University.

Some 5 million people, or 22 percent of the workforce, are union members in Spain. In Portugal about a quarter of the 5.5 million strong workforce is unionized.

Major demonstrations were planned for the evening in Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona and other cities.

FLIGHTS, FERRIES CANCELLED

Just 20 percent of Spain’s long-distance trains and a third of its commuter trains were running. Lisbon’s Metro was completely shut and only 10 percent of all trains will run under a court-ordered minimum service.

In Barcelona, Spain’s second-biggest city, hundreds of trash containers were taken off the streets to stop them being burnt.

More than 600 flights were cancelled in Spain, mainly by Iberia and budget carrier Vueling. Portugal’s flag carrier TAP cancelled roughly 45 percent of flights.

Italy’s biggest union, CGIL, also called for a work stoppage of several hours across the country. The transport ministry expected trains and ferries to stop for four hours. Students and teachers were expected to march.

In Greece, which saw a big two-day strike last week while parliament voted on new cuts, unions geared for a march to parliament around midday although police expected a low turnout.

Holding banners reading “Enough is Enough” state workers started rallying on several squares in central Athens on Wednesday morning.

Spain’s economy, the euro zone’s fourth biggest, will shrink by some 1.5 percent this year, four years after the crash of a decade-long building boom left airports, highways and high-rise buildings disused across the country. Portugal’s economy is expected to contract by 3 percent.

Spanish unions have never held two general strikes in one year before. The previous one in March brought factories and ports to a standstill and ignited flashes of street violence.

Unemployment stands at 25 percent and every week brings fresh job cuts. Spain’s flagship airline Iberia, owned by UK-based International Airlines Group, said last week it will cut 4,500 jobs. The prestigious El Pais newspaper just laid off almost a quarter of its staff.

“We have to leave something better for our children,” said Rocio Blanco, 47, a railway worker on the picket line at Madrid’s main rail station, Atocha.

 

                                                                                         –Thomson Reuters

Too early to predict China’s new direction…

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Minglu Chen says the new Chinese government might appear different at the outset, but we shouldn’t make any hasty conclusions about its direction.

 

The 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see an end of the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao era and mark the beginning of China’s ‘fifth generation’ of leadership.

Power transition in the party-state keeps the world wondering what it will bring to the country’s politics, economy and society. Are changes really on their way?

There are, indeed, numerous aspects about the Congress that seem to indicate significant changes in China’s future. Many Western journalists have commented on the downsizing of the standing committee of the next politburo from nine to seven members, and the CCP’s amendment of its charter.

In addition, in his opening speech on November 8, President Hu Jintao emphasised the importance of organising against corruption and political reform.

As usual, there are curious – but perhaps not so surprising – incidents occurring prior to this major event of the Communist Party. On October 28, netizen ZhangRongya wrote in a post on weibo.com (China’s cross between Twitter and Facebook) that a friend was not able to buy a pair of scissors in Qianmen, Beijing, because the shop asked to see her ID card, which she had forgotten to bring with her.

On October 29, journalists Luo Danyang and Zhou Jingqi from Beijing Youth Daily reported seeing a notice in a shopping centre in Shunyi District, Beijing requiring that customers should present their national ID cards to buy radio-controlled model planes.

Since October 28, many weibo.com users have posted photos of Beijing taxis’ rear windows being locked with the handles having been taken away. Despite how resilient and adaptive the CCP nowadays seems to be, it is after all the world’s largest authoritarian party. Instead of fully embracing liberal ideas, most of the time it still endeavours to control society, and the maintenance of ‘stability’ still ranks high on its priority list.

A smaller-sized standing committee of the politburo is nothing to be excited about. Back in CCP history, a seven-member standing committee was often the case. Nine standing committee members for the politburo only occurred with the last two National Party Congresses, while during the 80s and 90s, the standing committee of the politburo only ever had seven members or less.

Similarly, amending the CCP charter is far from an innovation. Instead, this has been a long-term tradition of the National Party Congress. Foreseeably, the most significant amendment would be to include Hu Jintao’s ‘scientific development’ concept in the CCP charter, so that the fourth generation leadership would leave its trace in the Party’s ideology.

Hu Jintao’s speech on anti-corruption and political reform sounds inspiring and even promising, but this is a long-existing rhetoric in the Party’s discourse since the 1980s and has been repeated by all top leaders in the country. Thus, it would be naïve to believe that the fifth generation rulers would change China’s political landscape thoroughly and completely.

Even if the new leadership might appear different at the beginning, one should be careful to conclude that it would change the orientation of China’s politics. As memory serves, shortly after Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao took office, they handled their first major crisis, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, with unprecedented openness and transparency. But the next 10 years under their leadership did not see the rise of civil society and free media.

This is not to say that there is nothing new to expect from the fifth generation leadership’s politics. Mr Xi Jinping, the apparent successor to President Hu Jintao, will become China’s youngest top ruler. At the same time, he would be the first chief commander in the history of the People’s Republic of China who is not appointed by either Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.

This signifies that ‘big man’ politics in China has come to an end. Moreover, Mr Xi Jinping and Mr Li Keqiang (the likely next prime minister), both with doctorate degrees, will be the best-educated top leaders the country has ever had. Moreover, like their Western counterparts, they hold degrees in law and economics. Presumably, this leadership’s way of ruling will differ from that of the technocrats and revolutionists in the past.

At this stage, it is still too early to predict what the 18th Party Congress might mean for the society and the people. There are, however, revealing figures. Among the 2,268 delegates, 7.4 per cent are factory workers, 5.1 per cent higher than the 17th Party Congress. On the other hand, the number of private entrepreneur delegates has doubled from 17 to 34. While not completely discarding the Marxist notion that the Communist Party is the ‘vanguard of the working class’, the CCP is clearly trying to embrace the increasingly important private business sector.

 

                                                                                   –ABC News

FLORIDA CALLED FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA AFTER ELECTION ALREADY DECIDED

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Florida’s 29 electoral votes went  to President Barack Obama Saturday, four days after the election was called in his favor.

NBC News called the state, where voters endured through long lines to get to the polls and workers had not completed the vote count until Friday afternoon. The added electoral votes increased Obama’s margin of victory, netting him a total of 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206.

Florida, which infamously held up the 2000 election between Vice President Al Gore and President George W. Bush, again became the focus of national scorn after the long delay in delivering results.

Republican Governor Rick Scott shortened the number of early voting days as well as early voting hours in the lead-up to Nov. 6.  A limited number of polling sites authorized to conduct early voting also added to the problem, the Tampa Bay Times reported. A record number of 8.4 million Floridians turned up to vote in the election, the Times reported.

President Obama alluded to the long lines and voting problems in Florida and elsewhere during his acceptance speech Tuesday, thanking supporters for standing in long lines to cast their ballots before saying, “by the way, we have to fix that.”

For his part, Scott defended Secretary of State Ken Detzner and said the delay in counting the vote was a sign that the process was “diligent and thorough”.

 

                                                               –, MSNBC

Celebrities Tweet Reactions To Barack Obama’s Presidential Win

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From urging fans to vote to showing off their own election day rituals, celebrities have come out in droves to weigh in on the 2012 race for the White House.

Now, as President Obama prepares to settle in for another four years as Commander-in-Chief, Hollywood reacts to the incumbent’s victory over Governor Mitt Romney.

For more reactions go to http://is.gd/Hc8DAj

 

                                                                                   –Huffington Post

 

 

 

 

VICTORIOUS OBAMA: ‘BEST IS YET TO COME’

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President Barack Obama won four more years in office on Tuesday, describing his victory over Republican nominee Mitt Romney as a call to action that would help move the U.S. past the difficult times endured during the past four years and promising “the best is yet to come.” 

Propelled by wins in OhioWisconsin and Iowa – states long touted as Obama’s “firewall” insulating him from his GOP challenger – the president won a long-fought election in which the economy, its slow pace of recovery and Obama’s management of it, became the central issue. 

Emerging early in the hours on Wednesday in Chicago to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” the president struck an upbeat note about the challenges that lie ahead during a second term, with which he’ll have to reckon almost immediately in the next few weeks. 

“A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you have made me a better president,” Obama said. “With your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.” 

 

                                                                                           – Michael O’Brien, NBC News

Romney or Obama? As campaigning ends, voters render verdict

The campaigning is over, Voting has BegunImage

After months of intense — and often negative — campaigning between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, voters headed to polls across the country on Tuesday to render their verdict in America’s presidential election.

The election would settle the question of which man would lead the United States for the next four years, but a great deal of uncertainty awaited the winner of the election. Either Obama or Romney will almost immediately have to face the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the cocktail of automatic spending cuts (especially to defense) and tax hikes set to take effect at the beginning of the year unless Congress acts.

 

Source-NBC News