Western powers push for end to Syria crackdown

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Western powers push for end to Syria crackdown

Western powers pressed the UN’s top human rights body on Friday to investigate possible abuses in Syria.

By (AFP)

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Published: Fri 29 Apr 2011, 8:18 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:01 PM

They say the killings of more than 450 people during protests may include crimes against humanity.

The United States and the European Union urged a divided U.N. Human Rights Council to order a probe and insist that Syrian President Bashar Assad allow in foreign journalists and ease Internet restrictions.

Diplomats from China, Russia, Nigeria and Pakistan — the latter two representing the 53-nation African Union and 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, respectively — said that any council action could be interpreted as meddling. Along with the opposition, some Arab countries were expected to abstain from Friday’s vote.

The U.N. nuclear agency, meanwhile, was setting the stage for more potential international action on Syria. Diplomats in Vienna said the agency will report that a Syrian target bombed by Israeli warplanes probably was a secretly built nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium. Syria denies the unfinished building had any such uses.

In Geneva, U.N. human rights deputy chief Kyung-wha Kang, said the Syrian government “risks creating a downward spiral of anger, violence, killings and chaos” through tactics such as ordering tanks and other artillery to fire on peaceful pro-democracy protesters and snipers to shoot people trying to help the injured or remove dead bodies from public areas. She said around 1,800 people also have been injured in Syria.

“Any official ordering or undertaking of attacks against the civilian population can be held criminally accountable,” she said. “Such attacks that occur on a widespread or systematic basis may amount to crimes against humanity.”

However, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, said the council was misguided since his nation was only defending itself against extremists.

“The council is acting under the pretext of humanitarian action to meddle in the internal affairs of a country,” he told the council. “It’s a return to a colonialist mentality.”

Nigerian diplomat Ositadinma Anaedu, speaking for the African Union, cautioned that any council action could be interpreted as “political,” and Chinese diplomat Xia Jingge warned the U.N. could further complicate the situation in Syria and undermine the council’s own credibility.”

Assad promised reforms last week and ditched the emergency laws the government has been using for a half-century to detain people. But critics point out he has continued to try to violently quell the protests that are the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year ruling dynasty.

Syrian security forces opened fire on demonstrations in the capital of Damascus and the coastal city of Latakia on Friday, wounding at least five people. State-run television said a military post in Daraa was stormed by armed men who killed four soldiers and captured two.

“While the Syrian authorities announced the lifting of the state of emergency, the repression became further pronounced,” said France’s ambassador to U.N. agencies in Geneva, Jean-Baptiste Mattei. “It’s essential that the council send a firm message vigorously denouncing the massive human rights violations by the Syrian authorities.”

The U.S. and Western diplomats also planned to use Friday’s session to rally opposition to Syria’s unopposed candidacy to join the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council. It will gain a three-year seat unless an Asian country contests it. To gain a council seat Syria needs the support of half the world’s governments in a May 20 vote of the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Voting is done by region and four countries in the U.N.’s 53-nation Asian Group — India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Syria — are running for four seats.

Just by focusing attention on a specific nation’s alleged abuses — in only the second such special session the council has ever called — gave a small measure of victory to the United States, which publicly opposes Syria’s council candidacy, and 15 other nations that requested the session. The first such gathering was in late February to deal with Libya.

“We condemn their brutal methods of silencing dissent, through shooting unarmed peaceful demonstrators and torture,” said the U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe. “To the brave people of Syria, who are demanding freedom and dignity, we are here to say that the world stands by you, and we will not ignore your plight.”

She said all governments that “turn guns on their own people” have no place on the U.N.’s top human rights body.

But the U.S., Europe and their allies were running into widespread opposition during the session to gaining approval for an independent probe that would recommend prosecution if violations of international human rights law are uncovered.


Britons take to the street with wedding fever

LONDON, April 29, 2011 (AFP) — Miles of bunting were draped over Britain Friday as the country marked the royal wedding with thousands of street parties, taking advantage of a public holiday to let down their hair.

About 5,500 groups of residents asked permission to hold street parties on the day, including one in Downing Street hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron, whose wife Samantha provided homemade cakes.

In the south London district of Battersea, souvenir stands and cocktails bars did a roaring business to the tunes of a Jamaican orchestra, as local residents threw open their doors for one of the biggest parties in the capital.

“I like the atmosphere and the fact that Britain, for once, is focused on a good and positive event for a whole day,” said Nick Hoenig, a retailer from London in his mid-20s who was sharing a few beers with his friends.

Tom Wrang, a 28-year-old doctor decked out in the colours of the Union Jack flag, agreed: “We don’t have any national holiday here, like Bastille day, and it’s a great way for the nation to celebrate together.”

Crowds gathered around a giant screen to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey, with many exclaiming in delight when the bride emerged, radiant in an ivory satin and lace dress.

“She is so beautiful,” sighed one French tourist. “William, say yes!” cried another voice from the crowd as the couple stood up to say their vows.

Infused with the carnival spirit, onlookers clutching beers, glasses of champagne and royal flags enthusiastically sang along with the marriage ceremony hymns, such as “Jerusalem”, and of course the national anthem.

In quieter moments, the older generation regaled youngsters with memories of previous royal weddings.

Georgina Cole, a 48-year-old pediatric nurse dressed in red, white and blue and wearing a Union Jack flag on her shoulders, recalled a similar party in 1981 for the marriage of William’s parents Prince Charles and Diana.

“I was 18 at the time,” she recalled, watching her young daughter get facepainted. “It’s exciting to be here again. We wanted to celebrate the royal wedding, watch it on the big screen and spot some celebrity guests.”

Her friend, Blanka Pilinger De Jesus, added: “It will definitely be a day that I will remember until my last day, it’s so romantic.”

Nearby, pensioner Pauline Davidson sold a wide range of royal knick-knacks adorned with the pictures of William and Kate, Charles and Diana and even Prince Andrew and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson.

The 77-year-old was having a great day, saying: “I enjoy all the glamour, and the pomp and ceremony, the soldiers and the carriages.”



Eight-tiered cake wows guests at wedding reception

LONDON, April 29, 2011 (AFP) — A magnificent eight-tiered wedding cake took centre-stage as Prince William and Kate Middleton celebrated their marriage with friends and family at Buckingham Palace on Friday.

With the formalities of the wedding at Westminster Abbey completed and the much-anticipated kiss on the balcony of the palace out of the way, William and Kate were able to relax a little at a reception for 650 guests hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in the palace’s picture gallery.

They snacked on some tasty treats among the 10,000 canapes prepared by a team of 21 chefs led by Royal Chef Mark Flanagan, palace officials said.

But it was Fiona Cairns-created cake, covered in cream and white icing and decorated with up to 900 delicate sugar-paste flowers, which was the focus of most attention as it was cut by the newlyweds.

The new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are fans of Cairns’s fruit cakes, while Beatles legend Paul McCartney orders one for Christmas every year.

Cairns, 56, spent five weeks working on the project after being contacted in February to ask if she would make the cake, which consisted of 17 individual fruit cakes, 12 of which formed the base.

Speaking at Buckingham Palace, Cairns said: “The picture gallery has high ceilings and is an imposing room so I wanted the cake to have presence but not to be imposing and I think it worked.

“Catherine did not want it to be seven feet tall, she didn’t want it to be towering and thin, and I think we succeeded.

“We reflected some of the architectural details in the room so the garlands on the walls were reproduced loosely on the fourth tier.”

Kate wanted elements from the Joseph Lambeth technique of cake decoration, where intricate piping is used to make three dimensional scroll work, leaves, flowers and other adornments.

“I could not believe I finished it in time but we were all really pleased with it,” Cairns added. “I worked at the palace for two days before the wedding, setting it up with my team.

“The hardest part was transporting the cakes from Leicestershire to the palace — we were worried they would get damaged - then we had to assemble them.”

Kathryn Boyden, Buckingham Palace’s royal pastry chef, added: “I was speechless, this cake made me speechless, and I think it is exactly what the bride wanted - it’s just perfect.”

There was plenty of choice for the hungry guests as the lavish spread of canapes featured British-themed specialities.

They included pressed duck terrine with fruit chutney, roulade of goat’s cheese with caramelised walnuts, quails eggs with celery salt, bubble and squeak with confit shoulder of lamb, grain mustard and honey-glazed chipolatas and miniature Yorkshire pudding with roast fillet of beef and horseradish mousse.

As well as the cake, guests with a sweet tooth could try blood orange pate de fruit, rhubarb creme brulee tartlet, passionfruit praline and dark chocolate ganache truffle.

Pol Roger NV Brut Reserve Champagne — regarded as a relatively austere choice compared with more exclusive champagnes — was served with other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

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