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Thu Jul 25, 2013 10:46PM GMT
American officials announced that the Obama administration would not declare the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi by the military a coup.
State Department’s official William Burns told lawmakers about the decision in a meeting with members of the House and Senate, unnamed US officials told the Associated Press.
Washington remained silent following the coup, but the new announcement would pave the way for the United States to continue providing $1.5 billion in annual aid to the African state.
Under US law, financial assistance to any country whose elected head of state is deposed in a military coup is prohibited.
In an interview with Press TV, political analyst Michael Burns said the United States is trying to protect the interests of Israel regarding the recent chaos in Egypt.
“In respect to Egypt, we are trying to protect the interests of Israel,” he said.
The White House is concerned that halting such funding to Egypt could imperil programs that help secure Israel.
The United States supplies about $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel. Cairo has received more than 70 billion dollars in military and economic aid from the United States since 1948.
Egypt has been the scene of rallies held by anti and pro-coup protesters after the country’s army ousted Morsi on July 3. Morsi has been held at an undisclosed location since his overthrow.
An Egyptian army helicopter hovers as opponents of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi gather at Tahrir Square in Cairo on July 26, 2013.
Fri Jul 26, 2013 2:59PM GMT
At least 24 people have been injured as clashes erupt between opponents and supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
The clashes erupted in the port cities of Damietta and Alexandria as well as Cairo on Friday, after Egypt’s army chief General Abdel-Fatal al-Sisi called for a show of support for the military.
He urged Egyptians to give the military a mandate to confront Morsi supporters.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has also called for a peaceful stand against the recent military coup that toppled president, Morsi. In a statement on Thursday, the movement’s leader, Mohamed Badie, asked Egyptians to spill into the streets and demand freedom and legitimacy.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court ordered the detention of Morsi for a renewable 15 days on suspicion of killing policemen and staging prison breaks, the official MENA news agency reported.
The Muslim Brotherhood reacted angrily to the court order, saying it smacked of tactics used by the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's long-time dictator toppled in a popular uprising in 2011.
Mubarak's regime is "signaling 'we're back in full force," Gehad El-Haddad, a Brotherhood spokesman said.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely-elected president was toppled by a military coup early this month. He has since been held in an undisclosed location.
Dozens of people have been killed in an unrelenting wave of violent clashes among Morsi supporters, his opponents, and security forces.
An ambulance, carrying the body of Tunisian opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi, drives to the Charles Nicile Hospital in Tunis before an autopsy after Brahmi was gunned down in front of his home on July 2 5, 2013.
Fri Jul 26, 2013 3:4PM
Meanwhile, the opposition groups have staged a general strike in Tunisia over the latest political assassination in the North African country. The General Union of Tunisian Labor announced Friday’s walkout to condemn the killing of Brahmi -- a member of Tunisia's opposition Popular Front party."
The Tunisian interior minister says the assassination of leading opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi was the work of a member of the extremist Salafist movement.
Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou made the remark at a press conference a day after Brahmi was gunned down outside his home by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Tunis.
"The first elements of the investigation show the implication of Boubaker Hakim, a Salafist extremist," he told a press conference on Friday.
The Interior Ministry also says the opposition politician was murdered with the same weapon used in the killing of another opposition figure Shukri Balaid February this year.
Tunisia has seen numerous clashes between the authorities and extremist Salafist groups over the past few months.
Brahmi’s assassination has triggered widespread anti-government rallies nationwide.
Thousands of angry supporters of the slain opposition figure poured onto the streets of Tunis and other cities to protest the assassination. The protesters also gathered in front of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis, demanding the closure of parliament.
Meanwhile, the opposition groups have staged a general strike in Tunisia over the latest political assassination in the North African country. The General Union of Tunisian Labor announced Friday’s walkout to condemn the killing of Brahmi -- a member of Tunisia's opposition Popular Front party.
According to the country’s civil aviation, all flights to and from Tunisia have been also canceled.
The slain leader held a seat in the assembly tasked with writing the new constitution.
Tunisia, the birthplace of pro-democracy protests across North Africa and the Middle East, is struggling with a democratic changeover after the overthrow of its dictator in 2011.
Meanwhile, some opposition parties say they will launch an alternative government and force the current one to step down.
The moderate ruling party Ennahda was elected following the ouster of former dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January 2011.
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By Philip PullellaSALERNO, Italy (Reuters) - Even though he was known to like to live well, police said they were startled when they entered Monsignor Nunzio Scarano's apartment after he called them one night in January to report a burglary.
The apartment, in one of Salerno's most up-market neighborhoods in the city center, was huge, with art lining the walls and hallways divided by Roman-style columns.
Scarano, a Vatican official with close ties to the Vatican bank and who is now in Rome's Queen of Heaven jail, had called police to report that thieves had stolen part of his art collection.
Interviews with two key chief investigators in different judicial and police departments in Salerno, in southern Italy, and police pictures of the apartment viewed by Reuters give the most detailed picture to date of Scarano's wealth.
The investigators disclosed that the trove of stolen goods estimated to be worth up to 6 million euro ($7.82 million) included six works by Giorgio de Chirico, one by Renato Guttuso, one attributed to Marc Chagall and pieces of religious art.
"We asked ourselves how did this monsignor come to own this place and possess these expensive works of art," said a senior investigator in the southern Italian city who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"He said they were all donations. It is a luxury apartment and we asked ourselves how he could have bought it and where the money came from," he said. Magistrates suspect at least some of it may have come from illegal activity in the Salerno area.
Through his lawyer, Silverio Sica, Scarano said that the art work, the apartment and money in his bank accounts, including two at the Vatican bank, all came from donations and that he had done nothing wrong.
There was no sign of breaking and entering apart from a broken window which police believed irrelevant and the thieves were thought to have entered with a key.
The investigators asked tax police to dig into what Italian investigators call someone's "financial patrimony" - bank accounts, real estate, and stocks. The trail led to the Vatican bank.
The 700 square-meter (7,500 square feet) luxury apartment on Via Romualdo Guarna was not the only piece of property that Scarano owned, either alone or jointly. Investigators discovered that he was part owner of three Salerno real estate companies.
But, most significantly, the investigators discovered that Scarano had withdrawn 560,000 euros in cash last year in one transaction from the Vatican bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR).
"DON 500 EUROS"
Scarano, well-connected in local high society circles, then divided the cash, most of it in 500 euro notes, among nearly 56 friends. The Italian media has dubbed Scarano "Don 500 euros" because it was apparently his preferred denomination.
Each friend gave him a cashier's check drawn on Italian banks. He then took all the checks to a bank in Salerno and paid off a mortgage on his apartment, which investigators said he had purchased for about 1.7 million euros.
Scarano told investigators that he took the money out of his Vatican bank account because he wanted to pay off his mortgage in order to sell his apartment at a profit and use the proceeds to build a home for the terminally ill. Lawyer Sica also said this was his client's intention.
Investigators said they were now looking into a home for the elderly that Scarano did help build in Salerno. They said they want to determine how the home was built, where the money came from and how it was financed.
An investigator in a police department in Salerno said each of the checks were justified as "a donation" in local bank records.
"But that was a very silly trick. We saw through that so fast. They were false donations," he said. Scarano's lawyer says all donations were genuine.
Referring to Scarano's luxury apartment, which the prelate told investigators was furnished through donations, an investigator said:
"If they were donations, you don't furnish a house like that if you are a priest who has taken vows."
A KNACK FOR NUMBERS
By all accounts, Scarano was a man of the cloth with a knack for numbers.
He worked at banks in Salerno and nearby Battipaglia before he became a priest at the relatively late age of 35.
After serving in a parish in his native Salerno, he entered the Vatican bureaucracy and eventually wound up in its central financial administration office, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, or APSA.
Scarano was arrested in Rome on June 28 and formally accused of taking part in a plot to smuggle 20 million euros into Italy from Switzerland for his rich friends. [ID:nL5N0F70ZN]. Sica, his lawyer, said Scarano was "just trying to help friends" get their money back into Italy.
An Italian secret services agent and a financial broker were also arrested in the money smuggling case, which is being investigated by Rome magistrates and is separate from the Salerno case. Both investigations are continuing.
The Salerno investigators have formally asked the Vatican bank - via Italy's justice and foreign ministries - for information on a number of accounts there and more information about Scarano's financial activities. When Scarano was arrested, the Vatican said it would cooperate with investigators.
Salerno investigators said they had not yet received any information from the Vatican.
Since his election in March, Pope Francis has made it clear he wants to clean up the Vatican bank. On June 26, he set up a special commission of inquiry, in a bold move to come to grips with an institution that has embarrassed the Catholic Church for decades. ($1 = 0.7672 euros)
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Peter Millership and Janet McBride)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When President Barack Obama sat down with his top national security aides this week to determine how to react to a military takeover in Egypt, he had a tough choice to make.
He could denounce what had taken place as a coup launched against a legitimately elected president in Cairo and suspend U.S. military aid. Or he could embrace the move as a reaction to popular discontent with the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government.
That he chose a middle ground, urging a swift return to civilian government and ordering a U.S. review of aid, reflected fear among his advisers that to publicly take sides could help to fuel violence by allowing militants to cite American interference, and that a balanced reaction was needed to maintain diplomatic flexibility.
But it also said a lot about Obama's approach to the Arab Spring: Tread carefully without carrying a big stick.
Obama's play-it-safe style of diplomacy, a reaction to a war in Iraq that he feels should never have been fought, has allowed him to prevent putting further American troops in danger. It has also left him open to criticism that he has let festering disputes in the region languish, gotten involved too late to shape events and in the process ceded Washington's traditional Middle East clout.
And not being seen to condemn a military overthrow of a democratically elected government could also undermine U.S. officials when they preach about the importance of human rights and democratic reforms elsewhere.
The revelations by former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden about allegedly extensive secret surveillance by the United States of the citizens and governments of foreign countries, both allies and those not so close, has already hurt the U.S. image abroad in recent weeks.
Obama's national security aides on Thursday pressed Egyptian officials to move quickly to a democratic government after the military takeover that ousted President Mohamed Mursi, the White House said on Thursday.
"Members of the president's national security team have been in touch with Egyptian officials and our regional partners to convey the importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible," a White House statement said.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the United States participated - with reservations - in the coalition effort that led to Muammar Gaddafi's ouster in Libya. But Obama has taken a cautious approach to Syria's civil war, where more than 100,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have fled as refugees.
He has let France, Britain, Turkey and U.S. Arab allies take the lead and reluctantly agreed last month to send light arms to Syrian rebels.
"It is very easy to slip-slide your way into deeper and deeper commitments," the president told PBS anchor Charlie Rose in justifying his cautious approach to Syria.
"President Obama has demonstrated this persistent detachment as it relates to the unraveling in the Middle East. And I keep thinking there are these key inflection points over the last couple of years that would make it impossible for him to be so detached, but I've been proven wrong every time," said Dan Senor, who was Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's top foreign policy campaign adviser last year.
Only the longest-running drama in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is getting maximum attention by U.S. diplomats, with Secretary of State John Kerry in the midst of shuttle diplomacy there and hopeful the two sides will get into direct talks at long last.
Publicly at least, Obama has yet to get personally involved in Kerry's effort.
While U.S. officials reject any suggestion they have not paid enough attention to the Middle East, there is no doubt that the Obama administration has been in the midst of a pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region and preoccupied with events at home, from overhauling U.S. immigration laws to expanding healthcare.
And White House officials, no doubt reflecting their boss' stance, frequently speak of the limits of U.S. ability to shape home-grown Arab revolutions that have swept North Africa, Syria and Yemen.
Mursi's overthrow in Egypt offers what amounts to a second chance for Obama, whose withdrawal of U.S. backing helped ease long-time President Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011 in the face of massive street protests. Washington then prodded Egyptian parties to embrace democracy.
Obama could, for example, increase U.S. non-military assistance - now only about $250 million of the total $1.5 billion Cairo gets annually - and send envoys to help advise on a transition back to civilian rule.
But to what extent Egyptians will listen to the American side remains an open question.
"In Egypt right now it's hard for the United States to be very hands-on because Egyptians universally feel the stakes are remarkably high, so the willingness to listen to external voices, the ability to rise over the storm of Egyptian politics is very hard," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
American officials had been aware that Egypt was on the brink of trouble based on the growing numbers showing up to protest Mursi's government. Washington had grown frustrated that the Egyptian leader seemed unable to make critical political and economic decisions, even when it involved the arguably lenient conditions tied to an aid program from the International Monetary Fund.
There had been some consideration of whether U.S. officials should call on the Muslim Brotherhood to have a meeting to figure out a path forward for Egypt's government and get some stronger people around Mursi to help him.
All that fell apart when the crowds surged and the military moved in.
The Obama administration might have misjudged the public mood when the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, said recently that street demonstrations were not the way to bring about change. Her remark was interpreted by many in Egypt as backing Mursi. She was ridiculed in signs hoisted around Cairo.
"Instead of coming out much earlier and firmer on the issue of Muslim Brotherhood democratic transgressions, they sent a very confused message. They sent the message that we were essentially backing and supporting the Mursi government and that has undermined our credibility," said Aaron David Miller, who served six U.S. secretaries of state as a Middle East expert.
U.S. officials said a full reading of Patterson's remarks makes clear she was not taking sides in Egyptian politics.
Any perceived missteps on Egypt thus far do not appear to be causing Obama trouble at home. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are holding back from attacking the president and instead focusing their ire at the Muslim Brotherhood, which they feel bungled the chance to solidify democracy there.
"It is so sad that the promise of the Egyptian Arab Spring was not fulfilled by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Let us hope that the next steps in Egypt's transition are truly reflective of the hopes and dreams of the vast majority of the Egyptian people," said Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle. Editing by Warren Strobel and Philip Barbara)