Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mexican held in Canadian's beating was drunk, on drugs

Mexican held in Canadian's beating was drunk, on drugs

Sheila Nabb and her husband Andrew are shown in a family photo.

A Mexican man arrested in connection with the brutal beating of Canadian tourist Sheila Nabb says he was drunk and had been using cocaine on the night of the attack.

Authorities trotted out Jose Ramon Acosta Quintero, 28, and he spoke to reporters in both English and Spanish on Saturday. The state attorney from Sinaloa said Quintero accepted his guilt in a statement to authorities, admitting that he beat Nabb at a five-star resort in Mazatlan last weekend.

His statement about his alcohol and drug use was delivered in Spanish and reported in English by a translator.

On Friday, state attorney Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said they had arrested a man who was identified through a blood sample.

Nabb, 37, was found unconscious last weekend in an elevator at the Hotel Riu, where she was staying with her husband.

Gomez said on Saturday that Quintero had stated that he and a Canadian friend had spent the early hours of Jan. 20 drinking heavily. When the beer ran out, they decided to head to the resort to keep drinking at the 24-hour bar there.

At Saturday's new conference, Quintero said in English that he took a separate elevator in the hotel and on one of the floors, a female guest entered. She was naked, he said.

Quintero said that he tried to talk to the woman and she answered normally and didn't seem to be angry or afraid.

But the two then argued, apparently because the Mexican man would not let her leave.

"When the elevator doors opened so she would step out, I put my hand on the door," the suspect said. "I wanted to keep talking to her.

"She got afraid when I wouldn't let her out. She started yelling, 'He won't let me out.'"

When she began to scream and call for help, the accused said he became scared. Quintero said he told the woman he was leaving, but she wouldn't stop screaming.

"I covered her mouth and said, 'Please don't yell,"' the suspect said. "But she continued yelling. She got more afraid when I covered her mouth.

"And then I hit her four or five times in the face with my fist, and then I left."

Through a translator, Quintero said, "I was very, very drunk." He also said he had been using cocaine.

Gomez said Quintero would likely be charged with attempted homicide. The suspect must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of being detained. There were no indications the victim had been sexually assaulted, the attorney general said.

The accused was known, according to police, to visit tourist establishments and become friendly with foreigners.

"This person was discovered by investigators," Gomez said. "[The suspect] has the ability to speak English very well, and often stays in the hotels and mingles with the tourists. That is [the theory] we are working on and fortifying."

Authorities are trying to find out whether Quintero was involved in other attacks on tourists, Gomez said.
Nabb now in Calgary hospital

Robert Prosser, Nabb’s uncle, said she arrived in Calgary on Friday morning via air ambulance, according to the Calgary Herald.

Prosser said her family is relieved she is back in the country and thanked everyone for their prayers. Nabb, who was raised in Nova Scotia, now resides in Calgary with her husband.

Investigators were unable to speak with Nabb, who can't talk due to her injuries.

"The victim could not identify the suspect," Gomez told Friday's news conference. "[Thursday] night she was transported with injuries to the chin and jaw bone while under sedation."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sandusky asks judge to let him visit with his grandchildren

Sandusky asks judge to let him visit with his grandchildren

Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing boys, is asking the judge to grant visitation with his grandchildren.
(CNN) -- Despite being accused of child sex abuse, Jerry Sandusky is asking a judge to modify the terms of his bail so he can see his grandchildren, according to court documents.

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was charged in November with sexually abusing young boys over a 14-year period. Prosecutors contend he met many of the boys through his charity, The Second Mile.

Sandusky, who has denied the charges, was released on a $100,000 bail in November and barred by a Pennsylvania judge from having unsupervised visits with his grandchildren. The judge also prohibited the children from staying overnight at Sandusky's home.

This week, Sandusky's lawyer filed a motion urging a judge to allow him to visit with his grandchildren because his "eleven minor grandchildren... have expressed their sadness to their parents about not being able to visit or talk" with him, the court documents said.

Sandusky is asking the judge to grant visitation with his grandchildren at his home and to allow him to communicate with them via phone, email, text and Skype, the documents said.

The motion also requests that Sandusky be allowed to have his friends visit his home, and that he be allowed to travel to meet with his attorney and private investigators work on his case.

A hearing on the issue is scheduled for February 10 at the Centre County Courthouse in Pennsylvania, authorities said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Longshot presidential candidate to put abortion in your face during Super Bowl

Longshot presidential candidate to put abortion in your face during Super Bowl

Randall Terry will be on the Democratic ticket in several states this year.

(CNN) -- It was tongue in cheek, blogger Sophia Brugato said, because let's be honest: Tim Tebow, for all his athletic attributes, isn't the biggest scorer.

A sports buff who typically writes about basketball and women's issues, Brugato didn't expect her quip to be taken so seriously that death threats would follow, that the national media would look up from elections or that ads featuring aborted fetuses would air during the Super Bowl on February 5.

Brugato sparked the firestorm when she asked her fellow supporters of abortion rights to kick some cash to the cause when the Denver Broncos quarterback scored. The long-shot presidential candidate now funding the Super Bowl ads was incensed she would invoke Tebow, an adoptee of the Christian right, in a pro-choice campaign and considered her column a call to murder.

"She was raising money to kill babies, and we're raising money to save them. Fight fire with fire," said lifelong Republican and anti-abortion activist Randall Terry, who in January 2011 put his name on the Democratic ticket in several states, which would ensure he could air the graphic ads during election season.

Section 315 of the FCC Telecommunications Act says stations must air ads for candidates for federal office and are prohibited from altering the content. That means they can't refuse to run political ads even if the ads contain material the stations would ordinarily reject.

Terry said Friday he had already purchased air time in 13 markets with upcoming primaries: eight during pregame and five that will air in Ada, Oklahoma; Grand Junction, Colorado; Paducah, Kentucky; and Joplin and Springfield, Missouri, during the big game.

The markets were chosen based on where Terry felt the ads would have the most impact.

"(President Barack) Obama is going to carry California if he's found with foreign children in the Lincoln Bedroom, and the GOP will carry Texas if it's found that the nominee owns a brothel," Terry said.

'Enemy outside your gate'

Obama and the evangelicals and Catholics who voted for him in 2008 are the main targets of Terry's ad, but David Lewis, who is vying for Republican House Speaker John Boehner's Ohio seat, and Angela Michael, who is challenging Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, are running similar ads in their districts.

Terry said he considers both GOP incumbents enemies of his cause because of their stands on the abortion issue and "an enemy outside your gate makes you vigilant; an enemy inside your gate can make you dead."

He estimated he has raised about $40,000 so far and, ideally, would like to see the ads air in more than two dozen cities spanning seven states.

Brugato didn't foresee the backlash. The whole mess began because while she enjoyed the underdog quarterback story that consumed the sports world before the Broncos were dispatched from the playoffs on January 14, Tebow's stance on abortion made her uncomfortable.

Particularly unnerving was a Focus on the Family commercial two years ago in which Tebow's mother, Pam, said she had ignored a doctor's recommendation to abort the future Heisman Trophy winner to save her own life. The irony, Brugato said, is that Pam Tebow was given a choice.

Brugato made her inner conflict the theme of a December 13 column on the Abortion Gang website, which calls its writers "unapologetic activists for reproductive justice."

"How can I support a guy that's openly anti-choice?" she wrote. "This is the same man that used the Super Bowl to a) build his reputation and brand as the saintliest saint of an athlete that ever lived, and b) raise money for an anti-choice organization that would deny the right to abortion to millions of women that need it. Yuck."

As part of her missive, she created a #10forTebow hashtag on Twitter and urged her readers to donate $10 to a pro-choice group every time Tebow tossed a touchdown.

"It was more, 'This guy's at the forefront of pop culture and let's remind everyone he's a great football player, but he's anti-choice,' " she said. "(The call for donations) was a random thought that kind of came into my mind, and I just put it out there knowing he wasn't going to do a lot of scoring -- and it just took off from there."

Hate mail rolled in, and not the normal hate mail to which she was accustomed as a commentator on women's issues and her beloved Portland Trail Blazers basketball team. There were calls for her death -- one asserting she should have been aborted herself -- and threats of rape.

It was "disturbing enough to have to forward it to the FBI," Brugato said.

Pregnant teen opts against abortion

The 26-year-old Portland State University student even had a chat with her 7-year-old son, not only about the importance of protecting yourself on the Internet, but also about why mom should "stand up for people without a voice," she said.

Brugato's experience as a mother gives her an interesting perspective on abortion. Pregnant as a senior in high school, she went to Planned Parenthood for testing and counseling.

Just 18, she was "harboring illusions about adulthood" and didn't appreciate the responsibilities or financial obligations that came with being a parent. Having a child seemed romantic, but she said Planned Parenthood helped her understand the seriousness of the situation and laid out her options.

Her parents, who were upset, and the teachers at her Catholic high school, who were pushing for adoption, offered support. Ultimately, she decided on motherhood.

Despite the vicious responses to her Abortion Gang column, Brugato said she has received ample support. Portland is considered fairly liberal, and folks around town and campus have offered encouragement. Many people wrote her to say they had donated to abortion rights groups.

But others co-opted her hashtag, calling on abortion opponents to donate $10 to a pro-life organization each time Tebow put up six.

Then there was Terry, who took Brugato's words personally and lashed out.

Terry, who has been arrested almost 50 times while protesting, is no stranger to political theatrics. In 2009, he donned a doctor's scrubs and lab coat and stood outside then-Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's Charleston, West Virginia, office with a man dressed as Obama, who handed him plastic babies. Terry stabbed each one with a scalpel and tossed it over his shoulder. He also mimicked stabbing an elderly woman to register his opposition to the administration's health care package, which some critics argue promotes euthanasia.

"We're trying to jolt people back into reality," he said at the time.

After Brugato's column last month, Terry wrote a letter to his "pro-life, Christian friends," that said the blogger's "despicable challenge has the ring of a horror film: 'Every time you do something good, we will kill an innocent person.' "

He further called Brugato a child killer and implored, "Let's make them rue the day they attacked Tim Tebow because of his Christian faith and because of his pro-life ad that he ran in the Super Bowl of 2010 by showing pro-life ads in Super Bowl 2012 that grab the attention of the nation."

Love it or hate it

Brugato was shocked by the letter's tone and was concerned that "some of the language was meant as a dog whistle to the more extreme anti-abortion folks out there."

She was even more disturbed by the ads that Terry's campaign had produced, including one that likened abortion to civil rights atrocities and the Holocaust.

"It's just so offensive. It's going to offend more people than it will bring to his cause," she said.

The planned Super Bowl ad begins with a brief warning imposed over Obama's face before Terry says, "Abortion is murder. The innocent blood of 50 million babies cries out to God from our sewers and landfills. We must make it a crime to murder them, or heaven will judge America."

Claiming Christians who vote for Obama "have blood on their hands," the ad features several unsettling images, including two fetuses curled up inside a rosary and a headless fetus next to a crucifix. Another segment of the ad features a fetus' arm lying on a dime.

Similar ads ran during the Iowa and New Hampshire GOP contests, the latter prompting CNN affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, to pre-emptively explain to its audience that it cannot edit the ad, "even if it is libelous, inflammatory or otherwise offensive to the community."

As for the response in Iowa, Terry said, "What do you think? People were enraged or they loved it. There's no middle ground."

He makes no apologies for the ads' disturbing content because "using these images is what's required for peaceful political revolution." He points to the results that disturbing images have historically had on wars, child slavery and the civil rights movement.

NARAL Pro-Choice America did not return messages seeking comment on the appropriateness of the images. Nor did Planned Parenthood, though a representative sent an e-mail containing information on two of Terry's many arrests and some past inflammatory remarks.

Super Bowl the right audience?

Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, endorses the ads, if not the venue. During their Face the Truth Tours, members of his group congregate at major intersections across the country holding aloft similar images of fetuses.

His group places people before the targeted intersection with warning signs so drivers can take alternate routes if they choose, Scheidler said. He knows the images are disturbing, and that's the point: to emboss in someone's mind a gruesome image of abortion in hopes that it affects their philosophy or advice to loved ones later.

"We don't show these pictures to make friends or be popular," he said, adding that while some people are moved by intellectual or religious arguments, "others will be persuaded by seeing for themselves the injustice."

Scheidler said he hopes Terry's Super Bowl tactic is successful, even if it isn't one he'd embrace.

"I like to respect that time for family fun. There's a time for families to have entertainment and not to be dealing with the grave issues of the day," he said. "It's not anything I would do, but I'm not going to say it's wrong for Mr. Terry to do it."

To those who label Terry an extremist, he welcomes the tag, saying "extremism is the essence of Christianity. ... No successful social movements were moderate."

He isn't airing his ads solely to be controversial, he said. He's wanted to be president since he was a boy, and though he doesn't expect to beat Obama in the primary (the president took 98% of the vote in Iowa and out-dueled Terry 82%-1% in New Hampshire), Terry hopes that "by putting babies out front that that will break his back in the 2012 general election."

"I'm looking to create the debate over whether a Christian can ethically vote for Obama," he said. "I know that we will prevail. I know we will make it a crime to kill unborn babies."

Nigerians arrest Islamist militant suspects, sources say

Nigerians arrest Islamist militant suspects, sources say

A paramedic helps a man who was injured during one of the attacks in the Nigerian city of Kano
Lagos, Nigeria (CNN) -- A joint military task force in Nigeria arrested 158 suspected members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, security sources told CNN Tuesday, three days after a spate of bombings and shootings left more than 200 people dead in Nigeria's second-largest city.

Some suspects resisted arrest and exchanged gunfire with the task force in the city of Kano, said security sources who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

No casualties have been reported so far, they said.

The arrests come as community leaders said the number of dead from the Kano bombing and gun attacks has risen to at least 211.

Government officials declined to confirm the number of victims. They previously put the death toll at 157.

President Goodluck Jonathan toured the city Sunday after the attacks there left the police headquarters and other government buildings in charred ruins Friday night.

"The message I had for the people of Kano is the same message I have for all Nigerians: A terrorist attack on one person is an attack on all of us," Jonathan said in a post on his official Facebook page after the visit.

Islamist group Boko Haram -- whose name means "western education is sacrilege" -- claimed responsibility for the blast in a phone call to the Daily Trust, according to journalists at the newspaper.

The group has been blamed for months of widespread bloodshed, with churches and police stations among the targets.

Community leaders have been keeping their own count of the number of dead from Friday's attacks, they told CNN Tuesday, including victims who never made it to hospitals. They declined to be quoted by name for security reasons.

Police in the city announced Tuesday that they had seized 10 cars laden with explosives and about 300 improvised explosive devices hidden in soft drink cans and bottles at a number of locations in Kano.

The state police commissioner said a mass search turned up the explosives after police found undetonated devices at a police barracks in Kano.

The bombings hit eight government sites Friday.

Shell-shocked residents wandered the streets, looking for loved ones. Others hid behind barricaded doors, too scared to leave for fear of more attacks.

"That's the scary part, not knowing," said Faruk Mohammed, 27, who lives near one of the bombed police stations. "We don't know what's going to happen next. No one thought this would ever happen here. There's a general sense of despair."

The attacks paired bomb blasts with shootings on various sites including police stations, the passport office, state security headquarters and the immigration office.

During the attack, assailants entered a police station, freed detainees and bombed it, authorities said.

They later canvassed the area in a car led by motorcycles, spraying targets with gunfire.

"I counted at least 25 explosions ...," Mohammed said. "Then it went deathly quiet. Kano is a bustling city ... I've lived here for years and it has never been quiet, even at night. But after the bombings stopped, the only noise you could hear were dogs barking."

On Sunday, two churches and a security checkpoint were attacked in the neighboring state of Bauchi, the state police commissioner said in a statement. At least 11 people, including police and army personnel, were killed in the checkpoint attack, the commissioner said. There were no casualties reported from the church attacks.

Police said they suspect Boko Haram was involved in the checkpoint attack.

In December, Jonathan declared a state of emergency in four northern states after a series of Christmas Day attacks on churches blamed on Boko Haram.

The man suspected of masterminding those attacks was briefly captured before escaping police custody while being transferred to another prison.

Depending on the faction, Boko Haram's ambitions range from the stricter enforcement of their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law to the total destruction of the government.

Its grievances remain local, but it has attacked international institutions --- such as the United Nations -- on Nigerian soil.

An August 26 attack -- during which a Boko Haram suicide bomber drove a Jeep laden with explosives into the U.N. headquarters in Abuja -- was one of the deadliest in the world body's history. Twenty-four people were killed, including 12 U.N. staff.

The group was formed in 2002 by Islamic preacher Mohammad Yusuf as an outgrowth of ethnic tensions in the country in the 1990s.

Nigeria's population is split between mostly Muslims living in the north and predominantly Christians in the south. Yusuf advocated the institution of Sharia law throughout the northern states and opposed democracy.

The group operated openly out of northeastern Nigeria and staged small-scale attacks against government targets.

In 2009, Nigerian police forces moved to crack down on Boko Haram. Harsh police tactics led to an armed uprising and the arrest of Yusuf, who later died in police custody.

The death spurred the group to begin its attacks on police stations. Ensuing clashes between group members and the police killed hundreds.

The following year, Boko Haram re-emerged as a more radicalized, insurgent style group, staging assassinations and attacks against not only government targets, but also churches and even a beer garden.

"We're dealing with a movement of inchoate rage," said John Campbell, a U.S. ambassador to Nigeria who left his post in 2007.

"It's highly decentralized, but what it has in common is a strongly Islamic character, and hatred for the secular, political economy of Nigeria, particularly the federal and state governments," he said.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tablet and e-book reader ownership takes off

Tablet and e-book reader ownership takes off

Sales of computer tablets and e-book readers in the U.S. have soared, according to a new study.
Computer tablets and e-book readers are surging in popularity, with nearly a third of Americans owning at least one of the digital devices, according to a new study.

“In the time we have been doing surveys about the adoption and use of digital technology, we have never seen growth quite like this," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, told CBC News in an email.

"These findings have major implications for every media company, especially book publishers, everyone in a knowledge business, and key community institutions like libraries. They show how radically the tectonic plates of information creation and dissemination are shifting under our feet.”

The number of adults in the U.S. who owned each device — a tablet computer and an e-book reader — nearly doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent between mid-December and early January, the study found.

The number of Americans owning at least one of the devices jumped from 18 per cent in December to 29 per cent in January, and much of the increase may be attributed to gift-giving over the holiday season.

Tablet owners tend to have higher education (31 per cent had college educations or higher), are more affluent (36 per cent lived in households earning more than $75,000), and tend to be under age 50.

Meanwhile, women led the growth in ownership of e-book readers (21 per cent of women owned one compared with 16 per cent of men).

E-book owners also tend to have higher education and income, but the gap between the higher and lower income groups isn't as dramatic with e-books. For example, 19 per cent of household earning between $30,000 and $50,000 have e-book readers, which is 12 percentage points behind households earning $75,000 or more that own such devices.

The gap between those income levels on tablet ownership is 20 percentage points. The findings are based on three national surveys that involved reaching people both on landlines and cellphones, said Rainie.

The pre-holiday survey conducted among 2,986 people has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. The post-holiday data come from the combined results of two surveys in January with a total respondent pool of 2,008. The combined surveys have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

The Pew Research Centre is a non-profit think-tank based in Washington, D.C. The research was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

U.S. storms kill 2, injure 100

U.S. storms kill 2, injure 100

A tornado ripped through Trussville, Ala., early Monday, destroying many homes.

Severe storms and possible tornadoes pounded the U.S. South on Monday, injuring more than 100 people and killing at least two in Alabama, including a man who lived in an area devastated by a deadly twister outbreak in the spring.

Homes were flattened, windows were blown out of cars and roofs were peeled back in the middle of the night in the community of Oak Grove near Birmingham. As dawn broke, residents surveyed the damage and officials used chainsaws to clear fallen trees.

Oak Grove was hit hard in April when tornadoes ravaged Alabama, killing about 240 people, though officials said none of the same neighbourhoods were struck again. Officials had to reschedule a meeting Monday to receive a study on Alabama's response to the spring tornadoes.

"Some roads are impassable, there are a number of county roads where you have either debris down, trees down, damage from homes," said Yasamie Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

An 82-year-old man died in Oak Grove and a 16-year-old girl was killed in Clay, Jefferson County sheriff's spokesman Randy Christian said.

The storm system stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, producing a possible tornado that moved across northern Jefferson County around 3:30 a.m. ET, causing damage in Oak Grove and other communities, Christian said.

As day broke, searchers went door-to-door calling out to residents, many of whom were trapped by trees that criss-crossed their driveways.

Stevie Sanders woke up around 3:30 a.m. and realized bad weather was on the way. She, her parents and sister hid in the laundry room of their brick home as the wind howled and trees started cracking outside.
Trees fall on homes, storm shelter

"You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash. After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister's roof," said Sanders.

The family was OK, and her father, Greg Sanders, spent the next hours raking his roof and pulling away pieces of broken lumber.

"It could have been so much worse," he said. "It's like they say, we were just blessed."

In Clanton, about 80 kilometres south of Birmingham, rescuers were responding to reports of a trailer turned over with people trapped, City Clerk Debbie Orange said.

Also south of Birmingham, Maplesville town clerk Sheila Haigler said high winds damaged many buildings and knocked down several trees. One tree fell on a storm shelter, but no one was injured, Haigler said. Police had not been able to search some areas because trees and power lines were blocking roads.

In Arkansas, there were possible tornadoes in several areas Sunday night. The storms also brought hail and strong winds as they moved through parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois and Mississippi.

Tornado warnings were issued for parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

RCMP commissioner not 'muzzled,' Toews says

RCMP commissioner not 'muzzled,' Toews says

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, left, says RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, seen with Toews on his first day on the job Nov. 16, 'meets with whom he chooses to meet with.加
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is denying allegations that his department is trying to "muzzle" RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.

Toews was responding to accusations by Liberal Senator Colin Kenny that Toews' department is trying to silence the Commissioner by approving Paulson's meetings.

Kenny had been trying to set up a meeting with Paulson since December, but could not get Paulson to agree to a date or time, according to emails between Kenny and Paulson that Kenny released to the media this week.

After some prodding, Paulson said he could not commit to a meeting until he got the stamp of approval from the Department of Public Safety, according to the emails.

But Toews said Friday it was the former Liberal government that established that practice in order to ensure "fair access by other parliamentarians to key security institutions" under Public Safety.

Burgers and beer

Kenny and Paulson had been exchanging emails about meeting over burgers and beer to discuss some issues concerning the RCMP — a meeting Kenny described in casual terms, calling it a "get-together." Kenny said that he had set up similar meetings with the previous nine RCMP Commissioners without issue.

He added that Paulson had once been a dinner guest at his house, suggesting that Paulson hadn't needed to seek approval for that "meeting."

Kenny says nobody should be telling a commissioner to whom he should speak.

"If a member of a government is making these decisions, the integrity of the RCMP is eroded," Kenny said in one of the emails.

Speaking to Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics, Kenny said Paulson was set to have the meeting until someone from Toews' office intervened.

"I think for [Paulson] to maintain the integrity of his office, he has to draw a line in the sand and say to Mr. Toews ... I cannot be dictated to as to who I can see and who I can't," he said.

Paulson told CBC News Friday that he was simply following protocol, and that the protocol exists for a reason.

"We would not apply the national guidelines . . . where [a] local MP wanted to meet with the local detachment commander to talk about local priorities or issues," he wrote in an email to CBC Power & Politics host Evan Solomon. "We would however if the local MP was trying to have the local detachment commander weigh in on a major national policy matter or a political discussion on a contentious bit of legislation."

'Baseless and inaccurate'

Toews released a statement Friday denying the allegations and later spoke to reporters.

"The commissioner of the RCMP will meet with whom he chooses to meet with," he said during a news conference at the Ottawa International Airport. "Claims that (Paulson) is being muzzled (are) baseless and inaccurate"

He defended the protocol as both fair and necessary, and said there had been no change in the policy, which he said was set by former Liberal MP Anne McClellan when she was public safety minister.

"The protocol is an appropriate balance between the independence of the RCMP on law enforcement matters and its accountability to me as the minister responsible for the RCMP," Toews said.

"Senator Kenny knows that this policy was in place when the Liberals formed government, it’s simply a continuation. When he was denied a secret meeting that he wanted, he went to the media," Toews added. "And, so I find it rather surprising, his tact."

Al Qaeda planner had ties to UK extremists

Al Qaeda planner had ties to UK extremists

A senior al Qaeda operations planner killed in a CIA drone strike last week was for several years a resident of the United Kingdom, and was associated with extremists and their activities before returning to Pakistan, U.S. counterterrorism officials told CNN.

Although the U.S. officials did not elaborate on his links to UK radicals, they said the al Qaeda operative - Aslam Awan – was a 29-year-old Pakistani citizen identified in British court documents as part of a group of Islamist extremists living in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester.

By 2006 those extremists were increasingly attracting the attention of British security services, according to the court documents.

Awan, who arrived in Britain around 2002 on a student visa, had moved into an apartment in Cheetham Hill with Abdul Rahman, a school friend from Pakistan. Murad Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen from Karachi, also moved into the apartment, according to the court documents.

Strongly committed to al Qaeda's cause, the trio had begun recruiting other young men in the Manchester area, taking them on camping trips in the Lake District in March and June 2006, where they simulated suicide bombing exercises, according to the documents. Home movies of their training that were played in court show them "leopard crawling" in the snow.

Their recruiting techniques were compared to a pedophile grooming a child.

Later in 2006, Awan set off for the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to fight, according to British authorities.

But Awan wanted his radical Manchester circle to join him in Pakistan. He sent a letter to his school friend Rahman in Manchester, calling on him and the others to travel to Pakistan.

The letter, later found by police in Rahman's bedroom, referenced his terrorist training and described his participation in the fighting, according to the court documents. In the letter Awan also described visits to the graves of al Qaeda fighters and provided instructions for the distribution of CDs glorifying the group's exploits.

He wrote that the group needed assistance in combating "air power," and requested Iqbal contact a mutual friend about it.

According to the court documents, in October 2006, one of the young men being groomed by the group - Omar Arshad, who had dropped out of pharmacy studies at Manchester University - fell out with his family and was reported missing by his father, who told police he was concerned his son was being radicalized.

In January 2007, the documents state, his father tracked him down and brought him back to Manchester, where he was served with a "control order," a British legal mechanism strictly restricting the movement and communication of terrorist suspects in which there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

British police believed Arshad was planning to set off imminently for Pakistan for terrorist purposes.

Arshad went back to the Cheetham Hill apartment, where Rahman, Iqbal and others in the group hatched a plan for Arshad to escape, the court documents state. Arshad shaved his beard, and a member of the group drove him to Birmingham airport, where he caught a plane to Iran the next day. Rahman paid for the flight.

British authorities believe Arshad has now joined militants in Pakistan.

Later, Iqbal also traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to join his friends, according to the documents. In November 2007, Rahman pleaded guilty to disseminating terrorist literature and aiding or abetting the breach of a control order.

The men in the Cheetham Hill group were also connected to Rangzieb Ahmed, a senior al Qaeda facilitator from the Manchester area who in 2008 was convicted in Britain for directing terrorism after being arrested in Pakistan. That connection emerged at Ahmed's trial.

Awan, for his part, appears to have been quickly promoted up al Qaeda's ranks as other operatives were killed in drone strikes.

Several others who spent significant time in the West have likewise been promoted to senior positions in the terrorist network.

They include Adnan Shukrijumah, a Saudi-born American who joined al Qaeda around 9/11 and who helped plan a suicide bomb attack on New York in 2009, according to U.S. officials. Like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who attended an American university, their first-hand knowledge of Western countries has been an important resource for the terrorist group. Awan was working on attacks against the West when he was killed, another U.S official told CNN.

Half a dozen UK residents have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan in recent years, including two from east London late last year. British authorities say that British militants are among hundreds of Europeans in Pakistan who are linked to, or training with, jihadist groups. In September, British police thwarted a terrorist plot by an alleged terrorist cell in Birmingham who trained in Pakistan in 2011.

Allies see day of heavy loss in Afghanistan

Allies see day of heavy loss in Afghanistan

U.S. Marine CH-53 copters, like the one that crashed Thursday, sit on a tarmac in Afghanistan last year.
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Allied forces suffered a day of heavy losses in Afghanistan Friday after a helicopter crash killed six U.S. Marines and an attack killed four French soldiers, prompting Paris to consider an early troop withdrawal.

The Marines died after their CH-53 helicopter crashed in Helmand province, a U.S. military official said. The NATO-led force reported no enemy activity in the area, but the Taliban claimed credit for bringing down the chopper.

Separately, an Afghan soldier killed four French soldiers and injured 15 others, one critically, in eastern Afghanistan, French officials said. President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was suspending French training operations and combat help as a result.

"The French army is not in Afghanistan to be shot at by Afghan soldiers," he said.

France could bring its troops back early from Afghanistan if the necessary security is not restored, Sarkozy said. France has 3,935 troops in Afghanistan, according NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Sarkozy will send French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet to Afghanistan, he said.

"It was during a training session inside the base that a shooter killed four of our soldiers. This is unacceptable and demands a full investigation," Longuet said.

A French official told CNN the French troops were unarmed as they were inside their base, conducting normal training operations with their Afghan partners.

The official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said 15 soldiers were injured.

The attack in Kapisa province follows a similar shooting last month by an Afghan soldier that killed two French soldiers serving in an engineers' regiment, also in eastern Afghanistan.

Friday's suspected shooter, who was a member of the Afghan National Army, has been apprehended, according to an ISAF statement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he was deeply saddened by incident.

"France has been generous to provide extensive assistance to Afghanistan over the past 10 years," Karzai said. "Throughout history, the two countries have enjoyed a sincere relationship, which the Afghan people will always cherish."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid called the attack "sensible."

"This was the latest attack by those sensible and zealous Afghans who have entered the enemy's army and it was also the best one so far as it killed more soldiers than any other such attacks before,' Mujahid said.

Responding to last month's shooting, Sarkozy stressed his country's "determination to continue working within the International Security Assistance Force to restore peace and stability in that country and contribute to its development."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen paid tribute to those killed and injured Friday, saying it was a "very sad day" for ISAF troops in Afghanistan and for France.

"Such tragic incidents are terrible and grab headlines, but they are isolated," he said. "The reality is that every day, 130,000 ISAF troops from 50 nations fight and train with over 300,000 Afghan soldiers. That takes a lot of trust among a lot of soldiers.

"We have the same goal. An Afghanistan that is responsible for its own security. That is what Afghans want. And we remain committed to helping Afghans."

ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings also played down the threat, saying, "We train and are partnered with Afghan personnel every day, and we are not seeing any issues or concerns with our relationships."

Friday's shooting was the latest in a series of attacks on NATO forces by members of the Afghan army.

In October, a gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform turned his weapon on coalition forces during training, killing three and wounding several others. The shooter was killed in the incident in southern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the cause of the helicopter crash, which happened around midnight Kabul time, is still under investigation, ISAF said.

There was no enemy activity in the area when the helicopter went down in Helmand, said Col. Gary Kolb, an ISAF spokesman.

The Taliban claimed responsibility Friday for bringing down the helicopter.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, told CNN via text message: "A Chinook was shot down in Zubair Karez area, between Musa Qala and Zamin Dawar in southern Helmand province, and a number of foreigners traveling in it were killed."

NATO is scheduled to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Many ISAF members are involved in missions to train and support Afghan forces as they prepare to take on greater security responsibilities.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Shafia murder trial enters final phase

Shafia murder trial enters final phase

Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Yahya and Hamed Shafia are led into the Frontenac courthouse in Kingston, Ont.
The first-degree murder trial of three members of the Shafia family is moving into its final phase before a jury is left to deliberate on the fate of the accused.

The Kingston, Ont., trial, which started in October, was adjourned for three weeks to observe the holidays.

It was scheduled to recommence Monday morning, launching what was expected to be the final two weeks of arguments.

Tooba Yahya, 42, and her husband Mohammad Shafia, 59, are charged alongside their eldest son, Hamed, 20, with four counts each of first-degree murder. They have all pleaded not guilty and have been in custody since their arrests in 2009.

They’re charged in the deaths of the Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia's other wife in a polygamous marriage.

The family moved to Montreal in 2007 after fleeing Afghanistan several years earlier.

The Crown contends the victims were killed because of the girls' behaviour and boyfriends brought shame on the family in the eyes of the accused.

The defence has maintained the deaths were an accident and happened after the oldest daughter, Zainab, took the keys to her father’s car and drove it into the Rideau Canal at the Kingston Mill Locks in June 2009.

The bodies of the four victims were found submerged in the car. Their cause of death was determined to be drowning.

The family was returning to Montreal after a trip to Niagara Falls when they stopped for the night in Kingston.

Since the trial started in October, court has heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including family members, teachers, social workers, police officers and technical experts.

Jury members have also heard a series of wiretap conversations between the accused recorded secretly by the Kingston police.

Witnesses for the defence are expected to take the stand Monday when the hearing begins at 11 a.m. ET.

Iran sentences American to death in spy case

Iran sentences American to death in spy case

A video grab from official Iranian state TV on December 18 shows a card identifying the bearer as Amir Hekmati.

(CNN) -- American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, on trial in Iran for espionage, has been sentenced to death nearly five months after he was arrested, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

A court convicted Hekmati of "working for an enemy country ... for membership in the CIA and also for his efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism," according to Fars.

Ahead of the verdict, his family and the United States denied the accusations against him.

"We are deeply concerned that Amir is not receiving a fair trial and has not been afforded due process," a family statement released last week said. "We have struggled to provide Amir with an attorney in Iran. We have sought to hire at least 10 different attorneys in Tehran to no avail."

The family said their son was being represented by a government-appointment lawyer.

"Under any standard, this is not acceptable due process of law," the statement said. " We will not stop hoping and praying for justice, for peaceful dialogue with Iran, and for Amir's safe return home."

Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August while visiting his grandmother and other relatives, his family in Michigan said last month.

The Hekmatis said their son served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005. Later, he started his own linguistics company and contracted his services to the military as well as civilian businesses.

His military contracts included cultural competency training. He worked with troops at military bases to promote understanding of, and positive communication, with people of other cultures, his family said.

Fars reported that Hekmati said he worked for the U.S. Army for four years and later the CIA, where he was sent to Afghanistan and had access to secret documents.

Hekmati was supposed to give his information to the Iranians in two parts -- the first part for free, and if they liked it he would ask for $500,000 for the second part, the news agency said.

Hekmati said he was to get a receipt from the intelligence ministry for the money, Fars reported. The judge speculated whether the receipt would later be used as evidence linking Iran to terrorist activities, the news agency said.

If Iran had paid, Hekmati told the judge, he would have kept the money and lived in Iran, according to Fars.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

HS2: High-speed rail link 'being seriously considered'

HS2: High-speed rail link 'being seriously considered'

Ministers are "considering very seriously" building a controversial new high-speed rail line between London and Birmingham, the BBC understands.

A source said a Network Rail review of the two main alternatives favoured by opponents concluded they could not "generate the capacity" needed.

The government is due to make its final decision on the £17bn HS2 scheme next week.

The 100-mile connection would be built between 2016 and 2026.

It aims to cut the journey time between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes. It would mark the first phase of HS2, with extensions further north later.

A Y-shaped section taking branches to Manchester, Leeds and possibly further north could be finished by 2033.

The entire cost of the project is expected to be £32bn.
'Fewer benefits'

A government source told the BBC: "Groups opposed to high speed rail claim there are alternative packages of railway improvements that can bring similar benefits without making any sacrifices.

"This independent Network Rail report shows that the main alternatives cited by opponents cannot in fact generate the capacity and connectivity boost that a new high-speed rail line could deliver.

"This is why the government is in the process of considering very seriously the question of building such a line."

The project - introduced by Labour and continued by the coalition government - has proved highly controversial.

Opponents say the planned route crosses an area of outstanding natural beauty and it will damage the environment. It also passes through Conservative heartlands and some Tory MPs have strongly objected to the proposal.

Critics have argued that overcrowding can be eased by improving the existing line, running longer trains and having fewer first-class carriages.

This latest review by Network Rail looked at two alternative schemes which suggest a series of improvements to the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML).

It found that neither would provide enough capacity to meet the predicted passenger demand and both would result in long delays during work on the infrastructure.

The report also found that while cost estimates for the two alternatives were "realistic", other factors such as remodelling work at London's Euston station had not been taken into account and the cost of disruption had been underestimated.

It concluded they would "deliver considerably fewer benefits than a new line".

A Network Rail spokesman said: "The capacity case for a new high-speed line is clear. In just over a decade the WCML, Britain's busiest and most economically vital rail artery, will be full with no more space to accommodate the predicted growth in demand.

"Alternative schemes to HS2 have been put forward which would deliver some short-term capacity benefits, but they would come at a heavy price in terms of disruption to passengers and the wider economy."

Lucy James, from the Campaign for High Speed Rail, said: "This report is just the latest piece of evidence to show that HS2 is the only game in town when it comes to solving the capacity crisis on Britain's railways."

Penny Gaines, from the Stop HS2 campaign, said it was difficult to understand how Network Rail could claim that the alternative plans would cause too much disruption.

"A low-risk series of incremental improvements will bring more benefits to more people more quickly for less money," she said.

Under the current proposal, London's Euston station would need rebuilt and that would take seven or eight years, she added.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grenada police charged in Toronto man's death get bail

Grenada police charged in Toronto man's death get bail

Oscar Bartholomew, seen in this undated photo, died Dec. 27 in Grenada. Five police officers face manslaughter charges.

Five police officers charged with manslaughter in the death of a Toronto man in Grenada have been granted bail after a court appearance Friday.

The officers applied for bail in the island town of St. David's, where it's alleged they beat Oscar Bartholomew into a coma on Boxing Day. He died the following day in hospital.

A judge ordered the accused to surrender their passports, report daily to authorities and avoid visiting the police station where they worked.

None of the officers had posted the $37,000 bond as of late Friday morning.
Bartholomew, who was from Grenada but had permanent resident status in Canada, was visiting relatives in the Caribbean country over the Christmas holidays. He and his Canadian wife had arrived in Grenada on Dec. 23.

Relatives say he had stopped at the police station in St. David's on Dec. 26 because his wife needed to use the restroom. They say he hugged a plainclothes policewoman whom he had mistaken for a friend and lifted her off the ground before realizing his error.

Bartholomew's family said an independent autopsy found he died of trauma to the head and multiple injuries to the body. A state autopsy report came to similar but less-detailed conclusions.

The case has caused outrage and protests in Grenada. Since the manslaughter charges were announced, demonstrators have taken to the streets of the island nation to denounce what they say is endemic police brutality.

Earlier in the week, a lawyer for the dead man's family said he would be suing the police force employing the officers who are charged in the case for wrongful death.

Derick Sylvester said he would be seeking damages for Bartholomew's widow and his three children.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prosecutor seeks death sentence for Mubarak

Prosecutor seeks death sentence for Mubarak

Could Mubarak be sentenced to death?

Cairo (CNN) -- Prosecutors in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak formally requested a penalty of death by hanging for Mubarak and several of his fellow defendants Thursday, an attorney at the court said.

Mubarak is accused of ordering protesters killed during the country's uprising last year, and of corruption. He denies the charges.

Khaled Abu Bakr, a civil rights lawyer representing the families of victims at the trial, told CNN that prosecutors requested death by hanging for Mubarak, former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib El Adly and four of his six aides.

They asked for the maximum jail sentence for the two other aides on trial, Abu Bakr said.

The prosecutors' request came on the last of three days of prosecution arguments in a Cairo courtroom.

The hearing will resume Monday, when civil rights lawyers will present their case against the defendants.

Two of Mubarak's sons are also on trial on a variety of charges. The sons, Gamal and Alaa, also have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors also presented evidence Thursday in the corruption case against Mubarak, Abu Bakr said.

Mubarak allegedly broke the law by allowing a friend, businessman Hussein Salem, to export gas to Israel by way of a private company Salem owned without offering the bid to a public tender, Abu Bakr cited prosecutors as saying. That resulted in huge losses of money to Egypt, they said.

Salem is also accused in the case. He was arrested by Interpol in Spain several months ago but has not yet been extradited to Egypt.

Abu Bakr has said he expects a verdict in Mubarak's trial before January 25, the date on which the uprising began last year. It brought Mubarak's 30-year rule to an end in February.

Many Egyptians have criticized the court proceedings and some worry that Mubarak may be acquitted of the murder charges. Five police officers accused of killing protesters were acquitted last week.

Mubarak's health has been in question since his detention began in April, as reports of cancer and heart problems surfaced in the news media.

He has been wheeled in on a stretcher for his court appearances.

Adel Saeed, a spokesman for prosecutor Mustapha Suleiman, said Wednesday the prosecution has evidence that the regime used "thugs" against the protesters.

"The defendants before you in the cage are the actual instigators and are the ones who gave police officers the order to shoot," Suleiman said, according to Saeed.

The defendants are accused of killing 225 protesters and injuring more than 1,300, Saeed said.

Amnesty International had estimated more than 840 protesters were killed and 6,000 injured. Saeed said the prosecutor's estimate is lower "because there has been a differentiation between those killed outside police stations while attacking the precinct and those shot while protesting."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Indian anti-corruption activist hospitalized

Indian anti-corruption activist hospitalized

Anna Hazare breaks his fast with a glass of juice Wednesday but pledged a renewed campaign.

(CNN) -- Indian anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare was hospitalized Saturday night, days after ending a hunger strike aiming at drawing attention to his cause, a top hospital official told CNN's sister network.

Hazare was taken to the Sancheti Institute, a hospital in Pune, because of a severe cold and chest congestion, hospital chairman Dr. Parag Sancheti told CNN-IBN.

"So he has been admitted, and we have sent him for blood tests and an EKG," Sancheti said. "No major problems but he requires rest. He has been given antibiotics, and we are sure that his condition will stabilize in four to five days time."

Hazare had launched a three-day hunger strike to coincide with a special three-day parliamentary session as it considered a landmark anti-corruption bill. But the 74-year-old fell ill and, on the advice of doctors, abandoned the fast Wednesday.

Dr. Daulat Pote, who then examined Hazare, said the activist's blood pressure was up and he was running a fever. He was coughing on stage and appeared tired but remained determined in his cause.

"Our fight is for the common man," said Hazare, who has fashioned his protest actions after Mahatma Gandhi. "We want justice for him."

Ultimately, time ran out on the bill, which would have created a citizen ombudsman or Lokpal committee with powers to investigate politicians. This lack of action followed a raucous debate and high drama in the Rajya Sabha, or India's upper house of parliament, with the floor at one point disintegrating into utter chaos when an opposition lawmaker ripped apart documents and tossed them on the floor.

Hazare is chief among those credited with shining a spotlight on India's chronic corruption. He and other critics of the government said that the version of the legislation approved by India's lower house of parliament -- which ultimately stalled in the higher chamber -- was watered down to the point where it would not make much of a difference.

Corruption has been a part of daily life in India for many years. The first time a Lokpal bill was introduced in Parliament was over four decades ago.

But a series of high-profile scandals that rocked the current administration brought the issue to the fore.

In April, former telecommunication minister Andimuthu Raja was among a dozen defendants charged in a multibillion-dollar telecom scheme involving the underselling of cell phone licenses.

Investigators also probed complaints of financial malfeasance in the Commonwealth Games that India hosted in October last year.

Earlier this week, Hazare told a crowd in Mumbai that he would tour five states holding elections early next year to help defeat politicians who opposed his proposed anti-graft measures.

But he postponed a planned civil disobedience action at the homes of politicians.

Syrian opposition group: More than 5,800 died in 2011

Syrian opposition group: More than 5,800 died in 2011

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carry his image through Damascus during a demonstration in October 2011.

(CNN) -- More than 5,800 people, including 395 children, died in 2011 during the crackdown on protests in Syria, according to an opposition activist group.

The grim tally of "martyrs" from the Local Coordination Committees of Syria totaled 5,862, including 287 prisoners it said were tortured to death. The LCC said 19 doctors and 146 women were among those killed.

The first death in 2012 was an individual who died due to the lack of blood plasma platelets at a hospital, the group said.

The LCC has a network of contacts across Syria.

President Bashar al-Assad in mid-March began the crackdown on anti-government protesters calling for his ouster. The Syrian government blames "armed terrorist groups" for violence during the uprising.

CNN cannot independently verify opposition accounts of violence or reports of deaths and injuries in Syria. Al-Assad's government has restricted access by international journalists.

Two major Syrian opposition groups, meanwhile, have forged a deal that charts a course for democracy if President al-Assad's regime crumbles.

Representatives of the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria signed an agreement late Friday in Cairo for a transition in a post-Assad era, the NCB said on its Facebook page.

Protesters turned out on Saturday for anti-regime rallies in restive cities, including Homs, Idlib, and Hama, activists said. They occurred as an Arab League fact-finding mission continued its work to determine whether the Syrian government is abiding by a peace agreement to end a brutal crackdown on protesters.

The LCC said at least 13 people died Saturday amid gunfire, a bolstered police presence and massive demonstrations. Seven were killed in Homs. One each was killed in Hama in the west, Banias and Idlib in the northwest, Abu Kamal in the east, Kafar Soseh in Damascus province, and Daraa in the south.

In Douma, outside Damascus, security forces and shabiha, opposition activists' term for people they say are pro-government "thugs," attacked mourners, raided the town's main square and made many arrests, the LCC said.

Security forces in Aleppo province arrested Moussa Al-Moussa, a senior municipal official in the town of Marea. He was charged with protesting and inciting others to protest, the group said.

Several shabiha dressed like the Arab League delegates in Latakia Friday, the LCC said. When a 14-year-old boy approached them to tell them what is happening in the city, he was "brutally beaten."

The opposition groups hope to end such violence, the al-Assad regime's push against demonstrators and the still well-entrenched government's tenacious efforts to maintain its power across the country.

The NCB is a coalition of 15 functioning parties operating in Syria and in exile dominated by pro-democracy liberal, Marxist and Kurdish parties. The SNC has broad support, with a strong Sunni Muslim component and is backed by the Turkish government. Syria is nearly 75 percent Sunni Muslim. Alawites, who dominate in the al-Assad government, number at least 10 percent, according to estimates.

Their efforts to shape Syria's future signals a maturation and a strengthening of the anti-regime forces.

"This is a key step on a road to building an effective opposition that can not only win the support of foreign governments but build a unified military machine that's going to be able to take on a major power," said Joshua Landis, an associate professor and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

"What we are watching today is nation building. Major factions within the Syrian political community coming together and agreeing on strategy."

A Syrian National Council official said the deal still has to be signed off by its board.

"This is a political agreement for the transitional phase that ends with true democratic process and ultimately with elections," said council executive board member Walid Buni. "The preliminary points have been agreed upon but it will be presented to the board of the SNC tonight or tomorrow for final approval. An SNC committee will then present it to the Arab League."

The NCB says the agreement is final.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the NCB said the "agreed text sets out the political and democratic rules for the transitional period, and determines the important parameters for Syria's future which aspire to ensure that the homeland and every citizen's rights are treated with dignity, and for the foundation of a civil democratic state,"

The talks between the two groups lasted more than a month. The agreement will be "deposited as an official document" with the Arab League on Sunday in the presence of league Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby, the NCB said.

Khalaf Dahowd, a senior NCB member based in the United Kingdom, said the agreement was signed by the SNC's Burhan Ghalioun and the NCB's Haytham Manna in the presence of people from both groups.

"The reason the SNC has not called it final yet may have to do with internal politics. But the agreement is final," he said.

Dahowd said the agreement serves to unify ranks and create a post-Assad political framework.

He said the agreement calls for the refusal of any non-Arab foreign intervention, an important issue because some Syrians want international intervention to overthrow the al-Assad regime. At present, the Free Syrian Army, a rebel force composed of military defectors who've taken some actions against regime targets, is on the scene.

The deal calls for "protection of civilians with all legitimate means within international law for human rights" and "honors all soldiers who refused to act on orders to kill civilians," Dahowd said.

The agreement also recognizes the suffering, language and history of the country's Kurdish minority and paves the way for a "democratic, parliamentary, pluralistic and power-sharing system."

"It is also a message to friends of the regime, the Russians and the Chinese who have been raising fears that once the Syrian regime falls there will be a civil war and chaos. So in the agreement we say do not have any of these fears. This will also make it easy to gain political (international) recognition," Dahowd said.

Ahmed Hamoudi, general coordinator of a small Egypt-based opposition group called the Syrian Revolution Coordination, said there are "certain reservations" from some opposition people about the agreement's failure to mention putting al-Assad on trial and forbidding military intervention "while the Syrians on the ground are calling for a no-fly zone."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition activist network, said it supports and encourages "any agreement or decision" that would forge unity, promote democracy and end the bloodshed and suffering.

The Arab League, the United States, the European Union and Turkey have deplored the al-Assad regime's crackdown and initiated sanctions. But Russia and China have stood in the way of a strong U.N. Security Council resolution toward the Syrian government.

Earlier this month, al-Assad agreed to a peace initiative with the Arab League that calls for security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees and end violence. Part of the agreement calls for Arab League observers to monitor whether the government abides by the initiative.