New diet craze offers five days of feasting for two days of famine

Forget abandoning carbohydrates or detoxing. The new dieting craze sweeping Britain and taking off in the United States lets people eat whatever they like - but only five days a week.

"The Fast Diet", also known as the 5:2 diet, is the brainchild of TV medical journalist Michael Mosley and journalist Mimi Spencer and allows people to eat what they want for five days but only eat 600 calories a day on the other two.

 

Their book, "The Fast Diet", has topped bestselling book lists in Britain and the United States this year and been reprinted more than a dozen times.

Mosley said the diet is based on work by British and U.S. scientists who found intermittent fasting helped people lose more fat, increase insulin sensitivity and cut cholesterol which should mean reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.

He tried this eating regime for a BBC television science programme called "Eat, Fast, Live Longer" last August after finding out his cholesterol level was too high and his blood sugar in the diabetic range. He was stunned by the results.

"I started doing intermittent fasting a year ago, lost 8 kgs (18 pounds) of fat over 3 months and my blood results went back to normal," Mosley told Reuters.

Mosley said he had been amazed at the way the diet had taken off with a list of websites set up by followers of the 5:2 diet or variations of the eating regime to share their experiences.

Following the success of "The Fast Diet", Spencer joined forces with dietitian Sarah Schenker to bring out "The Fast Diet Recipe Book" in April which has topped amazon.co.uk's food and drink list with 150 recipes containing under 300 calories.

Eating a 600 calorie daily diet - about a quarter of a normal healthy adult's intake - could consist of two eggs for breakfast, grilled chicken and lettuce for lunch, and fish with rice noodles for dinner with nothing to drink but water, black coffee or tea.

ONE DAY AT A TIME

Mosley put the diet's success down to the fact it is psychologically attractive and leads to steady drop in weight with an average weekly loss of 1 pound (0.46kg) for women and slightly more for men.

"The problem with standard diets is that you feel like you are constantly having to exercise restraint and that means you are thinking about food all the time, which becomes self-defeating," said Mosley.

"On this regime you are only really on a diet two days a week. It is also extremely flexible and simple."

Britain's National Health Service (NHS) initially expressed doubts about the diet and its long-term effects, saying side effects could include sleeping difficulties, bad breath, irritability, anxiety, and daytime sleepiness.

But as the popularity of the 5:2 diet has grown and become one of the most searched diets on the Internet, the NHS has started to look again at the diet and its effects.

On its website last month the NHS said the British Dietetic Association (BDA) reviewed a 2011 study by researchers at the UK's University Hospital of South Manchester that suggested intermittent fasting could help lower the risk of certain obesity-related cancers such as breast cancer.

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"The increasing popularity of the 5:2 diet should lead to further research of this kind," the BDA said in a statement.

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Schenker, a sports and media dietitian who works with football clubs and food companies, said it was a shame that the NHS had criticized the eating regime that had proved such a success with so many people.

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"We are in the midst of an obesity crisis and you need to balance up which is worse - intermittent fasting of staying obese?" Schenker told Reuters.

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Despite concerns raised by the NHS, the 5:2 diet has been widely praised by those who follow it.

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Deb Thomas, 50, a management coach from London, said she has followed the diet for six months and dropped a couple of dress sizes. This has also inspired her husband to join her in fasting two days a week.

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"It is such an easy diet to follow that fits into my way of life," Thomas said. "You have a tough day of not eating but you know the next day you can eat normally again, and that keeps you going."

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(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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'Desperate father' spray paints British queen's portrait

A man defaced a portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth with paint at London's Westminster Abbey on Thursday, with a campaign group for fathers' rights saying he was one of its members making a "desperate" plea to the monarch for help.

The painting of the 87-year-old monarch, "The Coronation Theatre: Portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II" by London-based artist Ralph Heimans, had been part of a display marking the 60 years since the queen's coronation in 1953.

 

"In an incident at lunchtime today, a visitor to the Abbey sprayed paint on the Ralph Heimans portrait of the queen presently on display in the Chapter House," an Abbey spokesman said.

"Until work can be done to remedy the damage, it will, very regrettably, not be possible to have the painting on public view."

London's Metropolitan Police said security guards had detained a suspect at the scene. Officers arrested the 41-year-old man on suspicion of criminal damage and he has been taken to a central London police station for questioning.

Fathers4Justice (F4J), a group which supports divorced fathers seeking greater access to their children, said one of its members had carried out the attack to bring attention to his plight ahead of Father's Day on Sunday.

"We understand that a desperate father belonging to Fathers4Justice has attempted to write the word 'help' on a portrait of the queen in Westminster Abbey," the group said in a statement, adding it was not directly involved.

F4J named the man as Tim Haries from Doncaster in northern England. "Tim Haries has lost all contact with his children and felt he had nothing to lose by appealing directly to the queen for help by spraying his plea onto her portrait," said Campaign Director Jolly Stanesby.

F4J gained notoriety in 2004 when a campaigner dressed as Batman climbed the queen's Buckingham Palace residence and another threw purple flour bombs at former Prime Minister Tony Blair while he addressed parliament.

In 2006, two of its members were arrested after scaling London's Westminster Abbey with a crucified dummy Jesus Christ. Earlier that year, the campaign group said it had decided to disband after reports that police had foiled a plot to kidnap Blair's five-year-old son Leo.

A new official campaign group reformed some years later.

Last week, the queen and senior members of the royal family attended a service of celebration at the Abbey to mark the diamond anniversary of her coronation.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

'Happy Birthday to You' belongs to us all, lawsuit says

"Happy Birthday to You," the ditty sung around the world in tribute to everyone from toddlers to centenarians, belongs to the public, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday.

The proposed class action asks a federal court to declare the song to be in the public domain and that Warner/Chappel Music Inc, the music publishing arm of Warner Music Group, return "millions of dollars of unlawful licensing fees" it has collected for reproductions and public performances of the song.

 

"More than 120 years after the melody to which the simple lyrics of 'Happy Birthday to You' is set was first published, defendant Warner/Chappell boldly, but wrongfully and unlawfully, insists that it owns the copyright to 'Happy Birthday to You,'" the lawsuit said.

A representative of Warner/Chappell was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuit.

The plaintiff is Good Morning To You Productions Corp, a New York company that says it is making a documentary about the song. Facing a penalty of $150,000 if it used "Happy Birthday" without permission, the company said it paid a $1,500 licensing fee in March.

Warner/Chappell has collected at least $2 million annually in licensing fees for the song, according to the lawsuit.

The song was first published in 1893 as "Good Morning to All," and was written by sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, according to the lawsuit. The public began singing the words to "Happy Birthday to You" soon after.

Warner/Chappell's copyright claim stems from its acquisition in 1998 of Birch Tree Ltd, a company that traces its roots to Clayton Summy, according to the lawsuit. Summy bought the rights to "Good Morning to All" from the Hill sisters in 1893.

Robert Brauneis, a professor at George Washington University Law School, said he searched nationwide for evidence of a copyright for a combination of the melody for "Good Morning to All" with the lyrics for "Happy Birthday to You" for an article published in 2009 but did not find any.

Investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. bought Warner Music Group from Time Warner Inc in 2004 and sold it to its current owner, privately held Access Industries Inc, in 2011.

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Bill Trott)

Long-lost diary of top Hitler aide offers window into Nazi soul

U.S. officials on Thursday unveiled the 400-page diary of Alfred Rosenberg, a top aide to Adolf Hitler, who oversaw the genocide against Jews and others during World War Two.

The diary disappeared after the Nuremberg trials in 1946, sparking a nearly 70-year hunt that ended on April 5 in the upstate New York town of Lewiston, at the home of an academic named Herbert Richardson.

The diary pages, hand-written in German and not yet completely translated into English by scholars, offers a broader look at the Third Reich's policies and practices, as well as an unvarnished account of a Nazi leader's thoughts, authorities said at a news conference on Thursday.

 

"These 400 pages are a window into the dark soul of one of the great wrongs in human history," said John Morton, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which investigates cases of missing cultural property. "It's significant because, as time marches on, there are fewer living witnesses of what happened during the Holocaust. We still don't know the full extent."

Pages of the diary, which will eventually be turned over to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., were shown to reporters, including one entry dated April 1941.

Rosenberg describes walking alone after "an important meeting" with Hitler, who told him: "Your great hour has come."

Museum senior adviser Henry Mayer, who had been searching for the diary for 17 years, noted Rosenberg did not elaborate in the entry.

"What Hitler described was so great, he couldn't put it down," Mayer told reporters.

U.S. officials have long suspected that a prosecutor, Robert Kempner, smuggled the diary back to the United States after the Nuremberg trial.

Born in Germany, Kempner fled to America in the 1930s to escape the Nazis, only to return for post-war trials. He is credited with helping reveal the existence of the Wannsee Protocol, the 1942 conference during which Nazi officials met to coordinate the extermination of the Jews, which they termed "The Final Solution."

Kempner cited a few Rosenberg diary excerpts in his memoir and in 1956 a German historian published entries from 1939 and 1940. But the bulk of the diary never surfaced.

After his death in 1993, heirs to his estate agreed to forfeit his possessions to the U.S. holocaust museum, but that agreement hit road blocks and the diary was never found.

However in 1999, when cleaning out Kempner's home in suburban Philadelphia, a man found 40 boxes of documents, including papers outlining the Nazi's "aggressive war against and the plundering, spoliation and the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union by the Nazi regime," according to a 2003 court filing. But the diary was not among the materials.

"That was what we were looking for, that's what was so frustrating," said Robert Wittman, the founder of the FBI's Art Crime Team, and now a private art security consultant.

In recent months, Wittman and his son, Jeffrey, helped ICE locate the diary in New York.

The diary offers Rosenberg's recollections from the spring of 1936 to the winter of 1944, according to an analysis by the Holocaust museum. Most entries are written in Rosenberg's looping cursive, some on paper torn from a ledger book and others on the back of official Nazi stationery, according to a U.S. government analysis obtained by Reuters.

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"Although it is a reminder of a dark time, the Rosenberg Diary is important to our understanding of history," said U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly. "Our hope is that it will provide valuable insight to historians."

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(Additional reporting by John Shiffman in Washington.; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andre Grenon)

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Fake label, wrong glass among clues in alleged bogus wine case

An artificially aged label was among the clues that a pricey magnum of French wine sold by celebrity chef Charlie Trotter last year was a fake, a wine expert involved in the case said Friday.

Bekim and Ilir Frrokaj paid more than $46,200 last June for what they thought was a magnum of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from Trotter's legendary restaurant, according to an amended complaint filed in federal court in Chicago on Friday.

 

Trotter closed his restaurant in August, and sold thousands of bottles from his restaurant's wine collection.

Reuters could not reach Trotter for comment on Friday. But he denied the allegations to the Chicago Tribune, according to a story published on the newspaper's web site.

The Tribune reported that Trotter said one of the buyers had called him asking for his money back, and described him as "a disgruntled client who probably paid a lot more money (for the bottle) than he's ever paid before. It's buyer's remorse."

According to the amended complaint, Bekim Frrokaj hired wine consultant Maureen Downey last fall to authenticate the magnum for insurance purposes. She determined it was "counterfeit and valueless based on the physical attributes of the DRC magnum, the provenance provided by Charlie Trotter's, and her discussions with Domaine de la Romanee-Conti" experts and employees, according to the amended complaint and an interview with Downey.

Downey told Reuters that she had long understood that such a large format bottle of this particular wine was never made because of the small-scale production from the Romanee-Conti vineyard, particularly in the limited 1945 vintage.

When Frrokaj sent her photographs of the bottle to review, she said the bottle's glass and markings were inconsistent. Downey added, "His label and vintage tag are exact replicas of those of another client's bottle I also believe to be counterfeit....I believe they have the same counterfeiting tells."

Downey also said she questioned the accuracy of a letter Frrokaj had received, on the restaurant's letterhead, stating that the bottle had been purchased by Trotter in 2001 from representatives of Wilson Daniels, a fine-wine importer and distributor of DRC wines in the United States.

Downey said she contacted a representative of Wilson Daniels, who confirmed her suspicion that no such bottles were sold by the wine importer.

A spokeswoman from Wilson Daniels could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Information Downey received after a later visit to DRC confirmed her belief in the accuracy of her report, the consultant said.

The lawsuit accuses Trotter and his former restaurant of violating federal and state consumer laws, and seeks $75,000 in damages.

The case is Frrokaj et al v. CHT Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 13-04376.

(Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

Arizona nonagenarian sets weightlifting world record

A barrel-chested 91-year-old strongman from Arizona shattered the world record for the bench press in his dwindling age group, with a lift of 187.2 pounds - some 50 pounds more than the previous record.

Sy Perlis bested the record of 135 pounds set in 2005 during a national competition last weekend in Phoenix as the lone participant in the 90-year-old and over division, competition officials said.

"He's pretty amazing, there's no doubt about it," said Gus Rethwisch, president of the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters, who witnessed Perlis' record lift. "He looks like he could be in his 70s. He's in great shape."

Perlis, who won world titles in 2010 and 2011 in the 85-year-old to 89-year-old division, told the Arizona Republic newspaper that he started hitting the weights when he was 60 years old. He did not enter a championship competition until five years ago at the suggestion of his trainer.

 

"It gave me the opportunity to do something to test myself for one thing, and I didn't have to run around to do it as you would in some other sports," Perlis told the newspaper.

"I got a lot of satisfaction out of it and it made me feel good and it was good for me."

Perlis said he trains five days a week with a regimen that includes weightlifting and cardiovascular work.

Perlis told the newspaper that his doctor is aware of his competitive pursuits, and has said, "If you can do it, do it."

Rethwisch said the record lift qualified Perlis for the world championships on November 5 in Reno, Nevada. Perlis has told tournament organizers he will compete.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Bill Trott)

Famed Milwaukee tavern rehangs bras on ceiling

Standing on a foot ladder, Jeff Scanell bent down, pinched his girlfriend's red lace brassiere between his thumb and index finger and gently lifted it out of the front of her shirt as a cowbell wildly rang and a raucous crowd roared.

The 37-year-old Milwaukee tool and die worker then reached above and added the undergarment to the dangling array of colorful bras of various shapes and sizes that hung from the scarlet tin ceiling.

 

"I was a virgin, never hung a bra before, but it was super cool," said Mary Lynn Nowak, his bra-less girlfriend, as she enjoyed a drink.

The couple participated on Friday night in "The Great Bra Rehanging" event at the Holler House, a 105-year-old Milwaukee watering hole where bras have hung from the ceiling for more than four decades.

The event was the culmination of a month-long battle with the city of Milwaukee that began in April when an inspector ordered bar owner Marcy Skowronski to remove the 100 or so bras from the ceiling because they were deemed a fire hazard.

"I've never seen a bra start a fire," the feisty 87-year-old bar owner said.

Skowronski complied, ordering her son-in-law to pull the bras down and stuff them in a bag.

"I got so mad. I called my alderman and then we called all of the news channels and we got the ball rolling," said Skowronski, who successfully persuaded the city to rescind its order in May.

Skowronski began the tradition 45 years ago during a night of drinking with her girlfriends.

"We were bombed so we all took our bras off and hung them up," Skowronski said.

In 2008, in preparation for the bar's 100th anniversary party, about 1,000 old and tattered bras were taken down and discarded.

"You have a little too many and then it comes off," said JoAnn Stencel, 47, who has hung three or four bras on the bar's ceiling since she began patronizing the Holler House 24 years ago.

"Iron Mike" Skowronski opened the blue-collar joint in the heart of the city's south side Polish neighborhood in 1908. Not much has changed since 1952, when Marcy married his son Gene. Beer in the bottle or can is still the drink of choice and only cash is accepted.

"This is an institution," said Milwaukeean Jerry Stetz, 64, a long-time Holler House patron, who shed his shirt for the event.

In addition to the bras hanging from the ceiling, the Holler House claims to have the oldest operating bowling lanes in the United States.

On Friday night, Skowronski charged $5 to hang a bra on the ceiling, with proceeds going to support breast cancer research.

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"It's been crazy all day long," she said as revelers continued hanging bras, celebrating the tradition's return.

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(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Zimbabwe may have to field two goalkeepers in qualifier

Cash-strapped Zimbabwe may have to field two goalkeepers in their 2014 World Cup soccer qualifier against Guinea in Conakry on Sunday.

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A late flight booking by the financially-troubled Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) meant only 14 seats could be found on the connecting flight from Dakar in Senegal to Conakry for the original travelling party of 25.

 

German coach Klaus Dieter Pagels and the team doctor set off, along with a squad of 12 players that included goalkeepers Washington Arubi and Maxwell Nyamupangedengu.

Zimbabwe media reported on Saturday that one of the outfield players, who was not named, had mislaid his passport in Nairobi where the team were due to connect to Dakar, and would not be able to continue the journey.

ZIFA said they hoped to get at least some of the remaining players to Guinea in time for the game, which kicks off at 1700 GMT on Sunday.

(Reporting by Nick Said; editing by Clare Fallon)

How Obama crossed his own line on Syria after months of debate

President Obama's decision to arm Syrian rebels for the first time follows an intense, nearly two-year debate within the White House in which the president and his closest advisers consistently expressed skepticism about U.S. intervention in a Middle East civil war, current and former officials said.

The two deciding factors in the decision to change course, they said, were growing military gains by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, aided by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia, and harder intelligence that the Syrian military had used chemical weapons in the form of sarin nerve gas.

 

Which of the developments played a greater role in tipping the balance was unclear. Publicly, the Obama administration pointed to the evidence of chemical weapons use, which one senior administration official said had "ripened" in the last two weeks.

Some of the U.S. officials said on Friday that the real game-changer in Obama's calculus on Syria was not the chemical weapons issue - which had been known about for months - but the growing role of Lebanese-based Hezbollah.

The battlefield advances by Hezbollah have raised the prospect that Assad could stay in power for some time. The Shiite militia's decision to get more directly involved in the conflict against mostly Sunni rebels has also heightened the war's sectarian divide, and increased Sunni-Shiite tensions in neighboring Lebanon.

U.S. officials and European diplomats also cited as a factor in Obama's decision a looming meeting next week with G8 allies - especially France and Britain - in which Syria will be a major issue.

"Had they not made the beginnings of a move on the issue, the G8 meeting would have been pretty hard on the president," said a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Obama was roundly criticized by Syria hawks in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere for first suggesting in April that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian civil war, crossing a "red line" he set last year, but not then following up with actions against the Damascus government.

But in an interview 10 days ago, well before the White House announced Obama's decision on Thursday, a senior aide insisted that the chemical weapons question had never been dropped.

There are "clear instructions from the president that we are not walking back from the red line," the senior administration official said at the time. "The intelligence community is all over this."

The White House on Thursday announced that it had concluded that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons, and said Obama had decided to supply direct military assistance to the opposition.

While Obama crossed a line of his own in making the move - the White House had for more than a year resisted calls to arm the rebels - he appears determined to keep the United States from getting sucked too deeply into Syria's sectarian civil war.

European officials and others with close knowledge of the situation said the United States would supply the Western-backed Syrian Military Council with automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

While significant, the weaponry will not include shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs that could bring down Syrian military planes and helicopters, officials said.

And for now, Washington is not backing the establishment of a "no-fly zone" over Syria, which would involve a major commitment of U.S. and European air power to counter Syria's extensive air defenses, they said, in part because there is no international consensus on the step.

"This is, in a way, a low-cost option," a former U.S. official with extensive contacts in the region said of the White House's new steps, worrying that the U.S. military aid was months too late.

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The White House and State Department declined to publicly detail what sorts of weaponry and other materiel will be sent to the rebels, or how quickly it will arrive.

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CAUTION AND DIVISION

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While Obama has been consistently cautious about U.S. involvement in Syria, his team has been at times less than unified.

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Obama's original decision, in August 2011, to call on Assad to leave power, was preceded by intense debate in Washington, London and other capitals, according to diplomats and former officials.

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The Pentagon has been consistent in opposing deep U.S. military involvement, such as a no-fly zone.

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Last fall, however, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA chief David Petraeus presented a joint proposal for the United States to arm the rebels. The White House turned down the idea.

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In the current situation, Secretary of State John Kerry is said to have been active in pressing Obama on the need to do more.

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"The constituency within the administration for doing more is much more significant that it was in the past," said Dennis Ross, who was a senior Middle East adviser to Obama. "But the hesitancy remains, I believe."

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Ross, who left government in December 2011, said that during his time at the White House, Obama would closely question the wisdom and consequences of Syria options presented by his advisers.

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"What's fair to say, he wanted to be very cautious about the kinds of commitments we would make, he wanted to know even then, look if we're going to take steps, I want to hear, tell me where that leads to," Ross said in an interview this week. "Tell me what's the consequence of doing 'X'. And tell me how that is going to improve the situation and make an outcome that we favor more likely."

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Ross said that during his time at the Obama White House, the U.S. experience in recent wars, which highlighted the difficulty in changing conditions in Islamic countries, weighed heavily in the president's thinking.

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"I don't think you can look at it independently from Iraq and Afghanistan. And particularly the sense that these are easy to get into and hard to get out of," Ross said.

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Obama's calculus would have been different, he added, if there had been a "more coherent, more credible and more compelling" opposition in Syria.

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A senior Western diplomatic source gave a similar account, saying Obama essentially tells his aides to prove to him that American intervention would improve the situation.

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"It's a legitimate position," this source said. "I don't see at this point the Americans authorizing the delivery of heavy weapons."

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It remains to be seen whether the aid will change a military picture that has seen Assad's forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters, steadily regain ground against the rebels, capturing the key city of Qusair and preparing for an assault on rebel-held areas of northern Syria.

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"We believe that we can make a difference," White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said, when asked if the U.S. aid was too little. He noted that Arab nations and Turkey are also supporting the Syrian opposition.

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State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama's decision was made some days ago, but would not be more specific.

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"This has been something that the national security team and the president has been discussing for weeks. I know the White House said the president decided long before this week," Psaki said.

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(Additional reporting by Lesley Wrouhgton, Mark Hosenball, Susan Cornwell in Washington, Lou Charbonneau in New York and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Alistair Bell and Tim Dobbyn)

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Rain helps firefighters tame Colorado blaze

Crews battling a deadly wildfire that is the most destructive on record in Colorado have contained almost half of the 15,000-acre (6,070-hectare) blaze that has incinerated nearly 500 homes outside Colorado Springs, authorities said on Saturday.

Cooler temperatures, calmer winds and a rainstorm that moved over the burn area on Friday allowed fire managers to increase the containment of the fire to 45 percent from 30 percent the day before.

 

"Last night, there was no growth and no more structures lost," incident commander Rich Harvey of the U.S. Forest Service told a news conference.

But the number of homes confirmed destroyed by the so-called Black Forest Fire jumped to 473 overnight as assessment crews combed through areas that have cooled, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

Maketa said the bulk of the homes were lost in the first 24 hours of the blaze, and voiced optimism the threat from the fire was diminishing.

"I think we're getting the upper hand," Maketa said, adding that when he toured the area, it "looked like a nuclear bomb went off."

Fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and fanned by high winds, the blaze erupted on Tuesday in a wooded area northeast of Colorado Springs.

Flames roared out of control for two days, charring a 24-square-mile (62-square-km) swath through rolling hills on the outskirts of Colorado's second-largest city.

Two people were found dead inside the garage of a home that was reduced to ashes when flames ripped through the area.

The sheriff said the cause of the fire was under investigation, but he believed it was caused by humans, because there were no lightning strikes in the area that could have sparked the blaze.

At one point, some 38,000 people were under evacuation orders. But authorities have lifted evacuation orders in some areas as the threat of the fire spreading has eased.

Next week, some displaced residents will be allowed back into neighborhoods that have been deemed safe, police said. The sheriff's office said unauthorized people found in restricted areas would be criminally charged.

More than 1,000 local, state and federal firefighters are attacking the fire from the ground and air, Harvey said, and firefighting costs have exceeded $3.5 million.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Cooney)

Web companies begin releasing surveillance information after U.S. deal

Facebook and Microsoft have struck agreements with the U.S. government to release limited information about the number of surveillance requests they receive, a modest victory for the companies as they struggle with the fallout from disclosures about a secret government data-collection program.

Facebook on Friday became the first to release aggregate numbers of requests, saying in a blog post that it received between 9,000 and 10,000 U.S. requests for user data in the second half of 2012, covering 18,000 to 19,000 of its users' accounts. Facebook has more than 1.1 billion users worldwide.

 

The majority of those requests are routine police inquiries, a person familiar with the company said, but under the terms of the deal with Justice Department, Facebook is precluded from saying how many were secret orders issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Until now, all information about requests under FISA, including their existence, were deemed secret.

Microsoft said it had received requests of all types for information on about 31,000 consumer accounts in the second half of 2012. In a "transparency report" Microsoft published earlier this year without including national security matters, it said it had received criminal requests involving 24,565 accounts for all of 2012.

If half of those requests came in the second part of the year, the intelligence requests constitute the bulk of government inquiries. Microsoft did not dispute that conclusion.

Google said late Friday that it was negotiating with the government and that the sticking point was whether it could only publish a combined figure for all requests. It said that would be "a step back for users," because it already breaks out criminal requests and National Security Letters, another type of intelligence inquiry.

Facebook, Google and Microsoft had all publicly urged the U.S. authorities to allow them to reveal the number and scope of the surveillance requests after documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian suggested they had given the government "direct access" to their computers as part of a National Security Agency program called Prism.

The disclosures about Prism, and related revelations about broad-based collection of telephone records, have triggered widespread concern and congressional hearings about the scope and extent of the information-gathering.

The big Internet companies in particular have been torn by the need to obey U.S. laws that forbid virtually any discussion of foreign intelligence requests and the need to assuage customers.

"We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive," Facebook wrote on its site.

Facebook said it would continue to press to divulge more information. The person familiar with the company said that it at least partially complied with U.S. legal requests 79 percent of the time, and that it usually turned over just the user's email address and Internet Protocol address and name, rather than the content of the person's postings or messages.

It is believed that FISA requests typically seek much more information. But it remains unclear how broad the FISA orders might be.

Several companies have said they had never been asked to turn over everything from an entire country, for example. However, the intelligence agencies could ask for all correspondence by an account holder, or even all correspondence from the users' contacts.

Among the other remaining questions are the nature of court-approved "minimization" procedures designed to limit use of information about U.S. residents. The NSA is prohibited from specifically targeting them.

"If they are receiving large amounts of data that they are not actually authorized to look at, the question then becomes what are the procedures by which they determine what they can look at?" said Kevin Bankston, an attorney at the Center for Democracy & Technology. "Do they simply store that forever in case later they are authorized to look at it?"

In addition, some legal experts say that recent U.S. laws allow for intelligence-gathering simply for the pursuit of foreign policy objectives, not just in hunting terrorists and spies.

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Google, Facebook and Microsoft have already directly contradicted the Guardian and Washington Post reports about "direct access" to their servers.

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Both newspapers have since backtracked, and it now appears that at least some of the companies allowed neither government-controlled equipment on their property nor direct searches without company employees vetting each inquiry.

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Google has been the most forthright on the technology issue, saying that it provides information only on request via an old-school data-transfer protocol called FTP and that Google legal staff must approve each request.

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Beyond that, it is now clear that many of the companies have objected, at times strenuously, to both individual requests and the broad sweep of the program. It remains unclear how successful they have been.

_4">

WRESTLING OVER SECRET ORDERS

_5">

The initial reports about Prism included an internal NSA slide listing the dates that each of nine companies began allowing Prism data collection, starting with Microsoft in 2007 and Yahoo in 2008. The other companies include Apple, AOL and PalTalk as well as YouTube and Skype, which are owned by Google and Microsoft respectively.

_6">

Sources familiar with the conversations between the government and the Internet companies say there are frequent disagreements over how to handle specific requests.

_7">

Only one company, Yahoo, is known to have taken the highly unusual step of appealing an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The company argued in 2008 that the order violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

_8">

But U.S. District Judge Bruce Selya, who headed the FISA court's Court of Review, ruled the data collection program did not run afoul of the Bill of Rights.

_9">

Selya's ruling was published in redacted form, only the second time such a decision had ever been made public. A Justice Department spokesman said it was published at the court's behest, but the executive branch would have had to approve the waiving of secrecy rules.

_10">

Two days after that, according to the leaked NSA slides, Google joined the Prism data-collection effort.

_11">

"When Yahoo lost that case, it dissuaded everyone else from going to court," a person at another company told Reuters.

_12">

"A provider seeing that decision erases the doubt about whether a judge would approve this process," said a former lawyer for Yahoo.

_13">

Twitter, which has positioned itself as a hard-line defender of free speech and customer privacy, is still not participating in Prism. But people familiar with talks between the tech companies and the government said it will likely be forced to comply.

_14">

In Twitter's case, as in that of some other companies, the objections have ostensibly been about the technological difficulty in complying with orders and the format in which the information will be shared, people familiar with the situation say.

_15">

(Reporting by Joseph Menn and Gerry Shih in San Francisco. Additional reporting by Alexei Oreskovic. Editing by Jonathan Weber and Xavier Briand)

Young Turks seek greater liberty, not revolution

Ask the younger protesters who have taken to Turkey's streets over the past two weeks what they are fighting for, and the response is simple: "More freedom".

It is an aspiration they might just achieve.

 

Turkey's worst political unrest in decades has galvanized a wide range of opponents of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party, from anti-capitalist Muslims and gay rights activists to doctors and lawyers, all tired of what they see as his oppressively authoritarian rule.

At the forefront are a generation who, unlike their parents, have grown up in an increasingly outward-looking and fast-growing economy, a new middle class with its material trappings - satellite TV, smartphones and social media connections with friends around the world.

Ironically it is Erdogan who has driven that change, overseeing a near-tripling in nominal wealth over his past decade in power. But for the young protesters in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities around Turkey, he has created a generation whose aspirations he no longer understands.

"We want the world and Erdogan to understand that many Turks are unhappy with his imposed limitations on society," said Ahmet, 19, sitting in an Ankara cafe near Kizilay Square, which saw some of the heaviest clashes with police.

Days of protest in cities around Turkey were triggered by a fierce police crackdown on what began as a peaceful campaign against government plans to build on Gezi Park, a leafy corner of Istanbul's central Taksim Square.

For Erdogan's opponents, the plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks on a site that has long been a venue for mass demonstrations epitomized the overbearing nature of his government. Restrictions on the sale of alcohol, advice on what to eat and how many children to have and his ranting about the dangers of Twitter have all added to their resentment.

"We should be able to express our ideas, to stage demonstrations, to drink alcohol, to decide how many kids we want. With Erdogan there is no room for personal rights," said Cigdem, 18, who took part in protests in the Kizilay protests.

NO GOING BACK

Despite the chants of "Tayyip resign", a constant refrain during the early days of the protests, and the rattling of pots and pans from residents on balconies in support, many of the young street protesters are realistic about their aims.

One thing they largely agree with Erdogan's government on is that this is not a "Turkish Spring" like the uprisings in the Arab world two years ago, which unseated dictatorships in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

"We wanted them to hear what we had to say. We want freedom. We do not want regime change like Libya or Egypt," said Cem Yakisan, member of the Carsi football fan club.

"We're not a political movement. We just want to live and to be respected as human beings."

Initially labeled by Erdogan as "capulcular", or "riff-raff", a moniker proudly adopted by the protesters, who emblazoned it on T-shirts, mugs and even their tents, the protesters hope their show of strength will force Erdogan's government to think twice before trying to push through any further restrictions on their private lives.

"Young Turks are practical, not ideological. They want the right to live freely without struggling," said Ayse Ridvan, a 23-year-old student in Ankara. "We do not want regime change or a revolution. Just let us live freely."

_0">

Erdogan has taken a more conciliatory approach to the protesters in Gezi Park in recent days, meeting a delegation at his official residence in Ankara on Thursday and promising a referendum on the building plans.

_1">

The protesters have refused to yield, vowing to stay in their ramshackle settlement of tents until the government abandons the plans and releases detained demonstrators.

_2">

However the park standoff ends, young Turks seeking a broader change in attitude from the government hope they have already done enough to set Turkey on a path from which there is no turning back.

_3">

"We are peaceful people. But Erdogan with his suppressive measures forced us to take to the streets," said Nergis, a 21-year-old government employee. "No matter how long it continues, we will be there. We want our voice to be heard."

_4">

(Additional reporting by Duygu Erdogan; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Andrew Roche)

_5">

Hong Kong rally backs Snowden, denounces allegations of U.S. spying

A few hundred rights advocates and political activists marched through Hong Kong on Saturday to demand protection for Edward Snowden, who leaked revelations of U.S. electronic surveillance and is now believed to be holed up in the former British colony.

Marchers gathered outside the U.S. consulate shouting slogans denouncing alleged spying operations aimed at China and Hong Kong, but the numbers were modest compared to rallies over other rights and political issues.

 

"Arrest Obama, free Snowden," protesters shouted outside the slate grey building as police looked on. Many waved banners that said: "Betray Snowden, betray freedom", "Big brother is watching you" and "Obama is checking your email".

Some blew whistles in support of Snowden, 29, the American former CIA contractor who has acknowledged being behind leaks of the surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.

The procession moved on to government headquarters in the city, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 but enjoys far more liberal laws on dissent and freedom of expression.

About a dozen groups organized two rallies, including the city's two largest political camps. Leaders of major political parties sought explanations for Snowden's allegations of spying.

Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party, the DAB, demanded an apology from Washington, clarification of "illegal" espionage activities and an immediate halt to them.

"I think the Hong Kong government should protect him," the DAB's vice-chairwoman, Starry Lee, said outside the consulate.

Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong on May 20. He checked out of a luxury hotel on Monday and his whereabouts remain unknown. Snowden has said he intends to stay in Hong Kong to fight any potential U.S. moves to extradite him.

CHINA AVOIDS COMMENT ON CASE

China has avoided any explicit comment on its position towards Snowden. A senior source with ties to the Communist Party leadership said Beijing was reluctant to jeopardize recently improved ties with Washington.

Snowden told the South China Morning Post this week that Americans had spied extensively on targets including the Chinese University of Hong Kong that hosts an exchange which handles nearly all the city's domestic web traffic. Other alleged targets included government officials, businesses and students.

Snowden pledged not to "hide from justice" and said he would place his trust in Hong Kong's legal system. Some legal experts, however, say an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and the United States has functioned smoothly since 1998.

It is unclear whether Chinese authorities would intervene over any U.S. attempts to extradite Snowden, though lawyers say Beijing has rarely interfered with extradition cases.

His arrival comes at a sensitive time for Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, whose popularity has sunk since taking office last year amid a series of scandals and corruption probes into prominent figures. Leung has offered no comment on Snowden.

Interest among residents into the case is growing and numbers could rise if extradition proceedings are launched.

_0">

Demonstrations on issues ranging from denunciations of pro-communist education policy imposed by Beijing, high property prices and a growing wealth gap have attracted large crowds.

_1">

A vigil marking the anniversary of China's June 1989 crackdown on democracy advocates drew tens of thousands this month and a record 180,000 last year.

_2">

Diplomats and opposition figures in the city have warned of growing behind-the-scenes meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong's affairs, as well as deep-rooted spying activities.

_3">

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Anne-Marie Roantree; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Ron Popeski)

_4">

Analysis: Iran moderate's poll triumph is mandate for change

Iranian voters weary of years of economic isolation and tightening political restrictions threw down a blunt demand for change on Saturday by handing a moderate cleric a landslide victory in a presidential election.

Having waited throughout Friday night and most of Saturday, millions of Iranians at home and abroad greeted Hassan Rohani's victory with a mix of euphoria and relief that eight years under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were finally over.

That Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, trounced hardline "Principlist" rivals most loyal to the theocratic system and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Friday's contest left many in the Islamic Republic in shock.

A second surprise was that the country's first presidential poll since a disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009 appeared to be free and fair.

His victory goes some way to repairing the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, badly damaged four years ago when the disputed poll led to mass unrest. And it may herald an increase in political space for the sort of reformist groups which bore the brunt of the security crackdown that ended the disturbances.

 

"Though hardliners remain in control of key aspects of Iran's political system, centrists and reformists have proven that even when the cards are stacked against them, they can still prevail due to their support among the population," said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.

After final results were announced and the nerve-racking wait came to an end, Iranians reveled in having delivered their message to Iran's theocratic leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose loyalists dominated the field of candidates.

From the streets of Tehran came reports of a festive atmosphere, as crowds of Rohani supporters dressed in his campaign color purple gathered to celebrate his emphatic victory. Some chanted "Ahmadi Bye Bye" heralding the imminent end to incumbent Mahmoud Ahamdinejad's presidency.

The long wait quickly became the subject of rich humor. "Don't be in a rush. It is the first time they are counting votes. They didn't expect it would take so long," quipped one Facebook message, alluding to the widespread allegations of vote-rigging four years ago.

ECONOMY AND SANCTIONS

Victory will be followed by the colossal challenge of putting Iran back on its feet, repairing the damage done by eight years of growing mistrust between Tehran and the West.

Iran has been battered by economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies over its nuclear activities, resulting in soaring inflation and unemployment.

While Iran maintains it will not develop nuclear arms, it has refused to curb what it says is its rights to nuclear power.

With such a strong mandate and a clear intent to reach out his hand, there will be guarded hope that the 64-year-old cleric can progress nuclear talks. But with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, deciding state policy, Rohani will face limits to his area of operations.

"(Mr Rohani) will choose the core cadre at the foreign ministry and Supreme National Security Council and this can definitely have an impact. But the general orientation is decided by the Supreme Leader ... and naturally Mr Rohani will cooperate with him," said conservative member of parliament Ahmad Tavakoli, the ISNA news agency reported.

Equally intractable will be the issue of two reformist leaders who have been under house arrest for more than two years over their role in what critics have decried as their seditious role in the post-election protests in 2009.

_0">

Throughout the campaign Rohani supporters have stirred the memories of 2009, chanting the names of the two imprisoned leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, at campaign events and intensifying calls for their release.

_1">

But that means confronting powerful elements of the conservative establishment who may not yet be prepared to welcome people they call "seditionists" back into the fold.

_2">

"A Rohani landslide will have to deliver substance, not just cosmetics, and this requires quite a few people to admit that the last eight years have been an aberration," said Ali Ansari, professor at St Andrew's University in Scotland.

_3">

"I don't see that coming from the pages of Kayhan (a hardline newspaper). I still have reservations," he added.

_4">

SUPPORT FROM LIBERALS

_5">

The 64-year-old cleric has pledged to draw up and implement a "civil rights charter" and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities. He was heavily critical of the atmosphere of tight security ahead of the election and garnered strong support from liberal Iranians as a result.

_6">

But voters seemed most preoccupied with the desperate state of the economy.

_7">

Between them Rohani and the runner-up Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf - the pragmatic modernizing mayor of Tehran who is very popular in the city for his clear managerial skills - took more than two thirds of votes cast.

_8">

Even many conservatives had called time on Iran's overtly ideological stance for not providing for the Iranian public.

_9">

"The defeat of the Principlists was necessary," read an editorial on the Tabnak news website affiliated to Mohsen Rezaie, a conservative election candidate and former head of the Revolutionary Guards who came fourth in the election.

_10">

"The Principlist current must understand that one cannot be inefficient and expect the people to still support them in throngs."

_11">

Despite widespread calls from conservative activists to get behind a single candidate, three big-hitters all remained in the contest, pulling their shared power base apart at the seams.

_12">

The man many expected to be at the front of the pack, current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, slumped to third place.

_13">

"Iranians are worried about their future. (The prospect of) a Jalili presidency and a harsh securitized domestic environment - I think people thought it would lead to a situation of confrontation inside the country," said Farideh Farhi of Hawaii University.

_14">

Iranians may have to wait patiently for change because of Iran's multi-tiered power structure, which has gradually eroded the office of the president over the last two decades.

_15">

"Rohani's upset victory has effectively redeemed Iran's electoral system, which was tainted after the 2009 presidential poll," said Ali Vaez, an analyst at International Crisis Group.

_0">

"Remember that Iran is governed by complex institutions and competing power centers that inherently favor continuity over radical change."

_1">

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Roche)

_2">

Hospital siege, blasts new Pakistan government's first security test

Militants in a volatile region of western Pakistan bombed a bus carrying women students on Saturday and then seized part of the hospital where survivors were taken, in the first major security test for the new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

At least 22 people were killed in a day of violence that started with an apparent separatist attack that destroyed a summer retreat once used by the nation's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the hills of Baluchistan province.

 

A policeman lost his life in the attack on a popular symbol of Pakistan's history, which was gutted by fire after several small bombs were detonated.

"Baluchistan is part of Pakistan and we will not leave our people alone in a time of tragedy," Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid told reporters in a news conference.

The first attack was quickly followed by a bus bomb on a university campus in Baluchistan's capital Quetta that killed at least 14 women students.

The injured were taken to the city's Bolan Medical Complex, where an ambush by a suicide bomber and an ensuing firefight with security forces killed at least eight more people.

The government said the Quetta attacks were not connected with the earlier blasts at the hill retreat.

The violence brought an abrupt end to a period of relative calm after Pakistan's first ever transition between elected civilian governments, which brought Sharif to office for the third time, and highlighted the deep fissures in the nation he must govern.

DIVIDED NATION

As well as the fragile security situation, Sharif has inherited a severe energy crisis and a weak economy. He must also manage a complex relationship with the United States, including nationwide anger at U.S. drone attacks.

At least 36 were injured in Saturday's violence. Four militants including two suicide bombers were among the dead at the hospital, where security forces moved from room to room freeing trapped patients and doctors, the government said.

Four nurses were also reported dead.

By nightfall, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the hospital siege was over, with one suspect captured. Four members of the security forces were confirmed dead.

The new chief minister in Baluchistan, an ally of Sharif's, last week vowed to work towards talks to end a long running war with separatist guerrillas in resource-rich Baluchistan.

In addition to the separatist movement, Quetta is home to much sectarian violence, much of it targeting the Hazara ethnic minority, who are Shi'ite Muslims in a largely Sunni country.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bus and hospital attacks, or whether they were aimed at the Hazaras.

_0">

City police chief Mir Zubair Mehmood told Reuters that the students on the bus were from various ethnic groups, including Hazaras, targets of a series of bombings this year. Another police official said the hospital blast seemed to be aimed at government officials who had rushed to the scene.

_1">

HAZARAS TARGETED

_2">

Saturday's attack was the biggest since bombings in the city at the start of the year killed almost 200 people, briefly drawing global attention to a growing campaign of victimization of the Hazaras by sectarian militants.

_3">

Their 500,000-strong community in Quetta has been subjected to a campaign of shootings and bombings by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), a militant group dedicated to attacking the Shi'ite minority.

_4">

The attack on Jinnah's hill retreat in the town of Ziarat was claimed by the separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army, Baluchistan's top policeman Mushtaq Sukhera said. Reuters was unable to contact the insurgents to verify that claim.

_5">

Jinnah stayed in the woodland Quaid Azam Residency as he tried to recover from a lung disease in 1948, a year after his successful campaign to separate Pakistan from India. He died in Karachi soon after. The building is a national heritage site.

_6">

Several men surrounded the house in the early hours of the morning before detonating several bombs, local police and an eyewitness said.

_7">

A policeman died and the ensuing blaze tore through the two-storey wooden-clad building, destroying historical relics.

_8">

Baluchistan is laden with copper and gold deposits that are largely unexploited. It also supplies much of the natural gas feeding Pakistan's lifeline textile industry in eastern Punjab province, and is home to a deepwater port at Gwadar.

_9">

Chief Minister Abdul Malik last week called on security forces, who deny wrongdoing, to end a campaign of enforced disappearances to support his hopes of kindling dialogue.

_10">

(Reporting by Gul Yousafzai, additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Michael Perry and Ron Popeski)

_11">

Google's Project Loon explores balloon-powered Internet access

Google Inc has launched a small network of balloons over the Southern Hemisphere in an experiment it hopes could bring reliable Internet access to the world's most remote regions, the company said late Friday.

_0">

The pilot program, Project Loon, took off this month from New Zealand's South Island, using solar-powered, high-altitude balloons that ride the wind about 12.5 miles - twice as high as airplanes - above the ground, Google said.

 

Like the Internet search engine for which Google is best known, Project Loon uses algorithms to determine where the balloons need to go, then moves them into winds blowing in the desired direction, the company said.

By moving with the wind, the balloons form a network of airborne hot spots that can deliver Internet access over a broad area at speeds comparable to 3G using open radio frequency bands, Google said.

To connect to the balloon network, a special Internet antenna is attached to buildings below.

The Mountain View, Calif-based company announced the project on its official blog here, and its website www.google.com/loon/.

The 30 balloons deployed in New Zealand this month will beam Internet to a small group of pilot testers and be used to refine the technology and shape the next phase of Project Loon, Google said.

Google did not say what it was spending on the pilot project or how much a global network of balloons might cost.

Google has also developed self-driving vehicles, which the company says could significantly increase driving safety.

Those vehicles are beginning to gain support from lawmakers in places like California, where a bill legalizing their operation on state roads was signed into law last by Governor Jerry Brown.

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher; editing by Gunna Dickson)

U.S. puts jets in Jordan, fuels Russian fear of Syria no-fly zone

The United States said on Saturday it would keep F-16 fighters and Patriot missiles in Jordan at Amman's request, and Russia bristled at the possibility they could be used to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria.

Washington, which has long called for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, pledged military support to Syrian rebels this week, citing what it said was the Syrian military's use of chemical weapons - an allegation Damascus has denied.

 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved a Jordanian request for American F-16s and Patriot missiles to remain in the Western-backed kingdom after a joint military exercise there next week, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Western diplomats said on Friday Washington was considering a limited no-fly zone over parts of Syria, but the White House noted later that it would be far harder and costlier to set one up there than it was in Libya, saying the United States had no national interest in pursuing that option.

Russia, an ally of Damascus and fierce opponent of outside military intervention in Syria, said any attempt to impose a no-fly zone using F-16s and Patriots from Jordan would be illegal.

"You don't have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

The idea of a no-fly zone was endorsed by Egypt, the biggest Arab nation. President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist more distant from Washington than his deposed military predecessor, made a keynote speech in Cairo throwing Egypt's substantial weight more firmly than before against President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite their differences, the United States and Russia announced in May they would try to convene peace talks involving the Syrian government and its opponents, but have set no date.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said chemical attacks by Syrian forces and Hezbollah's involvement on Assad's side showed a lack of commitment to negotiations and threatened to "put a political settlement out of reach".

Kerry had not previously expressed such pessimism about prospects for the conference, which has run into many obstacles.

These include disarray in the Syrian opposition and military gains by the Syrian army and its Lebanese Hezbollah allies against rebels who have few ways to counter Assad's air power.

The involvement of Hezbollah fighters on the side of Assad, a fellow ally of the main Shi'ite power Iran, has galvanized Arab governments, including Egypt, behind the rebels, who mostly follow the Sunni version of Islam that dominates the Arab world.

That has hardened sectarian confrontation across the region, which some Arabs hope might be softened by the election of the moderate Hassan Rohani as Iran's president - though few believe he can truly influence Tehran's supreme leader.

Mursi, addressing thousands of cheering supporters at a stadium gathering organized by Egyptian Sunni clerics, demanded Hezbollah pull out of Syria and, after his Muslim Brotherhood joined calls for jihad against Assad and his Shi'ite allies, the president said Cairo had now cut diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Egypt's powerful, U.S.-backed army seems unlikely to involve itself in Syria, but religious passions are running high and more Egyptian volunteers could travel to join the rebels.

AIR STRIKES

_0">

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian jets and artillery had again attacked Jobar, a battered district where rebels operate on the edge of central Damascus.

_1">

It said heavy artillery was also shelling opposition fighters in the provinces of Homs, Aleppo and Deir al-Zor.

_2">

Western powers have been reluctant in the past to arm Syrian insurgents, let alone give them sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles that might fall into the hands of Sunni Islamist insurgents in rebel ranks who have pledged loyalty to al Qaeda.

_3">

Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander Salim Idriss told Reuters late on Friday that rebels urgently needed anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, as well as a protective no-fly zone.

_4">

"But our friends in the United States haven't told us yet that they are going to support us with weapons and ammunition," he said after meeting U.S. and European officials in Turkey.

_5">

A source in the Middle East familiar with U.S. dealings with the rebels has said planned arms supplies would include automatic weapons, light mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

_6">

The United Nations says at least 93,000 people, including civilians and combatants, have died in the Syrian civil war, with the monthly death toll averaging 5,000 in the past year.

_7">

Abu Nidal, from the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, said U.S. help was welcome, but questioned how effective it would be.

_8">

"I doubt the influx of weapons will significantly tip the balance into our favor," he said via Skype. "They might help push back regime offensives of the last few days."

_9">

SYRIAN OFFICERS DEFECT

_10">

Abu Nidal's faction is not part of the more moderate FSA, Washington's chosen channel for military aid, but he said the two groups fight alongside each other on the battlefield.

_11">

The FSA was set up by defectors from the Syrian military in August 2011, but many rebel factions operate independently.

_12">

Assad's armed forces have remained relatively cohesive, although a Turkish official said 71 Syrian army officers, including six generals, had just defected to Turkey, in the biggest such mass desertion in months.

_13">

Western nations have stopped short of arming Syrian rebels or mounting an air campaign as they did, with U.N. approval, to help Libyan insurgents topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

_14">

Intervening against Assad is considered riskier because Syria has a stronger military, sits on the sectarian faultlines of the Middle East, and is supported by Iran and Russia, which has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria.

_15">

Yet an apparent shift in the military balance in Assad's favor, especially with the arrival of thousands of Shi'ite fighters from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, has made his swift removal look unlikely without outside intervention.

_0">

However, Israel's defense minister suggested the pendulum could still swing the other way, despite the capture this month of Qusair, a former rebel stronghold near the Lebanese border.

_1">

"Bashar al-Assad's victory in Qusair was not a turning point in the Syrian civil war, and I do not believe that he has the momentum to win," said Moshe Yaalon, who is visiting Washington.

_2">

"He controls just 40 percent of the territory in Syria. Hezbollah is involved in the fighting in Syria and has suffered many casualties in the battles, and as far as we know, it is more than 1,000 casualties," Yaalon said in a statement.

_3">

"We should be prepared for a long civil war with ups and downs."

_4">

Israel has not taken sides in Syria, but does not want to see any Western anti-aircraft missiles or other advanced arms reach Islamist militants hostile to the Jewish state.

_5">

(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch in Ankara, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Thomas Grove in Moscow and Tom Perry and Alastair Macdonald in Cairo; Editing by Andrew Roche)

_6">

Turkish riot police storm Istanbul park in bid to end protests

Turkish riot police stormed an Istanbul park at the heart of two weeks of protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, firing tear gas and water cannon and sending hundreds scurrying into surrounding streets.

Lines of police backed by armored vehicles sealed off Taksim Square in the center of the city as officers stormed the adjoining Gezi Park, where protesters had been living in a ramshackle tent camp.

 

Erdogan had warned hours earlier that security forces would clear the square, the center of more than two weeks of fierce anti-government protests that spread to cities across Turkey, unless the demonstrators withdrew before a ruling party rally in Istanbul on Sunday.

"We have our Istanbul rally tomorrow. I say it clearly: Taksim Square must be evacuated, otherwise this country's security forces know how to evacuate it," he told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara.

A main public-sector union confederation, KESK, which has some 240,000 members, said it would call a national strike for Monday, while a second union grouping said it was holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to join the action.

Panicked protesters fled into an upmarket hotel at the back of the park, several of them vomiting, as clouds of tear gas and blasts from what witnesses said were percussion bombs - designed to create confusion rather than injure - engulfed the park.

"We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war," Claudia Roth, the co-chair of Germany's Greens party who had gone to Gezi Park to show her support, told Reuters.

Thousands of people spilled onto a main avenue leading to Taksim after the raid, ripping up street signs and starting to build barricades, while police fired tear gas into back streets around the square to try to prevent protesters regrouping.

Local television footage showed groups of demonstrators blocking a main highway to Ataturk airport on the western edge of the city, while to the east several hundred walked towards a main bridge crossing the Bosphorus waterway towards Taksim.

WAVE OF UNREST

"We will continue our work to constitute a peaceful environment in the next few hours," Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters, describing the police operation as "extremely smooth". He said 29 people had been lightly injured.

Protesters also gathered in Ankara around the central Kugulu Park, including opposition MPs who sat in the streets in an effort to prevent the police firing tear gas.

A similar police crackdown on peaceful campaigners in Gezi Park two weeks ago provoked an unprecedented wave of protest against Erdogan, drawing in secularists, nationalists, professionals, trade unionists and students who took to the streets in protest at what they see as his autocratic style.

The unrest, in which police fired tear gas and water cannon at stone-throwing protesters night after night in cities including Istanbul and Ankara, left four people dead and about 5,000 injured, according to the Turkish Medical Association.

The Gezi Park protesters, who oppose government plans to build a replica Ottoman-era barracks there, had defied repeated calls to leave but had started to reduce their presence in the park after meetings with Erdogan and the local authorities.

"This is unbelievable. They had already taken out political banners and were reducing to a symbolic presence in the park," Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Bosphorus University, told Reuters from the edge of Gezi Park.

_0">

Several people were brought out of the park on stretchers to waiting ambulances, while families with young children fled into side streets from a main shopping street leading to the square.

_1">

Residents in surrounding neighborhoods took to their balconies or leaned out of windows banging pots and pans, their clatter rising above the wail of ambulance sirens, while car drivers sounded their horns in support of the protesters.

_2">

Erdogan told protesters on Thursday that he would put the building plans on hold until a court rules on them. It was a softer stance, after two weeks in which he called protesters "riff-raff" and said the plans would go ahead regardless.

_3">

DEFIANT AGAIN

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But at the first of two rallies this weekend by his ruling AK Party, he reverted to a defiant tone, telling tens of thousands of supporters on the outskirts of Ankara that he would crush his opponents at elections next year.

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He called for unity among Turks and accused foreign forces, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), international media and market speculators of stoking unrest and trying to undermine the economy.

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The police intervention so soon after Erdogan had spoken took many by surprise on a busy Saturday night around Taksim, one of Istanbul's main social hubs, not least after President Abdullah Gul, who has struck a more conciliatory tone than Erdogan, said earlier on Saturday that talks were progressing.

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"The fact that negotiation and dialogue channels are open is a sign of democratic maturity ... I believe this process will have good results," Gul had said on his Twitter account.

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What began as a campaign by environmentalists to save one of central Istanbul's few green spaces spiraled into the most serious show of defiance against Erdogan and his AK Party of his decade in power.

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Erdogan has long been Turkey's most popular politician, his AK Party winning three successive election victories, each time with a larger share of the vote, but his critics complain of increasing authoritarianism.

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He has said the AK Party rallies in Ankara and Istanbul are meant to kick off campaigning for local elections next year and not related to the protests, but they are widely seen as a show of strength in the face of the demonstrations.

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"At the beginning I felt sympathy towards those in Gezi Park and I thought our prime minister's tone was too harsh. But now the protests there have turned into something else," said Sumeyye Erdogmus, a 22-year-old nurse, at the Ankara rally.

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"Nothing can justify behavior like cursing the prime minister's mother and burning buses. This is anarchy, and today we are here to show that our prime minister is not alone."

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(Additional reporting by Seda Sezer, Asli Kandemir, Evrim Ergin, Can Sezer in Istanbul, Jonathon Burch and Humeyra Pamuk in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Iran's new president hails 'victory of moderation'

Moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won Iran's presidential election on Saturday with a resounding defeat of conservative hardliners, calling it a victory of moderation over extremism and pledging a new tone of respect in international affairs.

Though thousands of jubilant Iranians poured onto the streets in celebration of the victory, the outcome will not soon transform Iran's tense relations with the West, resolve the row over its nuclear program or lessen its support of Syria's president in the civil war there - matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

 

But the president runs the economy and wields broad influence in decision-making in other spheres. Rohani's resounding mandate could provide latitude for a diplomatic thaw with the West and more social freedoms at home after eight years of belligerence and repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

"This victory is a victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation, a victory of growth and awareness and a victory of commitment over extremism and ill-temper," Rohani told state television, promising to work for all Iranians, including the hardline so-called "Principlists" whom he defeated at the poll.

"I warmly shake the hands of all moderates, reformists and Principlists," he said.

The mid-ranking cleric seemed to strike a new tone in the way he talked about Iran's relations with the rest of the world.

Rohani said there was a new chance "in the international arena" for "those who truly respect democracy and cooperation and free negotiation".

Celebrating crowds sprang up near Rohani's headquarters in downtown Tehran and across the city and country as his victory was confirmed.

"LONG LIVE REFORM!"

"Long live reform! Long live Rohani!" chanted the throngs, according to witnesses at the scene. "Ahmadi, bye bye!" they added in reference to Ahmadinejad, the witnesses said.

"Tehran has exploded with happiness. I have never seen so many people so happy in my life," said Negin, a 29-year-old photographer.

Others flashed the victory sign and chanted slogans in favor of Mirhossein Mousavi, who reformist supporters believe was robbed of the 2009 election by what they say was vote rigging to return Ahmadinejad to office.

"Mousavi, Mousavi, I got back your vote!" and "Mousavi, Mousavi, congratulations on your victory!" the crowds shouted.

Another eyewitness named Mina told Reuters tearfully by phone: "I haven't been this happy in four years. I feel that we finally managed to achieve a part of what we have been fighting for since the past elections. They finally respected our vote. This is a victory for reforms and all of us as reformists."

Rohani will take up the presidency, the highest elected office in Iran's hybrid clerical-republican system, in August.

Several people were killed and hundreds detained when security forces crushed protests after the 2009 election, and Mousavi and his fellow reformist candidate are still being held under house arrest. Authorities say the election was free and fair.

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BRIDGE-BUILDER?

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Though an establishment figure, Rohani was known for his nuanced, conciliatory approach when he was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator.

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He could act as a bridge-builder between hardliners around Khamenei who reject any accommodation with the West and reformers marginalized for the last four years who argue that the Islamic Republic needs to be more pragmatic in its relations with the world and modernize at home in order to survive.

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Emphasizing political continuity, Khamenei congratulated both the people of Iran for the high turnout in the polls and Rohani for his electoral success.

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"The true winner of yesterday's election is the great nation of Iran that was able to take a firm step with God's help," Fars news agency quoted Khamenei as saying.

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But Rohani's wide margin of victory revealed a large reservoir of support for reform with many voters, undaunted by restrictions on candidate choice and campaign rallies, seizing the chance to rebuke the unelected elite over Iran's economic miseries, international isolation and security crackdowns.

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Rohani's nearest rival was conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with less than 16 percent. Other hardline candidates close to Khamenei, including current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, scored even lower.

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Iran's rial strengthened about 4 percent against the U.S. dollar on Saturday after partial vote tallies pointed to an easy Rohani victory, web sites tracking the currency said.

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Washington said it stood ready to engage with Iran to reach a "diplomatic solution" over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is intended to produce nuclear weapons - something Iran denies.

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"We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard," the White House said in a statement.

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"It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians."

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