Thursday, March 29, 2012

Syrian-American brothers in arms join Syria fight

Two Syrian-American brothers sneaked back into Syria to fight the Assad government. They ran into their father in the besieged city of Idlib, and he was not happy to see them.

Last week, a 20-year-old man called Abdul knocked on the door of a house outside Philadelphia.

He knew the apartment was packed with relatives waiting for him, and he was nervous.

When the door opened, two brothers, several cousins and uncles crowded around him and slapped him on the back. Abdul - a blue-eyed, muscular young man - fell into his mother's arms.

"It's enough, mum," he whispered to her in Arabic. "Stop crying. I'm here now."

It was a homecoming with a difference.

Abdul's mother and the rest of the family had not heard from him since mid-February.

He had told his parents he was going to Turkey, where his older brother Mo was helping Syrian refugees who had crossed the border from the fighting in northern Syria.

The two brothers, Abdul and Mo, disappeared soon afterwards. Abdul says the two sneaked into Syria itself and joined the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"I made my decision to fight," Abdul said in an interview at a travel agency office in downtown Antakya, Turkey, before he returned to the US.

The brothers were born in the US but moved to Syria as young children. In 2009, Abdul returned to the US to attend university in New Jersey.

When the Syrian uprising kicked off a year ago, Abdul became consumed by news of the struggle.

"I was on Facebook for one year - I didn't go out," he said. "I was like, with them [the opposition fighters] - but in a different country."

In early February, Abdul had had enough sitting on the sidelines.

He dropped out of university, paid off his credit card debts, and flew to Turkey, intent on joining the fight. (Some Syrian-American friends were supposed to join him, but backed out at the last minute.)

He landed in Istanbul, then caught a bus 18 hours to the Syrian border. There he and Mo spent five days looking for weapons - without success, he said.

The brothers sneaked over the border on 18 February and joined a small band of rebels.

After several days of training in a mountainous region inside Syria, they and a unit of about 35 fighters made their way on foot and by car to the brothers' hometown of Idlib, then an opposition stronghold in the north-west of Syria.

Hiding from Dad
Meanwhile, Abdul's mother and two younger brothers made the reverse trip, fleeing the violence in Idlib to take refuge in New Jersey.

The boys' father Michael remained behind in Idlib to tend to his drugstore.

By the time Abdul got to Idlib, he had not seen his father for more than two years. But he was keen not to let him know he had returned.

"We were in the same protest," he said, "but I was hiding behind people so he wouldn't see me."

Abdul feared his father would order him out of the country if he discovered him.

"He'd kick me out!"

Michael and his two sons were finally reunited the next day, as fighting broke out in the city.

"The tanks started at 05:00 exactly in the morning," Michael recalled in an interview in Turkey. "You could hear the bombing and shelling. The sound of bullets was like listening to rain."

The Syrian army stormed Idlib on 10 March. Michael says he was holed up in his apartment. Then his phone rang. His sister, also in Idlib, delivered a confusing message: "Come get your boys."

"I said: 'What boys?'" Michael said. He told his sister: "Thank God my boys are not here. They are outside the country!"

"No, no," she answered back. "Your boys are surrounded with tanks and they are at their uncle's house and they don't know what to do."

"My boys?"


Flight from Idlib
Abdul said he and his brother Mo fought with a rebel unit that day. The squad leader was injured, and realising their rusty Kalashnikovs could do nothing against the army's tanks and shells, the brothers retreated to their uncle's house nearby.

Michael jumped in his car and drove through the shelling to find his sons.

He did not give them a warm welcome.

"Of course I didn't say hello. I was cursing very, very strong words," he says. "I'm sorry to say that but I was very angry. I had been worried about myself. Now I was worrying about three people."

With the help of friends, Michael arranged for several opposition fighters to smuggle them out of Idlib.

Abdul said their flight was scary. A tank positioned about 70ft (21m) away turned its cannon toward them as they ran across the road surrounding Idlib. They managed to escape through an olive grove.

Their father Michael sneaked out of Idlib the same night, and the three were reunited the next day in southern Turkey.

No promises
Michael said he finally kissed his sons then, but he still had harsh words.

"It was stupid what they did. Very stupid," he said. "People were paying a lot of money to get out, and they couldn't get out. They [my sons] came by themselves. They went into a death trap."

But Abdul defended his and Mo's acts.

"When you see dead bodies and your friends getting killed," he said, "you're not going to be afraid of anything."

He says the government's crackdown has only hardened his resolve.

"Don't do this again," were his father Michael's last words to him when the two kissed goodbye in Turkey. Mo and Michael remained in Turkey.

But Abdul said he could not promise his father anything.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Macky Sall

Macky Sall (born December 11, 1961) is a Senegalese politician who was elected as President of Senegal in March 2012; he is set to take office on 1 April 2012. Under President Abdoulaye Wade, Sall was Prime Minister of Senegal from April 2004 to June 2007 and President of the National Assembly of Senegal from June 2007 to November 2008. He was the Mayor of Fatick from 2002 to 2008 and has held that post again since April 2009.

Sall was a long-time member of the Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS). After coming into conflict with President Wade, he was removed from his post as President of the National Assembly in November 2008; he consequently founded his own party and joined the opposition. Placing second in the first round of the 2012 presidential election, he won the backing of other opposition candidates and prevailed over Wade in the second round of voting, held on 25 March 2012.

Early career and ministerial positions
Sall, a geological engineer by profession, was born in Fatick. He became Secretary-General of the PDS Regional Convention in Fatick in 1998 and served as the PDS National Secretary in charge of Mines and Industry. He was Special Advisor for Energy and Mines to President Abdoulaye Wade from April 6, 2000 to May 12, 2001, as well as Director-General of the Petroleum Company of Senegal (Société des Pétroles du Sénégal, PETROSEN) from December 13, 2000 to July 5, 2001. He became Minister of Mines, Energy and Hydraulics on May 12, 2001, and he was promoted to the rank of Minister of State, while retaining his portfolio, on November 6, 2002. He additionally became the Mayor of Fatick on June 1, 2002.

On August 27, 2003, Sall was moved from his position as Minister of State for Mines, Energy and Hydraulics to that of Minister of State for the Interior and Local Communities, while also becoming Government Spokesman. He was then appointed as Prime Minister by President Wade on April 21, 2004, when his predecessor, Idrissa Seck, was dismissed. On April 25, 2004, Seck became Vice-President of the PDS Steering Committee.

Sall served as the director of Wade's re-election campaign for the February 2007 presidential election, in which Wade was victorious, obtaining a majority in the first round. After Wade was sworn in, Sall submitted his resignation on April 10 and was immediately reappointed, with the government unchanged.

From :

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tupou VI

Tupou VI (full name: ʻAhoʻeitu ʻUnuakiʻotonga Tukuʻaho; born 12 July 1959) is the King of Tonga. He is the younger brother and successor of the late King George Tupou V. He was officially confirmed by his brother on 27 September 2006 as the heir presumptive to the Tongan throne, as his brother (a bachelor) had no legitimate children. He also served as Tonga's High Commissioner to Australia, and resided in Canberra until the death of King George Tupou V on 18 March 2012, when ʻAhoʻeitu ʻUnuakiʻotonga Tukuʻaho became King of Tonga, with the regnal name Tupou VI.

He was born the third son and youngest child of King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV. He started his career in the military, joining the naval arm of the Tonga Defence Services in 1982 and becoming a Lieutenant-Commander in 1987. From 1990 to 1995 he commanded the Pacific-class patrol boat VOEA Pangai and his time in charge included peacekeeping operations in Bougainville.

In 1998 he ended his military career to become part of the government, first as the defence minister and the foreign minister at the same time, from October 1998 until August 2004. He took over these posts from his elder brother Siaosi Tupou V, at that time still the crown prince and as such known as Tupoutoʻa (see below). Soon he was appointed as Prime Minister on 3 January 2000, a function he kept until his sudden resignation on 11 February 2006, for which the reason has never become clear, but was most likely due to the unrest in the country since mid-2005, a series of pro-democracy protests calling for a lesser role for the royal family in government. His appointed successor, Feleti Sevele, was Tonga's first prime minister who was not a hereditary estate holder or a member of the aristocracy (made of 33 noble titles).

ʻAhoʻeitu is married to a daughter of the high chief Vaea, Nanasipauʻu and the couple has 3 children:

    * ʻAngelika Lātūfuipeka Halaʻevalu Mataʻaho Napuaʻokalani Tukuʻaho
    * Siaosi Manumataongo ʻAlaivahamamaʻo ʻAhoʻeitu Konstantin Tukuʻaho
    * Viliami ʻUnuaki-ʻo-Tonga Mumui Lalaka-Mo-e-ʻEiki Tukuʻaho

In January 2012, Prince Siaosi, known as Prince ‘Ulukalala, announced his engagement to the Sinaitakala Fakafanua.

Name and Titles
It is customary in Tongan culture that princes get a traditional chiefly title, by which they then are commonly known (and no longer by their baptised name). As such for many years, until his confirmation as heir presumptive, ʻAhoʻeitu was known by either one or all three of the titles which were bestowed on him over the time: Lavaka from Pea, Ata from Kolovai and ʻAtatā, and ʻUlukālala from Vavaʻu. These titles may be used in any order, (the one belonging to the area from which the speaker is coming usually first). Nevertheless the sequences Lavaka Ata ʻUlukālala and ʻUlukālala Lavaka Ata were most common.

Since his confirmation as heir presumptive, he got the traditional title of Tupoutoʻa, reserved for crown princes, which his older brother (the second) had to give up because he married a commoner, while two of his previous titles went to his sons. As such he is currently known as Tupoutoʻa Lavaka. His oldest son, Siaosi, is to be addressed by the prestigious title of ʻUlukālala, while his second son, Viliami, was bestowed with Ata.

From :

King who steered Tonga towards democracy dies aged 63

The king of Tonga, George Tupou V, who was credited with introducing democracy to the South Pacific archipelago after riots following his ascension in 2006, died in a Hong Kong hospital on Sunday.

His younger brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, who is heir to the throne, was with him when he died at the age of 63.

Tongan radio read a government statement announcing his death. The prime minister, Lord Siale'ataonga Tu'ivakano, declared that the royal family and entire nation was in mourning, ending his address with a Tongan expression meaning "The sun has set".

On ascending the throne after the death of his father, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, the Oxford-educated king said he would relinquish most of his power in the last Polynesian monarchy and be guided by his prime minister's recommendations on most matters.

The first direct elections were held in November 2010 after 165 years of feudal rule.

Tongan media reports say the king underwent a liver transplant last year and had also been diagnosed with cancer.

The king was known to the outside world for eccentricities such as being driven around in a London taxi, and will be remembered by many for his throwback fashion choices, which included wearing, at times, a top hat and even a monocle.

New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, released a statement saying that his thoughts were with the people of Tonga.

"I would like to acknowledge the very valuable contribution the king has made in steering Tonga towards democracy and hope this work will continue," Key said. "He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can truly be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga. This will be his enduring legacy."

Tonga, which comprises 170 islands, has a population of 106,000 and lies south of Samoa, about 1,320 miles northeast of New Zealand.

From : The Guardian