Monday, February 7, 2011

Longbridge £70m redevelopment plan submitted

Part of Birmingham could undergo a £70m transformation, which could create more than 600 jobs.
St. Modwen Properties Plc and partner Advantage West Midlands have submitted plans to Birmingham City Council to redevelop Longbridge.
Artist's impression of proposed Longbridge town centreThe application includes a supermarket, shops, restaurants, a hotel, 40 apartments, a two-acre park, car parks and roads.
Construction should start in the summer of 2011 if the scheme is approved.
'Major milestone'
A spokesman for the developers said negotiations were "well advanced" for the sale of the supermarket and pre-lettings of the retail space and hotel.
The scheme is linked to the redevelopment of the nearby MG Rover site.
The spokesman said: "Once complete, the town centre will establish a new heart for the community and a focal point for the regeneration of the former MG Rover works at Longbridge.
"The project will provide an important economic boost to the area and create a diverse range of employment opportunities, potentially creating over 600 jobs."
Bill Oliver, chief executive of St. Modwen, said: "The submission of a planning application for the new town centre at Longbridge is a major milestone in the evolution of this project.
"It underlines our expertise in taking on large scale regeneration projects and provides a clear indication that 2011 will be one of the most active years yet for this important scheme."

UK ministers 'wanted Lockerbie bomber released'

The previous UK government did "all it could" to help facilitate the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a report on the case has said.
Sir Gus O'Donnell, the country's most senior civil servant, said there was an "underlying desire" to see Megrahi released before he died.
But his report concluded that it was made clear to Libya that the final decision was up to Scottish ministers.
And there was no evidence of UK pressure on the Holyrood government.
Most of the 270 people who died when Pan Am Flight 103 blew up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988 were Americans.
The last Labour government consistently refused to publicly take a position on Megrahi's release, and the report aims to shed light on what Westminster ministers were saying behind the scenes.
Megrahi, the only person convicted of the atrocity, was freed by Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill on compassionate grounds.
The Libyan, terminally ill with prostate cancer, was freed from a Scottish prison to return home in August 2009 after doctors suggested he had three months to live, although he is still alive.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who commissioned the report, questioned whether it was right for the last Labour government to facilitate the Libyan efforts to secure the release of Megrahi.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said the findings made clear his position that the matter was the responsibility of the Scottish government.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed publication of the report and 140 pages of supporting documents.
He said the information showed UK ministers changed their position on Megrahi due to commercial considerations, including lobbying by BP, in Libya.
Sir Gus O'Donnell's report said the UK government had an "underlying desire to see Mr Megrahi released before he died".
The report added that, in 2008, the government developed a policy that it "should do all it could, whilst respecting devolved competences, to facilitate an appeal by the Libyans to the Scottish government for Mr Megrahi's transfer under the PTA (prisoner transfer agreement) or release on compassionate grounds".
"This action amounted to: proceeding with ratification of the PTA; explaining to Libya in factual terms the process for application for transfer under a PTA or for compassionate release; and informing the Scottish government that there was no legal barrier to transfer under the PTA," the report said.
Sir Gus said he had "not seen any evidence" that the UK government pressured or lobbied the Scottish government for the transfer or release of Megrahi.

Construction begins on Bloodhound supercar

Construction work formally begins this week on what is expected to be the world's fastest car.
Called Bloodhound, the vehicle has been designed to reach 1,000mph (1,600km/h).
The British car will attempt to set the mark as it breaks the land speed record on a dried out lake bed in South Africa's Northern Cape late next year.
Bloodhound has been in design for the past three years. It will be powered by a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine bolted above a hybrid rocket.
The power unit combination should deliver a thrust in the order of 200 kilonewtons (47,000lb). This is not dissimilar to the thrust delivered by one of Concorde's famous Olympus 593 jet engines, except Bloodhound will weigh only about six tonnes.
"It's a fantastic feeling to be handing over the drawings to the people who will now build the car," said chief engineer Mark Chapman. "It's a 'progressive definition release' which means as soon as we finish a design, it goes out the door. The first metal parts should start coming back to our design house in Bristol by Easter," he told BBC News.
The steel-lattice rear chassis will be prepared by aerospace specialists Hampson Industries. They were officially passed the design drawings just a few days ago so that they could start work this week.
Bloodhound's front section will be prepared by Advanced Composites Group, renowned for their work on America's Cup yachts and other hi-tech vehicles that use carbon and glass fibre materials.
ACG will also construct the master models and tooling from which critical elements of the car's bodywork and structural components, such as the monocoque and nose, will be produced.
Bloodhound's Falcon rocket will be the biggest hybrid (solid fuel propellant, liquid oxidiser) booster ever produced in the UK. Such is its scale, it will need a Formula One engine supplied by the legendary Cosworth group just to pump the oxidiser through the motor.
The car's 900mm-diameter wheels will be made from an aluminium alloy. They will have to withstand rotation in excess of 10,000 rpm while at the same time being blasted by grit thrown up by Bloodhound as it sweeps across the lake bed floor. The discs will be made from a grade chosen by Lockheed Martin following simulations that involved firing stone particles at metal plates using a high-powered gas gun.
"If necessary we'll design a fancy mud guard for down the front of the wheels just to protect them," said Mr Chapman. "That's one thing we're still looking at. We're also having one last look at the design of the rear fin before locking out the top of the car."
If it achieves 1,000mph, Bloodhound will surpass the World Land Speed Record set by the Thrust SuperSonic Car in 1997 (763mph; 1,228km/h).
Three people who worked on Thrust are also engaged in the Bloodhound project.
They are driver Wing Cdr Andy Green, project director Richard Noble and chief aerodynamicist Ron Ayres.
The trio envisaged Bloodhound not just as another record bid but as a project that could inspire children to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. Some 4,000 British schools are now involved in the Bloodhound Education Programme. Many more around the globe have access to online teaching resources via IT partner Intel Corporation's "Skoool" initiative.
Bloodhound is expected to be ready to begin "low speed" trials on a UK runway in the first half of next year before being shipped to Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape for high speed runs in late 2012 or 2013.

Egypt unrest: Protesters frustrate normalisation effort

Attempts to return Egypt to normality after two weeks of deadly anti-government protests have suffered a number of setbacks.
While banks have reopened, schools and the stock exchange remain closed, and protesters have prevented the re-opening of a major government building.
Section of a map showing Tahrir SquareThe Egyptian cabinet has announced a 15% rise in public-sector salaries and pensions, effective from April.
But the protesters continue to occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square.
They say they will only leave when President Hosni Mubarak stands down.
Some spent the night in or under army vehicles, to stop efforts to move them.
The Egyptian government is selling $2.5bn (£1.55bn) in short-term debt, after having cancelled auctions last week. It is seeking to revive an economy said to be losing at least $310m a day.
However, the Cairo stock exchange, which was originally supposed to re-open on Monday, will now not resume trading until Sunday 13 February. It has been closed since 27 January, when 70bn Egyptian pounds (£7.3bn; $12bn) was wiped off shares over two days.
The Egyptian cabinet - reshuffled on 31 January, when President Mubarak sacked several ministers - met in its new form for the first time on Monday afternoon and agreed to raise public-sector salaries and pensions by 15%.
Finance Minister Samir Radwan allocated about 6.5bn Egyptian pounds (£677m; $960m) to cover the increases for six million employees.
On Monday morning, crowds of protesters on Tahrir Square formed a human chain around the Mugamma - where people go to get official paperwork processed - to prevent it from opening as normal.
The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the protesters were in a face-off with some soldiers, but as the army has been instructed not to use force, the situation was in deadlock - symptomatic of the whole country.
There is still no sign of Google executive Wael Ghonim, who disappeared on 28 January. On Sunday, a leading businessman who has been backing the protests, Naguib Sawiris of Orascom Telecom, said the authorities had told him Mr Ghonim would be released at 1600 local time (1400 GMT) on Monday.
Meanwhile, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned that the protests in Egypt and the Arab world could fuel illegal immigration to Europe.
"Instability in the region as such may also, in the longer-term perspective, have a negative impact on the economies, which might lead to illegal immigration in Europe," Mr Rasmussen told a news briefing in Brussels.
However, the situation did not pose a direct threat to Nato, he added.
'Start transition now'
As the crisis enters its third week, ordinary people are worried that prices for ordinary goods like bread have risen sharply, and show no signs of coming back down.
Meanwhile, Egyptian state TV has announced that the curfew is being relaxed. It will now run from 2000 to 0600 local time (1800-0400 GMT). However, the curfew has been widely flouted since it was introduced 10 days ago.
Talks on Sunday between the Egyptian government and opposition groups on tackling the country's political crisis failed to end the protests.
The government offered a series of concessions, but the opposition said they were not enough.
US President Obama has said Egypt will not "go back to what it was".
In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, he said: "The Egyptian people want freedom, they want free and fair elections, they want a representative government, and so what we've said is, you have to start a transition now."
Later on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to caution Egypt against a rush to replace its leader of 30 years.
"As I understand the constitution, if the president were to resign, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the house, and presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days," she said.
"Now the Egyptians are going to have to grapple with the reality of what they must do."
Mrs Clinton also praised Mr Mubarak for the compromises he had already put in place, including his pledge that neither he nor his son, Gamal, would run for office in the next elections.
It was widely believed that Gamal Mubarak was being groomed to take over the leadership from his father.
"They have to be viewed as an important set of steps that he has taken," the AFP news agency quoted Mrs Clinton as saying.
Meanwhile, one Egyptian security officer was injured when four rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a security forces barracks in Rafah on the Gaza Strip border, officials said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind Monday morning's attack, which Egyptian state television blamed on "extremist groups aiming to undermine security".

Julian Assange arrives at U.K. court

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has arrived in court to fight an extradition bid over sex crimes allegations.

Assange lawyers cast doubt on charges at extradition trial in London

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 7, 2011; 10:40 AM
LONDON - The extradition trial of Julian Assange, the mastermind behind the WikiLeaks Web site, opened on Monday with the 39-year old Australian placidly watching from the plaintiff's bench as his lawyers argued against sending him to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.
With his celebrity supporters present in the courtroom, including Bianca Jagger and the socialite Jemima Khan, Assange, wearing a dark suit and purple tie, scribbled down notes and settled in for what is set to be the two-day hearing.
British lawyers representing Swedish prosecutors argued for Assange's extradition over allegations of rape, molestation and unlawful coercion lodged by two women who entered into brief physical relationships with Assange in Sweden last August.
Assange has denied said any wrongdoing, insisting he had consensual sex with both women.
Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange's lead attorneys, argued that Assange could not receive a fair trial in Sweden in part because rape cases there are heard in private. Conducting such a case in secret, without press and the public present, he argued, "risks a flagrant denial of justice."
Assange's defense also maintains that some of the allegations against their client - including that he continued having sex after a condom broke despite the protests of his partner and that he had sex with a woman while she was asleep - would not be classified as high crimes in Britain and, therefore, are not extraditable offenses.
Robertson argued Monday morning that the Swedish crime of "minor" rape, one of the charges Assange faces, is defined in a way that does not amount to rape in any other European country. "We invite the court to say this is not rape as it is accepted in European law," he said.
Yet Clare Montgomery, representing the Swedish prosecutors, countered that the charges included allegations that would be defined in Britain as rape. "Mr. Assange had sexual intercourse with her and exploited the fact that she was asleep," Montgomery said of one of the alleged victims. Such a crime, she said, would also be prosecuted in Britain.
Given the broad laws governing extradition between European Union nations - which are structured to allow expedited extraditions - experts say Assange faces a hard-fought case.

In addition to questioning whether the Swedish charges would have merit in a British court, however, Assange's lawyers are posing multiple other objections. They say Sweden should not have requested Assange's extradition because prosecutors there have not yet officially filed criminal charges against their client. Instead, prosecutors issued a warrant based on their desire to question Assange in connection with the allegations.
They have also suggested that the case is politically motivated, one of the rare justifications for refusing inter-European extradition requests. The defense asserts that the allegations against Assange amount to a conspiracy that would end with Assange being extradited to the United States to face charges for the leaking of secret State Department documents on the Internet.
The lawyers acting on behalf of Swedish prosecutors dismiss the conspiracy theory as false and unfounded.
Though the hearing is set to conclude on Tuesday, most analysts believe the judge will not issue a written verdict for a week or two. After that decision comes down, both parties will have the right to appeal to Britain's high court in a process that could drag on for months.
On Monday, about a dozen Assange backers gathered outside the Belmarsh high-security prison, where the court is being held. Some were wearing orange Guantanamo Bay prison outfits, while others wielded placards reading "don't shoot the messenger," and "the truth has been raped."
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By Lisa de Moraes

"Glee's" post-Super Bowl episode featured the cheerleaders taking on Katy Perry's "California Gurls." (Fox)

This blog post was filed by Emily Yahr:
Poor Ryan Murphy. He pulled out all the stops for the post-Super Bowl return of "Glee" from its two-month hiatus, including an opening number in which guys did tricks on bikes while the blue-wigged Cheerios pranced around in cone bikini tops tricked out with sparklers.
And still, all anyone will be talking about Monday morning is Christina Aguilera messing up the lyrics to our national anthem.
("What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last gleaming" instead of "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming." Really, Christina?)
Hey, it's not "Glee's" fault that it got upstaged by a musical event that happened before the big game even started.
But we're here to talk about "Glee" in which Ryan Murphy seemingly created one of those moments in which a character is blah, blah, blah-ing about something going on in the storyline, but really, the dialogue is a "meta" moment about "Glee" itself.
Case in point: Sue Sylvester booming "I'M BORED!" as the cheerleaders perform their high tech performance with lots of fire to Katy Perry's "California Gurls." Even though, as Quinn points out, it's their most elaborate production number ever, Sue's not satisfied, and she takes to her journal to vent. "I'm already a legend," she writes. "How do I make things interesting again?"

"Glee" post-Super Bowl episode had a scary rendition of "Thriller." (Fox)
Glad you brought it up, Sue, because that's exactly what we're thinking about the show itself: Now that it's attracting guest stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, where does it go from here?
Take this episode, for instance. The same old themes are back: Football players and glee club aren't getting along, Sue's bent on destroying glee club, and Dave Karofsky (Scary Football Player) is terrorizing everyone in the club.
The war between glee club and the football players is worse than ever: Even though the football team is going to the championship game, the non-glee club teammates are not pleased about Finn, Puck, Sam, etc., singing and dancing as well as playing sports.
Will and Coach Bieste, now officially BFFs, decide that if those Filipino prison inmates could join together to perform "Thriller" -- reducing in-prison violence while creating a YouTube moment -- why can't the McKinley High glee club and football team come together in similar fashion, in a half-time mash-up of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Yeah Yeah Yeah's "Heads Will Roll?"
Even the spectacle of Puck and Rachel singing a tender version of Lady Antebellum's late-night-booty-call "Need You Now" can't keep a fistfight from erupting over the very idea. But Will and Coach Bieste stand strong: The two factions must peacefully perform the halftime mash-up while dressed like zombies, or else the glee-club-hating football players are off the team.

And gosh darned it if those skeptical football players don't discover that singing and dancing aren't that bad, especially if it can they can dress up like zombies. And just when you think this story is going to have a Happily Ever After ending, along come be-mulleted members of the McKinley High hockey team, making a rare appearance, and douse them with Slushies, causing the football meanies to re-think the whole thing and tear up their dance cards even though, yes, it means they'll miss the football game, there won't be enough guys to fill out the team and McKinley High will have to forfeit the championship.

Football players during the "Glee" post-Super Bowl episode. (Fox)
This calls for some serious brainstorming on the part of Rachel and Mercedes, over coffee with Kurt and Blaine. Remember Kurt? He's the one who transferred schools because of bullying? He doesn't get much to do on Big Post-Super Bowl Episode, except perform "Bills, Bills, Bills" with his new glee club, just for fun.
Rachel and Mercedes decide the girls of the glee club should join the football team, so there will still be enough players that they don't have to forfeit the game. And that means there will be a halftime show in which the glee club can perform.
Hey, it's "Glee." Just go with it.
The girls join the team. They're adorable. Tina even gets to run the ball back in a touchdown attempt and gets knocked for a loop. Having exhausted the storyline potential of that plot point -- you didn't think they were going to have Tina actually injured, did you? -- Puck is sent to give a rousing Andy Hardy-esque speech to the renegade football players about sticking together and they agree to dress up like zombies and perform at the halftime show after all. Yes, even SFP, when he remembers how much fun it is to dress up like a zombie.
The halftime show goes off without a hitch, and the team wins the game when they cleverly decide to keep on their zombie makeup for the second half of the game which frightens the other team.
Oh yeah, we forgot to mention Sue Sylvester had convinced whoever is in charge of that sort of thing to move a cheerleading competition to the same night as the football game, which leaves the glee club without its cheerleader members who, when forced into this either-or situation, went with the whole "cheerleaders are popular" thing over glee club. Sue concocted this showdown after Principal Figgins thwarts her plans to shoot cheerleader Brittany out of a cannon during a performance. That's why it was Puck, rather than quarterback Finn, who gave the Andy Hardy-esque speech to the football players sitting out the game -- because Finn was busy giving an equally inspiring speech to cheerleaders Quinn, Santana and Brittany to leave Sue Sylvester and return to glee club -- just in time for the halftime show!
Which is why CBS evening news anchor Katie Couric -- the "Glee" Post-Super-Bowl Episode's Big Get -- is now interviewing Sue Sylvester about how it feels to be named Loser of the Year, after three of her girls abandoned her and caused her to lose out on the chance for a record-setting number of cheerleading championships.
Couric reminds viewers that in order for Sue to be named Loser of the Year, she had to beat out other losers such as the economy, Mel Gibson, the housing market, Dina Lohan and Brett Favre's cell phone ... oh, and all the money from the cheerleaders' budget is going to glee club.
And, in what winds up being The Line of the much ballyhooed return of "Glee," after its two-month hiatus, Sue Sylvester looks Katie Couric right in the eye and says, "I hate you, Diane Sawyer."
And still, Christina Aguilera's botched Star Spangled Banner will be what everyone's talking about Monday. Sorry, Katie Couric.
Here's Aguilera upstaging "Glee":

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Waite Rawls: Was there a better choice for C.S.A. president than Jefferson Davis?

By Waite Rawls
President and chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy

The Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America was finalized and signed on February 8, 1861. One of the first acts of the new Congress was to choose the first Provisional President. They did so the following day, and Jefferson Davis was by far the best choice—for both political and military reasons.
We see shades of the Congress’ political concerns today, as both our current Democratic and Republican Parties are split between moderates in each camp and the “true believers.” At the time of the selection of President, the Confederate Congress was faced with a similar choice in leadership. Should they pick a hard-line “fire eater” who had led the secessionist movement, a movement primarily centered around slavery? If so, Alabama’s William Lowndes Yancey, Georgia’s Howell Cobb or Robert Toombs, or South Carolinian Robert Barnwell Rhett would get the nod.
Their principal concerns, however, were northward to the Upper South, where their hard-line pro-slavery stance had gained some support but had not resulted in the secession of the Upper South states. Moderation in the conduct of the Deep South might have some influence. Additionally, there was some hope, in both North and South, that some compromise might be struck or that the Deep South would be allowed to go in peace. Again, moderation might have some influence over future events.
The Confederate Congress also knew that war, not peace, might result from the secessions of the Lower South states, and Davis’ military experience was extensive. He was a graduate of West Point and had distinguished himself in the U. S. Army during the Mexican War. He had resigned from his seat in the U. S. Senate to become President Franklin Pierce’s Secretary of War, where he proved to be one of the more progressive men to hold that seat in our country’s history, before or since. He knew the leading Army professionals personally, and he appreciated recent changes in the conduct of war from his close study of recent conflicts in Europe. America has had a number of war-time generals who later became President, but no U. S. President has ever been better qualified to be a war-time Commander-in-Chief than Jefferson Davis.
So the Provisional Confederate Congress turned to the leading Southern moderates—Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis and Georgian Alexander Stephens for their choice. Both had served in the U. S. Congress, both had close friends in the North, and both had originally opposed secession. Stephens had actually voted against secession in the Georgia convention, and Davis had been proposed as a possible compromise candidate for U. S. President in 1860 by some Northern Democrats. Davis became the unanimous choice for President because he engendered a high level of trust in his character and confidence in his military experience. Stephens was the unanimous choice for Vice President.

Obama to Chamber of Commerce on shared goals: Making U.S. 'the best place on Earth to do business'

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Obama tours Orion Energy Systems, a power technology company in Manitowoc, Wis., in January. (Photo credit: Larry Downing/Reuters)
President Obama is extending another olive branch to the business community this morning with a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The relationship between Obama and the chamber, which represents 3 million companies and is considered to be the most powerful business lobby in Washington, was somewhat chilly during his first two years in office. The chamber and Obama butted heads on foreign money in elections, and the organization was a vocal opponent of financial services regulations and health-care reform -- arguably the two most important legislative projects on Obama's agenda. As of mid-2010, the chamber had been spending nearly $3 million a week in opposition to things such as student-loan legislation, credit-card reforms and a landmark measure that expands workers' rights to sue for equal pay.
The chamber lost on most of these battles, but the president was also hurt by the rift. Obama was slapped with an "anti-business" label that damaged his image with an American public that is still desperately concerned about the economy. At a town hall in September, Obama was on the defensive, pushing back against the idea that his record on health-care reform, financial regulation and intervention in the automobile business has hurt the markets and the business community.
But in recent months, the White House has made numerous efforts to tout causes that both sides can agree on, such as job creation. The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr. recently wrote that Obama had become a "cheerleader" for business and that his visits to factories were so numerous that he seems to be "the host of what feels like a looping infomercial on American innovation."
In his speech at 11:30 a.m., Obama will focus on the "mutual responsibilities" of government and business. In his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday, Obama said he will talk about the government's "obligation to make sure that America is the best place on Earth to do business" and chief executives' duty to keep business on U.S. soil, hire Americans and pay them fairly. Obama also said he will encourage company heads to invest in clean energy.
On Friday, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said that the relationship with the business community "feels stronger going forward."
"I think it's part of an overall feeling of increased confidence that people see the president willing and able to work together to help get some things done that matter on the economy and jobs," Sperling said at a press briefing.
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Egypt offers concessions, but protesters stay put

Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 7, 2011; 11:05 AM
CAIRO - Thousands of pro-democracy protesters maintained their vigil in this capital's central plaza Monday, even as the Egyptian government offered new concessions and tried to return Cairo to some semblance of normalcy.

President Hosni Mubarak met with cabinet members, part of his strategy to demonstrate that he's still in charge and that the government is functioning normally despite the protests.
Afterward, the government announced more concessions in a bid to lower the anti-Mubarak sentiment that has fueled the two-week-old protests, unprecedented in Mubarak's 30-year regime. Officials said salaries and pensions will be raised 15 percent, starting in April, for the 6 million people on Egypt'spublic payroll.
Egyptian state television also reported that Wael Ghonim, a missing Google marketing manager who played a key role in organizing the demonstrations, would be released to his family later Monday. He disappeared Jan. 28 and was believed held by Egypt's feared state security services.
In other news intended to blunt public anger, state television reported that judicial officials would investigate three former government ministers and a senior ruling party official on corruption charges.
Banks, schools and shops reopened across Egypt starting Sunday, and traffic jams returned to Cairo's normally anarchic streets. But Egypt's stock market remained closed, with no prospect of opening for several more days.
Demonstrators organized a human chain to blockade the Mugamma, a huge administrative services building that borders the square and is a hated symbol of Egypt's suffocating bureaucracy. The crowd also fended off persistent but nonviolent attempts by the army to reclaim parts of the square, lying down in front of tanks to prevent them from closing in.
The demonstrators are calling for Mubarak to resign immediately and allow an interim government to lay the groundwork for free and open elections. Mubarak has said he will not seek reelection when his term is up this fall, but he has refused to give up power right away.
On Sunday, leaders of opposition parties began talks with government representatives about possibilities for reform and transition. The opposition leaders had earlier sided with the protesters camped out in Tahrir Square, refusing to meet with government representatives unless Mubarak stepped down.
The shift by opposition leaders followed the clearest signals yet from the Obama administration that its call for a quick transition in Egypt did not include a demand that Mubarak step aside before elections this fall.
Washington has struggled to keep pace with the rapidly changing events in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world, at first trying to nudge Mubarak off the stage, and more recently searching for a way to encourage government reform even if Mubarak refuses, for now, to go.
Among those who joined for the first time in talks with Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, were leaders from the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, along with a loose coalition of political parties, intellectuals and protest organizers. Suleiman said the government would agree to consider broad changes, including constitutional amendments and a possible end to Egypt's three-decade-old state of emergency.

Jane Harman to resign from Congress

By Chris Cillizza
California Rep. Jane Harman (D) will resign from Congress, according to two senior Democratic leadership aides, a surprise announcement that will set off a special election in her 36th district.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who broke the news of Harman's resignation, has reported that the California Congresswoman will take over as director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. That job is currently held by former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton (D).
Harman, 65 , has held the southern California 36th district since 2000 when she upended then Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R). She also ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998, losing a primary to then Lt. Gov.Gray Davis. Her husband, Sidney, is the owner of Newsweek magazine.
Harman's exit was a surprise to many Democrats who reported first hearing off it on the MSNBC airwaves. It will set off a special election in what has grown to be a reliably Democratic seat.
More to come shortly.

Egyptian barracks hit with four grenades

A garrison belonging to Egyptian state security forces has been hit by four rocket-propelled grenades in the town of Rafah in the Sinai Desert.

Egyptian security sources said that two officers were wounded in the incident after "unknown assailants" fired the grenades at the building.

Egyptian state television blamed "extremist groups" for the Monday attack, which occurred two days after unknown attackers blew up a pipeline supplying Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan.

The incident took place as Egyptian revolution has entered its 14th day with millions of people along with opposition groups continue their protests demanding for the ouster of embattled President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubark came under fresh pressure on Monday to step down immediately as anti-government protesters in central Cairo's Libration Square say they will not back down from their demand for regime change in Egypt. Thousands of protesters spent the night in the square despite heavy military presence.

Demonstrators are pouring into streets in the capital Cairo despite talks between the Egyptian government and opposition parties that produced no immediate breakthrough in the two-week-old standoff.

Opposition groups on Sunday dismissed as insufficient an offer to include them in political reform plans. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main opposition group, says Cairo has failed to address many of its demands.

Egypt's leading opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei says he was not invited to the negotiations.

Meanwhile, hostility toward the Obama administration is widespread among the Egyptian protesters as they hold Washington responsible for Mubarak's grip on power. The demonstrators say they won't leave the streets until Mubarak steps down.

Since the start of the protests in troubled Egypt on January 25, which was inspired by Tunisia's revolution, more than 300 people have lost their lives and thousands more sustained injuries during anti-government demonstrations.

Police detain anti-Berlusconi protesters

Italian anti-riot police have arrested two protesters at a thousand-strong rally held in Milan against scandal-plagued Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Thousands of Italian protesters, including writers and intellectuals, protested on Sunday, demanding the premier's resignation as soon as possible.

"Resign, resign!" the protesters shouted at the gates of Berlusconi's private villa in the Milan suburb of Arcore, where he was spending the weekend.

Clashes with riot-police erupted when protesters tried to break a security cordon erected several hundred meters from Berlusconi's residence. They threw bottles and other objects at the Italian police.

Another clash took place in front of Arcore's train station between several officers and demonstrators, which left a journalist injured, police said. Police arrested two protesters in the clash.

The organizer of the rally was an Italian activist group called Justice and Freedom.

"I think maybe it's time for him to leave, to go away with his millions. Either that or he does as any Italian, who does something wrong would have to do which is going to court. If he doesn't go to court, it's all just words," Reuters quoted a demonstrator as saying.

The Italian protesters accused the premier of damaging the country's international reputation.

Berlusconi has come under fire for his sex scandals. Reports revealed that he had been using a bank account in Milan to make payments to showgirls and models that attended parties at his mansion on the outskirts of the city.

The Italian prime minister has resisted calls to quit over the scandal that has made a household name of "Ruby," a teenage nightclub dancer he is accused by prosecutors of having paid for sex while she was under 18, the earliest legal age for prostitution in Italy.

US-led forces kill 2 Afghan civilians

US-led forces have killed two Afghan civilians and seriously injured another one in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, a foreign company announces.

The Central Asia Development Group (CADG) said Monday that the foreign forces killed two Afghan employees of the Singapore-based engineering firm last week.

CADG added that another Afghan civilian hired by the company was injured by "friendly fire" from US-led security forces on February 3.

"On February 3, 2011, a CADG vehicle, carrying four of CADG's Afghan national staff were caught in kinetic activity between ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces and insurgent forces on Highway 1 near Spin Masjid Bazaar, near Gereshk in Helmand Province," CADG spokesman Matthew Goldthwaite told AFP.

"As a result of this exchange, two of the passengers were killed, one passenger was seriously wounded (and) the fourth passenger was unharmed," Goldthwaite added.

"CADG was informed that ISAF have accepted responsibility for this incident... We believe it's friendly fire," he went on to say. ISAF has not yet commented on the incident.

US-led coalition forces and NATO troops in Afghanistan have been frequently criticized for the increase in civilian casualties caused by their military operations in the war-torn country.

More than 2,400 civilians lost their lives in violence across Afghanistan in 2010, marking the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans, a human rights watchdog said last week.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and 150,000-strong US-led foreign forces.

The loss of civilian lives at the hand of foreign forces has dramatically heightened anti-American sentiments in Afghanistan, causing thousands of Afghans to protest against US-led military presence in the Asian country.

Egypt police kill protester in Alexandria

Graphic video footage has emerged from Egypt showing a protester being shot dead by police in Alexandria as revolution rocks the North African nation.

The video appearing on the internet on Monday shows a man approaching armed security forces, opening his jacket facing the police in an apparent attempt to show them he is unarmed.

But the officers shot him after he began to walk away. The incident has reportedly taken place on January 28th in Alexandria.

More than 300 people are estimated to have been killed since the protests began two weeks ago in the crisis-hit country.

The protesters have vowed to continue demonstrations until the embattled President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.

The demonstrators chanted anti-regime slogans at Liberation Square in the capital city of Cairo on the 14th day of protests calling for the ouster of Mubarak, a Press TV correspondent reported on Modnay.

Protesters said their prayers in the presence of security forces as many of them spent the night in the square despite heavy military presence.

The Egyptian army fired into the air to disperse protesters in the square. Protesters formed a human shield in central Cairo in order to block the army tanks to enter the square.

Demonstrators took to streets despite talks between the Egyptian government and opposition parties that produced no immediate breakthrough in the two-week-old standoff.

Mubarak offered refuge in Germany

German parliamentarians have agreed to allow the out-of-favor Egyptian president into Germany for an extended health checkup as anti-Mubarak protests enter their 14th day.

Legislators from Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition and their Free Democratic partners welcomed the idea to give President Hosni Mubarak what they called a face-saving way to leave power.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, however, refused to comment on the issue during a speech on a local German television.

Westerwelle said the government would not make any speculation on such crucial matters.

This comes after US media reported that Mubarak would depart for Germany as part of an exit strategy to allow the transition of power in Egypt.

The deputy head of the Germany's Left Party, Jan van Aken, earlier said there were images showing German-made weapons being used by the Mubarak regime against protesters.

The US is sending warships and other military assets to Egypt as anti-government protests gain momentum.

Two US warships have already arrived in the Red Sea, one of which is carrying up to 800 troops.

Officials in Washington say the US is preparing for a possible evacuation of Americans from Egypt.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has denied contemplating military intervention in Egypt.

It stressed that sending American warships solely serves the purpose of evacuating US citizens in the event that the situation deteriorates.

Meanwhile, a US aircraft carrier has been ordered to abort its mission and stay in the Mediterranean.

The developments come as the opposition says the regime's proposed reforms are far from enough.

Millions of Egypt ions are protesting against President Mubarak's three-decade rule.

People from all walks of life are flooding into Cairo's Liberation Square and many have been spending nights at the square despite heavy military presence.

Hostility toward the United States is widespread among the protesters as they hold Washington responsible for Mubarak's grip on power. Demonstrators say they will not leave the streets until Mubarak steps down.

Meanwhile, Egypt's main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has hailed the Leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for supporting the Egyptian revolution.

A senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Kamal al-Halbavi expressed his gratitude towards Ayatollah Khamenei and all those who backed the Egyptian revolution.

Al-Halbavi added that as many political parties are active in Egypt, the national constitution should change to let people choose their parliamentary representatives.

He also called for free and fair elections after President Mubarak's ouster, saying people themselves should decide what kind of government they want.

Al-Halbavi added that the nation's will must be respected even if they decide to establish an Islamic government.

Ayatollah Khamenei said on Friday that the recent developments in North Africa are the result of the "Islamic awakening, which followed the great [Islamic] Revolution of the Iranian nation."

The Leader also described Mubarak as the "lackey of the Zionist regime [of Israel]."

Meanwhile, graphic video footage has emerged from Egypt which shows a protester shot dead by police.

The video shows a man approaching armed security forces. He opens his jacket facing the police, in an apparent attempt to show he is unarmed.

However, the security forces shoot him as he turns to walk away.

The incident is said to have taken place on January 28th in Alexandria.

More than 300 people are estimated to have been killed since the protests began two weeks ago.

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