Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) - The Congolese army said it made significant advances against eastern rebel forces in a second day of fierce fighting on Saturday and called on neighbouring Rwanda to help disarm the insurgents.

The army clashed with M23 rebels on Friday for the first time in two months after peace talks in Uganda broke down this week. Rwanda accused the army of firing a shell into its territory, sparking fears its military might intervene.

M23 said in a statement on Saturday that the army had launched a "generalized attack" on several fronts but that the fighting was turning in its favour.

Army spokesman Colonel Olivier Hamuli said, however, that M23 had been forced out of Kibumba, a town 20 km (13 miles) north of Goma, the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We have pushed M23 into the hills on the Rwandan border," he told a Reuters reporter near the front line. "We now call on Rwanda to help us disarm their fighters."

Hamuli said the army was also advancing from Rwindi, north of M23-controlled territory in Congo's North Kivu province, attacking the rebel group in a pincher movement.

U.N. investigators have accused Rwanda of supporting M23, charges that Kigali denies.

M23 formed in early 2012 when army soldiers mutinied, saying the government had broken a 2009 peace deal signed with a previous Rwanda-backed rebel movement.

On Friday, Rwanda said shells fired by the Congolese army landed in its territory. Rwanda's U.N. ambassador told a closed-door meeting of the Security Council it would not tolerate such shelling and could respond militarily, diplomats said.

The fighting is the most serious since late August, when the Congolese army and a new U.N. Intervention Brigade forced M23 from positions just north of Goma. The brigade, made up mostly of South African and Tanzanian soldiers, has a mandate to take on and destroy armed groups in eastern Congo.

On-and-off peace talks between the government and M23, taking place in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, since December, stalled on Monday, with the government saying it would not offer rebel leaders a blanket amnesty.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, said on Friday it was on high alert and monitoring the clashes. MONUSCO aircraft flew over the region, but South African and Tanzanian troops present near the front line did not join the combat.

A U.N. spokesman in New York said some 5,000 civilians had fled across the border into Rwanda.

In a joint statement, U.N. special envoy to the Great Lakes region Mary Robinson and head of MONUSCO Martin Kobler urged restraint and called on both sides to return to the negotiating table in Kampala.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Saturday it was "deeply concerned" about reports of increased fighting in North Kivu and particularly reports of cross-border firing and called "on all parties to refrain from acts of further escalation."

(Additional reporting by Pete Jones and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Robin Pomeroy and Peter Cooney)WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Protesters marched on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday to protest the U.S. government's online surveillance programs, whose vast scope was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

People carried signs reading: "Stop Mass Spying," "Thank you, Edward Snowden" and "Unplug Big Brother" as they gathered at the foot of the Capitol to demonstrate against the online surveillance by the National Security Agency.

Estimates varied on the size of the march, with organizers saying more than 2,000 attended. U.S. Capitol Police said they do not typically provide estimates on the size of demonstrations.

The march attracted protesters from both ends of the political spectrum as liberal privacy advocates walked alongside members of the conservative Tea Party movement in opposition to what they say is unlawful government spying on Americans.

"I consider myself a conservative and no conservative wants their government collecting information on them and storing it and using it," said Michael Greene, one of the protesters.

"Over the past several months, we have learned so much about the abuses (of privacy) that are going on and the complete lack of oversight and the mass surveillance into every detail of our lives. And we need to tell Congress that they have to act," said another protester, Jennifer Wynne.

The event was organized by a coalition known as "Stop Watching Us" that consists of some 100 public advocacy groups and companies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, Occupy Wall Street NYC and the Libertarian Party.

The groups have been urging Congress to reform the legal framework supporting the NSA's secretive online data gathering since Snowden's disclosure of classified information about the programs that are designed to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats.

The Obama administration and many lawmakers have defended the NSA programs as crucial in protecting U.S. national security and helping thwart past militant plots. They have also said the programs are carefully overseen by Congress and the courts.

Snowden's disclosures have raised concerns that NSA surveillance may span not just foreign, but domestic online and phone communication.

"We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA's and the FBI's data collection programs," Stop Watching Us said in a letter addressed to members of Congress posted online, calling for a reform of the law known as the Patriot Act.

That law marked its 12th anniversary on Saturday. It was passed in 2001 to improve anti-terrorism efforts and is now under scrutiny by privacy advocates who say it allows "dragnet" data gathering.

"Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong," Snowden said in a statement before Saturday's rally. Wanted in the United States on espionage charges, he is now in temporary asylum in Russia.

His latest disclosures showed that the United States may have tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding to the growing outrage against U.S. data-gathering practices abroad and prompting a phone call between Merkel and President Barack Obama.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Greg Savoy; Editing by Peter Cooney)(Reuters) - Georgia elects a new president on Sunday that will bring the curtain down on Mikheil Saakashvili's decade in power.

Twenty-three candidates will run in the election, the largest number since the former Soviet republic held its first presidential election in 1991. Saakashvili is barred from running after serving two terms.

Here are some facts on the main candidates and the rules.

GEORGY MARGVELASHVILI, 44, Georgian Dream's presidential candidate, is the front runner, according to opinion polls.

Ivanishvili, who describes Margvelashvili as his close confidant, has predicted a first-round victory, adding that his candidate should pull out if the vote goes to a second round.

Margvelashvili, who holds a doctoral degree in philosophy from Tbilisi State University, was a rector of the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. Ivanishvili appointed him as education minister after last year's parliamentary election, and later promoted him to deputy prime minister.

DAVID BAKRADZE, 41, was nominated by Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) Party and leads its group in parliament, where he was speaker from 2008 to 2012.

Bakradze, a mathematician who according to recent polls enjoys the highest favourability rating among opposition politicians, has accused the Georgian Dream government of failing to deliver on its economic and social promises.

NINO BURJANADZE, 49, was one of the leaders of Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution". When Saakashvili was elected president, she became speaker of parliament but resigned in early 2008, criticising the president's record on democracy, and formed her own opposition party.

A lawyer who lists former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher among her idols, Burjanadze served as an interim president twice, for 40 days each time. She led street protests that came to a violent end in May 2011, when riot police broke up a demonstration on the capital's Rustaveli Avenue.

Burjanadze accuses the government of betraying its election promise to restore justice, and criticises it for failing to re-engage fully with Russia.

ELECTORATE: The Central Election Commission (CEC) says there are about 3.5 million eligible voters in the Caucasus nation of 4.5 million.

VOTING HOURS: Polls open at 8 a.m. (0400 GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1600 GMT). First official preliminary results are expected within hours of polls closing.

RULES: Georgian presidents are elected every five years. The presidency is limited to a maximum of two terms.

There is no turnout threshold for an election to be valid.

A candidate must get at least 50 percent plus one vote to be elected outright in the first round.

A run-off is held within two weeks if none of the candidates wins a simple majority in the first round.

(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mark Trevelyan)

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