- - Monday, October 17, 2011


Putin fears collapse, defends his campaign

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday sought to defend his controversial plan to seek a third term as president, saying Russia needs stability and is only a few steps from a return to the collapse of the 1990s.

Mr. Putin’s political opponents claim that “everything is so bad, that it could not get worse,” the Russian leader said in televised remarks in a rare acknowledgment of public discontent.

“Saying that things cannot get worse, I would be careful. It’s enough to take two or three wrong steps, and everything that was before could overwhelm us so quickly that we would not even have time to look around.”

He referred to the troubled North Caucasus, saying that “we still have many problems there,” while acknowledging that Russia as a whole has problems “with crime and terrorism.”

Mr. Putin assumed the presidency in 1999 when Boris Yeltsin resigned and won a full first term the following year. He was re-elected in 2004, but term limits prohibited him from running for a third consecutive time. He became prime minister in 2008.


Iran secretly killing prisoners, U.N. report says

UNITED NATIONS — Iran has been secretly executing hundreds of prisoners, according to a new U.N. report detailing growing rights abuses by the brutal theocratic regime.

The mysterious executions at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad in eastern Iran were highlighted in a report compiled by Ahmed Shaheed, the new U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran.

The report details a raft of abuses from freedom of expression to the denial of women’s rights to the torture of detainees, but perhaps the most shocking data was on the skyrocketing rate of executions.

The report said 200 officially announced executions took place in 2011.

“Furthermore, authorities reportedly conducted more than 300 secret executions at Vakilabad prison in 2010,” the report said.


U.S., Philippine marines begin drills near Spratlys

MANILA — About 3,000 U.S. and Philippine marines started two weeks of annual military drills in the Philippines on Monday that will include a hostile beach-assault exercise near the disputed Spratly Islands.

U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Nick Eisenbeiser said the Oct. 17-28 maneuvers would focus on honing their joint capability to ensure regional security and were not aimed at China or any country as an imaginary target.

“They shouldn’t get worried,” Lt. Eisenbeiser told the Associated Press, when asked if the exercises were aimed at China, whose growing naval power has set off concerns in the region. “We’re assisting the Chinese in ensuring that their region is peaceful.”

The exercises would ensure that U.S. and Philippine forces could jointly respond to “anything that arises,” he said.

The United States irked Beijing last year by asserting that Washington had a national security interest in the peaceful resolution of the disputes over the Spratly Islands.

The potentially oil-rich islands are located in the South China Sea, between Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, and straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.


Libyan forces nearer capture of Gadhafi stronghold

TRIPOLI — Libyan revolutionary forces have captured almost all of Bani Walid, one of Moammar Gadhafi’s last remaining strongholds, but still face pockets of resistance as they try to end a weeks-long standoff, officials said Monday.

Fierce resistance in Bani Walid and Col. Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte has prevented Libya’s new leaders from declaring full victory and setting a timeline for elections. It has been more than two months since the former rebels gained control of the rest of the oil-rich North African nation.

Fighters in Bani Walid, which has proven particularly hard to capture because of its difficult terrain, said they have entered the city center for the first time, but still were fighting Gadhafi supporters in surrounding villages.

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