Egypt Independent: World-Main news en Hamas, Abbas's PLO announce reconciliation agreement <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>(Reuters) - The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas&#39;s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on Wednesday to implement a unity pact, both sides announced in a joint news conference.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The move envisions forming a unity government within five weeks and holding national elections six months after a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Palestinians have long hoped for a healing of the political rift between the PLO and militant Hamas, which won a Palestinian election in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Abbas in 2007.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But Arab-brokered unity pacts reached between the two sides have yet to be implemented, leaving many Palestinians skeptical about their leaders&#39; reconciliation pledges.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;This is the good news we tell our people: the era of division is over,&quot; Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh told Palestinian reporters to loud applause.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Hamas has repeatedly battled Israel, which it refuses to recognize. Before Wednesday&#39;s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned Abbas over the unity efforts, saying he had to choose between peace with Israel or its Islamist enemy.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Abbas&#39;s Fatah party has remained in control of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank and pursued troubled peace talks with Israel, which are set to expire on April 29.</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:02:00 +0000 Reuters 2435769 at sites/default/files/photo/2012/02/24/228/255661-01-02.jpg Obama reassures Japan, other allies on China as Asia trip begins <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>US President Barack Obama has said Washington welcomes China&#39;s rise but that engagement with Beijing would not come at the expense of its Asian allies - as Chinese state media greeted his arrival in the region with a broadside accusing the United States of wanting to &quot;cage&quot; the emerging superpower.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The reassuring remarks aimed at Japan and other allies, set against a robust commentary from China&#39;s state news agency Xinhua that also called the United States &quot;myopic&quot;, demonstrate the delicate balancing act Obama faces on a week-long Asia tour.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday at the start of a four-nation trip that comes at a time of rising tension in the region, and as the United States urges Japan&#39;s unpredictable neighbor North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama, who is making the first full state visit to Japan by a US President since 1996, must assuage worries by Tokyo and other allies that his commitment to their defense in the face of an increasingly assertive China is weak, without hurting vital US ties with Asia&#39;s biggest economy.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also keen to show progress on a two-way trade pact seen as critical to a broader regional deal that would be one of the world&#39;s biggest trade agreements and is central to Obama&#39;s &quot;pivot&quot; of military, diplomatic and trade resources towards Asia.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Noting Beijing and Washington could work together on issues such as North Korea&#39;s nuclear program, Obama told Japan&#39;s Yomiuri newspaper, in written remarks: &quot;In other words, we welcome the continuing rise of a China that is stable, prosperous and peaceful and plays a responsible role in global affairs.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He added: &quot;And our engagement with China does not and will not come at the expense of Japan or any other ally.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Such assurances are likely to be high on the agenda when Obama meets Abe at a symbolic summit on Thursday.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Japan, whose relations with rival China have chilled over the past two years, has been beset by anxiety over the degree to which reality matches rhetoric in Obama&#39;s promised &quot;pivot&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>China, for its part, fears the US is pursuing a policy of containment through its network of Asian allies, several of whom have long-standing territorial disputes with Beijing in the East and South China Seas.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Wednesday&#39;s Xinhua commentary criticized US policy in the region as &quot;a carefully calculated scheme to cage the rapidly developing Asian giant&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The United States should reappraise its anachronistic hegemonic alliance system and stop pampering its chums like Japan and the Philippines that have been igniting regional tensions with provocative moves,&quot; it said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Treaty obligations</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama and Abe are expected to send a message of solidarity after strains following Abe&#39;s December visit to Tokyo&#39;s Yasukuni Shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan&#39;s past militarism.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama also assured Japan that tiny isles in the East China Sea at the heart of a territorial row with China are covered by a bilateral security treaty that obligates America to come to Japan&#39;s defense. That is long-stated US policy, but the confirmation by the president is likely to be welcome in Japan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The policy of the United States is clear - the Senkaku islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of ... the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security,&quot; Obama said, using the Japanese name for the islands that are known as the Diaoyu in China, which also claims them.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>China reiterated that it &quot;resolutely opposed&quot; the islands being part of the security treaty.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The so-called US-Japan alliance is a bilateral arrangement from the Cold War and ought not to harm China&#39;s territorial sovereignty and reasonable rights,&quot; foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news briefing in Beijing.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Japanese and Chinese naval vessels and coastguard ships have played cat-and-mouse around the disputed islets since Japan&#39;s government bought the then-privately owned territory in 2012.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A joint statement to be issued at the summit will state the two allies will not tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force - a phrase that implicitly targets China - but likely not mention the islands or China by name, Japanese media have reported.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Nuclear North Korea</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Obama also reaffirmed Washington&#39;s commitment to the security of South Korea, and said it would stand firm in its insistence that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Seoul is the second stop on Obama&#39;s four-nation swing, which also includes Malaysia and the Philippines.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The burden is on Pyongyang to take concrete steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, and the United States, Japan and South Korea are united in our goal - the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,&quot; Obama said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>North Korea, already subject to United Nations&#39; sanctions over its previous atomic tests, the third and most recent of which took place in early 2013, threatened last month to conduct what it call &quot;a new form of nuclear test&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The United States said on Tuesday it was watching the Korean peninsula closely after news reports quoted the South Korean government as saying that heightened activity had been detected at North Korea&#39;s underground nuclear test site.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We continue to urge North Korea to refrain from actions that threaten regional peace and security and to comply with its international obligations and commitments,&quot; State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Trade deal</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Top aides to the two leaders met on Wednesday to discuss a bilateral trade deal that has so far been stymied largely by Japan&#39;s desire to keep tariffs on politically sensitive farm products such as beef.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;This a moment for Japan to take an elevated view and to choose a bold path of economic renewal, revitalization and regional leadership,&quot; US Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters after negotiating with Economy Minister Akira Amari ahead of Obama&#39;s evening arrival.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Amari said he had briefed Abe on the talks, but declined to comment on the content of the discussions.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Failure could take the wind out of the push for a broader agreement among the 12-nation group that would stretch from Asia to Latin America.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some trade experts said despite the hurdles, a last-minute agreement could not be ruled out.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Both sides have stressed that the TPP would have strategic implications by creating a framework for business that could entice China to play by global rules.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The TPP talks are at &quot;an important crossroads&quot;, Froman said in brief remarks. &quot;Its economic and strategic importance is clear.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:23:00 +0000 Reuters 2435760 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/23/484151/obama_arrives.jpg Lavrov: Russia will respond if interests attacked in Ukraine <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1342">Russia will respond if its interests are attacked in Ukraine, as they were in South Ossetia in 2008 which led to war with Georgia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1330">&quot;If we are attacked, we would certainly respond,&quot; he told state-controlled RT television in an interview.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1345">&quot;If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law.&quot;</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1358">Lavrov did not elaborate further on what the response would entail but the reference to Georgia&#39;s breakaway region of South Ossetia strongly hints at the possibility of military action.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1360">In August 2008 Russia sent troops into South Ossetia and then into Tbilisi-controlled Georgian territory after then president Mikheil Saakashvili tried to reestablish control over the breakaway region.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1362">Russia then recognised South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, as independent in defiance of the West.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1365">&quot;Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,&quot; Lavrov told RT, which published excerpts of the interview to be broadcast later Wednesday.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1367">The West has strongly warned Russia against sending troops into eastern Ukraine to aid pro-Moscow separatists. President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes there will be no military action but has not ruled out such a move.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1369">Lavrov also accused the United States of controlling the actions of the pro-West Ukrainian government, saying that Washington was now &quot;running the show&quot; in Kiev.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1371">Lavrov noted that Ukraine had chosen to relaunch military operations against separatists in the east during a visit to Kiev by US Vice President Joe Biden.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1379">&quot;This means we have no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show in the most direct way,&quot; Russia&#39;s top diplomat said.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1373">He reaffirmed Moscow&#39;s belief that the Ukrainian government had failed to carry out any of its obligations under the agreement reached in Geneva last week aimed at de-escalating the crisis.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1377">&quot;Nothing that was agreed in Geneva that the Kiev authorities had to carry out has been implemented by them,&quot; he said.</p><p id="yui_3_9_1_1_1398247985593_1375">Relations between Russia and the West have dived to a post-Cold War low after the February ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych which Moscow denounced as an illegal takeover of power.</p> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:07:00 +0000 AFP 2435756 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/13/484151/ukrain_rebels.jpg Afghan election result delayed due to fraud probe <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p><span id="advenueINTEXT" name="advenueINTEXT" style="float:left;">Afghanistan&#39;s presidential election result has been delayed by two days due to fraud investigations and will now be released on Saturday, officials said on Wednesday as they vowed to sift out fake votes.<br /><br />Partial results from the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai have already been released, with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead of his main rival Ashraf Ghani after half of the ballots were counted.<br /><br />Hundreds of serious fraud allegations are being probed in an attempt to ensure a cleaner election than in 2009, when Karzai retained power in a vote marred by rampant cheating.<br /><br />&quot;Committed to determining results that reflect the will of Afghan voters, the IEC is conducting thorough investigations of all irregularities,&quot; the Independent Election Commission said in a press release.<br /><br />&quot;While these investigations have delayed the process slightly, they are critical to the accuracy and integrity of final results.&quot;<br /><br />The latest partial results put Abdullah in the lead with 44.4 percent followed by former World Bank economist Ghani on 33.2 percent.<br /><br />If no candidate gains more than 50 percent, a second-round election between the two leading names is tentatively scheduled for May 28.<br /><br />The IEC said further partial results would be announced on Thursday. Overall turnout is set to be nearly seven million voters from an estimated electorate of 13.5 million people &mdash; far above the 2009 turnout.<br /><br />The incoming president will have to lead the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency as US-led combat troops leave Afghanistan this year, and must also strengthen an economy reliant on declining aid money.<br /><br />Eight candidates ran in the election, with polling day hailed a success by Afghan officials and foreign allies as the Taliban failed to launch a major attack despite threats to disrupt the vote. </span></p> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 10:43:00 +0000 AFP 2435755 at sites/default/files/photo/2014/04/03/484151/afghan_elections.jpg