The White House disclosed on Thursday that a new search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean as authorities are trying to determine what happened to the missing Malaysian airline.
“It’s my understanding that based on some new information that’s not necessarily conclusive – but new information – an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “And we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy.”
Carney did not specify the nature of the “new information.”
Carney sidestepped a question as to whether the United States has confidence in the investigation being conducted by the Malaysian government.
“I just don’t have an evaluation to make,” he said. “What I can tell you is that we’re working with the Malaysian government to try to find the plane; find out what happened to it for the sake of the families and, obviously, for the sake of knowing what caused the plane to disappear.”
The United States has been helping in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, including the deployment of U.S. Navy vessels. It also has sent National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials there.
“There are a number of possible scenarios that are being investigated as to what happened to the flight. And we are not in a position at this time to make conclusions about what happened, unfortunately. But we’re actively participating in the search,” Carney told a regular news briefing.
“We’re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government.”
U.S. defense officials told Reuters the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd was en route to Strait of Malacca, west of the Malaysian peninsula, to continue the search for the missing jetliner, answering a request from the Malaysian government. The officials said they were unaware of any new evidence indicating where the plane might have crashed.
The Kidd had been searching the areas south of the Gulf of Thailand, along with the destroyer USS Pinckney. A U.S. defense official noted that a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft had already searched the Strait of Malacca.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance governorship candidate, Willie Obiano advanced his campaign by visiting 5 major markets in Onitsha, Anambra state, beginning with the Ajasa market.
Obiano, who was accompanied by his running mate, Nkem Okeke, the National Chairman of the party, Victor Umeh and the state governor, Peter Obi, reminded the people that the forthcoming election is critical as it will determine as well as redefine the political base of the Igbos.
His visit to his childhood home at Ajasa community was greeted by traders to whom he pledged total commitment and promised to deliver the dividends of democracy if voted into power.
At the Ose Okwodu market, traders received the campaign train with a rousing welcome after-which Umeh, and the state governor, Mr. Peter Obi, charged up the arena with speeches urging the people to identify with APGA and be assured of continued development.
Obiano and his entourage moved to Bright Street where the leadership of the market endorsed him on the basis that Governor Obi supported street trading in the Main Market and ensured it was not scraped.
A crowd also gathered at the White House, the administrative block of the Onitsha Main Market, to catch a glimpse of the APGA campaign train.
At the Marine market, the traders were promised a security patrol vehicle which will be delivered to them immediately.
The APGA candidate danced his way into Bida/Okwey Street where a five-kilometer road which cost one billion Niara (about 6.3 million dollars) was flagged off.
The Timber market as well as the Bridge market were also visited. Traders received the campaign train with joy and promises of better days ahead were made to them.
Onitsha South stadium was the terminal point of the day’s campaign and the governorship candidate made promises of free education, free adult medical treatment and free prenatal treatment.
“I will establish an enabling environment for business to thrive if you support and vote for me,” Obiano promised.
U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela as he flew to South Africa on Friday but played down expectations of a meeting with the ailing black leader during an Africa tour promoting democracy and food security.
White House officials hope Obama’s three-nation tour of Africa – his first substantial visit to the continent since taking office in 2009 – will compensate for what some view as years of neglect by America’s first black president.
The health of Mandela, the 94-year-old former South African president clinging to life in a Pretoria hospital, dominated Obama’s day even before he arrived in Johannesburg.
“I don’t need a photo op,” Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving Senegal. “The last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned with Nelson Mandela’s condition.”
Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said his condition had improved in the past few days.
Nearly 1,000 trade unionists, Muslim activists and South African Communist Party members marched through the capital to the U.S. Embassy, where they burned an American flag and called Obama’s foreign policy “arrogant and oppressive.
Muslim activists held prayers in a car park outside the embassy. Leader Imam Sayeed Mohammed told the group: “We hope that Mandela feels better and that Obama can learn from him.”
Mandela A ‘Personal Hero’
Obama sees Mandela, also known as Madiba, as a hero. Whether they are able to meet or not, officials said his trip would serve largely as a tribute to the anti-apartheid leader.
Like Mandela, Obama has received the Nobel Peace Prize and both men were the first black presidents of their nations.
Air Force One departed Senegal’s coastal capital, Dakar, just before 1100 GMT (0700 ET) and was due to arrive in South Africa around eight hours later. On Friday evening, Obama has no public events scheduled and could go to the hospital then.
“When we get there, we’ll gauge the situation,” Obama told reporters.
Obama was scheduled to visit Robben Island, where Mandela spent years in prison under South Africa’s former white minority regime.
He told reporters his message in South Africa would draw from the lessons of Mandela’s life.
“If we focus on what Africa as a continent can do together and what these countries can do when they’re unified, as opposed to when they’re divided by tribe or race or religion, then Africa’s rise will continue,” Obama said.
White House officials said Obama would hold a “town hall” on Saturday with youth leaders in Soweto, the Johannesburg township known for 1976 student protests against apartheid.
He will discuss a new exchange program for African students with U.S. colleges and universities. The event will include youth in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya participating through video conference, and will be televised in those countries, White House officials said.
JAB AT CHINA
Obama’s only previous visit to the African continent was a one-day stopover in Ghana at the beginning of his first term.
While acknowledging that Obama has not spent as much time in Africa as people hoped, the White House is eager to highlight what it has done, in part to end unflattering comparisons to accomplishments of predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
“Given the budget constraints, for us to try to get the kind of money that President Bush was able to get out of the Republican House for massively scaled new foreign aid programs is very difficult,” Obama said.
Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have fought bitterly over government spending. U.S. foreign aid is a perennial target for lawmakers who want more budget cuts.
Before departing Senegal, Obama met farmers and local entrepreneurs to discuss new technologies helping to raise agricultural output in West Africa, one of the world’s most under-developed and drought-prone regions. The technical aid in the U.S. government’s “Feed the Future” program leverages money from the private sector and aid groups to help small farmers.
Obama said he would announce an initiative to use the same strategies for the power sector, a model he said makes the most of the shrinking U.S. foreign aid budget.
“I think everything we do is designed to make sure that Africa is not viewed as a dependent, as a charity case, but is instead viewed as a partner,” he said.
Obama acknowledged that China, Brazil, India and other countries have been increasingly active in Africa and said the United States risks being left behind. But he said the U.S. approach to development is preferred by African leaders.
“They recognize that China’s primary interest is being able to obtain access for natural resources in Africa to feed the manufacturers in export-driven policies of the Chinese economy,” Obama said.
“Oftentimes that leaves Africa as simply an exporter of raw goods” as opposed to creating long-term jobs, he said.
Russia defied White House pressure on Monday to expel former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden to the United States before he flees Moscow on the next stop of his globe-crossing escape from U.S. prosecution.
Snowden, whose exposure of secret U.S. government surveillance raised questions about intrusion into private lives, was allowed to leave Hong Kong on Sunday after Washington asked the Chinese territory to arrest him on espionage charges.
Snowden, 29, has kept out of sight in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport as Ecuador says it considers his request for asylum.
His decision to fly to Russia, which like China challenges U.S. dominance of global diplomacy, is another embarrassment to President Barack Obama who has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow and build a partnership with Beijing.
The White House said it expected the Russian government to send Snowden back to the United States and lodged “strong objections” to Hong Kong and China for letting him go.
“We expect the Russian government to look at all options available to expel Mr Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
The Russian government ignored the appeal and President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied any knowledge of Snowden’s movements.
Asked if Snowden had spoken to the Russian authorities, Peskov said: “Overall, we have no information about him.”
He declined comment on the expulsion request but other Russian officials said Moscow had no obligation to cooperate with Washington after it passed legislation to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russians accused of violating human rights.
“Why should the United States expect restraint and understanding from Russia?” said Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament.
Putin has missed few chances to champion public figures who challenge Western governments and to portray Washington as an overzealous global policeman. But Russian leaders have not paraded Snowden before the cameras or trumpeted his arrival.
Since leaving Hong Kong, where he feared arrest and extradition, Snowden has been searching for a country which can guarantee his security.
Ecuador said it had received an asylum request and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino, on a trip to Vietnam, said it would be analyzed with a “lot of responsibility”. He was expected to hold a news conference around 7.00 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) in Hanoi.
A source at Russian airline Aeroflot said Snowden was booked on a flight due to depart for Havana on Monday at 2:05 p.m. (6.05 a.m. EDT). The gate for the Cuba flight was blocked and security was tightened.
A State Department official said Washington had told countries in the Western Hemisphere that Snowden “should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel, other than is necessary to return him to the United States”.
Despite the Kremlin denials, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said Putin had probably known about and approved Snowden’s flight to Russia.
“Putin always seems almost eager to stick a finger in the eye of the United States,” Schumer, a senior Senate Democrat, told CNN’s “State of the Union”. He also saw “the hand of Beijing” in Hong Kong’s decision to let Snowden leave.
But taking the higher ground after being accused of hacking computers abroad, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “grave concern” over Snowden’s allegations that the United States had hacked computers in China.
It said it had taken up the issue with Washington.
Some Russians have praised Snowden’s revelations. Others fear a new chill in relations with the United States.
“We are a pretty stubborn country and so is the United States. Both are mighty countries, so I would say this has a good potential to turn into a big fuss in bilateral relations,” said Ina Sosna, manager of a Moscow cleaning company.
“I guess it would be best if they just let him move on from Russia to avoid any more controversy over him being here.”
Snowden was aided in his escape by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organization whose founder Julian Assange said he had helped to arrange documents from Ecuador.
Ecuador, like Cuba and Venezuela, is a member of the ALBA bloc, an alliance of leftist governments in Latin America that pride themselves on their “anti-imperialist” credentials. The Quito government has been sheltering Assange at its London embassy for the past year.
The New York Times quoted Assange as saying in an interview that his group had arranged for Snowden to travel on a “special refugee document” issued by Ecuador last Monday.
U.S. sources said Washington had revoked Snowden’s passport. WikiLeaks said diplomats and Sarah Harrison, a British legal researcher working for the anti-secrecy group, accompanied him.
Snowden, who had worked at a U.S. National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, had been hiding in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, since leaking details about secret U.S. surveillance programs to news media.
Snowden has been charged with theft of federal government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person, with the latter two charges falling under the U.S. Espionage Act.
President Barack Obama has authorized sending U.S. weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time, a U.S. official said on Thursday after the White House said it has proof the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against opposition forces fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. decision came as Assad’s surging forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies turned their guns on the north, fighting near the northern city of Aleppo and bombarding the central city of Homs after having seized the initiative by winning the open backing of Hezbollah last month and capturing the strategic town of Qusair last week.
The White House said Washington would provide “direct military support” to the opposition but did not specify whether it would include lethal aid, which would mark a reversal of Obama’s resistance to arming the rebels. But the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the package would include weapons.
Syrian rebel and political opposition leaders immediately called for anti-aircraft and other sophisticated weaponry.
The arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters to help Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion has shifted momentum in the two-year-old war, which the United Nations said on Thursday had killed at least 93,000 people.
U.S. and European officials anxious about the rapid change are meeting the commander of the main rebel fighting force, the Free Syrian Army, on Friday in Turkey. FSA chief Salim Idriss is expected to plead urgently for more help.
Obama has been more cautious than Britain and France, which forced the European Union this month to lift an embargo that had blocked weapons for the rebels.
After months of investigation, the White House on Thursday laid out its conclusions that chemical weapons were used by Assad’s forces, but it stopped short of threatening specific actions in response to what Obama said would be a “game changer” for Washington’s handling of the conflict.
“The president … has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons or transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “He has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has.”
‘Chemical weapons … On a small scale’
“Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” Rhodes told reporters.
He said the U.S. intelligence community had high confidence in the assessment and estimated that 100 to 150 people had died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date.
The U.S. announcement followed deliberations between Obama and his national security aides as pressure mounted at home and abroad for more forceful action on the Syria conflict, including a sharp critique from former President Bill Clinton.
Rhodes said the U.S. military assistance to the rebels would be different in “both scope and scale” from what had been authorized before, which included non-lethal equipment such as night-vision goggles and body armor.
“We want anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons,” George Sabra, acting leader of the National Coalition political opposition bloc, told Al-Arabiya television. “We expect to see positive results and genuine military support.”
U.S. Senator John McCain, who said he had been told by a reliable source that Washington would provide arms to the rebels, called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and said the United States needed to neutralize Assad’s air power.
“They (rebels) have enough light weapons. They’ve got enough AK-47s. AK-47s don’t do very well against tanks,” McCain told CNN. “They need anti-tank weapons and they need anti-air weapons.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. officials, reported that the administration’s proposal included a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles inside Syria.
Western governments that predicted months ago that Assad would soon fall now believe that support from Tehran and Hezbollah are giving him the upper hand. But they also worry that sending arms to rebel fighters could empower Sunni Islamist insurgents who have pledged their loyalty to al Qaeda.
While Britain and France have yet to announce their own decisions to start arming the rebels, their diplomats have been making the case that the best way to counter both threats is to beef up support for Idriss’ mainstream rebel force.
Strengthening the FSA with money, weapons and ammunition, they argue, would help combat Assad and also provide a counterweight among the rebels to al Qaeda-linked groups.
France in particular has developed good relations with Idriss while providing funds and non-lethal support, and seems eager to send him military aid.
Fight for Aleppo
Assad’s government says its next move will be to recapture Aleppo in the north, Syria’s biggest city and commercial hub, which has been divided since last year when advancing rebels seized most of the countryside around it.
Syrian state media have been touting plans for “Northern Storm,” a looming campaign to recapture the rebel-held north.
The United Nations, which raised its death toll for the war to 93,000 on Thursday, said it was concerned about the fate of residents if a new offensive is launched.
“All of the reports I’m receiving are of augmentation of resources and forces (for an Aleppo offensive) on the part of the government,” U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay told Reuters Television.
Assad’s army appears to be massing some troops in its footholds in Aleppo province, particularly in Shi’ite areas such as the enclaves of Nubel and Zahra, although some opposition activists say the government may be exaggerating the extent of its offensive to intimidate rebel supporters.
Activists reported fighting in the area around Aleppo on Thursday, especially near an airport that rebels have been trying to capture. The government has also launched an offensive in Homs, the closest big city to its last victory in Qusair and one of the last major rebel strongholds in the country’s centre.
“There was a fourth day of escalations today on the besieged neighborhoods of Homs’ old city. Early in the morning, there were two air strikes … followed by artillery and mortar shelling,” said Jad, an activist from Homs speaking via Skype.
Ahmed al-Ahmed, an activist in Aleppo, said the government’s reinforcements in the north were just a distraction from Homs.
“They’ve turned the world’s attention to watching northern Aleppo and fearing an attack and massacres as happened to our people in Qusair, to get us to forget Homs, which is the decisive battle.”
Hezbollah’s participation has deepened the sectarian character of the war, with Assad, a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, backed by Shi’ite Iran and Hezbollah, while Sunni-ruled Arab states and Turkey back the rebels.
The 7th century rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam has fueled violence across the Middle East in recent decades, including the sectarian bloodletting unleashed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990.
Leading Sunni Muslim clerics met in Cairo on Thursday and issued a call to jihad against Assad and his allies on Thursday, condemning the conflict as a “war on Islam.
President Barack Obama intends to reinstate a ban on assault weapons following last Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Obama has relatively been quiet about gun control; he is now poised to push for new gun control measures.
The president has been on the ban for a while but according to the White House, Obama can’t act alone, now there has been a little appetite in Congress to enact the new gun laws.
Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein announced on Sunday that she plans to introduce legislation to reinstate the ban early in the new year.
Senator Feinstein said the bill would ‘aim at limiting the sale, transfer and possession of assault weapons, along with the capacity of high-capacity magazines.’
She said that her bill – along with a similar bill in the House of Representatives – will be proposed on the first day of the next Congress when politicians return after the holidays.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says Obama would ‘actively support’ Feinstein’s bill and would also support legislation to close the gun show ‘loophole,’ which allows people to buy guns from private dealers without background checks.
The Chief Political Officer of the US Consulate in Lagos; Rolf Olsen has described the last four years as being “a combative four years in the White House” for President Barack Obama as the Democrats and the Republicans in the Congress were rarely on the same page on different issues.
He made this known, while explaining that governance in the United States was about checks and balances on the special edition of Sunrise Daily on the the 2012 US Presidential Election.
On the re-election of President Obama, Mr Olsen said it is a closely contested election and that there is no parliamentary system in the US where one party gets full control of the parliament.
Though he admitted the possibility of such happening, but he said it cannot happen automatically.
World leaders have condemned the deadly Christmas Day bombings, carried out by Boko Haram yesterday, which claimed 39 lives and left 50 people injured, the BBC News reported.
According to reports, the United States White House has released a press statement condemning the attacks as “senseless violence” and while the UK described the attacks as “cowardly”.
The United States took it a step further, promising to assist the Nigerian government in bringing the criminals to justice.
“We have been in contact with Nigerian officials about what initially appear to be terrorist acts and pledge to assist them in bringing those responsible to justice,” the White House said in a statement.
Spokesman Jay Carney said: “We offer our sincere condolences to the Nigerian people and especially those who lost family and loved ones.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed “solidarity in [Nigeria’s] fight against terrorism”, while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “Even on Christmas Day, the world is not spared from cowardice and the fear of terrorism.”
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “These are cowardly attacks on families gathered in peace and prayer to celebrate a day which symbolises harmony and goodwill towards others. I offer my condolences to the bereaved and injured.”
Israel promised to send medical aid and said it “condemned in the strongest terms these attacks carried out on Christmas Day”.
Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa claimed responsibility for the blasts that ripped through Madalla in Niger State, Jos in Plateau State and Damaturu and Gadaka in Yobe State.