Two French women jailed on drugs charges freed on Christmas pardon

Two French women walked free from jail in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday after 18 months behind bars for drug smuggling, a French government spokeswoman said.

Sarah Zaknoun, 19, and Celine Faye, 20, were “very, very happy” to be free, said the spokeswoman for Alain Joyandet, the French development minister who was on the Caribbean island to greet them.

The two were sentenced to eight years in jail last year after being found with six kilograms (13 pounds) of cocaine in their luggage, which they said was planted on them without their knowledge.

They were freed in a Christmas pardon granted last week by Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.

Joyandet warned: “This nice Christmas tale must not make us forget that drug traffickers continue to destroy lives and abuse the naivety of our youngsters,” according to his spokeswoman.

The two women were due to speak by telephone with French first lady, the ex-model Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Joyandet said her intervention was decisive in their release.

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UN just calls to say it loves Stevie Wonder

Musician Stevie Wonder attends the United Nations Messenger of Peace induction ceremony at the United Nations in New York City. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced the appointment by hailing Wonder as a "musical genius" and "great humanitarian, who has campaigned against apartheid, for children in need, and for persons with disabilities."

Musician Stevie Wonder attends the United Nations Messenger of Peace induction ceremony at the United Nations in New York City. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced the appointment by hailing Wonder as a "musical genius" and "great humanitarian, who has campaigned against apartheid, for children in need, and for persons with disabilities."

AFP – The United Nations on Thursday tapped genre-defying music icon Stevie Wonder to become a “Messenger for Peace,” focusing on the battle for disabled rights.

Wonder — who has won dozens of Grammys and an Oscar for his soundtrack featuring the hit tune “I Just Called to Say I Love You” — has been blind since birth.

But it is not Wonder’s first time stepping away from the ivories and onto the political stage, having once campaigned against apartheid in South Africa

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced the appointment by hailing Wonder as a “musical genius” and “great humanitarian, who has campaigned against apartheid, for children in need, and for persons with disabilities.”

Ban said Wonder would help promote the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in 2008.

The secretary general noted that one in ten people suffer from some form of disability.

“It’s beyond my ability to fathom that 10 percent of the people of this world don’t matter to the other 90 percent,” Wonder said, “I’m not able to believe that.”

He vowed to “make the world more accessible.”

“I’ll sing songs. Speak on it and sing about it. I plan to do that”.

Other messengers of peace include Nobel Price winner Elie Wiesel, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, actors Michael Douglas and George Clooney and actress Charlize Theron.

US Senate to bring climate framework to Copenhagen: Kerry

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) and US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, hold a press conference following a meeting on global climate change at the US Capitol in Washington. The US Senate will complete the framework of climate change legislation before next month's high-stakes summit in Copenhagen, Kerry promised Ban on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) and US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, hold a press conference following a meeting on global climate change at the US Capitol in Washington. The US Senate will complete the framework of climate change legislation before next month's high-stakes summit in Copenhagen, Kerry promised Ban on Tuesday.

The City & My Life|AFP The US Senate will complete the framework of climate change legislation before next month’s high-stakes summit in Copenhagen, Senator John Kerry promised UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday.

“We are engaged in the process that will hopefully put us in a position to go to Copenhagen with a sort of framework, or outline, or where the Senate will be heading in its legislation,” Kerry told reporters after meeting Ban at the US Capitol.

The Senate has not followed the House of Representatives in finalizing the first-ever US federal caps on carbon emissions, raising fears that the December 7-18 talks in the Danish capital will flop without the world’s biggest economy.

Kerry, a former presidential candidate who authored climate change legislation introduced into the Senate, said he told Ban that senators were “engaged in a very intensive process.

“What I wanted to convey to the secretary-general — and I think it’s important to all those taking part in Copenhagen — is we are very serious about our goal,” Kerry said.

Ban, who has made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities, said he was encouraged by his day-long trip to Washington, calling a Senate framework a “sign of commitment” to the rest of the world.

“I have emphasized to the senators that US leadership is crucial at this time,” Ban told the joint news conference with Kerry and other senators.

“No country is more important than the United States in resolving this climate change issue. All eyes of the world are looking to the United States and more precisely to the US Senate,” he said.

Climate change legislation squeaked through the full House in June and last week members of Obama’s Democratic Party rammed legislation through the Senate’s key Environment and Public Works Committee, with Republicans boycotting.

But other committees are still working on the bill, meaning it cannot come to a full Senate vote. Senator Max Baucus, a centrist Democrat who heads the Finance Committee, has pushed for more guarantees the legislation will not worsen the wobbly US economy.

Kerry, however, said he understood that Baucus has not made a “final decision” on climate legislation.

Kerry did not specify the exact form that the Copenhagen framework would take but said he would be careful not to pre-empt committee work by Baucus on the financing of climate legislation.

Mitchell leaves region with no breakthrough in US peace mission

AFP – US Middle East envoy George Mitchell met Israel’s prime minister again on Sunday after dashing to Egypt as part of an uphill task to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The former US senator met for an hour in Jerusalem with Benjamin Netanyahu, officials said, after separate meetings on Friday with the hawkish premier and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Netanyahu’s office said at the end of the meeting, which was also joined by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, that two senior aides to the premier would travel this week to Washington for more talks.

Mitchell, who did not speak after the meeting, had earlier told reporters in Cairo that “everyone who truly believes in peace has to take responsibility to take actions to achieve that goal.”

Mitchell held talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman late on Saturday and with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Sunday before returning to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu as part of his latest regional trip.

The US envoy arrived in the region on Wednesday and is pushing to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to restart peace negotiations suspended in December after the start of the Gaza war.

He has said Washington was pushing for an “early relaunch” of negotiations and that the US administration was still deeply and fully committed to the vision of a “viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory.”

But hopes for a breakthrough were dim, with Israel dismissing Washington’s vision of a regional peace as unrealistic, and no compromise in sight on the thorny issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The Palestinians have backed US calls that Israel freeze all settlement activity before peace talks are resumed, but Netanyahu has refused to do so.

Abbas said late Sunday that he had no intention of backing down. “Yesterday we told the US envoy George Mitchell that we are determined to achieve peace,” Abbas said in a televised address.

“However we believe that achieving peace requires ensuring the prerequisites as defined by the international community… in order to resume the peace process and negotiations… first and foremost stopping all settlement activity in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestinian territory.”

Mitchell, who played a key role in the diplomacy that preceded the 1998 Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland, admitted he was facing a hard task in his latest mission.

“We do not underestimate the difficulty for us or the parties,” he said on Friday.

Washington is pushing for a global Middle East deal that would see Israel strike peace with the Palestinians while Syria and Lebanon and Arab countries normalise relations with the Jewish state.

Israel and the Palestinians relaunched their peace negotiations in November 2007 but the talks made little visible progress and were suspended in late December after the start of Israel’s war in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

UN Afghan mission chief admits fraud in vote

euronews -The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan has admitted for the first time that there was widespread fraud in Afghanistan’s election.

A visibly angry Kai Eide told a news conference that cover-up allegations by Peter Galbraith, his recently fired deputy, were false and undermined the election process.

“That’s been a difficult process. It’s been marred, not least, as you know, by widespread fraud,” Eide said.

Eide appeared at the news conference flanked by the US, British and French ambassadors, which he said was an “expression of international unity in the work that we are doing.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission will announce results of the fraud investigation later this week, either confirming President Hamid Karzai as the victor or ordering a run-off if a large share of Karzai’s votes are found to be fraudulent.

Chavez and Gaddafi call for ‘balanced world’

With key energy accords on the table at the second South America-Africa (ASA) summit here, Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi upped the ante Saturday with calls for the creation of a “NATO of the South” by 2011.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has long sought to improve relations among non-Western nations, opened the meeting in the locked-down scenic resort of Isla Margarita, where Venezuelan military have set up checkpoints and banned all weapons.

The summit, following a first meeting in 2006 in Nigeria, is being attended by 30 heads of state and representatives from a further 30 nations.

“Our union will contribute to a balanced world, “said Chavez, while praising his “brother” Kadhafi, who earlier this week lashed out at Western powers in a damning address to the UN General Assembly.

The Libyan leader, who in his rambling 95-minute speech at the United Nations called on the Security Council to be renamed the “Terror Council,” said he was pushing for the creation of a “NATO of the South” by 2011 to counter the military bloc of the United States and European powers.

Energy infrastructure development and joint oil project cooperation were the central topics of the meeting, however, with a final declaration expected to include a number of specific joint commitments.

“I’m sure that we will have a series of agreements on this issue that will be very important,” said Venezuelan Minister of Energy and Petroleum Rafael Ramirez.

He added that cooperation agreements will seek to build up domestic energy capacity and resources.

“All the energy infrastructure, both in South America and in Africa, was designed and developed to meet the energy requirements of the industrial powers that our countries were satellites of,” he lamented.

A draft statement from the summit also highlighted the need to create new financial architecture to regulate world markets in the light of the devastating economic crisis, and a rejection of the drug trafficking that plagues the two regions.

Chavez was especially effusive about Kadhafi, confessing great “admiration” for the leader who is marking his first visit to Latin America since he came to power 40 years ago.

Venezuelan state media meanwhile reported earlier that Kadhafi and Chavez, both traditional foes of the United States and Western powers, will sign eight cooperation agreements on Monday.

“Libya is the gateway to Africa for us because it is a country well-known for its socialist policies that plays an important and strategic role for us,” said Venezuelan Ambassador to Tripoli Afif Tajeldine.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, one of the instigators for the first ASA summit, meanwhile said there was “no global challenge in the 21st Century that cannot be tackled by Africa and South America, and there is no challenge that can be addressed without (the two regions).”

Chavez’s other high-profile guests at the Caribbean resort destination also included Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila.

The Venezuelan leader also revealed Saturday that Libya would be the site of the next ASA summit in 2011.

Obama calls on the world to ban the bomb

US President Barack Obama has said the world must unite to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

At a specially convened summit, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution put forward by Obama calling on states to scrap their atomic arsenals.

Obama also warned the next few months would be critical in the fight against proliferation.

“The world must stand together, we must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and the treaties will be enforced. The next 12 months will be absolutely critical in determining whether this resolution and our overall efforts to stop the spread and use of nuclear weapons are successful,” Obama said.

It is the first time a US president has chaired such an event and only the fifth time the Security Council has met with heads of state and government.

The Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said: “Russia and the United States have already made unprecedented cuts in their strategic nuclear arsenals. Moreover, we have said many times and I confirm it now, we are ready to move further and to cut the number of carriers of strategic nuclear weapons by up to three times more, this proposal is now on the table for bilateral talks with our American partners.”

Iran and North Korea were not named in the US draft but both countries’ nuclear ambitions are of deep concern to the world’s official atomic powers.

Only yesterday, Russia hinted it might be ready to get tougher with Iran over its weapons programme.