Monday, November 28, 2011

Marines to wind down Afghan combat in 2012

In this photo taken with a cell phone, Marine Gen. James Amos visits Combat Outpost Geronimo in southern Afghanistan Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, as he visits troops. The U.S. Marines' top general, James Amos, sprinted up and down the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, visiting frontline Marines at nine remote outposts to share Thanksgiving and applaud their gains against the Taliban in a region where al-Qaida hatched the 9/11 plot a decade ago. (AP Photo/Bob Burns)

In this photo taken with a cell phone, Marine Gen. James Amos visits Combat Outpost Geronimo in southern Afghanistan Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, as he visits troops. The U.S. Marines' top general, James Amos, sprinted up and down the Helmand River Valley in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, visiting frontline Marines at nine remote outposts to share Thanksgiving and applaud their gains against the Taliban in a region where al-Qaida hatched the 9/11 plot a decade ago. (AP Photo/Bob Burns)

(AP) ? U.S. Marines will march out of Afghanistan by the thousands next year, winding down combat in the Taliban heartland and testing the U.S. view that Afghan forces are capable of leading the fight against a battered but not yet beaten insurgency in the country's southwestern reaches, senior U.S. military officers say.

At the same time, U.S. reinforcements will be sent to eastern Afghanistan in a bid to reverse recent gains by insurgents targeting Kabul, the capital.

Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said in an Associated Press interview that the number of Marines in Helmand province will drop "markedly" in 2012, and the role of those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to training and advising the Afghan security forces.

The change suggests an early exit from Afghanistan for the Marine Corps, even as the prospects for solidifying their recent successes are uncertain.

"Am I OK with that? The answer is 'yes,'" Amos said. "We can't stay in Afghanistan forever."

He added: "Will it work? I don't know."

At stake is President Barack Obama's pledge to win in Afghanistan ? the war he touted during his 2008 presidential campaign as worth fighting, while pledging to get out of Iraq. Facing a stalemate in 2009, Obama ordered an extra 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan ? including about 10,000 Marines to Helmand province ? on the belief that if the Taliban were to retake the government al-Qaida would soon return to the land from which it plotted the 9/11 attacks.

Also at stake are the sacrifices of the nearly 300 Marines killed in Afghanistan over the past three years.

Weighing against prolonging the conflict is its unsustainable cost and what author and former Defense Department official Bing West has called its "grinding inconclusiveness."

In a series of pep talks to Marines in Helmand this past week, Amos said the Marine mission in Afghanistan would end in the next 12 to 18 months. That is as much as two years before the December 2014 deadline, announced a year ago, for all U.S. and other foreign troops to leave the country.

"Savor being out here together," Amos told Marines on Thanksgiving at an outpost along the Helmand River called Fiddler's Green, "because it's going to be over" soon.

He was referring only to the Marines' role, which is limited mainly to Helmand, although there also are Marine special operations forces in western Afghanistan. The U.S. military efforts in Kandahar province and throughout the volatile eastern region are led by the Army, along with allied forces.

Helmand and neighboring Kandahar for the past two years have been the main focus of the U.S.-led effort to turn the tide against a resilient Taliban insurgency. In that period, the Taliban and other insurgent networks have grown bolder and more violent in Afghanistan's eastern provinces where they have the advantage of sanctuary across the border in Pakistan and where U.S. and NATO forces are spread more thinly than in the south.

During two days of visiting Marine outposts throughout Helmand this week, Amos touted progress against the Taliban and was told by Marine commanders that plans are well under way to close U.S. bases, ship war equipment home and prepare for a major drawdown of Marines beginning next summer. Amos declined to discuss the number of Marines expected to leave in 2012, but indications are that 10,000 or more may depart.

There are now about 19,400 Marines in Helmand, and that is due to fall to about 18,500 by the end of this year.

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top overall commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was ordered by Obama last summer to pull out 10,000 U.S. forces by the end of this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012. That has driven the move to accelerate a transition to Afghan control.

Allen said in an interview Thursday that winding down the Marine combat mission in Helmand makes sense because security "has gotten so much better now." He said the pullout of 23,000 U.S. forces in 2012, including an unspecified number of Marines, likely will begin in the summer, which historically is the height of the fighting season in Afghanistan. Allen said Afghan security forces, often criticized for weak battlefield performance, desertion and a lack of will, are closer to being ready to assume lead responsibility for their nation's defense than many people believe.

"The Afghan national security forces are better than they thought they were, and they're better than we thought they were," Allen said.

That is why he thinks it's safe to lessen the Marine's combat role in Helmand, reduce their numbers and put the Afghans in charge.

That approach also allows Allen to build up elsewhere. He said that in 2012 he will put more U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, increase the number of U.S. special operations forces who are playing a key role in developing Afghan forces, and add intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance resources. He said he plans to add "several battalions" of U.S. forces in the east. He gave no specific troop number, but a battalion usually totals about 750.

"I'm going to put a lot more forces and capabilities into the east," he said. "The east is going to need some additional forces because our intent is to expand the security zone around Kabul."

The top Marine in Helmand, Maj. Gen. John Toolan, said he is not convinced that 2012 is the best time to shift the focus to eastern Afghanistan, where the Haqqani network has taken credit for a series of spectacular attacks recently, including suicide bombings inside Kabul, the heavily secured capital. He said he believes the Taliban movement in southern Afghanistan is still the biggest threat to the viability of the central government.

Toolan said the Marines continue to make important progress against a Taliban whose leaders are showing signs of frustration and division.

"They're starting to break up," Toolan said. "There's still a lot to be done to see that these insurgents stay on their backs."

Stephen Biddle, a defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations and who recently visited U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said there is a risk to putting the Afghans in the lead role in Helmand as early as 2012.

"If you throw them into the deep end and put them in the lead in really tough neighborhoods you run the risk that they get their noses bloodied early in ways that could make it hard for them to recover because they lose confidence," Biddle said in an interview in Washington. On the other hand, if the U.S. and its allies wait until 2013 or 2014 to hand off to the Afghans in the most challenging areas, there would be less chance to bail them out.

"It's a dilemma with no obvious solution to it," he said.


Robert Burns can be reached on Twitter at

Associated Press


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NBC?s The Sing Off ? Season Finale

The final three groups perform for the last time before finding out whom America voted as the country’s best a cappella group. The Sing Off Season Live Finale Monday, 11/28, 8/7c on NBC


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Thumbs up, down (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

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Sunday, November 27, 2011


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Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions [Apartments]

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions Searching for a new apartment can be fun. The thrill of finding listings, and choosing candidates based on photos, maps, and amenities can be enjoyable, and there are plenty of tools to make the search easy. The real trouble starts when it's time to tour a prospective home, meet the landlord, and learn a little about the neighborhood. This is where you have to put on your detective's hat and start asking questions. Here's what you should find out before you sign a lease.

Photo by Charleston's TheDigitel.

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions

Step 1: Do Your Research to Find Apartments Worth Visiting

Finding the right apartment for you is a topic we've tackled several times, and we've even discussed some great tools to help you find rentals that are in your price range and in your preferred neighborhoods. We particularly like Padmapper and, both of which do a great job of helping you narrow your search to neighborhoods and communities you're interested in, filter based on price and amenities, and get regular updates when availability changes.

That said, finding a great apartment to visit is only half of the battle?and in many cases can be the easiest part of the process. Looking at promotional photos and Craigslist snapshots is only part of the job. Once you've used these tools to narrow down your list of candidates, it's time to go see the units in person, and that's where the real challenge begins.

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions

Step 2: Check Out the Neighborhood Before Scheduling a Visit with the Property Owner

If you're moving to an area you already know or that's close to where you live now, you have the luxury of driving through or visiting the area before you schedule an appointment to see the property with the owner. Check out the community and see if the amenities match up with what you're looking for. If you enjoy eating out and nightlife, make sure you're not moving to a sleepy cul de sac far away from the action. If you want a quiet neighborhood where your children can play, a house rental along a major road may be affordable and look good on paper, but isn't the best option.

Spend some time in the neighborhood if you can. If it's a thriving community with shops and restaurants, stop in to a local cafe for a bite to eat, and chat up a friendly-looking employee. Let them know you're moving into the area and ask them what they think of the community. Sometimes they may not live there themselves, but in many cases you'll get someone who's willing to offer you some insight into what the neighborhood is really like. If you can, stick around until after-hours, or come back late in the evening and drive around. After the sun sets, you'll get a real feel for whether the neighborhood is safe at night, is as quiet (or as lively) as you hoped, or is somewhere you'd like to come home to after a long day of work.

Photo by Pamela J. Eisenberg.

Step 3: Schedule Your First Visit with The Property Owner

Depending on the rental market in your area, you may not have much time to waste when it comes to scheduling visits. When I gave up an apartment in the suburbs for a unit in the heart of the city, I learned quickly that the rental market in my city's popular neighborhoods is brutal?apartments that were open and available on Monday could have a tenant moving in by Wednesday, and that's even if you scheduled a viewing on Tuesday. Don't waste time, but don't feel rushed either - new units come on the market regularly.

Call the landlord or property owner and ask them when they can meet with you, and if there are any regular tours scheduled or applications already in on the unit. This last bit is important?you don't want to waste your time or take off work to go visit a unit where there's already an application unless you know you have to see it. Make sure you find out from the landlord how popular their property is and how likely it will be that the unit will be gone before you even get there. With Craigslist, a number of landlords prefer to do business over email, or schedule group open houses. That's fine, but try to get them on the phone whenever possible. Speaking to someone gives you the opportunity to make your case and get immediate feedback, while email can get lost or be ignored for days on end.

Once your visit is scheduled, it's time to make a list of questions you want answered while you tour the unit.

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions

Step 4: Show Up to Your First Viewing with Questions In-Hand

Your first visit to an apartment may be your last one before you submit an application, if the unit is in high demand. Don't waste the opportunity to ask your future landlord as many questions about the property as possible.

Ideally, you'll show up armed with the basics, and you'll just need to confirm them with the property owner or landlord. You'll already know how large the unit is, how much it will cost you, whether there's parking (assigned or not), and how far you are to your job, major roads, amenities, or mass transit. These are all things you can look up on the internet before you go, don't waste much time during your visit with them unless you need to confirm them. Here are a few more probing questions to help you get below the surface.

Photo by Matt Biddulph.

  • How long as the unit been empty? How long did the last tenant stay? You want to know how long the unit has been on the market because, especially in competitive rental markets, if an apartment has been empty for months or the last tenant was only there for a few months (or worse, was evicted), something may be wrong with it. Plus, it gives you a chance to ask the landlord a pointed question to see how they react. Regardless of whether they're forthcoming with the information or try to avoid the question, you've learned something useful about their character.
  • When was the building constructed/How old is the property? Have there been any major changes or renovations? The age of a building tells you other important information, like how old the facilities in the walls are (which you'll ask about in a moment) or how likely you may be to have maintenance problems resulting from old flooring, ceilings, windows, or plumbing. Asking if there have been any renovations gives the landlord the opportunity to highlight any work they've done recently that may be beneficial to you, like new plumbing, windows, or weatherproofing.

  • Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions
  • How old is the wiring? Can I see the fuse box? If you're reading Lifehacker, odds are you have a good amount of gear in your home. A large TV, maybe a couple of computers, several monitors, game consoles, and so on. All of that gear is going to need power, and you don't want to trip a breaker every time you heat up some nachos without turning off your computer first. You may not immediately know what you're looking at when you see a fuse box, but you should be able to tell super-old from brand new. Ask if there are fuses that you'll be expected to keep and replace should one blow. Take the opportunity to look around and make sure there are enough outlets in each room for your needs.

    Photo by p. gordon.

  • Do all of the appliances work? How old are they? You'll want to ask this question while you're testing whether the stove burners get warm or the oven light works, or whether the fridge feels cold and there's good water pressure from the sinks and showers. At the same time, if the unit has been empty for a while, the landlord may have the appliances turned off or unplugged, and you'll want to know before you put in an application, much less sign a lease.
  • Are there any major repairs coming up in the next year? Will any repairs be completed before I move in? If there's nothing going on with your unit, there's nothing going on. However, if you see repairs in progress, or things that you would want addressed before you move in like painting, appliance replacements, window repairs or the like, make sure you bring them up immediately, and follow up by getting them in writing.
  • What utilities are included? Is heating/cooling individually controlled? You should know this from the ad, but make sure to verify this and anything else from the ad that you may have questions about or want to make sure you're clear on. In some places, "all utilities included" is a ticket to centrally controlled heating, air conditioning, and hot water, and shared electric bills based on average use by the entire community. "Cable and internet included" can mean your landlord will add a cable-splitter to their line and run a cable through the floor, or offer you free use of their Wi-Fi. Be wary of that, it may save you money, but you could sacrifice comfort for it. If heating and cooling aren't included, check the windows and doors to make sure they're insulated properly, and bring up any concerns to the landlord.

  • Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions
  • Who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs? What about emergencies? If you're leasing from a management company, this one's probably easy: you call their office number, put in a maintenance request, and they respond (you should ask about response times, as well.) If you're renting from an individual or small management company, you definitely want to know what you're on the hook for yourself and what you can call about, and who you should call if the toilet starts leaking at 2am. Do you call a contractor or plumber and take their fee out of your rent? If so, get it in writing. Do you call the landlord at 2 in the morning and they call a plumber and pay for it? Get that in writing too.

    Photo by Wendy Piersall.

  • Who's responsible for pest control? Often, large communities and condominiums have a contract with a pest control firm that works with their residents. They may send them out to you when you request their help, or you may simply be required to use their services instead of another company's. At the same time though, many landlords leave the responsibility for pest control on the tenant, unless there's some kind of pre-existing condition when they move into the unit. I've seen leases that say after the first 30 days, a tenant is on their own when it comes to pest control. Ask the landlord on your first viewing if there have been pest problems, and if so, who they use for pest control.

If you're renting from a management company that handles multiple units in the property, you can take some of these questions further, and ask about the types of maintenance requests they get, how often they get them, and what modifications they're willing to make to a unit upon request. Apartment Ratings has a great list of questions for landlords as well, although they're largely directed to management companies, not individual landlords or property owners who may wind up being your upstairs neighbors. Just remember, if you get concessions or any agreements as a result of the questions, make sure to get them in writing when it comes time to get a lease drawn up.

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions

Step 5: Talk to Others in The Community for Their Opinions

One of the best ways to find out more about a community before moving in is to talk to other people who already live there. You don't have to be a creeper, but sit out front of the building with a cup of coffee or your smartphone, and casually ask a passer by if they live in the are or in the building you're interested in. Be open with the fact that you're considering moving into the place, and you'd like to know what they think of the community, landlord, or management company. Most people, as long as you're nice about it and open with the fact that you'd appreciate their help, are willing to lend you their opinion.

Ask them specific questions that don't waste their time, like how long they've lived there, and whether they've had any serious maintenance, pest, or management problems, or if there's anything they had addressed right after they moved in that they wished they had known about earlier. We've discussed how to make sure you find a decent landlord before, but ask others what they think of the landlord as well. Ask them if they plan to renew their lease or continue living in the community, and ask them if they have any advice for someone who's just now looking at apartments or homes in their area.

If you have more time, ask them if they looked at any other buildings or communities in the neighborhood as well, or if there's anything they learned after living there for a while that they wish they could have found out earlier. For example, you won't know until you've lived in an apartment for a few weeks that the garbage trucks are particularly noisy on Tuesdays, or that a huge cargo train slowly rolls by the back of the complex every three weeks. There's a great post and comment thread about these types of things over at Apartment Therapy, and it's good reading for anyone looking at homes. Apartment hunting is something of a universal experience. In most cases, the people you meet will be willing to lend their opinions and experiences, as long as you ask the right questions.

Photo by Kevin Tostado.

Find the Perfect Apartment for You by Asking the Right Questions

Step 6: When You're Ready to Sign, Go Over Your Lease Carefully

When I asked Bruce Dachis, our very own Adam Dachis' father and a property owner and landlord himself, what he hears from his tenants when they complain "I wish I had known that before I moved in," he explained that a lot of people fail to do two things that would protect them when they're shopping for a new place and interviewing potential landlords?two things that any reasonable and honest landlord should never have a problem with you doing:

  • Know your rights. Familiarizing yourself with the landlord/tenant laws and regulations for your jurisdiction should be one of your top priorities, and going to your visit or into your lease negotiations armed with the knowledge is important. Many landlords and management companies will give you copies of the local bylaws, but only as part of your welcome package?the one you get when you sign the lease. Don't wait on them to educate you. Check out the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's page linking to individual state laws, and do some digging on your own (usually Googling "landlord/tenant laws ?state name?" will do the trick.) This way you'll know if someone's trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
  • Read your lease completely and thoroughly, ask questions if anything's unclear. Bruce couldn't emphasize enough how important this is?and how few people actually do it. Read your lease thoroughly, ask if you can review it overnight, or even just take it to get a cup of coffee and read it somewhere away from the pressures of the rental office or landlord's home. If you're not sure what something means or if you thought something was supposed to be included that isn't speak up and have a conversation about it. Don't wait until you've signed to ask about something you're unclear on.

He reiterated the importance of some of the questions above, especially with regard to maintenance requests, response times, and whether you'll be responsible for vetting a contractor or repair-person or they will. Make sure you're aware of any fees that the landlord may not discuss until the last minute, like move-in/out fees, parking fees, or anything else. He also explained that depending on the nature of the rental market, you may have to take what you can get and some landlords will be less inclined to make accommodations for you, but you should always ask the questions and decide for yourself where you're willing to compromise.

When you do sign the lease, make sure to ask any lingering questions you may have before handing over your copy, and if there are any last minute agreements you come to, make sure you get them?and everything else?in writing as an update or addendum to your lease. Remember, you never know what you can get until you ask for it, and until you have it in writing, you have no proof you actually got anything you asked for.

Photo by Grasa Victoria/shutterstock.

Step 7: Enjoy Your New Home

The key to finding and landing the perfect home is part research and good timing, but also largely a matter of asking the right questions before you visit, when you visit, after you visit, and when you sign the lease. Make sure you're as well informed as possible and that you go into your new home with both eyes open to what you're getting into. When you've finished your move and you're sleeping in your own bed in your new home, you may still encounter a few surprises, but hopefully it's nothing significant enough that you wished you had asked about before you moved in.

Do you have any questions that you make sure to ask when touring a potential apartment or house? Any tips to make sure you're not blindsided by the lease or some other issue that may be lurking beneath the surface? Share your tips and house hunting suggestions in the comments below.

Bruce Dachis owns multiple rental properties and has been on both sides of the landlord/tenant negotiating table. He graciously offered his experience for this article, and we thank him.

You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at, or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+.


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RIM, Telefonica announce NFC trial, aim to launch mobile wallet next year

RIM's NFC campaign is about to roll into Iberia, now that the BlackBerry manufacturer has announced a new partnership with Madrid-based Telefonica. This week, the two companies unveiled plans to begin testing a mobile payment and ID card system across the Spanish capital, in the hopes of launching commercial services next year. The so-called Telefonica Wallet for BlackBerry trial will involve some 350 Telefonica employees and a select group of testers within Madrid, each of whom will be able to make payments, access offices and check bank statements from their BlackBerry handsets. Telefonica's Matthew Key told Reuters that his company chose RIM to participate in the trial primarily because of the security of its BlackBerry platform, stressing the importance of earning enough consumer trust to handle sensitive personal data. No specifics yet on when or where the carrier will launch a full payment system, though Key said that Telefonica's aiming to bring it to a handful of markets in 2012.

RIM, Telefonica announce NFC trial, aim to launch mobile wallet next year originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 25 Nov 2011 17:13:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

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IMDB Rating: The Muppets (2011) - IMDb
Genre: Comedy | Family | Musical
Language: English
Director: James Bobin
Writers: Jim Henson (characters), Jason Segel (screenplay),
Stars: Amy Adams, Jason Segel and Chris Cooper

Plot Details:
Oil has been discovered beneath the Muppet Theater and oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) plans to raze the Muppet Theater to drill. New Muppet Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, his brother[19] Gary (Jason Segel) and Gary's girlfriend[19] Mary (Amy Adams) learn about Tex Richman's plan, and try to stop him by staging The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever, raising $10 million needed to save the theater. In order to stage The Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever, Walter, Mary, and Gary must help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways. Fozzie Bear now performs with a Reno casino tribute band called the Moopets, Miss Piggy is a plus-size fashion editor at Vogue Paris, Animal is in a clinic for anger management, and Gonzo is a powerful plumbing magnate.

Official Trailer [HD] :
The Muppets (2011) Official Trailer [HD] - YouTube

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Video: Cancer patients cook up appreciation for hospital staff

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Mexico catches escapees from island penal colony (AP)

MEXICO CITY ? Six inmates from the last island penal colony in the Americas were recaptured at sea Thursday after they used buoyant containers and wood planks to try to swim to freedom in an escape reminiscent of the 1973 movie "Papillon."

The Mexican navy said the inmates used empty plastic gas or water tanks to help stay afloat as they swam about 60 miles (90 kilometers) south of the Islas Marias, a Mexican penal colony where inmates live in small houses and are normally not locked up. Prisoners can tend small gardens and raise food.

The six men were only about 60 miles from the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta when they were spotted by a passing boat early Thursday.

The boat called in a tip to a local naval base, and patrol boats were quickly dispatched to take the men into custody. Photos provided by the navy showed them men sunburned but alert ? and unhappy ? on the deck of the patrol vessel.

The men, who range in age from 28 to 39 years, were taken back to Puerto Vallarta for a medical check and to be turned back over to prison authorities.

Later, the federal Public Safety Department, which is in charge of Mexico's federal prisons, said the men had been found to be in acceptable health and would be returned to the penal colony "within hours."

The department said the prison oversight agency wasn't notified until Thursday that the men were missing from the prison ? the same day they were found at sea, suggesting that their absence had not been noticed when they set off on the escape bid.

The Islas Marias penal colony lies about 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the mainland, but the prisoners did not swim to the closest shore, which is due east. Instead they apparently swam south, either because prevailing currents carried them that way, they didn't know where they were going, or because they were aiming for Vallarta.

The Pacific ocean forms the main security barrier at the island. While dozens of prisoners are believed to have tried to escape since the penal colony was founded in 1905, local news media reports indicate few, if any, are believed to have made it to the mainland.

The escape bid drew comparisons to the movie "Papillon," in which the main character, played by Dustin Hoffman, uses a buoyancy device to swim away from a penal colony in French Guyana.

Islas Marias is the last island penal colony in the region.

Panama closed Coiba Island, the only other remaining island penal colony in the Americas, in 2004. That same year, Mexico announced it would spend $2 million to revive the crumbling prison at Islas Marias and increase the inmate population. Normally, about 1,000 to 1,200 inmates are held at the facility.

(This version CORRECTS that the Public Safety Department, not the Interior Department, released information about the men being returned shortly to the penal colony. )


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Why Does Polarization Pay? (Atlantic Politics Channel)

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Traffic pollution may be linked to diabetes risk (Reuters)

Lindsey Konkel

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) ? People who live in areas with high levels of traffic-related air pollution may face a slightly increased risk of developing diabetes, Danish researchers conclude in a new study.

They found that people living in urban areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant found in traffic exhaust, were four percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than people living in neighborhoods with cleaner air.

Healthier people seemed to be in greater peril from the influence of air pollution, with diabetes risk jumping by 10 percent in physically active people and 12 percent in non-smokers.

Previous research has found that people with diabetes appear to be more vulnerable to the harmful health effects of air pollution exposure than nondiabetics.

The new study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, is the most comprehensive to date showing that air pollution may actually contribute to the development of diabetes, John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Children's Hospital Boston, told Reuters Health.

It is also the first study to suggest that healthier individuals may be more susceptible to effects of air pollution, a finding that warrants further research, lead author Zorana J. Andersen of the Danish Cancer Society told Reuters Health in an email.

Anderson's group looked at data for nearly 52,000 residents of Denmark's two largest cities. Over the course of a decade, almost 3,000 people (5.5 percent), aged 50 to 65 at the start of the study, were diagnosed with diabetes for the first time.

The researchers also estimated outdoor nitrogen dioxide concentrations, as a proxy for vehicle exhaust in general, at people's home addresses since 1971.

In addition to having greater long-term exposure to air pollution, those diagnosed with diabetes were also more likely to be older, heavier, male and previous or current smokers.

These other traditional risk factors for diabetes continue to be the most significant indicators of the likelihood of disease, said Brownstein, though "exposure to air pollution is one factor that should be considered in a patient's risk profile."

Once such potentially confounding risk factors were accounted for in the analysis, the overall risk increase attributed to pollution by the researchers was slight, at four percent.

The link between long-term exposure to air pollution and diabetes also appeared to be greater in women in this study. This may have to do with a sex-related difference in susceptibility to air pollution or could reflect the fact that women in Denmark have historically spent more time in the home than men, Anderson speculated.

The study does not prove that air pollution itself causes the increased diabetes risk detected -- some other factor for which pollution is a flag, such as poverty, stress or other exposures, could be at work instead, for example.

Earlier this month, the same team of researchers reported that people who live in areas with high levels of traffic-related pollution also might be at a slightly increased risk of dying from stroke. (See Reuters Health story of November 16, 2011).

Considerable evidence does indicate that particles in air pollution, small enough to make their way into the bloodstream, contribute to inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation, in turn, may lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and asthma.

Air pollution has a similar effect on blood vessels as cigarette smoke, Michael Brauer, an environmental health scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada told Reuters Health. But, unlike cigarette smoke, air pollution is something to which everyone is exposed.

"Traffic-related air pollution needs to become part of urban and transportation planning discussions," said Brauer. "Major roadways should be separated from where people live and spend time."

SOURCE: Diabetes Care, online November 10, 2011.


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Marco Rubio isn???t playing the endorsement game yet (Daily Caller)

Marco Rubio knows the value of a good endorsement, but he?s not playing that game yet with the new crop of conservatives running in Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate.

The popular freshman Republican senator from Florida, viewed by many as a rising star in the party, hasn?t made a single endorsement in a 2012 Senate?GOP primary yet.

?No decisions have been made,? spokesman Alex Conant told The Daily Caller when asked when Rubio will start offering support to Republicans across the country.

Rubio?s apparent reluctance to endorse Republicans running in primaries is notable because the Floridian knows from his own race for the U.S. Senate how endorsements from influential conservatives can help.

In 2009, Rubio was mounting an insurgent primary campaign against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who had the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington, D.C., as well as a commanding lead in the polls.

By June, Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who made a point of supporting conservatives challenging Republicans he viewed as too moderate, endorsed Rubio, as did other conservatives and tea party supporters across the country.

It wasn?t long until Rubio began to rise in the polls, forcing Crist to leave the GOP party and run as an independent. Rubio went on to win the election.

Fast forward to today, and an endorsement from Rubio, who is frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket in 2012, would be a helpful boost and welcomed by plenty of GOP candidates trying to be part of the next wave of conservative senators.

There are several obvious candidates who could benefit from Rubio?s blessing, including Ted Cruz, a conservative Cuban-American often compared to Rubio, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Texas and fighting an uphill battle against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Other tea party senators who, like Rubio, were elected in 2010, have already endorsed Cruz: Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has also endorsed him.

And in Rubio?s home state of Florida, there?s a contest brewing in the Republican field between former State Rep. Adam Hasner, who has been endorsed by the tea party-aligned group FreedomWorks, and former Sen. George LeMieux.

But Conant said Rubio will stay out of that Florida contest and not endorse any candidate during the primary.

As for other races, Conant said, ?I wouldn?t rule it out in other states.?

Rubio has a political action committee, Reclaim America PAC, though it doesn?t appear to be very active at this point.

?It?s been raising money, but it hasn?t made endorsements yet,? Conant said.

In June, Rubio also told TheDC that he won?t back any Republican during the 2012 presidential primary.

?I?m not going to be endorsing in the primary for the presidential, but once we have the nominee, I?ll do anything they ask us to do,? Rubio said.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

South Africa: Lawmakers adopt secrets bill (AP)

JOHANNESBURG ? The governing African National Congress pushed a bill through South Africa's parliament Tuesday to protect state secrets, despite strong objections from opposition politicians who included white conservatives and black nationalists who were enemies under apartheid.

Opponents, who include church and business leaders and Nobel laureates, say the measure will keep government corruption under wraps, stifle whistle-blowing and undermine the hard-won democracy created with apartheid's end 17 years ago. The ANC says South Africa needed to update apartheid-era legislation defining secrets and setting out punishments for divulging them, and that it has no intention of trampling on free expression and a muckraking media.

Opponents had expected parliament, where the ANC has a large majority, to approve the bill. They were already preparing to challenge the measure at the Constitutional Court if it becomes law.

Tuesday's 229-107 vote, during a lively session that saw ANC and opposition politicians trading barbs, came after months of fierce debate. The bill's critics included two Nobel prizewinners: retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a peace laureate, and literature laureate Nadine Gordimer.

The office of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president and also a Nobel peace laureate, also has expressed reservations about the bill.

Parliament's upper house could ask for revisions, but that rarely happens. President Jacob Zuma will have to sign the bill to make it law, and while his legal advisers may ask for revisions, he was expected to approve the measure.

Critics donned black and staged protests at the ANC's downtown Johannesburg headquarters during morning rush hour Tuesday, and in the afternoon outside parliament in Cape Town as lawmakers voted, saying the bill's weaknesses include its lack of a provision allowing those who break the law to avoid going to jail if they could argue they acted in the public interest.

Activists fear the adoption of the measure in a country known for one of the continent's freest and most open constitutions could influence other governments in the region.

Mukelani Dimba, a South African democracy activist who has lobbied against the bill, said post-apartheid lawmakers were initially eager to differentiate themselves from white racist politicians, adopting not only the constitution but a range of liberal laws. But over the years, he said, progressive ideals have waned.

"We have a ruling power that wants to retain power, and we have to admit that information is power," Dimba said, adding politicians may also resent constant newspaper articles about their wrongdoing.

If implemented, the bill "will unacceptably curtail both the right to access information and freedom of expression, which are the foundation of a democratic society," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The manner in which the government pushed this bill through parliament, instead of proceeding with consultations as promised, as well as the secrecy embedded in this legislation, send very worrying signs about the government's commitment to transparency."

In a statement late Monday, Tutu said it is "insulting to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing and investigative journalism ... and that makes the state answerable only to the state."

Tutu won a Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent opposition to white rule. In more recent years, he has been a sharp critic of ANC moves he sees as undermining rule of law and weakening South Africa's fledgling democracy.

Prominent ANC members also have opposed the bill, among them a former state security minister.

The ANC bill says "information that is accessible to all is the basis of a transparent, open and democratic society," but says secrecy is sometimes necessary to "save lives, to enhance and to protect the freedom and security of persons, to bring criminals to justice, to protect the national security and to engage in effective government and diplomacy."

While the bill makes it a crime to divulge state secrets, it also makes it a crime for an official to withhold information to conceal wrongdoing or incompetence, or merely to avoid embarrassment.

In June, the ANC backed down on some of its original proposals, removing mandatory prison sentences for possessing and publishing secrets ? though reporters and others could still be jailed for publishing information that officials want kept secret. The ANC also agreed to limit the power to classify secrets to state security agencies, and proposed that an independent official review appeals of state security rulings on classified information.

At times, the rhetoric about the bill appears to have less to do with its merits than with a distrust of government on one side after a series of corruption scandals involving high-ranking officials, including the national police chief; and complaints from politicians of witch hunts by a biased media.

In a speech to parliament last week, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele even raised the possibility that demonstrators who have held peaceful marches to rally opposition to the bill were somehow being used by South Africa's enemies.

The secrets bill is separate from another ANC proposal that has raised concerns ? the possible creation of a tribunal that could discipline journalists, with powers to punish that have not yet been spelled out.

Relations between the ANC and the media long have been tense. Last week one of the country's most prominent newspapers, the Mail & Guardian, said it had been unable to publish details about corruption allegations against Mac Maharaj, who was imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Mandela for his anti-apartheid activities and who recently took on the job of presidential spokesman, because of threats of criminal prosecution. Maharaj later announced he was asking police to investigate whether the paper and its journalists had broken the law in their reporting.


Donna Bryson can be reached on


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Palm Springs fest honoring "Artist"'s Hazanavicius (Reuters)

LOS ANGELES ( ? The Palm Springs International Film Festival has been a clear stop on the Oscar campaign trail for years, but it usually doesn't use its awards announcements to trumpet its winners' Academy Awards hopes.

But PSIFF did just that on Wednesday, when its release naming "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius winner of its Sony Bono Visionary Award ventured into new territory by pushing the film's Oscar candidacy.

"Director Michel Hazanavicius boldly takes us back in time and reacquaints modern-day audiences with the magical power of black-and-white silent cinema to capture our hearts and our imaginations in 'The Artist,'" said PSIFF chairman Harold Matzner in the release.

"The film opened to rave reviews at its premiere in Cannes and will continue to be one of the films to watch throughout awards season as a leading best picture contender."

Releases announcing the three previous PSIFF awards, which are going to Glenn Close, George Clooney and Michelle Williams, talked glowingly of their careers and latest roles, but did not make any claims as to their Oscar chances.

Previous recipients of the Sonny Bono Visionary Award include Quentin Tarantino, Baz Luhrman, Gus Van Sant and Danny Boyle.

The award will be presented at the festival's Awards Gala on January 7. The festival itself runs from January 5-16.


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China says to go ahead with Pacific naval drills (Reuters)

BEIJING (Reuters) ? China said Wednesday it will go ahead with naval exercises in the western Pacific this month, an announcement that came a week after Washington reinforced its Asia-Pacific footprint with plans to operate 2,500 U.S. Marines out of northern Australia.

Beijing emphasized its right to go carry out the regular annual drills despite regional fears about its growing military strength, particularly that of its navy.

After a diplomatic push through the region by U.S. President Barack Obama, tensions between the United States and China spilled over into meetings of Asia-Pacific leaders in Indonesia, particularly over how to handle competing regional claims to the South China Sea.

Obama's push, which included plans to operate Marines and U.S. war planes and navy ships out of a de facto base in the Australian city of Darwin, may have fueled China's fear of being encircled or contained by the United States and its allies.

"This is an annual, planned, routine drill. It is not directed at any specific country or target and is in keeping with relevant international laws and practices," said a two-line statement on the Chinese Defense Ministry's website (

"China's freedom of navigation and other legal rights should not be obstructed," it said, without giving further details about where the drills would occur.

Japan's Kyodo news agency cited the Japanese Defense Ministry Wednesday as saying six Chinese naval ships had crossed into the Pacific between two major Okinawa Prefecture islands in southern Japan since early Tuesday.

The growing reach of China's navy is raising regional concerns that have fed into long-standing territorial disputes in energy-rich waters that could speed up military expansion across Asia.

China has been building new submarines, surface ships and anti-ship ballistic missiles as part of its naval modernization. In August it made a trial launch of its first aircraft carrier, a retro-fitted Soviet vessel.

In the past year, China has had run-ins at sea with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The incidents -- boat crashes and charges of territorial incursions -- have been minor, but the diplomatic reaction has often been heated.

Tense maritime stand-offs have persisted in the disputed South China Sea, where key shipping lanes carry some $5 trillion a year in world trade.

Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all have claims in the disputed waters.

On the tails of last week's East Asia Summit in Indonesia, a U.S. official traveling with Obama said he had been encouraged by the constructive tone of discussions with Asian leaders on maritime security and the South China Sea, a topic Beijing had hoped to keep off the agenda.

Obama told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who indirectly warned Washington to stay out of the dispute at the summit, that the United States wanted to ensure the sea lanes were kept open and peaceful.

Chinese state media has said that building a strong navy that is commensurate with China's rising status is a necessary step in China's efforts to safeguard its increasingly globalised national interests.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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Police find 13 burned bodies in western Mexico (AP)

CULIACAN, Mexico ? Police have found 13 shot and burned bodies in two pickup trucks in the western city of Culiacan.

Sinaloa state Attorney General Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez says neighbors called police after seeing a pickup truck on fire early Wednesday in the Antonio Rosales neighborhood. Higuera says investigators found nine bodies on the bed of the truck.

Higuera says that minutes later, authorities received another report of a pickup truck burning behind a store. Police found four bodies inside that vehicle.

Higuera said all 13 had been shot.

Culiacan is the capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, which is home of a major drug cartel named for the state.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tour operator Thomas Cook in financial trouble (AP)

LONDON ? Fears rose over the survival of venerable British tour operator Thomas Cook after financial problems worsened Tuesday for the company that took more than 22 million people on holiday in the latest year.

Shares in Europe's second-largest tour operator sunk 75 percent of their already depressed value after Thomas Cook said it was seeking new agreements with its main creditors. That announcement came barely a month after the company said it had negotiated new funding arrangements to carry it through the slow winter months.

The company insisted that flights would leave as usual and that it was taking new bookings, but Britons who bought vacations through the firm were worried.

"(I'm) praying it's going to be all right ... but I'm not confident," said Jamila Juma-Ware, 27, who had booked a holiday in Tenerife in the next three weeks for herself and her mother.

Several small British travel firms have gone under since the global economic crisis hit in 2008, but Thomas Cook is an industry giant and a fixture of Britain's main streets.

"There are a lot of small independent travel agents around here, but I said I'd rather just book it through someone like Thomas Cook because they're big and there's more of a guarantee they won't go bust," Juma-Ware said. "And then this week this happens. "

Thomas Cook is, like many airlines and tour operators, suffering from weak consumer demand as Europe's financial crisis has people worried about their jobs.

Unrest in Tunisia ? normally the top winter destination for French travelers ? and Egypt, flooding in Bangkok and disappointing sales in Russia have all added to the pressure on the company.

Analysts said the financial troubles could scare away customers, darkening the firm's prospects even more.

"Legitimate questions will be asked as to whether Thomas Cook can survive long-term," said James Hollins, analyst at Evolution Securities. He added that he believed the company could pull through on the strength of businesses outside Britain, but "a more flexible financial structure and massive turnaround are required."

Thomas Cook Group PLC shares closed down 75 percent in London trading.

Thomas Cook was due to report annual earnings for 2010-11 on Thursday, but it has put that off indefinitely "as a result of deterioration of trading in some areas of the business, and of its cash and liquidity position since its year end."

Sam Weihagen, Thomas Cook's interim chief executive, insisted it was business as usual: "Flights are leaving on schedule, shops are open and we're taking bookings."

Weihagen said people who booked package holidays with the firm would be protected by the Air Travel Organizers' Licensing insurance program, which is funded by contributions from travel companies. However, those who book only flights are advised to buy their own travel insurance.

Thomas Cook has previously announced plans to reduce its fleet of 41 aircraft to 35, and it hopes to raise 200 million pounds ($312 million) by selling assets including its stake in Britain's part-privatized air traffic control service.

Wyn Ellis, analyst at Numis Securities, said Thomas Cook's announcement could frighten new customers and alarm suppliers. The company, he said, "faces a difficult near-term future which could lead to significant loss of market share."

The news upset some prospective travelers near its shop in London's St. James neighborhood.

Tony Wright, 64, said he's had "nothing but good experiences" with the company and would not hesitate to use Thomas Cook again.

"We were devastated to hear the news this morning and we hope its not as bad as it sounds," he said.

Others were disappointed that the company's airfares had not dropped. Simon Ash visited the branch on Tuesday, hoping that the company's financial woes and a lack of tourist interest in Egypt because of unrest could help him find a cheap ticket to Cairo. He came away empty-handed.

"The prices they're giving me are not as good as the ones I'm finding on the Internet," he said.

Nadejda Popova, a tourism industry analyst at Euromonitor, said Thomas Cook's "great brand" identity could help it survive, especially because package holidays remain popular with travelers.

"We talk about the death of the package holiday, but we haven't completely seen (it)," she said. In uncertain times people "want the protection that comes with a package holiday."

The company takes its name from the cabinetmaker Thomas Cook, who had a flash of inspiration while walking to a temperance meeting in 1841 to use the railways to help promote abstinence from alcohol. Cook's first venture was to charter a train that carried about 500 passengers in open coaches on a 12-mile round trip.

"Thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, and the social idea grew up on me," Cook wrote.

He organized more trips for temperance societies and Sunday schools. He took his business a step further in 1845 by arranging a trip to Liverpool.

The International Exhibition in Paris in 1855 inspired Cook to organize a trip to the continent. Ten years later, he was organizing rail tours in North America.


Associated Press Writers Jill Lawless and Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.


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Micro-finance expert calls for public education about loan facilities ...

You Are Here: Home ? General News ? Micro-finance expert calls for public education about loan facilities

Page last updated at Tuesday, November 22, 2011 18:18 PM //

Mr Ben Fankah, Executive Director of Africa Financial Services (AFS), has expressed the need for micro-finance companies to set up educational units in their outfits to tutor prospective clients about the facilities they offer.

This, he said, would prevent situations where many clients get disappointed after taking loans from micro finance companies, coupled with difficulties with repayment plans and huge interest rates.

Speaking in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, Mr Fankah noted that the products offered by micro-finance and non banking institutions are ?need products? and not ?want products?, hence the need for a thorough understanding by clients before they are given the facilities.

?Most clients come with dire financial needs and are mostly desperate to access financial assistance.

?Because of this, they do not weigh the facility well by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the loan before completing and accepting the terms and conditions? he stated.

He said most clients end up unhappy after accessing the loans because they were not well educated on the facility.

Mr Fankah, a long time player in the micro finance and non banking financial service industry started at Bayport Financial Services as Marketing and Public Relations Manager from 2006 to 2008, before moving to Dalex Financial Services as a Senior Manager in Charge of Operations from 2008 to 2009.

Source: GNA



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Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case

The Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case ($14.99 list) lets babies enjoy their very own apps while protecting mom or dad's iPhone or iPod touch device! Simply place the Apple device into the case, twist the lock, and the electronic is protected from baby's dribbles and drool. The durable rubber case has a clear film to cover the screen, plus a home button lockout feature to prevent unwanted call-making. Easy-grasp handles are sized just right for baby to hold.

Now baby can enjoy your Apple device as much as you do?playing games and activities, using FaceTime (with an iPhone 4) to talk with grandma and grandpa, and so much more!

Looking for apps that are just right for baby? Download free Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn apps from the App Stores! With fun, interactive characters and songs, little ones will learn about numbers, animals, animal sounds, parts of the body and more. Babies love to learn when their interactive touches control the action! And the Apptivity Case is the perfect way to let baby be in control while protecting your electronic components.

Need to answer the phone or take a grown-up music break? No problem: The case entertains baby even without a device inside, thanks to rattle beads on the handles and a mirror on the back.

No batteries required. Compatible with iPhone, iPhone 3G/3GS, iPhone 4, iPod touch 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

7 Tools To Wake Your Ass Up on Black Friday [Video]

It's the most important shopping day of the year, but all the best deals go quickly. So given you'll be groggy from your turkey gorging, you need a surefire way to hit the stores early on Black Friday. More »


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Turkish journalists go on trial over coup plot (AP)

ISTANBUL ? Ten journalists and three other people went on trial Tuesday accused of being involved in an alleged plot to topple Turkey's Islamic-rooted government, a case that is a key test for press freedoms in Turkey.

The trial highlights growing concerns about threats to freedom of expression in the democratic, mostly Muslim nation that seeks membership in the European Union. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islam-based government has come under increased international criticism that it is trying to silence challengers.

The government rejects the accusation, citing its record of instituting Western-backed reforms. It says it must prosecute an alleged network of hardline secularists accused of plotting a coup.

The journalists are accused of being the media wing of the alleged network and of aiding the conspiracy through alleged anti-government publications ? charges they deny.

The defendants join the ranks of some 400 other people who are already on trial in an investigation ? now in its fourth year ? into the alleged hardline secularist group named Ergenekon. Prosecutors say it plotted in 2003 to bring down the government through attacks that would have created chaos and sparked a military coup.

Critics say the trial is based on flimsy or fabricated evidence and aims to intimidate and muzzle government opponents.

Four hours after Tuesday's opening hearing against the journalists began, trial was adjourned to wait for a ruling by a higher court on whether to replace the presiding judge. Defense lawyers say that judge cannot be impartial because of a separate case that pits him against one of the journalists.

The court said it would decide whether to release the suspects from jail when it returns on Dec. 26.

The 13 defendants included investigative journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik; writer and government critic Yalcin Kucuk and Soner Yalcin, the owner of Oda TV.

"I will defend the freedom of expression here until the end," the Anadolu news agency quoted Yalcin as telling the court.

Erdogan has said the journalists on trial are not facing charges for their writings or their thoughts but for "their alleged ties to various criminal organizations or to coup plotters."

International media rights groups traveled to Turkey to attend the trial. Authorities first allowed only a handful of journalists into the packed courtroom in Istanbul but dozens of journalists and observers later forced their way in.

"We want to express our solidarity with our detained colleagues but in the meantime express our concern for press freedom in Turkey," Philippe Leruth, vice president of the European Federation of Journalists, told AP television outside the court. "Press freedom is essential for democracy."

Journalists unfurled a banner calling for their colleagues to be released.

"Jailing journalists for their opinion is really not acceptable in democratic countries," said Pavol Mudry, an executive board member of the International Press Institute.


Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.


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