Morsi Asserts New Powers and Orders Ex-Officials Retried

Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take “due measures and steps” to deal with any “threat” to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.

Morsi framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.

“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Morsi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,” she said, alluding to the starting day of last year’s uprising against Mubarak.

In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. He also created a new “protection of the revolution” judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.

Liberal politicians immediately criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation already reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

ElBaradei later addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood, including two presidential candidates who ran against Morsi, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

They pledged to cooperate to force Morsi to rescind his assumption of greater powers. “We will work together as Egyptians until we achieve the goals of our revolution,” said ElBaradei, a former director of the U.N.’s nuclear agency and Nobel peace laureate.

They called for mass protests Friday to demand the dissolution of the declarations. The audience interrupted the press conference, chanting “Down with the Guide’s rule,” referring to the Supreme Guide of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, Mohammed Badie.

The prospect of large rival protests involving Morsi’s opponents and supporters in Cairo on Friday raises the likelihood of clashes.

Thousands from the rival camps were already out on the streets of Cairo late Thursday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.

A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general — whom Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict. They chanted slogans for “the cleansing of the judiciary,” shouting, “The people support the president’s decisions.” Leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi, attending the rally, singled out several critics of Morsi from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.

Meanwhile, blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood is banned from entry,” declared a large banner at the protest.

Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsi’s decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.

“The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”

The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before next spring.

The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.

The Brotherhood and Morsi allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies.

Morsi on Thursday extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.

He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The president made most of the changes Thursday in a declaration amending an interim constitution that has been in effect since shortly after Mubarak’s fall and has over time become a ramshackle patchwork. The military, which took power after Mubarak, set the precedent for the executive unilaterally issuing constitutional changes, which it did several times during its 16-month rule.

The moves come as Morsi basks in lavish praise from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Clinton was in Cairo on Wednesday, when she held extensive talks with Morsi.

Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood. With two branches of power in his hands, Morsi effectively took away many prerogatives of the third, the judiciary.

The provision for a retrial of Mubarak appeared to be a gesture to public opinion. The decree called for “new investigations and trials” against those who held “political or executive” positions in the old regime and who are accused of killing protesters.

Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

But the decree would not mean retrials for the dozens of lower-level police officers who have been acquitted or received suspended sentences in trials for killing protesters — verdicts that have outraged many Egyptians. That exclusion will guarantee Morsi the loyalty of the powerful but hated police force.

Morsi on Thursday also fired the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud. A Mubarak-era appointee, Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against Mubarak, el-Adly and the police in trials.

Morsi first fired Mahmoud in October but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. So on Thursday, he decreed that the prosecutor general could serve in office only for four years, with immediate effect on Mahmoud, who had held the post since 2006. Morsi replaced Mahmoud with Talaat Abdullah, a career judge, and swiftly swore him in.

Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali. In a throwback to the days of the authoritarian Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the television followed up with a slew of nationalist songs.

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TEEN SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS OF CHURCH ATTENDANCE AFTER DUI MANSLAUGHTER CONVICTION

An Oklahoma teenager In Muskogee, Oklahoma, who pleaded guilty in the tragic death of another teen has been given an interesting sentence: 10 years of church attendance in exchange for not heading to prison. The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, is not fighting a judge’s mandate, as his lawyer deems the decision both fair and appropriate.

“My client goes to church every Sunday,” attorney Donn Baker told Tulsa World. “That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.”

Alred, who was convicted of DUI manslaughter, crashed into a tree last year, an incident that led to the tragic death of his passenger and friend. Tulsa World has more:

The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.

Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.

Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

In August, Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a youthful offender and Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman implemented the intriguing church-based penalty. The district attorney’s office will monitor the teen’s attendance to be sure that he complies.

Some experts have contended that mandating church attendance creates a separation of church and state issue. In addition to going to church, Alred will need to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his alcohol intake, speak at events about the negative results of drinking and driving, finish high school and go for counseling. Additionally, he will undergo drug tests.

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Giant Sun Eruption Captured in NASA Video

The sun unleashed a monster eruption of super-hot plasma Friday (Nov. 16) in back-to-back solar storms captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.

The giant sun eruption, called a solar prominence, occurred at 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT), with another event flaring up four hours later. The prominences was so large, it expanded beyond the camera view of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which captured high-definition video of the solar eruption.

In the video, a colossal loop of glowing red plasma erupts from the lower left of the sun, arcing up and out of frame as it blasts away from the star.

“The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium,” officials with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which oversees the SDO mission, explained in a description. “The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”

Friday’s solar eruption does not appear to be aimed at Earth, so will likely have little effect on our planet. But that was not the case earlier this week when a powerful solar flare erupted on Monday (Nov. 12). That flare registered as an M6-class eruption, a moderate but still intense solar event.

On Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 13 and 14), space weather conditions sparked a geomagnetic storm that supercharged the Earth’s auroras, creating spectacular northern lights displays for observers at high latitudes.

When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful solar flares and eruptions can pose a threat to satellites and astronauts in orbit, and also interfere with communication, navigation and power systems on the ground.

The sun is currently in the middle of an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle. The current cycle is called Solar Cycle 24 and is expected to peak in 2013.

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Israel ready to ‘significantly expand’ Gaza offensive

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hamas on Sunday, declaring that the Israeli army was prepared to significantly widen its Gaza offensive. Netanyahu’s threat came as Hamas launched a fresh rocket attack on Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army is ready to “significantly expand” its operation in Gaza, the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday as Hamas launched fresh rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place”.
Netanyahu issued the warning as Israel’s “Iron Dome” system intercepted two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas militants admitted responsibility for the latest rocket attack on Israel’s commercial capital.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told FRANCE24 that a ground offensive into Gaza was likely if the rocket attacks continued.
“Our sole aim of this offensive is to make Hamas stop firing rockets. We have used air strikes but if that’s not enough then we may contemplate ground operations as well,” Ygal Palmor from the Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.
“If rockets are being fired then that will bring the ground operation forward,” he added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said on Sunday that Israel would not negotiate a truce with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers as long as rocket fire continues from the Palestinian enclave.
Israel’s operation has drawn Western support for what US and European leaders have called Israel’s right to self-defence, but there have also been a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip “would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”

Hague told Sky News television it was much more difficult to limit civilian casualties in a ground assault and said it would threaten to prolong the conflict.

Air and sea raids continue

Fifty Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three civilians.

Since Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, the Jewish state has launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.
The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. An air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.
The TV building also housed journalists from Britain’s ITN news and Sky News networks.
Three other attacks killed three children and wounded 14 other people, medical officials said.
Violence ‘shatters’ hopes of peace
The night of violence represents a blow to peace efforts, which have been lead by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, who on Saturday said there were indications a truce could “soon” be reached.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, witnessed the latest night of violence.
“Throughout the night we heard very heavy shelling, most of it coming from Israeli warships stationed off the coast. The sound of Apache helicopters and drones flying low overhead could also be heard,” Fenwick said on Sunday.
“The Israeli Air Force has published a statement saying it had hit what it called ‘terrorist targets’ across the Gaza Strip, including rocket-launching facilities and other Hamas infrastructure. For their part, the Palestinian factions are claiming responsibility for rockets being fired towards Israel,” said Fenwick.
“It has really shattered the hopes that were raised on Saturday night when rumours came out of Cairo that a truce might be brokered between the two sides,” he continued. “Considering the night we have just had, it appears we are heading in the opposite direction.”
On Sunday, France also became involved in attempts to bring peace to the region with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius travelling to Israel to try and broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
During his one-day visit Fabius is due to meet with Israeli leaders as well as with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will head to Cairo on Monday for talks with the president and other officials on the crisis in Gaza.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Sunday he welcomed efforts by his Egyptian counterpart to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but accused Hamas of rejecting the proposals.
A delegation of ministers from the Arab League are due to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in what a league official described as a “show of support for the territory”.
Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rockets.
On Saturday, in the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

EU in fresh trouble as budget summit faces collapse

The European Union looks set for fresh trouble this week as an extraordinary summit called to agree a long-term trillion-euro budget heads for an ugly showdown, possibly even failure.

Already weakened by three years of economic crisis, the 27-nation bloc of half a billion people faces new trauma at the two-day summit starting Thursday after weeks of talks that have exposed stark divisions between pro- and anti-austerity nations, as well as between the haves and have-nots.

“It’s a lose-lose summit,” said a senior EU diplomat. “Absolutely no one will leave this summit content if by chance we reach a solution.”

“We don’t exclude a breakdown,” another diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Europe’s leaders begin the talks on the EU’s next seven-year budget at 1900 GMT Thursday, with Britain’s premier David Cameron in the role of leading spoiler though most governments are putting national interest well above shared concerns.

“Cameron will come with a big knife to get spending cuts and to defend the British rebate,” said an EU diplomat.

In the face of Britain’s austerity-minded determination to secure a cut of up to 200 billion euros in the 2014-2020 budget, EU president Herman Van Rompuy, who will broker the talks, last week suggested a 75-billion-euro cut to the proposed 1.047 trillion euro ($1.3 trillion) budget.

But that made no one happy.

Spain said it would lose 20 billion euros of EU aid, Italy complained of losing 10 billion euros.

And a group of Nobel laureates flew to Brussels waving a petition signed by dozens of Nobel winners urging Van Rompuy and other EU officials not to strip funds for research and innovation.

“Fortunately, we only have these summits every seven years,” Van Rompuy said Friday after coming under fire from all sides.

His plan left Britain having to pay in part for its cherished yearly rebate of 3.6 billion euros, while diminishing Sweden’s rebate, and failing to address Denmark’s demand to have a discount too.

The three are among the 11 net contributors to the EU budget who in times of economic strain and domestic cutbacks are tired of bearing the brunt of the financial burden.

Eight of the net contributors — Austria, Britain, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden — have banded together to demand spending cuts, though they are far from being on the same page on what should go or by how much.

France for instance, along with Italy, is refusing any decrease whatsoever in the budget’s biggest item, the subsidies paid to farmers, big and small.

“There can be no question of withdrawing even one euro from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” said French Premier Jean-Marc Ayrault, whose government is pushing for the EU to raise new revenues through new taxes, such as one on financial transactions.

In the other corner are 15 nations from Europe’s east and southern fringe who are net recipients, most often of the so-called “cohesion funds” used to help poor regions catch up economically and socially with the rest. This is the second biggest budget item after the CAP.

Chaired by Poland and Portugal, the group includes Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia — and most recently, once mighty Spain.

Cameron, who is under intense euro-sceptic pressure to wrest an agreement in Brussels, has been shuttling back and forth to raise support, travelling to the Netherlands, Italy and Germany in search of allies.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which is the biggest contributor to the EU budget, has promised to do her utmost to ensure the summit would not end in collapse.

“Even if we are net contributors and people could perhaps think that we can live with a non-agreement, that is not our goal,” Merkel said. “We want an agreement and we will talk exactly in this spirit with all countries.”

Meanwhile, there is a growing exasperation with France, whose recently elected Socialist President Francois Hollande has urged Brussels to push for growth, rather than austerity, but whose obsession with maintaining the CAP will lead to cuts in programmes to help growth.

“He wanted to re-orient Europe towards employment and growth. It’s a political choice. He must be consistent,” said an EU official who asked not to be named.

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