World briefs – April 5

The United Nations and French forces opened fire with attack helicopters Monday on the arsenal of this country’s entrenched ruler, as columns of foot soldiers finally pierced the city limit and surrounded the strongman’s home.

United Nations joins battle for Ivory Coast

The United Nations and French forces opened fire with attack helicopters Monday on the arsenal of this country’s entrenched ruler, as columns of foot soldiers finally pierced the city limit and surrounded the strongman’s home.

The fighters aiming to topple strongman Laurent Gbagbo had succeeded in taking nearly the entire countryside in just three days last week, but they faltered once they reached the country’s largest city.

With the help of the international forces, the armed group fighting to install the country’s democratically elected leader Alassane Ouattara pushed their way to the heart of the city to reach Gbagbo’s home. They have surrounded it, and as of early Tuesday they were waiting for him to step down, said a close adviser to Ouattara who could not be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

Monday’s offensive which included air attacks on the ruler’s home, as well as three strategic military garrisons marked an unprecedented escalation in the international community’s efforts to oust Gbagbo, who lost the presidential election in November yet has refused to cede power to Ouattara even as the world’s largest cocoa producer teetered on the brink of all-out civil war.

UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said after briefing the Security Council about the action in Ivory Coast on Monday that the international forces had targeted areas around the presidential palace where Gbagbo’s forces were using heavy weaponry.

Obama declares bid for re-election in ’12

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced he is running for re-election and setting into motion a vast campaign machine that some expect to raise an unprecedented $1 billion.

Such a campaign war chest will mount a daunting challenge for whoever emerges from a crowded Republican field still jostling for the nomination and the difficult task that goes with it of removing a White House incumbent.

Obama launched his run at a second term in an email sent early Monday to 13 million supporters. He exhorted them to join forces behind his leadership and the changes he has battled for in a nation riven with hyperpartisan political divisions.

The president formally stepped onto the long road toward the November 2012 election even as he is enmeshed in a monumental battle over how much and on what the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. Without a compromise in the next couple of days he and the Congress could be overseeing a partial government shutdown for lack of funding.

Obama said he was running again because the fight was not finished in keeping the high-flown promises that carried him into the White House in 2008.

Crews to recover bodies, wreckage from flight

PARIS — Specialists could start pulling up bodies and wreckage from an Air France plane found on the Atlantic Ocean floor within a month, after the stunning deep-water discovery raised new hope of determining the cause of the 2009 crash.

Investigators said Monday they still haven’t found the plane’s “black box” flight recorders, and it’s unclear whether they remain attached to the fuselage, or whether they’re even still intact after nearly two years in sandy depths of 3,900 metres.

All 228 people aboard the plane were killed when Flight 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, slammed into the ocean northeast of Brazil on June 1, 2009, after running into an intense high-altitude thunderstorm. The cause of the crash is unclear.

French officials said Monday that undersea robots have located bodies, motors and most of the Airbus jet in a fourth underwater search operation, after the last two search efforts turned up nothing. Investigators have said without the recorders, the cause of the crash may never be determined.

France’s air accident investigation agency, the BEA, showed photos of the wreckage — intact wheels from the plane’s landing gear, two engines dusted with silt, a panel of the fuselage.

The BEA did not show images of any bodies. French officials said identifiable bodies have been found and will be raised to the ocean surface, but would not say how many or further comment out of respect for the victims’ families.

Troops fire wildly at protesters

SANAA, Yemen — Military forces and police snipers opened fire Monday on marchers calling for the ouster of Yemen’s embattled president, killing at least 15 people and sending a strong message of defiance to U.S. and European envoys seeking to broker a peace deal after months of bloodshed.

The melee in the southern city of Taiz — part of an intensifying crackdown on the opposition — underscored the resolve of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to cling to power even as protest crowds resist withering attacks and crucial allies switch sides and call for his 32-year rule to end.

It also showed the challenges facing behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to quell the nearly two-month-old uprising in a nation that Washington considers a frontline battleground against al-Qaida’s most active franchise.

“We will stand as firm as mountains,” Saleh told a gathering of pro-government tribesmen.

In Taiz, witnesses described troops and gunmen, some on rooftops, firing wildly on thousands of protesters who marched past the governor’s headquarters in the city’s second straight day of violence. Some protesters — including elderly people — were trampled and injured as marchers tried to flee, witnesses said.

Saleh has been a key ally of the United States, which has given him millions in counterterrorism aid to fight al-Qaida’s branch in the country, which has plotted attacks on American soil. So far, Washington has not publicly demanded that he step down. But the diplomatic efforts are a clear sign that the Americans have decided the danger of turmoil and instability outweighs the potential risks if Saleh leaves.

Mustafa al-Sabri, a spokesman for a coalition of opposition parties, said U.S. and European diplomats had been in contact with Saleh. They also asked opposition leaders for their “vision” for a transition.

In response, the opposition over the weekend gave the Americans a proposal that Saleh step down and hand his powers to his vice-president, who would then organize a process to rewrite the constitution and hold new elections, al-Sabri said.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Yemen’s neighbours Oman and Saudi Arabia, also offered to try to mediate a peace deal.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said American envoys “continue to consult intensively” with Yemen’s government and the opposition, but he refused to give details of any specific U.S. plans.

Saleh has offered no hint of compromise as long as protests rage.

“We are prepared to explore the peaceful transfer of authority in the framework of the constitution. But arm-twisting will absolutely not work,” he said on Sunday.

On Monday, he showed an even harder edge. “We are standing firm, and we will defend constitutional legitimacy by all means,” he told backers.

“We will stand as firm as mountains and will remain faithful to the people.”

Saleh has offered to step down early at the end of this year if a transfer of power acceptable to him is reached. But the opposition fears that Saleh is using the discussions over stepping down to stall for time — either to stay in power or to ensure he is succeeded by one of his sons.

The U.S. Embassy has not commented on any diplomatic efforts, saying only in a statement over the weekend that “Saleh has publicly expressed his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power; the timing and form of this transition should be identified through dialogue and negotiation.”

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