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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Sunday, March 4, 2012
|China first aircraft carrier began sea trials in 2011|
China's official defence spending will rise by 11.2% in 2012, pushing it above $100bn (£65bn) for the first time, the government has announced.
Beijing's defence budget has risen each year for two decades to become the world's second-biggest, behind the US.
It is developing an aircraft carrier, a stealth fighter jet, and missiles that can shoot down satellites.
The US promised to bolster its presence in the region last year, in a move seen as countering China's dominance.
Washington, which spends about $740bn on defence each year, already has bases housing thousands of American troops across the region.
The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says Chinese officials remain wary about growing American influence in the region, and believe Washington wants to encircle China.
'Peaceful development' China's emerging military might has especially worried its near neighbours.
China has long-running territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, and has also positioned hundreds of missiles for a potential attack on Taiwan, which it views as part of its territory.
Announcing the new budget, Li Zhaoxing, an official with China's parliament, sought to calm concerns over the spending programme."China is committed to the path of peaceful development and follows a national defence policy that is defensive in nature," he said.
"China has 1.3 billion people, a large territory and long coastline, but our defence spending is relatively low compared with other major countries."
As a proportion of its GDP, China's official military budget is far lower than either the US or the UK.
But foreign experts have estimated that Beijing's actual military spending could be as much as double the official budget.
During 2011, China carried out its first test flight of a stealth fighter jet, and the first sea trial of its aircraft carrier.
Both pieces of equipment remain years away from active deployment.
Beijing is also building new submarines and ships, and developing a range of anti-ship ballistic missiles.
The armed forces, known as the People's Liberation Army, boasts more than two million personnel - the biggest military in the world.
Big military spenders - official figures
- US: $739.3bn
- China: $106bn
- UK: $63.7bn
- Russia: $52.7bn
- India: $31.9bn
|The BBC's Steve Rosenberg looks around a Moscow polling station which has been fitted with webcams|
Polling stations across Russia have opened as the presidential election gets under way.Sunday's vote sees Vladimir Putin hoping to become president again after four years as prime minister.
Mr Putin was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008, but was barred by the constitution from standing for a third consecutive term.
He faces four challengers, three of whom he has defeated in previous elections.
The election is being held against a backdrop of popular discontent, sparked by allegations of widespread fraud during December's parliamentary elections in favour of Mr Putin's United Russia party.
Correspondents say there is real debate as to whether Mr Putin remains the best person to lead Russia, or whether the time has come for change.
Polls will be open from 8am to 8pm in each time zone, with the first opening in the Far East of the country at 20:00 GMT on Saturday, and the last in the western Kaliningrad region closing at 17:00 GMT on Sunday.
The interior ministry is bringing 6,000 police reinforcements to Moscow from the regions, according to Russian media reports.
Mr Putin voted in Moscow with his wife, Ludmila. Speaking afterwards to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, he said: "I'm expecting a good turnout, because presidential elections are an important event. I am confident that people will act responsibly".
Mr Putin's main challenger is considered to be Communist Gennady Zyuganov, who is running for a fourth time.
The other candidates are ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who is standing as an independent, and former upper house speaker Sergey Mironov, from the centre-left A Just Russia party.
If Mr Putin fails to achieve more than 50% of the vote he will face his nearest rival in a run-off.
However, the liberal opposition behind some of the recent protests is not represented.
The so-called white-ribbon movement has attracted more than 50,000 people in recent demonstrations in Moscow and other major cities, after widespread allegations of vote-rigging during elections for the State Duma. Similar numbers attended pro-Putin and pro-Communist rallies.
Mr Putin has responded by announcing a programme to install webcams in each of the country's 90,000 polling stations, but critics have questioned their effectiveness."Cameras cannot capture all the details of the voting process, in particular during counting," said a report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), quoted by the Associated Press.
A joint mission by the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe comprising 250 observers is monitoring the elections.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of Russians have volunteered as election observers and been trained to recognise and report violations.
The Candidates• Vladimir Putin, 59-year-old ex-KGB spy and current prime minister, former president between 2000 and 2008
• Gennady Zyuganov, Communist Party leader
• Mikhail Prokhorov, billionaire metals magnate turned politician
• Vladimir Zhirinovsky, nationalist firebrand, leader of Liberal Democratic Party
• Sergei Mironov, leader of centre-left A Just Russia Party, former head of the upper house
At the scene
Richard Galpin BBC News, Novosibirsk
As in the rest of the country, webcams are up and running in the polling station but officials insist they are not needed in this area.
Around the room which houses the large, transparent ballot boxes, observers are sitting, quietly keeping an eye on the voting process.
Novosibirsk, like many cities, has seen an upsurge in people volunteering to monitor the election.
Activists, angered by the evidence of rigging in last December's parliamentary election, organised a training programme which created thousands of new monitors.
The conclusions they and other Russian and international monitoring teams reach on whether this election was free and fair will be critical for the legitimacy of the country's new president.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
|BBC's Jim Muir: "People have started voting... but there are also reports of shelling and shooting in many parts of the country"|
The Syrian government is holding a national referendum on a new constitution, amid continuing violent unrest and a boycott by the opposition.
The new constitution calls for a multi-party parliamentary election within three months.
The opposition has dismissed Sunday's vote as a farce and demands President Bashar al-Assad stand down.
The vote comes amid ongoing violence, with activists saying more than 89 people died across Syria on Saturday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based activist group, said at least two people were killed in fresh fighting on Sunday.
'Laughable' The government has pressed ahead with organising the referendum despite the unrest, setting up more than 13,000 polling stations for 14.6m voters.
Voting began at 07:00 local time (05:00 GMT) and polling stations are due to stay open for 12 hours.
State television has been holding discussions about the new document, which allows for more opposition to Mr Assad's Baath Party, and telling people how they can vote.
|Activists said there had been more deadly shelling of Homs on Saturday|
One group described the new constitution as fraudulent and the referendum as a farce.
It pointed out that the regime had never respected the old constitution, which enshrines freedom of speech and peaceful demonstrations and bans torture.
The BBC's Jim Muir in neighbouring Beirut says how the vote can plausibly be held in the current situation remains to be seen.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed this view at a news conference in Istanbul, asking: "On one hand you say you are holding a referendum and on the other you are attacking with tank fire on civilian areas.
"You still think the people will go to a referendum the next day in the same city?"
The US has dismissed the referendum as "laughable".
Friends of Syria The Observatory said Saturday's deaths included 24 civilians in the embattled city of Homs and that 23 government soldiers were killed in clashes with rebel groups across the country.
|Footage of mourning in the Khalidieh district of Homs was broadcast on YouTube|
Among those it is trying to help are two injured Western journalists, Edith Bouvier and Paul Conroy. It also wants to retrieve the bodies of another two journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, who were killed last week.
Hundreds of armed rebels from the Free Syrian Army are holding out in the suburb.
Meanwhile, international pressure is mounting on Mr Assad to end his government's 11-month crackdown on opponents.
Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general who has been appointed the UN and Arab League's envoy to Syria, called for all parties to co-operate in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
On Friday, a meeting of the "Friends of Syria" group was held in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
Delegates from 70 countries issued a declaration calling on the Damascus government to end violence immediately, allow humanitarian access, and permit the delivery of relief supplies.
The UN estimated in January that 5,400 people had been killed in the conflict. Activists say the death toll now is more than 7,300.
The Syrian regime restricts access to foreign journalists and casualty figures cannot be verified.
|The compound in Abbottabad served as the Al Qaeda leader's hideout for more than five years|
Bulldozers arrived after dark to demolish the outer walls, and have been working through the night.
There is heavy security around the compound, which served as Bin Laden's hideout for more than five years.
Residents say an unannounced curfew has been placed in the area, and residents have been asked not to leave their homes, the BBC's Ilyas Khan in Islamabad reports.
The site is a large compound with high walls built around the actual house.
Officials say the compound was handed over by the military to the civil authorities before the operation started.
They say the demolition was decided soon after the 2 May 2011 raid, but it was put off when the government set up a judicial commission to investigate the operation by US forces.
"Since the commission has almost completed its work and did not need the compound for any further investigation, it was decided it should be razed," an official said.
He said the reason for the demolition was the visitors the place continued to attract, which posed a security threat to the area, located in an important garrison town.
Osama Bin Laden is said to have lived in the compound with his family for several years.
On that day, a team of US special forces flew from Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hiding place during the night in stealth helicopters on a secret operation.
They swept through the buildings within the high-walled enclosure and shot dead a total of five people, including Bin Laden.
Some 40 minutes later they left, taking with them Bin Laden's body and a hoard of computer data devices and other information containing intelligence about al-Qaeda and Bin Laden's activities.
The compound has been a painful reminder for Pakistan, which was embarrassed by the unilateral US operation that killed Bin Laden, correspondents say.