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WORLD BRIEFLY: In Egypt, pro-Morsi protesters dig in

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 | 7:46 p.m. CDT; updated 10:12 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Here are today's top national and world stories from The Associated Press.

Thousands of pro-Morsi protesters dig in; Egypt signals crackdown is imminent

CAIRO — Protesters holding sticks and wearing helmets and makeshift body armor stand behind mounds of sandbags, tires and brick walls. They change guards every two hours to ensure they stay alert.

With Egypt's military-backed government signaling a crackdown is imminent, supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi are taking no chances with security at their two protest camps in Cairo.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet ordered the police to break up the sit-ins, saying they pose an "unacceptable threat" to national security.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said the order will be carried out in gradual steps according to instructions from prosecutors. "I hope they resort to reason" and leave without authorities having to move in, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Ahmed Sobaie, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice party, derided the Cabinet decision as "paving the way for another massacre."

Military takes security measures to keep Morsi's whereabouts secret

CAIRO — Egypt is taking extreme measures to keep Mohammed Morsi hidden. It says dignitaries are helicoptered to the deposed president's place of detention after nightfall, flying in patterns aimed at confusing the visitors. The military also has reportedly moved Morsi at least three times.

"Maneuvers have been undertaken during the nighttime helicopter flight so as to disorient (the visitors) in regard to where the location is," Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali, the military spokesman, told The Associated Press on Wednesday, following a visit to Morsi Tuesday night by an African Union delegation.

The Egyptian army has kept Morsi in hiding since ousting him in a July 3 coup. But the military-backed interim leadership is under international criticism about Morsi's continued detention, and by allowing two high-level visits in quick succession it apparently hoped to ease the pressure.

"There are lies going around that he is badly treated, that he is under pressure, or that he is not taking his medication, and these were conveyed to the West," Ali said. "This step was part of a transparency policy and to refute such allegations. We have nothing to hide."

He said Morsi's whereabouts were being kept secret for his own safety because "there are millions of people against him, and moving him is not considered appropriate at the moment."

NSA acknowledges it can pull millions of phone records, not just terrorists'

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's national security team acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that, when investigating one suspected terrorist, it can read and store the phone records of millions of Americans.

Since it was revealed recently that the National Security Agency puts the phone records of every American into a database, the Obama administration has assured the nation that such records are rarely searched and, when they are, officials target only suspected international terrorists.

But testimony before Congress on Wednesday showed how easy it is for Americans with no connection to terrorism to unwittingly have their calling patterns analyzed by the government.

It hinges on what's known as "hop" or "chain" analysis. When the NSA identifies a suspect, it can look not just at his phone records, but also the records of everyone he calls, everyone who calls those people and everyone who calls those people.

If the average person called 40 unique people, three-hop analysis would allow the government to mine the records of 2.5 million Americans when investigating one suspected terrorist.

Ex-Army general: Manning's leaks fractured relationships with Afghan villagers

FORT MEADE, Md. — The classified information Pfc. Bradley Manning revealed through WikiLeaks fractured U.S. military relationships with foreign governments and Afghan villagers, a former general said Wednesday at the soldier's sentencing hearing.

It was the first time testimony about the actual damage the leaks may have caused has been allowed at trial.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Carr said the material Manning leaked identified hundreds of friendly Afghan villagers by name, causing some of them to stop helping U.S. forces.

"One of our primary missions is to protect the population over there," said Carr, who led a Defense Department task force that looked at the risks of the leaks. "We had to get close to the population, had to understand that population and we had to protect them. If the adversary had more clarity, as to which people in the village were collaborating with the U.S. forces, then there is a chance that those folks could be at greater risk."

The former intelligence analyst was convicted of 20 of 22 charges for sending hundreds of thousands of government and diplomatic secrets to WikiLeaks and faces up to 136 years in prison. He was found not guilty of aiding the enemy, which alone could have meant life in prison without parole.

Instagram is latest propaganda tool for Syria's embattled president

BEIRUT — Syria's embattled president already has a Facebook page, Twitter account and a YouTube channel. Now Bashar Assad is turning to the popular photo-sharing service Instagram in the latest attempt at improving his image as his country burns, posting pictures of himself and his glamorous wife surrounded by idolizing crowds.

The photos show a smiling Assad among supporters, or grimly visiting wounded Syrians in the hospital. He is seen working in his office in Damascus, an Apple computer and iPad on his desk. His wife, Asma, who has stayed largely out of sight throughout the conflict, features heavily in the photos, casually dressed and surrounded by Syrian children and their mothers.

The sophisticated P.R. campaign is striking for an isolated leader who has earned near pariah status for his military's bloody crackdown on dissent.

It is also in stark contrast to the machinations of other dictators at the center of Arab Spring revolts. While the ousted Egyptian and Libyan leaders relied on antiquated methods such as state-run media to transmit stilted propaganda, Assad — a 47-year-old British-trained eye doctor — has increasingly relied on social media to project an image of confidence to the world.

The result is an efficient, modern propaganda machine in keeping with the times — but one that appears completely removed from the reality on the ground.

Obama seeks to calm jittery Democrats on health care, immigration

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sought to calm jittery Democrats Wednesday as they prepared to head home to face voters, assuring them they're "on the right side of history" despite problems with the launch of his massive health care overhaul and an immigration fight with Republicans.

In back-to-back closed sessions with House and Senate Democrats, Obama delivered his broad message about economic prosperity and expanding the middle class. But in return he was confronted with questions from Democrats who are nervous about implementation of the health care law as they look ahead to town hall meetings during the August recess — and to midterm elections next year.

The meetings at the Capitol offered a rare chance for the party's rank and file to press the president about budget talks with Republicans, the next chairman of the Federal Reserve and local jobs projects, as well as to appeal to him for help in next year's campaigns. In a lighter moment, House Democrats presented Obama with a birthday cake. He turns 52 on Sunday.

The White House is seeking to keep up enthusiasm among Democrats following a rough start to Obama's second term.

He has gained an agreement in the Senate to get at least some long-blocked nominees confirmed, and the Senate has passed its version of sweeping immigration legislation. But the immigration overhaul faces a deeply uncertain future in the Republican-led House, where many in the GOP oppose a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.


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