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Syrian Forces Kill Four Protestors at Port City of Banias

Syrian troops again fired live ammunition into crowds of protestors, this time killing four people at the port city of Banias on Sunday. The shootings came after President Bashar Al-Asad’s forces sealed off the city when hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets. “Dozens” of others were wounded according to an eyewitness who spoke by telephone to the Associated Press. The Asad regime is suppressing reporting from the scene and is expelling foreign journalists. The state-run news agency reported that President Al-Asad is moving ahead with reforms, but reports from Syria indicate he is only at the stage of forming committees and has done nothing regarding protestors’ key demand that emergency powers – such as the government’s ability to arrest without filing charges -- be lifted. In Egypt, ousted President Hosni Mubarak spoke publicly for the first time in two months, telling the Egyptian people that he will “defend my reputation and the reputation of my family both at home and abroad.” Mubarak said he’s “pained” by what he calls “fraudulent charges and unfounded allegations.” He claimed reports of his vast wealth are wrong and that his assets consist of a single Cairo bank account.

Al-Qaddafi, African Union Apparently Strike Deal to End Fighting

Libyan strongman Mu’amar Al-Qaddafi has apparently reached an agreement with negotiators from the African Union that will end the fighting that has killed thousands. South African President Joseph Zuma, who led the delegation of African heads-of-state, has asked NATO to suspend bombing raids so that Al-Qaddafi’s willingness to observe a cease-fire can be tested. Although there are reports that the talks included an exit for Al-Qaddafi, it is not known how or whether an end to his 40-year rule is actually part of the deal. For the rebels fighting him, inclusion of Al-Qaddafi’s resignation is non-negotiable.

Lebanon Getting Closer to Forming Cabinet

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati appears to be nearing the formation of his government after the main parties agreed to the lineup of all 30 cabinet seats. Mikati owes his position to Hizbullah which brought down the government of Sa’ad Al-Hariri and served as power broker in creating the successor government. Beirut’s Daily Star reported that the final roster will be made public by the end of the week. Al-Hariri on Thursday continued to lash out at the Hizbullah-Iran relationship, charging that Hizbullah is bent on turning the country into “an Iranian protectorate.” The new government, which includes Hizbullah, flouts U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which forbids entities other than the government from maintaining a fighting force and arsenal. Meanwhile, on Sunday a fourth mass demonstration against sectarianism was held in the streets of Beirut. The movement to topple Lebanon’s sectarian system of government continues to gain strength.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Warns of Being “Exploited” by Gaza Flotilla Planners

Norway’s foreign minister has a warning for anyone interested in getting involved in another Gaza flotilla planned for May: “don’t be exploited.” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told the newspaper VG Nett that “everyone should be aware that” goods carried aboard the ship are already available in Gaza and will likely wind up in the hands of Hamas leadership. He said those interested in participating in the May flotilla are “in risk of being exploited by groups with different interests.”

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