Blast kills nine, injures 12 in Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A powerful bomb went off in Quetta, Pakistan, near the home of former federal minister Naseer Mengal Friday, killing nine and injuring 12, officials said.

Police cordoned off the blast site and the injured were taken to a local hospital, while firefighters doused the flames, DawnNews reported.

Witnesses said windows of nearby buildings were broken by the blast and that many houses were damaged by the fire.

Italian police seize fireworks

ROME, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Police in Italy said they seized thousands of illegal fireworks across the country ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The police sweeps came as numerous cities, including Milan, Palermo and Venice, have banned fireworks, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported Friday.

Each year, fireworks cause numerous injuries, including burns and mutilations, Italian police say.

Police seized 4 tons of fireworks at a clandestine fireworks factory in Naples, where they arrested one man, and discovered another fireworks factory in Salerno whose owner was cited for breaking the law, ANSA said.

Another man was arrested for alleged possession of about 350 pounds of illegal fireworks at San Giorgio a Cremano outside Naples.

Authorities also said about 660 pounds of fireworks were found under stairs in a house in Lecce in Puglia and a couple was cited, while a toy shop owner in Castelfiorentino near Florence was cited for alleged possession of about 850 pounds of fireworks. And police reported a man was caught with about 1,200 pounds of illegal fireworks on a highway near Arezzo.

Most of the powerful and illegal fireworks seized by Italian police each year are made in China, ANSA said.

Nigerian mosque target of bomb attack

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Dec. 30 (UPI) — An explosion near a mosque in the troubled northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri has killed four people, witnesses reported.

Nigerian army spokesman Maj. Gen. Raphael Isa, in an interview with the BBC, blamed the Islamist group Boko Haram.

The group, which wants to institute strict Shariah law in the country, has been accused of a number of attacks in the northeast of the country, with thousands of people fleeing their homes in Maiduguri and other cities attacked by the group.

Boko Haram is suspected of targeting a number of churches on Christmas Day with bombings that killed at least 42 people.

Ongoing sectarian violence has plagued Nigeria, divided between a largely Muslim north and a mainly Christian south.

Nigeria’s main Christian group has warned that the country’s Christians may have to defend themselves if the security forces cannot protect them.

Poll: GOP given edge for White House win

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — U.S. voters give the edge to Republicans to control the White House and Congress after the 2012 elections, a Rasmussen Reports poll released Friday indicates.

Of likely voters 47 percent said they thought the Republican candidate was likely to beat President Obama, while 39 percent said they expected Obama to win re-election. Fourteen percent said they were undecided.

Voters also gave the edge to the GOP to win control of the U.S. Senate and retain its majority in the House of Representatives, Rasmussen Reports said.

The Iowa caucuses kick off the primary cycle Tuesday.

Results are based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Riyadh silencing dissent, HRW says

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Saudi Arabia in 2011 dismissed efforts at reform and instead turned to silence opposition voices in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

“Saudi Arabia is not immune to the Arab Spring,” Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Friday from Beirut.

The rights organization said reformists had several protests this month despite a March ban on demonstrations. Authorities have arrested scores of people engaged in a silent protest in Riyadh to demonstrate against the detention of cleric Yusuf al-Ahmad, jailed in July for expressed solidarity with detainees.

“In 2011, the Saudi government shed all pretense of reform and become the kingdom of silence,” Wilcke said.

The criticism follows an announcement from the U.S. government of the sale of nearly $30 billion in F-15 fighter jets to the Saudi government.

“The United States is firmly committed to the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as we have been for nearly seven decades,” said James Miller, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International published a 71-page report detailing a “new wave of repression” in the Saudi kingdom since the start of the Arab Spring this year.

Amnesty International says the crackdown is related to a “secret draft anti-terror law” in Saudi Arabia that equates peaceful dissent to terrorism.

NATO coalition at risk from French vote on Armenian deaths

PARIS, Dec. 30 (UPI) — NATO’s multifaceted partnership with eastern member Turkey is at risk after Ankara slapped sanctions on Paris in response to a French Parliament vote criminalizing denial of genocide, including the deaths of Armenians during World War I.

The vote threatened to cause a split within President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe reported calling the vote useless and stupid.

“What I hope now is that our Turkish friends do not overreact about the French National Assembly decision,” Juppe said. “We have lots of things to work on together.”

However, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a freeze on economic, military and political cooperation with France, a measure timed with ongoing NATO consultations on what to do with Syria amid mounting violence there, with Iran amid a tense stand-off over its nuclear program and the Strait of Hormuz oil waterway in the Persian Gulf, and with Iraq over a perceived Iranian threat after the U.S. pullout.

Turkey is outside the European Union but is NATO’s key partner in the Middle East. Its bases are regularly used by NATO forces for operations in the region.

Erdogan accused Sarkozy of seeking populist appeal in the hope of re-election in April presidential race.

“Efforts of gaining votes using Turcophobia and Islamophobia just to win the presidential elections in France for personal ambitions raises concerns, not only in the name of France, but also in the name of all Europe and universal values of Europe,” Erdogan said.

Around 500,000 citizens of Armenian descent are seen as a key source of support for Sarkozy and his party ahead of presidential and legislative elections in April and June next year.

The law will make denial of any mass killings that are recognized by the state as genocide a crime punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a $58,000 fine.

It will put the controversy over the Armenian killings on a par with punishment for denial of the Holocaust and the deaths of Jews, gypsies and other minorities under Nazi Germany.

So far only the Holocaust and the Armenian deaths are recognized by France as genocide, and punishments apply to denial of the Holocaust.

About 20 other countries, including Italy, Canada and Russia have formally recognized genocide against the Armenians.

Turkey says it cannot be held accountable for events in the Ottoman Empire. It also disputes the deaths of Christian Armenians by Ottoman Turks as a systematic genocide, the numbers of deaths cited in claims and counter claims and maintains that Turks and other nationalities also suffered during the conflict.

Algeria joined the escalating war of words, calling on France to apologize for what it termed genocide of its people during the French occupation. Erdogan said evidence pointed to French occupation forces using ovens to exterminate Algerians en masse, for which he said an apology was overdue.

It’s the third time France has faced Turkish ire over the Armenian genocide controversy, each time losing trade and political privileges.

French-Turkish trade this year exceeded $13.5 billion. In 2001, when France recognized the Armenian deaths as genocide, it lost 40 percent of its exports to Turkey. In 2006, Turkey responded to a similar genocide bill in the National Assembly by freezing military ties with France. That bill was eventually dropped by the French Senate.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero sought to placate Ankara, saying the bill wasn’t a Sarkozy initiative and Turkey was bound by bilateral and international accords and couldn’t impose a trade embargo. Officials in Ankara said a boycott of France would go ahead.

The vote is up for review in the National Assembly before it goes to the Senate next year.

Unlike recession-bound EU states, Turkey is having growth rates in excess of 8 percent. The eurozone crisis has turned many Turks away from the idea of joining the EU, which France, and several other EU members, firmly opposes anyway.

U.N. tries to block South Sudan violence

PIBOR, South Sudan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — U.N. troops moved into the town of Pibor in South Sudan to prevent an attack by armed members of the Lou Nuer ethnic group, officials said Friday.

Tens of thousands of people from the rival Murle group have fled, fearing an attack from some 6,000 armed men who were marching through Jonglei state, burning homes and seizing cattle, the BBC reported.

Hilde Johnson, head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, said troops were being reinforced in key areas of Jonglei to deter violence.

“Time is now running out and the government needs to redouble its efforts to prevent a tragedy and avert large-scale violence,” Johnson said in a statement earlier this week. “All South Sudanese people must now put peace and stability in their new and independent country above any other concerns and interests.”

The U.N. mission in South Sudan said cattle rustling and demand for high bridal dowries have exacerbated existing ethnic tensions in Jonglei.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July.

More than 1,000 people are estimated to have been killed in ethnic clashes within South Sudan this year, with Jonglei one of the states most affected by the violence that has displaced thousands of people from their homes, the U.N. News Service said.

Turkey says it regrets civilian Kurd death

ISTANBUL, Turkey, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Turkey is investigating the deaths of 35 Kurdish civilians in a Turkish air strike near the border with Iraq, officials said.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul the incident was “unfortunate and saddening,” the BBC reported Friday. He told reporters surveillance footage of the air raid is being examined, Hurriyet Daily News said Friday.

The military said it is investigating the attack near the village of Uludere in Sirnak province in southeastern Turkey that had targeted suspected Kurdish militants. The victims turned out to be smugglers, not rebels, the BBC said.

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party said the victims were civilians aged between 16 and 20.

Turkey said the the raid was launched following information that suspected militants were planning to attack Turkish security bases.

Security concerns grave for South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A U.N. team operating in South Sudan faces “enormous” challenges in trying to avert an assault by members of an ethnic group in Jonglei state, an official said.

The United Nations announced it was sending reinforcements to the town of Pibor to counter an expected attack by the Lou Nuer ethnic group, the BBC reports.

Lise Grande, a U.N. humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, told the British broadcaster the United Nations was “very concerned” about pending conflict.

“The United Nations is facing enormous logistical challenges,” she said. “We still have no military aircraft, only civilian helicopters.”

Ethnic conflict in Jonglei claimed at least 1,000 lives in recent months. The conflict was triggered by cattle raids and high bridal dowries. Most of the victims are women and children.

South Sudan Vice President Riek Machar has been engaged in efforts to calm ethnic tensions in the region but fears of attacks by Lou Nuer fighters is escalating.

This week, the town of Lukangol was razed by Lou Nuer fighters, leaving about 20,000 people displaced.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan notes Jonglei, the center of civil conflict in Sudan in the 1980s, has experienced the worst of the ethnic violence since South Sudan became an independent country in July.

Many Japanese death row inmates on meds

TOKYO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Nearly half of death row inmates in Japan are on full-time medication for mental stress, the Justice Ministry said.

A ministry official said 56 of 124 inmates on death row have complained of psychological symptoms such as insomnia and hallucinations and have been continuously treated with drugs, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Friday.

Such symptoms can occur because of confinement in closed spaces for a long period of time, and since some inmates have been detained for more than 30 years it is suspected the symptoms are the result of their lengthy detention, experts said.

Under Japanese law, if a death row inmate is diagnosed as insane, the justice minister will order the suspension of the execution.

However, a high-ranking ministry official has said no inmates currently on death row have been so diagnosed.

“As far as we could tell, there are no death row inmates who are insane,” the official said.

Discipline a concern among Ivorian forces

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Members of the Ivorian military are accused of acts of sexual violence and torture in several parts of the country, a U.N. envoy said.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara set up the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast, known by its French initials FRCI, in March. The force features fighters loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo and former pro-Ouattara rebels.

Kenneth Blackman, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, said FRCI fighters were accused of atrocities in several parts of the country.

Four people were killed in the southern town of Sikensi during ethnic clashes involved the FRCI, the mission said. Blackman said Ivorian authorities are working to improve the security sector in the country and overall discipline within the FRCI ranks.

“UNOCI welcomes any action likely to improve the security situation, to strengthen discipline within the FRCI and the disarmament drive,” Blackman said in a statement.

Ivory Coast was pushed to the brink of civil war after Gbagbo refused to stand down following November presidential elections that Ouattara won. That election was meant to unite a country divided by an earlier civil war and Ouattara has an uphill battle with post-election reconciliation.

Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed after the election.

Israel’s population reached 7.8M in 2011

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Israel’s population grew 1.8 percent to 7.8 million people in 2011, the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported.

The year-end report from the ICBS Thursday indicates 166,000 babies were born in Israel throughout 2011, with 17,500 immigrants arriving in the country, Haaretz reported.

Jews comprise 75.3 percent of Israel’s population, the report said, with 5.901 million people. Arab citizens make up another 20.5 percent, or 1.610 million.

Another 4.2 percent, or 325,000 people, is comprised of non-Arab Christians and those the Interior Ministry doesn’t classify by religion.

More Thatcher archive material released

LONDON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once considered arming police during the 1981 riots, recently released archival material indicated.

The then-prime minister’s personal file on the riots indicated she was warned in a classified Home Office report that “spontaneous disorder” was likely among the country’s ethnic populations, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

Historians consider the 1981 riots the worst civil disturbance in Britain since 1919, and had nothing comparable until the riots last summer.

At the time of the 1981 riots, Britain was in recession and unemployment was high, especially among the young, and black and Asian populations. Riots in Brixton, south London, lasted several days. Rioting also broke out in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and other English cities during the summer.

The file offers a detailed picture of how Thatcher responded, including discussions with Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, the Telegraph said.

The records indicate Thatcher and Whitelaw discussed how better to equip police and briefly considered sending in troops. However, they agreed that using the army “could not be contemplated,” preferring to arm the police.

The records also showed that showed that Geoffrey Howe — Thatcher’s chancellor of the exchequer among other things — warned the prime minister of the need “not to over-commit scarce resources to Liverpool.”

However, Howe told the BBC Friday he didn’t recall making that argument to Thatcher and claimed he was partly responsible for introducing “enterprise zones” to help revive the area.

Howe said he didn’t think the archival material accurately reflected his conversations in 1981 over the future of regeneration in Liverpool.

“I don’t recall how that argument got into the discussion at all,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t sound very considerate.”

Charitable giving up 15 percent in December

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Charitable giving in December is up 15 percent from 2010 across the United States, says the Network for Good, a Web site for giving donations to charities.

“This year looks a little better, but not back to pre-recession levels yet,” said Katya Andresen, Network for Good’s chief strategy officer.

While one-third of all online giving happens in December, a study by Network for Good shows 22 percent happens in the last two days of the year, CNN reported Friday.

The extra end-of-year giving is attributed to donors looking for some last-minute tax savings.

“It’s traditional to think about charity in December and of course, it’s the end of the tax year,” Andresen said.

Experts say although giving is up, it’s still low compared with just a few years ago. Total charitable donations from individuals, corporations and foundations increased in 2010 to $290.9 billion, but that is below 2007’s $310.6 billion, Giving USA, a foundation that tracks charitable contributions, reported.

Geoffrey Brown, executive director of the organization, says it’s too early to say how 2011 will fare compared with last year. “Giving is probably going to be flat, if anything,” he said.

Pakistani militia targeting informants

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A militant group tied to al-Qaida is killing accused of pinpointing targets villagers in northwest Pakistan for CIA drones, authorities say.

Militant groups operating along the northwest Pakistani border with Afghanistan don’t have the capability to bring down the drones. Instead, the Los Angeles Times reports, an umbrella organization calling itself the Khorasan Mujahedin is tracking down people suspected of giving Western intelligence officers targeting information.

“In the sky there are drones and on the ground there’s the Khorasan Mujahedin,” a relative of one of the militant group’s victims was quoted as saying.

Pakistani authorities say most of the militant group’s victims are tortured into making confessions and most of them are killed.

A former Pakistani intelligence officer, who spoke with the Times on condition of anonymity, said that despite the militant threat, villagers are lured by the financial rewards.

“They want the Taliban out because their whole tribal system has been destroyed,” the former officer said. “More than 90 percent don’t want the Taliban to be ruling them.”

The Long War Journal, an online forum monitoring conflict in Central Asia, estimates at least 64 drone missile strikes hit targets in Pakistan this year, about half the total compared with 2010. Some 18 top al-Qaida figures were killed in the strikes.

Snow in Italy closes tunnel to truck traffic

AOSTA, Italy, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Heavy snow Friday halted truck traffic through a tunnel connecting Italy and France, officials said.

Cars were still able to travel through the 7.2-mile Mont-Blanc tunnel in the Alps linking Chamonix in Haute-Savoie, France, and Courmayeur in Val d’Aosta, Italy, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

One-third of the road freight between the two countries travels through the tunnel.

Aid workers killed in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders confirmed two of its staff members were killed in a shootout at its offices in the Somalia.

The aid group said a 53-year-old Belgian national and a 44-year-old Indonesian were killed during attacks on the group’s compound in Mogadishu.

“The exact circumstances of the shooting are not yet clear,” the group said in a statement. “Our priority is to take care of those most affected by this tragedy, in particular the families and the colleagues of the victims.”

It added that it was relocating “some” staff in Mogadishu for security reasons. It remained committed to carrying out humanitarian work in the city and elsewhere in the country.

One of the workers was killed during the attack and the other died later in a hospital following surgery. Both had been working for the organization for at least a decade.

Doctors Without Borders is one of the few aid organizations operating in Somalia. Al-Qaida’s affiliate al-Shabaab, in control of the country’s south, banned some humanitarian groups from working in Somalia.

Two workers with Doctors Without Borders were abducted early this year from Kenya. Kenya had sent military forces to southern Somalia in response to a rash of kidnappings of Westerners in the region.

U.S. to sell fighter jets to Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The United States has agreed to sell advanced fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia for $30 billion, a military official said.

The deal, announced Thursday, includes the sale of 84 new F-15 fighter jets and an upgrade of 70 existing aircraft, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The agreement was reached against a backdrop of escalating tensions and rhetoric between Iran and the United States.

“This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The White House also said the agreement would generate more than 50,000 manufacturing and supplier jobs in 44 states.

The F-15s are manufactured by Boeing Co. in St. Louis.

U.S. officials sought to reassure Israel the deal with Saudi Arabia would benefit Israel’s security by strengthening allies in the region, the Journal said.

The fighter sale “will not have an impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge,” said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs.

Poll: Romney, Paul in virtual tie in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are in a virtual dead heat just days before the Iowa caucuses, a Marist-NBC News poll indicated.

Romney leads the poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers with 23 percent, followed by Paul with 21 percent as Iowa prepares for Tuesday’s first-in-the-country caucuses, results released Friday indicated.

However, results also indicated former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Gov. Rick Perry surged to within striking distance of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, and Paul, a congressman from Texas.

Santorum garnered 15 percent support for third, followed by Perry at 14 percent.

“There has been a lot of movement in the past month,” Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said in a release. “This is a contest that is very unsettled.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has seen his popularity slip after leading the pack a month ago, was in fifth at 13 percent. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who has invested a lot of time in Iowa, picked up 6 percent.

Political observers in Iowa have been watching Santorum, Perry and Bachmann because evangelical voters in Iowa haven’t yet rallied around one candidate, Marist pollsters said.

Results are based on interviews with 3,223 adults in Iowa conducted Tuesday and Wednesday. The margin of error for the total sample is 1.7 percentage points.

Pelosi’s office denies retirement rumors

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — An aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has denied a claim from a Pelosi family member that the California Democrat wants to retire.

Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, told the conservative Web site Big Government her mother wants to retire but has been pressured by campaign contributors to continue serving, The Hill reported Thursday.

However, the younger Pelosi said she hadn’t discussed the matter with her mother.

“I have never talked to Nancy Pelosi about any of this,” she said in a text message.

In a statement Thursday, Pelosi’s office said the report on Big Government was “totally untrue.”

“This may be wishful thinking on the part of a right-wing blog but it is totally untrue. When the day comes and Leader Pelosi’s work is done, she won’t be announcing it there,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said in a statement Thursday.

Black leaders call for Arpaio to resign

PHOENIX, Dec. 30 (UPI) — National Urban League and NAACP leaders in Phoenix have joined the Hispanic community’s call for the resignation of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The U.S. Justice Department has accused the five-term Maricopa County sheriff of racial profiling.

Black community leaders joined Councilman Michael Johnson Thursday on the steps of the federal courthouse to call for an immediate change in leadership in the Sheriff’s Office, The Arizona Republic reported.

Many of the speakers compared Arpaio to Birmingham, Ala., police officers who abused civil rights activists in the 1960s, the newspaper said.

Arpaio, 78, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent known for his get-tough stance on illegal immigrants, has refused to resign.

“They’re ganging up on me,” Arpaio said. “They know I can win next year. They think they can drive me out. It’s never going to happen.”

The Justice Department has accused Arpaio of fostering discrimination against Latino residents through the sheriff’s immigration-enforcement efforts and treatment of Hispanic inmates in Maricopa County jails.

Federal prosecutors say they can file a lawsuit under the federal Civil Rights Act if the sheriff refuses to cooperate or does not reach an agreement with federal officials.

Syria a grave concern for ICRC

GENEVA, Switzerland, Dec. 30 (UPI) — There are grave concerns about the deteriorating situation in Syria where violence is extracting a heavy toll on civilians, the Red Cross said.

The international community is assessing the effectiveness of a, Arab League monitoring team in Syria.

The team is there to ensure Damascus is complying with an agreement to pull military equipment and forces from the streets. Critics accuse the Syrian government of hiding atrocities from observers.

Beatrice Megevand-Roggo, head of operations for the region at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the crisis is having a major impact across the country.

“Needs are mounting rapidly, especially with winter setting in,” she said in a statement. “Fuel shortages and the difficulty of moving about freely and buying food, are among the things that make daily life ever harder.”

The ICRC expressed concern about detainees in the country. The group in September visited a Damascus prison according to the framework of confidential agreements with the Syrian government. It maintained, however, that it needs access to detainees as often as it considers necessary.

“Findings and recommendations are discussed only with the authorities concerned,” she said. “We believe that this is the best way to obtain satisfactory results.”

Egypt’s rocky road to democracy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Egypt’s journey to democracy is proving anything but smooth as clashes between an agitated population and its temporary military rulers continue.

Human rights groups estimate about 40 people were killed last month in clashes with authorities; about 15 were said killed in Cairo just last week.

Egyptian soldiers have raided the offices of more than a dozen pro-democracy, non-governmental organizations — including three U.S. organizations — amid accusations of foreign incitement of the protests rocking the capital.

And with Egypt’s complicated election process rumbling on for months yet, the situation is unlikely to calm significantly.

“It (the raids on NGO offices) is the clearest indication yet that the Supreme Council of the Armed forces … has no intention of permitting the establishment of genuine democracy and is attempting to scapegoat civil society for its own abysmal failure to manage Egypt’s transition effectively,” David Kramer, the president of Freedom House, was quoted as saying.

Freedom House is a U.S. international organization promoting human rights and democracy. Its office in Cairo was one of about 17 raided this week by Egyptian authorities.

Egypt’s military took control of the country after President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country since 1981, resigned in February amid violent pro-democracy demonstrations and concomitant pressure from the United States — Mubarak’s long-time ally.

Although elections are taking place in Egypt — for the lower house of Parliament and later a new president — and the military has pledged to fully relinquish power to civilian authorities by the middle of next year — it is being suspected of attempting to retain its power in Egyptian society.

The protests taking place in Cairo are against military abuses of civil rights and for immediate handover of power.

Ironically, Islamist organizations which were long opposed to the Mubarak’s heavy-handed regime and played a key role in its demise, are apparently not part of the latest ground-swell of demonstrations. If the military, in reaction to civil disorder, were to cancel the balloting taking place around the country they would lose out on dominating any new, permanent civilian government.

In the first round of voting recently, Islamists won the largest vote. The Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood garnered 36 percent of ballots cast in the party-list vote and about 32 of the 56 individual parliamentary seats up for grabs. The more fundamentalist Salafist party Al-Nour won 24 percent of the ballots cast and five individual seats.

Secular parties and candidates trailed.

The second round of voting is taking place in mainly rural sectors, where the Islamists are again expected to do well.

Protests in one form or another have become common in post-Mubarak Egypt. The latest explosion in Cairo was sparked by military authorities breaking up a sit-in outside Cabinet offices. Severe beatings of protesters took place.

The public outrage when photographs and videos of the beatings appeared on social networking sites, then spiraled.

Military authorities apologized for the mistreatment but followed with the raid on NGO offices. The military had earlier accused foreign elements of stirring up dissent, even through the illegal funding of Egyptian political organizations.

The beating of demonstrators, particularly female demonstrators, resulted in a stern rebuke from Washington, which provides the Egyptian military with more than $1 billion in aid annually.

Meanwhile, Mubarak this week again was hauled into court in Cairo, where he faces a multitude of charges, including graft and corruption. The appearance could likely stoke further protests against the military — Mubarak’s ally and tool during his reign — as it brings more focus on the military’s past, present and future in a new Egyptian political landscape.