Times 2

At a glance

Heavy police turnout deters Gulf protests

RIYADH, March 12 (Reuters) -A security clampdown in the Saudi capital kept a lid on a planned day of rage on Friday. Unlike in Yemen, Saudi activists on the Internet had called for reform rather than revolution and announced plans for rallies on Friday in defiance of an official ban on such gatherings in the world's top oil exporter.

But no one showed up in Riyadh, perhaps deterred by police. A lone man approached a group of journalists, saying he wanted more freedoms but hadn't found any fellow demonstrators.

“People are angry,” he said, appearing on the verge of tears. “They are scared. Everybody goes around the area and sees the police. They feel afraid. Come on. We are human.” The muted response to the Internet appeal helped push oil prices lower on Friday. Markets had been jittery about the prospect of upheaval in Saudi Arabia, which has guaranteed oil supplies to the West for decades.

In Saudi Arabia's oil-rich east, however, several hundred Shi'ite protesters rallied in at least four Shi'ite towns, less wealthy or developed than Riyadh, to demand the release of prisoners held for years without trial.

Shi'ite towns have seen scattered demonstrations over the last three weeks, inspired protests in nearby Bahrain.

Yemen police storm protest camp, one dead

SANAA, March 12 (Reuters) - Police stormed the camp of thousands of protesters demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule, killing one person and wounding hundreds early on Saturday, witnesses and medical sources said.

Witnesses told Reuters hundreds of security forces, wielding bats and knives and using teargas, invaded the area where protesters have been camping for weeks in the capital, Sanaa. Doctors in the camp said police were blocking medical teams from entering the area and one doctor said a young boy had been fatally shot in the head. “We think around 300 are wounded,” he told Reuters.

Some witnesses said they heard gunfire but police appeared to be withdrawing. “It felt like a massacre, there were police teams in official uniforms and plain clothes police and they were attacking the protesters,” one witness said. “They used teargas and gunfire and chased some people out into the streets.”

Bahrain police block march on royal palace

MANAMA, March 12, (Reiters) -Bahraini police blocked thousands of protesters from reaching the royal court on Friday to try to defuse tension on a Gulf island where the majority is Shi'ite Muslim but the ruling family is Sunni.

Carrying Bahraini flags and flowers, the mainly Shi'ite protesters walked from the Aly area towards Riffa, a district where Sunnis and members of the Sunni royal family live. Near a clock tower in Riffa, hundreds of residents armed with clubs and knives gathered to protect their neighbourhood. More than 200 riot police armed with batons blocked off the road with barbed wire, persuading most protesters to go home.

Police pushed back a group of rock-throwing Sunnis who approached police lines and fired eight tear gas canisters to disperse Shi'ites trying to get around the roadblock. “The royal family has lots of palaces and houses here. We're peaceful. We want to go to their house and ask for our rights,” said Ahmed Jaafar, as he set off from Aly. “Power should not be with one family, it should be with the people.”

Apple fans camp out for new iPad

SAN FRANCISCO, March 12, (AFP) -The new iPad went on sale in the United States on Friday, with Apple fans queuing at the company's stores across the country to be among the first to snap up the coveted tablet computers.

Apple began selling the iPad 2, which was unveiled by chief executive Steve Jobs last week, as sales opened online overnight and at Apple's 236 US stores starting at 5:00 pm (2200 GMT). Estimated shipping times for iPads ordered at Apple's online shop went from a few days to a few weeks, indicating strong demand by people who didn't want to face queues at real world stores.

“I suspect they will sell more iPads this time around than last time around,” Gartner analyst Van Baker told AFP. “I am not seeing much shape up in the form of competition, so I have to continue to believe they are going to be pretty dominant.”A line of people, including some who camped out overnight swathed in rain gear and equipped with chairs and big umbrellas, formed around the block outside Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City.

First in line was Hazem Sayed, an applications developer who had purchased his coveted spot from Amanda Foote, an entrepreneurial 20-year-old from Florida who staked her claim outside Apple on Wednesday, then auctioned the place on Craigslist and by word of mouth. “It went from $150 to $600 in about 10 minutes,” she said. Finally Sayed came in with the winning bid: $900.

China approves Bob Dylan concert in Beijing

BEIJING, March 12, (AFP) -China's culture ministry has confirmed American music legend Bob Dylan will be allowed to play in Beijing, the first time in the singer's illustrious career he will have performed in the country.

The ministry said in a brief statement that Dylan -- the writer of some of rock's most iconic and politically charged songs -- must perform “strictly according to an approved program”. Dylan will be allowed to play in Beijing from March 30 to April 12, the ministry said, without mentioning if the singer would also be granted permission to perform in Shanghai.

Beijing-based promoters Gehua-LiveNation said last week that Dylan, who turns 70 in May, would play in the capital's Workers' Gymnasium on April 6 and then hold a concert at the Shanghai Grand Stage in on April 8. The concerts were timed to mark Dylan's 50 years as a performer, the promoters said.

The news comes a year after a Taiwan promoter said its bid to take Dylan to China was scuttled after the Beijing government refused to approve shows by the performer. Dylan is best known for the politically-inspired songs of his early career, including “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and his anti-war anthem “Blowin' in the Wind”.

Cuba frees dissident who got US medal

HAVANA, March 12, (AFP) -Cuba on Friday freed political dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, a doctor who was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, he told AFP. Reached by telephone, Biscet told AFP, “I am fine, very happy to be reunited with the family.””It goes without saying that I will continue in the opposition because even in jail I did not give up my questioning attitude toward this government and the abuses it commits,” he said.

Police escorted him from the Combinado del Este prison to his house in downtown Havana. Biscet, 49, who was serving a 25-year prison sentence following a crackdown on dissidents in 2003, was perhaps the most prominent member of a group of 52 who were to be freed under a deal last year negotiated with Spain and Catholic church officials.Havana has released 40 of the dissidents who agreed to go into exile in Spain, but initially balked at freeing the others. But authorities later released eight others, and after Biscet's release, only three of them remain behind bars.

During his incarceration, Biscet was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 by then-US president George W. Bush.

Twitter ordered to give WikiLeaks data to US

WASHINGTON, March 12, (AFP) - A US judge on Friday ordered Twitter to hand over data of three users in contact with the controversial website WikiLeaks, rejecting arguments the move violated freedom of speech and privacy.

President Barack Obama's administration obtained a court order last year seeking information from the Twitter accounts as it considers action against WikiLeaks, which has released a flood of secret diplomatic documents.

One of the accounts belongs to an Icelandic lawmaker, Birgitta Jonsdottir. Iceland's foreign ministry in January summoned the US ambassador to express “serious concern” about the Twitter order.
Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan, based in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, rejected the argument made by the three Twitter users' that the order would have a “chilling effect” on freedom of speech.

“The Twitter order does not seek to control or direct the content of petitioners' speech or association,” she wrote. She said the three “already made their Twitter posts and associations publicly available” and voluntarily provided information to Twitter pursuant to the website's privacy policy.

Buchanan also dismissed the argument that the order violated the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects people against “unreasonable” searches. When the trio relayed information to Twitter, they gave up “any reasonable expectation of privacy,” she said.

WikiLeaks, which has strongly criticized the order, said that three Twitter users never worked for the site but that two helped make public a video that showed a 2007 US helicopter strike in Baghdad that killed several people.

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