BBC news 2012-01-11

BBC News with Neil Nunes

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has accused anti-government forces of wanting to erase Syria's identity. In a rare speech, he vowed to restore security, as he put it, by "hitting terrorists with an iron fist".

"Our top priority now is to restore the security that we have enjoyed for decades and that has distinguished us not only regionally but also internationally. This cannot be achieved except by hitting the murderous terrorists with an iron fist. We will not relent to terrorism. We will not be lenient towards those using weapons to stir up trouble and division."

Mr Assad said regional and international groups were trying but failing to destabilise his country. The BBC world affairs correspondent John Simpson has this analysis of Mr Assad's speech.

Some of his ideas did seem pretty contradictory. When he denounced the foreign conspiracy against Syria, he clearly meant the Western powers plus various neighbouring states which have turned against him. At one point, he appeared to accuse the Arab League, whose observers are in Syria at the moment, of working for Western interests against him. There was no hint of compromise, just a few hard-to-keep promises about political reform. He seems to agree with the hardliners in his regime that only brute force will work.

The Syrian National Council, the largest opposition group, described Mr Assad's comments as an incitement to violence. Meanwhile, the Arab League has condemned an incident in which two members of its observer mission in Syria were injured in an attack by demonstrators. The Kuwaiti monitors were set upon as they drove to the port city of Latakia, known as a stronghold of President Assad. The head of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, said the Syrian government was responsible for protecting members of its mission.

An expert report presented to a French court has cleared associates of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame of orchestrating the assassination of a previous president, an event which helped spark the 1994 genocide. Five years ago, a French judge blamed Tutsi rebels led by Mr Kagame for downing the plane that killed President Habyarimana. The Rwandan government has welcomed the new report. With more, here's Kevin Mwachiro.

Rwanda's Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo welcomed the findings, saying the report affirmed her country's long-term position that Hutu extremists were responsible for the downing of the aircraft. In a statement, Minister Mushikiwabo described the incident as a coup d'etat and said that French experts have brought to an end the lies and conspiracies that have distracted the world from bringing down those behind the genocide.

Kevin Mwachiro reporting

World News from the BBC

At least five people died in Nigeria when a mosque and Islamic school were set alight. The attacks took place in Benin city in the mainly Christian south of the country. Muslims are leaving the city for northern Nigeria. The Red Cross is registering people who have fled from their homes for the safety of police stations and army barracks.

An American naval vessel has rescued a group of six Iranian sailors in the Gulf, the second incident of its kind in less than a week. Last week, Iran told the US navy to keep its warships out of the Gulf amid heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear activities. From Washington, Kim Ghattas reports.

According to the Pentagon, the Iranian fishermen aboard a cargo ship were about 80km southeast of the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr with their engine room flooding. They used flares and flashlights to hail the US Coast Guard cutter, the Monomoy, in the dead of night. One of the Iranians who suffered burns from a fire on board the troubled ship was now receiving medical treatment on the Monomoy. Pentagon officials said the US would repatriate the Iranians, but it's not clear how or when this will happen. Iran and the United States have no diplomatic ties.

The Indonesian government has lifted a tsunami warning it issued after a powerful earthquake hit the waters off the west of the country. The quake had a magnitude of 7.3 and was centred more than 400km off the coast of Aceh province in Sumatra.

An official Indian watchdog says more than two thirds of the country's milk is adulterated with items ranging from salt to detergent. A survey by the Indian food safety authority found 70% of milk samples in cities contaminated, compared with about 30% in rural areas. Consumer activists say it's the first time a government agency has confirmed what they have been saying for years.

BBC News.