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9 January 2012
Iran – The WSJ reported: Iran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced a 28-year-old American and former Marine to death on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency, adding another point of conflict to heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, who was born in Arizona to Iranian parents and raised in Michigan, is the first American to be sentenced to death in the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to Iranian human-rights groups.
Iran – In a related story Bloomberg Businessweek reported: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, facing tighter U.S. sanctions and rising tensions in the Persian Gulf, will turn to his diminished group of allies in Latin America for support this week. Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela yesterday to kick off a four-nation tour to push investment projects such as a hydro- electric power plant in Ecuador. He’ll be joining forces with leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Raul Castro in taking shots at the U.S. in its own backyard, defying attempts to isolate Iran over its nuclear activities.
Iraq – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Three car bombs exploded Monday evening in the Iraqi capital and killed at least 17 people, authorities said. At least one appeared to single out Shiite pilgrims, sinking the country deeper into a new wave of sectarian violence. A second car bomb struck near a police vehicle in the Shiite neighborhood of al-Shaab, killing three police officers and four other people, police and hospital officials said. Earlier in the day, a roadside bomb killed two Shiite pilgrims in a Baghdad suburb. The attacks were the latest in a wave of violence primarily against Shiites that has killed more than 90 people in less than a week. Security forces discovered a third car bomb in a predominantly Sunni area in western Baghdad later in the evening. It exploded while sappers were trying to defuse it, killing a soldier, officials said.
Washington DC - Bloomberg Businessweek reported: No one should doubt that President Barack Obama is prepared to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon if sanctions and diplomacy fail, the president’s former special assistant on Iran said. Obama has “made it very clear” that he regards a nuclear- armed Iran as so great a threat to international security that “the Iranians should never think that there’s a reluctance to use the force” to stop them, Dennis Ross, who served two years on Obama’s National Security Council and a year as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s special adviser on Iran, said in an interview yesterday. “There are consequences if you act militarily, and there’s big consequences if you don’t act,” said Ross, who in a two- hour interview at the Bloomberg Washington office laid out a detailed argument against those who say Obama would sooner “contain” a nuclear-armed Iran than strike militarily. The administration considers the risks of permitting a nuclear-armed Iran to be greater than the risks of military action, said Ross, who last month rejoined the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research group. His comments came after Obama’s top civilian and uniformed defense officials warned that Iran developing a weapon would precipitate a U.S. strike.
10 January 2012
Syria – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: About 400 people have been killed in Syria since the Dec. 26 arrival of Arab League observers to monitor the Assad regime’s implementation of an accord to end the crackdown on protests, a top United Nations official said. The estimate of 40 deaths a day over the past 10 days was given by UN political chief Lynn Pascoe to the 15-member Security Council in closed-door consultations today.
Iran – The Christian Science Monitor reported: Iran has spent much of the past month crowing about how it could shut down the Strait of Hormuz — a choke-point for vast quantities of seaborne oil for nearly 40 percent of the world — and said it was “warning” the US to keep its ships out of the Persian Gulf. The US, as a far greater naval power, with a naval base in Bahrain, and an interest in keeping sea lanes open, brushed off the Iranian threat. Though tensions have continued to rise, with Iran sentencing Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati to death yesterday for allegedly spying (his family says he returned to Iran to visit his grandmother) and new US sanctions on Iran’s central bank, two peaceful opportunities to underscore the US naval reach in the region literally fell into America’s lap.
Pakistan – The Washington Post reported: An American drone strike killed four Islamist militants in Pakistan, the first such attack since errant U.S airstrikes in November killed two dozen Pakistan troops and pushed strained ties between the two nations close to collapse, Pakistani intelligence officials said Wednesday. The attack Tuesday took place in North Waziristan, an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold close to the Afghan border that has been pounded by U.S. strikes, the officials said. Three of the dead were Arab fighters, said the officials, who didn’t give their names because they were not allowed to be named in the media. The late-night missile launch broke the longest pause between strikes since the drone program began in earnest in 2009. American officials say there had been no promise by Washington to avoid drone operations since the deadly Nov. 26 airstrikes along the Afghan border, but that the lull was part efforts to tamp down tensions with Pakistan, seen by many U.S. officials as key to a negotiated peace in Afghanistan.
Nigeria – The VOA reported: Police in northern Nigeria say suspected members of a radical Islamist sect have shot dead eight people, including four police officers. The attack happened late Tuesday at a bar in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, and authorities blamed the killings on Boko Haram. The fundamentalist Islamic group has threatened to kill Christians in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria as it seeks to turn the country into an Islamic state. Boko Haram is held responsible for hundreds of deaths in the past year, including the Christmas Day bombings of several churches and the August attack on a United Nations office in Abuja that killed 25.
Pakistan – The New York Times reported: The political and legal crisis in Pakistan took a new turn on Tuesday when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against his political boss: President Asif Ali Zardari. The latest pressure from the court compounds the problems of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, already facing a political crisis over a controversial memo that sought United States support in thwarting a feared military coup. Adding to the government’s troubles is a steep increase in terrorist attacks. Another attack occurred early Tuesday, a truck bombing that the authorities said killed more than 25 people, including women and children, in northwestern Pakistan. A senior government official said the bombing appeared to be in retaliation for the recent killing of a militant leader. Since December 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that nullified corruption charges against thousands of politicians, the court has insisted that the government reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari.
Indonesia – The (AP) reported: A powerful earthquake hit off the coast of western Indonesia early Wednesday, prompting officials to briefly issue a tsunami warning. Panicked residents ran from their homes, some fleeing to high ground by car or motorcycle, but there were no reports of injuries or serious damage. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-7.3 quake struck 260 miles (420 kilometers) off the coast of Aceh province just after midnight. It was centered 18 miles (30 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor. People in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh — still deeply traumatized by the 2004 monster quake and tsunami — poured into the streets as sirens blared from local mosques. Some headed to the hills, choking roads with traffic.
Israel – The LA Times reported: A report released by Israel’s Peace Now group also says building last year on East Jerusalem land seized during the 1967 Middle East War was at the highest level in a decade. Palestinian leaders voiced outrage Tuesday over a new report that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank rose 20% last year. The report released by the Peace Now group also says that building on East Jerusalem land seized during the 1967 Middle East War was at the highest level in a decade. The study by the Israeli group, which is opposed to settlement construction, found that Israel began construction on more than 1,850 West Bank units in 2011, up from 1,550 in 2010. During much of 2010, Israel observed a partial moratorium on new West Bank construction, which reduced building starts that year. The data on new construction angered Palestinian leaders, who blame Israel’s settlement policy for stalled peace talks.
Sudan – The Australian Broadcasting Company reported: The United Nations is undertaking what it describes as a major emergency operation in the Jonglei state of South Sudan. The area has been declared a disaster zone by the South Sudanese government after hundreds of people were killed and thousands more displaced in a flare-up of tribal disputes. The disputes are over cattle thieving and have become more bloody due to the huge number of weapons available since the country’s decades-long civil war with the north. It’s the latest threat to the newly independent country – one of the poorest on earth. Alan Goulty is a former British ambassador to Sudan who helped broker the peace agreement between the north and south, and is now a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.
13 January 2012
Italy – USA Today reported: UPDATE, 11:55: Eight people are dead after the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off the Italian coast in an accident which forced the coast guard to evacuate over 4,000 people, AFP reports. More than 30 people were also injured in the accident, several seriously, and several people were still missing after jumping overboard in panic as the ship began to tilt, the Messaggero newspaper said. One of the victims was a man in his 70s who died of a heart attack caused by the shock to his system when he jumped into the icy waters, reports said. Most of the 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members were quickly evacuated, but about 200 people remained stranded on board. According to the London Telegraph, the passengers’ dinner was interrupted by a loud boom around 8 pm local time. An initial announcement claimed the ship was suffering an electrical failure, and ordered everyone onboard to don life-jackets.
Washington DC – Agence France Presse reported: The US government is concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran over US objections, and has stepped up contingency planning to safeguard US facilities in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper said President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a series of private messages to Israeli leaders, warning about the dire consequences of a strike. Obama spoke by telephone on Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will meet with Israeli military officials in Tel Aviv next week, the report said. The Journal noted that the US military was preparing for a number of possible responses to an Israeli strike, including assaults by pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq against the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Myanmar – Agence France Presse reported: Myanmar released 302 prisoners of conscience in its latest amnesty, a minister said Saturday, after the move was hailed by the West as a promising sign of reform in the army-dominated nation. “This release was not according to the demand of any person or any organisation. We released them according to the true benevolence of the government,” home affairs minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko told reporters.
Syria – The New York Times reported: The French government, human rights groups and the Syrian opposition have demanded an inquiry into the death of a French television journalist in a barrage of grenades in Homs on Wednesday. French prosecutors said Friday that they had begun a preliminary murder investigation into the death of Gilles Jacquier, 43, above, and his network, France 2 Television, has raised questions about why the journalists’ military convoy melted away when the firing started. Mr. Jacquier was among a group of 15 journalists on a government trip when they were hit by the grenades; up to eight Syrian civilians also were reported killed.
Thailand – The New York Times reported: Amid public warnings from the United States and Israel of a possible terrorist attack, Thai officials said Friday that they had arrested a Lebanese man believed to be a member of Hezbollah in connection with a plot to strike tourists in Bangkok. Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Chalerm Yubamrung, said that the arrest came after weeks of coordination with Israel. In an interview with Thai television, he said the Israeli government had told Thai officials that “a group of people who appear to be from the Lebanese group Hezbollah” were planning to strike tourist sites in Bangkok in mid-January. The United States and Israel regard Hezbollah, a militant Shiite group with strong ties to Iran and significant political power in Lebanon, as a terrorist organization. The concerns over a possible attack come at a time of intensifying strains between Iran and both Israel and the United States. In Beirut, a Hezbollah official, Ghaleb Abu Zeinab, rejected the Thai account, telling LBC television that the arrested man “is not one of Hezbollah’s members.” American officials in Washington confirmed the Thai statements regarding a suspected Hezbollah connection but did not offer further details.
Saudi Arabia – The WSJ reported: Saudi Arabia’s king replaced the hard-line chief of the country’s morality police with a more liberal cleric who has encouraged greater women’s rights, a change welcomed by activists as a sign that the monarchy would continue to pursue cautious social reforms in the face of political upheaval in the Middle East. Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud on Friday appointed Sheik Abdulatif al-Sheikh to oversee the religious police, who roam the kingdom’s shopping malls and streets enforcing a rigorous version of Islamic law among the 27 million residents of Saudi Arabia.
Iran – Agence France Presse reported: The United States believes Iran is supplying munitions to aid Syria’s bloody protest crackdown in an initiative spearheaded by Tehran’s revolutionary guard supremo, according to senior US officials. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Quds force, was in the Syrian capital this month, one official said on Friday, in what Washington sees as the most concrete sign yet that Iranian aid to Syria includes military hardware. “We are confident that he was received at the highest levels of the Syrian government, including by President Assad,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We think this relates to Iranian support for the Syrian government’s attempts to suppress its people.” The official said Washington has reason to believe that Iran is supplying security-related equipment “including munitions” to Syrian forces.