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30 January 2012
Syria – The ABC NEWS via (AP) reported: Syrian forces pushed dissident troops back from the edge of Damascus in heavy fighting Monday, escalating efforts to take back control of the capital’s eastern doorstep ahead of key U.N. talks over a draft resolution demanding that President Bashar Assad step aside. Gunfire and the boom of shelling rang out in several suburbs on Damascus’ outskirts that have come under the domination of anti-regime fighters. Gunmen — apparently army defectors — were shown firing back in amateur videos posted online by activists. In one video, a government tank on the snow-dusted mountain plateau towering over the capital fired at one of the suburbs below. As the bloodshed increased, with activists reporting more than 40 civilians killed Monday, Western and Arab countries stepped up pressure on Assad’s ally Russia to overcome its opposition to the resolution. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the British and French foreign ministers were heading to New York to push for backing of the measure during talks Tuesday at the United Nations.
Syria – In a related story, The New York Times reported: As Syrian forces pushed rebels back from strongholds near Damascus on Monday, some of the world’s top diplomats converged on the United Nations to try to press President Bashar al-Assad to leave office through a Security Council resolution. Much of the attention focused on Russia, which stoutly opposes an Arab League proposal, backed by Western and Arab diplomats, that calls for Mr. Assad to cede power as part of a transition to democracy. Senior members of the Syrian National Council, an exile opposition group, arrived from Paris en masse to lobby Security Council members for the plan, starting with the Russian envoy, while the United States and other members lambasted Moscow’s opposition. “We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this Council over the course of the last 10 months, not because the majority of the Council isn’t eager to act — it has been,” Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador, told reporters.
South Sudan – All Africa dot com via Yahoo reported: South Sudan President Salva Kiir and the Sudan President Omer Al Bashir failed to reach an agreement over Oil issues during the two days meeting in the Ethiopian Capital Addis Ababa following an invitation by the Inter Governmental Authority Development Organization (IGAD). The Minister of Information and Broadcasting who is also the Government spokesperson Barnaba Marial Benjamin told the Citizen over phone yesterday. This came at a time the Country’s Cabinet resolved closure of South Sudan oil export through Sudan port due to “theft” by the Sudan Government. The Minister said the talks did not collapse in Addis Ababa but there was no agreement signed between the two Presidents, adding that negotiations on outstanding issues including oil would continue between Sudan and South Sudan negotiation teams. Juba has accused Khartoum of stealing $815 million worth of oil. And South Sudan chief negotiator Pagan Amum on Friday said the negotiations had reached an “impasse because of the intransigence of the government of Sudan” as quoted by Yahoo news.
Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: Concerned that it is being left out of potential peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, the Afghan government is pushing to open its own direct negotiations with the insurgent group in Saudi Arabia, Afghan officials said on Monday. The talks would be separate from efforts by the United States to begin negotiations with the Taliban in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, where the Taliban is opening an office, the officials said. It was not clear whether the effort to start parallel talks would succeed or amount to nothing more than an attempt by President Hamid Karzai to regain momentum after feeling sidelined by the American efforts to help open the Qatar office. “We don’t know the exact timing, but that is something that is being discussed within the government and with the Taliban,” said a senior Afghan official in Kabul who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the deliberations. Mr. Karzai’s office in Kabul would not comment on the possibility of talks in Saudi Arabia.
Afghanistan – CNN reported: Police in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz are looking for a man they say strangled his wife after she bore him a third child that was not a son. Sher Mohammed, 29, married his 22-year-old wife, Storay, four years ago, police said. The couple had three daughters, the last of whom was born three months ago, said Khanabad district police chief Sufi Habib. After the youngest daughter was born, Mohammed blamed his wife for not being able to deliver a boy, Habib said. “Finally on Saturday, the man, with the help of his mother, first beat the woman and then strangled her to death,” the police chief said. Khanabad is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Kunduz city. Police arrested the mother, Wali Hazrata, and detained her at the Kunduz city jail. But her son fled.
United Kingdom – The UK Press Association reported: David Cameron has warned France that the UK could reap the benefit if it went ahead with a national levy on bank transactions to help pay for the economic crisis. He said Britain’s door would be open to any French banks wishing to leave the country to avoid paying the Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) that French president Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to introduce if he is re-elected in May. The Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne have insisted the FTT can only function if is applied globally, to ensure a level playing field in the banking sector. They have refused to take part in such a tax at EU level for fear of driving European banks to trade outside the union’s jurisdiction. Mr Cameron said in Davos last week that the decision by President Sarkozy to introduce such a tax without even the support of the rest of the EU was “mad”. On Monday night, after a summit of the 27 leaders in Brussels, Mr Cameron hit back at a Sarkozy jibe that France had a bigger, more thriving industrial sector than the UK.
Israel – Haaretz reported: A West Bank resident, who until recently lived in Abu Dhabi, questioned by two different Arab security services; says Israel wants him extradited. Was Israel behind the overseas arrest of a Palestinian engineer suspected of ties with Hamas? The arrested man thinks it was – but Hamas blames the Palestinian Authority. Jafar Daghlas, 27, a resident of the West Bank town of Burka who until recently lived in Abu Dhabi, has been questioned by two different Arab security services recently – those of the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. He suspects Israel was trying to get him extradited here, as it did with another Palestinian engineer with alleged Hamas ties, Dirar Abu Sisi, after the latter’s arrest in Ukraine last February. But Hamas accused the PA of being behind Daghlas’ arrest, saying he has been wanted by the PA since 2008 on account of his political activity in Hamas. Daghlas is known to both Israel and the Fatah-led PA as a Hamas activist, and in 2006 he was shot in the stomach during clashes in Nablus between Fatah and Hamas supporters.
Washington DC – The New York Times reported: The Supreme Court lifted a travel ban on Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States on Monday, a sign that the so-called memogate scandal may be losing steam. The ambassador, Husain Haqqani, right, resigned in November and returned to Islamabad to answer allegations that he sent a memo to Washington asking for help in curbing the Pakistani military in exchange for security policies favorable to the United States. Mr. Haqqani has denied having anything to do with the memo, which was unsigned. He said he intended to travel to United States to join family members there.
Norway – The (AP) reported: Two men were found guilty Monday of involvement in an al-Qaida plot to attack a Danish newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, the first convictions under Norway’s anti-terror laws. A third defendant was acquitted of terror charges but convicted of helping the others acquire explosives. Investigators say the plot was linked to the same al-Qaida planners behind thwarted attacks against the New York subway system and a shopping mall in Manchester, England, in 2009. The Oslo district court sentenced alleged ringleader Mikael Davud, to seven years in prison and co-defendant Shawan Sadek Saeed Bujak to three and a half years. Judge Oddmund Svarteberg said the court found that Davud, a Chinese Muslim, “planned the attack together with al-Qaida.” Bujak was deeply involved in the preparations, but it couldn’t be proved that he was aware of Davud’s contacts with al-Qaida, the judge said. The third defendant, David Jakobsen, who assisted police in the investigation, was convicted on an explosives charge and sentenced to four months in prison — time he’s already served in pretrial detention. Defense lawyers for the three told the court they would study the verdict before deciding whether to appeal.
Norway - CBS NEWS reported: For the first time, the U.S. is acknowledging that a doctor held on suspicion of treason in Pakistan, was working for the CIA to find Osama bin Laden. This acknowledgement came in an interview with “60 Minutes” about Dr. Shikal Afridi, who attempted to confirm that bin Laden was inside that hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The house had been under surveillance for eight months. But the CIA couldn’t confirm that bin Laden was there. Dr. Afridi, got inside the compound under the pretense of running an immunization program. But he never saw bin Laden. Afridi was arrested after the raid. Leon Panetta was the CIA director in charge of the raid. He’s now Secretary of Defense. “60 Minutes”:The Defense Secretary: An interview with Leon Panetta – Pelley: There is a Pakistani doctor, who, as we understand it, was helping our efforts there. A man named Shikal Afridi. He’s now been charged with treason in Pakistan and I wonder what you think of that?
31 January 2012
United Nations & Russia – The New York Times reported: The battle over Syria moved to the United Nations on Tuesday with Western powers and much of the Arab world confronting Russia and its allies in the Security Council over their refusal to condemn the Syrian government for its violent suppression of popular protests. As top diplomats gathered in the Council chamber for the showdown, the drumbeat of violence continued without pause in Syria, where government forces used heavy weapons and tanks to push rebels back from strongholds near Damascus. At the United Nations, the two sides skirmished over a draft Security Council resolution proposed by Morocco that calls for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to leave power as the first step of a transition toward democracy. But behind all the arguments lurked the ghost of Libya, with Russia determined to block any resolution that might be construed as a license for regime change. The Arabs and top Western diplomats argued that endorsing the demonstrators was the minimum step required to support popular demands for change that began with peaceful demonstrations and have evolved into an increasingly armed uprising.
Afghanistan – Reuters reported: The Taliban, backed by Pakistan, remains confident despite a decade of NATO efforts that it will retake control of Afghanistan, NATO said in a new classified report that raises more questions about Afghanistan’s future as foreign forces withdraw. “Taliban commanders, along with rank and file members, increasingly believe their control of Afghanistan is inevitable. Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact,” according to an excerpt of the report, published by the Times of London and the BBC. “While they are weary of war, they see little hope for a negotiated peace. Despite numerous tactical setbacks, surrender is far from their collective mindset. For the moment, they believe that continuing the fight and expanding Taliban governance are their only viable courses of action,” the published excerpts said. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, confirmed the existence of the document, but military officials downplayed it as a depiction of the views of thousands of Taliban detainees who were interviewed by NATO officials. “The classified document in question is a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions,” Cummings said. “It’s not an analysis, nor is it meant to be considered an analysis.”
China – The Washington Post reported: A group of Chinese workers was freed Wednesday, a day after being taken hostage in Egypt, while another group of workers remained captive for a fifth day in Sudan, in separate incidents that show the dangers China faces as its worldwide presence grows. China has developed strong economic ties in volatile nations in Africa and elsewhere, in large part to meet its growing needs for energy and other raw materials. At the same time it is facing growing pressure at home to protect citizens who fall into harm’s way abroad. In Egypt, 25 cement factory workers were grabbed Tuesday on their way to work in the northern Sinai city of Arish but were freed in good condition, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. Their captors, Xinhua said, were Egyptians who had blocked the road outside Arish for days to demand the release of relatives detained for attacks in the Sinai years ago and to demand an end to natural gas sales to Israel. In contrast to the quick resolution of the Egypt hostage-taking, the ordeal of 29 Chinese workers from dam and engineering firm Sinohydro Group has dragged on since their kidnapping by rebels in the Sudan’s South Kordofan region on Saturday.
Israel – The Jerusalem Post reported: Jerusalem is expected to announce approval of various projects in Gaza before Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Strip. On the day before arriving in Israel from Jordan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to give the Palestinians some “goodwill gestures” so the low-level talks that began in Amman last month will continue. “Of course, it will also be required that the Palestinian Authorities come to [the] dialogue table,” he said Tuesday after meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Israeli government officials said that within the framework of negotiations, Israel would be willing to engage in reciprocal gestures with the Palestinians and that there was currently a discussion at senior echelons as to what gestures Israel would put into a package.
Senegal – The Telegraph reported: At least one person has been killed in Senegal’s capital after police fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators, gathered to protest a court ruling allowing the nation’s elderly leader to run for another term. The man was run over by the police’s armoured-personnel carrier, according to Private radio station RFM. An Associated Press reporter saw the young man fall to the ground after the tank-like truck forced its way through the knot of protesters. Police launched the assault after demonstrators began chanting, “Palace! Palace!” indicating that they planned to march on the presidential palace. The demonstrators are protesting a ruling by the country’s top legal body, the constitutional council, which validated President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid to run for another term in next month’s election. The 85-year-old President Wade is seeking a third term, even though the constitution was revised soon after he was elected in 2000 to impose a two-term limit. Mr Wade argues that the law is not retroactive, and since he was already in office when it took effect, it should not apply to him.
Yemen – The LA Times reported: U.S. military aircraft launched strikes that killed at least five suspected militants in southern Yemen in one of the deadliest attacks since the Pentagon and CIA stepped up counter-terrorist operations in the impoverished Middle Eastern nation last year, U.S. officials said. The attacks Tuesday in Yemen’s Abyan province targeted a meeting of members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a militant group whose leadership has been badly degraded in a series of U.S. air attacks, the officials said. The aircraft fired missiles at a school where the suspected militants were meeting and at several vehicles, the officials said, with the main salvo coming from a fighter jet. News service reports estimated that a dozen people were killed in the attacks and another dozen wounded, but U.S. officials said they could not confirm those numbers. The assault came hours after President Obama gave a vigorous defense of CIA drone attacks against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, publicly describing the program for the first time. He said such strikes were carefully targeted to avoid civilian casualties. The CIA began flying drones in Yemen last year as part of a stepped-up campaign against what officials described as a growing threat from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Tuesday’s attacks were carried out by aircraft under the control of the Joint Special Operations Command, which works closely with Yemeni security services in tracking militants.
Yemen – The LA Times reported: A week after one of its leaders was elected speaker of parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday dominated key committees in the People’s Assembly, or the lower house of parliament. Lawmakers of the group, banned for more than five decades, on Tuesday won in votes for chairing the bulk of legislature’s committees. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party holds nearly half of parliament whose elected chief is Sa’ad Al Katatni, a senior official in the party. Results of votes held inside the legislature on Tuesday showed that an alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood took over all but two of the parliamentary committees. Essam Al Erian, a veteran member of the group, became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. The chairmanship of the Defence and National Security Committee went to Abbas Mokheimar, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood with a military background. Committees of planning, industry, economy, manpower, Arab affairs, housing, culture, transport, human rights, health, legislation, education, complaints and religious affairs are now headed by lawmakers directly affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood or belonging to political parties that forged an alliance with the group in recent legislative election.
China – The Washington Post reported: Tibetan separatists who attacked police stations with rocks and molotov cocktails sparked last week’s deadly violence in Sichuan, the Chinese government said Wednesday, countering claims by rights groups that police fired on unarmed protesters. The government-run China Daily newspaper quoted extensively from a Sichuan government statement that said two Tibetan rioters were killed and 24 police and firefighters were injured in two clashes. The account differs from those of Tibetan support groups outside the country who say police fired on demonstrators in three separate areas, killing at least six Tibetans. Independent confirmation of the clashes is difficult due to a heavy security presence and lack of access to outsiders. Repeated calls to Luhuo and Seda, two of the affected counties, would not go through Wednesday and phone companies said there were problems with area land lines and mobile networks. Security in the area has been stepped up since the clashes. The state-run Global Times newspaper said Wednesday that armed police were checking vehicles at checkpoints along roads leading to the remote counties.
Israel – ABC NEWS via (AP) reported: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won the leadership race of his Likud Party over his ultranationalist rival early Wednesday, hours after his government approved new incentives to entice people to move to West Bank settlements. While Netanyahu was expected to win the leadership race decisively, a relatively strong showing by his ultranationalist rival, Moshe Feiglin suggested that many Likud voters consider the prime minister too soft on peacemaking with the Palestinians. Likud spokesman Yigal Movermacher said early Wednesday that Netanyahu won over 75 percent of the vote. “Likud will continue leading the country responsibly. We face great challenges that no other country in the world faces and I believe we will overcome them together in the way of the Likud,” Netanyahu said in his victory speech.
United Kingdom – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: The British government’s decision to strip former Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Fred Goodwin of his knighthood reflects a turning point for bankers as politicians and voters step up criticism of pay and performance. Yesterday’s announcement came just two days after Goodwin’s successor at the Edinburgh-based bank, Stephen Hester, waived a 963,000-pound ($1.5 million) bonus after pressure from lawmakers and the media. Goodwin was punished for leading the 285-year-old lender into the world’s biggest bank bailout, while Hester was slammed because RBS’s share price has slumped in the past year. Voices from across the political spectrum said the behavior of bankers has to change. “This is a watershed 48 hours which dramatizes the urgent need for financial services to re-earn legitimacy with the rest of civil society,” said Will Hutton, a former director of the Work Foundation research group and author of “The State We’re In,” the 1995 book that advocated less reliance on finance. “For three years, bankers have lived in a parallel universe,” he said in a telephone interview.
Nigeria – Reuters reported: Suspected militants from the Boko Haram Islamist sect have killed six people in shootings in Nigeria’s remote northeastern Borno state in the past two days, the local military field operations officer said on Tuesday. Two Airforce personnel and two civilians were shot dead in Gomari ward, another was shot dead at the market today while the sixth person was shot dead in front of a mosque in Gamboru-Ngala, a border town with Cameroon, yesterday night,” Colonel Victor Ebhamele, Borno field operations officer, told Reuters. Boko Haram are waging an increasingly deadly low intensity campaign against the government, and have been blamed for dozens of bombings and shootings in the northern semi-desert regions of Africa’s biggest oil producer. The group, whose name translates as “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modeled on the Taliban and based largely in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state. Its shadowy members say they are fighting to impose sharia or Islamic law across Nigeria, a country of 160 million split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
1 February 2012
Egypt – Reuters reported: Egyptians incensed by the deaths of 74 people in soccer violence staged protests in central Cairo on Thursday as the army-led government came under fire for failing to prevent the deadliest incident since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Addressing angry lawmakers in parliament, the military-appointed prime minister said senior security chiefs in Port Said and the city’s governor had been suspended and the soccer federation’s board had been sacked. But he disappointed those seeking tougher steps, such as sacking the interior minister. Young men blocked roads in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square in protest, and a crowd gathered at the city’s main rail station hoping to see relatives returning from the game in Port Said, a city at the mouth of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast. As bodies from Egypt’s worst soccer disaster were unloaded from trains, covered by blankets, thousands chanted “Down with military rule.”
Egypt – The Washington Post reported: Egypt’s Islamist-dominated parliament flexed its newly acquired powers Tuesday, accusing the country’s military rulers of overstepping their powers by imposing a new presidential election law before the legislators were even seated. The law, which lays out the rules for the vote expected later this year, and other military decrees are shaping up as a litmus test of the relationship between the new lawmakers and the generals who took power after former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down nearly a year ago. Meanwhile, protesters clashed with Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were forming a human shield outside the parliament in front of the barbed wires and barricades already set up by security forces. Youth activists who led the massive street protests that led to Mubarak’s ouster have accused the Islamists of ignoring their demands and siding with the military. The fundamentalist Brotherhood, which controls nearly half of the seats in the 508-member legislature, has won control of 11 out of the 19 specialized committees inside the parliament, including the key defense and national security committee that would likely be in charge of reviewing the military’s budget and other issues.
Syria – The LA Times reported: As diplomats attempted to craft a compromise, Russia remained firm Wednesday in its pledge to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that could open the door for international military intervention in Syria. Meanwhile, fighting raged anew in the troubled Middle East nation, with nearly 70 additional deaths reported by opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose bloody crackdown on street protests has led to calls from the Arab League and Western powers for him to step aside. After a closed-door meeting, U.N. diplomats said progress had been made to overcome Russia’s objections. “But there are a lot of difficult issues and we are not there yet,” said British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, according to the Associated Press. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, “I think we have a much better understanding of what we need to do to reach consensus.” But Moscow continues to oppose any U.N. move that calls for Assad to step down or would slap new economic penalties or an arms embargo on Damascus.
Afghanistan – The LA Times reported: The U.S. and its military allies in Afghanistan intend to hand the lead combat role to Afghan forces next year, according to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, shifting to a training and advising mission as they press ahead with their withdrawal after more than a decade of fighting. By announcing a specific timetable, U.S. officials are hoping to head off a push by allies to pull out their forces more quickly. Public support for the war is falling in many countries, and with their economies struggling, governments are under pressure to trim their defense budgets. The top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, said in December that he was planning such a shift, but Panetta’s comment Wednesday on his way to a NATO meeting in Brussels marked the first time a senior U.S. official had provided a timetable. The shift to an advisory mission in Afghanistan is similar to the approach used in Iraq, where U.S. troops pulled out of major cities and focused on training Iraqi troops more than a year before leaving for good.
Israel – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said his country must build up its military capabilities and be prepared to strike if economic sanctions fail to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Israel must be “willing to deploy” its military assets because Iran may be within a year of gaining nuclear weapons capability, Gantz said yesterday. Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency wrapped up a round of talks this week aimed at resolving Western suspicions that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear-bomb capability, and officials said they planned further discussions. “There is no doubt that Iran is striving for a bomb,” Gantz said in an address to the annual Herzliya Conference at the Interdisciplinary Center academic campus north of Tel Aviv. Its activities “must be disrupted,” he said. U.S. intelligence agencies think Iran is developing capabilities to produce nuclear weapons “should it chose to do so,” James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee Jan. 31. “We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons,” he said.
United Kingdom – The WSJ reported: Four British men pleaded guilty to being involved in an al Qaeda-inspired 2010 plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange, while five others pleaded guilty to other terror-related charges. The nine defendants, all British citizens, had been arrested in December 2010 in London; Cardiff, Wales; and Stoke-on-Trent, England, following one of the biggest U.K. counterterror operations of recent years. The nine had initially all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. A handwritten list discovered at one of the defendant’s homes had the names and addresses of several potential targets, including Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the U.S. Embassy and the London Stock Exchange. London, where the 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be held starting July 27, has been targeted several times by violent Islamists affiliated with or inspired by al Qaeda. Prosecutors had previously said that between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20, 2010, the suspects downloaded, researched and obtained materials for an attack and discussed the methods they would use. The men also researched and carried out reconnaissance on potential targets including the London Eye Ferris wheel, and tested incendiary material, the police said. Prosecutors added that while the men weren’t members of al Qaeda, they had been inspired by the terror network, according to a police spokeswoman.
Argentina – The Telegraph UK reported: Britain’s diplomats fear Argentina is preparing an “economic blockade” of the Falklands with a plan to cut off the islands’ only air link with South America, it was reported last night. The Argentine government has said publicly that it would consider blocking the Chilean airline LAN from making its weekly flight between Punta Arenas and Port Stanley. The flight is the only way to reach the Falklands by air from the continent and serves as the main link between the disputed islands and the outside world. British diplomats in the region told the Guardian they believed Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government would cut off the flight as a way of ramping up the cost to Britain of maintaining the overseas territory. Their warnings came as tensions between the two countries continued to rise ahead of the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Falklands War. “If the LAN Chile flight is canceled it would be pretty difficult to resist the already credible thesis that there is an economic blockade of the civilian population of the Falklands,” one diplomat told the newspaper.
Sudan – The WSJ reported: The Sudanese rebel group holding 29 Chinese hostages demanded that Beijing persuade the government of Sudan to halt a military offensive in the African nation’s restive south, raising the political stakes in a situation that has already strained China’s ties to a key oil supplier and one of its closest allies. Sudan’s government said that military operations to rescue the hostages would continue and rejected the rebel calls for a cease-fire. The rebels, known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, said they were holding the hostages in the mountainous region of Nuba, South Kordofan. They asked the Chinese government to move its nationals out of Sudan’s war zones to avoid future abductions. If those conditions are met, the group said, the workers would be returned to safety. The demands appear to signal a shift in the rebels’ position, from initial statements that the Chinese workers were caught up in fighting in the area to one where they are used as political bargaining chips. “The SPLM-N calls upon China to contribute to the humanitarian operation and to ask [the] Khartoum government to open safe corridors for humanitarian operations” Yasir Arman, the SPLM-N general secretary said in a statement Wednesday. “SPLM-N calls again upon China to support the demand of an international investigation on the war crimes against [the] Sudanese people,” the statement said, in reference to military attacks on the group.
France – The Sydney Morning Herald via Agence France Presse reported: French presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande was targeted in a flour-throwing attack on Wednesday as he wrapped up a speech about housing problems. The Socialist candidate, tipped by opinion polls to win the April-May two-round election, was unharmed but left covered in white powder after the attack by a woman who was swiftly removed from the room in Paris. The woman said she had no money left because housing laws were not being applied. Hollande said he “hadn’t seen much” during the attack by “an irresponsible person”. He said he would not be changing his security arrangements following the attack. “These are occupational hazards,” he added.
Libya – The Financial Times reported: A gun battle erupted between rival militias in the heart of the Libyan capital on Wednesday, underscoring the country’s continued instability after the overthrow of its longtime ruler. Fighters from the industrial city of Misurata and the western mountain city of Zintan engaged in what witnesses and security officials described as a ferocious gunfight, purportedly over a prisoner. “I’m not sure whether fighters from Misurata or Zintan started it,” said Naji Arabi, a 54-year-old electricity company employee. He was driving home from work about 4pm when he encountered the gunfire. “Obviously it’s scary, because I have five children.” Libya has been bedevilled by the transitional government’s seeming inability to establish authority over the well-armed former rebel fighters who overthrew Muammer Gaddafi in a campaign aided by Nato air strikes.
2 February 2012
Philippines – The WSJ reported: The Philippines’ military Thursday said it killed three of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted al Qaeda-linked terrorists in an airstrike that could mark one of this key U.S. ally’s biggest successes against Islamist militants operating in its remote, southern islands. Army spokesman Marcelo Burgos said the dawn raid on a terrorist camp in Parang township on Jolo island killed Malaysian national Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan; Singaporean guerrilla Abdullah Ali; and a homegrown Abu Sayyaf leader, Umbra Jumdail, along with 12 other guerrillas. Their deaths couldn’t be independently confirmed; forensic investigators haven’t yet made their way to the site of the attacks in the thick jungles of Jolo. If verified, regional security officials said the raid could severely set back both the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf group and the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, which made a series of deadly bomb attacks in Bali and Jakarta in recent years and operates closely with Philippine rebels. Both groups were organized and financed with help from al Qaeda, terrorism experts say. The apparent success of Thursday’s mission also could help bolster President Benigno Aquino III as he attempts to modernize the dilapidated armed forces and eliminate the lawlessness that has deterred investment in the southern Philippines, the country’s poorest region. His government in recent months has begun negotiating a stronger security partnership with the U.S., aimed as much at protecting the Philippines’ economic interests in the South China Sea—which also are claimed by China, among others—as at targeting Islamist and Maoist insurgents.
United Nations – Haaretz reported: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is worried by the collapse of the Middle East peace talks brokered by Jordan and by the Palestinians’ drive for UN recognition. In an interview with Haaretz, Ban said he is concerned by possible damage to various UN institutions if the Palestinian Authority presses ahead with its membership requests to them. The stalled peace talks under the auspices of King Abdullah only started last month. “The Palestinians’ aspirations for a state must be realized as part of a negotiation process,” Ban says, adding the aspiration to establish a sovereign Palestinian state is long overdue. This is Ban’s third visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the first during his second term as UN secretary-general. While the Palestinians’ bid for full UN membership is still stuck in the UN Security Council, the PA was received as a member in UNESCO. Consequently, the American administration cut back the organization’s annual budget, causing immediate damage. Plans and projects were suspended, salaries were slashed and employees were fired. The Palestinians are threatening to request membership in 16 other UN agencies, especially if the talks with Israel in Amman quagmire.
Pakistan – The WSJ reported: Pakistan’s Supreme Court said it would begin contempt of court proceedings against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Feb. 13, a move that could lead to the premier’s removal from office. The Supreme Court wants Mr. Gilani’s administration to comply with a two-year-old order to reopen graft investigations into President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. The court’s decision to push ahead with the proceedings shows the nation’s top judiciary is prepared for a fight with Mr. Gilani and the PPP-led government. Mr. Gilani faces up to a six-month jail term if found.
Kuwait – The (AP) reported: Early results from Kuwait’s parliamentary elections suggest strong gains by opposition groups including hard-line Islamists favoring stricter social codes in the Western-allied Gulf nation. The final figures are expected later Friday. But partial returns give a strong edge to anti-government factions, which also include liberals inspired by the Arab Spring. Some analysts predict opposition groups could take more than 30 seats in the 50-member parliament. The incomplete results from Thursday’s voting also point to lower representation of women. Just one woman candidate appeared headed for victory. Four women were in the last parliament. Kuwait’s ruling family controls all main ministries, but the parliament has the power to sway policies.
3 February 2012
North Korea – The Telegraph UK reported: North Korea is open to immediate talks with rival South Korea if Seoul responds to several preconditions for dialogue, a North Korean military official told the Associated Press. But Ri Son Gwon, a colonel working for the Policy Department of the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, also challenged South Korea to “state to the world whether it honestly intends to enter into dialogue with us.” The comments came a day after a senior U.S. diplomat said Washington is open to settling a nuclear standoff with North Korea through diplomacy if Pyongyang first improves ties with Seoul. “The South speaks loudly of dialogue in public, but behind the scenes it also says it cannot shake the principles that plunged North-South Korean ties into complete deadlock,” Ri said in an interview in Pyongyang.
Syria – The Guardian UK reported: Five people have been arrested during a demonstration at the Syrian embassy in London, Scotland Yard said. There have been further demonstrations at Syrian missions in other countries over the massacre of civilians in Homs. In Cairo, Egypt, enraged Syrians again stormed their country’s embassy, smashing furniture and equipment and setting fire to parts of the building. The gate of the embassy in central Cairo was broken and furniture and computers were smashed on the second floor of the building, said a witness. Parts of the first floor were burned, he said. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a police station a few streets from the embassy to demand the release of six Syrians who they said were detained during the protest at the mission. In Kuwait, witnesses said demonstrators stormed into the Syrian embassy compound, breaking windows, tearing down the Syrian flag and hoisting the colours of the opposition movement. About 150 demonstrators descended on the London embassy in Belgrave Square.
Iran – The Seattle Times reported: A fiery anti-Israel speech by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered shortly after a successful Iranian satellite launch, added to growing global tensions Friday, as Israel warned it might mount a pre-emptive strike against the Islamic republic’s nuclear facilities despite U.S. objections. “From now onward, we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world, and we are not afraid of declaring this,” Khamenei said during a rare Friday prayer lecture at Tehran University. Most of Khamenei’s rhetoric was not new. But the timing and setting of his speech hardened a standoff that some analysts say has the potential to spark military action. Such a development would disrupt the international coalition that has emerged to confront Iran over its nuclear program and jeopardize oil markets and the fragile global economy.
Egypt – CNN reported: Nine people died over two days in clashes between Egyptian police and protesters amid reports of inadequate security at a soccer match that devolved into a riot in which 79 fans were killed, officials said Friday. Six deaths occurred in Suez and three in Cairo, the Health Ministry reported. Among the fatalities was an 18-year-old, the ministry said. More than 2,500 people were injured near the Interior Ministry in Cairo over two days, officials said. Thousands of protesters gathered outside the ministry, prompting riot police to deploy tear gas for fear the men — some of them masked — would storm the building.
Egypt – In a related story The Jerusalem Post reported: Protesters, army officer reported killed; US senators threaten Egypt aid cut over crackdowns on pro-democracy groups. Rock-throwing protesters fought riot police through clouds of teargas to within meters of Egypt’s Interior Ministry on a second day of clashes triggered by the deaths of 74 people in the country’s worst soccer disaster. Three demonstrators and an army officer were killed in Cairo and an additional four were killed in the city of Suez, according to Al Jazeera. In addition, over 17,000 people were wounded. Police used live rounds to hold back crowds trying to break into a police station and fought in front of the state security headquarters, witnesses and the ambulance authority said.
Afghanistan – Reuters reported: Afghanistan could end up fighting Taliban insurgents with a national army and police force two-thirds the size envisaged, if plans discussed on Friday by NATO defense ministers, trying to balance security needs with budget cuts, gain traction. The Afghan security force is due to grow to a peak of 352,000 by October, part of a hugely expensive drive to beef up their strength to deal with Taliban insurgents and allow the bulk of Western combat forces to withdraw by the end of 2014. The effort is largely funded by the United States, at a cost of $11.6 billion for this year alone, at a time when the U.S. Department of Defense is suffering huge cuts to its budget. While recognizing it will be many years before Afghanistan is able to pay for its own security, NATO states are keen to avoid recurring costs of such magnitude after 2014, so have been considering options for a much smaller future force, with the aim of reaching agreement at a summit in Chicago in May.
Gaza Strip – The New York Times reported: A convoy carrying Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations was pelted with shoes and sticks by Palestinian protesters when it entered the Gaza Strip from Israel on Thursday, witnesses said. About 100 men and women who said their family members were being held in Israeli prisons had arrived in buses near a checkpoint in Gaza, a few hundred yards from the Erez crossing, blocking traffic and complaining that Mr. Ban, on his third visit to Gaza, had no plans to meet with them. A group of about five young men threw shoes at the cars, a gesture of scorn reminiscent of the action of a protester in Baghdad who lobbed shoes at President George W. Bush in 2008. Women removed wooden staves from a protest banner and hurled them at the armored vehicles, witnesses said, before security officials from Hamas, the group that runs Gaza, moved the demonstrators away, allowing the convoy to pass.
Philippines – The Washington Post reported: Police said Friday that local thugs, not al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, were likely to have abducted two European tourists this week in the southern Philippines. Police Director Felicisimo Khu said the kidnappers had not contacted authorities or made any ransom demand. Ewold Horn of the Netherlands, Lorenzo Vinciguerra of Switzerland and their Filipino guide, Ivan Sarenas, were abducted Wednesday during a bird-watching trip to Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost province. They were the latest kidnap victims in an impoverished region infested with al-Qaida-linked militants and criminal gangs that often seek ransom for their foreign hostages. Sarenas escaped hours later by jumping off their captors’ boat after he saw some fishermen, who rescued him.
Pakistan – ABC NEWS via (AP) reported: Islamist militants attacked a Pakistani army checkpoint near the Afghan border Friday, killing seven paramilitary soldiers and abducting four, a government official and a Taliban spokesman said. Jamil Khan, a local official, said around 40 militants armed with rockets, grenades and automatic weapons attacked the army post in the Kurram region, sparking a gunbattle that killed up to 18 militants. The ambush was the latest in a series of attacks over the past week in Kurram, one of the seven Pakistani border regions where the military has battled militants for several years. It was not possible to independently confirm the information because the border region is effectively off-limits to reporters. Militants have in the past disputed army accounts of casualties, and human rights groups say civilians often die in military actions. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to reporters. He did not mention any insurgent casualties. Also Friday, a car bomb exploded outside the residence of a tribal elder in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing four people and wounding three, senior police officer Fazal Wahid said.