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6 February 2012
Syria – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for a solution to the crisis in Syria based on initiatives put forward by the Arab League. Visiting Syria, Mr Lavrov said Damascus was ready for a larger Arab mission to monitor peace efforts, and would set a date for a constitutional referendum. His visit comes after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution. Gulf states say they are expelling Syria’s ambassadors. Government forces are continuing a fierce assault on rebels in Homs. The BBC’s Paul Wood – one of the only foreign reporters in Homs – says the Syrian army resumed mortar attacks and heavy machine-gun fire after daybreak. He says Russian-made tanks have been seen close to the city centre, but these is no sign so far of the ground assault feared by many residents. Hundreds are reported to have died since shelling of the city began on Friday. At least 95 people were killed on Monday alone, activists say.
Palestine – USA Today via (AP) reported: After months of wavering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a decisive step Monday toward reconciliation with the Islamic militant group Hamas, a move Israel promptly warned would close the door to any future peace talks. In a deal brokered by Qatar, Abbas will head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the Palestinian territories in the coming months. The agreement appeared to bring reconciliation — key to any statehood ambitions — within reach for the first time since the two sides set up rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007. Monday’s deal, signed in the Qatari capital of Doha by Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, put an end to recent efforts by the international community to revive long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Abbas appears to have concluded that he has a better chance of repairing relations with Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group, than reaching an agreement with Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu quickly condemned the Doha deal. “It’s either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have them both,” he said in a warning to Abbas, who has enjoyed broad international support.
Iran – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: President Barack Obama ordered a freeze on all Iranian government and central bank assets held in the U.S. or any foreign branch of a U.S. entity, the White House said today. The president cited “deceptive practices” of the Iranian central bank and an “unacceptable risk” to the international financial system from Iranian activities. Previously, only assets belonging to sanctioned Iranian entities or individuals were frozen. The order, signed by the president yesterday, blocks all property and interests in property belonging to the Iranian government, its central bank, and all Iranian financial institutions, even those that haven’t been specifically designated for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury. Longstanding U.S. regulations already prohibited American citizens or entities from virtually all direct and indirect transactions involving Iran or its government, aside from those exempted under general licenses for transactions involving food, medicine, remittances and humanitarian relief. The measure was mandated as part of Iran sanctions legislation that was passed by Congress and signed by the president Dec. 31.
Egypt – The LA Times reported: Egyptian state media Monday published the names of 43 people accused in a politically explosive investigation of pro-democracy groups, saying they are suspected of receiving illegal funding with the aim of destabilizing the country’s national security. The 19 Americans on the list of those to be prosecuted on charges of violating foreign funding laws included Sam LaHood, son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and country director for the Washington-based International Republican Institute, and Charles Dunne, the Mideast program director for Freedom House, a research and advocacy organization. Dunne said in an interview Monday that he last visited Egypt in October. “I left the country in October, in their good graces,” Dunne said. “But apparently not now.” Egyptian officials consider foreign funding of the groups as interference in their country’s political system. The nongovernmental groups insist that they aim only to provide Egyptians with nuts-and-bolts technical assistance to help them take part in the democratic process. The Obama administration has warned that the decision Sunday by judges could lead to the suspension of $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt’s military.
Pakistan – ABC NEWS reported: Rescue workers pulled a 65-year-old woman out alive after she was trapped for 31 hours in the rubble of a collapsed factory in an eastern Pakistan city, as the death toll from the accident rose to 18. The three-story factory manufactured medicine and collapsed Monday after several gas cylinders inside exploded. It had been set up illegally in a residential area of Lahore and continued operations even though the government tried to shut it down three times, officials said. Rescue workers on Tuesday heard 65-year-old Saleha Bibi screaming for help, and it took them several hours to pull her out from the jagged pile of concrete blocks, said Rizwan Naseer, head of the state-run rescue service in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital. Bibi said she hid underneath a machine when the roof of the room where she was working started to cave in.
7 February 2012
Syria – Reuters reported: Bombardment of the Syrian city of Homs by government forces killed at least 47 civilians over the past eight hours, activists in the city and opposition sources said on Wednesday. “Electricity returned briefly and we were able to contact various neighborhoods because activists there managed to recharge their phones. We counted 47 killed since midnight,” activist Mohammad Hassan said by satellite phone.
Syria – In a related story, the (AP) reported: The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence. Activists reported at least 50 killed in the regime’s siege of the restive city of Homs. Russia, a close ally of Syria, and the West are pushing down starkly different paths in trying to deal with Syria’s nearly 11 months of bloodshed. After blocking a Western and Arab attempt to bring U.N. pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down, Russia has launched a bid to show it can resolve the turmoil. Moscow is calling for a combination of reforms by the regime and negotiations, without calling for Assad to go. Its provisions are so far finding no traction with the opposition, which dismisses promises of reform as empty gestures, refuses any negotiations while violence continues and says Assad’s removal is the only option in the crisis. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict “independently.”
Egypt – The Detroit Free Press reported: Egypt’s ruling generals are playing a risky game of brinksmanship by cracking down on U.S. nonprofit groups promoting democracy, threatening a relationship with Washington that has brought the military billions of dollars in aid over the past three decades. The generals may be betting the U.S. cannot afford to cut relations with Egypt — a cornerstone of U.S. Mideast policy. But the ruling military council may also fear it has much more than foreign aid to lose if it fully embraces a democratic transition that could bring civilian oversight of its substantial financial assets and curb its long-standing domination of politics. On Sunday, Egypt referred 19 Americans, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and 24 other employees of pro-democracy nonprofit groups to trial before a criminal court on accusations of illegally using foreign funds to foment unrest in the country. The referral came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Egypt that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of aid.
Pakistan – The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported: The Pakistani army held talks with NATO and Afghan forces on Wednesday in an effort to improve coordination along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, a sign of thawing relations after American airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year. Pakistan was outraged by the attack on two of its Afghan border posts on Nov. 26 and claimed it was deliberate. Islamabad retaliated by closing its border to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan and by kicking the U.S. out of an air base used by American drones. But tensions seemed to have eased slightly, with Pakistani officials saying in recent days the government should reopen its border to NATO supplies as long as it can negotiate higher fees. The United States and Pakistan have long had a troubled relationship, but both sides have an interest in preventing it from rupturing completely. The U.S. needs Pakistan’s help to fight al-Qaida and negotiate peace with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, while Islamabad is keen on keeping billions of dollars in American aid flowing.
Pakistan – FOX NEWS reported: A senior rescue official says the death toll from a factory that collapsed in an eastern Pakistani city and trapped dozens has risen to 21. Rizwan Naseer said on Wednesday that rescue workers saved a young man, Ghulam Abbas, who had spent 47 hours trapped under the rubble of the factory in the city of Lahore. Abbas says there were still women and children alive under the pile of debris who needed immediate help. The factory collapsed on Monday after several gas cylinders inside exploded. It had been built illegally in a residential area of Lahore. The government tried to shut it down three times, but each time it reopened.
Argentina – The BBC South American Corps reported: Argentina is to make a formal complaint to the United Nations over what it calls the British “militarisation” of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said Britain’s recent actions amounted to a threat to international security. Britain announced it was sending a destroyer, HMS Dauntless, to the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas. London described it as a routine deployment, but it has heightened tensions in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war.
Philippines – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Rescuers dug through debris and mud in the central Philippines Tuesday in search of nearly 100 missing people a day after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake triggered landslides, collapsed houses and killed at least 48 people. More than 400 soldiers were dispatched to several villages in the central province of Negros Oriental, about 356 miles southeast of Manila. The province suffered the most damage from Monday’s quake, said army Col. Francisco Zosimo Patrimonio. Patrimonio said up to 92 people were missing, mostly from Guihulngan City and La Libertad town in the province of Negros Oriental, where landslides buried a total of almost 100 houses in two villages. Patrimonio said rescuers were having difficulty moving around to help in the search for the missing. “Many roads have been cut off so our trucks are unable to go in. There is no water. There is no electricity,” he said.
Nigeria – Reuters reported: A suspected suicide bomber disguised in military uniform was killed on Tuesday when his car bomb exploded under fire from soldiers outside a military base in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, the army said. It was the latest in a series of attacks on military and other targets to have hit northern regions of Africa’s most populous nation in the past months. “The soldiers repelled the attack and were able to stop what will have been a suicide bombing. However, after firing (at) the suicide bomber who tried to force his way, the bomb exploded and shattered the glasses that adorn the frontage of the headquarters. The suicide bomber was the only casualty,” the statement signed by Raphael Isa, director of Nigerian army public relations, said. Radical Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed hundreds this year in bomb and gun attacks in northern Nigeria. Kano, around 200 km (120 miles) north of Kaduna, was the scene of the deadliest attack by the sect, in which 186 people were killed last month.
Sudan – The WSJ reported: Rebels in oil-rich Sudan on Tuesday released 29 Chinese workers, capping a hostage drama that exposed the risks of China’s investments in the conflict-prone African region. In a statement, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said that the Chinese captives were handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross early Tuesday and eventually flown to Nairobi, where they were taken to China’s Embassy in Kenya. China’s Foreign Ministry described the 29 as being in good physical health “and stable mood,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. China thanked both Sudan and South Sudan, as well as related parties such as the ICRC, for “the unremitting efforts” that made their safe passage possible, Xinhua said. The 29 road-construction workers were seized on Jan. 28, when rebels overran a Chinese work camp. Other workers escaped. One of those workers was later confirmed to have been killed as part of a rescue mission after the assault. The hostage release marks the end of an episode that highlighted concerns in China about the safety of the increasing number of Chinese nationals working abroad, who have become increasingly exposed to risk. It also created apparent tensions between Sudan and China, its largest buyer of crude.
8 February 2012
Syria – Reuters reported: Syrian government artillery barrages killed dozens of civilians in Homs on Thursday, activists said, as President Bashar al-Assad, bolstered by Russian support, ignored appeals from world leaders to halt the carnage. The United Nations secretary-general condemned the “appalling brutality” of the operation to stamp out the revolt against Assad, and Turkey’s ambassador to the European Union warned of a slide into civil war that could inflame the region. Diplomats from Western and Arab powers, lining up meetings that could mean some decisions soon, condemned Assad in strong language. But having ruled out military intervention, they were struggling to find a way to convince him to step down. Syria’s powerful ally Russia, meanwhile, said no one should interfere in the country’s affairs.
United Nations – Reuters reported: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday the Arab League chief told him he intends to revive an Arab League monitoring mission in Syria, which has collapsed amid continuing violence there. Nabil Elaraby asked for U.N. help with the project during a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Ban told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on a visit he just paid to the Middle East. Elaraby had further proposed a joint U.N.-Arab League observer mission, including a joint special envoy, for Syria, where a harsh crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising has left thousands dead, according to U.N. figures. Ban said the United Nations was ready to help, but indicated no decision had been taken. Elaraby “informed me that he intends to send the Arab League observer mission back to Syria and asked for U.N. help,” the U.N. chief said.
Israel – The New York Times reported: Amid mounting tensions over whether Israel will carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, the United States and Israel remain at odds over a fundamental question: whether Iran’s crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable. Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, coined the phrase “zone of immunity” to define the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran’s effort to produce a bomb would be invulnerable to any strike. But judging when that moment will arrive has set off an intense debate with the Obama administration, whose officials counter that there are other ways to make Iran vulnerable. Senior Israeli officials, including the foreign minister and leader of the Mossad, have traveled to Washington in recent weeks to make the case that this point is fast approaching. American officials have made reciprocal visits to Jerusalem, arguing that Israel and the West have more time and should allow sanctions and covert actions to deter Iran’s plans.
Maldives – NPR via (AP) reported: A court in the Maldives issued an arrest warrant Thursday for former President Mohamed Nasheed, a day after his supporters rampaged in the capital and his claim of being ousted in a coup left unclear the stability of the fledging Indian Ocean democracy. Police spokesman Abdul Mannan Yusuf refused to disclose the grounds for the criminal court’s warrant, or say when Nasheed — who is living at his Male home, surrounded by supporters — would be arrested. Later, Police Commissioner Abdullah Riaz said it was not clear if the warrant was constitutional. He declined to provide details, but said the warrant’s legality was still being examined. Nasheed had announced he was voluntarily resigning Tuesday after months of protests against his rule and fading support from the police and the army. But the next day, as former Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan was forming a new government, Nasheed suddenly announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint.
Egypt – The WSJ reported: Foreign nongovernmental organizations are working to manipulate Egypt’s post revolutionary politics, two Egyptian judges said on Wednesday, in the latest signal that Egypt won’t back down from an investigation that has bruised relations with one of America’s strongest security partners in the Middle East. For the first time since the inquiry began last summer, the investigating judges detailed a body of evidence, including seized maps, videos and cash, they say implicates 43 civil-society workers, including at least 16 Americans, in acts of ill-defined political subterfuge. Justices Sameh Abu Zaid and Ashraf Al Ashmawi addressed reporters followed a speech by Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, in which he reiterated that Egyptian prosecutors wouldn’t call off the probe despite escalating threats from Congress that it was jeopardizing the U.S.’s $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt. The charges against the Americans, who include Sam LaHood, the head of the International Republican Institute’s Cairo office and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, have brought Congress closer to canceling the military funding that has buttressed America’s influence in Egypt for decades.
Pakistan – The Times of India reported: A US drone attack targeting a militant compound killed four insurgents in a troubled Pakistani tribal region early Thursday, security officials said. In the second drone strike in about 24 hours, two missiles hit the compound located in Miranshah, the main town in volatile North Waziristan near the Afghan border, a security official said. “A US drone fired two missiles at a compound used by militants in Miranshah and four militants have been killed,” the official said. The strike and death toll were confirmed by intelligence sources. It followed a drone strike on Wednesday on a compound in Tappi, 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Miranshah, which security officials said killed 10 insurgents. US officials say Pakistan’s tribal belt provides sanctuary to Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, al-Qaida groups plotting attacks on the West, Pakistani Taliban who routinely bomb Pakistan and other foreign fighters.
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.
Tibet – The Guardian UK reported: Another Tibetan has set himself on fire in western China to protest against government policies, according to a report that also said thousands had marched in another part of China to show support for their exiled spiritual leader. US-funded Radio Free Asia said a man, apparently a monk, set himself on fire in Sichuan province’s Aba prefecture on Wednesday and was taken away by soldiers and police. His condition was not immediately clear. It said the man shouted slogans before setting himself ablaze, citing a statement from Losang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering, exiled Tibetan monks in India. If confirmed the incident would bring to at least 20 the number of monks, nuns and lay Tibetans who have set themselves on fire over the last year, mostly in traditionally Tibetan areas of Sichuan province. Most have chanted for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama and his supporters of encouraging the immolations.
Palestine – Reuters reported: The leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a deal in Qatar on Monday to form a unity government of independent technocrats for the West Bank and Gaza, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The move, following the failure of exploratory Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at reviving stalled peace negotiations, was condemned by Israel, which says the Islamist Hamas cannot be part of any peace efforts. The accord signed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is supposed to pave the way for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary election possibly later this year, and to rebuild the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip following a 2008-2009 Israeli offensive against Hamas. It was not known whether the deal would be implemented. No timetable was set. A reconciliation pact Fatah and Hamas struck in May 2011 has had little substantive result but both sides said they were serious about carrying out the new accord.
United Nations – Haaretz reported: On visit to Israel, Ban Ki-moon calls on leaders to show courage to resolve conflict. 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.
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.
9 February 2012
Syria – The Times of India reported: More than 80 people were killed in Syria Thursday, most of them in a relentless blitz on the city of Homs, an attack US President Barack Obama decried as “outrageous bloodshed”. Shelling erupted at daybreak, killing more than 50 civilians in the besieged central city and burning several bodies beyond recognition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. At least 83 people were killed across the country on Thursday, said the Britain-based Observatory. Troops trying to crush opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 400 people in a six-day onslaught on Homs, opposition activists say.
Maldives – The (AP) reported: The United States backtracked from its swift recognition of the new Maldives government, which the nation’s former leader claims came to power in a coup. The Maldives has faced one day of rioting and two days more of a political standoff since Mohamed Nasheed announced Tuesday that he was resigning as president, following months of protests against his rule and fading support from the security forces. But the next day Nasheed, who now faces an arrest warrant, announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint. The reality remains unclear. Nasheed criticized Washington after the State Department said Thursday it recognized the new government as legitimate. “It’s unfortunate that the American government has decided to work with the regime,” Nasheed told reporters.
Pakistan – The New York Times reported: A senior American military commander is expected to travel to Pakistan this month in what Obama administration officials say is the first step toward thawing a strategic relationship that has been in effect frozen for more than two months. Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the military’s Central Command, will meet Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff, to discuss the investigations of an exchange of fire at the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode. General Mattis’s visit, the first by a high-ranking American official since the cross-border confrontation in November, was to have begun Thursday, but has been postponed by at least a week pending what is expected to be a spirited debate in the Pakistani Parliament over a new security policy toward the United States. Pakistani and American officials are quietly optimistic that both events will trigger a chain of public engagement and private negotiations that will reboot the two nations’ frayed strategic relationship, although along more narrowly defined lines than before.
Egypt – The New York Times reported: The Muslim Brotherhood demanded Thursday that Egypt’s military rulers cede control of the government, stepping closer to a long-anticipated confrontation between the ruling generals and the Islamist-dominated Parliament. The Brotherhood, the formerly outlawed Islamist group, now dominates Parliament. It had previously said it was content to wait until June, when the generals had said they would hand over the power they seized at the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year. And signs were accumulating of a general accord between the military and the Brotherhood over the terms of a new constitution expected to be ratified before the handover. The Brotherhood’s shift comes on the eve of the Feb. 11 anniversary of Mr. Mubarak’s downfall, when other activists around the country have called for a general strike to demand the end of military rule — a call the Brotherhood has previously resisted. But the group is also changing its position at a time when the military-controlled government appears overwhelmed by domestic and foreign crises, including a deadly soccer riot last week followed by five days of violent protests, a standoff with Washington that has imperiled billions of dollars in United States aid and international loans, and an economy teetering on collapse.
China – The NPR via (AP) reported: Chinese security forces shot dead two Tibetan brothers who had been on the run since taking part in anti-government protests two weeks ago in southwest China, a U.S.-funded broadcaster reported Friday. Radio Free Asia said the two — 40-year-old monk Yeshe Rigsal and his 38-year-old brother, Yeshe Samdrub — were killed Thursday in the high-altitude pasturelands used by nomadic herders where they had fled after the Jan. 23 protest in Luhuo county. Radio Free Asia cited sources in the area and in the Tibetan exile community in India. Luhuo and other Tibetan areas of Sichuan province have been sealed off due to recurring, sometimes violent protests, so the Radio Free Asia report could not be independently confirmed. Telephone calls Friday to the Communist Party propaganda department and the public security office in Luhuo rang unanswered, as did a call to the party propaganda department in Ganzi prefecture, which oversees the county. In the Luhuo protest, Tibetans besieged a police station, drawing fire that killed at least one person. It marked a return to the mass anti-government demonstrations periodically used by Tibetans in recent decades to protest Chinese rule. A widespread rebellion across Tibetan areas in 2008 prompted China to smother the region with police and tighten controls on the Buddhist practices and the clergy that are at the core of Tibetan identity.
China – In another story The Washington Post reported: Beijing says a celebrity police chief linked to one of the country’s rising political stars spent a day in a U.S. consulate in southwestern China amid speculation that he sought political asylum. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun visited the consulate in the city of Chengdu. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Friday that Wang spent the night at the consulate. The official provided no further details. The Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office said that Wang entered the consulate on Monday and “remained there for one day.” The statement, carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, said the incident was being investigated. Dozens of newspapers carried the Xinhua report prominently on Friday without additional reporting, a sign that official censors were trying to limit potentially embarrassing coverage. Wang was the top police officer in Chongqing until he was mysteriously removed last week.
Russia – The WSJ reported: The tycoons who reaped fortunes thanks to Russia’s controversial 1990s privatizations should make a one-time windfall payment to legitimize their holdings, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday. “We need to turn the page on this period,” Mr. Putin told a meeting of the country’s biggest business union. “We must establish the social legitimacy of private property, and social confidence in business.” Russia privatized huge swathes of its state assets in the 1990s in an effort to transform its crumbling Soviet-era planned economy. In the process, a handful of well-connected businessmen amassed assets worth billions of dollars. To this day, the process is widely criticized as rigged and unfair. Mr. Putin didn’t specify how the process would work or how much the payment would be. His statement, seen as one of several attempts to gather popular support ahead of March 4 elections where he will stand for president, was met with skepticism by economists and former government officials. Though Mr. Putin commands a massive lead against his opponents in the presidential race, opinion polls show him straddling the threshold of a 50% majority needed to win elections in the first round. Support for Mr. Putin has eroded in recent months amid the largest antigovernment protests since Soviet times, sparked by a December parliamentary election observers said was rigged in favor of the ruling United Russia party.
Malaysia – The (AP) reported: Malaysian police say they have detained a Saudi journalist who apparently fled his country after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter. Jiddah-based newspaper columnist Hamza Kashgari triggered an uproar in his country this month after tweeting remarks about the prophet that many considered offensive. A Malaysian federal police official said Kashgari was held on arrival at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity Friday because he was not authorized to issue public statements. Some Saudis have reportedly made death threats against Kashgari or called for him to be charged in court. Malaysian officials declined to say whether the 23-year-old would be returned to Saudi Arabia soon. Phones at the Saudi Embassy rang unanswered Friday.
Somalia – CNN reported: Somalia’s Al-Shabaab rebel movement has tightened its ties to the al Qaeda terror network, with its leader pledging loyalty to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The Islamist militants control much of southern Somalia and have long been affiliated with al Qaeda. But in an audio message posted on Al-Shabaab’s website Thursday, the Somali group’s leader, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubair, tells al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri that his followers “will march with you as loyal soldiers.” Al-Zawahiri took command of al Qaeda after U.S. commandos killed the movement’s founder, Osama bin Laden, last May. Al-Zubair addresses al-Zawahiri as “my dear commander and kind sheikh” and congratulates him “for the defeat of the crusaders in Afghanistan and Iraq.” “On behalf of the soldiers and the commanders in al-Shabaab, we pledge allegiance to you. So lead us to the path of jihad and martyrdom that was drawn by our imam, the martyr Osama.” And in a video message posted on the site, al-Zawahiri hails the move as news “that will delight the believers and annoy the crusaders.”
Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, accused NATO on Thursday of killing eight children in a coalition airstrike in eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai said in a statement that the strike took place Wednesday in the Najrab district of Kapisa Province, and that he had assigned a delegation of high-ranking officials and lawmakers to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the strike. NATO confirmed only that a team had been assigned to determine what had occurred in a “situation in Najrab district.” More information will be released when the assessment is completed, the coalition said. Civilian casualties have caused serious tensions between the United States-led military coalition and the Afghan government. Civilian deaths caused by NATO and Afghan forces dropped last year, although the number of civilians killed by airstrikes targeting insurgents rose, to 187, the United Nations said.
Syria – Reuters reported: Syrian forces unleashed new tank and rocket bombardments on opposition neighborhoods of Homs on Saturday while diplomats sought U.N. backing for an Arab plan to end 11 months of bloodshed in Syria. Activists said seven people were killed in the latest attacks in a week-long government siege of Homs, a battered city at the heart of the uprising to oust President Bashar al-Assad. “The four included a 55-year-old woman. They were killed by shelling that hit their building in Bab Amro,” a Homs opposition activist, Mohammad Hassan, told Reuters by satellite telephone. The bloodshed followed a day of violence across Syria on Friday, when bombings targeting security bases killed at least 28 people in Aleppo and rebel fighters battled troops in a Damascus suburb after dark. Assad has ignored repeated international appeals, the latest from the European Union, to halt his violent crackdown.
Argentina – The New York Times reported: Argentina lashed out at Britain on Friday in an increasingly tense territorial dispute over the Falkland Islands, accusing Britain of deploying a nuclear-armed submarine to the South Atlantic and threatening the region’s stability. Argentina’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, said at the United Nations that the deployment would violate the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and to which both Britain and Argentina are signatories. Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant, rejected Argentina’s contention that Britain was engaging in the “militarization” of the dispute, which led the two countries to war nearly 30 years ago, as “manifestly absurd,” and warned Argentina against escalating it. “Clearly, if there is an attempt to take an advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, we will obviously defend our position and defend it robustly,” he said at a news conference at the United Nations. He did not confirm or deny that Britain had sent a nuclear submarine to the region.
Russia – Forbes reported: Russia’s Communist Party won’t leave Vladimir Putin alone. More protests are scheduled for this month. Moscow city government awarded protesters a permit to march in Manezhnaya Square on Feb. 23 in the heart of the city. The country’s No. 2 party after Putin’s United Russia is still up in arms over early December Parliamentary elections, where party voters complained about fraud. The United Russia party lost more than 70 seats in the election, with the Communist Party and other smaller parties picking up the seats. The liberal Just Russia party also requested a rally on Manezh Square on that day, but will be asked to move it elsewhere, City Hall official Alexander Gorbenko told the local press on Friday. Meanwhile, the nationalistic Liberal Democrats will be allowed to bring out 2,500 of their adherents to Pushkin Square near Moscow City Hall on the same day. Another event is scheduled for Feb. 26, with protesters promising to “circle the Kremlin” in Red Square.
Pakistan – CBS NEWS reported: Pakistan has arrested two people in connection with last year’s assassination of a former Afghan president who was trying to broker peace with the Taliban, two Afghan government officials said Friday. The officials said that the two were detained in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the alleged base of the Taliban insurgency. The police chief in Quetta and the spokesman for the region’s paramilitary Frontier Corps said they had not heard of the alleged arrests. Officials with Pakistan’s foreign and interior ministries did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment. Relations with Pakistan soured after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s former president and head of the government-appointed peace council. Rabbani was killed Sept. 20, 2011, in his home in Kabul by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.
China – The Globe and Mail reported: It’s the biggest political scandal to hit China in years, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is landing in the middle of it. Bo Xilai, the charismatic and controversial Communist Party boss of Chongqing – the last stop on Mr. Harper’s five-day, three-city visit to China – was until this week seen as a rising political star, all but certain to be promoted to the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo during a once-in-a-decade transfer of power that begins this fall. Then came the disappearance of his right-hand man, the former police chief and deputy mayor of Chongqing, Wang Liqun, in a cloak-and-dagger mystery worthy of a Cold War thriller. The swirling intrigue may dash Mr. Bo’s hopes of reaching the pinnacle of power, while providing a grim reminder of the opaque and sometimes-dangerous ways power works in this authoritarian state. His whereabouts unknown, Mr. Wang is under police investigation and on what state media have called “vacation-style treatment.”
China - CBS NEWS reported: A U.S.-funded broadcaster is reporting that two Tibetan brothers on the run since taking part in anti-government protests have been shot dead in China’s Sichuan province. Radio Free Asia reported Friday that the two were shot and killed after been surrounded in Luhuo county on Thursday. The county was the site of protests on Jan. 23. Radio Free Asia cited sources in the area and in the Tibetan exile community in India. It identified the two as Yeshe Rigsal, a 40-year-old monk, and his 38-year-old brother, Yeshe Samdrub. There has been an upsurge in violence in Tibetan areas recently. The Chinese government says it is a result of criminals encouraged by outside forces. Activist Tibetan groups says repressive policies by China are the cause.