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4 February 2012
Russia – The LA Times reported: The third mass protest in Moscow in two months against Russia leader Vladimir Putin and demanding fair elections appeared to have been the largest yet. Undeterred by subzero temperatures that froze their breath and left icicles adorning many men’s mustaches and beards, tens of thousands of Russians marched through the streets of Moscow on Saturday demanding fair elections just a month before they are to go to the polls to choose a new president. Despite fear that the frigid weather and bickering among the opposition would curb the turnout, the third mass protest in two months against the rule of Russian leader Vladimir Putin appeared to have been the largest Moscow has seen in a generation. Authorities clocked the turnout at 36,000, bigger than either of the December demonstrations. Opposition leaders estimated that 120,000 demonstrators swarmed Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square, while demonstrators said they believed they numbered 50,000 to 100,000.
Syria – The Sydney Morning Herald reported: Syria’s Canberra embassy was trashed in a raid that occurred minutes before security was tightened following similar dissident attacks on Syrian embassies in Europe and the Middle East. No arrests have been made and the attackers have not been identified. The incident happened about 9.30pm yesterday when a number of men forced their way into the Syrian embassy building in the upmarket Canberra suburb of O’Malley. Canberra police received a triple-0 emergency call about 9.35pm. ACT Police said the men caused extensive damage to embassy fixtures before fleeing. Three staff members were present but were not harmed. The Canberra attack coincided with similar attacks on embassies in London, Berlin, Athens, Tripoli, Cairo and Kuwait by members of groups opposing the Syrian government and its brutal crackdown on the opposition movement.
Afghanistan – CNN reported: A United Nations report blaming a record loss of Afghan civilian lives last year on insurgents and the Taliban was dismissed as “untrue” by a Taliban spokesman Saturday. Meanwhile, a commander of the International Security Assistance Force was encouraged by the report’s findings that coalition forces were not to blame for the increased casualties, but agreed that civilian deaths must drop. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said 3,021 civilians were killed last year, up from 2,790 the prior year. In an e-mail sent to CNN, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid “strongly” disputed the U.N. mission’s report as “untrue.” “It has been 10 years since UNAMA has started blaming our Mujahideen with such numbers and untrue figures while the invading forces are using tons of explosives every day in our country, conducting raids on civilian houses and they are killing our innocent people,” Mujahid said in the e-mail.
Israel – The Washington Post reported: Capping a day of strident warnings by Israeli officials about the dangers posed by Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that the world is increasingly ready to consider a military strike against Iran if economic sanctions don’t halt Tehran’s suspect nuclear program. Earlier in the day, officials gathered at a strategy conference in this posh seaside suburb asserted that Iran has already produced enough enriched uranium to eventually build four rudimentary nuclear bombs and — in what would be an explosive new twist — was even developing missiles capable of reaching the United States.In perhaps the most startling instance of saber-rattling, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, who heads the strategic affairs ministry and is a former commander of the military, said all of Iran’s nuclear installations are vulnerable to military strikes. Yaalon appeared to contradict assessments of foreign experts and Israeli defense officials that it would be difficult to strike sensitive Iranian nuclear targets hidden dozens of yards below ground. Much of the attention focused on the heightened sanctions imposed on Iran by Europe and the United States..
Venezuela – Reuters reported: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez mounted a lavish celebration on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the failed coup that helped launch his political career, as opposition leaders slammed the event as a blemish on the country’s democracy. The discord over the elaborate military parade that lionized the 1992 putsch is a reminder the OPEC member nation remains sharply divided over his leadership in the run-up to the October 7 presidential election. “We will not give rest to our bodies nor our souls until we have freed the country from backwardness … and built socialism of the 21st century,” Chavez said, echoing an oath he took in the 1980s with other leftist military conspirators. Helicopters and Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets flew overhead, and soldiers carrying weapons marched while shouting, “February 4, socialist fatherland.” The former soldier was accompanied by allied presidents, including Cuba’s Raul Castro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. The failed coup made Chavez a household name in Venezuela, and paved the way for his 1998 election.
China – Channel News Asia dot com reported: Chinese companies and funds have ramped up investment in crisis-hit Europe, buying utilities, energy firms and even luxury yacht makers, but are steering clear of eurozone debt. Analysts say bargain-hunting — and not the secret hand of Beijing — is driving the recent wave of acquisitions as Chinese companies seek to expand overseas and the country’s sovereign wealth fund diversifies away from US bonds. Chinese direct investment in Europe more than doubled to $6.7 billion in 2010 from the previous year, latest official figures show, and analysts expect the recent flurry of deals to continue as eurozone economies deteriorate. “At a time of severe economic and financial stress in the eurozone there are inevitably some great buying opportunities for cash-rich Chinese firms,” said Alistair Thornton, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in Beijing. Chinese firms have been targeting a range of sectors, including engineering, high-tech, energy, finance and utilities, as intense domestic competition forces them to look for new markets around the world.
China – ABC NEWS via (AP) reported: Three more people have set themselves on fire to protest China’s policies toward Tibetans in a politically sensitive area that already has seen ethnic violence this year, a media report and an activist group said. The report from the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia said Sunday the three set themselves on fire Friday in Seda country in Sichuan province. It says one person died and the others are in serious condition. A woman who answered the phone at the county government office Sunday said “no such thing happened.” Like many Chinese officials, she refused to give her name. Calls to county police rang unanswered, while a man at the Ganzi prefecture public security office, which oversees the county, said he had not heard of the incident. He also refused to give his name.
5 February 2012
Syria – China – BBC Middle East Corps reported: Chinese state-run media have defended Beijing’s veto of a UN resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protesters. China’s top newspapers said the Western push for a regime change in Syria was erroneous, citing previous campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The US earlier described as a “travesty” the veto by China and Russia of the UN resolution over the weekend. In Syria, government troops have continued attacks on the city of Homs. Mortars bombs were falling steadily – about a minute apart – on Sunday, the BBC’s Paul Wood in the central Syrian city reports.
Egypt – The (AP) reported: Ignoring a U.S. threat to cut off aid, Egypt has referred 19 Americans and 24 other employees of nonprofit groups to trial before a criminal court on accusations they illegally used foreign funds to foment unrest in the country. Egypt’s military rulers had already deeply strained ties with Washington with their crackdown on U.S.-funded groups promoting democracy and human rights and accused of stirring up violence in the aftermath of the uprising a year ago that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The Sunday decision to send 43 workers from the various groups to trials marks a sharp escalation in the dispute. Egypt and the United States have been close allies for more than three decades, but the campaign against the organizations has angered Washington, and jeopardized the $1.5 billion in aid Egypt is set to receive from the U.S. this year. On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Egypt that failure to resolve the dispute may lead to the loss of American aid. The Egyptian minister, Mohammed Amr, responded Sunday by saying the government cannot interfere in the work of the judiciary.
Finland – BBC Europe Corps reported: Conservative former Finance Minister Sauli Niinisto has won presidential elections in Finland. Mr Niinisto secured 63% of the vote in Sunday’s run-off poll, easily beating his Green rival Pekka Haavisto (37%), according to official results. “This has been a very good… campaign. I’m happy about it,” Mr Niinisto said. The 63-year-old pro-European politician will take over from President Tarja Halonen in March, becoming the nation’s first conservative head since 1956. In his victory speech, he pledged to be “the president of the whole nation”.
Syria – FOX NEWS reported: Protesters attacked seven Syrian embassies around the world following reports of the bloodiest episode yet in Damascus’ nearly yearlong crackdown on dissent. Mobs trashed diplomats’ offices from London to Australia and set the embassy in Cairo on fire. Activists say Syrian forces killed more than 200 people in the city of Homs before dawn Saturday, pounding restive neighborhoods with mortars and artillery. The government denies the reports. Australian police said the mob smashed into the embassy in a diplomatic precinct of Canberra, the capital, on Saturday night, causing extensive damage to the ground floor of the two-story building. Syrian Charge d’Affaires Jawdat Ali told the Associated Press that 50 men smashed through the front door, destroyed furniture and stole computers. He said the damage bill had yet to be calculated. Ali blamed media reports of the conflict in Syria for inciting what he described as a “barbarian action” and “terrorism.”
Afghanistan – The Miami Herald reported: A car bomb exploded Sunday near police headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar, killing seven people and wounding at least 19, provincial officials said. Five Afghan police officers and two civilians, including a child, were among the dead, said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor. He said the blast occurred on a busy street where police officers and civilians park their cars. “The car with explosives was parked in this street and was detonated by remote control,” Faisal said. Daud Farhad, director of Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital, put the number of injured at 22, including six police officers. He said three of the police officers and four civilians were in a critical condition. No one claimed responsibility for the blast. President Hamid Karzai attributed it in a statement to the “enemies of the people of Afghanistan.”
Tibet – The New York Times reported: In a fresh illustration of growing turmoil among ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan Province, three livestock herders have set themselves on fire to protest what they saw as political and religious repression at the hands of the Chinese authorities, according to a Tibetan rights group and an ethnic Tibetan living in Beijing. The latest cases bring the total self-immolations by ethnic Tibetans over the past year to 19. They were also apparently the first by lay people, rather than current or former members of the clergy, suggesting that self-immolation may be gaining popularity as a form of dissent. The self-immolations took place Friday in a remote village in Seda County, once a center of Buddhist teaching, but reports did not surface until the weekend because the government had cut off Internet and telephone connections to the area, said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing. She said that one of the three men had died and that the two others, believed to be about 30 and 60 years old, were severely injured. The Chinese government has sealed off a number of counties in the region and intensified security in an attempt to curtail the largest outbreak of unrest among ethnic Tibetans since the 2008 riots in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, and elsewhere.
Libya – The New York Times reported: Hundreds of Tuareg rebels, heavily armed courtesy of Colonel Qaddafi’s extensive arsenal, have stormed towns in Mali’s northern desert in recent weeks, in one of the most significant regional shock waves to emanate directly from the colonel’s fall. After fighting for Colonel Qaddafi as he struggled to stay in power, the Tuaregs helped themselves to a considerable quantity of sophisticated weaponry before returning to Mali. When they got here, they reinvigorated a longstanding rebellion and blossomed into a major challenge for this impoverished desert nation, an important American ally against the regional Al Qaeda franchise. The Tuaregs hoisted their rebel flag in the sandy northern towns, shelled military installations, announced the “liberation” of the area and shouted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” according to local officials. Their sudden strength has deeply surprised a Malian Army accustomed to fighting wispy turbaned fighters wielding only Kalashnikov rifles.