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NEWS Distillation – Week of 12-16 MAR 2012 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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12 March 2012

AfghanistanFOX NEWS reported: Taliban militants opened fire on an Afghan government delegation visiting one of the two villages in southern Afghanistan where a U.S. soldier is suspected of killing 16 civilians. The gunfire killed an Afghan soldier who was providing security for the delegation, said Gen. Abdul Razaq, the police chief for Kandahar province where the visit took place. Another Afghan soldier and a military prosecutor were wounded in the attack, he said. The attack in Balandi village came as the Taliban vowed to kill and behead those responsible for the 16 Afghan civilians killed Sunday. The delegation, which included two of President Hamid Karzai’s brothers and other senior officials, was holding a memorial service in a mosque for victims when the shooting started. One of the president’s brothers, Qayum Karzai, said the attack didn’t seem serious to him. “We were giving them our condolences, then we heard two very, very light shots,” said Karzai. “Then we assumed that it was the national army that started to fire in the air.”

Syria – The New York Times reported: Syrian opposition activists said on Monday that soldiers and pro-government thugs had rounded up scores of civilians in the devastated central city of Homs overnight, assaulted men and women, then killed dozens of them, including children, and set some bodies on fire. Syria immediately denied responsibility. The attacks prompted a major exile opposition group to sharpen its calls for international military action and arming of the rebels. Some activists called the killings a new phase of the crackdown that appeared aimed at frightening people into fleeing Homs, an epicenter of the rebellion that the Syrian government had claimed just a few weeks ago it had already pacified after a month of shelling and shootings. The government reported the killings as well but attributed them to “terrorist armed groups,” a description it routinely uses for opponents, including armed men, army defectors and protesters in the year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: A ceasefire is in place between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza after four days of deadly clashes. The Egyptian-mediated truce took effect at 01:00 local time (23:00 GMT Monday). The recent violence “appears to be behind us,” said Israeli Cabinet Minister Matan Vilnai. At least 25 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes since Friday, reports say. Israel says 35 people were injured in Palestinian rocket attacks. Officials from Hamas, which governs Gaza, told the BBC that Israel had agreed to stop targeting leaders of militant groups in Gaza, if rocket attacks on its southern cities ceased. The number of Palestinian attacks dropped sharply after the truce went into effect overnight, and no major towns in southern Israel were targeted.

Australia – The Herald Sun of Australia reported: Australia has made a surprise appearance on a list alongside countries dubbed “enemies of the internet”. The annual report released yesterday by Reporters Without Borders classifies as “enemies” countries that severely curtail freedom of expression on and access to the web. It also draws up a list of states “under surveillance” – which included Australia. The report criticised Australia for persuading internet service providers to create a national content-filtering system, which blocks access to child pornography sites and others deemed inappropriate. The group is concerned that the government is still also pursuing a system of mandatory content-filtering with “very broad” criteria. The group this year looked at the changes to internet freedoms as a result of the Arab Spring. It added Bahrain to its enemies list, citing a news blackout and harassment of bloggers in an attempt to quell a year-long Shiite-led rebellion against the Sunni monarchy.

United Kingdom – The Boston Globe reported: In a case that challenges Britain’s definition of murder, a severely disabled man who says his life has no “privacy or dignity’’ will get a hearing on his request that a doctor be allowed to give him a lethal injection. Tony Nicklinson suffered a stroke in 2005 that left him unable to speak or move below his neck. He requires constant care and communicates largely by blinking, although his mind is unaffected. “I am fed up with my life and don’t want to spend the next 20 years or so like this,’’ he said. Nicklinson, 57, asked the High Court to declare that any doctor who kills him with his consent will not be charged with murder. On Monday, a judge said the request may proceed, making it the first right-to-die case of its kind to get a hearing in a British court. Nicklinson has refused since 2007 to take any life-prolonging drugs, including heart medication.

EgyptYnet NEWS reported: Two Israelis and a Ukrainian were sentenced to life in prison by an Egyptian court on Monday, on charges of smuggling a machinegun and ammunition across the Israeli border into Egypt. According to an Egyptian court source, the Ukrainian and one of the Israelis are in Egyptian custody, while the other defendant was tried in absentia. The Ukrainian, Eduard Bablovich, and a Kafr Kara resident identified as Muad Zahalka, were sentenced at the Ismailia Criminal Court. They were held in custody since October 2011. According to court records, Bablovich who was the manager of a tourism company in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, had ordered the weapon from one of the Israeli defendants. Egyptian authorities say Zahalka brought the weapon into Egypt at the border at Taba in a cross-shaped wooden crate.

South SudanReuters reported: Cattle raiders in South Sudan launched a major assault on a rival tribe, causing heavy loss of life, officials said on Monday, as the government began a disarmament plan to halt the tit-for-tat attacks that have torn the new nation. Members of Jonglei state’s Murle tribe attacked people from the Lou Nuer group in an area near the Ethiopian border over the weekend, South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer said. Citing reports from local officials, he said that up to 300 people may have been killed in the raids. South Sudan declared independence from Sudan in July under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war between north and south. It was a moment of euphoria for many southerners, but the young government has struggled to assert control over a territory roughly the size of France, awash with guns and hit by violence between competing tribes. Aguer said violence hit the Wanding area. “The Murle were attacking the Nuer there,” he said. “They took a large number of cattle, and many people were killed.”

BelgianMadison dot com reported: A mosque near Brussels was the target Monday evening of an arson attack in which the imam died, Belgian authorities said late Monday. One man was arrested _ a Muslim who said he was born in 1978 _ in the attack on the mosque in Anderlecht, a suburb of Brussels, the Belgian capital, said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels Prosecutor’s Office. “It seemed that this person showed up and pulled out a knife and an ax, and that he spread flammable products _ petrol we assume _ in order to start a fire and threaten the mosque occupants,” Meilleur said.

Iraq – The Boston Globe reported: Iraq is deploying an unprecedented number of security forces to protect the capital for an upcoming meeting of the Arab world’s top leaders, a top official said Monday even as insurgents proved their continued threat by killing 14 people in a handful of attacks. Citizens and lawmakers questioned whether Baghdad would be safe during the annual Arab League summit that is scheduled for the end of the month. Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government hopes the meeting will show the world that the nation has achieved stability after years of sectarian fighting that nearly plunged into civil war. But Monday’s attacks on security forces, a government office, and jewelry stores — three of Al Qaeda’s favorite targets in Iraq — showed militants’ dogged ability to undermine the nation’s stability. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Al Qaeda in Iraq has for years funded itself in part with cash and gold stolen from jewelry stores.

13 March 2012

Syria – The UK Press Association reported: The Syrian army has recaptured most of the northern rebel stronghold of Idlib near the Turkish border, pushing hundreds of military defectors out of a major base they had held for months. The three-day operation to capture the city followed closely after a similar offensive to dislodge the opposition from another key piece of territory it had controlled, the Baba Amr district in central Homs. The two victories gave President Bashar Assad’s regime unmistakable momentum as it tries to crush the armed opposition fighters. A pledge from Syria’s staunch ally Russia that Moscow will continue selling weapons to the regime was yet another boost. And a diplomatic bid by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan to broker a ceasefire and start negotiations failed over the weekend. Still, international pressure is more intense than ever, with the US considering military options.

Gaza – The Jerusalem Post reported: The Israel Air Force struck two targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Wednesday, in response to Palestinian terrorists’ violation of an informal cease-fire agreement with Israel. The fragile hours-long calm came after four days of violence in the South, with over 200 rockets fired from Gaza and 26 Palestinians killed in IAF strikes, 22 of which were terrorists. The hostilities which began on Friday when the IDF killed two Islamic Jihad terrorists that Israel charged were plotting a cross-border terror attack from Sinai. The Wednesday strikes, which registered direct hits, came in response to a Grad rocket fired into the southern town of Netivot. One man, approximately 40 years of age, was lightly injured in the attack and 11 other local residents suffered from shock. On Tuesday evening, two rockets landed in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council area, marking the first such attacks since midday. No injuries or damage were reported in the attacks.

Iran – The Boston Globe reported: Iran rejected on Tuesday allegations it attempted to clean up radioactive traces possibly left by secret nuclear work at a key military site before granting UN inspectors permission to visit the facility. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran that the allegations were misleading and false and insisted that such traces could not be cleaned up. Satellite images of Iran’s Parchin military facility that circulated last week appeared to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the location. That set off assertions by diplomats, all nuclear specialists accredited to the UN nuclear agency in Vienna, about a cleanup operation. The diplomats said the crews at Parchin may be trying to erase evidence of a test of a small nuclear weapon trigger. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information on the record. The assertions added to tensions surrounding Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which the West fears is geared toward weapons-making but Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes. Mehmanparast dismissed the diplomats’ assertions.

EgyptHaaretz reported: Well-known Egyptians are announcing plans to run for president in the June election at a dizzying pace. Yet even from his sickbed in prison, ousted President Hosni Mubarak is still having an impact on the field of candidates. Yesterday, as Egypt marked the first anniversary of Mubarak’s removal from office, scandal was brewing over the candidacy of the latest rising star in the country’s political firmament, Mansour Hassan. Hassan is largely unknown in the media, and for good reason: He has been absent from the public arena for over 30 years, after having served as minister of information and culture in Anwar Sadat’s cabinet.

South Korea – The VOA reported: Scores of human rights activists, including North Korean defectors, demonstrated Monday in front of the Chinese embassy in Seoul to urge the Chinese government to stop the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. The protesters, including South Korean parliamentarian Park Jin, want Beijing to treat the defectors as refugees – a move that would protect the North Koreans from the threat of forced repatriation. He said, “Delegations including members of the National Assembly are raising their voice about the human rights issue.” “The issue of human rights of North Korean defectors is not just a matter for Korea and China. It is a global issue,” said Park. “The international community should pay attention to this problem so that the North Korean defectors can find their freedom and come back with hope. The Korean government should do their best.”

ChinaABC NEWS via (AP) reported: Wen Jiabao, entering his final year as China’s premier, called Wednesday for structural political reforms to forestall chaos and solidify growth as the nation’s legislature approved a budget aiming to boost domestic consumption in the face of weak demand for exports. On the final day of its annual session, the legislature also approved revisions to the key criminal procedure law that at least on paper will restrict police powers to secretly detain people, a tactic increasingly used against activists and government critics. At his annual news conference following the session’s close, Wen repeated vague reform calls, saying they were needed to consolidate the achievements of three decades of economic growth and prevent a repeat of the mass disorder that rocked China during the violent 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

Kyrgyzstan – The New York Times reported: One of Kyrgyzstan’s top defense officials told Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Tuesday that a crucial United States air base here should have “no military mission” when its lease expires a little more than two years from now. The request creates a potential hurdle to American plans to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. The base, officially called a transit center, is at the Manas airport close to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, and has been a vital hub for troops and matériel moving in and out of Afghanistan. It is the only such base that American forces have in Central Asia. The comments by the Kyrgyz official — Busurmankul Tabaldiev, the secretary of the country’s defense council — echo those of Kyrgyzstan’s new president, Almazbek Atambayev. In one of his first statements after his election on Oct. 30, Mr. Atambayev said he would seek to close the base when the lease runs out in July 2014.

FranceUSA Today reported: Bahrain and Belarus have joined the rogues gallery of a dozen nations considered “enemies of the Internet” that restrict access, filter content and jail bloggers, Reporters Without Borders has announced. The list of “countries under surveillance” because of increasing restrictions gained two and lost two, the BBC says. In: India and Kazakhstan. Out: Libya and Venezuela. The other 10 members of the annual enemies list are Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. RWB writes that they “combine often drastic content filtering with access restrictions, tracking of cyber-dissidents and online propaganda. Iran and China, in particular, reinforced their technical capacity in 2011 and China stepped up pressure on privately-owned Internet companies in order to secure their collaboration.”

Syria – The Jerusalem Post reported: Syria marks the first anniversary on Thursday of an increasingly bloody uprising against President Bashar Assad, with recent army gains unlikely to quell the revolt and no diplomatic solution in sight. Troops loyal to Assad have pummeled rebel strongholds across Syria this week, deploying tanks and heavy artillery to crush opponents in a string of cities and villages, including Deraa in the far south where the rebellion took hold last March. Amid dire warnings that Syria is set to sink into a protracted civil war, the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has demanded further clarifications from Damascus over its response to proposals aimed at ending the violence.

14 March 2012

China – The BBC China Corps reported: One of China’s most prominent politicians, Bo Xilai, has been removed as Communist Party boss in the city of Chongqing following a scandal. The 62-year-old was a strong contender for promotion to China’s top leadership in party changes due later this year. However, a scandal erupted when his former chief of police spent a day at a United States consulate last month. The flamboyant Bo Xilai is the nearest thing China has to a Western-style politician, correspondents say.

Iran – The New York Times reported: Lawmakers in Iran subjected the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to an unprecedented interrogation on Wednesday, questioning his economic policies, cabinet appointments and tense relationship with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a publicly broadcast parliamentary session that seemed intended to humiliate the president in the final few years of his tenure. The hourlong interrogation, carried live on Iran state radio, was the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that an Iranian president had been required to appear before lawmakers to answer their questions. The session itself seemed to reflect the emboldened position of Ayatollah Khamenei in a power struggle with Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former ally, who has irritated the supreme leader and alienated many members of the overwhelmingly conservative Parliament in recent years. Although Mr. Ahmadinejad is also a conservative and shares their antipathy toward the West and many Western values, some of his actions have challenged the Islamic religious hierarchy’s pre-eminence.

IndiaBloomberg NEWS reported: India has failed to reduce its purchases of Iranian oil, and if it doesn’t do so, President Barack Obama may be forced to impose sanctions on one of Asia’s most important nations, Obama administration officials said yesterday. A decision to levy penalties under a new U.S. law restricting payments for Iranian oil could come as early as June 28, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Given the level of trade, and in particular oil, between Iran and India, targeting an Indian entity that facilitates Iran’s access to the international financial market should be top of mind for the U.S. Treasury,” Avi Jorisch, a former Treasury Department official who is now a Washington-based consultant on deterring illicit finance, said in an interview. The U.S. law, which targets oil payments made through Iran’s central bank, applies to any country that doesn’t make a “significant” reduction in its Iranian crude oil purchases during the first half of this year. If India fails to cut Iranian imports sufficiently, Obama may be compelled to bar access to the U.S. banking system for any Indian bank processing oil payments through Iran’s central bank, the U.S. officials said.

Nigeria – The New York Times reported: A Briton and an Italian who had been abducted by Islamist militants were executed before they could be rescued by Nigerian troops and Royal Marines, Nigerian officials said on Wednesday. Nigeria’s secretive State Security Service also said that the mastermind of the kidnapping, by members of the sect Boko Haram, died after being shot during his capture. The statement comes nearly a week after a failed rescue operation March 8 in Nigeria’s northwest city of Sokoto. It also appears to try to absolve the Nigerian authorities, who have been unable to stop the violence surging across Nigeria’s Muslim north, of any responsibility in the deaths of Christopher McManus, 28, and Franco Lamolinara, 48, who were abducted last May.

Pakistan – The LA Times reported: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China won’t help finance the natural gas pipeline to Pakistan, apparently because of U.S. sanctions on Iran. China’slargest bank has backed out of a deal to finance a proposed Iran-to-Pakistan gas pipeline that is opposed by the United States, a potential sign of the lengthening reach of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. Pakistani officials confirmed Wednesday that Industrial and Commercial Bank of China had withdrawn from plans to head a consortium that would finance the $1.6-billion Pakistani portion of the cross-border pipeline, apparently over concern that the bank could be excluded from the U.S. economy.

Azerbaijan – The Times of India reported: Azerbaijan has arrested 22 people on suspicion of plotting attacks on the US and Israeli embassies in Baku on behalf of neighbouring Iran, the national security ministry said on Wednesday. The arrests come two months after two men were arrested in Azerbaijan, Iran’s northern neighbour, on suspicion of plotting to attack foreigners , including the Israeli ambassador and a rabbi, and after bomb plots in India, Thailand and Georgia that Israel blamed on Tehran. “Twenty-two citizens of Azerbaijan have been arrested by the national security ministry for cooperating with the Iranian Sepah,” its statement said, referring to the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards. “On orders of the Sepah they were to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states’ embassies and the embassies’ employees,” it said.

FranceBloomberg Businessweek reported: France’s presidential campaign has turned into a race to tax the most. On Feb. 27, Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande said he plans a 75 percent levy on income over 1 million euros ($1.31 million) on top of his pledge to raise the wealth tax and eliminate exemptions for overtime work. President Nicolas Sarkozy followed with a proposed tax on the worldwide revenue of large French companies and this week a levy on fiscal exiles. Both candidates want to impose a fee on financial transactions. Unlike in the U.S., where higher levies are a vote-killer, in France, such increases win support in the polls, more so after the European debt crisis cooled economic growth, raised jobless claims to a 12-year high and the unemployment rate to about 10 percent. An Ifop poll this month showed that 61 percent of the French are in favor of Hollande’s millionaire tax. “A U.S. election campaign is all about who promises to cut taxes while here it’s about who will tax more,” Maurice Levy, chief executive officer of advertising company Publicis SA, said March 13 at a business conference in Paris.

15 March 2012

North KoreaCNN reported: North Korea plans to launch an “earth observation” satellite using a carrier rocket in April, the country’s official news agency said Friday, a move that would potentially violate U.N. Security Council demands. The announcement could also threaten a deal struck last month with the United States in which Pyongyang agreed to halt nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and enrichment activities in exchange for U.S. food aid. Previous satellite launches by the reclusive North Korean regime have been widely viewed as ballistic missile test launches in disguise. The last time Pyongyang carried out what it described as a satellite launch, in April 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned the action, saying it breached a resolution forbidding North Korea from conducting “missile-related activities.” The Security Council demanded that North Korea not conduct any further launches.

 Syria – The New York Times reported: It was a struggle to reach Ummayad Square in Damascus, where many thousands of Syrians had gathered on Thursday to cheer President Bashar al-Assad. The city had come to a near-standstill for what the government billed as a “Global March for Syria” — a celebration, went the official narrative, of steadfastness in the face of a foreign-inspired conspiracy that had fueled a year of senseless violence. In the square, men flashed victory signs. Flags whipped in the wind: the black, white and red Syrian tricolor alongside the banners of Russia, China and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, some of Mr. Assad’s most stalwart supporters. In the crowd, a 25-year-old man, the son of an army officer, explained why he had come: “To show to the world that President Assad is our leader forever.” Carrying a portrait of Mr. Assad, he said, “The best solution is to give the army and security bodies a free hand to finish all these armed gangs and groups, who cover themselves with democracy and freedom slogans.”

China – The BBC China Corps reported: News of the sacking of top Chinese politician Bo Xilai attracted much attention, but received varying treatment from different Chinese newspapers on Friday. Both the domestic and overseas editions of People’s Daily have only put up the one-line announcement from Xinhua News Agency on the front page. China Daily carries a more detailed report from Xinhua, which says the decision was announced by Li Yuanchao, head of the Organisation Department of the CPC Central Committee, at a meeting of officials in Chongqing on Thursday. It also reports that Beijing has decided to remove Mr Bo’s former deputy Wang Lijun, who was at the centre of a scandal involving a visit to the US consulate in Chengdu.

Afghanistan – The Times of India reported: The Taliban broke off talks with the US, and President Hamid Karzai said NATO should pull out of rural areas and speed up the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces nationwide in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians. Thursday’s moves represent new setbacks to America’s strategy for ending the 10-year-old war at a time when support for the conflict is plummeting. Part of the US exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it’s unclear that there has been any progress since January. Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the apparent call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces to take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, in what appeared to be a move to push the US toward an earlier drawdown.

Russia – The New York Times reported: Two leaders of Moscow’s street protest movement and the husband of another were convicted in three separate judicial hearings on Thursday, increasing fears that something resembling a campaign of reprisals had begun. Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption activist who is among the most prominent members of the opposition movement, was fined 1,000 rubles, about $34, for remaining at the location of a rally for longer than a city-issued permit had allowed. Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of a marginal political movement called Left Front, was sentenced to 10 days in jail for organizing an unsanctioned march after a protest on March 10. Outside the courtroom, Mr. Navalny said Moscow courts were rubber-stamping official decisions to persecute protest organizers. “They are all cases related to mass protests,” he said. The most severe sentence on Thursday went to Aleksei Kozlov, the husband of Olga Romanova, one of the organizers of the street rallies. He was convicted in a regional court on economic fraud charges — not related to the protests — and sentenced him to five years in a penal colony.

Gaza – The Jerusalem Post reported: Palestinians fired four rockets from Gaza into the South on Thursday night, interrupting hours of relative calm. One rocket was fired into the Ashkelon Coast Council area, and one into the Eshkol Regional Council area. Both projectiles fell in open areas. The Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted one Grad rocket that was fired from Gaza toward the Ashdod area, and another fell in an open area. No injuries or damages were reported. Palestinian sources reported shortly after, that IAF helicopters fired at an area in the northwestern Gaza Strip, and that Navy warships fired missiles at the coast of Gaza. No casualties were reported and there was no confirmation of an attack by the IDF. On Thursday morning, two rockets were launched from Gaza into southern Israel, casting further doubt on reports that a ‘ceasefire’ was being observed by jihadi Gazan organizations. In the morning, a Grad rocket fired from Gaza exploded close to a school outside Ofakim in the Sdot Negev Regional Council. The rocket failed to cause injuries, but sparked panic among parents, who quickly arrived to remove their children from the school. The school had been open after the city of Netivot decided to follow Home Front Command instructions and allow schools in the town to remain open.

Argentina – The BBC reported: The UK has hit back at Argentina’s threats of court action over Falkland Islands oil exploration, calling its behaviour “illegal intimidation”. Foreign minister Hector Timmerman had threatened legal action against firms drilling off the UK territory, over which Argentina claims sovereignty. But the UK Foreign Office said it was a legitimate commercial venture. Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would “continue to protect and defend” the islands. In threatening legal action against oil prospectors, Mr Timmerman had told reporters: “The gas and oil that is found in the South Atlantic belongs to the Argentinian people. “All these companies are entering illegal territory.”

 Ethiopia – The New York Times reported: Ethiopian forces have stormed into Eritrea, the Ethiopian government announced on Thursday, attacking several militant bases and stirring new tensions between the two archrivals. The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments used to be allies and comrades in arms, but later fell out bitterly over a number of issues, including a seemingly insignificant frontier town that set off an intense border war in the late 1990s. The Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains one of the most heavily armed and combustible in the world, with tens of thousands of troops on each side, so any cross-border incursion is considered serious. On Thursday, the Ethiopian government said that its ground forces had advanced 10 miles into Eritrea to wipe out bases used by militants who it contends have attacked Ethiopian targets and are given sanctuary by Eritrea. “The Eritrea government has continued launching attacks at Ethiopia through its proxy groups,” said an Ethiopian government spokesman, Shimeles Kemal.

Cuba – The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported: Cuban police evicted 13 dissidents from a church they had been occupying for two days demanding that Pope Benedict XVI air a list of grievances during his upcoming trip to the island, a Roman Catholic Church spokesman said. The protesters were removed from the Church of Charity in densely packed Central Havana late Thursday at the request of the city’s cardinal, church spokesman Orlando Marquez said in a statement. “Cardinal Jaime Ortega addressed the competent authorities to invite the occupiers to abandon the sanctuary,” the statement said. The dissidents were removed without resistance, it added. “The agents who carried out the operation had assured the Church they would be unarmed, that they would initially take the 13 persons to a police station and then to their homes. It also said they would be processed,” Marquez said.

16 March 2012

Syria – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: At least 27 people have been killed and 97 wounded in two explosions in the Syrian capital Damascus, officials say. State TV described the blasts as “terrorist” attacks. Preliminary reports suggested vehicles packed with explosives had been detonated, it said. It said intelligence and police buildings were hit and the cause was not known. Details of the reports cannot be independently verified. Foreign journalists only have very restricted access to Syria. Dozens of people have been killed in bomb attacks in Damascus and the second city Aleppo in recent months, which the government also blamed on terrorists. The opposition has accused the authorities of staging some of those incidents.

North Korea – The Boston Globe reported: North Korea plans to launch a satellite into space next month to mark the centenary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung, which the United States quickly called a “deal-breaker’’ for a new agreement where the United States would exchange food aid for nuclear concessions. After Friday’s surprise announcement, the United States warned it would not send food aid to North Korea if it goes ahead with the long-range rocket launch, and UN Security Council members said it may violate sanctions. The North agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile tests as part of the food deal with Washington, but argues that satellite launches are part of a peaceful space program that is exempt from international disarmament obligations. The United States, South Korea, and other critics say the rocket technology overlaps with belligerent uses and condemn the satellite program as a disguised test of military missiles. The launch is to take place three years after a similar launch in April 2009 drew widespread censure.

IndiaABC NEWS reported: Indian police say a bomb attack that wounded an Israeli diplomat’s wife in New Delhi last month is connected to a suspected plot to attack Israeli targets in Bangkok that was blamed on a group of Iranians. Israel has accused Iran of orchestrating those plots as well as a failed bombing in the former Soviet republic of Georgia that also targeted an Israeli diplomat. Iran has denied any involvement. Indian authorities had previously declined to implicate Iran in the Feb. 13 attack in New Delhi that wounded the diplomat’s wife and three others with a bomb attached to her car by a magnet. However, they said the investigation is increasingly centering on Iranians and people with ties to Iran. Last week, police arrested an Indian freelance journalist who reportedly worked for Iranian news organizations. Earlier this week, they issued arrest warrants for three Iranian men who had left the country.

AfghanistanReuters reported: A NATO helicopter crashed into a house on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Friday, killing 12 Turkish soldiers on board and four Afghan civilians on the ground, Turkey’s military and a senior Afghan police official said. The crash came amid growing unease among NATO partner countries about the increasingly unpopular and costly war nearly 11 years into the conflict as most foreign combat troops set to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. “Twelve of our military personnel on board the helicopter have been martyred,” the Turkish general staff said in a statement in Ankara. A team had been sent to the scene to investigate, it said. Wreckage as well as corpses and body parts littered the site. Relief workers and Turkish soldiers covered bodies with red and purple blankets on a ground in front of a smoking hole in a two-storey house. Two women and two children were among those killed when the helicopter crashed into the house, an Afghan police officer said. The officer said the cause of the crash appeared to be a technical fault. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said earlier that the cause of the crash was still unknown but that there had been no reports of insurgent action in the area. Turkey’s foreign minister also said the cause was apparently a technical fault.


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