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NEWS Distillation – Week of 19-23 MAR 2012 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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19 March 2012

FranceMSNBC NEWS reported: The gunman who fatally shot three children a young rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France on Monday remains at large after fleeing the scene on a moped through the city’s backstreets. The killer has been described by French media as the “most wanted man in France,” since President Nicolas Sarkozy said the bullets from a .45-caliber pistol he used matched one that was used in two previous fatal attacks in the last two weeks. “This act is horrific and cannot remain unpunished,” Sarkozy said in a televised address, adding that the terrorism alert level in France had been raised to its highest level ever. Sarkozy flew to Toulouse. The killer was described as a short, overweight man who behaved calmly and appeared to handle his weapons with ease. He wears a helmet and rides the same stolen scooter. His victims have been ethnic minorities — Jewish, North African or Jewish — witnesses have said that in one of the attacks, the killer pushed aside a bystander to get to his victims, the BBC reported.

North Korea – The BBC Asia Corps reported: North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator has confirmed UN nuclear inspectors have been invited to the country for the first time in three years. Ri Yong-ho said the aim of the move was to implement a deal with the US. The North last month agreed to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests in return for food aid. It also agreed to allow UN inspectors in, the US said. The invitation comes three months after Kim Jong-un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il. But North Korea’s pledge to co-operate with the international community was thrown into doubt last week, when Pyongyang announced plans to launch what it called a rocket-mounted satellite. The North said the launch – between 12 and 16 April – would mark the 100th birthday of its late Great Leader Kim Il-sung. Any launch would be seen as violating UN Security Council resolutions, and the US has described the plans as “highly provocative”.

Greece – The New York Times reported: Greece’s finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, formally assumed the leadership of the beleaguered Socialist Party on Monday, saying he would strive to put the country back on the path to economic recovery and restore the faith of austerity-weary citizens. “We must rebuild our country, we must provide citizens with the certainty that they will not go through what they have been through again, that the same mistakes will not be made,” Mr. Venizelos said after a meeting with George A. Papandreou, the former prime minister and departing chief of the party, which is known as Pasok. Mr. Venizelos, 55, who resigned as finance minister earlier in the day, defended Greece’s place in Europe — a region he described as “colorless, conservative and slow to react” — but added that “only within the context of Europe can Greece find the framework to make progress.”

ChinaBloomberg Businessweek reported: Bo Xilai’s ouster last week as head of Chongqing is a signal that China will increase the role of private businesses in the economy and scale back state capitalism, said Zhang Xin, Chief Executive Officer of Soho China Ltd. (410) Zhang, whose company is the biggest property developer in Beijing’s central business district, said yesterday on the Charlie Rose show that Bo’s ouster and comments made last week by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about continuing economic opening are signals that the model focusing on state-directed bank lending and state-owned companies will fade. “I think that was quite a worry for a number of years but by now it seems to be cleared,” Zhang said, according to a transcript of the interview. In Chongqing, where Bo served as the top official until his removal was announced on March 15, he emphasized state-led projects and lending by state-owned banks to help spur economic development and reduce the wealth gap between rich and poor. Chongqing led the other three municipalities directly under the central government — Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin — in per- capita economic output after Bo took the helm in 2007.

Russia – The Washington Post reported: Russia said Monday that Syria’s government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors. The call from Russia, an important ally of Syria’s, came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand. Russia had previously backed the ICRC’s call for a cease-fire, but Monday’s statement from the Foreign Ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria. The statement followed Moscow’s talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

IndonesiaReuters reported: Indonesian police shot dead five suspected militants planning attacks on the resort island of Bali, including an assault on a night club popular with foreign tourists, the national counter-terrorism agency and police said on Monday. The five men, who were shot dead in overnight raids on the island, were linked to the banned Jemaah Islamiah group, which carried out nightclub bombings on Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, most of them Australian tourists, officials said. The 2002 attacks were a watershed for Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, forcing the secular state to confront the presence of violent militants on its soil. Bali, which is majority Hindu, is a global tourist destination.

ZimbabweCNN reported: Sentencing has been delayed for six Zimbabweans convicted of conspiracy to commit public violence after they were caught watching footage of Arab Spring protests. They face six to 10 years in prison or a $2,000 fine. Their attorney argued for lighter sentences Tuesday, but there was no word yet on when the judge would return with a decision. The Zimbabweans were among 46 people arrested on February 19, 2011, during an academic meeting in which a video was shown about events in Tunisia and Egypt. Some said they were dismayed at the verdict. “I am very disappointed that they were found guilty,” defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama said shortly after hearing the verdict Monday.

20 March 2012

No reports recorded.

21 March 2012

MexicoReuters reported: Dozens of families cleared rubble from their destroyed homes in southwestern Mexico on Wednesday following a major 7.4-magnitude earthquake that caused landslides, knocked down school walls and cracked a church tower. At least 100 houses collapsed and 1,000 were damaged near the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake in the municipality of Ometepec in Guerrero state, said Jorge Catalan, an official from the Ministry of Social Development. No one was killed, but many residents, terrified by repeated aftershocks, spent the night outside and officials said they were preparing shelters and food for those who lost their homes. Eleven people were injured in the tremor, the strongest to hit the country since the devastating 8.1-magnitude quake of 1985 that killed thousands in Mexico City.

Mali – The BBC reported: Troops in Mali have attacked the presidential palace in the capital Bamako hours after staging a mutiny. The renegade troops traded gunfire with soldiers loyal to the government. The mutineers say the government is not giving them enough arms to battle a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs. There has been heavy gunfire in Bamako and armoured vehicles have moved in to protect the presidential palace.

SyriaReuters reported: More than 40 people died in clashes across Syria on Thursday, opposition activists said, as a U.N. Security Council call for an immediate end to the fighting fell on deaf ears. In the worst incident 10 civilians, including three children and two women, died when their small bus was shot up in the northern town of Sermeen as they tried to flee to Turkey, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. The SOHR, which depends on a network of local contacts for its information, said it was not clear who was behind the killings. Other activists blamed the Syrian army, which has been trying to stamp out insurgents in the area. Dozens of civilians were killed in other parts of the northern province of Idlib, in Homs, Hama and Deraa in the south of the country, it said. Five rebel gunmen and seven soldiers were killed in clashes in Homs province, it added. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday’s unanimous Council statement had sent a clear message to Syria to end all violence, but Damascus appeared to dismiss the document, which is not legally binding.

Somalia – The Boston Globe reported: A British tourist seized by Somali raiders from a secluded resort on the Kenyan coast more than six months ago in an attack that claimed her husband’s life was set free by her captors Wednesday, ending a gripping drama that had helped fuel Kenya’s rationale for invading southern Somalia. Judith Tebbutt, 56, praised the efforts of her son, Oliver, in getting her released in an interview with Britain’s ITV News, which was broadcast hours after British officials confirmed that she had been set free, apparently unharmed. “I’m looking forward to seeing my son, who successfully secured my release,’’ she said. “I don’t know how he did it, but he did.’’ Tebbutt was shown wearing a purple headscarf in a blue-walled room with what appeared to be a clothes stand in the background. The precise location of the interview in Somalia was not disclosed. British officials declined to go into detail about the circumstances of her release.

Russia – The Financial Times reported: Once Vladimir Putin is back as Russia’s president in May, he will again face pressure for change. But with the street demonstrations that began in December now showing signs of ebbing, those could be the least of his worries in the six-year term that is to come. Instead, it is a tectonic shift in the economy that may preoccupy him. According to analysts, growing imports will gradually outpace exports of oil and gas; the oil-fuelled trade surpluses that have buttressed his leadership for more than a decade could vanish. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. That would be dramatic, given that the surpluses totalled $785bn between 2000 and 2011, an amount equivalent to well over 40 per cent of last year’s gross domestic product. During those 11 years, oil prices quadrupled, budget expenditure rose nine times in real terms and real wages almost trebled. But unless oil prices nearly double again, which most economists say is unlikely as it would tip the global economy deep into recession, this era of easy money that has buoyed incomes and social spending will be finite. “Halfway through Putin’s term the economy may hit the wall,” says Ivan Tchakarov of Renaissance Capital, a Moscow investment bank.

Libya – The New York Times reported: Libya’s interim authorities escalated their face-off against the International Criminal Court on Wednesday over custody of the most significant confidants to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi taken prisoner since his ouster and death: his son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi and his brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi. The battle over the men’s fate is an early test of the former rebels’ commitment to the rule of the law. In both cases, the new Libyan authorities have made statements about the legal status of the captives in direct contradiction to the views of the court, which the rebels had lauded as an invaluable ally after it issued indictments charging Colonel Qaddafi, Mr. Qaddafi and Mr. Senussi with war crimes committed in their attempt to crush an uprising. Human rights groups and some members of the Libyan government acknowledge that Libya still lacks effective police, prosecutors, courts and prisons, as well as the wherewithal to protect judges, lawyers or witnesses from potential retribution by armed militias. But the interim authorities say they are determined to try both defendants at home because of the secrets they might reveal about the actions and assets of the former government.

SyriaTime Magazine reported: The “extremely dangerous” conflict in Syria could have global repercussions, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday as fresh violence erupted and an al-Qaida-inspired group claimed responsibility for two recent suicide bombings in the capital. The uprising that began a year ago has transformed into an armed insurgency that is pushing the country toward civil war. Because of Syria’s close alliances with Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, there are deep concerns that the violence could spread beyond its borders, especially if other nations arm the rebels or send in their own troops. “We do not know how events will unfold,” Ban said during a speech in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. “But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous crisis … that has potentially massive repercussions for the region and the world.” The rebel Free Syrian Army, which includes thousands of army defectors, is the most potent armed group challenging the regime, but it is outgunned and disorganized.

EgyptBloomberg Businessweek reported: An International Monetary Fund team was due to leave Cairo Wednesday without securing an agreement over a $3.2 billion loan to help boost the nation’s battered economy. Holding up the deal was political wrangling between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the government, an arm of the ruling military. Economists say Egypt needs to sign the loan agreement within six months to shore up confidence in an economy hit hard by the effects of political unrest following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year. The IMF has made broad political consensus a condition for the loan, but both the country’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the second most powerful party, Al-Nour, said Wednesday they will not support accepting the loan as long as the government’s plan remains vague.

22 March 2012

FranceBloomberg Businessweek reported: France’s president has proposed a sweeping new law to criminalize visits to extremist web sites, one of several measures floated in the wake of a murderous shooting spree by an Islamist extremist. The proposed rules were announced unexpectedly by President Nicolas Sarkozy in a televised address Thursday after authorities said the suspected gunman, Mohamed Merah, had been shot dead in a dramatic police raid. Merah’s rampage, the deadliest in years, has refocused attention on the threat of Islamist extremism. Sarkozy says France cannot tolerate terrorist recruitment or indoctrination on its soil. But his plan to prosecute repeat visitors to extremist website has alarmed journalists and legal experts, who say it risks criminalizing curiosity.

 Mali – The Telegraph UK reported: International condemnation of a coup by Malian soldiers is mounting after rebel troops seized key buildings in the capital and drove the president from his official residence. The soldiers – who call themselves the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy – said they had acted because of the government’s “inability” to put down a Tuareg-led insurrection in the north. President Amadou Toumani Toure was initially holed up in the presidential palace as shots were traded outside, but managed to flee the premises. A military source said he had since moved to a military camp with loyal members of an elite paratrooper unit. As sporadic gunfire rang out in the capital Thursday, Western powers and the African Union condemned the mutiny, Mali’s first coup in 21 years.

Syria – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: EU foreign ministers have imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on the British-born wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other family members. Asma al-Assad is among 12 people added to the sanctions list, which already includes her husband. The ban cannot stop her from travelling to the UK, British officials say. Anti-government activists accuse the regime of killing thousands of protesters over the past year. In recent weeks, the Damascus government has stepped up its efforts to crush pockets of rebellion in cities including Homs and Hama. Every day, activists report dozens of deaths and more protests.

North KoreaUSA Today reported: Though North Korea’s nuclear program isn’t on the official agenda of next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, President Obama’s concerns about the hermetic regime will loom large in conversations on the sidelines of formal talks. Obama will arrive in Seoul on Sunday, a day before the summit, a little more than a week after North Korea announced it would launch a rocket to put a satellite into orbit next month to mark the 100th birthday of the late Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding president. The announcement by the regime drew international condemnation. The Obama administration saw the action as a curious move after it had struck a deal with Pyongyang last month for North Korea to suspend long-range missile tests and uranium enrichment and allow United Nations nuclear inspectors to enter the country. In turn, the United States pledged to send 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea.

 Israel – The RT NEWS Service reported: Israel has reacted furiously to the UN Human Rights Council’s vote to send a team to probe Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. The council has urged Tel Aviv to reverse its policy in the region. On Thursday, the 47-member council adopted a resolution condemning Israel’s announcements of new settlement homes and ordering an investigation into the effects of the Israeli settlements on the human rights of Palestinians. It was passed with 36 votes in favor, 10 abstentions and only one – the US – against. “This resolution seeks to respond to the humanitarian and human rights challenges this illegal Israeli practice has created in the occupied territories,” said the Pakistani envoy presenting it. The UN Human Rights Council resolution calls on Israel to “take and implement serious measures” such as confiscating arms to prevent acts of violence by Israeli settlers. The council, which met in Geneva, also passed four other resolutions critical of Israel.

China – The New York Times reported: Like many children of Tibetan nomads, Tsering Kyi started school relatively late, at age 10, but by all accounts she made up for lost time by studying with zeal. “Even when she was out at pasture with her parents’ flock, there was always a book in her hand,” a cousin said. That passion for learning apparently turned to despair this month when the Maqu County Tibetan Middle School, in Gansu Province near Tibet, switched to Chinese from Tibetan as the language of instruction. The policy shift has incited protests across the high-altitude steppe that is home to five million Tibetans and a far greater number of ethnic Han Chinese.

China – The VOA reported: Chinese political analysts are weighing the implications of the public fall of ambitious political leader Bo Xilai, who was recently dismissed as Communist Party chief in China’s sprawling southwestern megacity, Chongqing. Much of the attention is focused on a confidential report that appears to provide new details of Bo’s undoing. It says the central government decided to fire Bo after he interfered with a corruption investigation targeting his family and demoted one of his closest aides without first securing approval through normal Communist Party channels. Circulated among high-ranking party members last Friday, the report was leaked on the Internet and confirmed with party sources by foreign media. It sheds light on one of the biggest public scandals to hit the world of Chinese politics. The document confirms widespread speculation that Bo’s police chief and trusted aide, Wang Lijun, visited the U.S. consulate in Chengdu last month to seek asylum.

Yemen – The New York Times reported: Naval vessels shelled positions said to be held by militants of Al Qaeda around Zinjibar in the southern province of Abyan, killing 29, military and security officials said Thursday. The officials also said militants killed a senior security officer who was kidnapped on Wednesday in a southeastern province. The body of the officer, Lt. Col. Farag Said Ben Qahtan, was found after a clash between the kidnappers and security forces trying to rescue him.

AfghanistanReuters reported: The Taliban’s suspension of preliminary peace talks is a tactical move reflecting internal tensions, U.S. officials believe, rather than a definitive halt to discussions the White House hopes will bring a peaceful end to the war in Afghanistan. U.S. officials had been bracing themselves for backlash from the militant group following a string of public setbacks that have scandalized and angered Afghans, notably U.S. soldiers’ burning of copies of the Koran and the killing of 16 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier is in custody. Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials described their assessment of the Taliban’s announcement last week suspending participation in initial peace discussions, which have become the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy for holding Afghanistan together when NATO forces withdraw. “Dialogue with the Taliban was never going to be easy,” one U.S. official said. “In these sorts of discussions there is nothing unusual about one side stepping away to make a point.” “Deep breaths, and not hyperventilation, are required here,” another official said.

AustraliaFOX NEWS reported: Australia’s most wanted man was captured deep in a remote bushland area in the early hours of Thursday after almost seven years on the run. Malcolm Naden, 38, had been tracked to a mostly inaccessible area of dense wilderness, approximately 180 miles north of Sydney, after a confrontation with police last December, during which an officer was shot and wounded. Heavily armed police have combed the area ever since in a multi-million dollar search. It is believed the “master bushman” may have been hiding out in the area for years, living off the land and stealing provisions from local houses.

23 March 2012

Mexico – The LA Times reported: Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Mexico on Friday, urging this nation’s Catholics to resist the temptations of violent drug traffickers and calling for change in Cuba. This is Benedict’s first voyage to the Spanish-speaking Americas; after three days in Mexico, he continues to Cuba, the first papal visit to the island nation since John Paul II’s historic trip to Havana in 1998. Landing on a sun-drenched afternoon in Mexico’s conservative and traditionally Catholic midsection, Benedict was greeted by President Felipe Calderon. Adding to the festivities were a mariachi band and thousands of mostly youthful pilgrims, as well as entire families, from various Mexican states and as far away as California, who lined the 20-mile stretch that the “pope mobile” traveled to carry the pontiff into the heart of this city.

Syria – The (AP) reported: As Syria’s bloodshed deepens, the British-born first lady has become an object of contempt for many, a Marie Antoinette figure who shopped online for crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin stilettos while her country burned. The European Union slapped sanctions Friday on Asma Assad, the 36-year-old wife of the president who for the past decade offered a veneer of respectability to one of the world’s most opaque and ruthless dictatorships. The Syrian government’s ferocious crackdown on a year-old uprising has shattered the image of her as a glamorous, reform-minded woman who could help bring progressive values to a country that has been ruled by the Assad family dynasty for more than 40 years. The European action — the latest punishment imposed by world leaders on Syria for its crackdown — bans her from traveling to EU countries and freezing any assets she may have there.

Israel – The New York Times reported: Israeli officials on Friday rejected any prospect of cooperation with an inquiry called for a day earlier by the United Nations Human Rights Council into how Israeli settlements affect the rights of Palestinians. Israeli officials here called the council resolution seeking the inquiry a new source of friction between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, but the Western-backed Palestinian Authority welcomed it. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are members of the council. The measure was adopted with 36 votes in favor, 10 abstentions, and a sole no vote by the United States. “Israel has no intention to cooperate,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, which has a long history of discord with the council in Geneva. “We do not want to legitimize what is illegitimate.”

ChinaMSNBC reported: It’s illegal for Tibetans to protest, and yet demonstrations against Chinese rule have taken place almost daily for the past two months. Several monks have set themselves alight, illustrating the desperation of Tibetans resisting Chinese rule. The spate of self-immolations in the Tibetan-dominated areas of China that have occurred over the past year is “extreme” and hurts social harmony, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said recently. Wen’s comments, at a news conference at the end of the annual meeting of parliament, come after around 26 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, mostly in southwestern China, to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet. At least 19 have died, according to Tibetan rights groups. Activists say China violently stamps out religious freedom and culture in Tibet, which has been under Chinese control since 1950. China rejects criticism that it is eroding Tibetan culture and faith, saying its rule has ended serfdom and brought development to a backward region.

Israel – The RT NEWS Service reported: As Washington and Tel-Aviv continue to debate the possibility of a preventive attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, there are some indications that Israel may strike in as soon as three months. Defense minister, Ehud Barak, says that if Israel plans to attack Iran it should act quickly, DEBKA-NET-Weekly’s sources say. Barak spoke of a three-month deadline for Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Meanwhile former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has said that Israel will know when Iran moves to the stage of nuclear weapon production, such as enriching uranium to a degree of 90 per cent, the Haaretz newspaper reports. However, speaking at an event in Haifa on Wednesday, Dagan said that Israel must not attack Iran for the time being, and that a preventive strike should be the last resort. He said the Israeli Air Force has the capability to significantly damage Iran’s nuclear facilities but admitted that such an attack would have serious repercussions. He warned that hundreds of missiles would be launched at Israel as well as strikes from Gaza and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Egypt – The New York Times reported: As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state. Officials of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist movement, are pressing its militant Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which controls Gaza, to make new compromises with Fatah, the Western-backed Palestinian leadership that has committed to peace with Israel and runs the West Bank. The intervention in the Palestinian issue is the clearest indication yet that as it moves into a position of authority, the Brotherhood, the largest vote getter in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, intends to both moderate its positions on foreign policy and reconfigure Egypt’s.

IraqReuters reported: More than 30 bombs struck cities and towns across Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people and wounding about 250, despite a massive security clampdown ahead of next week’s Arab League summit in Baghdad. It was Iraq’s bloodiest day in nearly a month, and the scale of the coordinated explosions in more than a dozen cities showed an apparent determination by insurgents to prove that the government cannot keep the country safe ahead of the summit. Iraq is due to host the meeting for the first time in 20 years and the government is anxious to show it can maintain security following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in December. “The goal of today’s attacks was to present a negative image of the security situation in Iraq,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters.

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