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3 March 2012
Syria – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: The Red Cross has been unable to access the wrecked area of Baba Amr, in the Syrian city of Homs, for a third day. The agency said it had begun to hand out food and blankets to people who had fled Baba Amr to nearby areas. Syrian officials told the Red Cross that Baba Amr had to be cleared of booby traps, but activists said troops were carrying out reprisal attacks. Meanwhile, the bodies of two foreign journalists killed in Homs are due to arrive in Paris later. The bodies of Remi Ochlik and Marie Colvin had been put on an Air France flight from Damascus on Saturday evening.
Russia – CNN reported: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for unity as he appeared headed for a third term as president, declaring victory in an “open and honest fight” in Sunday’s election. But chess champion-turned-opposition activist Garry Kasparov accused Putin’s supporters of “massive fraud” early Monday by packing the polls with additional voters. With better than two-thirds of the vote reporting early Monday, Putin led his closest rival by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. His margin of victory was smaller than in 2004, the last time he ran for president, but appears well above the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. “We have won an open and honest fight,” Putin told the cheering and flag-waving supporters who had braved the cold in Manezhnaya Square for hours to hear his expected victory speech. The results show “that our people are ready for renewal, and have only one aim.” “We are appealing to all people to unite for our people, for our motherland, and we will win,” he said. “We’ve had a victory! Glory to Russia!”
Iran – The Boston Globe reported: Conservative rivals of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared on course yesterday to gain firm control of Parliament after elections that could embolden Iran’s nuclear defiance and give the ruling clerics a clear path to ensure that a loyalist succeeds Ahmadinejad next year. Although Iran’s 290-seat Parliament has limited sway over key affairs – including military and nuclear policies – the elections highlight the political narratives inside the country since Ahmadinejad’s disputed reelection in 2009 and sets the possible tone for his final 18 months in office. Reformists were virtually absent from the ballot, showing the crushing force of crackdowns on the opposition. Instead, Friday’s elections became a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s political stature after he tried to challenge the near-total authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to decide critical government policies such as intelligence and foreign affairs. The apparent setbacks for Ahmadinejad’s backers, according to early results, could signal a decisive blow in the internal political conflicts and give hard-liners an even stronger voice in Iran’s showdowns over its nuclear program.
Syria – The LA Times reported: They know they aren’t equipped for a full-on fight with Assad’s army. They stage guerrilla attacks and dream of outside help. The rebels sleep on thin mattresses with AK-47s and handguns by their sides. Their rented apartment has the feel of college dorm meets military barracks — crumpled cigarette packs, old coffee cups, gun magazines and an incongruously feminine touch: plastic sunflowers rimming the doorways. With cellphone coverage blocked by the government, they spend their days meeting at safe houses like this one to strategize. Before the topic of war comes a crucial question. How do you take your coffee? Here in Syria’sIdlib province, a key opposition region in the almost yearlong uprising against the rule of President Bashar Assad, matters of revolution must wait for Arab hospitality. “So that if we die as martyrs, we die with a full stomach,” rebel Mustafa Saeed said as he waited for lunch to be served. Despite the urgency of their armed resistance and the rising death toll across the country, rebels here aren’t rushing into battle against an army with far superior weapons and organization. Rather, they bide their time, staging guerrilla attacks and planning for the insurgency they want to fight, not the one they are equipped for now.
Poland – The Herald Sun-AU reported: Rescue workers were working to free other passengers from the wreckage and did not rule out more fatalities. It was one of the “most serious railway catastrophes” in recent Polish history, Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak told TVN 24. Some 450 firefighters and 100 police officers were working on the scene and had set up tents to help the injured. They were focusing on the first three wagons of both trains, which were hardest hit, and had established contact with several people still trapped inside. Ambulances and rescue helicopters were at the site where a six-wagon train travelling from Przemysl to Warsaw collided with a four-wagon Krakow-bound train that was going in the opposite direction. It was unclear why the second train was travelling on the wrong tracks. The collision took place at 9pm local time between two trains travelling on the same track, a Polish railways official said. Initial images of the crash broadcast by the TVN24 commercial news channel showed mangled wreckage.
China – The LA Times reported: Two leaders of protests last year in a southern Chinese village were elected over the weekend to a village council in balloting that was closely watched for clues of possible liberalization within the Chinese Communist Party. Although the election in Wukan village was not the first of its kind, the village in Guangdong province has become a test case for how far the party is willing to go to accommodate local grievances and demands for a more accountable government. The fishing village last year erupted in furor over sale of its farmland to real estate developers, a volatile issue throughout fast-developing rural China. In Wukan, villagers went further than many others. They ransacked a police station, kicked out their leaders and erected barricades, keeping Chinese authorities out for 10 days in December until a compromise could be negotiated. The vote held Saturday was part of that compromise. Lin Zuluan, a protest organizer was elected village head and party secretary, and another protester, Yang Semao, was picked as his deputy. “Taking the posts of both party secretary and village chief on my shoulders is a very heavy responsibility. My primary job is to get back the land,” Lin told reporters in Wukan late Saturday.
China – FOX NEWS reported: China offered a proposal Sunday to end the violence in Syria, calling for an immediate cease-fire and talks by all parties but standing firm against any intervention by outside forces. The proposal, released by China’s Foreign Ministry, comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to allow immediate access to humanitarian workers as Syria presses a military crackdown against anti-government groups. Beijing’s plan is part of renewed efforts by Beijing to seize the diplomatic initiative in an increasingly vital part of the world for China after being roundly criticized by the U.S. and others for joining Russia in vetoing a U.N. resolution. That plan similarly called for an end to hostilities, but Beijing feared it would open the door to intervention against Assad’s authoritarian government, as it had in Libya. The proposal reflects those concerns. Saying “the situation in Syria remains grave,” the proposal calls for an immediate end to all violence, as well as humanitarian relief and negotiations among all parties mediated by the U.N. and the Arab League. At the same time, it rejects any outside interference, sanctions and attempts to replace the Syrian government.
China – The Guardian UK reported: China is to boost its defence spending by 11.2% in 2012, the latest in nearly two decades of double-digit increases each year. Although the planned figure is less than last year’s 12.7% increase, China’s military leaders have said they are unhappy with recent moves by the Obama administration to increase the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Only twice since the early 1990s has the increase been less than double digits. The National People’s Congress spokesman Li Zhaoxing said China’s defence spending would increase by 11.2% over actual spending last year to hit 670.2bn yuan (£67bn/$106.4bn) in 2012, an increase of about 67bn yuan. China’s official defence spending is the largest in the world after the United States, but actual spending, according to foreign defence experts, may be 50% higher as China excludes outlays for its nuclear missiles and other programmes.
Yemen – The New York Times reported: Two suicide bombers struck an army camp in central Yemen on Saturday, killing one soldier, while explosions rocked a southern port city and clashes erupted between militants said to be linked to Al Qaeda and security forces in the south, officials said. The continuing violence across Yemen highlights challenges facing the country after a yearlong political turmoil resulted in a security vacuum and gave Al Qaeda the opportunity to seize several towns in the south. The threat of Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula was a major reason that the United States played an active role in Yemen’s transition after millions of Yemenis took to the streets demanding the ouster of their longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh. After clinging to power for a year, Mr. Saleh officially stepped down when Yemenis voted for his vice president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to replace him. Mr. Saleh’s ouster was part of a deal backed by the United States- and Arab nations that gave him immunity from prosecution in return for leaving power.
Somalia – Reuters reported: Islamist al Shabaab rebels attacked soldiers from Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, leaving at least nine people dead on Saturday, officials said, in the latest sign of a resurgence by the militants in the area. Al Shabaab promised last week to step up action in the northern Puntland area – a territory which up to now has escaped the worst of Somalia’s turmoil – after merging with another militant group there. The new alliance could mark set-back for international forces from the African Union, Kenya and Ethiopia, who have been making gains against the Al Qaeda-backed movement in other parts of the anarchic Horn of Africa nation. Al Shabaab, fighting to impose a harsh interpretation of Islamic sharia law, has said it wants to control Puntland and scrap the licenses of Western oil and gas firms drilling in the area. Al Shabaab told Reuters it attacked a checkpoint manned by soldiers from Puntland’s semi-autonomous government on Friday night and fighting carried on into Saturday.
Libya – The Washington Post reported: The Muslim Brotherhood in Libya announced on Saturday that it has formed a political party after six decades in the shadows of dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. The Islamist group declared the creation of the Justice and Development Party in the absence of laws laying out a formal process for the establishment of political parties. The Brotherhood’s spokesman, Mohamed Gaair, said the group has representation in more than 18 cities across the country, and that more than 1,400 members attended Friday’s meeting in Tripoli to declare the formation of the political party. They chose as party leader Mohamed Sowan, a native of the city of Misrata, which saw some of the worst fighting in the civil war that brought down Gadhafi and has since become distrustful of authority based elsewhere in the country.
4 March 2012
Russia – The BBC Europe Corps reported: Vladimir Putin and his supporters are celebrating victory in Russian elections, that will give him a third presidential term after spending the last four years as the country’s PM. With nearly all the ballots counted, he secured nearly 64% of the vote, election officials say. Mr Putin told supporters in Moscow he had won in an open and honest battle. But opposition groups claim widespread fraud, and plan a protest rally in Moscow later on Monday. The independent election watchdog Golos says Mr Putin won just over 50% – far less than the official figure given by the election commission. It says it received numerous reports of “carousel” voting – in which voters cast multiple ballots.
Washington D.C. – Bloomberg NEWS reported: President Barack Obama, speaking to the biggest pro-Israel group in the U.S., sought to bolster his strength among Jewish voters as he challenged Republican assertions that he’ll permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. “If during this political season you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts,” Obama told more than 13,000 people attending the annual Washington conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics,” he said. Obama won in 2008 with 78 percent support from Jewish voters, according to national exit polls. Democrat Obama’s campaign is seeking to maintain that support in swing states with large Jewish populations, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Nevada. As president, Obama’s had public disagreements with the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, who visits the White House for meetings with Obama today, about issues such as limiting Jewish settlement construction in Palestinian areas and as to when a strike might be needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. The discord has given Republicans a chance to appeal to Jewish voters and spotlight foreign policy and national security, a traditional strength of their party.
Congo – The BBC Africa Corps reported: Huge explosions at an arms depot that killed at least 146 people in Congo’s capital Brazzaville were caused by a short-circuit that led to a fire, government officials say. They say some 1,500 people were hurt. Rescuers are still searching for survivors amid fears that the death toll would rise further. The force of the blasts was felt several miles away in the city of Kinshasa, across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The BBC’s Thomas Hubert, in Kinshasa, says residents of east Brazzaville fled when the blasts began.
Yemen – CNN reported: Fierce clashes followed suicide bombings and checkpoint attacks Sunday in Yemen, leaving dozens dead as the government fought back in a province largely controlled by terrorist groups, officials said. At least 60 soldiers were killed in action, a Yemeni government official said, and the number of casualties was expected to climb. Dozens of militants were killed, captured and injured, said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Earlier Sunday, officials in the southern province of Abyan said 15 militants were killed in the clashes. At least five troops were killed when suicide bombers earlier attacked two military posts in Abyan, where the government has been desperately trying to weaken terrorist groups after they took over large parts of the province last year. The bombers used explosives-laden vehicles to hit posts on the outskirts of Zinjibar and in the town of Dofas, the officials said.
Saudi Arabia – The Washington Post reported: Saudi Arabia has said that Syrians have a right to take up arms to defend themselves against the regime and accuses the Damascus government of “imposing itself by force,” as concerns mount over a humanitarian crisis there. In a rare televised news conference on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom welcomed international efforts to broker a ceasefire in Syria but added that they have “failed to stop the massacres.” “Is there something greater than the right to defend oneself and to defend human rights?” he asked, adding that the Syrian people want to defend themselves. “The regime is not wanted by the people,” he said. “The regime is insisting on imposing itself by force on the Syrian people,” he said. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been discussing military aid the to the Syrian opposition, but the U.S. and others have not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict. Sunni Saudi Arabia is wary of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings, particularly in nearby Bahrain, where a Shiite majority is demanding greater rights from its Sunni rulers. However, the kingdom strongly backs the largely Sunni uprising in Syria.
Iran – The Washington Post reported: U.S. officials say they see Iran’s hand in the increasingly brutal crackdown on opposition strongholds in Syria, including evidence of Iranian military and intelligence support for government troops accused of mass executions and other atrocities in the past week. Three U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports from the region described a spike in Iranian-supplied arms and other aid for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad at a time when the regime is mounting an unprecedented offensive to crush resistance in the key city of Homs. “The aid from Iran is increasing, and is increasingly focused on lethal assistance,” said one of the officials, insisting on anonymity to discuss intelligence reports from the region. The expanded Iranian role in the conflict has been underscored by reports — supported by U.S. intelligence findings — that an Iranian operative was recently wounded while working with Syrian security forces inside the country. The flow of military aid to Assad comes as Arab states are considering arming the regime’s opponents, raising the risk of a wider conflict that U.S. officials fear could spread to neighboring countries.
Iraq – USA Today reported: Officials in western Iraq say a gang of gunmen wearing military-style uniforms has killed 21 policemen in an early-morning shooting spree. Iraqi security officials said the killings began before dawn on Monday when the gunmen kidnapped two senior police commanders from their homes in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The gang then drove to the city and gunned down police at two security checkpoints. Officials said at least 21 policemen and three of the gang members were killed in the shoot-outs. The security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
North Korea – CNN reported: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his troops to be on the highest alert Sunday as he visited the DMZ, or demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. In his first reported visit to the tense border since taking control of North Korea last December, KCNA, the state-run news agency, said the young leader had visited “the biggest hotspot where the gunfire could be heard anytime due to the reckless provocations of the enemies.” The visit comes amid heightened rhetoric from Pyongyang, with recent threats of a “sacred war” against Seoul and Washington. Current joint military drills between the United States and South Korea have been condemned by the North as a provocation. The United States says the drills are defensive in nature. About 150,000 North Koreans protested at the Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on Sunday to condemn the South, according to South Korean media. North Korea’s KCNA reported a South Korean army unit hung portraits of the late leader Kim Jong Il and the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, on walls and doors of a military base and wrote “unspeakable defamatory words below them.”
Palestine – The Washington Post reported: Palestinian officials said Saturday they plan to give a deadline to Israel to accept ground rules for negotiations, and suggested that a ‘no’ will allow them to shelve Mideast talks until it does. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to spell out the requirements in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki. He said he did not know by when Netanyahu would have to respond. Abbas has long said he will not resume talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction on occupied lands and recognizes the pre-1967 war frontier as a baseline for talks on a border between Israel and a future Palestine. The Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967. Netanyahu has rejected both demands, insisting that negotiations resume without what he has portrayed as preconditions. A government official reiterated Saturday that Israel is ready to resume talks immediately.