The Bittersweet Player – Clear your browser cache to hear the latest play list.
23 April 2012
France – Xinhuanet reported: French President and conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has addressed his supporters as he prepares for the second round of voting in presidential elections. But Sarkozy said he speaks to the whole of the French electorate and not just to the ones that voted for him. Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande are going head-to-head in the country’s presidential runoff. On Monday, Sarkozy suggested he’d be tacking at least somewhat to the right for the second round, in a bid to attract disgruntled National Front voters. The decisive second round will come on May the 6th.
China – Reuters reported: A Chinese firm that intelligence agencies believe provided North Korea with the body of an off-road transport vehicle used to carry missiles appears to have a press release on its website that boasts about the sale, U.N. diplomats told Reuters. Washington suspects that the Chinese firm, Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co., did not sell North Korea an entire vehicle, but a chassis, and may have believed it was for civilian purposes, suggesting the company did not intentionally flout U.N. sanctions, a U.S. official said. The official also said the firm likely made the sale to a front company that was used to mask the buyer’s true identity. The company denies having trade links to North Korea.
Syria – CNN reported: The Syrian military is halting violence in areas entered by U.N. observers but resumes attacking once the monitors leave, the U.N.-Arab League joint special envoy said Tuesday. “I am particularly alarmed by reports that government troops entered Hama yesterday after observers departed, firing automatic weapons and killing a significant number of people,” Kofi Annan told Security Council members. “If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible.” CNN obtained a transcript of Annan’s remarks from Security Council diplomats.
Netherlands – ABC NEWS reported: The Dutch government, one of the most vocal critics of European countries failing to rein in their budgets, quit Monday after failing to agree on a plan to bring its own deficit in line with EU rules. The government information service announced Queen Beatrix had accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Cabinet after a meeting in which Rutte told her talks on a new austerity package had failed over the weekend. Rutte is to address parliament Tuesday to discuss interim measures to keep public finances in order and schedule new elections. No date for elections was immediately announced, but opposition lawmakers called for a vote as soon as possible.
Israel – The (AP) reported: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would ask Israel’s Supreme Court to defer next week’s deadline for demolishing five apartment buildings erected illegally for settlers in the West Bank. The court has ruled that the buildings, which house 30 families in the unauthorized Ulpana outpost on the fringes of the Beit El settlement, must be razed by May 1 because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land. Netanyahu said his government is looking for “legal” ways to prevent the buildings from being demolished. It is not clear if the court would agree to a delay. Decades ago, the court outlawed settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land, even as it authorized building on other West Bank territory, where 300,000 settlers now live.
Egypt – The New York Times reported: He has argued for barring women and non-Muslims from Egypt’s presidency on the basis of Islamic law, or Shariah. He has called for a council of Muslim scholars to advise Parliament. He has a track record of inflammatory statements about Israel, including repeatedly calling its citizens “killers and vampires.” Mohamed Morsi is also a leading candidate to become the country’s next president. Mr. Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist group, declared last week that his party platform amounted to a distillation of Islam itself. “This is the old ‘Islam is the solution’ platform,” he said, recalling the group’s traditional slogan in his first television interview as a candidate. “It has been developed and crystallized so that God could bless society with it.” At his first rally, he led supporters in a chant: “The Koran is our constitution, and Shariah is our guide!”
Egypt – The (AP) reported: A new strategic partnership that commits the U.S. to defend Afghanistan militarily for 10 years after most foreign forces leave in 2014 is intended to signal that the U.S. will not tolerate a resurgent al-Qaida or attacks launched by militants from neighboring Pakistan. The agreement, parts of which were read out Monday in the Afghan parliament, is big on symbolism but light on substance. It leaves out specifics, including how much funding the U.S. will provide to support Afghan security forces or how many U.S. troops will stay on after the withdrawal deadline. Afghanistan, for its part, insisted on approving any American military operations after 2014 and barred the U.S. from using its soil to attack other countries, such as neighboring Pakistan, where the Taliban, al-Qaida and al-Qaida-linked militants all have staging bases. “In the end, of course, the U.S. and allied interests differ from those of most Afghans,” said Andrew Exum, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.
24 April 2012
Philippines – The Telegraph UK reported: US and Filipino soldiers stormed a South China Sea island on Wednesday in war games that took place not far from a real-life maritime standoff between Manila and Beijing. The mock beachfront assault took place on the shore of Palawan island facing the South China Sea, where for two weeks Chinese patrol vessels have prevented the Philippines from arresting alleged poachers in the disputed waters. Lieutenant-Colonel Rommel Abrau, operations officer of the Philippine Marines’ amphibious task force, said the exercise involving about 100 soldiers was a success. “We simulated an assault on an island that was taken over by an armed terrorist group, retook the base, freed the hostages and neutralised the enemy,” he told AFP.
Washington D.C. – The New York Times reported: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned North Korea on Tuesday not to conduct another nuclear test, saying it would create “greater instability in a dangerous part of the world.” At a news conference in Brazil during a South American tour, Mr. Panetta said he had no information that North Korea was preparing for a test, although the South Korean government believes that is the case. This month, North Korea tried and failed to launch a rocket meant to put a satellite in orbit, which the United States condemned. “I strongly urge North Korea not to engage in any further provocations,” Mr. Panetta said. North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
China – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Wednesday’s national newspapers focus on talks between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir. China Daily and People’s Daily say Mr Hu told Mr Kiir that China wanted the fighting to stop and disputes to be settled by negotiations. “The priority at the moment is to act in concert with international mediation efforts and stop military conflict along the border area,” Mr Hu said. China Daily’s editorial also made the same plea.
Pakistan – The Washington Post reported: The Pakistani military said Wednesday it has successfully test-launched an upgraded intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The military said in a statement that the missile was an improved version of the Shaheen 1 with a longer range. The Shaheen 1 is believed to have a range of 750 kilometers (465 miles). The military did not provide the exact range of the new Shaheen 1A. The launch comes days after Pakistan’s neighbor and archenemy, India, announced that it had successfully test-launched a new nuclear-capable, long-range missile. The Agni-V has a range of 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles). Pakistan and India have fought three major wars since they both achieved independence from the British empire in 1947.
Israel – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Israel announced Tuesday that it has legalized three unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, a move that Palestinians and anti-settlement activists condemned as a step toward creating the first new settlements in more than a decade. The decision marked the latest effort by Israel’s right-wing coalition government to prevent evictions – some of them court-ordered – of Jewish settlers who have established communities without government permission in the West Bank, where Israel occupies land that Palestinians want for a future state. Settlements are a core point of dispute in the frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the housing developments as Israeli land-grabbing and want construction to stop before resuming negotiations. Israel says the issue should be discussed during peace talks.
Egypt – The LATimes reported: The decorum of diplomacy has devolved into embarrassing headlines and testy one-liners in the increasingly strained relations between Egypt and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Egypt’s Sinai peninsula had become a “kind of Wild West” overrun by militants, terrorists and arms smugglers. Over the weekend, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had suggested massing more Israeli troops along the border with Egypt. That drew a bit of mafia parlance from Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi: “Our borders, especially the northeast ones, are inflamed. We do not attack neighboring countries but will defend our territory. We will break the legs of anyone trying to attack us or who come near the borders.” Rhetoric for domestic consumption, to be sure, but it symbolizes the changed tenor between the two countries since last year’s revolution, in which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who kept close ties with Israel, was deposed. Islamists are on the rise in Egypt, and Tantawi is keenly aware that the 1979 Egypt-Israeli peace treaty was never enshrined in the Egyptian soul.
Egypt – The New York Times reported: A court found Egypt’s most popular comic actor guilty on Tuesday of insulting Islam in roles in films mocking religious hypocrisy, alarming liberal-minded artists and intellectuals already anxious about the growing power of Islamists here after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The court fined the actor Adel Imam about $170 and gave him a suspended sentence. Mr. Imam is expected to appeal. Although laws criminalizing insults to Islam or Christianity have been on the books for years, convictions have been relatively rare, especially in the context of popular movies. Mr. Imam was convicted for performances in the blockbuster films “The Terrorist,” in which he plays a radical Islamist hiding among a moderate, middle-class family, and “Terrorism and Kabab,” in which his character becomes enraged at a lazy civil servant pretending to pray to avoid work.
Armenia – FOX NEWS reported: Today marks Armenia’s Remembrance Day recognizing the estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed at the hands of the Ottoman Empire roughly a century ago. ABC’s Jake Tapper points out, President Obama has broken his campaign promise for a fourth year in a row, choosing to avoid the word genocide in his presidential statement. Then-Senator Obama called it genocide numerous times, even saying — quote — “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide…I intend to be that president.” Today, President Obama’s statement read – quote — “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915. My view of that history has not changed.” The Armenian community calls the lack of recognition a betrayal and a capitulation to Turkey.
Germany – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is defending her drive for European budget discipline, while her foreign minister says a Berlin-backed budget discipline pact must remain in place despite new political uncertainty. French Socialist Francois Hollande, who won the most votes in Sunday’s first round of presidential elections, has said he wants to renegotiate the pact to give greater emphasis to growth over austerity. And the Dutch government resigned after failing to agree on budget cuts. Merkel didn’t specifically mention the fiscal pact Tuesday but noted that, in its early years, West Germany ran up barely any debt. She said that “we have to get back to that situation.” She said that “no one will accept it from us, in any European country” if governments simply continue to carry huge debts.
25 April 2012
Syria – The Voice of America reported: Syrian activists say security forces have killed at least 27 civilians in attacks across Syria, as France called for a small U.N. truce-monitoring team in the country to be expanded rapidly. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government shelling of the central city of Hama killed at least 12 people on Wednesday. Activists say Syrian troops also shelled the Damascus suburb of Douma, while suspected government snipers in the district killed two people. Elsewhere, the Observatory says Syrian rebels killed three government soldiers in a battle in the southern province of Daraa. Casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. Four more observers joined the unarmed U.N. team trying to monitor the shaky cease-fire in Syria’s year-long conflict, expanding it to 15 personnel. Activists say several of them visited Douma on Wednesday, while two remained in Hama and two others kept a base in the nearby city of Homs. All three areas have been centers of the 13-month uprising against autocratic Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran – The New York Times reported: The Israeli military chief described the Iranian government as “rational” in interviews published Wednesday and said he did not believe it would build a nuclear bomb, appearing to put some distance between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “I believe he would be making an enormous mistake, and I don’t think he will want to go the extra mile,” the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people,” General Gantz added. “But I agree that such a capability, in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who at particular moments could make different calculations, is dangerous.”
Pakistan – The WSJ reported: Pakistan tested an intermediate-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Wednesday, following a long-range missile launch last week by rival India. The test was timed to showcase Pakistan’s capabilities after India’s test last week, said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistan army general. “It’s a sort of competition that’s been going on,” he said. “I’m sure these missiles are always ready for firing.” Pakistan’s army said it had successfully launched the Hatf IV Shaheen-1A missile to an impact point in the Arabian Sea. The missile, which can carry nuclear and conventional warheads, has a longer range than previous versions, the army said. “The improved version of Shaheen-1A will further consolidate and strengthen Pakistan’s deterrence abilities,” it said. An earlier version of the missile was deployed in 2003 and has a range of more than 750 kilometers (450 miles), according to Reaching Critical Will, a New York nongovernmental organization that promotes disarmament. Pakistan’s longest-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Hatf VI Shaheen-2, can travel about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which would reach well into Indian territory, according to data cited by Reaching Critical Will. Much about Pakistan’s ballistic-weapons program remains secret. “Despite frequent media reports, the capabilities of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon delivery systems, and the current status of their technical development and operational readiness is unclear,” the report added.
North Korea – The WSJ reported: Political pressure, a high-stakes bargaining strategy and technical challenges may push North Korea’s new leader to order the country’s third nuclear test any time now. North Korea has been escalating its threats against South Korea and the U.S. in the past month as new leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the centennial of the birth of the country’s founder, his late grandfather Kim Il Sung. Those celebrations and the need to bolster the younger Kim’s standing — particularly in the aftermath of a failed April 13 rocket launch — are two reasons that North Korea watchers such as David Albright expect the Pyongyang regime to try to conduct an underground nuclear explosion. If it does so, the North would stoke tensions with South Korea, the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council, which has forbidden the regime from conducting nuclear and missile tests. “It could happen any day now,” said Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. His organization has posted satellite images on its website that it says show North Korea’s preparations at the Punggye-ri underground nuclear test site used twice in the past.
Egypt – Reuters reported: The last prime minister to serve under deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been allowed to re-enter the race for the presidency, one day after electoral authorities disqualified him, the state news agency reported on Wednesday. Analysts said Ahmed Shafiq’s re-entry into the race will make him the favorite of the military and a very strong contender to win Egypt’s presidential elections set for May 23-24, with a run-off scheduled in June. “The presidential electoral committee headed by Farouk Soltan accepts the appeal of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, allowing him to contest the presidential race,” MENA reported. Shafiq had been disqualified on Tuesday after the ruling military council approved a new law drawn up by the Islamist-dominated parliament denying political rights to anyone who served as president, vice president or prime minister in the decade prior to Mubarak’s fall in February of last year.
Israel – Ynet NEWS reported: The Palestinian UN observer is denouncing Israel’s legalization of three unsanctioned West Bank settler outposts as an illegal attempt to entrench “its massive network of illegal settlements.” Riyad Mansour called on the UN Security Council on Wednesday “to act immediately to address these continuing illegal, grave actions by Israel.” He said in a letter to the council that the intensified construction of Israeli settlement activities in occupied Palestinian territory “is glaring proof” of Israel’s “unlawful, expansionist aims.”
Hungary – The WSJ reported: The European Union said it is willing to start formal financial-support talks with Hungary, easing a monthslong standoff over an aid request that has become tangled in a broader battle between Brussels and Budapest over democratic checks and balances. Before any loan deal can be signed, however, the EU on Wednesday said Hungary must enact proposed amendments to its central-bank law and also fix legislation that the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, a panel of the Council of Europe that vets national laws and constitutions, found threatens the independence of judges and fairness of trials. The thaw followed a meeting Tuesday between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, in which Mr. Orban pledged to make changes to address EU concerns about his nation’s central bank and court system.
Yemen – The Washington Post reported: Yemeni officials want more U.S. counterterrorism aid, including drone strikes and more U.S. military trainers and advisers, to fight a growing threat from al-Qaida, Yemeni officials said late Wednesday. But Yemen rejected a CIA and U.S. military request to expand the use of drone strikes to target groups of fighters who appear to be militants, the officials said. Currently, U.S. counterterrorism forces are limited to striking clearly identified individuals with known links to al-Qaida. Yemen approves each strike, Yemeni and U.S. officials say. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive strategic matters.
26 April 2012
Japan – CNN reported: Thousands of Marines and their families will be transferred off Okinawa under an agreement that will reduce the American military footprint in Japan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said late Thursday. Under the agreement, some 9,000 Marines belonging to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force will be moved off Okinawa, with roughly half being reassigned to bases in Guam, according to a joint statement released by the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee. “I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action,” Panetta said. The announcement by the committee, which included key U.S. and Japanese defense officials, ends years of seesaw talks aimed at cutting the American presence on the island south of Tokyo.
Syria – The BBC Asia Corps reported: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Syrian government is “in contravention” of an internationally agreed peace plan. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says he believes events such as a deadly explosion in Hama on Thursday will lead to increased rate of refugees attempting to flee Syria. Mr Guterres told the BBC’s Katty Kay that his mandate required strict independence, in order to preserve asylum spaces in all countries, especially as “the old crises never die”. “The international community has not shown the capacity to prevent conflict and to address conflict, solving it quickly before it becomes protracted and before the humanitarian impact becomes sometimes devastating.”
United Kingdom – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: Developments in a phone-hacking scandal involving British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.: November 2005: News of the World royal reporter Clive Goodman writes story saying Prince William has a knee injury. Buckingham Palace complaint prompts police inquiry. August 2006: Goodman arrested along with private investigator Glenn Mulcaire for suspected hacking into voicemails of royal officials. January 2007: Goodman jailed for four months; Mulcaire given six-month sentence. News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigns but insists he had not known about the hacking. May 2007: Conservative Party leader David Cameron taps Coulson to be his media adviser.
Israel – Reuters reported: Defence Minister Ehud Barak restated Israel’s fears of a nuclear-armed Iran on Thursday after his top general clashed with the government’s line by describing the Islamic republic as “very rational” and unlikely to build a bomb. Addressing foreign diplomats on Israel’s independence day, Barak said Iranian leaders were not “rational in the Western sense of the word – connoting the quest for status quo and the peaceful resolution of problems”. Believing otherwise “borders on blindness or irresponsibility”, said Barak, who branded Iran, with its religiously fuelled calls for the Jewish state’s demise, as seeking regional hegemony and being “undeterred by the apocalyptic”.
Nigeria – The New York Times reported: A suicide bomber and a man armed with explosives attacked two Nigerian newspaper offices on Thursday, killing seven people and wounding at least 26. The radical Islamic sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility. In Abuja, the capital, the suicide bomber drove into the reception area of a major newspaper, ThisDay, a spokesman for the Nigerian Red Cross said. The blast killed at least three people and wounded others, he said. The other attack occurred in the northern city of Kaduna and struck a building that ThisDay shares with two other newspapers, The Moment and The Daily Sun. At least four people died in that blast, and the police said they had arrested the bomber. Boko Haram is blamed for killing hundreds of people this year alone in a growing sectarian fight against Nigeria’s weak central government.
Egypt – The WSJ reported: The runaway victory that Egyptian voters handed to Islamist parties in recent parliamentary elections is looking increasingly Pyrrhic. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party, which identifies with the hard-line Salafi school of Islam, captured more than two-thirds of the seats in Egypt’s Parliament. But in the three months since, they have been largely ineffective. In recent weeks, the parties have faced mounting public criticism, internal defections and weakening prospects in next month’s presidential vote. While Egyptian political polls are subject to broad skepticism, one conducted late last month indicates how far Islamist politicians’ public star has fallen: The Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a government-owned think tank, found that 45% of people who voted for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in the parliamentary elections said they wouldn’t do so again. The FJP holds nearly 50% of the seats in Parliament. Egyptian Islamists blame their fading fortunes on unreasonably high public expectations and what they say is a political system that is rigged against them. While the Islamists hold a broad majority of Parliament, they don’t control Egypt’s cabinet, as would generally be the case in parliamentary systems.
Germany – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Stung by a backlash against austerity policies, Europe’s leaders are planning to draw up a new agreement aimed at boosting economic growth in the euro area. If they want the pact to have any effect, all the region’s politicians — and particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel — will have to step out of their comfort zones. Vague battle lines have already been drawn. Merkel and European Central Bank head Mario Draghi want to encode the kinds of labor-market, pension-system and other so-called structural reforms that’ll make the likes of France, Greece and Spain more competitive. French presidential front-runner Francois Hollande wants infrastructure projects, funded by special-purpose European bonds, to boost jobs and demand. Whatever other ideas might arise before the agreement is drawn up, possibly as soon as mid-June, it must include at least three elements if it is to really help reverse Europe’s recessionary trend.
China – The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported: China has approved a development project that would support tourism and fishing around South China Sea islands, a move likely to inflame territorial disputes. Southernmost Hainan province wants to build a supply dock over more than 823 acres of water off Jinqing island, part of the Paracel chain. Vietnam claims the Paracels as its territory and has protested China’s tourism plans there. The State Oceanic Administration said Thursday it agreed “in principle” to Hainan’s proposal. It is considering a proposal for another supply dock in the South China Sea, the statement said without elaborating. Hainan Vice Governor Tan Li has said he was determined to start tourism development in the Paracel Islands this year. The Paracels and other territory in the South China Sea are claimed variously by China, Vietnam and four other nations for their potential oil and gas deposits, rich fishing grounds and proximity to busy commercial sea lanes.
Jordan – Reuters reported: Jordan’s Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh resigned on Thursday after barely six months in office, state media said, following growing criticism of a draft election law his government was preparing. Khasawneh, 62, was asked to form a government last October by King Abdullah after protests calling for faster political reforms in the kingdom. But his proposed election law drew criticism, including from tribal parliamentarians and the powerful intelligence services, who felt it favored Islamist politicians. A minister who declined to be named said Khasawneh took the unusual step of submitting his resignation while outside the country in response to a decision to extend a parliamentary session in which he was likely to face further criticism.
27 April 2012
Syria – The LA Times reported: Two weeks after a supposed cease-fire was meant to bring an end to violence in Syria, an explosion Friday ripped through the capital, Damascus, killing at least nine people and injuring almost 30. A suicide bomber in the pro-opposition Midan neighborhood detonated an explosives belt near a school and the Zein Abidin mosque as worshipers were leaving Friday prayers, the Interior Ministry said. Those killed included civilians and law enforcement officers, state media said. The ministry blamed “terrorist groups” for the attack, but opposition activists said the government was probably behind the blast. The bombing came two days after an explosion in the central city of Hama razed several homes and caused numerous deaths. Activists and the regime traded accusations in that attack as well.
France – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: France’s bleak economic outlook has returned to the forefront of the country’s presidential campaign after new figures showed the number of job seekers rose for the 11th consecutive month in March. Francois Hollande — the Socialist front-runner in the May 6 election — was quick to seize on the new data from the Labor Ministry showing the number of job seekers rose 0.6 percent last month to 2.88 million. In an interview on French radio RTL on Friday, Hollande called job creation “the key issue” of the campaign that pits him against President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has blamed France’s stubbornly high unemployment on the financial crisis that has swept up Europe.
Sudan – The Voice of America reported: Yassir Arman, Secretary General of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N), says the government of Sudan is holding more than a half million people “hostage” in two states along its southern border, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Arman said people in the two states “have no food, no medicine, they have no shelter” and he blamed the international community for failing to pressure Khartoum to allow aid agencies access to the worst-hit areas. Arman urged the international community to search for alternative ways to deliver urgently needed aid to villages under government control and the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – North (SPLM/A-North). “There is a need for this issue to be in the front seat, it should not be in the back seat given the present situation and many crises in Sudan. We should remain focused on the issue of humanitarian aid to the Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur,” he said.
Japan – The Washington Post reported: The U.S. and Japanese governments said Thursday that they will move about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa to other bases in the Western Pacific, in a bid to remove a persistent irritant in the relationship between the two allies. The Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa has been seen by both sides as essential to deterring Chinese military aggression in the region. But the noisy air base’s location in a crowded urban area has long angered Okinawa residents, and some viewed the Marines as rowdy and potentially violent. “I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement. Still unresolved is the issue of establishing a replacement for Futenma. The failure to find a suitable spot for a new air base had held up a previous effort to relocate the Marines to Guam, but the current agreement removes that barrier. U.S. Marines would leave Futenma as soon as suitable facilities on Guam and elsewhere are ready.
Pakistan – The New York Times reported: The latest high-level talks on ending a diplomatic deadlock between the United States and Pakistan ended in failure on Friday over Pakistani demands for an unconditional apology from the Obama administration for an airstrike. The White House, angered by the recent spectacular Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, refuses to apologize. The Obama administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, left the Pakistani capital Friday night with no agreement after two days of discussions aimed at patching up the damage caused by the American airstrikes last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghanistan border. Both sides insist that they are now ready to make up and restore an uneasy alliance that at its best offers support for American efforts in Afghanistan as well as the battle against some extremist groups operating from Pakistan. The administration had been seriously debating whether to say “I’m sorry” to the Pakistanis’ satisfaction — until April 15, when multiple, simultaneous attacks struck Kabul and other Afghan cities. “What changed was the 15th of April,” said a senior administration official.
Iran – St. Louis Today reported: In what would be a significant concession, officials in President Barack Obama’s administration say they could support allowing Iran to maintain a crucial element of its disputed nuclear program if Tehran took other major steps to curb its ability to develop a nuclear bomb. U.S. officials said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5 percent purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded. Such a deal would face formidable obstacles. Iran has shown little willingness to meet international demands. And a shift in the U.S. position that Iran must halt all enrichment activities is likely to prompt strong objections from Israeli leaders; the probable Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney; and many members of Congress.
Netherlands – The Times of India reported: A Dutch court has upheld a law banning foreigners from entering “coffee shops” to buy marijuana and hashish. The legislation comes into effect in three southern provinces next month and will be enforced across the Netherlands by the end of the year, the BBC reported. The move has been opposed by a group of coffee shop owners, arguing that the ban is discriminatory against tourists. A lawyer for the coffee shop owners said he would urgently file an appeal.
Egypt – The (AP) reported: Egypt’s presidential contenders have been going through a new campaign rite of passage. One by one over recent weeks, they appeared before a panel of bearded, ultraconservative Muslim clerics who meticulously question them, including on how they intend to implement Islamic law. The vetting of candidates in next month’s landmark presidential elections is part of a move by Islamist clerics to become power players in Egypt’s emerging political system, a sign of the country’s dramatic shift during the stormy transition since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak was ousted more than a year ago. For years, clerics from the ultraconservative Salafi movement built their influence among Egyptians, preaching in mosques and on satellite TV stations. Since Mubarak’s fall, they have become political interlocutors meeting with the military generals who took power, holding conferences in five-star hotels and organizing large rallies around the country. Now they are trying to unite around a single candidate for the presidency, a potentially significant boost for whomever they endorse. “They are key players in the Egyptian politics or the new centers that shape Egyptian politics,” said Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movement. “It is something no one could have imagined a year ago.”