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14-15 April 2012
Syria – The LA Times reported: As the cease-fire in Syria appeared to be unraveling, the U.N. Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved sending as many as 30 unarmed monitors to try to help maintain the fragile truce. Activists reported almost 30 deaths across Syria on a day when the international community sent a rare message of unity that the violence must come to an end. The bloodshed has been intensifying as rebels have increasingly taken up arms in the face of a yearlong crackdown by the government of President Bashar Assad. After a brief lull since the cease-fire went into effect Thursday, shelling resumed in the battered city of Homs, which has been under siege for more than two months, according to videos and activist accounts. In the northern city of Aleppo, at least four people in a funeral procession that turned into a protest were shot and killed. Several people were wounded. Like Damascus, the capital, Aleppo hasn’t publicly opposed Assad as strongly as much of the rest of the country. Video from the city’s Ithaha neighborhood showed people running in the streets with the sound of heavy machine-gun fire in the background.
North Korea – Reuters reported: North Korea’s new leader delivered his first major public speech on Sunday as the impoverished state celebrated the centenary of its founder’s birth, calling for a push to “final victory” despite a failed rocket launch two days earlier. A jowly Kim Jong-un, clad in black and the third of his line to rule North Korea, read monotonously from a script in Pyongyang’s central square after goose-stepping soldiers and sailors showcased the North’s military power in a parade in spring sunshine. Smiling and joking with generals on a podium after the speech, Kim watched as the country’s missiles paraded past, a reminder that despite Friday’s embarrassing failure to successfully launch a rocket, North Korea packs a punch. In a move that indicated Kim would stick to the “military-first” policies that have put North Korea on the verge of nuclear-weapons capacity, he lauded respectively his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his father, Kim Jong-il, as the “founder and the builder of our revolutionary armed forces”. North Korea is believed to be readying a third nuclear test, based on intelligence satellite images and a past pattern of rocket launches followed by tests.
Turkey – The LA Times reported: Iran and six world powers took a modest step toward resolving their dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, agreeing to negotiate their differences and to meet again next month in Baghdad. The much-anticipated daylong discussion, however, appeared to leave the two sides far from even an interim agreement on how to overcome the dispute, which has raised fear of a spiraling war in the Middle East. Yet Western officials said Iran’s agreement to even talk should be counted as progress, as the Islamic Republic has repeatedly walked away from attempts to force it to negotiate curbs on its nuclear program. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, called the meeting “positive and useful,” while Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, praised the approach of the group of six world powers and said the meeting had produced “a step forward.” One former Obama administration advisor on Iran said the agreement on further talks could help reduce tension over the issue, which has been rising for months as the West has tightened sanctions and Israel has threatened a bombardment.
Egypt – The Financial Times reported: Egypt’s election commission has barred several leading presidential candidates, sending shockwaves through the political system just weeks before the first polls to choose a leader since last year’s revolution. High quality global journalism requires investment. Among the candidates barred from running late Saturday were Omar Suleiman, deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s former intelligence chief and deputy; Kheirat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading contender; and Hazem Abu Ismail, a proponent of the ultraconservative Salafist strain of Islam. High quality global journalism requires investment. The Higher Presidential Election Commission listed various technicalities, including previous arrests and lack of sufficient voter signatures, for barring the candidates and declared they had 48 hours to appeal. The ruling by the commission, a panel of judges appointed by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, adds another element of uncertainty 14 months after the revolution that unseated Mr Mubarak and paved the way for a democratic experiment.
South Sudan – The BBC Africa Corps reported: South Sudan has accused Sudan of launching further bombing raids on its territory and against its forces. The governor of Unity state says several people were killed in its capital Bentiu when a plane dropped bombs on a market. South Sudan also says its troops came under air attack in the oil-producing Heglig region which they have seized. Sudan’s ambassador to the UK, Abdullahi Al Azreg, said Sudan did not target civilians. He insisted Khartoum had bombed military camps used by northern rebels supported by South Sudan. “These people are occupying our land. Everybody is witnessing what they are doing. They have killed the civilians, they are doing very bad things. We will target the rebels as long as they are occupying our land,” he told the BBC.
Yemen – Reuters reported: At least 11 al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in clashes and an air strike in southern Yemen on Saturday, the Defence Ministry said on the sixth day of a government offensive which has killed about 200 people. Yemeni air force planes destroyed a vehicle in the southern province of Bayda, killing three “leading al Qaeda terrorists”, the ministry said on its website. Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law), a group affiliated with al Qaeda, said in a statement that three of its militants had been “martyred” in the attack which it said was carried out by a U.S. drone. Meanwhile, outside the nearby port of Aden, militants opened fire on a checkpoint from two vehicles, prompting government troops to return fire, the ministry said. Eight militants and five soldiers were killed in the exchange of fire, it added. One of the militants’ vehicles was also destroyed. The deaths came as Yemen’s military pressed ahead with an offensive against Islamist insurgents who attacked a military camp outside the southern city of Lawdar last week.
Israel – The RT NEWS Service reported: Israel is planning to send back hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists traveling to participate in peaceful events in the West Bank. The Prime Minister’s office issued a letter advising the activists to focus on the “real problems” of the region. Around 1,200 Palestinian rights activists worldwide have bought tickets to travel to Israel on April 15. They have been looking forward to participating in a number of peaceful events as part of the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign. The events were set to include the opening of an international school and a museum. But it appears that Israel deemed these actions to be dangerous. “It’s very unfortunate that we are once again facing the kind of provocation coming from extremists from different countries,” Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs told Reuters. And the office of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has released a letter recommending the activists some “better causes” to fight for.
Philippines – Reuters reported: Three Chinese fishing boats and one Chinese naval vessel left a disputed area of the South China Sea on Friday, but there was no end in sight to Beijing’s territorial standoff with the Philippines, the subject of a decades-old dispute. Problems began on Sunday when Manila dispatched its largest warship, a U.S. Hamilton-class cutter, to Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocky outcrops off the main Philippine island of Luzon, after it spotted eight Chinese fishing boats anchored in the area. The shoal, which is crossed by major shipping lanes, is believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves as well as fish stocks and other comercially-attractive marine life. On Friday, Philippine officials confirmed that three Chinese fishing boats had left the area, but said five other Chinese boats remained. It was unclear whether They carried illegal catches, they added.
Nigeria – The Washington Post reported: The first time Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala ever had to convince Barack Obama of anything was back in 2005. At the time, Obama was an ambitious young senator from Illinois with a keen interest in foreign affairs. Okonjo-Iweala was Nigeria’s blunt-speaking finance minister, traversing the globe to convince the world’s wealthiest nations that they should ease her country’s debt burden. “Everybody was saying that this could never be done .?.?. that it would never happen,” Okonjo-Iweala recounted at an April event in Washington. “We went up to the Hill and there was a certain senator, Barack Obama” — long deadpan pause — “who was among those who were skeptical.” Eventually, Obama — and the rest of the world — would agree with her. Nigeria paid $12 billion up front to win a further $18 billion in debt relief, and while questions still linger about how good a deal Nigeria got, it removed a major obstacle to the country’s economic growth. She cites the episode as an example of her “persuasive powers.” Seven years later, that young senator is president, and Okonjo-Iweala, now 57, is using her powers on an even more far-fetched idea. She’s making a bid to lead the World Bank, which last year loaned $57 billion to help poor countries develop. But by tradition, the presidency has always gone to the U.S. nominee, and Obama has made his pick: Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim. As the bank’s board of directors prepares to make a final decision next week, it’s clear that selecting a woman from Africa would be unprecedented.
Russia – Reuters reported: More than 2,000 Russians took to the streets of the southern city of Astrakhan on Saturday to protest against President-elect Vladimir Putin’s political system, complaining of electoral fraud in a recent mayoral vote there. Oleg Shein, Astrakhan’s defeated mayoral candidate, began a hunger strike last month along with some of his supporters, saying the election had been rigged in favour of his rival from the ruling United Russia party. On Saturday, Shein, a member of the A Just Russia party, addressed a crowd, many of whom wore white ribbons, a symbol of a protest movement which began in Moscow last year after accusations of voting fraud in a parliamentary election. A Reuters reporter on the scene estimated that more than 2,000 men and women had turned up. “Today Astrakhan has united the hearts of all those people who want to live freely, who don’t want to be a slave and want to have a dignified life in the great country called Russia,” said Shein, looking emaciated.
Pakistan – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Almost 400 prisoners have escaped from a prison in Pakistan after it was attacked by Islamist militants. At least 100 militants launched the assault on the jail in north-west Pakistan at 01:00 (20:00 GMT Saturday). Officials said some of the freed men were “dangerous” insurgents, including an inmate on death row for trying to kill ex-President Pervez Musharraf. The jail is located in Bannu, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which borders Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas. The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says the attack is clearly a setback for Pakistan’s security forces, who over the last year have gained considerable ground against militants in the north-west of the country.