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21 April 2012
France – The Times of India reported: More than 44 million French voters were called to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a presidential election that may see the end of Nicolas Sarkozy’s turbulent term in office. Predictions of a high abstention rate and strong protest vote left the outcome uncertain, but all opinion polls point to the right-wing incumbent coming second to his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. The two 57-year-old political veterans are thus on course to face each other head-to-head in a May 6 run-off, which will decide who runs what is commonly regarded as the world’s fifth greatest power for the next five years. Voting began yesterday in France’s overseas territories — islands dotting the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans – and was to continue on Sunday in 85,000 polling stations across the country’s European mainland.
Pakistan – The New Zealand Herald reported: Pakistan has barred the head of the airline whose jet crashed near the capital from leaving the country, vowing to investigate a tragedy that has revived fears about the safety of aviation in a country saddled by massive economic problems. The Bhoja Air passenger jet crashed Friday evening as it tried to land in a thunderstorm at Islamabad’s main airport, killing all 127 people on board. The second major air disaster close to the capital in less than two years, the crash triggered fresh criticism of an already embattled government, which faced questions over why it gave a license to the tiny airline just last month. Sobbing relatives of those who died flocked to a hospital in Islamabad to collect the remains of their loved ones. “We had no idea they would be called for eternal rest,” said Sardar Aftaz Khan, who was trying to secure the release of the bodies of her mother, an aunt and a nephew.
Afghanistan – The (AP) reported: Afghan security forces have arrested five militants with 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) of explosives that they smuggled in from Pakistan to carry out a massive attack in Kabul, as well as another three suspects allegedly planning to assassinate the vice president, an official said Saturday. The reports of new planned attacks in the Afghan capital came a week after militants said to be part of the Pakistan-based Haqqani group launched coordinated assaults in the heart of Kabul and in three other cities. U.S. officials say they have stepped up pressure on Islamabad to crack down on the Haqqanis, who specializes in high-profile strikes against well-protected targets. Three of the five men arrested with the explosives were members of the Pakistani Taliban, while the other two belonged to the Afghan Taliban, National Director for Security spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiry told reporters. He said the men’s orders came from militant leaders with ties to Pakistani intelligence. He did not say when the arrests took place, nor what their intended target was. Tahiry said the seized explosives were packed in 400 bags and hidden under potatoes loaded in a truck with Pakistani license plates.
Japan – Reuters reported: Japan will write off billions of dollars in debt owed by Myanmar and restart development loans, the leaders of the two countries said on Saturday, in a further move to end the Southeast Asian nation’s isolation and strengthen its nascent democracy. The agreement to waive 303.5 billion yen ($3.72 billion) debt and overdue charges was reached during President Thein Sein’s visit to Tokyo, the first by a Myanmar head of state in nearly three decades, signaling its steady return to the international fold after decades of brutal military rule. “In order to support Myanmar’s efforts for reforms in various areas towards its democratization, national reconciliation and sustainable development, Japan will extend economic cooperation … while continuously observing the progress of these efforts …,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a statement. Myanmar, run by the military for five decades until a year ago, has undertaken a series of reforms, allowing the main opposition to run in parliamentary by-elections, releasing political prisoners and easing restrictions on the press.
New York – The Washington Post reported: The U.N. Security Council threatened sanctions against the perpetrators and supporters of the military coup in Guinea-Bissau on Saturday if the legitimate government isn’t restored. A presidential statement adopted by the council and read at a formal meeting reiterated the council’s “strong condemnation of the military coup by the military leadership and political elements” on April 12. The Security Council rejected “the unconstitutional establishment of a Transitional National Council by the military leadership and its supporters.” It demanded the immediate restoration of constitutional order, reinstatement of the legitimate government, and unconditional release of the interim president, prime minister and other officials who were detained during the coup.
Netherlands – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is likely to try to strike a budget deal with opposition parties that meets European Union fiscal targets before holding early elections after Geert Wilders’ Freedom party withdrew support for his minority government. Negotiations among Rutte’s coalition members to find 9.5 billion euros ($12.6 billion) of additional cuts in the 2013 budget collapsed yesterday when Wilders objected to proposed social security reductions. General elections should take place “the sooner the better”, Wilders said, as his party no longer supports the government. The political and budgetary uncertainty may push yields on Netherlands bonds higher and are likely to complicate Dutch efforts to maintain the AAA credit rating that France and Austria lost in January. The situation emerges at the same time as concerns with Spain’s fiscal position and banks have reignited Europe’s debt crisis. “There is the potential that this will lead to higher spreads and higher interest rates,” Sweder van Wijnbergen, professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We’re not like Italy yet but we need a clear and long-term vision on how to deal with our government finances and that will take some time,” Van Wijnbergen said.
Yemen – The (AP) reported: Yemen’s deposed leader says the Arab Spring revolts that swept the region last year brought “destruction” to the nations in which they took place. Ali Abdullah Saleh say Yemen’s own yearlong revolt cost billions of dollars in lost revenues. Saleh also criticized what he said was “biased” implementation of the power-transfer deal that saw him step down in February, and said it could ignite a new crisis. This was an apparent response to new President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s moves to purge the security forces of the ex-leader’s loyalists. Saleh’s Saturday night comments came in an address to university graduates and were reported by aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
China – Reuters reported: China’s military warned the United States on Saturday that U.S.-Philippine military exercises have raised risks of armed confrontation over the disputed South China Sea, in the toughest high-level warning yet after weeks of tension. China’s official Liberation Army Daily warned that recent jostling with the Philippines over disputed seas where both countries have sent ships could boil over into outright conflict, and laid much of the blame at Washington’s door. American and Filipino troops launched two weeks of annual naval drills on April 16 amid the stand-off between Beijing and Manila, who have accused each other of encroaching on sovereign seas near the Scarborough Shoal, west of a former U.S. navy base at Subic Bay. The joint exercises are held in different seas around the Philippines. The leg that takes place in the South China Sea area, which could be rich in oil and gas and is spanned by busy shipping lanes, starts on Monday.
Iran – Reuters reported: An influential Iranian cleric praised recent nuclear talks between Iran and world powers on Friday, the latest in a series of positive statements from senior figures that analysts said could signal Tehran is softening its stance. Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the powerful Guardian Council, said the talks showed “success and progress” but added Tehran would break off the negotiations if Western countries carried on imposing sanctions while negotiating. World powers held talks with Tehran in Istanbul last week over their concerns about its nuclear programme, which the United States and its allies say is a cover for developing an atomic weapons capability. Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium, despite pressure from Western sanctions, and says its nuclear work is for purely peaceful purposes.
China & Russia – Reuters reported: China and Russia launched joint naval exercises Sunday that highlight warming ties between their militaries and growing cooperation in international affairs. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said the six days of drills feature simulated anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and search-and-rescue operations, including electronic countermeasures and other sensitive technologies. Retired major general Yin Zhuo said it shows a high degree of trust between the sides. “It’s an excellent exchange for China to be able to drill jointly in such sensitive areas,” Yin told CCTV. China’s Defense Ministry said China was sending two submarines and 16 ships to take part, including destroyers, escort vessels and hospital ships. The deputy chiefs of the countries’ navies oversaw the start of drills in the northeastern Chinese port of Qingdao, the home of China’s northern fleet.
22 April 2012
France – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Almost one in five French voters cast their ballots for National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s call to abandon the euro and turn her country into an anti- immigrant fortress. While that wasn’t enough to propel her into the final round of the presidential election, her party’s record 17.9 percent showing make her supporters key to the May 6 runoff between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Francois Hollande. “We have blown apart the monopoly of the two parties of banking, finance and multinationals,” Le Pen said last night, declining to endorse either candidate. “Nothing will ever be the same.” A lawyer by training, Le Pen, 43, led a campaign against both Hollande and Sarkozy, pledging to bring back the French franc, tighten borders against immigration and pull away from European treaties. While she failed to shock the establishment by making it into the second round like her father did in 2002, she still got about 68 percent more votes than he did in 2007. Her views are likely to color the election debate.
China – The (AP) reported: Chinese President Hu Jintao met with a top North Korean envoy on Monday in a reaffirmation of traditional ties following Chinese pique over Pyongyang’s recent attempted rocket launch. State broadcaster CCTV made no mention of the failed April 13 launch in its report on Hu’s meeting with Workers’ Party international relations chief Kim Yong Il at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing. Hu sent his congratulations to North Korea’s young new leader Kim Jong Un on his assuming the title of Workers’ Party first secretary and said strengthening ties with North Korea was a key priority for China’s ruling communists. “We will carry on this tradition … boost strategic communication and coordination on key international issues and work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” CCTV quoted Hu, who also leads the Chinese Communist Party, as saying. Kim’s high-profile reception illustrates how Beijing is determined to maintain strong ties with its communist neighbor despite exasperation over its provocations against the South and Pyongyang’s refusal to embark on economic reforms that would reduce its dependency on foreign aid.
Afghanistan – The (AP) reported: NATO forces say two international service members have been killed in a bomb attack in eastern Afghanistan. The military coalition says in a statement issued Monday that the deaths happened on Sunday. The statement does not provide nationalities or other details. NATO typically waits for member nations to announce casualties before providing more information. Most of the international troops in the east are American but their are forces from other NATO nations as well. The deaths make at least 25 international service members killed so far this month.
Iran – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Iran said Sunday it had recovered data from an American spy drone that went down in Iran last year, including information that the aircraft was used to spy on Osama bin Laden weeks before he was killed. Iran also said it was building a copy of the drone. Similar unmanned surveillance planes have been used in Afghanistan for years and kept watch on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. But U.S. officials have said little about the history of the particular aircraft now in Iran’s possession. Tehran, which has been known to exaggerate its military and technological prowess, says it brought down the RQ-170 Sentinel, a top-secret drone equipped with stealth technology. The United States says the drone malfunctioned and downplayed any suggestion that Iran could mine the aircraft for sensitive information. The chief of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, told state television that Iranian experts had recovered data from the aircraft.
Israel – Ynet NEWS reported: Egypt’s presidential candidates on Sunday welcomed the decision to terminate the gas deal with Israel, calling it “the will of the people.” “The Egyptian people, who managed to withstand Israel and refused normalization despite the peace treaty, is definitely not interested in the gas export agreement with Israel,” Abd el-Munam Abu al-Fatuah, one of the leading presidential candidates, said. During an interview with al-Hayat TV station, Fatuah said that he does not see the export of gas to Israel as part of the normalization process. “As long as the Egyptian people don’t want it, the president has to abide by their wishes,” he said, adding that he had asked the Foreign Ministry to reexamine the deal in the past, but was told that it was under the responsibility of the presidential palace, and not the ministry.
South Sudan – The (AP) reported: Sudanese warplanes bombed a major town Monday in South Sudan, hitting a market and killing a boy while wounding at least 10 people. South Sudanese troops fired back as the threat of full-scale war between the two nations loomed. The bombs fell with a whistling sound from two MiG 29 jets and exploded, reducing several stalls in a market where food and other household items are sold to twisted metal and setting some ablaze. The burned body of the boy lay flat on his back near the center of the blast site, his hand clutching at the sky. A hospital official in Bentiu said 10 people were wounded. Trucks packed with South Sudanese soldiers sped off in the direction where the bombs landed and the soldiers started shooting at the Sudanese jets. “The bombing amounts to a declaration of war,” said Maj. Gen. Mac Paul, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence for South Sudan.
China & Russia – Ria Novosti reported: A Russian naval task group arrived at the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao on Saturday for joint exercises with the Chinese navy, a captain said. “Each vessel was welcomed individually,” Cpt. 1st Rank Roman Martov told RIA Novosti. The naval squadron, including the Varyag missile cruiser, three Udaloy class destroyers and three fleet support ships, will join 16 Chinese surface ships for drills in the Yellow Sea between Aril 22 and 27. “The exercises will involve several simulated missions, including the rescue of a hijacked ship, the escort of a commercial vessel, and the defense a convoy from air and sea attacks,” a Russian defense ministry spokesman said on Friday. Chinese army chief Gen Chen Bingde has said the drills will promote “strategic coordination” and “mutual trust” between the two nations, Xinhua news agency reported.
Vietnam – The Telegraph UK reported: Three ships from the US 7th Fleet visited Danang during the five-day event that began Monday. No live-fire drills were planned, but the two sides were expected to practice salvage and disaster training as they have done in recent years. Vietnam, China, the Philippines and other nations have competing claims to islands in the South China Sea, which is believed rich in oil and gas deposits. Many view the sea as a potential flash point of armed conflict. Tensions have flared this month near a shoal north of the disputed Spratly Islands where two Chinese maritime surveillance ships blocked a Philippine warship from arresting Chinese fishermen on April 10. Chinese and Philippine vessels continued to face off at the shoal on Monday, each waiting for the other to pull out. Earlier this month, five Vietnamese Buddhist monks travelled to the Spratlys to teach Buddhism and defend their nation’s territorial claim. Tensions between Vietnam and China hit a low point last summer after Hanoi accused Beijing of interfering with its maritime oil exploration activities. Beijing denied the charge.