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14 May 2012
Syria – The New York Times reported: Nearly two dozen Syrian government soldiers were killed in intense clashes with the opposition over control of the central, rebel-held city of Rastan, opposition groups said Monday, deepening questions about the viability of a cease-fire engineered under United Nations auspices. The sectarian tensions that erupted in Syria also spilled over the border into Lebanon, setting off a third day of gun battles between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in the northern city of Tripoli, according to witnesses and local press reports. “Where are the monitors?” was the anguished cry of a Syrian man shown on an amateur video from Rastan as one bloody victim of government shellfire after another was rushed into a makeshift clinic. The United Nations has 189 of an eventual 300 unarmed cease-fire monitors in Syria, as well as about 60 human rights workers. In an attempt to unify the opposition for peace talks, Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, was due to preside over a meeting of its leaders in Cairo starting Wednesday.
Gaza Strip – Ynet NEWS reported: Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip held celebratory rallies Monday, as news of the deal struck between the security prisoners and Israel became public. The deal spelled the end of some 1,600 prisoners’ hunger strike. It was brokered by Egyptian mediators. According to the Palestinians, Israel agreed to allow prisoners from both the West Bank and Gaza to receive family visits. The visits from Gaza were halted in 2006, following Gilad Shalit’s abduction. The Shin Bet said that in return the prisoners pledged “to absolutely stop terror activity from inside Israeli jails.” Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate the deal and “the Palestinian prisoners’ victory over Israel.” Hebron Palestinian Prisoner Club manager Amjad Najjar lauded the prisoners’ “unwavering stand” vis-à-vis Israel; and local Palestinian leaders praised the “newfound unity of Palestinian prisoners from different faction, which promoted their victory.” In the Strip, hundreds gathered in the Unknown Soldier Square, one of Gaza City’s main squares, where a protest tent was erected as the hunger strike began.
Greece – CNN reported: As the clock ticks toward a Thursday deadline, Greek President Karolos Papoulias has called for a Tuesday meeting with the leaders of three main political parties to cobble together a unity government and stave off new elections. Attempts to form a coalition government in Greece failed Monday, moving the country closer to a eurozone exit. Talks between Papoulias and the leaders of three main parties ended Monday night without a resolution, the president’s office said. Papoulias then called a meeting for Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a government run by technocrats with support from political parties, according to the leader of the socialist PASOK party, which attended Monday’s talks. “We have no choice” but to support the idea of a technocracy, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said.
China – Xinhua reported: The Philippines has been seeking an international arbitration to resolve a month-long maritime standoff with Beijing over Huangyan Island in the South China Sea, but a closer look at the proposal easily puts Manila’s real motives in question. Analysts said the proposal lacks legal ground and is not a right solution at all. Tensions have been running high since the April 10 episode when a Philippine warship entered waters off Huangyan Island and acted under the pretext of “protecting sovereignty” to harass Chinese fishermen, who were taking shelter from a storm in the lagoon. In a show of what it called restraint, Manila has proposed to bring the disputes to the International Tribunal For the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) to decide the ownership of the island. “We do not wish to escalate any tensions right now,” Philipine President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman said. “Therefore, what we’re doing for now is to just to document the situation … and consequently raise (it) before the tribunals.” However, analysts doubted whether the proposal, which is short of legal ground, could provide a way out of the current stalemate.
Nepal – The Boston Globe reported: A plane crashed into a mountain in the Himalayas while trying to land at an airport in northern Nepal on Monday, killing 15 people and injuring six, some critically. It was carrying two pilots and a flight attendant – all Nepalese – along with 16 Indians and two Danish citizens, both of whom survived, officials said.
Pakistan – The New York Times reported: Pakistan’s foreign minister suggested Monday that the country should reopen its Afghan border to NATO troop supplies, saying the government had made its point by closing the route for nearly six months in retaliation for American airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Reopening the border risks a domestic outcry in Pakistan given Washington’s refusal to apologize for the attack, which it says was an accident. But it could help ensure that Pakistan has a role in the future of Afghanistan as NATO prepares to retool its strategy there during a conference that starts Sunday in Chicago. Pakistan’s presence would benefit the American-led coalition as well, because the country is seen as crucial to striking a peace deal with the Taliban and their allies in Afghanistan that would allow foreign troops to withdraw without the nation descending into further chaos. The supply line running through Pakistan to Afghanistan will be critical to that withdrawal as NATO pulls out more than a decade’s worth of equipment. It has been critical for shipping in supplies as well, although the United States has reduced its reliance on Pakistan in recent years by using a more costly route through Central Asia.
Libya – Xinhua reported: An international human rights organization is calling on NATO to fully investigate civilian casualties in the wake of its air strikes in Libya last year. Human Rights Watch believes the NATO raids killed at least 72 civilians, and says the alliance needs to take responsibility. But NATO officials say the bombing raids were taken with a high level of care and precision, and everything possible was done to minimize harm to civilians. When NATO joined the civilian population in the push to oust former Libya leader Muammar Ghadafi, the target was to be the forces loyal to the former strong man, and not civilians. But a report released by leading human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, paints a different picture of the whole operation. The report indicates that at least 72 civilians died in the airstrikes, among them 20 women and 24 children, and wants NATO to take full responsibility for the deaths. Fred Abrahams, special adviser of Human Rights Watch, said, “We have questions that NATO has not yet answered and we’re calling for prompt, credible, and thorough investigations to understand why these 72 civilians died.”
Cyprus – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: Cyprus’ second-largest bank says that it is in talks with the island’s finance ministry and central bank on a possible recapitalization. Cyprus Popular Bank said in a statement Monday that it is discussing the possibility of a government guarantee on a capital issue to help attract private investors and minimize the amount that the state would have to cover. Cyprus Popular was the most exposed to Greek debt of the country’s top three banks. It posted record losses for 2011 of around (EURO)3.6 billion ($4.66 billion) after taking a 76 percent writedown on its Greek government bond holdings. The bank had said it would need (EURO)1.35 billion ($1.75 billion) to meet EU capital buffer requirements.
15 May 2012
Syria – Reuters reported: At least 21 people were killed on Tuesday in an attack in northern Syria, activists said, and members of a team of U.N. monitors caught in the incident said they were in rebel hands “for their own protection.” When Reuters asked one of the four monitors by phone if they were being held prisoner, he said: “We are safe with the (rebel) Free Army.” A spokesman for the rebel military council said the rebels were working on a safe exit for the monitors. An internal U.N. document obtained by Reuters said that a total of six monitors were under rebel “protection” in a “friendly environment.” “They are now with the Free Army which is protecting them. If they leave, the regime will terminate them because they have witnessed one of its crimes and it does not want them to tell the truth,” rebel Major Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters.
Greece – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Greek President Karolos Papoulias was told by the central bank chief this week that financial institutions are becoming anxious about their prospects as Greeks pull out cash after the inconclusive May 6 elections. Central bank head George Provopoulos told Papoulias that Greeks have withdrawn as much as 700 million euros ($891 million) and the situation could worsen, according to the transcript of the president’s meeting with party leaders on May 14 that was published yesterday. “Provopoulos told me that of course there’s no panic but there’s great fear which can evolve into panic,” he said. Greece’s future in the euro has been thrown into doubt by the political standoff, forcing the president to call for new elections yesterday. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called the next vote a referendum on whether Greece exits the euro, a move that would leave lenders to its government, businesses and households unsure of recouping their money.
Israel – The Voice of America reported: The European Union this week continued the international condemnation of Israel’s policy of building settlements in largely Palestinian areas. The enclaves are a stumbling block to restarting peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But in a minor win for Palestinians, an Israeli court has ordered three small West Bank settlements to be demolished after ruling they were illegal. The houses of Ulpana overlook Beit El, an Israeli settlement of 7,000 people not far from the major Palestinian city of Ramallah. The Israeli High Court has ruled that five of Ulpana’s 14 buildings are on land belonging to a Palestinian man. It has ordered Israel’s government to demolish them and evict the 30 young families living there. Palestinians and much of the international community consider all Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal. But the case regarding Ulpana is much narrower, and the ruling could pose a challenge for Israel’s new unity government.
Somalia – The Voice of America reported: European Union naval forces say they have destroyed pirate skiffs on Somalia’s coast, in their first-ever on-shore operation. Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government says it welcomes the EU’s efforts, but is concerned about the risk to civilians. The naval forces targeted pirate boats lined up along the shoreline near the town of Haradhere in Somalia’s Galmudug region, a major center of pirate activity. Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff, spokesperson for the EU Naval Force, says the operation took place around midnight Tuesday and was over within minutes. “The operation was carried out using an EU Naval Force helicopter,” she explained. “At no point did boots go on the ground, and EU forces did not go on the ground, and basically what the guys in the helicopter were able to do was focus in on these attack skiffs and fire at them and make them inoperable.”
China – CNN reported: The United States says it has taken all the necessary steps on its side to admit Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese human rights activist who ignited a diplomatic frenzy when he escaped house arrest last month. “We are ready when he and his government are ready,” said Victoria Nuland, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, on Tuesday. “We have been for more than a week now in terms of his visa to come pursue his studies.” China has said that Chen can apply to study abroad. But for the time being, he remains in the Beijing hospital room in which he has been staying since he left the refuge of the U.S. Embassy two weeks ago, awaiting his travel documents. The U.S. authorities have completed all the processing for Chen, his wife and two children to travel to the United States, where Chen has been invited to study by New York University, Nuland said at a regular briefing.
Philippines – The Voice of America reported: A territorial squabble between China and the Philippines over a small group of islands in the South China Sea has not evolved into a going green agreement. But a decision by both countries to implement a ban on fishing in the region has helped to temporarily defuse tensions between them. From May 16 – August 1, China said it will stop fishing in an area that encompasses the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island to the Chinese), a small group of islands it claims as part of its territory. The Philippines responded by announcing plans for its own fishing ban in the area. While Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario said called it an opportunity to replenish the rich fishing grounds, his statement was preface by a comment that was more direct to the issue.
South Korea – The New York Times reported: South Korea has received assurances from Myanmar that it will no longer buy weapons from North Korea, an aide to President Lee Myung-bak said Tuesday. President Thein Sein of Myanmar acknowledged that his country had bought conventional weapons from the North over the past 20 years but vowed in a meeting with Mr. Lee in the Burmese capital on Monday to end the practice, said the aide, Kim Tae-hyo. Mr. Thein Sein also indicated Tuesday that Myanmar had not pursued the development of nuclear arms and vowed to honor a United Nations Security Council resolution that bans countries from activities that could assist North Korea’s missile programs, Mr. Kim said.
South Korea – The Voice of America reported: South Korea’s foreign ministry says China has been holding four of its citizens in Dandong, activists linked to North Korean refugees, since their arrest March 29 in Dalian. Spokesman Cho Byung-je says Seoul is asking Beijing to handle the case in a fair and swift manner. “South Korea understands that the investigation is proceeding based on procedures under Chinese law,” said Cho, who did not comment on specific accusations because formal charges have yet to be levied. The group appears to have been in contact with North Korean refugees in northeastern China to find about life and conditions in their homeland. Seoul-based activists said at least one of the detained men, Kim Young-hwan, a prominent and controversial figure in human rights circles in South Korea, is likely to face spying charges.
16 May 2012
Greece – The BBC reported: The leader of a left-wing party in Greece, Alexis Tsipras, looks likely to do best in next month’s election and there is increasing speculation that Greece could be forced out of the euro if his party wins. Meanwhile, some Greeks have been withdrawing their euros from banks, amid fears the country may have to withdraw from the single currency.
Germany – The New York Times reported: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said Wednesday that she was ready to discuss stimulus programs to get the Greek economy growing again and that she was committed to keeping Greece in the euro zone, signaling a softer approach toward the struggling country. The fierce rhetorical salvos out of Germany in the past week gave way to conciliatory gestures by Ms. Merkel, who throughout the crisis has shown a propensity for managing through brinkmanship. “I have the will, the determination to keep Greece in the euro zone,” she said in an interview on CNBC on Wednesday, in what appeared to be an attempt to relax an increasingly tense situation. If Greek officials are looking for “stimulus to be pursued for growth in the euro zone, which we could pursue in the interest of Greece, we’re open for this,” Ms. Merkel said. “Germany is open for this.”
Syria – FOX NEWS reported: In his first interview since December, Syrian President Bashar Assad has insisted his regime is fighting back against foreign mercenaries who want to overthrow him, not innocent Syrians aspiring for democracy in a yearlong uprising. The interview with Russian TV showed Assad is still standing his ground, despite widespread international condemnation over his deadly crackdown on dissent. “There are foreign mercenaries, some of them still alive,” Assad said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on Russian state news channel Rossiya-24. “They are being detained and we are preparing to show them to the world.”
China – The (AP) reported: The activist who was at the center of a diplomatic tussle between Beijing and Washington said Thursday that Chinese officials have told him the passports that he and his family just applied for should be ready within two weeks. A rights group, meanwhile, described more retaliation by authorities against his family. From a Beijing hospital room where he remains under virtual house arrest, Chen Guangcheng said in a phone interview with The Associated Press that it remained unclear if he, his wife and their two children would be able to leave China shortly after getting their passports. Chen made a dramatic late night escape from abusive house arrest in eastern Shandong province last month and after several days hiding from security officials in Beijing wound up in the protection of U.S. diplomats, triggering intense U.S.-Chinese negotiations on his fate. Chen and his family are now expected to be able to travel abroad for him to study in the United States in an agreement between Beijing and Washington following days of talks.
Saudi Arabia – The New York Times reported: Saudi Arabia pushed ahead Monday with efforts to forge a single federation with its five Persian Gulf neighbors as the conservative monarchy seeks to build a new bulwark against the waves of change sweeping the Middle East. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said after a meeting in Riyadh of the loosely allied, six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council that the group had distributed a draft plan for the union to its members’ foreign ministers to review so they could resolve any issues. “I am hoping that the six countries will unite in the next meeting,” he said. Several smaller gulf states have publicly balked at the idea, fearing Saudi domination of the group. The fact that no agreement was announced Monday, as some had expected, seemed to signal deep misgivings among several of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors. But Prince Saud’s public push forward despite their opposition underscored the kingdom’s continuing scramble — with diplomacy, money and even arms — to preserve or rebuild what it can of the old regional order in the wake of the Arab uprisings.
The Hague Netherlands – FOX NEWS reported: Convicted war criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor told judges at his sentencing hearing Wednesday that he sympathizes with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and judges should render their sentence against him in a spirit of “reconciliation, not retribution.” However, he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologizing for his actions, or expressing remorse.In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers. Judges at the U.N.-backed court said his aid was essential in in helping rebels across the border in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead. It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the aftermath of World War II.
Lebanon – The New York Times reported: About a week before the start of the latest round of fighting between Sunni and Alawite militias in Lebanon’s second city, one of Tripoli’s most influential Salafi clerics received visitors in a small room inside the mosque he presides over after noon prayers. Tripoli today, he remarked offhandedly to his guests, is like the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar that, during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, acted as an integral hub for organizing fighters, arms and intelligence for the mujahedeen’s insurgency and was the host to 100,000 refugees. The sheik’s comment was perhaps hyperbole, but strong connections between Tripoli and the conflict next door in Syria do exist, and they have solidified over time. Both fighters and arms have flowed from the city to the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran – Reuters reported: Iran is installing more centrifuges in an underground plant but does not yet appear to be using them to expand higher-grade uranium enrichment that could take it closer to producing atom bomb material, Western diplomats say. They say Iran’s production of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which it started two years ago, seems to have remained steady in recent months after a major escalation of the work in late 2011 and early this year. Progress in Iran’s controversial nuclear program is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine the time the Islamic Republic would need to build nuclear bombs, should it decide to do so. Getting Iran to stop the higher-level enrichment is expected to be a priority for world powers when they meet with Iran in Baghdad next week in an attempt to start resolving the decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic ambitions.
Pakistan – The BBC reported: The Pakistani government appears to be on the verge of lifting its six-month blockade on the transport of Nato goods through Pakistan to Afghanistan. It would be seen as something of an improvement in relations between Washington and Islamabad but there is opposition among many Pakistanis.
Yemen – The RT NEWS Service reported: The US is moving to place sanctions on anyone who opposes what Washington calls a democratic process in Yemen. Anti-war activist Susan Lindauer says this brings the US right into Al-Qaeda’s trap. Yemen is fighting an alleged Al-Qaeda insurgency with military support from the United States. On top of this, the Arab state continues to suffer from months of political unrest, with anti-government protesters demanding more reforms. RT: Do members of the peaceful opposition in Yemen fall under these new US sanctions? Susan Lindauer: Bad news for Barack Obama – the United States has played right into the hands of Al-Qaeda. It’s been a long-term ambition of Al-Qaeda to manipulate the United States into putting sanctions on Yemen, so that they can alienate the very impoverished Yemeni people from the central government. Yemen is a scrabble poor country, desperately poor. They are running out of water, they have no food, they have limited hospitals, limited educational opportunities. Yemen sits right next toward Saudi Arabia. Ever since the bombing of the USS Cole, Al-Qaeda has made it clear that it wants to establish a base inside Yemen to attack the Saudi oil fields right next door. And anything that they can do to alienate the Yemeni people from the central authority and the West, the United States’ cause [would be] a great victory for them. It’s a very bad decision by the United States.
South Sudan – The Guardian UK reported: South Sudan is facing a humanitarian crisis with more than half its population threatened by food shortages because of its ongoing conflict with Sudan, the UN has warned. Fighting on the neighbours’ disputed border, the halting of oil production and inter-communal violence have “raised fears that the South Sudanese are sliding into destitution”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Its report comes amid fears that South Sudan is on the brink of economic disaster less than a year after it gained independence from Sudan. The UN says food shortfalls have worsened in the first four months of 2012. Based on research from the World Food Programme, it estimates that at least 1 million people will suffer food insecurity this year and a further 3.7 million are vulnerable.
Washington D.C. – The Hindustan Times via Reuters reported: US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will ask the chamber to approve a new package of oil and economic sanctions on Thursday aimed at further pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear program, a Democratic leadership aide told Reuters. The politically popular sanctions are focused US Congress eases off on India-Iran oil link on foreign banks that handle transactions for Iran’s national oil and tanker companies, and include measures to close loopholes in existing sanctions. The tougher package has secured support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group, the Democratic aide said. A senior Republican congressional aide said the bill is expected to pass. “AIPAC has signed off on this and is strongly supporting it and is urging Republicans to do the same,” the Democratic leadership aide said. The United States says Iran’s nuclear program is a cover for developing the capability to build atomic bombs. Iran says it is for civilian purposes.
17 May 2012
Myanmar – The Washington Post reported: President Barack Obama on Thursday declared a new chapter in U.S. relations with Myanmar, easing an investment ban and naming the first U.S. ambassador to the former pariah state in 22 years to reward it for democratic reforms. Both Republican and Democrat senators welcomed the administration’s move, but human rights activists said it was premature to reward a government that remains dominated by its military and still holds hundreds of political prisoners. Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to parliament last month has prompted Western governments to roll back years of hard-hitting restrictions against the Asian nation also known as Burma, which is emerging from decades of authoritarian rule and diplomatic isolation.
The Hague Netherlands – The Christian Science Monitor reported: An apparent clerical error prompted judges to postpone the long-awaited war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic on Thursday, possibly for months. The delay cast a shadow over one of the court’s biggest cases — and over the reputation of the court itself, where most prominent trials have proceeded at a snail’s pace, frustrating many victims. It also highlighted problems faced by international tribunals in prosecuting sweeping indictments covering allegations of atrocities spanning years in countries far from the courts where defendants face justice. Who is Ratko Mladic? Four key questions answered. “It is fraught with delay because of the volume of documentation and scope of alleged crimes,” Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Add to that the need to translate and it really takes it to a whole new level of complexity that you don’t see in domestic trials.”
Syria – CNN reported: A confidential draft U.N. report accuses Iran of exporting arms to the Syrian government in violation of a ban on weapons sales, a Western diplomat said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The draft report describes three seizures of Iranian weapons shipments, including two bound for Syria, within the past year, said the diplomat, who was not authorized to release details to the media. The report was drafted by a panel of experts and submitted to the U.N. Security Council’s committee that monitors sanctions against Iran, the official told CNN. There was no immediate reaction to the report on Iranian government-run Press TV. The accusation came as al-Assad, in a rare interview, told Russia 24 that weapons bound for rebels were entering his country from neighboring Lebanon and Turkey.
Iran – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: Google is facing legal action over its decision to not label the body of water separating Iran and neighbouring Arab Gulf states on its online map service. The Iranians call the waterway the Persian Gulf, while Arab countries often refer to it as the Arabian Gulf. Iran has warned Google it will face “serious damages” if it does not denote the area as the Persian Gulf. The Gulf is bordered by Iran and its Arab neighbours – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Afghanistan – CNN reported: NATO forces are here until 2014, but each day the demands on them lessen as Afghan forces take on more responsibility. Earlier this week, the latest tranche of the security transfer process was announced. A third swathe of Afghanistan will see Afghan national forces take the lead on security, with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) scaled back into to a supporting role only. Most taxpayers funding the decade of war in Afghanistan won’t have heard of many of the regions affected, but this tranche is particularly significant because three quarters of the country will now be under the control of Afghan security forces.
Philippines – The Agence France Presse reported: Philippine President Benigno Aquino convinced protesters to abort plans to sail Friday to a disputed South China Sea shoal as he sought ways to resolve a tense stand-off with China. A group of about 20 people, led by outspoken former Philippine Marine officer Nicanor Faeldon and including television crews, was all set to depart to Scarborough Shoal from the northern coastal town of Masinloc. But Aquino placed a last-minute phone call to Faeldon, convincing him not to go, the president’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte told reporters in Manila. “The president did indeed speak to Mr. Faeldon and had asked him to reconsider his plan of going to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal because it might be construed in a negative way,” Valte said.
Iran – FOX NEWS reported: The U.S. has plans in place to attack Iran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Washington’s envoy to Israel said, days ahead of a crucial round of nuclear talks with Tehran. Dan Shapiro’s message resonated Thursday far beyond the closed forum in which it was made: Iran should not test Washington’s resolve to act on its promise to strike if diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Tehran to abandon its disputed nuclear program. Shapiro told the Israel Bar Association the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force. “But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready,” he said. “The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.”
Sudan – The BBC Africa Corps reported: Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has arrived in Khartoum to attempt to restart negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan. The African Union’s mediator is due to meet Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir to try to set out an agenda and timetable for talks. Heavy fighting between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan brought them to the verge of war last month. The UN has threatened sanctions if the situation is not resolved swiftly. According to a United Nations Security Council resolution, talks aimed at resolving the dispute should have started this week.
Pakistan – The Michigan News via BNO reported: Two training aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) collided in mid-air over northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing everyone on board and a civilian on the ground, police said. Several others were injured. The accident happened when two MFI-17 Muchshak basic trainer aircraft crashed in the small town of Rashakai near PAF Academy Risalpur in the Nowshera District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The planes were carrying two pilots and two co-pilots, all whom were killed upon impact. The debris of the planes destroyed two houses in the town, which is located just a few kilometers (miles) from PAF Academy Risalpur, while several others were damaged. A provincial police official speaking on the condition of anonymity, because he was not allowed to speak to the press, said one civilian was killed while nine others were injured.
Yemen – TIME Magazine reported: Yemeni troops battling al-Qaida fighters in the country’s south have forced them to retreat but military officials said Thursday the push in a major southern city is going slowly because of concerns the militants could stage a surprise counterattack. The military, backed by heavy artillery and warplanes, is advancing inside the city of Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, the officials said. The city fell into al-Qaida’s hands during last year’s popular uprising against the now ousted leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. Zinjibar’s capture would deal a heavy blow to al-Qaida as it would leave the terror group’s fighters scattered in smaller towns and mountain areas of the south.
Cypress – The Jersualem Post reported: Northern Cyprus on Thursday warned Israel against violating its airspace, Anatolia news agency reported, just one day after Israel was accused of violating northern Cypriot airspace. According to the report, Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu phoned Israel’s ambassador to Cyprus over this issue, warning him against repeated offenses. On Thursday, Turkey said it had scrambled two combat aircraft to intercept the Israeli plane. “A plane belonging to Israel, the model of which could not be identified, violated KKTC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) airspace (above its territorial waters) five times,” the Turkish military said. “In response to this situation, our 2XF-16 plane based at Incirlik was scrambled and our planes carried out patrol flights in KKTC airspace, preventing the said plane from continuing to violate KKTC airspace,” said the statement, posted on the Turkish general staff’s website.
Washington D.C. – The Telegraph UK reported: David Cameron faces a difficult first meeting with France’s new president, with diplomats warning that Francois Hollande opposes several of the prime minister’s European policies. Mr Hollande will meet Mr Cameron in Washington DC before a G8 leaders’ summit today, days after he replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as French leader. British diplomats have been left scrambling to build relations with Mr Hollande amid perceptions that Mr Cameron failed to do so before his election. Mr Hollande and his advisers are said to be “very conscious” of Mr Cameron’s close relationship with Mr Sarkozy, regarding the Prime Minister as having given at least tacit backing for the former president during the election campaign.
Saudi Arabia – Reuters reported: Saudi Arabia’s thrust for a Gulf Union, driven by fear of Arab Spring contagion and spreading Iranian influence, has stumbled on misgivings among smaller neighbors about a loss of sovereignty and increasing domination by Riyadh. Gulf diplomats, officials and analysts expressed surprise that Saudi Arabia had opened itself up to such a public setback. The union proposal, initially designed to contain Shi’ite Muslim dissent in Bahrain and counter the growing sway of Shi’ite Iran, surprised Gulf Arab leaders when King Abdullah first unveiled it at a summit in December. Rather than fade away, it acquired momentum when a Saudi minister outlined plans for shared foreign and defense policy last month. Yet when the meetings ended on Monday, there was little hiding the fact that some leaders in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had put the brakes on the project, if not shot it down entirely.
18 May 2012
Germany – Bloomberg NEWS reported: German 10-year bonds rose for a fifth week, pushing yields down to records, as heightened concern Greece will withdraw from the euro area boosted demand for the region’s safest securities. Two-, five- and 30-year yields also declined to all-time lows while the bonds of AAA rated Finland and the Netherlands advanced. Investors snapped up bunds as Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece and Moody’s Investors Service cut the ratings of 16 Spanish banks. Gross domestic product in the euro region stagnated last quarter, a European Union report showed May 15. “Everybody is afraid of Greece leaving the euro zone or getting bankrupt,” said Christian Reicherter, an analyst at DZ Bank AG in Frankfurt. “Risk-off trades are in at the moment. There’s no resistance in sight” even after the decline in bund yields, he said.
Syria – The Telegraph UK reported: As unrest continued to spread in Syria, the Prime Minister last night told fellow world leaders that more must to done to stop Bashar al-Assad oppressing his own people. Britain is prepared to contribute officers to an enlarged international monitoring mission in Syria, Mr Cameron told a Group of Eight summit in the US. There are more than 200 United Nations monitors inside Syria, where more than 9,000 people have died since last year as the regime tries to suppress opposition to Mr Assad’s rule. The monitors are in the country as part of a deal negotiated with Mr Assad by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general. The Annan deal is supposed to lead to a ceasefire and talks between the regime and its opponents.
18 May 2012
Iran – Ynet NEWS reported: “The United States and five other major powers are prepared to offer Iran a series of incentives to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium,” senior Obama administration officials were quoted as saying by the New York Times, Saturday. Heading into what has been defined as a “crucial round” in the West’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, held in Baghdad, Iraq, the officials said that such gestures may allow Iran to back down while saving face. The incentives, in form of trade mitigations, are likely to include easing restrictions on technical assistance to Iran’s energy industry, but will exclude the biting oil embargo imposed in the Islamic Republic’s crude industry. The West’s comprehensive oil sanctions are expected to go into effect in July.
United Kingdom – The Telegraph UK reported: The Prime Minister met the president in Washington before a G8 summit, and made clear he will block any French move that would harm the City of London. Downing Street said Mr Cameron delivered a “strong” message to Mr Hollande over a potential financial transactions tax levied across the European Union. “We are prepared to veto an FTT at EU level,” said a source. During his election campaign, Mr Hollande listed an FTT as part of a five-point plan to revive the European economy and resolve the eurozone debt crisis. Advocates of the tax say it would cut down on speculative financial trading, and raise large sums for cash-strapped governments. Critics say it would smother economic growth and cost jobs.
Bahrain – The New York Times reported: Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed onto a major highway on Friday to criticize a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a closer union with Bahrain. Demonstrators chanted “The land is not for sale,” along with antigovernment slogans, in what activists said was the largest protest in months. The unity proposal has increased tensions in Bahrain, which is still in turmoil more than a year after the government violently suppressed a Shiite-led popular uprising, with military help from the Saudi government. The Saudis, fearing the contagion of the revolts in Bahrain and elsewhere, and seeking to counter the influence of Iran, their regional rival, have pushed a proposal for greater unity with five other Persian Gulf monarchies. While Bahrain’s king has welcomed the proposal, opposition activists in the country, and some of the other gulf states, have balked at the idea. Leaders in the gulf this week decided to delay any decisions on the matter.
Burma – The Telegraph UK reported: The week-long visit to Britain will be part of a European tour that marks Ms Suu Kyi’s first trip outside Burma since 1988. Mr Cameron invited her to Britain when he visited Burma earlier this year as part of the country’s diplomatic rehabilitation. Burma has been dominated by its military for more than 50 years, but has recently begun a process of reform that some believe will lead to the restoration of democracy. Ms Suu Kyi recently took a seat in parliament. At a Group of Eight summit at Camp David last night, Mr Cameron said world leaders should do more to ensure aid to Burma is focussed on supporting its transition to democracy.
Palestine – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new cabinet in the West Bank. Salam Fayyad, who is popular with the West, was retained as prime minister but had to relinquish his influential second post as finance minister. Correspondents say the move is a blow to reconciliation efforts with Hamas, the Islamist group which governs Gaza. There had been plans for a unity government to end almost five years of division between the rival factions. A Hamas spokesman said naming a new cabinet was a “big error”.
Washington D.C. – The Heraldnet via (AP) reported: China may have started work on it first domestically built aircraft carrier and is likely to produce a number of carriers over the next decade as part of an aggressive effort to modernize its military, the Pentagon said Friday. In its annual report to Congress appraising China’s military strength, the Pentagon also cited concern about China’s targeting of U.S. and other foreign computer networks as a means of collecting strategic intelligence. It based this conclusion on unspecified “authoritative writings” and China’s “persistent cyber intrusions.” More broadly, the report described an ambitious Chinese military program aimed at transforming the People’s Liberation Army into a modern force, fueled by years of double-digit increases in defense spending. Its main goals include preserving Communist Party rule and preparing for possible hostilities in the Taiwan Strait, the report said.
South Sudan – Reuters reported: South Sudan will soon acquire anti-aircraft missiles to defend its territory against air attacks it says are frequently carried out by warplanes from neighbouring Sudan, the South Sudanese military said on Wednesday. Since South Sudan became the world’s newest independent nation in July last year, its government has accused northern neighbour Sudan of continuing aerial bombing raids on South Sudanese territory, a charge routinely denied by Khartoum. Foreign reporters in South Sudan have witnessed bombings by Sudanese warplanes of targets including a market, a refugee camp and oil infrastructure, and border skirmishes between the two countries’ armies last month included a series of air raids by the northern nation. The United Nations’ top human rights official said on Friday she was outraged by Sudan’s “indiscriminate” bombings of South Sudan that killed and injured civilians, after U.N. officials verified damage and casualties caused by recent raids.
Sri Lanka – The Agence France Presse reported: Sri Lanka’s president on Saturday rejected international calls to withdraw troops from the island’s former war zone as he marked the third anniversary of crushing Tamil rebels. President Mahinda Rajapakse, in an address to the nation, said he could not dismantle military camps in the embattled regions and undermine national security in a country emerging from nearly four decades of ethnic bloodshed. “The diaspora has not stopped their activities (against Sri Lanka),” Rajapakse said, referring to Tamil separatists abroad. “It is no secret that LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) leaders are freely operating abroad.” “Some are shouting remove camps, remove camps,” Rajapakse added in his televised speech made at a military parade grounds in the capital. But “these camps are not in another country. We have troops elsewhere in the country as well.” His remarks came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris in Washington that Colombo should de-militarise the embattled north and do more to protect human rights.
Northern Ireland – The Herald Sun of Australia reported: The six men and one woman are accused of a range of offenses, including conspiracy to murder, preparing for terrorist acts and attending a terrorist training camp, The Belfast Telegraph reported. “The charges, some of which have been used seldom in the past in Northern Ireland, are the result of an investigation led by police into dissident republican terrorist activity,” the Police Service of Northern Ireland said in a statement. “Officers have worked closely with colleagues in the security service and, latterly, with the Public Prosecution Service to reach a point where charges have been brought.” Three men were arrested last Monday in Lurgan, 24 miles (38km) southwest of Belfast, the PSNI said. Among them, a 47-year-old suspect charged with directing terrorism was also accused of conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to cause an explosion, preparation of terrorist acts and collecting information of use to terrorism, AFP reported.