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12 May 2012
Greece – The BBC reported: Greek President Karolos Papoulias is due to meet the heads of Greece’s three main parties in a final attempt to form a coalition and avoid fresh elections. All three – conservative New Democracy, far-left Syriza and socialist Pasok – have failed to form a government. Voters punished New Democracy and Pasok at last Sunday’s polls for backing tough EU terms for bailing out Greece. Polls show a new vote could sweep anti-bailout parties to power, threatening Greece’s membership of the euro. European central bankers have already begun openly discussing the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone.
Syria – The Voice of America reported: As repeated bombing attacks hit Syria, concerns are rising that al-Qaida terrorists may be opening a dangerous new chapter in a conflict that has killed thousands of people. Protesters flee gunfire in the Syrian town of Aleppo. And near Damascus, amateur video shows United Nations peace monitors edging their vans through anti-government protesters. The protests came after massive car bombs Thursday killed more than 50 people. The bombs raise fears that the Syrian conflict could be worsening as al-Qaida terrorists step into the political chaos. “I think this is a symptom of the fact that the conflict is attracting the influx of jihadists who are often involved in these kinds of suicide attacks. And specifically it looks like al-Qaida,” said Heritage Foundation senior Middle East analyst James Phillips. The Syrian government is urging the U.N. Security Council to take action in the wake of the blasts.
Afghanistan – USA Today reported: Men wearing Afghan police uniforms shot dead two NATO service members Saturday in southern Afghanistan, authorities said, the latest in a string of attacks on international troops by Afghan security forces or militants disguised as police. Two other coalition service members also died Saturday in Afghanistan, one in an insurgent attack and another of non-battle related injuries. There were conflicting reports about the shooting in Helmand province. Fareed Ahmad, a spokesman for the Helmand provincial police, said two Afghan policemen opened fire on coalition troops at 3 p.m. at a joint Afghan-coalition compound, killing two coalition troops. He said a third Afghan policemen fired at the attackers, killing one and wounding the other, who escaped. The attackers had been members of the Afghan National Police for one year and were from Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, according to Ahmad.
China – The Japan Times reported: Trade minister Yukio Edano and his counterparts from China and South Korea agreed Saturday to begin negotiations on a trilateral free-trade agreement by year’s end, and a related accord is expected to be signed Sunday. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda flew out of Japan later in the day for a trilateral summit in Beijing on Sunday, where he will discuss the plan with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. “We agreed to propose to the leaders’ summit that (the three countries) should start FTA negotiations by the end of the year,” Edano said after meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming and South Korean Trade Minister Bark Tae Ho in Beijing. “We have high hopes that (Noda, Wen and Lee) will accept the proposal at their summit,” Edano said.
Yemen – CBS NEWS reported: Two suspected U.S. drone strikes killed 11 al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen on Saturday, Yemeni military officials said. The first attack took place near the border of Marib and Shabwa provinces southeast of the capital, Sanaa, killing six militants, including one Egyptian national, the officials said. The second strike hit two cars in Marib, killing five al Qaeda-linked fighters. Over the past year, parts of Marib, Shabwa and other southern provinces have fallen under the control of al Qaeda militants who have capitalized on the turmoil in Yemen that stems from the popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Ali Abdullah Saleh. There was no immediate word from the U.S. on whether Washington was behind Saturday’s attacks. In the past two weeks, suspected U.S. airstrikes have killed at least three senior al Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen.
Spain – The Voice of America reported: Tens of thousands of Spaniards protested in the streets of cities across Spain Saturday, rising against the country’s austerity measures in a run-up to the one-year anniversary of the start of a movement that spread across the region. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol plaza, the birthplace of the protests against economic injustice. Tens of thousands more demonstrated in Barcelona, with smaller protests in other cities. The protesters say they will continue their demonstrations through May 15, the first anniversary of the initial protests. Authorities say they would not allow anyone to camp overnight at the protest sites. Unemployment in Spain is almost 25 percent, and half of Spaniards under the age of 25 are unemployed.
Algeria – Reuters reported: Algeria on Friday declared its ruling party for the past 50 years the victor in a parliamentary election, going against the tide of the “Arab Spring” which has transformed its neighbours. The governing elite in Algeria, which supplies about a fifth of Europe’s imported natural gas, had promised reform and a new generation of leaders in response to last year’s upheavals in the region, but the election preserved the status quo. Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia, who oversaw Thursday’s election, said the National Liberation Front (FLN) would be the biggest party in the new parliament, with 220 of the 462 seats. The FLN was the movement which fought for independence from French colonial rule. Ever since, it has been at the heart of a system of power that has left Algerians so sceptical of their views being counted that over half the electorate did not vote.
Sudan – The Agence France Presse reported: UN leader Ban Ki-moon has called on Sudan to move its troops out of the disputed territory of Abyei after rival South Sudan withdrew its security forces. Ban called on both governments to fall in line with a UN Security Council deadline to start talks on all their disputes, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky in a statement released late Saturday. “The secretary general welcomes the withdrawal of the South Sudan Police Service from the Abyei area. He strongly urges the government of Sudan to also remove its forces from the area,” said Nesirky. Sudan and South Sudan agreed in June last year that they would move their forces out of Abyei and set up a joint administration in the disputed territory which Khartoum troops seized in May 2011. Since then South Sudan has formally seceded from the north and growing border tensions have created fears that the two could fight a new all out war. Two million people died in two decades of north-south civil war up to 2005.
Bahrain – Bloomberg NEWS reported: The U.S. will go ahead with the sale of some weapons to Bahrain, an “important security partner and ally in a region facing enormous challenges,” according to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. The U.S. is proceeding with the certain weapons deliveries that had been frozen in the wake of the kingdom’s crackdown on protests. The equipment includes Raytheon Co. (RTN)’s AMRAAM air-to- air missiles and ammunition, according to a person briefed on the sale who wasn’t authorized to comment publicly. An administration official said the package also includes upgraded F16 jet engines, harbor boats and a frigate. “We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the government of Bahrain needs to address,” Nuland said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. is withholding anti-tank missiles, which could be used against protester strongholds, as well Humvees, she said.
Tibet – The Hindustan Times reported: The Dalai Lama has revealed that he believes Chinese agents have trained Tibetan women to poison him while posing as devotees.
The Nobel Laureate told Sunday Telaph that he had received reports from inside Tibet warning about some Chinese agents training Tibetan women for a mission to poison him. We received some sort of information from Tibet,” he was quoted as saying. “Some Chinese agents training some Tibetans, especially women, you see, using poison – the hair poisoned, and the scarf poisoned – they were supposed to seek blessings from me, and my hand touch (sic).” His aides were not able to confirm the reports.
Israel – RT NEWS reported: Israel has released a joint statement saying it and Palestine are ‘committed to achieving peace’. The startling announcement came after an Israeli envoy delivered a letter from the Israeli Prime Minister to the Palestinian President. “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal,” a statement issued by Benjamin Netanyahu’s office read. Earlier on Saturday, Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho delivered from Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Molcho and Abbas also held talks in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government in the West Bank. The contents of the delivered letter were not disclosed, though Israeli media did report that Israel had called on the Palestinian government to renege on its preconditions for peace talks to resume. The letter was, in fact, a response to an earlier letter sent by Abbas to Netanyahu. In it, the Palestinian leader laid out Palestine’s preconditions for resuming the talks.
China – The BBC Asia Corps reported: China has denied reports its military forces are preparing for war amid tensions over a disputed territory in the South China Sea. The defence ministry statement comes despite warnings to the Philippines that military conflict is possible over a reef known as the Scarborough Shoal. Ships from China and the Philippines have been confronting each other for more than a month over the shoal. Both sides accuse the other of intruding into territorial waters. “Reports that the Guangzhou military region, the South China Sea fleet and other units have entered a state of war preparedness are untrue,” the ministry said in a brief statement on its website late on Friday. Fears of an armed clash escalated when the Chinese army’s own newspaper warned the military should not be treated as a paper tiger, says BBC Asia analyst Charles Scanlon.
India – The Washington Post reported: India has agreed to purchase 145 howitzers from American defense contractor BAE Systems Inc. as it pushes to modernize its military, an official said Saturday. Defense Ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar said the government will spend 30 billion rupees ($560 million) on the M777 artillery. No further details of the deal were immediately available. The 155mm M777s have been used by both the United States and Canada in Afghanistan. BAE Systems Inc. is the U.S. subsidiary of London-based BAE Systems PLC. Over the last decade India has become a closer strategic and military ally of Washington following decades of hostile relations during the Cold War when it was a close Soviet partner.
13 May 2012
Germany – The LA Times reported: Voters in Germany’s most populous state dealt a decisive blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union on Sunday, preliminary results show, a potentially ominous preview of things to come for the chancellor in next year’s federal elections. Merkel’s party mustered about 26% of the vote in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, a drop from 35% in 2010 and 45% in 2005, the year she took office, the results show. The opposition Social Democrats and Greens, at about 39% and more than 11%, respectively, secured the majority of seats they needed to form a governing coalition. The upstart Pirate Party, a group primarily devoted to Internet freedom, rode its recent surge in popularity to a nearly 8% vote share and won entry into its fourth consecutive state parliament. Merkel’s national coalition partner, the Free Democrats, managed a better-than-expected 8%, above the 5% threshold needed for representation, while the far-left Left Party was kicked out of the statehouse with less than 3% of the vote. Other parties with low shares accounted for the remaining votes.
Afghanistan – The Radio Free Europe reported: A former Taliban official who became a negotiator and key member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has been shot dead in the capital, Kabul. The assassination is seen as a setback to the Afghan government’s effort to negotiate a political solution to the ongoing battle against Taliban militants. Police say Arsala Rahmani was in his vehicle when he was killed by an unknown gunman in the western part of the city. Kabul Deputy Police Chief Daud Amin told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan the attack took place “right in front of his house while his bodyguards were with him. He was killed. We have the information and now our investigating team has been sent there.” The Taliban denied responsibility, although its militants had indicated earlier that they would target peace negotiators.
China – The Agence Presse France reported: The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea have issued a post-summit joint declaration that makes no reference to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions — one of the most pressing issues in the region. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak are in Beijing for a trilateral summit and both told reporters of the need to prevent “provocations” from Pyongyang after the main meeting on Sunday. But a Japanese official told AFP on Monday that China, Japan and South Korea were not able to agree on suitable wording for the 50-point declaration of cooperation issued after the summit — hosted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. “Of course there was agreement on issues such as avoiding escalation and further North Korean provocation,” said the official, who was accompanying Noda and refused to be named. “But on the exact phrasing of the paragraph and how it should be included in the declaration, there was no agreement.”
West Bank – The Guardian UK reported: Demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza in support of about 2,000 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike are escalating amid efforts by Egyptian mediators to broker a deal to avoid protests spiralling out of control if a detainee dies. Two prisoners, who have refused food for 77 days, are thought to be close to death with another six in a critical condition, say Palestinian groups. The Israeli prison service (IPS) says no one’s life is at risk. In an unusual intervention, Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East quartet, urged Israel to “take all necessary measures to prevent a tragic outcome that could have serious implications for stability and security conditions on the ground”. He said he was “increasingly concerned about the deteriorating health conditions” of hunger strikers.
Iran – Xinhua reported: Iran’s chief negotiator in talks with the six world powers has called on the Western states to avoid “unconstructive remarks” ahead of upcoming nuclear talks in Baghdad. Saeed Jalili warned against what he called “pressure strategy” by the West. Jalili was quoted as saying in a meeting with the visiting former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard that any kind of miscalculation would endanger success of the negotiations. The former French leader said that the “Istanbul talks were a positive step ahead”, and expressed hope that Iran and the six powers would continue the path of understanding that they started in Istanbul. Last week, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that the Islamic republic would not let its rights be violated by the West in the talks later in May in the Iraqi capital Baghdad. He claimed the West was engaged in consultations with its allies in a bid to change the atmosphere of talks and get the upper hand.
Yemen – KSAT via CNN reported: Government troops in southern Yemen on Sunday attacked al-Qaida hideouts, killing two dozen suspected militants in the latest push to clear the area of the terror organization, local security officials said. Four members of the military were also killed in the clashes, which began early in the morning in the Abyan districts of Zinjibar and Jaar, the officials said, while nine troops were wounded. Government warplanes aided in the assault. “We succeeded in taking takeover three strategic posts near Jaar and our forces will continue to go forward,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “al-Qaida fighters are evacuating areas previously under their control due to the intensive government bombardment,” the official added. Yemen’s government has been fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula for years with mixed results.
Lebanon – Euro NEWS reported: At least four people have been killed and another twenty or so wounded during clashes in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. Fighting erupted between residents loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al Assad and those supporting the Syrian opposition. At one point the Lebanese army intervened after a soldier was shot dead by a sniper. Clashes are common between Lebanon’s Alawite community, which is the same sect as that of Syria’s president. The fighting underlines how tensions in Syria are threatening to spill over to its neighbours as the continued unrest there keeps claiming victims.
Iraq – The Boston Globe reported: Bombings killed six people Sunday in separate attacks targeting Iraq’s security forces, officials said, while the US Embassy in Baghdad maintained it will continue training Iraqi police despite cutbacks to the program. In Falluja, west of Baghdad, a car bomb hit an Iraqi army patrol, killing two soldiers and wounding six people, according to police and hospital officials. A roadside bomb exploded near a security patrol in the western city of Ramadi, killing a police officer and wounding seven people. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at a checkpoint, killing himself and two police officers and wounding nine people. Violence has dropped across Iraq since the days when the country teetered on the brink of civil war just a few years ago, but deadly attacks still happen nearly every day. Insurgents launch frequent attacks on Shi’ites and security forces loyal to the Shi’ite-led government in an attempt to revive sectarian fighting.
China – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Newspapers hail the deal reached by leaders from China, Japan and South Korea to launch talks on setting up a regional free trade agreement. “The establishment of an FTA will unleash the economic vitality of our region and give a strong boost to economic integration in East Asia,” said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, as quoted by the People’s Daily and Shanghai Daily. A front page commentary in the People’s Daily Overseas Edition says citizens in the three countries will see benefits from the trilateral co-operation. Shanghai Morning Post also reports that the three leaders unanimously opposed a possible nuclear test by North Korea.