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19-20 May 2012
Italy – The Times Republican of Iowa reported: A magnitude-6.0 earthquake shook several small towns in northeast Italy, killing four people, knocking down a clock tower and other centuries-old buildings and causing millions in losses to the region known for making Parmesan cheese. The quake struck at 4:04 a.m. Sunday, with its epicenter about 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of 5 kilometers (3.2 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. Civil protection agency official Adriano Gumina described it as the worst quake to hit the region since the 1300s. The four people killed were factory workers on the overnight shift when their buildings, in three separate locations, collapsed, agency chief Franco Gabrielli said, In addition, he said, two women died – apparently of heart attacks that may have been sparked by fear. Sky TG24 TV reported one of them was about 100 years old. Gabrielli said dozens of people were injured.
Egypt – The New York Times reported: “Good morning! Who are you going to vote for?” That is the new standard Egyptian salutation, said Shafiq Abdel Khaleq, 50, an engineer playing chess at a streetside cafe in the working-class Cairo neighborhood of Sayeda Zeinab. “There isn’t anyone left who doesn’t talk about politics,” he added, moving a piece. “But no one knows anything!” replied his opponent, Hussein Zayed, a 53-year-old importer, who then called checkmate. Three days before voting begins in the first competitive presidential election in the history of the Arab world, the combination of novelty, high stakes, suspense and confusion has infected Egypt with a case of campaign fever that makes World Cup soccer finals look tame by comparison, to say nothing of the predictably quadrennial two-party contests that Americans still call exciting.
Serbia – The Herald Sun of Australia reported: SERBIAN political parties are expected to start negotiations on the formation of a new government after the surprise win of nationalist Tomislav Nikolic in presidential polls. Nikolic upset the odds to defeat incumbent Boris Tadic but vowed to pursue his predecessor’s drive for the Balkans nation to join the European Union. One-time ally of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Nikolic led with 50.21 per cent over 46.77 for Tadic, according to preliminary results from Serbia’s republic electoral commission RIK based on 40.67 per cent of votes counted. Thousands of Nikolic supporters gathered in central Belgrade and other Serbian towns late on Sunday, honking their horns in celebration. Tadic quickly conceded defeat congratulating Nikolic, who promised to steer a pro-European course, on “a fair and well-earned victory”. “Serbia will not turn away from the European path,” Nikolic said.
Syria – Reuters reported: A car bomb killed nine people at a Syrian military post in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Saturday, an attack the government said was the latest proof that an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad was a foreign plot. The official SANA news agency said the blast had been the work of a suicide bomber, and had also wounded about 100 people, including guards, at what it called military installations. International pressure and an U.N.-backed peace plan has failed to quell Syria’s turmoil. French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday the peace plan still had international backing, but Washington sounded a more aggressive note saying Assad had to leave power. Syrian state television broadcast footage of smoke rising over Deir al-Zor, pools of blood amid rubble, the damaged facades of buildings and twisted, smoking vehicles. Opposition activists said the target was an intelligence base.
Pakistan – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: The chairman of Pakistan’s telecommunications authority says the government has blocked the social networking website Twitter because of material considered offensive to Islam. Mohammad Yaseen says the website was blocked on Sunday because Twitter refused to remove material related to a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous. Yaseen said Facebook agreed to address Pakistan’s concerns but officials have not been able to get Twitter to do the same. Officials from Facebook and Twitter could not immediately be reached for comment. Pakistan blocked Facebook for about two weeks in 2010 because of a similar competition.
Lebanon – Reuters reported: Residents of a Beirut suburb fired heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at each other on Sunday, the latest violence to raise fears that Syria’s turmoil was spilling over the border into its neighbour. Earlier on Sunday, Lebanese army soldiers shot dead in northern Lebanon two members of a political party in an alliance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Many Sunni Muslims in Lebanon’s north sympathise with Syria’s Sunni-led uprising against Assad and say the Lebanese army is taking orders from Damascus. Syrian troops were garrisoned in Lebanon, a tiny country still recovering from its own 15-year civil war, until 2005. “Nine people were wounded in the Tariq al-Jadede district (in southern Beirut),” a security source told Reuters.
Taiwan – The Voice of America reported: Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou began his second term in office on Sunday with a forecast for deeper relations with old rival China. But he said a formal peace accord was not urgent. His comments came amid two days of street demonstrations. The Taiwanese president, who was first elected in 2008 on pledges to ease tension with rising military power China, said he would stick to that course. President Ma Ying-jeou said he expected more deals like the 16 trade, transit and economic agreements that were signed between the two sides over the past four years. But President Ma told a news conference he was in no hurry to sign a formal peace accord with Beijing without popular support. He was criticized after making the suggestion last year. He says Taiwan will handle easy but pressing issues with China before tackling harder ones and consider economic issues ahead of political ones. In that spirit, he says, there is no urgency to discuss a peace accord now with China, and Taiwan’s people must first express a high level of support, including a voter referendum.
Israel – FOX NEWS reported: An Israeli military court on Sunday convicted a Palestinian protest leader of urging youths to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers, ruling in a case that sparked international criticism of Israeli practices in the West Bank. Bassem al-Tamimi — a symbol of Palestinian opposition to Israeli military rule praised by the European Union as a human rights defender — was convicted largely because of a confession by a 15-year-old interrogated without a lawyer. The veteran activist has led weekly marches in his West Bank village of Nabi Saleh to protest Jewish settlers seizing a nearby well for their own use, mirroring other protests in rural Palestinian villages against similar practices. Many of those protests turn into clashes between stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets. During Sunday’s session, two dozen European diplomats crowded into a trailer-like court room at the Ofer military detention center. Al-Tamimi was released on bail last month, after 13 months in detention, and sat close to his wife, 35-year-old Nariman. She frequently rested her head on his shoulder. “I believe in the legitimacy of what I do,” al-Tamimi said after the verdict. “I lead peaceful protests,” he said.
South Korea – The Washington Post reported: South Korea’s top nuclear negotiator says a different path will open for North Korea if it refrains from provocations. Lim Sung-nam spoke before meeting with U.S. and Japanese envoys Monday to discuss North Korea. The meeting comes weeks after its failed long-range rocket launch and amid worries Pyongyang is preparing for a third nuclear test. Lim says the international community has sent North Korea a clear message that it should refrain from additional provocations. World leaders attending the Group of Eight summit said Saturday the North could face more sanctions if it continues to threaten the stability of the region.
Iran – CNN reported: The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency arrived in Tehran on Monday for high-level talks after Iran’s finance minister suggested oil prices could rise as high as $160 a barrel because of sanctions over its nuclear program. Iranian officials met the International Atomic Energy Agency’s director-general, Yukiya Amano, at the airport Monday at the start of his one-day visit, the state-run news agency IRNA reported. While in Tehran, Amano will hold talks with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Abbassi Davani; the secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Saeed Jalili; and Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi, according to IRNA. The talks will address the subject of a “new framework for cooperation to remove ambiguities and address IAEA questions,” IRNA cited Salehi as saying Friday.
NATO – The Hindustan Times reported: A mechanism for Europe which will link together the missile defence assets from different allies under Nato command has been declared operational by the organisation. Announced by the alliance 18 months ago, the system has been termed by Nato director general Anders Fogh Rasmussen as a step towards the organisation’s long-term goal of providing full coverage and protection for all its European partners. “Our system will link together missile defence assets from different allies -– satellites, ships, radars and interceptors –- under Nato command and control. It will allow us to defend against threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area,” Rasmussen said in Chicago yesterday after first session of the North Atlantic Council in Heads of State and Government format. He also called the system an interim capability. “We have decided to develop a Nato missile defence system because we consider the missile threat a real threat and against a real threat, we need a real defence to protect our population effectively,” Rasmussen said, adding that Nato would continue to have dialogue with Russia in this regard. “Of course that can’t be blocked by Russia. It’s a Nato decision. Having said that we have invited Russia to co-operate on missile defence and this invitation still stands, he said.
Yemen – The Guardian UK reported: Fresh clashes between al-Qaida fighters and government forces in Yemen left 17 dead, military officials have said, as the army pushed on with an offensive to regain a key town in the country’s south that fell to the militants over a year ago. Officials said eight al-Qaida fighters, four soldiers and five civilian volunteers fighting alongside the military were killed. The army started a two-pronged attack on the town of Jaar on Friday as part of a broader assault to take back Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan, which has been also under al-Qaida control for more than a year. Al-Qaida-linked fighters took advantage of the 2011 uprising to overrun a swath of territory and several towns in the south, pushing out government forces and establishing their own rule. In recent weeks, the army has launched a concerted effort to uproot the militants from their strongholds, and is closely coordinating with a small contingent of US troops who are helping to guide the operations from inside Yemen. Officials say US drones have been providing information to their forces.
Russia – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has picked his government team, Vedomosti reported, without saying where it got the information.
The team is likely to be approved by President Vladimir Putin today and to start work tomorrow, the newspaper said. Arkady Dvorkovich, a presidential aide, may become deputy premier in charge of industry, fuel and energy, transport and agriculture; Igor Shuvalov, the acting deputy prime minister, may keeps his responsibility for finance and state-asset sales, the newspaper said. Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina is likely to leave her post and take a role in President Vladimir Putin’s administration, Vedomosti said.
Australia – The Sydney Morning Herald reported: The future of Australia’s aid to Afghanistan will be mapped out in an agreement Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Afghan counterpart will sign on the sidelines of a major NATO summit in the United States. Shortly after arriving in Chicago yesterday, local time, Ms Gillard confirmed she will sign a long-term partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai tomorrow. The agreement will focus on aid and development but also touch on trade, investment and cultural ties. ”Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on earth, so aid and development matters to lift people out of poverty,” Ms Gillard told reporters. ”But of course it also matters in the security context, which is that it is easy for the Taliban and for insurgents to make a pitch to local people if local people are not seeing any progress.” Ms Gillard will have one-on-one talks with NATO leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new French President Francois Hollande.