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4 June 2012
China – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Beijing on Tuesday for a regional security summit and talks with Chinese leaders expected to focus on Syria, Iran and energy cooperation. On his first visit to his country’s vast neighbor since resuming the Russian presidency earlier this month, Putin was scheduled to hold discussions with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao later Tuesday and then take part in a signing ceremony for a range of government and business agreements. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Putin and Hu will be among leaders attending the annual summit of the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a grouping of Russia, China and four Central Asian states seeking to boost regional integration and curb Western influence.
Libya – CBS NEWS reported: Libya’s government has retaken control of the country’s main airport from disgruntled militiamen who stormed the Tripoli site with heavy machine guns and armored vehicles on Monday, Libya’s interim leader said. In an interview with the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, the head of the country’s National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, said the airport was attacked and held for several hours because it is “a strategic facility,” vowing it would not fall out of government control again. “The attack on the airport is dangerous, but we dealt with it as a government, military and revolutionaries with intelligence,” he said. He declined to explain how the airport was overrun with such ease Monday afternoon, saying only that “we have to be peaceful and diplomatic” about how to handle the country’s various problems.
New Zealand – The BBC Asia Corps reported: New Zealand has signed a deal with Nato to boost cooperation in areas such as terrorism, military training, disaster relief and intelligence. The deal was signed by NZ Prime Minister John Key and Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The agreement came as the Nato chief is due to visit Australia as part of efforts to bolster ties with non-Nato nations engaged in Afghanistan. Mr Key says the deal formalises and builds on the relationship with Nato. “The relationship and engagement between New Zealand and Nato has developed considerably over the past 10 years, mainly through our involvement in the Nato-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan,” Mr Key said in a statement.
Iran – The Boston Globe reported: The top U.N. nuclear official announced new talks with Iran on Monday aimed at gaining access to restricted sites, and he expressed concern about satellite images taken last month that showed the Iranians had demolished buildings at one site that inspectors have been especially pressing to visit. The remarks, by Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, suggested that his announcement less than two weeks ago that Iran had basically agreed to allow access by agency inspectors may have been premature.
India via Vietnam – The Agence France Presse reported: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta headed to India on Tuesday for talks focusing on Washington’s strategic shift towards Asia, as US officials eye New Delhi as a potentially pivotal partner. Security ties to India have steadily improved in recent years but US officials have yet to realise the goal of a game-changing alliance that could check China’s role and empower the two countries’ economies, analysts say. During his two-day visit, Panetta is expected to discuss expanding defence ties, the NATO war effort in Afghanistan and China’s increasing economic and military power in the region, US officials said. Panetta is due to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon on Tuesday afternoon along with other officials, before giving a policy speech on Wednesday, officials said.
Japan – Euro NEWS reported: Nearly a third of Japan’s ruling party lawmakers are petitioning Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to be cautious about restarting nuclear reactors given safety concerns after last year’s earthquake and tsunami, an organiser said on Tuesday. Noda, keen to restart two reactors in western Japan before electricity demand peaks this summer, could decide as early as this week to reconnect them to the grid – despite the risk of a backlash that would weaken his already sagging voter ratings. “It is clear from surveys that the majority of the people think that we can survive this summer by conserving energy and transferring electricity among regions,” said the petition, to be presented to Noda’s government later in the day. “We urge you to consider the fact that there is insufficient agreement within the party and among the people and the feelings of the 160,000 victims of the disaster, and be all the more cautious about a decision to restart the reactors.”
Pakistan – The Guardian UK reported: Four missiles launched by a US drone has killed up to 17 people in north-west Pakistan, according to security sources, in the latest in a series of remote-controlled attacks which are straining relations between Washington and Islamabad. The most recent drone operation targeted a hamlet in North Waziristan on Monday, a tribal area regarded as a hub for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters waging insurgencies on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. US and Pakistani government sources said Abu Yahya al-Libi, a senior al-Qaida leader who had survived previous drone attacks, was a target of one of the strikes. It was the third such strike in as many days – similar operations over the weekend claimed a dozen lives – and the eighth in two weeks. On Sunday, 10 suspected militants were killed by missiles fired from a drone in Mana Raghzai village in South Waziristan. The victims had gathered to pray for a militant commander who had been killed by another drone strike on Saturday.
Indonesia – The Herald Sun of Australia reported: But there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, officials said. The quake struck 96km southwest of the city of Sukabumi in western Java after 6:00 pm local time at a depth of 67km, the US Geological Survey said. The tremor was felt 200km away in Jakarta, causing tall buildings to shake. “The quake was quite strong but we have no reports yet of casualties or damage. We will monitor the affected area,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said. Mr Nugroho said the quake struck around 50km offshore but no tsunami warning was issued, and that activities in Sukabumi had “gone back to normal”.
Sudan – The LA Times reported: Sudan and South Sudan held high-level talks Monday seeking to resolve disputes over oil revenues and their shared border, the first negotiations since a dangerous slide toward war in April. The talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came after the United Nations threatened sanctions unless the two sides returned to the negotiating table and reached a peace deal. The move came after each side withdrew from disputed oil-producing areas near the border that they had occupied — South Sudan from Heglig and Sudan from Abyei. The dispute saw South Sudan turn off oil production earlier this year. The move was meant to stop alleged Sudanese theft of oil, but it cost the south 98% of its oil revenue and plunged it into an economic crisis. Sudan’s economy was hit when 75% of the country’s oil went to South Sudan when it seceded last July. With South Sudan’s economy in tatters, food and fuel shortages and inflation reaching 80%, President Salva Kiir made the shocking admission that some $4 billion of his country’s public funds had been stolen by government officials since a 2005 peace deal which saw the two countries agree to share oil revenue. He offered an amnesty and anonymity to government officials who returned the money to the government.
Iraq – USA Today reported: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-rigged car outside Iraq’s main religious affairs office for Shiite Muslims on Monday, shearing off the facade of the three-story building and killing at least 23 people in the deadliest single attack in the country in three months, officials said. More than 70 people were wounded in the explosion that shattered nearby windows and damaged cars in Baghdad’s central Bab al-Muadham area, two police officials said. Firefighters searched the debris for survivors. An apparent retaliation, a mortar shell hit close to Iraq’s main office for Sunni Muslim religious affairs in northeastern Baghdad later Monday, but caused no damage or injuries. Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq in recent years, but attacks on government offices and members of the security forces, aimed at undermining the Shiite-led ruling coalition, are still common. Monday’s explosion came at a time of a prolonged political paralysis caused by sectarian tensions.
Israel – The Guardian UK reported: An apartment housing 10 Eritreans has been firebombed in Jerusalem, against the backdrop of rising anti-migrant sentiment in Israel. Four of the occupants were taken to hospital suffering burns and smoke inhalation. Graffiti sprayed on the walls of the building said: “Get out of the neighbourhood.” The Jerusalem fire department and police said arson was indicated. “This looks like an arson attempt on an apartment which housed Eritrean migrants. The police [are] treating this all due seriousness and will employ all means at its disposal to apprehend those responsible,” said a police statement. The attack in the early hours of Monday morning follows a series of firebombings in southern Tel Aviv – an area in which African migrants are concentrated – including apartments and a kindergarten. Shops run by or serving migrants were smashed up and looted in a violent demonstration last month, in which Africans were attacked. Politicians, including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the interior minister, Eli Yishai, have inflamed the volatile mood by suggesting Israel is being flooded with “illegal infiltrators”, that migrants are responsible for a crime wave and calling for all migrants to be locked up or deported.
Vatican City – The Detroit Free Press reported: The Vatican sharply criticized Monday a book on sexuality written by a prominent American nun, saying it contradicted church teaching on issues such as masturbation, homosexuality and marriage, and said its author had a “defective understanding” of Catholic theology. The Vatican’s orthodoxy office said the book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics” by Sister Margaret Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order and emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, posed “grave harm” to the faithful. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that in the 2006 book, Farley either ignored church teaching on core issues of human sexuality or treated it as merely one opinion among many.
5 June 2012
Pakistan – The LA Times reported: CIA drone strikes have killed Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Abu Yahya al Libi, and at least two other people in a rural village in northwestern Pakistan in what U.S. officials called a major blow to the battered core leadership of the terrorist network. The CIA had targeted Libi with three separate drone-launched missile attacks over three days, finally succeeding early Monday in strikes that destroyed a house and a vehicle, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The Libyan-born commander escaped from a U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan in 2005 and later used online video messages to call for attacks on the United States, burnishing a reputation among militants as a charismatic leader and a prolific propagandist.
China – The Bloomberg Businessweek reported: China told foreign embassies Tuesday to stop publishing their own reports on air quality in the country, escalating its objections to a popular U.S. Embassy Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing. Only the Chinese government is authorized to monitor and publish air quality information and data from other sources may not be standardized or rigorous, Wu Xiaoqing, a vice environmental minister, told reporters. China has long taken issue with the U.S. Embassy’s postings of hourly readings of Beijing’s air quality on a Twitter feed with more than 19,000 followers since 2008. But its past objections were raised quietly. U.S. Embassy officials did not immediately comment Tuesday, but the Twitter feed was operating normally. Its readings are based on a single monitoring station within embassy grounds, and pollution levels are rated according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard that is more stringent than the one used by the Chinese government.
Washington D.C. – The New York Daily NEWS reported: Ahead of next week’s India-US strategic dialogue here, Pentagon has described India as a global power, which is meeting its responsibilities, and appreciated its work to help provide continuing support in Afghanistan. “India is a global power, and they are meeting their responsibilities and we welcome that,” Department of Defence spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters Tuesday discounting reports that the US wanted India to step up its role in Afghanistan. “I think the reports have been slightly exaggerated,” he said when asked about media reports citing US officials that visiting US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta will encourage India to take a more active role in Afghanistan. “I don’t believe the secretary asked them to impress them to do more rather than expressed how much he appreciated the work they were doing to help provide support in Afghanistan and some of the things that that they have expressed interest in continuing to do in Afghanistan, but also in the region,” Kirby said.
Iran – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: A U.S. envoy is challenging Iran to disprove suspicions it worked secretly on nuclear arms by throwing open a military site to a probe by U.N. inspectors. He also is urging Tehran to shut down a fortified bunker used to enrich uranium to a level that can allow the radioactive substance to quickly be turned into the core of nuclear arms. Robert Wood spoke Tuesday to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tehran says all of its atomic activities are geared toward making nuclear fuel or medical research. But international concerns have grown because of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities. The IAEA also says it has mounting evidence that the Islamic Republic has secretly worked on a nuclear arms program — something Tehran denies.
Vatican City – The Toronto Star reported: The pope’s butler was formally questioned Tuesday in the investigation into the leaks of the pope’s papers, a scandal that represents one of the gravest security breaches in recent Vatican history. Paolo Gabriele was arrested May 23 and has been held ever since in a secure room inside the Vatican gendarmerie building, a four-by-four metre room with bathroom, desk, bed and a crucifix on the wall. He is accused of aggravated theft, and if convicted could face from one to six years in prison. Paolo Papanti-Pelletier, a judge on the Vatican tribunal, told reporters that Gabriele had been questioned by the investigating judge Tuesday morning in the presence of his two lawyers, the first such formal interrogation that could lead to an indictment or the dropping of charges.
Nigeria – The Washington Post reported: An hours-long gun battle punctuated by explosions rocked a northeast Nigeria city on Tuesday, as gunmen in another city in the country’s Muslim north killed police officers in attacks that left at least 19 people dead, officials said. The violence, which authorities blamed on a radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram, targeted the cities of Kano and the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where the group once had its main mosque. The heaviest fighting occurred in Maiduguri, as soldiers fired on suspected sect members for several hours as bomb blasts echoed across the city, witnesses said. Military spokesman Col. Victor Ebhaleme told journalists Tuesday night that all those killed were “Boko Haram terrorists” and that the military suffered no casualties on its side. Soldiers also recovered weapons and ammunition in the operation which targeted areas authorities believed served as hideouts for the sect in the arid, dusty city, Ebhaleme said. However, a man who lives in the neighborhood where the fighting took place later said that some civilians had been struck stray bullets in the fighting.
Azerbaijan – The Voice of America reported: Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of killing five Azerbaijani soldiers in a second day of violence at the common border. This brings to eight the death toll in the border clashes since Monday. Armenia said Monday that three of its soldiers were killed. Several people on both sides have been wounded in the exchange of fire. The most recent Azerbaijani-Armenian border violence has flared up at the time when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting south Caucasus. During a stop in Armenia Monday, she decried the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians. She also warned that continued fighting could turn into a broader regional conflict. Clinton is due in Azerbaijan Wednesday. Azerbaijan’s foreign minister Elmar Mammadyarov said the two sides will meet in Paris June 18. An OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) panel will participate in the talks, which are expected to look into the clashes and seek a long-term solution. The so-called Minsk group, co-chaired by France, Russia and the United States, has been mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks between the two rivals.
Syria – Xinhua reported: Syrian troops clashed on Tuesday with armed rebels in a number of areas across the country, a day after a rebels’ military coalition renounced commitment to the UN- brokered peace plan. Four “terrorists” were killed in clashes on Tuesday with government troops in al-Qusair area in central Homs province, state-run SANA news agency reported, adding that the armed groups carried out assaults on law-enforcement forces’ checkpoints and ignited the clashes. Meanwhile, the authorities in central Hama city clashed with armed groups in two neighborhoods, rounding up a number of them and confiscating their arms that included assorted weaponries and explosives. In northern Idlib province, Syrian troops dismantled three explosive devices planted by armed men on al-Mastouma road, SANA reported, adding that three state-servants were set free with the help of the government troops after being kidnapped by armed groups.
Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: Nowhere is the impact of Pakistan’s ban on NATO truck traffic more visible than here at the top of the Hindu Kush, on one of the only alternative overland routes for supply convoys to reach Kabul and the rest of the country. For 20 miles north and south of the old Soviet-built tunnel at Salang Pass, thousands of trucks are idled beside the road, waiting for a turn to get through its perilous, one-and-a-half-mile length. This is the only passable route for heavy truck traffic bringing NATO supplies in from the Central Asian republics to the north, as they now must come. There are other roads, but they are often single-lane dirt tracks through even higher mountain passes, or they are frequently subject to ambushes by insurgents and bandits. So a tunnel built to handle 1,000 vehicles a day, and until the Pakistani boycott against NATO in November handling 2,000, now tries — and often fails — to let 10,000 vehicles through, alternating northbound and southbound truck traffic every other day.
6 June 2012
Syria – Reuters reported: International mediator Kofi Annan will present the U.N. Security Council on Thursday with a new proposal in a last-ditch effort to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought the country to the brink of civil war. Annan and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the 15-nation council behind closed doors at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT). Ban and former U.N. chief Annan will also speak to the 193-nation General Assembly at 10:00 a.m., along with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby. The two U.N. meetings, which will focus on the escalating crisis in Syria, come as the Syrian opposition and Western and Gulf nations seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad increasingly see Annan’s six-point peace plan as doomed due to the Syrian government’s determination to use military force to crush an increasingly militarized opposition. The core of Annan’s proposal, diplomats said, would be the establishment of a contact group that would bring together Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and key regional players with influence on Syria’s government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
Pakistan – FOX NEWS reported: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is keeping the pressure on Pakistan and expressed continued frustration with the country’s failure to root out the terrorist Haqqani network. “We are reaching the limits of our patience here,” Panetta said during a joint press conference the Afghan defense minister. A senior U.S. official acknowledged Thursday that the recent increase in drone strikes on insurgents in Pakistan is due in part to frustration with Islamabad. Despite pressure from U.S. commanders, Pakistan remains reluctant to go after insurgents, particularly the Haqqani network, which was likely responsible for recent deadly attacks on U.S. forces. Panetta added that Pakistan must take action and that there is “an increasing concern that this safe haven exists,” Panetta said. “It is very important that Pakistan take steps to deal with this threat.”
Pakistan – World NEWS via MSNBC reported: Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president whose ouster triggered revolutions across the Middle East, has become dangerously ill, security officials told the Associated Press. Officials at the Torah prison south of Cairo, where Mubarak, 84, is being held, said he suffered from shock and was experiencing breathing problems. They said Mubarak needed a respirator five times on Wednesday. Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years, was sentenced to life on Saturday after he was convicted for his role in the killing of hundreds of protesters during the uprising that ultimately swept him out of office. Egypt’s state news agency said Mubarak had been in a military hospital during his trial before being flown to prison. On Wednesday, the news agency said he suffered from nervous shock. He spent more than two hours on the aircraft that transported him to prison, saying he was suffering from health problems.
China – FOX NEWS reported: Ahead of U.N. discussions on Syria, a conference of Central Asian nations Thursday rejected outside military intervention to end the violence there and called for a domestic resolution. China and Russia, both attending the Beijing summit, have been seen as protecting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, blamed for a harsh crackdown on a 15-month popular uprising. A joint statement from the 6-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization said “all violent behavior in Syria must stop” and said the group supports a broad domestic dialogue that respects Syria’s sovereignty and independence. It said the SCO members oppose military interference, unilateral sanctions and the “forced transfer of power.” Despite widespread international condemnation of its actions, Syria’s government has survived through a combination of brutal repression and the political backing of Moscow. Along with China, Russia has twice blocked U.N. condemnations and punitive actions against the regime.
Iran – The New York Times reported: Iran raised the possibility on Wednesday of delaying or canceling the resumption of nuclear talks with the big powers, scheduled in less than two weeks, because of what it called dithering by the other side in holding preliminary meetings aimed at ensuring some success. The warning, made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the office of Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator in the talks, came as its ambassador to the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency accused some of its inspectors of espionage. Taken together, the messages suggest that Iran’s leaders have decided to reduce expectations that the negotiations, which resumed in April after a 15-month suspension, would produce an agreement on the country’s disputed nuclear program, or at least lead to an easing of the onerous sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union. The sanctions are scheduled to turn more severe on July 1, when the European Union bans all imports of Iranian oil, the country’s most important export.
Israel – The Washington Post reported: Israel’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing settlers furious over the government’s plan to dismantle an illegally built settler enclave. Engineers, meanwhile, questioned the government’s plan to physically uproot the five apartment buildings that make up the Ulpana enclave, saying it would be a colossal waste of money and likely doomed to fail.Netanyahu, an ardent settlement champion, has proposed that plan to avert the spectacle of settlement homes being demolished on his watch. On Wednesday, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments in various West Bank settlements after parliament, at Netanyahu’s urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land. The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.
Oregon-USA – The BBC reported: A huge metal dock that was swept away by last year’s tsunami in Japan has washed ashore in the US state of Oregon. Japanese consulate officials say it was one of four that broke loose from the port of Misawa and drifted thousands of miles across the Pacific ocean. It was first spotted floating offshore on Monday and mistaken by several people for a barge.
Azerbaijan – The Boston Globe reported: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Wednesday with a prominent Azerbaijani opposition activist who was just freed after serving a year in prison, and prodded the oil-rich Caucasus nation to do far more to advance democracy and human rights. Nearing the end of a weeklong Europe trip, Clinton said she spoke with the Harvard-educated Bakhtiyar Hajiyev and urged him to continue his pro-democracy campaigning. She expressed hope that Hajiyev “will be able to continue his work without interference.” Clinton met several other opposition members, too, after lunching with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and other top government officials and stressing “the importance of fostering a vibrant civil society and embracing democratic reforms.”
Israel – The Christian Science Monitor reported: For the first time, Israel will begin funding rabbis from the Reform and Conservative movements, which have long been shut out in a country dominated by Orthodox Judaism. Israel has always touted a national respect for freedom of religion in a region where religious intolerance runs high. But ever since its founding, the Jewish state has nonetheless sanctioned discrimination – against Jews. Orthodox denominations dominate the Israeli Rabbinate, own a virtual monopoly on funding for religious institutions, and have a lock on the clergy overseeing marriage, divorce, and conversions. Liberal movements like Conservative and Reform Judaism have traditionally been shut out. But last week, in response to a Supreme Court petition calling for equal funding of pulpit rabbis, Israel’s Attorney General said that for the first time the state would begin paying salaries of clergy from non-Orthodox denominations. Liberal Jewish groups hailed it as a landmark in the campaign for wider pluralism, even though the Orthodox religious monopoly on the state-funded rabbinate is still intact.
Libya – Reuters reported: A bomb exploded outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi overnight, an attack that could be retaliation for the killing, in a U.S. drone strike, of al Qaeda’s Libyan second-in-command. An improvised explosive device was dropped from a vehicle outside the mission, in an upmarket area of central Benghazi. It exploded moments after, slightly damaging the building’s gate but no one was hurt, U.S. and Libyan officials said. Washington had confirmed a few hours before the attack that a U.S.-operated drone had killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, a Libyan-born cleric and senior al Qaeda operative, in Pakistan. U.S. diplomats said after the Benghazi blast they had asked the Libyan authorities to step up security at U.S. facilities in the country, where last year Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in an uprising supported by NATO air power. “The possibility that this act took place because of what happened to Abu Yahya is, in my personal opinion, a very strong one,” said Noman Benotman, a Libyan former Islamist who is now an expert on militant groups.
7 June 2012
Syria – FOX NEWS reported: International envoy Kofi Annan warned Thursday that Syria is drifting toward full-blown civil war and blamed the failure of his peace plan primarily on President Bashar Assad’s government. He urged the divided U.N. Security Council to threaten “consequences” if Assad doesn’t stop the violence. Increasingly impatient with the Syrian regime, Annan confirmed for the first time that his six-point plan is not being implemented. He said it’s now time for the U.N.’s most powerful body and the wider international community to step up the pressure to ensure its implementation or start discussing other options to stop the bloodshed. Annan spoke amid dire signs that diplomatic efforts to end the conflict are failing: U.N. observers came under fire Thursday as they tried to reach the site of the latest reported mass killing in Syria — about 80 people, including women and children who were shot or stabbed.
Pakistan via Washington D.C. – Bloomberg NEWS reported: President Barack Obama has ordered a sharp increase in drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan in recent months, anticipating Pakistan may soon bar such CIA operations launched from its territory, two U.S. officials said. His decision reflects mounting U.S. frustration with Pakistan over a growing list of disputes — mirrored by Pakistani grievances with the U.S. — that have soured relations and weakened security cooperation. The U.S. is withholding at least $3 billion in reimbursements for counterinsurgency operations and security-related funding, according to congressional aides and Pakistani officials. “We are reaching the limits of our patience, and for that reason it’s extremely important that Pakistan take action” to crack down on armed groups based there that attack American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday in Kabul.
Spain – The BBC reported: Spain’s credit rating has been downgraded as estimates on the size of the bailout it needs begin to mount up. Fitch cut its rating on Spanish government debt by three notches to “BBB”, a sign it thinks Spain’s ability to honour its debts has weakened. Earlier, there was strong demand for Spanish bonds at an auction on Thursday, seen as a key test of the country’s ability to raise funds. However, it did have to pay a higher interest rate than before. The rate on the 10-year Spanish bonds was 6.044%, up from the 5.743% from the last auction in April.
Pakistan – The New York Times reported: A bomb attached to a bicycle exploded outside a seminary in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 14 people, the police said. More than 40 people were wounded in the attack in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, a senior police officer, Hamid Shakil, said. Most of the dead and wounded were students at the Sunni Muslim seminary, he said. No one immediately claimed responsibility, and the motive for the bombing was unclear. There have been sectarian killings in the region; in October, gunmen singled out Shiite passengers on a bus and executed them. But other factors could have been at work. Baluchistan borders Afghanistan to the west and is believed to be a refuge for Taliban and Pakistani militants. It has also witnessed an insurgency lasting decades by renegade tribal elders and nationalists who demand greater autonomy and a larger share of the province’s resources, like natural gas and oil.
Germany – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for countries to give up more powers to Europe “step by step” as the continent tries to claw its way out of the debt crisis and says a “political union” is needed as leaders prepare for a closely watched summit later this month. However, Merkel, who appeared on ARD public television’s breakfast show Thursday amid pressure on Germany to defuse the crisis, downplayed prospects of reaching a big solution to Europe’s troubles at the June 28-29 summit in Brussels. The troubles of Spain’s banking system and concern over Greece’s future in the 17-country eurozone have generated uncertainty over the continent’s economic outlook. “I don’t think that there is a single summit at which the big design will appear,” Merkel said, suggesting the meeting would be an opportunity to press forward with already established plans.
Israel – The New York Times reported: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel seemed headed for a showdown with hard-core Jewish settlers on Wednesday, after his ministers followed his instructions to vote against a draft bill that would have retroactively legalized illegally built settler homes in the West Bank. The bill was defeated 69 to 22 in the 120-seat Parliament, paving the way for the imminent removal of five apartment buildings housing about 30 families that were built on privately owned Palestinian land in an extension of an existing settlement. Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the state to demolish the buildings by July 1. In the end, Mr. Netanyahu faced down the more right-wing elements within his government coalition and his own Likud Party, prevailing after intense discussions in the past few days and pledging to build housing for 300 families in the settlement itself, Beit El.
Afghanistan – The Washington Post reported: The United States stepped up pressure on Pakistan Thursday as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “we are reaching the limits of our patience” with a nominal ally that continues to provide a safe haven to al-Qaida-linked militants. It was the latest sign that the U.S. is now getting tougher with Pakistan after years of muting criticism and looking the other way on the premise that an uneasy friendship was better than making the nuclear-armed country an outright enemy. As U.S. forces draw down in neighboring Afghanistan, the Americans appear to be pushing Pakistan harder than ever before to squeeze insurgents who find sanctuary within its borders. Panetta, in the Afghan capital, told reporters he was visiting Kabul to take stock of progress in the war and discuss plans for the troop drawdown. But he used a press conference to strike across the border instead, saying the Pakistani government needs to do more — and soon — to root out the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani terrorist network. Panetta repeatedly emphasized U.S. frustration with attackers crossing the border from Pakistan. It is essential that Pakistan stop “allowing terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces,” he said alongside Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Somalia – The Toronto Star reported: The U.S. is offering millions of dollars for information concerning seven leaders of Somalia’s Al Qaeda affiliate, al-Shabab, increasing pressure on a group already under military siege. Included on the list is suspected Shabab financier, Fuad Mohamed Khalaf, known more commonly as Fuad Shongole, who holds both Somali and Swedish citizenship. Four Somali teenagers who had hands and feet amputated by the Shabab in a Mogadishu stadium in the summer of 2009 said they met Shongole during their captivity. Ismail Khalif Abdulle, one of those teenagers whose story the Toronto Star has been following from Mogadishu to Norway, where he has was granted refuge last year, said while he was still in Shabab custody and recovering from his wounds, Shongole came to him.
India – The New York Daily NEWS reported: The United States aspires to have greater engagement with India sitting on an enormously important geostrategic location on the sea lines of communication from the Mideast into Pacific, according to a top US military officer. “We have for some time said that we aspired to a closer relationship and greater engagement with India,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told foreign media Thursday. “I mean, they are currently the second and soon, you know, depending on who you believe, soon to be the largest country in the world,” he said in response to a question asking him to compare Washington’s relationship with India and Pakistan. “They sit at an enormously important geostrategic location on the sea lines of communication from the Mideast into Pacific. And they’re the world’s largest democracy,” Dempsey said.
China – The Washington Post reported: China is shoring up ties with Afghanistan with a joint declaration pledging closer cooperation in areas from border security to disease control. The document was issued following a meeting Friday in Beijing between Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. Karzai had earlier attended the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security bloc of which Afghanistan is an observer state. China is positioning itself for a bigger role in Afghanistan following the departure of most U.S. and other international troops at the end of 2014.
8 June 2012
Iran – The International NEWS via Pakistan reported: In an unusually blunt statement, officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called the outcome of Friday’s meeting “disappointing” and said Iran appeared to retreat from commitments it had made during earlier meetings in the Iranian capital. “There has been no progress, and indeed Iran raised issues that we have already discussed and added new ones,” Herman Nackaerts, the IAEA deputy director general, said after the talks concluded in Vienna. No date was set for future negotiations, which were aimed at clearing up a years-long dispute over allegations of secret nuclear weapons research conducted by Iranian scientists nearly a decade ago.
Egypt – The (AP) reported: A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement. The attack follows smaller scale assaults on women this week in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year. Thousands have been gathering in the square this week in protests over a variety of issues — mainly over worries that presidential elections this month will secure the continued rule by elements of Mubarak’s regime backed by the ruling military. Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before men trying to help could reach her.
Syria – The Voice of America reported: Syrian activists say violence nationwide killed 17 people Friday as discussions continued on ways to end the crisis. International envoy Kofi Annan called for additional pressure on the Syrian government even as he met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington. “Everyone is looking for a solution,” said Annan. “Some say the plan may be dead. Is the problem the plan or the problem the implementation? If it’s implementation, how do we get action on that?”
The uprising in Syria:
March 2011: First protests erupt, dozens killed. Government announces reforms, then resigns.
April, May 2011: Protests intensify and spread, hundreds killed. U.S. imposes sanctions on top leaders.
August, September 2011: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdraw ambassadors. U.S. imposes economic sanctions, EU bans Syrian oil imports.
October 2011: Russia, China veto a U.N. resolution condemning Syria.
November 2011: The Arab League suspends Syria’s membership.
January 2012: Government releases 5,000 prisoners. Death toll soars past 7,000.
February 2012: Russia, China veto a second U.N. resolution condemning crackdown.
March 2012: Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan holds talks in Syria. U.N. says death toll exceeds 9,000. Syria agrees to U.N.-backed peace plan.
April 2012: Syria says it will abide by a cease-fire on April 12, but violence continues. U.N. observers arrive.
May 2012: Syria holds parliamentary elections, violence continues, U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan appeals to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop the violence.
June 2012: Western nations expel Syrian diplomats, Mr. Annan urges increased pressure on Syria.
??The cease-fire brokered by Mr. Annan has failed to deter attacks by the Syrian government and clashes with opposition rebels that have left hundreds dead.
Afghanistan – USA Today reported: The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan offered a somber apology on Friday in an eastern province where officials say 18 civilians — half of them children — were killed in a coalition airstrike this week. U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen spent several hours with local Afghans to express his regrets about Wednesday’s pre-dawn raid to capture a Taliban operative in Baraki Barak district of Logar province. “We take these deaths very seriously and I grieve with their families,” Allen told the provincial governor, an elderly man with a long, white beard and gray turban. “I have children of my own, and I feel the pain of this.” Hours after Allen’s visit, the U.S.-led coalition issued a statement saying that it had completed its initial assessment of the operation and confirmed that “in addition to the insurgents killed during the operation, it’s also responsible for the unintended, but nonetheless tragic, death of Afghan civilians.”
Pakistan – The LA Times reported: A bomb tore through a bus carrying government workers in the northwest city of Peshawar on Friday, killing at least 19 people and injuring 35. The blast ended several months of relative calm in Peshawar, a restive city perched on the edge of Pakistan’s militant-infested tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. More than 50 people were in the bus, which was heading from Peshawar to the nearby city of Charsadda. Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a senior minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said authorities believed the bomb was planted inside the bus. Among the dead were four women and a child, local hospital officials said. Television images showed the mangled frame of the bus, with a gaping hole toward the rear section. Injured passengers were rushed in trucks and taxis to hospitals in Peshawar and Charsadda. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion is likely to fall on the Pakistani Taliban, the homegrown insurgent group that has its strongholds in the tribal areas and periodically carries out strikes against Pakistani security installations as well as civilian targets, including mosques and markets. Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and said it would not deter the country in its battle against militants.
Ivory Coast – The New York Times reported: Armed men ambushed and killed seven United Nations peacekeepers trying to protect villagers in Ivory Coast on Friday, and more than 40 of their colleagues who stayed to guard against more attacks remain in danger, the United Nations said. Hundreds of villagers were fleeing the area around the town of Tai, near the Liberian border, and United Nations officials said others might have been killed or wounded. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations condemned the attack and said he was “saddened and outraged” by the deaths of the peacekeepers, all from Niger. Ivory Coast’s deputy defense minister, Paul Koffi Koffi, blamed “militia men or mercenaries” for the attack.
United Kingdom – Reuters reported: British Prime Minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne will face accusations they bent government policy to support media baron Rupert Murdoch when they appear at a high-profile inquiry into press ethics next week. The two most senior members of the government will appear in courtroom 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice in what is certain to be another dramatic week for an inquiry that has revealed collusion between politicians and the Murdoch media empire. Former prime ministers Gordon Brown and John Major will also testify, along with Labour leader Ed Miliband, deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman and Nick Clegg, the head of the Liberal Democrat junior party in the government coalition.
France – Reuters reported: French banks are hoping for the best while planning for the worst. The country’s top lenders are exploring a variety of options ahead of expected moves by new President Francois Hollande to split up their operations. Ring-fencing banks’ risk-taking businesses from mainstream retail functions was a key plank of Hollande’s election campaign, which also promised to hit lenders with more taxes and tighter regulation. In response, the banks are mounting a rearguard lobbying action to limit what could be the hefty costs of potential legislation. With the support of their regulator and the French Treasury, lenders have defended the “universal bank” model under which a bank sells everything from unglamorous household loans to complex derivatives.