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16 July 2012
Syria – The San Francisco Chronicle via (AP) reported: International envoy Kofi Annan tried to rescue his peace plan for Syria by seeking help Monday from Iran, a staunch ally and military backer of President Bashar Assad’s government. Before flying to Tehran, Annan said he had agreed on a new approach with Assad to stop the violence, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people since the conflict began in March 2011. The United Nations estimates that at least 10,000 people have been killed. Annan did not spell out the agreement or say what kind of involvement he saw for Iran in resolving the crisis. Antigovernment fighters dismissed any role for Iran in a plan they and some experts say has little hope of succeeding. “Kofi thinks you can’t have a political transition and solution without the Iranians on board, but this is still part of the understanding that Assad and the regime will be part of the solution – an idea many of us have given up on,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center and an analyst on regional politics.
Afghanistan – The San Francisco Chronicle via The Washington Post reported: A series of fresh attacks across Afghanistan in the past two days killed more than a dozen people, including six U.S. troops, officials said. The American service members lost their lives when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb Sunday in Wardak province, which lies just west of Kabul and has recently become one of the country’s most dangerous areas. The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, one of the bloodiest incidents in months for U.S. troops. Attackers have picked up the pace during the summer months, planting improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along roads or footpaths. But during the past year, U.S. troops found and avoided more homemade bombs than a year ago because of improvements in training, equipment and intelligence, the Associated Press reported. Also Sunday, 23 Afghan civilians were killed by multiple blasts in Arghistan district of southern Kandahar.
Pakistan – The Associated Press reported: Gunmen killed eight people in an attack Monday on a Pakistani army camp near a city where thousands of hardline Islamists stopped on their way to the capital to protest the decision to reopen the NATO supply line to Afghanistan, police said. Police were searching for the attackers, and it was unclear if any of the Islamist protesters were involved, said Basharat Mahmood, police chief in the eastern city of Gujrat near where the attack occurred. “It is surely a terrorist attack,” said Mahmood. The gunmen who attacked the camp were riding in a car and on motorcycles. They killed seven soldiers at the camp and a policeman who tried to intercept them, said Mahmood.
Russia – Radio Free Europe reported: A Russian arms official has suggested that Moscow will not deliver fighter planes or other new weapons to Syria while the situation there remains unresolved, although efforts continue to confirm such a pledge. Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy director of the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation — a body that supervises Moscow’s arms trade — was quoted by Russian news agencies as making the statement at the Farnborough Airshow in Britain on July 9. However, a spokesman for the service would not immediately confirm the deputy director’s comments when contacted by telephone. In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that, “if it were true, it would be a good sign, but we are still seeking further clarification from the Russians.”
Sudan – Reuters reported: Sudan and South Sudan are playing a dangerous economic version of Russian roulette that threatens the success of both countries, the top U.S. official for the region said on the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. Princeton Lyman, U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said frayed relations between Juba and Khartoum will slow desperately needed growth unless they can negotiate settlements to the border and oil issues that remain unresolved one year after the South seceded. “Each side thinks the other is more vulnerable,” Lyman said. “But it is a very dangerous attitude. It is kind of a mutual economic suicide approach.” Lyman’s grim assessment came despite U.S. pressure on both sides to resolve their differences, which threaten to overshadow the peaceful emergence of South Sudan as Africa’s newest independent state.
Bosnia – Boston.com via (AP) reported: It’s been 20 years since Elvedin Pasic’s father was captured by Serb fighters in the Bosnian war. But as the 34-year-old Bosnian Muslim became the first witness at the U.N. trial of Ratko Mladic on Monday, he repeatedly broke down in tears as he recalled the trauma of separation. The former Bosnian Serb military chief faces 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian war that left 100,000 people dead.
Germany – Reuters reported: Germany’s top court will address on Tuesday whether Europe’s new bailout scheme and budget rules are compatible with national law in a process influencing not just how to tackle the euro zone debt crisis, but how much deeper European integration can go. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and German central bank chief Jens Weidmann will attend the German Constitutional Court’s public hearing (0800 GMT) into complaints about the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and fiscal pact. Apart from airing the arguments of eurosceptic politicians, academics and businesses, and the government view that the measures to tackle the euro zone crisis got legitimacy from parliament’s approval in June, the hearing may indicate how long the court will keep Europe on tenterhooks. Anything more than a few weeks would mean a serious delay to implementing the ESM, which has already been postponed from July 1, and raise serious doubts about whether Europe will really get the extra firepower it needs to combat the crisis.
17 July 2012
North Korea – Bloomberg NEWS reported: Kim Jong Un consolidated his hold on North Korea, taking the top military rank of marshal days after the army chief was removed. The leadership of the government and the military made the decision yesterday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said today in a statement. Kim’s new post cements his place at the top of North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military seven months after succeeding his late father Kim Jong Il as dictator. Having ousted army chief Ri Yong Ho on July 15, Kim is now free to pursue his own policies, such as using military resources to improve the country’s isolated and impoverished economy. “Kim could have created a lot of instability and opposition by suddenly firing Ri Yong Ho, one of the most influential figures in the military,” said Cheong Seong Chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “By raising Kim’s authority over the army, the regime is able to wield more control over the military leadership.”
Israel – Haaretz reported: By pulling Kadima out of the coalition on Tuesday, Shaul Mofaz put an end to his political career. His 70 days as vice prime minister had not a whit of influence on the policies of the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. Mofaz knew that, and he tried to cut his losses – but to no avail.
India – The LA Times reported: The U.S. Embassy in India expressed its condolences Tuesday after an American refueling ship in the Persian Gulf opened fire on a fishing boat, killing one Indian and wounding three others. India has called for an investigation by the United Arab Emirates, in whose waters the shooting took place. In a statement, the embassy said the United States was launching its own investigation, but repeated previous U.S. suggestions that the use of force was justified given that the small motorized vessel was approaching the Navy fuel resupply ship Rappahannock on Monday at a rapid pace and failed to heed several warnings to turn away. The Navy has said the signals were sent by radio, loudspeakers and flashing lights. Lt. Greg Raelson, a public affairs official with the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said he couldn’t say whether the admonitions were in English, Arabic or another language but said the Navy issued a “series of nonlethal warnings” as part of routine efforts to protect itself. He declined to predict how long an investigation might take.
Libya – The Irish Times reported: A moderate Islamic coalition led by wartime prime minister Mahmoud Jibril beat Islamist rivals in Libya’s landmark election, results showed last night, but it was not yet clear who would dominate the new assembly as all sides scrambled to woo independents. Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (NFA) won 39 seats out of the 80 reserved for parties in Libya’s 200-seat national assembly, the full count showed. The political wing of Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s biggest Islamist group, won just 17 of those seats in the first free national election on July 7th. But those numbers do not translate into an automatic majority for Jibril, whose party has secured just 20 per cent of seats in an assembly which will name a prime minister, pass laws and prepare for full parliamentary polls after the country drafts a new constitution next year. A further 120 seats were allotted to independent candidates whose allegiances are hard to pin down. The names of the winners of those seats were also announced at a news conference yesterday, but it was not yet clear what kind of voting blocs would be formed. The assembly could well be dominated by an unpredictable and fractious mix of candidates elected on the basis of local connections, reputation and social standing rather than ideology.
Burma – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is to travel to the United States in September, in her first trip there in more than 20 years. She will receive awards from a think-tank and the US Congress, reports said. She would also be invited to meet government officials, the State Department said, without expanding. Ms Suu Kyi recently visited Europe for a 17-day tour during which she received her Nobel Peace Prize, 21 years after it was awarded. The Atlantic Council think-tank said she had accepted an invitation to attend a dinner in New York on 21 September, where she would receive its Global Citizen Award. The annual award will also honour top US diplomat and Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, and musician and humanitarian Quincy Jones.
Venezuela – The LA Times reported: The Venezuelan government under President Hugo Chavez has steadily concentrated its power, enabling it to “intimidate, censor, and prosecute” critics and perceived enemies, a new report says. The New York-based Human Rights Watch says in an extensive report released Tuesday that personal liberties under the Chavez government have continued to deteriorate. In his 13 years in office, Chavez has stacked the legislature and supreme court with supporters whose loyalty has removed checks and balances on his own executive power, the report say. “For judges, journalists, broadcasters and human rights defenders in particular, the government’s actions have sent a clear message: The president and his followers are willing and able to punish people who challenge or obstruct their political aims,” the 133-page report says.
Indonesia – The Montreal Gazette reported: Indonesia’s top diplomat started an emergency trip to Southeast Asian nations Wednesday to ease differences among them over the handling of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said he met his Philippine counterpart, Albert del Rosario, in Manila on Wednesday and would fly to other Southeast Asian nations to try to ease the discord and prevent further damage to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Foreign ministers of the 10-nation bloc failed to issue a concluding joint statement after their annual meeting in Phnom Penh last week when host Cambodia rejected a proposal by the Philippines and Vietnam to mention their separate territorial disputes with China in the statement.
Turkey – The Telegraph UK reported: A large fire broke out in a 42-storey tower block in central Istanbul on Tuesday, sending thick smoke billowing into the air before firefighters extinguished the blaze. Live television images from Turkey showed debris falling from the upper floors of the building, which is made up of residential apartments and offices, as fire crews brought the blaze under control. There were no reports of casualties. People wearing breathing masks were led out by fire crews. A nearby petrol station and other buildings were also evacuated. “It is not clear yet why or from where the fire was started. We will see when the fire brigade’s report is finished. The cause will be investigated,” said Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas. “We could have experienced a catastrophe as at least 1,500 people reside in the building,” he said. The tower block’s owner, Adnan Polat, said everyone from the building had been rescued.
China – The New York Times reported: A teenage Tibetan monk in Sichuan Province died on Tuesday after setting himself on fire in what has become an increasingly familiar protest against harsh government policies in the region, exile groups said. The monk, Lobsang Lozin, 18, from the Gyalrong Tsodun Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, an autonomous Tibetan prefecture, died around noon, shortly after igniting his fuel-soaked garments near the monastery. Witnesses quoted by the Tibetan government in exile said he shouted slogans before he collapsed. It was the 44th self-immolation since the suicidal protests began in 2009. In March, two monks from the same monastery died after setting themselves on fire. The Chinese news media did not immediately report Tuesday’s death, but in the past it has portrayed the spate of self-immolations as acts of terrorism orchestrated by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. He has denied the accusations, saying that protesters are motivated by a widely held belief that government policies in the region restrict religious practices and are a threat to Tibetan culture and language.
Egypt – The Washington Post reported: Egyptian passengers fed up with waiting for their train to move put logs and rocks on the rails of a nearby track, causing two other trains to collide on Tuesday, an Egyptian security official said. At least four people were injured. The security official said some of the passengers in Giza, Cairo’s twin city, were enraged that they had to wait for more than 30 minutes on their train to allow another train to pass. Some of the restless passengers placed logs and rocks on the rails of the track of the other train that was holding theirs up. When the speeding train approached, the debris caused it to sideswipe another train. Three cars of the fast-moving train overturned. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Health Ministry said at least four people were injured, according to the state-run news agency MENA.
Afghanistan – The Express Tribune of Pakistan reported: Afghanistan will elicit Pakistan’s facilitation in the peace and reconciliation process during talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in Kabul on July 19, Afghan Ambassador Omar Daudzai said on Tuesday. Both leaders will also discuss border incursions that have driven a wedge between the two countries, Daudzai told The Express Tribune. “The most important subject on the agenda will be peace and reconciliation and Pakistan’s help and its key role,” the Afghan envoy said on the phone from Kabul. Daudzai is in Kabul to finalise preparations for Prime Minister Ashraf’s visit. So far, peace interlocutors have failed to get the Afghan Taliban into starting an intra-Afghan dialogue. Insurgents also ignored a rare appeal by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the Taliban and other armed Afghan groups to partake in direct talks with the US-backed Afghan government.
18 July 2012
United Kingdom- The BBC reported: Assets worth £100m belonging to Syrian leaders have been located and frozen in Britain, the BBC has learned. The European Union imposed sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime after it violently suppressed anti-government protests. Most of the UK assets is cash held in bank accounts by people and organisations named in the EU’s action. Thousands of people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began against President Assad in March 2011. The White House says the killing in Damascus of three top figures at the heart of Syria’s defense establishment on Wednesday showed President Assad was losing control.
Israel – Reuters reported: An Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah carried out the deadly bomb attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on Wednesday. Bulgarian officials said six people were killed when the bomb went off outside Bulgaria’s Burgas airport. Israeli media reported that eight people had been killed and that six of them were Israelis. “The immediate executers are Hezbollah people, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship,” Barak told Israel Radio. The tourists had arrived on a charter flight from Israel and were on the bus in the airport car park when the blast tore through the double-decker. Body parts were strewn across the ground and mangled metal hung from the bus’s ripped roof. Hours after the attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Teheran was behind the attack and that “Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror.” There was no immediate Iranian reaction to the Israeli accusation.
Hungary – The Jerusalem Post reported: Police in Hungary on Tuesday arrested Laszlo Csatary, said to be the world’s most wanted living Nazi, and charged him with war crimes related to the deportation of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz during World War II. Hungarian prosecution said it indicted the 95-year-old for the part he played in sending 15,700 Jews to Nazi death camps when he was the police chief of Kosice. Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, of the Simon Wiesenthal center, who tracked Csatary down to a suburb of Budapest late last year, told The Jerusalem Post shortly after the arrest took place that he was overjoyed by the news. “Hallelujah,” he said. “You can’t understand what this means to me. It is a great victory and a very important one.”
Tanzania – The Herald Sun of Australia reported: An Official has said there is no hope for more than 80 people still missing a day after a ferry sank off Zanzibar, with 62 bodies already recovered. The vessel, which was officially carrying 291 passengers and crew, including more than 30 children, went down in choppy waters in the Indian Ocean after leaving Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam around midday Wednesday. But there was now little hope of saving more people, Zanzibar police spokesman Mohamed Mhina said, raising the prospect that some 145 may have died. “Search operations continue but it is now almost impossible survivors will be found,” he told reporters. “The ship has completely sunk. There were 290 people on board.”
Washington DC – USA Today reported: President Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin today as violence in Syria escalated to a point of near chaos. “The two presidents noted the growing violence in Syria and agreed on the need to support a political transition as soon as possible that achieves our shared goal of ending the violence and avoiding a further deterioration of the situation,” the White House announced. “They noted the differences our governments have had on Syria, but agreed to have their teams continue to work toward a solution.” White House press secretary Jay Carney said the latest explosion that killed Syria’s defense minister and two other key allies of President Bashar Assad, including his brother-in-law, shows that the situation will deteriorate until the regime is ousted.
China – Reuters reported: Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday offered $20 billion in loans to African countries over the next three years, boosting a relationship that has been criticised by the West and given Beijing growing access to the resource-rich continent. The loans offered were double the amount China pledged for the previous three-year period in 2009 and is the latest in a string of aid and credit provided to Africa’s many poverty-stricken nations. The pledge is likely to boost China’s good relations with Africa, a supplier of oil and raw materials like copper and uranium to the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy. But the loans could add to discomfort in the West, which criticises China for overlooking human rights abuses in its business dealings with Africa, especially in Beijing’s desire to feed its booming resource-hungry economy.
Afghanistan – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Insurgents in northern Afghanistan staged a fiery attack Wednesday on a NATO supply line, destroying at least 17 fuel tankers, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility. The police chief in Samangan province, Gen. Khalil Andarabi, said the predawn explosion targeted a fuel pump, setting off a conflagration. He said authorities were investigating whether the bomb had been attached to the pump by magnet or planted nearby. The attack marked the second major episode of violence in less than a week in Samangan province, north of the capital. A suicide attack on a wedding hall Saturday killed at least 19 people, including the father of the bride, a prominent member of parliament.
Romania – The Washington Post reported: The European Union sharply criticized Romania’s government on Wednesday, saying it has undermined the rule of law and independence of the judiciary as it tried to remove the president. President Traian Basescu was impeached by Parliament last month on grounds he overstepped his authority by meddling in government business and the judicial system. Critics accuse Prime Minister Victor Ponta of orchestrating the move as part of a power grab, and the political turmoil has dented Romania’s credibility, with the United States and the EU expressing doubts about the left-leaning government’s respect for the independence of the judiciary.
Afghanistan – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has held talks in Kabul with the prime ministers of Britain and Pakistan. UK PM David Cameron signed a deal to build an officers’ training academy modelled on Sandhurst. It was President Karzai’s first meeting with Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf. Afghanistan is facing the withdrawal of international troops in 2014, and received $16bn (£10.3bn) in aid pledges at a conference earlier this month. The Afghan economy relies heavily on international development and military assistance. The World Bank says aid makes up more than 95% of Afghanistan’s GDP. The BBC’s David Loyn in Kabul says it was Mr Cameron’s idea to hold the unusual three-sided meeting, believing that Britain, Pakistan and Afghanistan share a common enemy.
New Zealand – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: The New Zealand judge who freed Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom from jail in February will oversee a U.S. request for his extradition after the presiding official quit for having criticized U.S. copyright rules. New Zealand District Judge Nevin Dawson was named yesterday to replace David Harvey, Neil Billington, a spokesman at the court, said today in an e-mail. Harvey stepped down after telling a public conference on July 12 the U.S. was New Zealand’s “enemy” on copyright issues. “He recognizes that remarks made in the context of a paper he delivered on copyright law at a recent Internet conference could reflect on his impartiality and that the appropriate response is for him to step down,” the court’s Chief Judge Jan- Marie Doogue said in response to an inquiry yesterday, according to Billington. Dotcom, 38, is wanted in the U.S. on charges he orchestrated the biggest copyright infringement conspiracy in that country’s history with his Megaupload file-sharing website generating more than $175 million in criminal proceeds from the exchange of pirated film, music, book and software files. An extradition hearing has been tentatively scheduled for March 25.
19 July 2012
Syria – The Jerusalem Post reported: Palestinian Authority officials Thursday expressed concern over the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria. They said that some 300 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the uprising in Syria in March 2011. More than 500,000 Palestinians are believed to be living in Syria, mostly in a number of refugee camps. The PA announced Thursday that it was in contact with the Syrian authorities and opposition to avoid involving Palestinians in the escalating violence. The officials said that in recent weeks a number of Palestinians were kidnapped and killed by unidentified gunmen in various parts of Syria. Three Palestinians were killed in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus earlier this week, they added.
Syria – The Christian Science Monitor reported: Russia and China voted down a U.N. Security Council resolution that might have imposed sanctions on Syria. Diplomacy has been mostly ineffective throughout much of the crisis. Violence persists in the country’s capital, Damascus. Rebels seized control of sections of Syria’s international borders and torched the main police headquarters in the heart of old Damascus, advancing relentlessly after the assassination of President Bashar al-Assad’s closest lieutenants. The battle for parts of the capital raged into the early hours of Friday. In some neighbourhoods, residents said there were signs the government’s presence was diminishing. Officials in neighbouring Iraq confirmed that Syrian rebels were now in control of the Syrian side of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway, one of the major trade routes across the Middle East.
Egypt via Ohio – The CNN reported: Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian vice president under Hosni Mubarak who announced the president’s resignation to the world, has died in a U.S. hospital at age 76, officials said Thursday. A family member said the former spy chief had “water on his lungs and suffered heart problems that led to his death after his health deteriorated in the past three weeks.” He had traveled to Germany for medical reasons before for traveling Monday to a medical center in Cleveland. Suleiman died early Thursday with his family at his side at the Cleveland Clinic, which announced that his death was due to “complications from amyloidosis, a disease that affects multiple organs including the heart and kidneys.” His body was to arrive Friday morning in Egypt and his funeral was to be held after prayers, relatives said.
Romania – The Agence France Presse reported: Romania’s ruling coalition filed a legal complaint on Thursday accusing 15 opposition leaders of defaming the ex-communist state that has been mired in political turmoil. The move is another twist in a saga gripping Romania that has seen Prime Minister Victor Ponta and his coalition suspend President Traian Basescu and try to trim the powers of the constitutional court. The complaint, filed with the public prosecutor’s office, came a day after Brussels released a mixed report on Romania’s efforts to reform its judiciary and fight corruption since joining the European Union in 2007. While the European Commission praised Romania for some reforms, it said recent developments “raise serious doubts” about its understanding of the rule of law. And commission president Manuel Barroso said: “Recent events in Romania have shaken our trust.” Even though the ruling coalition instigated many of the developments of concern to the EU, the Social-Liberal Union (USL) coalition said in its complaint that it was the centre-right opposition that was “undermining the national economy” and “spreading false information”.
Mali – The Australian reported: Three European aid workers released in Mali after being kidnapped by an Al-Qaeda-linked group have been freed in exchange for three Islamists, a negotiator said as they headed home. The Islamist militant group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), claimed it had received a ransom of 15 million euros ($A17.7 mi The freed hostages – Spaniard Enric Gonyalons, female compatriot Ainhoa Fernandez Rincon and Italian Rossella Urru – arrived on Thursday at the airport in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, looking tired but relieved. Accompanied by intelligence officials from their countries, they boarded two planes to go home. Urru arrived back in Rome late on Thursday where she was met at a military airport by family members and Prime Minister Mario Monti. She said she was well and thanked those who had worked to secure her freedom.
Tunisia – Reuters reported: A Tunisian military court sentenced ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s interior minister and 38 other security officials to up to 20 years jail on Thursday over the deaths of protesters during the revolution that launched the Arab Spring. Former Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem was sentenced to 15 years in jail and Ben Ali’s security chief Ali Seriati was given 20 years over the killing of protesters in the capital Tunis and the towns of Sousse, Nabeul, Bizerte and Zaghouan as a popular uprising spread through the country early last year. The court also sentenced Ben Ali to life imprisonment in absentia, but he fled into exile in Saudi Arabia as protests swept Tunisia on January 14, 2011 and is unlikely to be extradited. Ahmed Friaa, who was named interior minister shortly before Ben Ali fled, was among three officials who had charges against them dropped.
20 July 2012
Syria – Newsday reported: Syrian troops and tanks on Friday drove rebels from a Damascus neighborhood where some of the heaviest of this week’s fighting in the capital left cars gutted and fighters’ bodies in the streets. More than 300 people were killed in a single day, activists said, as the military struggles to regain momentum after a stunning bombing against the regime’s leadership. A fourth member of President Bashar Assad’s inner circle, national security chief Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar, died of wounds he suffered in Wednesday’s bomb blast, which went off during a high level security meeting in Damascus, the government announced. The bombing has been a resounding blow to Assad, killing his defense minister and his influential brother-in-law along with another security official, all central to directing the crackdown on the uprising against his rule. The blast, six days of sustained fighting in neighborhoods across the heart of the capital and the fall of several border posts into rebel hands have pointed to the unraveling of Assad’s grip on power amid an uprising that began in March 2011 with peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring but became increasingly militarized as the opposition took up arms.
Syria – In a related story The New York Times reported: After five days of fierce street battles pitting government forces against rebel fighters in the central Damascus neighborhood of Midan, one Syrian family that managed to escape into Lebanon described what was left behind: a hellish landscape of burning buildings and vehicles and streets barricaded with rubble, all punctuated by explosions erupting at random. “Sometimes you feel that the bombs are very close, other times that they are far away,” said Sarah, 19, crammed into the back seat of a white sedan with her mother and two sisters at this Lebanese border crossing, where the United Nations said about 18,000 Syrians fleeing the fighting crossed in the past 48 hours. “You don’t know what is happening. People are so scared that they all departed; there is no one left in our building.” The Syrian military struck back hard in Midan and elsewhere across Damascus on Friday. The fighting created scenes of mayhem unimaginable in the capital even last week, and prompted a wide exodus as the military tried to retake the upper hand from an opposition emboldened after a bomb attack on Wednesday killed four top security officials.
Syria – In another related story The Lubbock Avalanche Journal via (AP) reported: Thousands of Iraqi nationals have fled by land and air from Syria over the last two days to escape an escalating civil war, officials said Friday, as Iraqi troops were rushed to seal the border across from a post seized by rebels. Baghdad’s prime minister called for the U.N. to help protect the refugees and get them home. Iraqi officials said about 1,000 had left in eight flights from Damascus, which in the last week has seen its heaviest fighting in Syria’s 16-month uprising. Thousands more poured through a land crossing to Iraq despite the rebel takeover of one other major Syrian border post. The U.N. refugee agency reported Friday that unknown gunmen shot dead an Iraqi refugee family of seven in their Damascus apartment. Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the group, including children, was found “murdered” at close range. She said refugees living in Syria, mainly Iraqis who have been living in the Damascus suburb of Seida Zeinab, have left their homes due to the increasing violence and “targeted threats” against them.
North Korea – The Globe and Mail of Canada reported: Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country’s top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said. The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world’s largest, which under Mr. Kim’s father was given pride of place in running the country. The downfall of Vice-Marshal Ri Yong-ho and his allies gives the untested new leader and his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who married into the Kim family dynasty and is widely seen as the real power behind the throne, the mandate to try to save the battered economy and prevent the secretive regime’s collapse. The source has correctly predicted events in the past, including North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006, days before it was conducted, as well as the ascension of Mr. Jang.
Bulgaria – ABC NEWS of Australia reported: United States president Barack Obama has pledged solidarity with Bulgaria after a “barbaric attack” by a suicide bomber on a bus of Israeli holiday-makers left six people dead. The White House says Mr Obama “offered his support for the ongoing investigation, and for the Bulgarian people in this challenging time” during a telephone call with Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov. It says the two leaders discussed the “strong partnership and excellent counterterrorism cooperation” their countries share. It added that Mr Obama “reiterated his condemnation of the barbaric attack”. The FBI and the CIA are working together with Bulgarian investigators to try to identify the people behind Wednesday’s suicide bombing.
Myanmar – The Washington Post reported: Communal violence is grinding on in western Myanmar six weeks after the government declared a state of emergency there, and Muslim Rohingyas are increasingly being hit with targeted attacks that have included killings, rape and physical abuse, Amnesty International said. A government spokesman for coastal Rakhine state, which was engulfed by a wave of bloody unrest in June, called the allegations made Friday groundless and biased. Amnesty’s claims are “totally opposite of what is happening on the ground,” spokesman Win Myaing said, adding that the region was calm. Also Friday, the new U.S. ambassador to Myanmar announced a donation of $3 million in food aid to northern areas of the country affected by fighting between government troops and ethnic militias. Amnesty International accused both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of carrying out new attacks against Rohingyas, who are seen as foreigners by the ethnic majority and denied citizenship by the government because it considers them illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh.
France – The Washington Post reported: France’s lower house of parliament passed a revised 2012 budget on Friday to raise €7.2 billion ($8.8 billion) in new revenue by targeting corporations and the wealthy with new taxes. The bill, passed in the early hours of Friday by the National Assembly where President Francois Hollande’s Socialists hold a wide majority, reverses many of the measures passed under the former conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy. Among the Sarkozy measures that the budget scraps are tax breaks on overtime, a lower wealth tax and a reduction in the social charges that employers pay into the state benefit system — all conceived as part of the former president’s push to shake up France’s labor market and shatter a culture that has long had a squeamish relationship with wealth. Debate over the budget in the parliament this week was fierce as members of Sarkozy’s conservative party failed to resist a roll-back of much of what they had accomplished over the past five years. At one point, the session was even suspended so the deputies could cool down.
Israel – The New York Times reported: Moshe Silman, the desperately indebted Haifa man who set himself aflame last weekend as part of a social justice protest in Tel Aviv, died Friday from the second- and third-degree burns over 94 percent of his body. In the year since 400,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard last summer, setting off a national protest movement, Mr. Silman, 57, had become a fixture of demonstrations in Haifa. His self-immolation stunned but also galvanized the protest movement, which had been struggling to find its footing. Many have compared Mr. Silman to the fruit vendor in Tunisia whose self-immolation in January 2011 touched off the Arab Spring uprisings that have changed the geopolitics of the entire Middle East. Several other Israelis attempted self-immolation over the past week, and leaders of the social justice demonstrations in Haifa have been grappling with the shift in tone.
Ivory Coast – Newsday via (AP) reported: An angry mob of about 300 people stormed a U.N.-guarded refugee camp in Ivory Coast on Friday, killing at least seven of the refugees and looting the shelters before burning them down, officials said. About 90 percent of the Nahibly camp, which used to house some 4,500 people, was burnt to ashes in the attack near the western town of Duekoue, said the U.N. refugee agency’s country representative Ann Encontre. Most of the camp residents fled to the surrounding forest to escape the attackers, she said. A number of residents were wounded, but exact figures were not immediately available. One camp dweller was killed with a machete and three are presumed to have died from gunshot wounds. A fifth victim died in the raging fire, she added. Information on the two additional deaths as well as injuries was not immediately available.
Mexico – The LA Times reported: The student-led movement that emerged in Mexico against president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is planning another round of protests Sunday. The protests are part of a wave of demonstrations that began almost spontaneously during the presidential campaign and appear to still be drawing big crowds since the July 1 election. The #YoSoy132 movement, or “I Am 132,” said it will call demonstrations in “all public plazas” and at the presidential residence Los Pinos in Mexico City, in rejection of Peña Nieto’s victory by more than 3 million votes over his nearest rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Each weekend since the July 1 vote, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in dozens of cities in Mexico over the apparent victory of Peña Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled for seven decades until its ouster in 2000. The protests have been largely peaceful and almost entirely generated on social media; in fact, Sunday’s planned demonstrations are only the second since election day that the #YoSoy132 movement has formally organized.