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6 August 2012
Syria – The Guardian UK reported: The attack came just after 2pm on Monday; two Soviet era Mig fighter jets swept in low from the west, then banked and made a run at the schoolhouse. The impact of the bombs was devastating on the two homes they struck. Fabricated concrete spilled across the street and a nine-year-old girl lay dismembered in the ruins. The first stronghold established by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the war-torn city of Aleppo had been hit by regime jets, in an attack that failed to take out the rebel leadership but instead killed nine members of a family in a nearby house. For the past week rebel fighters and leaders had been coming and going from the school, which they had commandeered in the city’s north-east. They had brought prisoners there, built up a large arsenal of looted weapons on a lower floor and brazenly parked a tank and anti-aircraft gun outside.
Syria – The Christian Science Monitor reported: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration struck a defiant tone Monday, renewing its counterattack on rebel forces in the country’s largest cities and vowing to stay in place, despite the defection of the country’s prime minister. The defection of Prime Minister Riad Hijab to Jordan was the highest-profile departure from Assad’s government so far, but analysts said it was unlikely to indicate a fatal fissure in his inner circle. Hijab, who’d been appointed just two months ago, is a Sunni Muslim, while Assad’s most ironclad allies are fellow members of his minority Alawite sect. Assad appointed a successor within hours.
Egypt – Ynet NEWS of Israel reported: Dozens of people demonstrated in front of the Israeli ambassador’s residence on Monday night and demanded that relations with Israel be severed following the terror attack on the joint border Sunday night. According to a report in Al-Ahram one of the demonstrators claimed that “there was no doubt that Israel is behind this (attack). We demand that all diplomatic relations with Israel be terminated.” The protestors also denounced the Egyptian government for failing to respond militarily to the attack.
New Zealand – RTT NEWS reported: After being dormant for more than a century New Zealand’s Mount Tongariro volcano erupted late on Monday night, sending up ash clouds that disrupted flights and forced closure of roads. The 1,978-meter-high Tongariro, one of the three in the country’s North Island, became active just before midnight local time and erupted with explosions, spewing rocks and steam. No casualties or damage have been reported after the eruption. The Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management said on Tuesday that the threat from the volcano had passed, after it erupted last night. But, it was too early to predict the next series of events, while scientists expected heightened activity for several weeks.
China – Reuters reported: Cold-blooded killer or scapegoat, China’s Lady MacBeth or over-protective mother — Gu Kailai remains an enigma as she is tried for murder in a case that has shaken the ruling Communist Party and placed its secretive world of political privilege under intense scrutiny. The wife of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai will be tried this week in the central city of Hefei. There’s little doubt a pliant court will find her guilty of murdering Neil Heywood, the British businessman who helped get her son into Harrow, the exclusive boarding school, and then into Oxford University.
Myanmar – The WSJ reported: Myanmar is no stranger to criticism from Western nations and human-rights groups, some of whom still approach the once-reclusive nation with caution despite major economic and social reforms there over the past year. But as the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority captures global attention, the country is now getting flak from a new quarter – the Muslim world. Since violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in June, leaving at least 78 dead, governments and rights groups have been critical of Myanmar authorities’ actions, which they say have not afforded enough protections to the minority group. New York-based Human Rights Watch released a 56-page report last week asserting that authorities failed to prevent initial unrest, and that security forces in some cases killed and raped Rohingyas.
South Africa – The Voice of America reported: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in South Africa as part of her tour of the continent. She met with former president Nelson Mandela at his home Monday before taking part in a high-level summit aimed at promoting U.S. investment and trade — which has been a key focus of the secretary’s trip. On Tuesday, she travels to the capital, Pretoria, to participate in the third annual U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue. Clinton spoke at the U.S.- South Africa Business Summit Monday in Johannesburg. The event brought together 200 top business executives and government officials from both countries.
Afghanistan – The Washington Post reported: NATO says two gunmen wearing Afghan National Army uniforms turned their weapons on NATO troops, killing one member of the U.S.-led coalition. A coalition statement said Tuesday’s shooting is under investigation. NATO did not release the nationality of the service member shot, or say whether others were wounded. The shooting was the latest case of so-called “green-on-blue” attacks in which Afghan soldiers or insurgents disguised in their uniforms shoot at U.S. or NATO troops.
Greece – CTV NEWS via (AP) reported: Authorities in Greece are rounding up thousands of suspected illegal immigrants in a large-scale deportation drive to combat what a government official compared to a prehistoric invasion. Greece has long been Europe’s main entry point for illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa seeking a better life in the West. But Greece’s severe economic problems and high unemployment are making the problem worse than ever. Police said Monday that 6,000 people were detained over the weekend in Athens in a massive operation incongruously named after the ancient Greek god of hospitality, Zeus Xenios.
Nigeria – The Christian Science Monitor reported: It’s tough to get an Internet connection in northern Nigeria. That’s why Google was surprised to see – on their user map, where they track the locations of people Googling around the world – a big bright dot of activity in the Nigerian city of Yola, right on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. Nigeria has 170 million people, the most populous country in Africa and 7th largest in the world. But Yola has fewer than 100,000 people, and is close to the home of the Boko Haram terrorist group. So when Google sent a team out to Nigeria last fall to figure out who was doing all that Googling, the California-based company was surprised to find a scene right out of an American college campus. In fact, they sort of did stumble on an American university – the American University of Nigeria (AUN).
7 August 2012
Syria – The Voice of America reported: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to purge his country of what he called “terrorists,” as security forces continue to fight rebels who have tried to seize control of parts of Aleppo and Damascus. Syrian state-run media quoted Mr. Assad Tuesday as saying he would show no leniency towards “terrorists.” He met with Iran’s visiting national security council secretary, Saeed Jalili. Jalili pledged continued Iranian support to Syria, which he said was part of an “axis of resistance” against foreign opponents. Also Tuesday, rights group Amnesty International released satellite images of Aleppo and the surrounding areas, showing what it says are signs of increased use of heavy weapons. The group said the images raise “urgent concerns” about an impending assault on the city.
Egypt – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: Egyptian security officials say military helicopters have fired missiles on suspected Islamist militants near the town of al-Arish in the Sinai peninsula. Up to 20 people are reported to have been killed. The strikes came after security checkpoints were allegedly attacked by gunmen in the town of al-Arish, leaving a number of people injured. On Sunday, 16 Egyptian border guards were killed in the area. Israeli forces said they later killed at least seven gunmen who broke through into Israel.
Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: A man who had been arrested on suspicion of insurgent activity and then released by the Afghan authorities detonated a remote-controlled bomb along a road outside Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least eight people in a packed minibus, the Afghan police said. The attack was brazen even by the standards of the war in Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians have been killed in Taliban bombings and, to a lesser extent, coalition raids and airstrikes. The attacker was standing in plain sight with two other men along a busy road to Kabul when he set off the bomb under a small bridge, the police said.
Nigeria – The Washington Post reported: Three men entered a central Nigerian church just before Bible study began, but instead of joining the worship service they opened fire, killing at least 19 people in an attack that shows that violence is spreading in the divided nation. Witnesses and the military described a chaotic, blood-soaked scene at the Deeper Life evangelical church in Otite, a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of the city of Okene, 250 kilometers (155 miles) southwest of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Two gunmen sprayed the windowless sanctuary Monday night with fire from Kalashnikov assault rifles, said Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi, the head of a local joint army and police unit. Another armed man stayed back and switched off the generator providing lights in the church, leaving those inside unable to flee as the gunfire flashed through the darkness, witness Lawan Saliu said. Saliu, who suffered gunshot wounds to the stomach, spoke from a hospital bed Tuesday.
Iraq – The Washington Post reported: Iraq’s self-ruled Kurdish region has signed a deal with Korean companies to construct two power plants. It’s part of an oil exploration deal. A statement says the $700-million transaction calls for Posco Engineering and Construction Ltd. to build a 300-megawatt steam power generation plant in Irbil in three to six months, and a 400-kilovolt power transformer in Sulaimaniyah within eight months. It adds that Korea National Oil Corp., or KNOC, will finance the projects as part of its 2008 deal to explore for oil in eight blocks. They are expected to hold 7.2 billion barrels in reserves. According to the 2008 agreement, KNOC will allocate some of its profits from oil finds for infrastructure projects.
9 August 2012
Syria – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: About 1.5 million people in Syria have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, according to Chaloka Beyani, a United Nations human-rights official. The numbers of displaced persons within Syria and refugees fleeing to neighboring countries has grown as the fighting has intensified, with the Syrian government using tanks, artillery and aircraft to attack rebel forces in places such as Aleppo, the nation’s largest city. At least 142 people were killed yesterday, including 33 in Aleppo and 40 in Damascus area, the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, reported on its website. “The intense fighting and use of heavy weaponry in densely populated areas are a major concern,” Beyani, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement from Geneva. In Tehran, a 27-nation conference on Syria convened by Iran endorsed that nation’s call for a three-month cease-fire to begin with Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, which falls around Aug. 19.
China – The Voice of America reported: Four Chinese police officials went on trial Friday in the eastern city of Hefei for allegedly trying to help the wife of Chinese politician Bo Xilai cover up the murder of a British businessman. The four former security chiefs from the southwestern city of Chongqing are accused of helping Gu Kailai hide her role in the suspected poisoning death of Neil Heywood. Gu did not dispute the murder charge against her during a Thursday hearing at the same courthouse. The closed-door trial ended after just seven hours, with officials saying a verdict will soon be delivered. As with Thursday’s case, independent media were barred from entering the courthouse, which was surrounded by armed guards who blocked the roads surrounding the facility.
South Korea – The BBC Asia Corps reported: South Korea’s president is visiting islands also claimed by Japan, Japanese media reports say, in a move set to raise diplomatic tensions. Lee Myung-bak flew to the islands, which are known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan. Japan had urged him to call off the visit, saying it would affect ties. Both South Korea and Japan say they have a historical claim to the islands, and the issue has been a long-standing thorn in relations. The islands, which are roughly equidistant from the two countries, are small but lie in fishing grounds which could also contain large gas deposits.
Iran – Reuters reported: The United States still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear weapon and that Tehran has not made a decision to pursue one, U.S. officials said on Thursday. Their comments came after Israeli media reports claimed U.S. President Barack Obama had received a new National Intelligence Estimate saying Iran had made significant and surprising progress toward military nuclear capability. Later, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak suggested that the new U.S. report, which he acknowledged might be something other than a National Intelligence Estimate, “transforms the Iranian situation into an even more urgent one.” But a White House National Security Council spokesman disputed the Israeli reports, saying the U.S. intelligence assessment of Iran’s nuclear activities had not changed since intelligence officials delivered testimony to Congress on the issue earlier this year.
New Zealand – The Australian reported: A Huge cluster of floating volcanic rocks covering almost 26,000 square kilometres has been found drifting in the Pacific, the New Zealand navy said today. The strange phenomenon, which witnesses said resembled a polar ice shelf, was made up of lightweight pumice expelled from an underwater volcano, the navy said. An air force plane spotted the rocks yesterday about 1000km offshore from New Zealand and warned a navy warship that it was heading towards them. Lieutenant Tim Oscar said that while he knew his ship the HMNZS Canterbury was in no danger from the pumice, which is solidified lava filled with air bubbles, it was still “the weirdest thing I’ve seen in 18 years at sea”. “As far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell,” he said.
Mali – The Washington Post reported: Islamist militants in northern Mali chopped off a man’s hand as punishment for stealing, a spokesman for an Islamist group said as hardliners tighten their control over the vast territory in northwest Africa. Adnan Abou Walid Saharaoui, spokesman for the jihadist group Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, said Thursday that the amputation was carried out the previous day in the village of Ansongo. Authorities had accused the man of stealing a motorcycle. Mali’s north was overrun by a mix of armed groups — including several allied with al-Qaida — following a coup in Mali’s capital in March. Since June, Islamists have exerted full control of the northern half of the country and have imposed Shariah law. They recently stoned an adulterous couple to death.
10 August 2012
Syria via Washington D.C. – Haaretz reported: At least a couple of hundred al-Qaida-linked militants are already operating in Syria, and their ranks are growing daily, according to intelligence officials. Al-Qaida has advanced beyond isolated pockets of activity in Syria and now is building a network of well-organized cells, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who fear the terrorists could be on the verge of establishing an Iraq-like foothold that would be hard to defeat if rebels eventually oust President Bashar Assad. At least a couple of hundred al-Qaida-linked militants are already operating in Syria, and their ranks are growing as foreign fighters stream into the Arab country daily, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say. The units are spreading from city to city, with veterans of the Iraq insurgency employing their expertise in bomb-building to carry out more than two dozen attacks so far. Others are using their experience in coordinating small units of fighters in Afghanistan to win new followers.
China – The Globe and Mail of Canada reported: Now that the murder trial of Gu Kailai has ended, far more detailed accounts have emerged from inside the courtroom of the case that prosecutors built against Ms. Gu, the wife of one of China’s most ambitious leaders. The accounts show her plotting with allies, including the local police chief, to protect her son from what she saw as the blackmail demands of the British business associate she is believed to have killed. Prosecutors presented evidence that the Briton, Neil Heywood, had demanded tens of millions of dollars from Ms. Gu’s son, locked him up in a residence in England and sent an e-mail threatening to “destroy” him. In response, Ms. Gu sought help from the local police chief, who refused to go along with her plan to get rid of Mr. Heywood and later secretly recorded her confession after she poisoned Mr. Heywood. The tale gave a rare glimpse into the darkest corners of a Chinese ruling family. It told of a dramatic struggle between Ms. Gu, 53; her Oxford- and Harvard-educated son, Bo Guagua, 24; and Mr. Heywood, 41, a long-time friend and business associate whose body was found in November in a hotel in Chongqing, the area governed for more than four years by Ms. Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, a prominent Politburo member.
Egypt – The Sydney Morning Herald reported: Egyptian troops and security forces have detained nine Islamic militants in northern Sinai believed to be behind a surprise attack last weekend that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, a security official says. It was the first reported arrest in connection with the attack, which took place last Sunday and sparked a major Egyptian military operation in the Sinai peninsula aimed at stamping out Islamic militant groups that have become bolder and grown in numbers since the ouster last year of Hosni Mubarak. So far the effectiveness of the four-day-old operation is not clear. Despite the influx of troops, militants have continued low-level attacks on Egyptian troops and security forces. One famous checkpoint on the road linking the Rafah border town with the city of el-Arish comes under attack almost daily. Officials say that militants open fire at night, engage in brief firefights then flee.
Iran – The ABC NEWS reported: The White House expressed confidence Friday that American intelligence will know if Iran escalates its nuclear program in a sprint to build an atomic bomb—a day after Israel’s defense minister warned that the allies might not know “in time” to prevent it. “We have eyes, we have visibility into the program,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing. “We feel confident that we would be able to detect a break-out move by Iran towards the acquisition of a nuclear weapon.” “We believe there continues to be the time and space to pursue this course,” Carney said, referring to punishing American and international economic sanctions on the Islamic republic. “It is the best course of action to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. We take no options off the table, and we consult with our allies all the time about the situation in Iran with regards to this program.” But Carney’s professed confidence about the quality of the information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, widely seen by American and Israeli officials as an attempt to acquire the ability to build a nuclear weapon, appeared to conflict sharply with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s just a day earlier.
Syria – Xinhua reported: The United Nations says nearly 150 thousand refugees have registered in Syria’s four neighbouring countries since the conflict began. It includes around 50 thousand registered in Turkey, where more than 6 thousand arrived this week alone. The UN reported that as of Thursday night, there were around 46 thousand Syrian refugees registered in Jordan, around 37 thousand in Lebanon, and around 14 thousand in Iraq. The organization said that a small number of Syrian refugees have also turned up in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Evros.
Afghanistan – The Associated Press reported: An Afghan police officer shot and killed three U.S. Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week. Four other international troops also died Friday, bringing to seven the number killed on the day in the violent south, where insurgents have their strongest roots. Three died in an attack, which is under investigation, and the fourth was killed in a separate attack, NATO said. Thirty-one coalition service members have now died this year at the hands of Afghan forces or insurgents disguised in Afghan uniforms, according to NATO — a dramatic rise from previous years. The assaults have cast a shadow of fear and mistrust over U.S. efforts to train Afghan soldiers and police more than 10 years after the U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban’s hardline Islamist regime for sheltering al-Qaida’s leadership. The attacks also raise further doubts about the quality of the Afghan forces taking over in many areas before most international troops leave the country in 2014.
United Kingdom – The Globe and Mail of Canada reported: Britain’s government is giving an extra £5-million worth of aid to Syria’s opposition, supplying items including communications equipment, body armour and medical supplies to groups seeking to oust the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted that Britain would only supply equipment to those not directly involved in fighting – and seek to ensure the supplies did not end up in the hands of rebel fighters – and would not provide any weapons. But he declined to identify which individuals and groups would receive the equipment, saying to do that would leave them as likely targets. Britain has previously given £1.4-million worth of nonlethal support to Syria’s opposition. The United States has earmarked a fund of $25-million (U.S.) to spend on nonlethal communications assistance. “This is assistance that will help save lives,” Mr. Hague told reporters at Britain’s foreign ministry. “It will help people caught up in a terrible conflict.”
Japan – The WSJ reported: Japan, burdened with the highest debt load of any developed nation, on Friday took its biggest step in years to contain the problem, approving a plan to double the national sales tax by 2015. The hard-fought tax increase shows how it is possible for advanced democracies—struggling to curb government borrowing and adjust fiscal policies that have allowed their citizens to live beyond their means for years—to cut government borrowing. But it also highlights the difficulties. Despite the tax increase, Japan’s spending is still expected to far exceed government revenue for years, and analysts say more tax increases and benefit cuts are needed to address budget shortfalls. The tax increase, which received final legislative approval Friday, will slow the rate of issuance of Japanese government bonds. But the new revenue will quickly get consumed by projected growth in retirement-program spending for the country’s rapidly growing population of seniors. Lawmakers dropped plans to curb entitlements, which were seen as more politically contentious than the tax increase.