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4 August 2012
Syria – The LA Times reported: Gunmen kidnapped dozens of Iranian pilgrims on a trip to strife-torn Syria on Saturday, the latest in a series of abductions that have targeted citizens of Iran, a major international ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The pilgrims — the number was variously reported as 47 and 48 — were kidnapped by “armed opposition groups” as they were heading from the Damascus airport to a home in the suburbs of the capital, the official Iranian news service reported. They were planning to visit a major Shiite Muslim shrine on the southern outskirts of Damascus. Meanwhile, new battles were reported Saturday in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where rebels have occupied several neighborhoods and are seeking to control the entire city. News agencies reported that government artillery and helicopter gunships pounded rebel positions in the city.
Iran – The Boston Globe reported: Iran claimed Saturday that it had successfully test-fired an upgraded version of a short-range ballistic missile with improved accuracy, increasing the Islamic Republic’s capability to strike both land and naval targets. Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi said the solid-fueled Fateh-110 has a range of 185 miles. He claimed the weapon could strike with pin-point precision, making it the most accurate weapon of its kind in Iran’s arsenal. ‘‘By reaching this generation of the Fateh-110, a new capability has been added to our armed forces in striking sea and land targets,’’ state TV quoted Vahidi as saying. ‘‘Few countries in the world possess the technology to build such missiles.’’
Burma – Australia Network NEWS reported: The United Nations is calling for an urgent independent investigation into sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya’s in Burma last month. The ethnic clashes in Rakhine state left at least 78 people dead and tens of thousands homeless. Speaking at the end of a six day visit to the country, the UN’s human rights envoy to Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, says he heard numerous reports of human rights violations.
Yemen – The International NEWS of Pakistan reported: A suicide bomber struck at a funeral in a village in Yemen’s southern province of Abyan overnight, killing at least 25 tribal fighters and wounding dozens more, officials and medics said on Sunday. The bomber targeted tribesmen who fought alongside the Yemeni army during an offensive against al-Qaida-linked militants in Abyan that the government hailed as a major victory in June. “We have many people with critical injuries and we don’t have the means to treat them,” said a doctor at al-Razi hospital, which was filling up with the wounded. The attack highlighted the enduring threat of Islamist militancy in Yemen and may alarm the United States and Saudi Arabia, which increasingly view the impoverished state as a front line in their war on al-Qaida and its affiliates.
Vietnam – The Australian reported: Vietnamese police have detained at least 20 people in a protest in Hanoi against Beijing’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea. Demonstrators were forced into waiting buses and taken to a rehabilitation centre usually used to detain sex workers and drug users, after attempting to gather in defiance of a heavy police presence, one detainee told AFP. “There are at least 25 people here and there are arrestees elsewhere,” the person — who requested anonymity for security reasons — said by telephone from the Loc Ha detention centre. Another eyewitness estimated that 20 people had been detained. Before being forcibly dispersed, the activists shouted “Down with China’s aggression!” and waved Vietnamese flags and banners. The protest is the fourth such rally in just over a month to be staged by activists in Hanoi. There were no arrests at the previous three.
Afghanistan – The Detroit Free Press reported: The Afghan parliament voted Saturday to dismiss the country’s defense and interior ministers, a move that threatens to throw the country’s security apparatus into confusion as foreign forces pull out of the country. The vote demands the firings of two of President Hamid Karzai’s key security lieutenants: Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, one of the top Afghan officials most trusted by the U.S., and Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi. The votes of no-confidence come at a crucial time in the war, when Afghan police and soldiers are increasingly taking over responsibility from international troops, who are to leave Afghanistan or move into support roles by the end of 2014.
Japan – Newsday reported: A grandson of President Harry Truman, who ordered the atomic bombings of Japan during World War II, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park Saturday and laid a wreath for the victims. Clifton Truman Daniel offered a silent prayer for the 140,000 people killed by the Aug. 6, 1945, bombing. Another atomic blast in Nagasaki three days later killed 70,000 more. “I think this cenotaph says it all — to honor the dead, to not forget and to make sure that we never let this happen again,” Daniel said. Daniel, 55, is in Japan to attend ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki marking the 67th anniversary of the bombings. His visit, the first by a member of the Truman family, is sponsored by the peace group Sadako Legacy, named after Sadako Sasaki, an A-bomb victim who died of leukemia at age 12.
Palestine – The Eagle of Bryan College reported: The next international showdown over “Palestine” seems inevitable, with President Mahmoud Abbas determined to seek U.N. General Assembly recognition of statehood for his homeland despite U.S. and Israeli objections. However, the possibility of repercussions abroad has sparked a growing debate in the leader’s inner circle over the timing of such a call, and whether it should be delayed until after the U.S. presidential election. Abbas leans toward waiting until after the November vote to avoid further strain with the Obama administration, aides have said, while senior figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization and Abbas’ own Fatah movement on Thursday called for quicker action. An earlier Palestinian U.N. bid could add unwelcome complications to President Barack Obama’s re-election efforts.
Israel – The Jerusalem Post reported: Israel is closely tracking Russian naval movements in the Mediterranean Sea amid reports that several ships are heading to Syria to secure the Tartus Port and possibly military assets Moscow maintains in the country. On Friday, Russian news agencies quoted a top military source as saying that Russia was sending three naval vessels and up to 360 marines to Syria. The reports claimed that the vessels, which are already in the Mediterranean, will arrive in Tartus this week or early next week with supplies for Russia’s only permanent port outside the former Soviet Union.
Saudi Arabia – The Jerusalem Post reported: A Saudi soldier was shot dead patrolling an area populated by minority Shi’ite Muslims late on Friday, the Interior Ministry said, and one of the gunmen was killed in the ensuing shoot-out. The deaths bring to 11 the number of people killed in the Qatif area since November in protests by members of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority over what they see as entrenched discrimination. “A security patrol was exposed to heavy fire from four armed rioters on motorbikes when pausing at a street intersection in Qatif,” state news agency SPA reported, quoting Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki.
Turkey – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported: The Turkish military has retired all 40 generals and admirals on trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the Muslim-led government, Turkish officials said Saturday, in the latest government move to tame the once indomitable army. The decision by the Supreme Military Council, which is led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was announced in a statement on the official website of the Turkish General Staff. The 40 commanders have been jailed in connection with a murky terrorist network that prosecutors maintain was conspiring to unseat the government. The arrested generals had been awaiting promotions, but those were delayed last year. The council’s statement said the generals had to be retired because not enough positions were available, The Hurriyet Daily News reported.
5 August 2012.
Jamiaca – CBC NEWS reported: Fishermen near Jamaica’s capital tied their wooden skiffs down along a rocky shore on Sunday as a poorly organized Tropical storm Ernesto spun off the Caribbean country’s southern coast on a path that may carry it across the Yucatan Peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico. Emergency officials said some eastern parts of the island were already being drenched by rain from Ernesto’s outer bands and there was expected to be heavy rainfall and gusty winds over the island. Tropical storm conditions were expected by the afternoon from the rapidly moving storm, though U.S. forecasters said it was becoming less organized. Jamaica’s emergency management agency urged people in flood-prone areas to be on alert and avoid flooded waterways and submerged roads. The government had earlier ordered fishermen on outlying cays to evacuate and move to the main island.
Syria – The Voice of America reported: Syrian opposition activists are reporting continued attacks by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo Monday, as prominent U.S. lawmakers call for deeper involvement from Washington. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the army is shelling several neighborhoods in Aleppo, and that at least two civilians have been killed. The country’s biggest city has become a key battleground in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, as government forces are reported to have massed, ahead of what is expected to be a strong offensive against the opposition. Government and opposition claims in Syria are difficult to verify because journalists do not have a freedom of movement. Meanwhile, U.S. senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham say the United States should provide direct assistance to the opposition, including weapons, intelligence and training.
Egypt – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: The Israeli army says it has found the bodies of five gunmen who attacked a checkpoint on the border with Egypt, killing 16 Egyptian policemen. The heavily armed attackers had captured a border post at Rafah, commandeered cars and tried to smash their way over the border, Israel said. One vehicle apparently blew up at the North Sinai crossing, while the other was destroyed by the Israeli air force. Islamist militants have been blamed by both sides for carrying out the attack.
Israel – Haaretz reported: A meeting in Ramallah between Palestinian leaders and ministers representing states of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) scheduled for Sunday, was cancelled, as Israel denied entry to some of the foreign diplomats that were set to participate. The meeting, which included an opening ceremony and speech from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and a tour near the settlement of Beit El, was scheduled to take place on Sunday afternoon and through the evening. The foreign diplomats had planned to arrive from Amman by crossing the Allenby Bridge, with some arriving by helicopter.
Israel – Reuters reported: Israel is upgrading its Arrow II ballistic missile shield in a U.S.-backed “race” against Iran, Syria and other regional enemies, a senior Israeli defense official said on Sunday. The new “Block 4″ generation of guided interceptor rockets, radars and technologies for synchronizing Arrow with U.S. systems was being installed in deployed Israeli batteries, a process that would take several weeks, the official said. “The accuracy and the reach will be greater,” the official said of Arrow, which has been operational since 2000 and is designed to blow up incoming missiles at altitudes high enough for non-conventional warheads to disintegrate safely. “It is part of the technological race in the region,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
China – The BBC Asia Corps reported: Chinese state media have hit out at US “trouble-making” on the South China Sea, two days after Beijing summoned a US diplomat on the issue. One commentary told the US to “shut up” on the subject, while another said it had “deservedly evoked curses”. The response came after the US State Department said it was “closely” monitoring increased tensions in the South China Sea. It also expressed concern over China’s move to militarise a disputed island.
Sudan – Reuters reported: Sudan agreed on Sunday to allow aid into two rebel-held southern border states where humanitarian groups say fighting has left civilians facing an impending famine. The move came a day after Sudan reached a deal with South Sudan over oil transit fees, a first step to ending a dispute which had brought the hostile neighbors close to war in April. Both countries still need to mark their disputed frontier and improve security in the violent borderland, one of several issues left over when South Sudan seceded a year ago under a 2005 agreement that ended decades of civil war. The African Union said it had brokered the deal between Sudan and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) to allow aid into rebel-controlled areas in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Afghanistan – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: President Hamid Karzai moved quickly Sunday to confirm parliament’s decision to dismiss two senior security ministers, but he reassured the Western allies that he would avoid a vacuum in the two ministries charged with fighting the war and organizing the transition to Afghan control. In a statement, Karzai described the two men who were dismissed – Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi – as “true sons of Afghanistan” and said he had asked both to stay on until replacements could be found. The effects of the dismissals will not be clear until Karzai signals how quickly he expects to replace them and the level of presidential trust they will enjoy in the interim, officials said.
Turkey – The San Francisco Chronicle reported: Turkey’s security forces have killed as many as 115 Kurdish rebels during a major offensive over the past two weeks, the country’s interior minister said Sunday. Idris Naim Sahin said the rebels were killed near the town of Semdinli, in Hakkari province on the border with Iraq. Private NTV television reported that up to 2,000 troops were taking part in the offensive. Earlier Sunday, rebels fired on military posts in Hakkari, including a station near Gecimli, a village near the frontier. Provincial Gov. Orhan Alimoglu said the attack triggered clashes that claimed the lives of 22 rebels, soldiers and village guards.
New Zealand – Xinhua reported: The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) remains committed to a smooth handover of its responsibilities in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province to the Afghan authorities after two New Zealand soldiers were killed and six wounded at the weekend, the NZDF’s most senior officer said Monday. Lance Corporal Rory Patrick Malone and Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer, both aged 26, were deployed with the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in April and were both on their first deployment in Afghanistan, said Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones. They died when NZDF personnel came to the assistance of local security forces who encountered suspected insurgents near a village south of Do Abe, in the northeast of the province. The NZDF was working to return the bodies to their families as quickly as possible and was receiving great support from coalition partners, Jones said in a statement.
Nigeria – Reuters reported: A suicide car bomber attacked a military checkpoint in Nigeria’s northeastern city of Damaturu on Sunday, killing six soldiers and two civilians, police said. Suspicion is likely to fall on Islamist sect Boko Haram, which is waging a bloody insurgency against President Goodluck Jonathan’s government across the north. The sect is seeking to carve out an Islamic state in Africa’s top energy producer and most populous country, which is split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims. “The lone suicide bomber detonated the bomb before the car he was in could be stopped, killing the six soldiers and one civilian,” Patrick Egbuniwe, the police commissioner for Yobe State, told Reuters by telephone.
8 August 2012
China – TIME Magazine reported: On Thursday the murder trial of the wife of a high-profile Chinese official and an aide is expected to begin in the eastern city of Hefei. More than 1,200 km to the north, the coastal resort town of Beidaihe is hosting the country’s top leadership, who are expected to discuss a once-in-a-decade leadership transition that will begin with the 18th Communist Party Congress this fall. On the surface, the events share little more than a sense of secrecy. The Beidaihe meeting has not been officially reported save for a few state press stories indicating that a few high-level officials including Vice President Xi Jinping, the man expected to become the country’s new leader, are in the resort town. The trial of Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, purged former boss of the southwestern city of Chongqing, is a tightly managed affair. Gu and aide Zhang Xiaojun are accused of murdering a U.K. citizen, Neil Heywood, who had worked with the Bo family. The British Foreign Office has told news services its diplomats will be allowed to view the trial. They will likely be the only observers outside of official media.
Syria – The LA Times reported: The Syrian military launched an assault Wednesday on a strategic and highly symbolic rebel stronghold in the northern city of Aleppo, signaling a major government effort to reassert control of the nation’s commercial hub. There were conflicting accounts about which side, if either, had the upper hand. Syrian state television reported that the government had assumed “full control” over Aleppo’s Salahuddin district, the target of weeks of military bombardment. It reported the deaths of many “terrorists,” the government’s label for the armed rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.
Syria – In a related story Xinhua reported: Syria’s state media said hundreds of armed insurgents were killed Wednesday in the northern Aleppo’s district of Salahuddien as a result of the ferocious clashes there, adding that the army has purged the area of armed insurgency and regained control of the area. The state-run SANA news agency said hundreds of armed men were killed in Salahuddien, as pro-government media said that 70 gunmen were killed in the neighborhood of Mayer in the countryside of Aleppo. Earlier in the day, SANA said Syrian troops dealt a “fatal blow ” to the armed insurgent groups in Salahuddien, adding that the army is now combing the sprawling district after killing most of the armed rebels there. It said that many of the armed men have surrendered themselves to the authorities.
Egypt – ABC NEWS reported: After decades of neglect and with the collapse of government authority the past 18 months, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has become fertile ground for Islamic extremists. Militant groups have taken root, carrying out attacks against neighboring Israel and now turning their guns against Egypt’s military as they vow to set up a puritanical Islamic state. At a mosque in the northern Sinai village of Sheikh Zuweyid, a Bedouin tribal sheik gestures out toward the deserts that stretch outside of town. There, Sheik Arafa Khedr said, it’s well known that militants have set up training camps. Jihadists recruit young Bedouin. Palestinian militants from neighboring Gaza help in weapons training. The danger, Khedr said, is that Sinai could become another Yemen, where al-Qaida-linked militants last year managed to take over a swath of territory in the south.
Libya – Bloomberg Businessweek reported: Libya’s National Transitional Council handed over power to a newly elected interim legislature, the next step in the country’s transformation after 10 months of unrest since Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster and death. The NTC, which headed Libya after Qaddafi was driven from power in one of the bloodiest uprisings in the so-called Arab Spring, passed authority to the National Congress in a ceremony in Tripoli. The 200-seat legislature is charged with naming a prime minister and a Cabinet before parliamentary elections expected to be held in 30 days. “The National Transitional Council hands over all constitutional authorities in the country to the interim legislature, which is considered from this historical moment the only legitimate representative of the Libyan people,” Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the council’s chairman, said around midnight local time in a televised address. The audience in the conference hall cheered and some people chanted, “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain.”
Afghanistan – The New York Times reported: Three NATO soldiers and an Afghan civilian were killed Wednesday in a suicide attack in the middle of the provincial capital of Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. The attack, in which two bombers detonated suicide vests as soldiers were patrolling near the provincial council’s office, occurred just a few days after the Taliban made a show of force in Kunar, a rugged border province that has been one of the most hard-fought regions for the American military. In those attacks, insurgents assaulted outposts and government buildings in eight districts, although few casualties were reported. The transition of Kunar’s security to Afghan control is happening more gradually than in some other provinces, and the nature of the recent attacks shows why, in part: despite years of intensive coalition military offensives in some parts of the region, militants pose a perpetual threat, even in the provincial capital, Asadabad. The tenor and pace of attacks speak to the Taliban’s long-range strategy, in which civilians are regularly reminded of the militants’ resilience in a place where government control has always seemed tenuous.
Antarctica – ABC NEWS reported: An Australian medical team has now departed the United States’ McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica where it rescued an expedition member who was suffering a medical emergency. The patient, who for privacy issues has not been identified, is being transported to Christchurch, New Zealand and is expected to arrive a little after 2 a.m. ET. The patient will then be transported to a local hospital there, according to a spokesman from the U.S.’s National Science Foundation (NSF). The Australian Antarctic Division was asked to assist in the rescue and provided its A319 Airbus and a medical team to help, the Australian government division said in a statement.
Russia – The Indian Express reported: A reclusive sect that literally went underground to stop contact with the outside world kept 27 children in dark and unheated cells, many of them for more than a decade, prosecutors said Wednesday. The children have been freed and the parents charged with child abuse. Some of the children, aged between 1 and 17, have never seen daylight, health officials said. The sect’s 83-year-old founder Faizrakhman Satarov, who declared himself a Muslim prophet in contradiction with the principles of Islam, has also been charged with negligence, Irina Petrova, deputy prosecutor in the provincial capital of Kazan, said. No members of the sect, who call themselves “muammin’’ or “believers,’’ have been arrested, she said. The children were discovered last week when police searched the sect grounds as part of a probe into the recent killing of a top Tatarstan Muslim cleric.
Nigeria – The Washington Post reported: A mosque attack that killed two soldiers followed a deadly church attack in central Nigeria, an army official said Wednesday, adding to insecurity fears that have spread across the West African nation. Lt. Col. Gabriel Olorunyomi said Wednesday that three gunmen on motorcycles shot dead soldiers on patrol in Okene in Kogi state outside Okene Central Mosque just after Muslim worshippers ended a prayer session. The assault Tuesday came a day after a church attack in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Okene left 19 Christian worshippers dead. No group has claimed of responsibility for either attack, but the violence comes as Nigeria struggles with a growing Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram.