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NEWS Distillation – Weekend of 16-17 February 2013 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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16-17 February 2013

Pakistan – The USA Today reported: Members of the Pakistani Shiite Hazara community Sunday threatened to hold widespread protests if the government did not arrest within 48 hours the people responsible for a massive bombing that killed 81 people in a southwestern city. Saturday’s blast at a produce market in Quetta underlined the precarious situation for Shiites living in a majority Sunni country where many extremist groups don’t consider them real Muslims. Some 160 people were also wounded in the blast. Most of the dead and wounded were Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago. Shiite Muslims, including Hazaras, have often been targeted by Sunni extremists in Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, as well as in the southern city of Karachi and northwestern Pakistan. The vice chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a political group representing Hazaras, said Sunday that the party was giving the government 48 hours to find those responsible for the attack and arrest them.

Vatican City – The Washington Post reported: Guests at the going-away party for Carlo Maria Viganò couldn’t understand why the archbishop looked so forlorn. Pope Benedict XVI had appointed Viganò ambassador to the United States, a plum post where he would settle into a stately mansion on Massachusetts Avenue, across the street from the vice president’s residence. “He went through the ordeal making it very clear he was unhappy with it,” said one former ambassador to the Vatican, who attended the Vatican Gardens ceremony in the late summer of 2011. “And we just couldn’t figure out, us outsiders and non-Italians, what was going on.” There was no such confusion within Vatican walls. Benedict had installed Viganò to enact a series of reforms within the Vatican. But some of Rome’s highest-ranking cardinals undercut the efforts and hastened Viganò’s exile to the United States. Viganò’s plight and other unflattering machinations would soon become public in an unprecedented leak of the pontiff’s personal correspondence. Much of the media — and the Vatican — focused on the source of the shocking security breach. Largely lost were the revelations contained in the letters themselves — tales of rivalry and betrayal, and allegations of corruption and systemic dysfunction that infused the inner workings of the Holy See and the eight-year papacy of Benedict XVI. Last week, he announced that he will become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign.

China – The USA Today reported: There is an early morning mist rising from the icy waters of the Yalu River where the ruins of a bridge that once connected China and North Korea stands. A North Korean soldier in a greenish overcoat and cap walks up and down, keeping guard. On the Chinese side, two soldiers armed with machine guns stare across. Nearby is a large black and white photograph of China Communist Party founder Chairman Mao shaking hands with Kim Il Sung, founder of North Korea. But trade and traffic between the two allies are far less active here since North Korea moved forward with nuclear tests that the United Nations has condemned as a violation of international law. “We used to go to North Korea for a day from here”, says Ibell Liu, 31. But now, “the Chinese are not allowed into North Korea anymore.” China is getting pressured by Europe and the United States to reign in North Korea Communist regime, which is highly dependent on China for its survival. China’s recent naming of a new leader, Xi Jinping, has given the West hope that China will finally squeeze North Korea into complying with U.N. resolutions as well as pacts signed with the United States in which it agreed to end its nuclear program.

Iran – The New York Times reported: Iran’s supreme leader said Saturday that his country was not seeking nuclear weapons but added that if Iran ever decided to build them, no “global power” could stop it. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose 2005 edict banning nuclear weapons is regarded as binding in Iran, told a group of visitors to his home in Tehran, the capital, that his country favored the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons. “We believe that nuclear weapons must be eliminated,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. “We don’t want to build atomic weapons. But if we didn’t believe so and intended to possess nuclear weapons, no power could stop us.” His comments were posted on his Web site, American officials say they believe that Ayatollah Khamenei exercises full control over Iran’s nuclear program. On Thursday, he rejected direct talks with the United States while it was “pointing a gun at Iran”; on Saturday he elaborated on the issue.

MalaysiaThe Australian NEWS reported: Independent senator Nick Xenophon says it could be decades before he’s allowed to return to Malaysia after he was deported on order from “the highest levels of the Malaysian government”. Arriving back in Melbourne today, Senator Xenophon said he will fight in the Malaysian courts to take his name off a security watch list that led to what he called an unprecedented and bizarre deportation. “I understand the decision to deport me came from the highest levels of the Malaysian government,” he told reporters at Melbourne Airport. “It is clear that I was deported because of my advocacy for the pro-democracy movement in Malaysia.” Julia Gillard said today Australia will continue talks with Kuala Lumpur over its detainment of Senator Xenophon. The Prime Minister said she was glad the independent senator was safely home but Australia would continue to get to the bottom of why he was stopped and detained when on an official delegation.

MalaysiaCNN reported: An unusual standoff is unfolding on the island of Borneo where about 100 men from the southern Philippines have come ashore demanding to be recognized as representatives of a sultanate that has historical claims on the area, Malaysian authorities said. Malaysian police and armed forces are negotiating with the men, who arrived by boat Tuesday in the remote, eastern district of Lahad Datu, in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo. The men claim to be the “Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu” and say they don’t want their people to be sent away from the area, Tan Sri Ismail Omar, the Inspector General of the Royal Malaysian Police, said Thursday, according to the country’s national news agency Bernama. Malaysian security forces have surrounded the village where the men are, and discussions with the group are “proceeding well,” Ismail said. “We have told them to leave Sabah peacefully, as we do not want any situation which can threaten the security of the people,” he added.

Tunisia – The Daily Star of Lebanon reported: Embattled Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said on Thursday he will announce a new government line-up on Saturday, and warned that he will quit if it is rejected. Jebali has been pushing to form a government of technocrats in defiance of his Islamist Ennahda party since the murder last week of vocal government critic and leftist figure Chokri Belaid plunged the country into political crisis. “I want to go through with this initiative,” Jebali told reporters on the sidelines of consultations with party leaders. “Tomorrow morning (Friday) I will meet all the parties who have, or have not, accepted this initiative. “On Saturday I will announce the new government line-up and if it is rejected I will submit my resignation to the president,” he added. Ennahda has rejected a new government made up exclusively of technocrats and called for a pro-Islamist rally on Saturday to back its legitimacy.

Bangladesh – The New York Times reported: Tens of thousands of people resumed mass demonstrations in Bangladesh’s capital on Saturday, intensifying their demands for more severe punishment for war criminals from the country’s 1971 liberation war, while also demanding justice for the slaying of a blogger who had been a leading organizer of the protests. The coffin bearing the body of Rajib Haider, an architect and blogger, was carried through the crowd in a public funeral at Shahbagh, a major intersection in Dhaka, the national capital. Bangladeshi television showed thousands of people kneeling in prayer, chanting slogans or waving banners bearing Mr. Haider’s image. The crowd were estimated at more than 100,000 people. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Mr. Haider’s family on Saturday to express her condolences. Mr. Haider’s body was discovered Friday night near his home, after he had been savagely stabbed. His family has told the Bangladeshi news media that they believed that he was killed for his role in the protests and his outspoken criticism of the fundamentalist Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami. “Haider’s killing occurred at a time when the youngsters have awakened and united the whole nation,” the prime minister told Bangladeshi reporters during her visit to the family’s home. “Let me promise that we will not spare the killers.” Saturday was the 12th consecutive day in which crowds of protesters have poured into the Shahbagh site for demonstrations. The movement began Feb. 5, when a coalition of bloggers called for protests against a verdict by the special tribunal prosecuting people accused of committing atrocities during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

SingaporeGlobal Voices Online reported: The Singapore government’s new population strategy has triggered a debate on whether it should welcome more foreigners to solve its ageing demographics. Discussion also ensued about what constitutes a ‘Singaporean core’. The government expects a slowing of migrant growth but continued augmentation of the local-born citizen pool to a possible high-end population figure of 6.9 million by 2030. The strategy, unveiled after a year of intensive study and consultation, was cast as an unavoidable solution to the economic slowdown brought about by falling fertility rates of native-born Singaporeans. The government’s unenviable choice, as highlighted by the Minister of the Environment Vivian Balakrishnan, was one of ‘Political Suicide vs Demographic Extinction’ in his blog: “I would prefer to have a smaller population of foreigners in our Singapore but ……We are facing the crisis of our lifetime. Our citizen population will halve every two generations. But that… is a ‘long’ term problem. The real emergency is not babies, but ageing. That is why the population will increase in the short term before the inevitable decrease in the long term.” Opposition politician Yee Jenn Jong from the Worker’s Party however argued that it was not population growth that would create a dynamic Singapore but that one needed ‘A dynamic population for a sustainable Singapore’.

PalestineRT NEWS reported: The Israeli army has reportedly raided the house of a Palestinian detainee, Samer Issawi, arresting his brother. This comes in the wake of violent clashes during the recent rally in support of the man who had been hunger-striking for over 200 days. The Israeli Defense Forces have reportedly raided the house of Samer Issawi’s family in the al-Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem at around midnight GMT. Activists on twitter claimed that Issawi’s brother Shadi had been arrested and released photos and video of the alleged incident. So far, with no official comment on the raid, the reports could not be independently verified. On Friday a major rally outside Ofer prison in the West Bank in support of prominent prisoner Samer Issawi ended with a violent fight between the Israeli military and Palestinian protesters. According to Israeli officials some 500 Palestinians attacked soldiers with rocks forcing them to respond with tear gas and rubber bullets. Two Israeli soldiers were slightly injured, the military said. Palestinian medics reported wounds sustained from rubber bullets and said dozens of people suffered gas inhalation. Also a number of people were reportedly injured in at least three separate clashes as violence spread across the West Bank.

AustraliaFOX NEWS reported: A British teenage backpacker drank contact lens fluid and his own urine to survive three days lost in Australian Outback scrubland in oppressive summer heat, his mother said Saturday. Claire Derry reached the bedside of her 18-year-old son, Sam Derry-Woodhead, on Saturday at Longreach Hospital in northeast Australia, where he is recovering from dehydration. “He’s an incredibly lucky man and we’re incredibly lucky that people kept looking as long as they did,” Derry told the Daily Mail. She said she feared the worst while flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to Longreach until she was told during a stopover in the east coast city of Brisbane that searchers in a helicopter had winched her son to safety on Friday. “He’d survived on fluid from contact lenses and his own urine,” Derry told Ten Network TV. He was sunburned and had lost 33 pounds, she said.

Afghanistan – The Washington Post reported: President Hamid Karzai announced Saturday he intends to ban Afghan ground forces from calling in NATO airstrikes on residential areas — even though his country’s fighters have had to rely in the past on such air power in operations against Taliban militants. “Our forces ask for air support from foreigners, and children get killed in an airstrike,” Karzai said in a speech at a military academy here, reinforcing his often truculent posture toward the U.S.-backed international coalition that has long supported his government. Ten civilians, including five women and four children, died in a NATO airstrike Tuesday night in a remote village in eastern Kunar province that also killed three militant commanders, one of them linked to al-Qaeda, Afghan officials said. NATO launched an investigation, and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the new commander of U.S. and international forces here, met with Karzai to express condolences for civilian casualties, according to statements earlier this week from both the presidential palace and the alliance.

Cypress – The BBC reported: People in the Republic of Cyprus have begun voting for a new president. Centre-right leader Nicos Anastasiades has a 15-point lead in the polls over his main rival, leftist Stavros Malas. However, Mr Anastasiades is not predicted to win more than 50% of the vote, which would be required to avoid a run-off vote on 24 February. The election has been dominated by the global financial crisis. In June, Cyprus became the fifth member of the eurozone to request a bailout. Shut out of the international financial markets, the cash-strapped government was forced to seek financial help after Cypriot banks suffered huge losses as a result of the restructuring of Greece’s sovereign debt. It has requested some 17bn euros ($22.7bn; £14.6bn) from the European Union and International Monetary Fund – a small amount in comparison with other rescues but roughly equal to Cyprus’s gross domestic product.

India – The Hindustan Times reported: Arriving in New Delhi within days of exposure of the Rs. 3,760-crore VVIP helicopters scam involving Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is likely to be pressed for more information in this regard during his meetings with the leadership on Tuesday. The visit also comes in the wake of India taking steps to scrap the contract after Italian investigators probed allegations that aerospace group Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, had broken the law by paying bribes to foreign officials. The helicopters, three of which have already been delivered, are manufactured in southwest England. India has already issued a note verbale and met with UK foreign office officials to get information and assistance in probing the allegations of corruption in the deal, an official spokesperson in the ministry of external affairs said.

Vatican CityNEWSMAX reported: The Vatican raised the possibility Saturday that the conclave to elect the next pope might start sooner than March 15, the earliest date possible under current rules that require a 15 to 20 day waiting period after the papacy becomes vacant. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that Vatican rules on papal succession are open to interpretation and that “this is a question that people are discussing.” “It is possible that church authorities can prepare a proposal to be taken up by the cardinals on the first day after the papal vacancy” to move up the start of the conclave, he said. The 15 to 20 day waiting period is in place to allow time for all cardinals who don’t live in Rome to arrive, under the usual circumstance of a pope dying. But in this case the cardinals already know that this pontificate will end Feb. 28, with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and therefore can get to Rome in plenty of time to take part in the conclave, Lombardi said. The date of the conclave’s start is important because Holy Week begins March 24, with Palm Sunday Mass followed by Easter Sunday on March 31. In order to have a new pope in place in time for the most solemn liturgical period on the church calendar, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, because of the strong tradition to hold installation Mass on a Sunday. Given the tight time frame, speculation has mounted that some arrangement would be made to start the conclave earlier than a strict reading of the law would allow.

Mexico – The Star Tribune reported: A drug kingpin in Mexico who has never set foot in Chicago has been named the city’s new Public Enemy No. 1 — the same notorious label assigned to Al Capone at the height of the Prohibition-era gang wars. The Chicago Crime Commission announced the move Thursday, saying it considers Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman even more menacing than Capone because he’s the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in the city. “What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzman is to narcotics,” said Art Bilek, the commission’s executive vice president. “Of the two, Guzman is by far the greater threat. … And he has more power and financial capability than Capone ever dreamed of.” The commission — a non-government body that tracks city crime trends — designated Capone Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930. It has declared other outlaws public enemies, but Capone was the only one deemed No. 1.

SyriaFOX NEWS reported: The Israeli military says troops have provided medical help to Syrians near the countries’ border and transported them to a hospital in Israel for further treatment. A military spokeswoman says soldiers treated five Syrians wounded Saturday near the northern security fence along the frontier in the Golan Heights. She would not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol. Syrian activists reported fighting in the Quneitra region on Saturday, which is on the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. Israel and Syria are bitter enemies and have fought several wars.

PakistanAZCentral of Arizona via (AP) reported: Five years after setting up an umbrella organization to unite violent militant groups in the nation’s tribal regions, the Pakistani Taliban is fractured, strapped for cash and losing support of local tribesmen frustrated by a protracted war that has forced thousands from their homes, analysts and residents of the area said. The temperamental chief of the group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, recently offered to start peace talks with the government, raising the prospect of a negotiated end to Pakistan’s war against insurgents in a lawless region that runs the length of the border with Afghanistan. The group’s offer of sanctuary to Afghanistan’s Taliban has been one of the most divisive issues in U.S.-Pakistan relations and has confounded efforts to get the upper hand against Afghan insurgents after more than 11 years of war. Pakistan denies providing outright military and financial help to militants fighting in Afghanistan. With 120,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions, Pakistan has waged its own bloody battle against insurgents that has left more than 4,000 soldiers dead.

European UnionUnited Press International reported: British and Belgian officials have reached an agreement that will re-open the European market to diamonds from Zimbabwe, sources told the EU Observer. The Observer said Saturday the deal on diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange region was struck late this week during telephone discussions between British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders. The agreement lifts the ban on Marange diamonds but warns Zimbabwe it will be reinstated if President Robert Mugabe rigs the presidential election expected to be held in July. Mugabe’s soldiers have been accused by human rights organizations of using forced labor to mine for diamonds in the Marange and funneling the revenues to Mugabe’s political party.


Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO
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