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NEWS Distillation – Weekend of 23-24 February 2013 – (TCP)CHICAGO

Today's Headlines - (TCP)CHICAGO

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23 February 2013

Syria – The LA Times reported: Fledgling efforts to promote peace talks in the Syrian conflict appear to have stalled, even as the death toll rises daily and the rebellion nears its second anniversary. The major exile opposition group, irate over what it calls a “shameful” global silence about the bloodshed, has announced that it will not attend several planned international gatherings on Syria, spurning invitations to visit Russia and the United States. Both nations have said that they favor negotiations as a means to end the violence in Syria. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has also opted to “suspend” its participation in a meeting in Rome next month of the so-called Friends of Syria alliance, which includes the United States and dozens of other nations that have bankrolled the opposition.

SyriaNBC NEWS via (AP) reported (editorial opinion): The battle for Syria’s second-largest airport intensified Saturday as government troops tried to reverse recent strategic gains the rebels have made in the northeast in their quest to topple President Bashar Assad. Assad’s forces have been locked in a stalemate with rebels in Aleppo since July when the city, the largest in Syria, became a major battlefield in the 2-year-old conflict the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 people. For months, rebels have been trying to capture the international airport, which is closed because of the fighting. Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said the current fighting was focused on a section of a highway linking the airport with Aleppo, the commercial hub of the nation. The rebels have cut off the highway, which the army has been using to transport troops and supplies to a military base within the airport complex. Rebels have made other advances in the battle for the airport in recent weeks, including overrunning two army bases along the road to the airport.

Vatican City – The New York Times reported: As cardinals from around the world begin arriving in Rome for a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, new shadows have fallen over the delicate transition, which the Vatican fears might influence the vote and with it the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. In recent days, often speculative reports in the Italian news media — some even alleging gay sex scandals in the Vatican, others focusing on particular cardinals stung by the child sexual abuse crisis — have dominated headlines, suggesting fierce internal struggles as prelates scramble to consolidate power and attack their rivals in the dying days of a troubled papacy. The reports, which the Vatican has vehemently refuted, touch on some of the most vexing issues of Benedict’s nearly eight-year reign, including a new round of accusations of child sexual abuse by priests and international criticism of the Vatican Bank’s opaque record-keeping. The recent explosion of bad press, which some Vatican experts say is fed by carefully orchestrated leaks meant to weaken some papal contenders, also speak to Benedict’s own difficulties governing, which analysts say he is trying to address, albeit belatedly, with several high-profile personnel changes.

Egypt – The BBC Middle East Corps reported: Egypt’s President, Mohammed Morsi, has brought forward the start of the country’s parliamentary elections, just days after announcing it. The first round of voting in Cairo and four other provinces will now be held on 22 April, rather than 27 April. The president’s spokesman said the move was in response to complaints from Coptic Christians, who had complained the original date clashed with Easter. Earlier, a leading opposition figure called for a boycott of the elections. “[I] called for parliamentary election boycott in 2010 to expose sham democracy. Today I repeat my call, will not be part of an act of deception,” Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. However, some within Mr ElBaradei’s opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF), criticised his decision, saying it was too hasty.

Pakistan via North Korea – The International NEWS of Pakistan reported: Pakistan, as a friend of North Korea and member of the UN Security Council, can play an effective role in restraining Pyongyang from threatening South Korea and persuading mass production of nuclear weapons, observed South Korean Minister Counsellor, Cho Koo-rae, in interaction with select journalists. “Pakistan’s economy would also be at stake if South Korea is attacked by the North,” said Cho, adding that trade volume between South Korea and Pakistan is 1.5 billion dollars and over ten thousand Pakistanis are working in South Korea. The Korean envoy hailed the statement issued by the Foreign Office of Pakistan, expressing regrets over the North Korea’s nuclear test. “Pakistan is staunch supporter of no proliferation regime; it should intensify efforts for a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”

Mali – The BBC Africa Corps reported: French President Francois Hollande has said his country’s forces are engaged in the “final phase” of the fight against militants in northern Mali. He said there had been heavy fighting in the Ifoghas mountains, where members of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) were thought to be hiding. Mr Hollande also praised Chadian troops for their efforts in the same area. Thirteen Chadian soldiers and some 65 militants were killed in clashes on Friday, according to the Chadian army. Chad’s government has promised to deploy 2,000 troops as part of the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma).

Iran – The Washington Post reported: Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said Saturday that it had captured a foreign unmanned aircraft during a military exercise in southern Iran. Gen. Hamid Sarkheili, a spokesman for the military exercise, said the Guard’s electronic warfare unit spotted signals indicating that foreign drones were trying to enter Iranian airspace. Sarkheili said Guard experts took control of one drone’s navigation system and brought it down near the city of Sirjan where the military drills began on Saturday. “While probing signals in the area, we spotted foreign and enemy drones which attempted to enter the area of the war game,” the official IRNA news agency quoted the general as saying. “We were able to get one enemy drone to land.” Sarkheili did not say whether the drone was American. In Washington, a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

Iran – The New York Times reported: Days before resuming talks over its disputed nuclear program, Iran said Saturday that it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations. The state news agency IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which said that the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had tripled the amount outlined in previous estimates. There was no independent confirmation. Western experts had previously thought that Iran, with few uranium mines of its own, might be close to exhausting its supply of raw uranium. “We have discovered new sources of uranium in the country and we will put them to use in the near future,” Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the Atomic Energy Organization, was quoted as saying at Iran’s annual nuclear industry conference. The timing of the announcement suggested that Iran, by talking up its reserves and nuclear ambitions, may hope to strengthen its negotiating hand at talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

IranXinhua reported: Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said Saturday that the Islamic republic insists on its full nuclear rights within the framework of Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Making the remarks at an annual conference of the Iranian Managers of Nuclear Industry, Jalili said Iranians do not accept ” less rights or more tasks,” the state IRIB TV reported. Iran is committed to its tasks within the directives of the NPT and insists on all its rights within the framework of the NPT regulations, he emphasized. Jalili said that the Islamic republic hopes the so-called P5+1 group, comprising Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany, come to the upcoming nuclear talks with “new strategy and valid proposals,” according to IRIB. On Saturday, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) announced that the Islamic republic plans to construct 16 nuclear power plants in different parts of the country, Press TV reported.

VenezuelaUSA Today reported: Hundreds of government opponents demonstrated Saturday to demand answers about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s condition while he remains out of sight in a hospital, undergoing treatment more than 10 weeks after his latest cancer surgery. Opposition leaders criticized the secrecy surrounding Chavez’s diagnosis and treatment, saying many Venezuelans want the government to tell the whole truth about the president’s condition. “We came to say that this nation demands the truth,” Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma said at the demonstration. “Yesterday they were saying they had a five-hour meeting with the president. Nobody believes that. Just two days earlier they excused themselves with President Evo Morales (of Bolivia), saying the president was resting due to his delicate state of health, and they didn’t let him see him,” Ledezma added. Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Friday night that he and other officials had a lengthy visit with the president at the military hospital in Caracas where he is being treated.

Cuba via RussiaReuters reported: Russia will lease eight jets worth $650 million to its Cold War- era ally Cuba and will partially write off the country’s multi-billion-dollar, Soviet-era debt under agreements signed during Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Havana on Thursday. Moscow will write off part of the $30 billion debt and will offer a 10-year refinancing plan for the remaining amount, according to the preliminary agreement, Russia’s industry and trade minister Denis Manturov told reporters on the sidelines of the talks. “There was an accumulated debt on loans allocated by the Soviet Union and we have now prepared an agreement that should undergo all the necessary procedures,” he said. Manturov said the final decision on debt settlement will be signed by the end of the year. Russia will also lease three Ilyushin-96-400 long-haul jets, three AN-158 regional planes and two TU-204SM mid-range aircraft to Cuba under the agreements inked in the presence of Medvedev and Cuban leader Raul Castro.

BangladeshUSA Today reported: Thousands of students rallied in Bangladesh’s capital on Saturday demanding death to Islamic political party leaders who are on trial for alleged war crimes during the country’s 1971 independence war. Eight top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamic party, are being tried on charges of mass killings, rapes and arson allegedly committed during Bangladesh’s nine-month war of separation from Pakistan. Earlier this month, a tribunal convicted party leader Abdul Quader Mollah of mass killings during the war and sentenced him to life in prison, a sentence that many Bangladeshis considered lenient. On Saturday, about 5,000 students shouted “Death to the killers” as they rallied in Dhaka. The government says it will appeal Mollah’s sentence before the Supreme Court this coming week, asking for the death penalty for the 65-year-old.

Israel – The New York Times reported: Clashes erupted Saturday in the West Bank, with Jewish settlers shooting two Palestinian demonstrators in the northern village of Kusra, an Israeli military official and Palestinian residents said. The unrest reflected mounting friction in the West Bank, where Palestinians have faced off against Israeli troops in recent weeks in a series of large demonstrations protesting Israel’s control of the territory in general and in solidarity with four prisoners on hunger strikes in Israeli jails. Also on Saturday, a Palestinian prisoner died in an Israeli jail, an event that is likely to intensify tensions in the area. In the West Bank skirmish, Helmi Abdul-Aziz, 24, was shot in the stomach by Jewish settlers, Palestinian demonstrators said. They said settlers also shot Mustafa Hilal, 14, in the foot.

United Kingdom – The Guardian UK reported: Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years. The four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, and demanded O’Brien’s immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested. O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved”. Last year he was named “bigot of the year” by the gay rights charity Stonewall. One of the complainants, it is understood, alleges that the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counselling. The four submitted statements containing their claims to the nuncio’s office the week before Pope Benedict’s resignation on 11 February. They fear that, if O’Brien travels to the forthcoming papal conclave to elect a new pope, the church will not fully address their complaints.

Washington D.C. – The Washington Post reported (editorial opinion): A Chinese government spokesman expressed shock at comments Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made during a recent interview with The Washington Post regarding China’s motivations. A reading of Mr. Abe’s full remarks (available on our Web site) would show that shock is not called for. Mr. Abe, on the eve of his Friday visit with President Obama, delivered a cogent explanation of China’s growing assertiveness — and also of why he believes there is reason to hope for Chinese restraint. Mr. Abe noted that Communist Party rule ordinarily would base its legitimacy on a promise of equality. Having embraced the free-market economy, the party can no longer make such a promise, so it bases its legitimacy on two other pillars: economic growth and patriotism, the latter unfortunately fueled by a fair dollop of anti-Japanese sentiment. With the education system teaching that sort of patriotism, he said, the government can gain popularity with actions such as its provocative challenges of Japanese control of disputed islands in the East China Sea.

South KoreaFOX NEWS reported: Even before she takes office Monday as South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye’s campaign vow to soften Seoul’s current hard-line approach to rival North Korea is being tested by Pyongyang’s recent underground nuclear detonation. Pyongyang, Washington, Beijing and Tokyo are all watching to see if Park, the daughter of a staunchly anti-communist dictator, pursues an ambitious engagement policy meant to ease five years of animosity on the divided peninsula or if she sticks with the tough stance of her fellow conservative predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Park’s decision is important because it will likely set the tone of the larger diplomatic approach that Washington and others take in stalled efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions. It will also be complicated by North Korea’s warning of unspecified “second and third measures of greater intensity,” a threat that comes as Washington and others push for tightened U.N. sanctions as punishment for the Feb. 12 atomic test, the North’s third since 2006.

Chad via MaliUnited Press International reported: Thirteen Chadian soldiers were killed and five wounded in a battle with Islamic militants in northern Mali in which 65 insurgents died, officials say. A statement from Chadian officials said their forces also destroyed five vehicles in clashes Friday in the Ifoghas region near Mali’s border with Algeria, the Voice of America reported. Chad is part of a force of African troops who have joined with French and Malian forces to combat militants in northern Mali. The coalition said Thursday it had recaptured the city hall in the central city of Gao, the BBC reported. Militants linked to al-Qaida had seized the building the day before after being pushed from the city earlier in the month by French and Malian troops.

RussiaUnited Press International reported: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia plans to increase its share of the global “space service market” from its current 10 percent to 15 percent. “We want to be not just a leading scientific power, a space researcher country, but also a player on the space service market,” Medvedev said during an interview in Cuba, published Saturday. Although Medvedev did not give a time frame for the increase, an outline of Russia’s state program for the space industry, published in January, projected a target of 2020, RIA Novosti reported. “We were the first in space, and we believe it’s our competitive advantage. But it’s impossible not to invest in space. If we just pride ourselves on the launch of the first satellite and Gagarin’s flight, we’ll simply lag behind,” Medvedev told Cuban media. Medvedev said Russia’s primary goal in expanding its space market is putting more satellites into orbit and assisting in international launches. Russia is in the process of revamping its space program, with plans to spend $69 billion on the program through 2020.

Tunisia – The Washington Post reported: Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party named an interior minister seen as a conservative loyalist to form a new government Friday, in a signal the party is unlikely to back down to opposition demands to try to smooth over the country’s political crisis. Ali Larayedh, accused of failing to stem violence by ultraconservative Muslims when he was in charge of Tunisia’s security as interior minister, said he would start immediate consultations on forming a new government, according to the state news agency TAP. He said after his first Cabinet meeting that the new government should represent different layers of society, including the secular media and arts worlds and preachers, TAP reported. He has 15 days to present a new government. The killing of an opposition leader last month plunged Tunisia into its deepest political crisis since it started the Arab Spring uprisings two years ago. It led to violent protests against the Islamist-led government and demands for a crackdown on extremist violence.

MexicoFOX NEWS reported: A member of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s administration disputed on Friday that there is a list of 27,000 missing people as announced by the current government of President Enrique Pena Nieto. Jose Vega, who was Calderon’s coordinator of the National Security System, an entity responsible for collecting and analyzing security data, said that the only registry on disappeared people contains 5,319 names. Some of the missing people are those whose disappearances are blamed on organized crime, but others include those who may have voluntarily stopped contacting their families, Vega wrote in a letter sent to Mexican and international media. Vega said that it’s up to state authorities to investigate missing person reports and to keep records on those people. He said the list that includes 5,319 people who went missing in the last decade is not complete because local authorities didn’t send the federal government the requested information when Calderon’s administration tried to compile a list.

24 February 2013

Cuba – The Guardian UK reported: Raúl Castro has announced that he will step down as Cuba’s president in 2018, putting a date on the end of the Castro era. He tapped rising star Miguel Díaz-Canel as his top lieutenant and potential successor. “This will be my last term,” Castro, 81, said on Sunday, shortly after the National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term of office. Castro also said he hopes to establish two-term limits and age caps for political offices including the presidency, though he did not specify an age. As the new first vice president of the ruling Council of State, the 52-year-old Diaz-Canel is now a heartbeat from the presidency and has risen higher than any other Cuban official who didn’t directly participate in the 1959 revolution. In his 35-minute speech, Castro hinted at other changes to the constitution, some so dramatic that they will have to be ratified by the Cuban people in a referendum. But he scotched any idea that the country would soon abandon socialism, saying he had not assumed the presidency in order to destroy Cuba’s system. “I was not chosen to be president to restore capitalism to Cuba,” he said. “I was elected to defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

Afghanistan – The Boston Globe reported: The Afghan government on Sunday banned elite US forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul, citing complaints that Afghans working for the troops have tortured and killed villagers. The ban is scheduled to go into effect in two weeks in the province, Maidan Wardak, which has long been seen as a key link in the defense of the capital against the Taliban. If fully implemented, it would effectively remove the US military’s main source of offensive firepower from the area, which lies southwest of Kabul and is used by the Taliban as a staging ground for attacks on the capital. The order takes on greater potential significance with the scheduled withdrawal of regular US combat forces in the province. By late spring, US officials have said, they expect almost all the conventional troops in eastern Afghanistan to be focused on advising Afghan forces, leaving special operations units as the only offensive troops in the region. Also Sunday, a series of attacks in eastern Afghanistan showed that insurgents remain on the offensive as US and other international forces prepare to end their combat mission by the end of 2014. Suicide bombers targeted Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and other security forces in four coordinated attacks in the heart of Kabul and outlying areas in a bloody reminder of the insurgency’s reach nearly 12 years into the war.

South Africa – The Boston Globe reported: The murder case involving Olympic star Oscar Pistorius took another unexpected turn Sunday with the news that his older brother, Carl, is himself facing charges for the death of a woman in a traffic accident. Carl Pistorius faces a charge of unlawful, negligent killing for a 2008 road death, Kenneth Oldwage, the Pistorius family lawyer said. The accident happened in Vanderbijlpark, south of Johannesburg. The charge of ‘‘culpable homicide’’ was dropped and then reinstated and will be challenged in court, the lawyer told the Associated Press.

Cypress – The Voice of America reported: Conservative leader Nicos Anastasiades won an overwhelming victory in Cyprus’ presidential runoff Sunday, boosting hopes he will quickly act on his pledge to seek a bailout deal with international lenders to prevent the country’s financial meltdown. Final election results showed Anastasiades took 57.5 percent of the vote, far ahead of his left-wing rival, the Communist-backed Stavros Malas, who finished with 42.5 percent. Jubilant supporters celebrated in the capital, Nicosia, as the results came in. Anastasiades favors a quick deal with foreign creditors, while Malas campaigned on an anti-austerity platform, wary of the harsh measures usually imposed in exchange for a rescue loan. Cyprus has been caught in a financial crisis aggravated by the situation in Greece. The government is seeking international help because Cypriot banks suffered huge losses from Greece’s sovereign debt restructuring.  The island, which has been shut out of international financial markets since May 2011, needs about $22 billion in aid.

Turkey – The International NEWS of Pakistan reported: Turkey lashed out against Syria as the death toll from a missile strike on Aleppo rose to 58 Sunday, while a US official urged the opposition to reconsider its boycott of international meetings. France meanwhile confirmed that a French photographer wounded in the conflict had died of his injuries. “Every day a large number of innocent children and women fall dead in Syria,” Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. “We will not remain silent on those committing crimes against their people…. We will not remain silent on the brutal dictator in Syria,” Erdogan, a key backer of Syria’s opposition, added. Turkey’s southern neighbour has been locked in a 23-month-long conflict in which the United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed. On Sunday alone, according to a toll compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 105 people were killed in violence across the country.

AfricaReuters reported: African leaders signed a U.N.-mediated deal on Sunday aimed at ending two decades of conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and paving the way for the deployment of a new military brigade to take on rebel groups. Congo’s army is fighting the M23 rebels, who have hived off a fiefdom in North Kivu province in a conflict that has dragged Congo’s eastern region back into war and displaced more than half a million people. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who witnessed the signing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he hoped the accord would bring “an era of peace and stability” for Congo and Africa’s Great Lakes, and added that he would soon name a special envoy for the region. The Great Lakes area, where colonial era borders cut through ethnic groups, has in the last 20 years been a crucible of conflict that has launched multiple uprisings and invasions. “It is only the beginning of a comprehensive approach that will require sustained engagement,” Ban said of the accord, which did not include any representatives of rebel groups.

Egypt – The Houston Chronicle reported: Egypt’s streets are turning into a daily forum for airing a range of social discontents from labor conditions to fuel shortages and the casualties of myriad clashes over the past two years. Parliamentary elections called over the weekend by the Islamist president hold out little hope for plucking the country out of the turmoil. If anything, the race is likely to fuel more unrest and push Egypt closer to economic collapse. “The street has a life of its own and it has little to do with elections. It is about people wanting to make a living or make ends meet,” said Emad Gad, a prominent analyst and a former lawmaker. Islamist President Mohammed Morsi called for parliamentary elections to start in late April and be held over four stages ending in June. He was obliged under the constitution to set the date for the vote by Saturday.

Philippines – The Gulf NEWS of Qatar reported: President Benigno Aquino III had ruled out the use of force on the Sabah stand off concern with Malaysia while at the same time pointing out that he had ordered experts to closely study the sensitive issue. “I am not an expert so I have tasked the experts to study all of this and to find out precisely all of our standings. Where do we stand? And from where we stand where do we move forward?” the President said. Aquino was referring to the issue on the Sulu Sultanate’s claim on Sabah, a territory in Borneo located between Malaysia and the Philippines. Currently, Sabah is part of Malaysia’s territory but a group of armed men who call themselves the Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu arrived by boats two weeks ago in the coastal town of Lahad Datu and proclaimed the area part of the Sultan Jamalul Kiram III jurisdiction. The armed group, as well as several hundreds of civilians from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi refuse to heed appeals from both the Malaysian and Philippine governments to leave the territory. Spokesmen for Kiram III’s said their claim was rooted on the argument that Sabah is being leased by the government of Malaysia from the Sulu Sultanate.

Afghanistan – The Voice of America reported: Afghan authorities say suicide bombers have killed three Afghan security personnel in the country’s east, while an attempted suicide bombing in a sensitive area of Kabul was foiled. In one of Sunday’s attacks, a suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle into the gate of an intelligence compound in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Officials said the blast killed two agents of the National Directorate of Security and wounded three others. In another attack, a suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in the nearby town of Puli Alam, killing one officer. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for both bombings. Authorities said security forces thwarted an additional suicide car bombing in Kabul by shooting and killing the would-be assailant. They said the incident happened near a construction site in a part of the capital housing government and foreign diplomatic offices. Insurgents had staged a large-scale attack in the area last April. Taliban militants have been fighting an 11-year Islamist insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government. The insurgents frequently stage bombings and shootings against Afghan security forces and their NATO allies. U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in a 2001 invasion.

Germany via TurkeyU-T San Diego NEWS reported: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting German troops deployed to operate Patriot missile batteries in Turkey. The Patriots were sent to Turkey, a NATO member, to protect it from spillover from Syria’s civil war. Merkel’s two-day visit comes as Turkey grows increasingly frustrated over the slow progress in its bid for European Union membership. Before arriving Sunday, Merkel said she backs opening a new chapter in those stalled talks, despite being skeptical about Turkey’s accession. The chancellor’s first stop was Kahramanmaras, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Syrian border, where some 300 German troops are manning two out of six NATO-deployed anti-missile batteries.

JapanYahoo NEWS via Reuters reported: Japanese Economics Minister Akira Amari said on Monday there is no doubt Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda belongs to the inner circle of global finance, a prerequisite set by the premier for the next Bank of Japan governor. But Amari told reporters he hasn’t heard from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yet that Kuroda has been chosen as the government’s nominee to head the central bank. Sources have said Kuroda is likely to be the next BOJ chief.

France – The Mercury NEWS via (AP) reported: A straight-talking U.S. businessman and a European socialist government were never likely to become the firmest of friends, but a letter from Maurice Taylor, CEO of tire-maker Titan International, blasting the French work-ethic has ruffled France’s feathers. Taylor, who is nicknamed “The Grizz”, wrote the no-holds-barred letter to French Industrial Renewal Minister Arnaud Montebourg to explain why his company wouldn’t buy part of an ailing Goodyear factory in Amiens. The ministry confirmed the letter as authentic however attempts to obtain comment from Titan have been unsuccessful. “I have visited the factory a couple of times,” the letter date Feb. 8 reads, according to a copy published last week in Les Echos newspaper. “The French workforce gets paid high wages but only work for three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told this to the French union workers to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!” The Industrial Renewal Ministry had approached Titan to start discussions on buying up part of the Goodyear factory. Taylor’s response in the letter was abrupt, to say the least. “How stupid do you think we are?”

Syria via Washington D.C. – The FOX NEWS reported: As Secretary of State John Kerry winged his way across the Atlantic on the first leg of his first overseas trip as America’s top diplomat, his aides were scrambling on several continents to salvage one of the trip’s most critical and eagerly-awaited sessions. Kerry was slated to visit four European capitals — London, Berlin, Paris and Rome — before a Mideast swing that will take him to Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. During the visit to Italy, the State Department had announced, Kerry would have the chance to meet with leaders of the Syrian opposition that have battled the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for two years, in a civil war that has claimed roughly 70,000 lives. Over the weekend, however, the Syrian Opposition Council — the main umbrella group for the broad array of rebel politicians, clerics and soldiers, many of them Islamists with ties to al-Qaeda and other unsavory networks — announced it was boycotting the session with Kerry in Rome.

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