World Wrap: September 20, 2013
Insulted Syrian opposition could lose West’s ear, U.N. General Assembly offers a chance for U.S.-Iran relations, and Hezbollah looks to Africa for cash. Today is Friday, September 20, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Syria’s opposition risks losing West’s support
Female members of the “Mother Aisha” battalion sit together along a street in Aleppo’s Salaheddine district, September 19, 2013. REUTERS/Loubna Mrie
Insult could mean injury. Syria’s opposition feels betrayed by Washington’s agreement to work on a chemical weapons disarmament deal with Moscow, but diplomats warn they must adapt to the new realities or risk losing Western support:
The rift that has alienated the Syrian opposition from the United States threatens to derail international efforts to end the two and a half year civil war, diplomatic and opposition sources said. […] The opposition is furious that Washington suddenly and without its knowledge changed course a week after informing leaders of the main Syrian National Coalition that a strike was imminent, according to coalition members. In the opposition’s view, the deal with Russia contains a de facto admission of the legitimacy of the Assad government, undermining the goal of Syrian uprising and the likelihood that any peace talks will result in Assad’s removal.
A senior opposition official said Washington’s absence at a major opposition meeting in Istanbul this weekend did not go unnoticed: “The Americans did not even bother to send a single diplomat to inform us what they were doing with the Russians.” Yet diplomats monitoring the meeting said the opposition’s intransigence on adjusting to changing diplomatic priorities could create a rift with the United States. Russian President Putin said on Thursday he hopes the deal will succeed, although it remains unclear how Washington and Moscow will destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile. Secretary of State John Kerry says he hopes to see the Security Council act on the plan next week, when the U.N. General Assembly takes place in New York.
Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran, June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdost
Extending a hand to Iran. Following reports that Obama exchanged letters with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and recent statements suggesting Iran’s willingness to engage in discussion over the country’s nuclear program, next week’s U.N. General Assembly could prove a pivotal moment in redefining relations when the two leaders meet:
Regardless of whether Obama and Rouhani shake hands, the more serious issue is whether both countries are ready to get into a direct bilateral discussion. The United States suspects Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons, something it sees as a threat to Israel and to oil-producing U.S. allies in the Gulf. Iran denies that, saying its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes. A decade of negotiations between Iran and the West has yet to resolve the dispute and the United States has said it would not take any option off the table – code for a possible military strike – in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Reuters columnist David Rohde writes that even a handshake would be a momentous event. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, President Rouhani urged “prudent engagement“ in response to Iran’s efforts to start dialogue. Obama has a chance to engage with the new leader, but must strike the right balance between welcoming Iran’s overtures and encouraging Tehran to curb its nuclear program.
Military officials stand near ammunition seized from suspected members of Hezbollah after a raid of a building in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Going after West Africa. As Iran feels the effects of Western sanctions, Hezbollah is turning to other backers in West Africa:
The United States and its allies are clamping down on suspected Hezbollah activity in West Africa, which Washington says is a major source of cash for the Lebanese group as its patron Iran feels the pinch of sanctions. “(West Africa) is more important in the sense that what they’re getting from Iran is squeezed. Iran’s capacity to fund Hezbollah has been impaired,” said David Cohen, U.S. treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “There’s reason to think Hezbollah is not just collecting money but it is also using these outposts as places where they can plan and conduct activities,” he added.
West African countries have long maintained strong economic ties with Lebanon, and critics argue the Washington has exaggerated the problem.
Nota Bene: Bombs hidden in air conditioning units killed killed at least 15 people in a Sunni mosque in Iraq.
Street smart - Stores in Burkina Faso get creative to woo illiterate customers. (The Atlantic Cities)
Image issue - Ryanair concedes it has a customer service problem. (Associated Press)
No party, no problem - Voters in Swaziland choose a new parliament in party-less election. (BBC)
The Merkel manner - Germany’s Merkel has her own brand of charisma. (Al Jazeera)
Fukushima faux pas - Tepco misspells Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s name. (Time)
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World Wrap: September 16, 2013
Syria’s ally laments its own chemical attack victims, engineers begin Costa Concordia salvage effort, and North and South Korea reopen their joint industrial complex. Today is Monday, September 16, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Syria’s chemical attacks reopen sensitive debate in Iran.
Fayegh Fallahi, who was injured in an Iraqi chemical attack during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, uses oxygen as he rests at his home in Nowdesheh in Kermanshah province 425 miles southwest of Tehran, July 5, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
In Hussein’s shadow. Still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons used during the Iraq-Iran war more than thirty years ago, Iranians grow uncomfortable with the possibility their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was responsible for a chemical attack that killed roughly 1,400 Syrians last month:
An Iranian war veteran fell into a coma in a Tehran hospital last week after suffering respiratory failure, his lungs ravaged by mustard gas during the Iran-Iraq war 30 years ago. Hadi Kazemnejad is one of up to 1,000,000 Iranians who were exposed to chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, officials say. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people were killed and 100,000 of those who survived have developed illnesses, often chronic. Cases like Kazemnejad’s point to the long-term damage of chemical warfare and also help explain Iran’s nuanced reaction to allegations regional ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used such weapons against his own people. Chemical attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which an estimated 1,400 people died, have reopened a sensitive debate among Iranians over their country’s support for Syria.
On Saturday, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international oversight. Syria will have a week to declare its secret stockpile, and must allow international inspectors to eliminate all chemical weapons by the middle of next year, a target Kerry called “ambitious.” Syria’s ongoing civil war will make the already-painstaking disarmament process even more difficult. After a meeting between the U.S.. France and Britain on Friday, the office of the French president said that the countries will increase pressure on Syria to comply with the arms deal, and press for a strict U.N. draft resolution that will punish the Syrian government if it doesn’t comply. Although the deal buys Assad time, it comes at a cost:
By requiring Assad to surrender a chemical weapons arsenal which until last week his government had barely acknowledged, it would strip him of both a fearsome military advantage over rebels at home and his most potent deterrent to any further attacks by Syria’s enemy Israel.
A photo of a U.N. report shows inspectors confirmed the use of sarin gas on civilians in Syria last month. Syrian opposition forces are dismayed by the deal, saying that renewed attacks by government forces against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus mean the West no longer poses a credible threat to Assad.
People look on as the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lies on its side next to Giglio Island, September 16, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
Costly Concordia. Engineers began one of the most ambitious maritime operations in history to lift the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship upright:
At a cost estimated so far at more than 600 million euros ($795 million), it is expected to be the most expensive maritime wreck recovery ever, accounting for more than half of an overall insurance loss of more than $1.1 billion. A multinational team of 500 salvage engineers has been on Giglio for most of the past year, stabilizing the wreck and preparing for the start of the lifting operation. The ship, a floating hotel carrying more than 4,000 passengers and crew, sank when rocks tore into its hull after it came too close to shore at the start of a Mediterranean cruise.
The wrecked ship has been on its side since it ran up against rocks in January 2012, killing 32 people. It will take months before it can be re-floated. Click through for live coverage of the endeavor.
South Korean workers exchange won to U.S. dollar at a bank branch at the customs, immigration and quarantine office area, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul on September 16, 2013, before they go to inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won
Playing nice. North and South Korea on Monday reopened the joint Kaesong industrial zone after tensions between the two countries shuttered the park for five months:
The Kaesong factory park, a rare symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, has sat idle since April after North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers and was restarted amid a thaw in ties that has seen the two Koreas hold talks. Hundreds of South Korean trucks and trailers loaded with raw materials crossed into the North. Workers lined up to exchange money into U.S. dollars and took in South Korean cigarette packs that workers say are a source of friendship with Northerners. “I will greet North Koreans ‘Happy Chuseok’ because we are both Korean,” said Kaesong worker Kim Chung-jin, at a bank counter before his departure, referring to the Thanksgiving holiday celebrated by the neighbors this week. “I hope the shutdown will never happen again.”
The two nations are technically still at war, and today South Korea’s military shot to death a man attempting to float across a river to the North.
Nota Bene: The U.S. and Cuba resume talks on restarting direct mail services.
The pen is mightier - President Obama and his recently-elected Iranian counterpart are pen pals. (BBC)
Accelerated ed - A 13-year-old Indian girl pursues a master’s degree. (Associated Press)
Unquenchable thirst - Kenya’s discovery of a new water source won’t be enough to solve droughts. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
No laughing matter - A creepy clown spooks residents of an English town. (The Atlantic Cities)
Experiment in empathy - A wealthy family’s trial with poverty makes headlines in South Africa. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 13, 2013
Putin pays for U.S. PR, Delhi rapists sentenced to death, and the Taliban claim deadly strike on U.S. consulate. Today is Friday, September 13, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Arms deal could bolster Syria peace talks
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits with U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as they each make a statement to the press after a meeting discussing the ongoing problems in Syria at the United Nations offices in Geneva, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Back on track. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to reconvene later this month in another effort to revive a long-stalled international peace conference on Syria’s civil war:
They would meet again in about two weeks, around Sept. 28 during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and hoped progress in Geneva in the coming day on a chemical weapons disarmament deal would help set a date for a peace conference. “We are committed to trying to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world,” Kerry told a joint news briefing. Washington and Moscow still had work to do to find common ground, Kerry said of a dispute that has raised echoes of the Cold War and to reach an agreement on scheduling peace talks. “Much … will depend on the capacity to have success here in the next hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons,” the secretary of state added.
On Thursday, Syria said it had become a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty, a step in Russia’s plan to place Syrian chemical weapon stores under international oversight. Iran,Russia, and China praised the move, but U.S. officials reacted with caution over concerns that Syria may be stalling for time. Meanwhile, Putin has been making his case against intervention directly to the American public with the help of an American public relations firm that shapes the Russian president’s image in U.S. media, including flattering interviews published in Outdoor Life magazine and his recent op-ed in the New York Times:
Ketchum, a division of the Omnicom Group Inc., has earned more than $25 million working for Russia, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. It also has been paid more than $26 million since 2007 to promote Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company.
Putin has said the United States should go through the United Nations in its response to the Aug. 21 chemical attack. An exclusive Reuters report found that the death toll estimate from the attack – a key detail in the United States’ case for a military strike – may have been inflated by including bombing victims.
A demonstrator shouts slogans outside a court in New Delhi, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Public pleased with rapists’ punishment. Four men found guilty of gang-raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman were sentenced to death on Friday, bringing to a close a months-long trial that highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence against women in India:
“The increasing trend of crimes against women can be arrested only once the society realize that there will be no tolerance (of) any form of deviance against women,” said [Judge Yogesh] Khanna. He ordered the men to “be hanged by neck till they are dead.” In a symbolic gesture, he broke the nib of the pen so that it could not be used to sign another death order, court officials said. Lawyers for all four men said they would appeal, which means their execution could still be years away. The case will go to the High Court and then Supreme Court. If they confirm the sentences, the final decision will lie with the president, who has the power to grant clemency.
Crowds gathered outside the courtroom and cheered in response to the ruling. Defense lawyer A.P. Singh said the judge bowed to political pressure in making his decision, a charge the country’s interior minister denied.
Afghan security forces inspect a damaged car, which was used during a suicide bomb attack, outside the U.S. consulate in Herat province, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoib
Complex consulate attack. Insurgents killed at least three people in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Herat, in western Afghanistan:
Herat police chief General Rahmatullah Safi said a police officer and a translator had been killed and two Afghan staff working in the consulate had been wounded… “Our aim for this attack is to show the Americans that they are not safe anywhere in this country,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi said in a statement emailed to reporters. Insurgents often stage so-called complex attacks involving suicide bombers and fighters on targets such as Afghan government and security forces, especially in the more volatile south and east, although assaults on high-profile and well-protected U.S. targets are less common.
The strike, which included a gun battle with security forces and the detonation of a powerful car bomb, continues a trend of violence and instability in the region ahead of Western troop withdrawal in 2014 and next year’s presidential elections.
Nota Bene: Al Qaeda leader calls for attacks inside the U.S. to “bleed America economically.”
Justice for Syrians - The benefits of prosecuting Assad. (Reuters)
Popped ambition - A man attempting to cross the Atlantic with hundreds of helium-filled balloons lands in Newfoundland. (Associated Press)
Remote robbery - Twelve are arrested for plan to cyber-steal millions of pounds from a Spanish bank. (BBC)
More than mooncakes - The Chinese bribe market expands to include tea and herbal tonics. (Quartz)
Frustrated foodies - Fast food in France is not so fast. (Wall Street Journal)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 12, 2013
Kerry to discuss Syria disarmament deal with Russia, white smoke rises at North Korean nuclear reactor, and officials peg peace hopes on former Taliban leader. Today is Thursday, September 12, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Kerry to hear Russia’s surprise Syria plan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) leaves the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on September 12, 2013, before his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the ongoing problems in Syria. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
Putin pens public appeal. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva today to discuss Russia’s surprise proposal for international oversight of Syria’s chemical weapons, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against a U.S. strike in a New York Times op-ed. Syria appears to have agreed to Russia’s plan, potentially paving the way for a non-interventionist Western approach after the U.S. seemed on the brink of military action in response to last month’s chemical attack.
U.S. officials said they hoped Kerry and Lavrov could agree on a blueprint for Syrian disarmament whose main points would be adopted in a U.N. Security Council resolution. The five permanent veto-wielding powers of the U.N. Security Council met in New York on Wednesday. Britain, France and the United States want the Security Council to include tough consequences if Assad is seen to renege. An initial French draft called for delivering an ultimatum to Assad’s government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal or face punitive measures… Kerry is accompanied by a large retinue of experts in anticipation of detailed talks on how to turn the Russian offer into a concrete plan along the lines of disarmament accords between Washington and Moscow since the days of the Cold War.
Skeptics say it would take years to execute such a plan, and that neutralizing chemical weapons in a war zone could increase the risk to civilians. Putin directly appealed to an American audience in a provoking op-ed for the New York Times, outlining the threats of Western intervention without support of the U.N. Security Council:
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Notably, he reiterated the claim that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the chemical attack on Aug. 21. On Tuesday, Syrian government troops bombed a Damascus suburb for the first time in weeks.
A map of North Korea shows nuclear facilities in the country. REUTERS Graphics.
North Korea reactor reaction. Satellite images showing steam rising from a nuclear complexsuggest North Korea has restarted its Yongbyon reactor, according to an American research institute and a U.S. official:
U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said a satellite image from August 31 shows white steam rising from a building near the hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators. “The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” said the Washington-based institute. The reactor can produce 13.2 pounds of plutonium a year, the institute added.
The IAEA said it did not have a “clear understanding” of the situation, but the U.S. special envoy to North Korea said that if the report is confirmed, “it would be a very serious matter [that] would violate a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” North Korea last tested a nuclear weapon in February, prompting months of increased tension between Pyongyang, Washington, and Seoul.
Friend or foe? This week, Pakistan announced the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban second-in-command who has been held in prison since 2010. Now Pakistan and Afghanistan hope he can broker Afghan peace:
Afghanistan sees Baradar as a sensible and down-to-earth negotiator willing to act as a go-between for the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura. One of the founders of the Taliban movement, Baradar is ethnic Pashtun and belongs to the same powerful Popalzai subtribe as Karzai – a factor that could lend credibility to Karzai’s own peace efforts among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group. Baradar, who is in his 40s, also belongs to the older generation of mujahedeen fighters who are less ideologically extreme compared with a younger, more violent crop of insurgents with closer links to al Qaeda.
Critics fear his stint in prison has decreased his clout among the Taliban leadership. Afghanistan has struggled to maintain order ahead of Western troop withdrawals in 2014, as extremist attacks have intensified over the past months.
Nota Bene: China will protect online whistleblowers, so long as they use an officially-sanctioned website.
Turning point - The Stimson Center’s Mona Yacoubian argues that Russia’s proposal could lead to a Syria settlement. (Reuters)
Coke belly - A woman is arrested in a Colombian airport for carrying cocaine in a fake baby bump. (BBC)
Zombie ship - A wrecked cruise ship could return from the dead. (The Guardian)
Devilish design - Demons decorate Frankfurt’s Central Plaza. (The Atlantic Cities)
Chile’s 9/11 - Chilean President Sebastian Piñera speaks on the 40th anniversary of Chile’s coup. (Time)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 11, 2013
President Obama appeals to Congress to delay vote on military action in Syria, adopted children who survived the online child exchange speak out, and a car bomb explodes in Benghazi. On this Wednesday, we mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attack on the U.S. This is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Obama asks Congress to delay Syria vote, pledges to consider diplomatic options
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the nation about the situation in Syria from the East Room at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Evan Vucci/POOL
Buying time. President Barack Obama vowed to explore diplomatic options in Syria in a televised address on Tuesday night, while still pushing for support for a possible military strike. Now considering a Russian plan for oversight of Syria’s chemical weapons, Obama asked leaders in Congress to put off a vote on whether to authorize use of military force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad:
[Obama] said U.S. Navy ships in the eastern Mediterranean and other forces in the region are in place and ready to respond should diplomacy fail. The Russian initiative gave Obama some breathing space since it has been far from certain whether he would win a vote in Congress on attacking Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack last month that Washington has blamed on Assad’s forces. In a speech of only 16 minutes, Obama gave perhaps the most coherent expression of his Syria policy to date following weeks of muddled messages by his administration as opposition to a U.S. military strike mounted. “If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” said Obama. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them.”
France drafted an initial U.N. Security Council resolution that would give Syria 15 days to declare its chemical weapons program and make all related sites accessible to U.N. inspectors, or face punishment. Russia’s proposal shifted U.S. foreign policy away from considering imminent military intervention and made unlikely partners of Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tension between the two leaders has been high this year, but now Obama needs his Russian counterpart to wield influence in Syria. On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said that Syria is ready to “provid[e] all information about these [chemical] weapons,” in the closest intimation from a high-level official that Syria has chemical weapon stores. The U.N. said on Wednesday that war crimes have been perpetrated by both sides in battles over territory.
Inga Whatcott, adopted from Russia, holds two stuffed dolls she saved from her orphanage in Russia, outside her apartment in Battle Creek, Michigan, in this May 26, 2013. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook
Orphaned repeatedly. Adopted from Russia by American parents in 1997, 12-year-old Inga was unprepared for the years of abuse that would follow as she moved from home to home, passed along to new parents through shady online channels. In the final installation of a Reuters report chronicling the practice of private re-homing – transferring legal guardianship of an adopted child without official oversight – young survivors tell their stories:
Inga spent most of her childhood in a Russian orphanage, longing for parents who would protect her. Her biological mother, a prostitute, had abandoned her when she was a baby. She never knew her father. At the age of 12, her life was about to change. It was 1997, and an American couple was adopting her. “My picture was, I’m gonna have family, I’m gonna go to school, I’m gonna have friends,” Inga says today. Less than a year after bringing Inga home, her new parents, Priscilla and Neal Whatcott, gave up trying to raise her. They say the adoption agency never told them that Inga struggled to read or write, that she suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, that she smoked. The Whatcotts say they tried therapy and support groups. They even reached out to a Russian judge to undo the adoption. When nothing worked, they turned to what Priscilla now calls “the underground network.” In an early example of adoptive parents using the Internet to seek a new home for an unwanted child, Inga was orphaned repeatedly.
People look at the site of an explosion at a Libyan Foreign Ministry building in Benghazi September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
Benghazi struck. An explosion damaged foreign ministry buildings in Benghazi early this morning, one year after an attack on the U.S. embassy killed four American officials:
Local security officials said a car packed with explosives was left beside the ministry building where it detonated at dawn, badly damaging it and several other buildings in the center of Benghazi. There were no reports of casualties. A few hours before the Benghazi explosion, security forces defused a large bomb placed near the foreign ministry headquarters in the eastern Zawyat al Dahmani district of the capital Tripoli, the government said. ”Libyans cannot ignore the timing of this explosion. It’s a clear message by the forces of terror that they do not want the state or the army to stand on its feet,” Prime Minister Ali Zeidan told reporters.
Zeidan did not blame a specific group for the attack, which coincides with the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attack on the U.S.
Nota Bene: Spanish Catalonia pushes for independence with human chain.
Moot vote - Reuters columnist Ian Bremmer argues that Congress’ Syria vote hardly matters. (Reuters)
Hidden hydration - Kenya discovers a huge water source in the arid Turkana region. (BBC)
Pirating privacy - German encryption pirates give the NSA the slip. (The Atlantic)
Hitler dishonored - A town in Germany strips Hitler of his honorary citizenship. (Associated Press)
Crying sabotage - Venezuela’s president blames conspiracies for his country’s problems. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 10, 2013
Russia’s plan for international oversight of Syria’s weapons moves forward, a Reuters report looks at the middlemen in the online exchange of adopted children, and four Indian men are found guilty of murder in gang-rape case. Today is Tuesday, September 10, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
World leaders discuss Russian plan to avoid military strike in Syria
Free Syrian Army fighters take positions as they aim their weapons during what the FSA said were clashes with forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib, September 9, 2013. REUTERS//Muhammad Qadour
Russia throws a wrench in Obama’s Syria plan. Syria accepted a Russian plan for the war-torn country to place its chemical arms under international control, offering an unexpected alternative to military action that President Barack Obama called a possible breakthrough, although he plans to proceed with a vote in Congress to authorize force:
With veto-wielding China also backing it, it would be the rare Syria initiative to unite global powers whose divisions have so far blocked Security Council action. Assad’s main regional backer Iran has also signalled support, as has U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon…. Moscow unveiled its proposal on Monday after Kerry, speaking in London, said the only way to halt strikes would be for Assad to give up his chemical arsenal. The State Department said his remarks were rhetorical and not meant as a serious proposal. But hours later Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for Assad’s government to do just that.
Western leaders seized the opportunity to make a concrete plan based on Russia’s proposal. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country will push for a U.N. resolution setting out terms for destruction of Syria’s chemical arms and warning of “serious consequences” if Syria violates resolution conditions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia is also working on a concrete plan which “stems from contacts we have had with our American colleagues.” Still, some are skeptical of the success of any resolution, fearing it could be a stalling tactic by Assad’s government to fend off U.S. military action. The Syrian government carried out an aerial strike against rebels on Tuesday for the first time since an apparent poison gas attack on August 21, for which Assad again denied responsibility in a Monday interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose. Opposition leaders, who have lobbied for military aid from the U.S. and others, cited today’s strike as a sign that Assad no longer feels international pressure. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appear today before a House hearing to discuss Russia’s proposal and the use of military force against Syria.
Megan Exon stands for a portrait at her home in Hickory, North Carolina, August 12, 2013. REUTERS/John Adkisson
Child brokers. Megan Exon was only trying to help families when she began moderating an online message board where adoptive parents advertised children they no longer wanted to care for. But her experience with a couple, Nicole and Calvin Eason, who had hidden a history of taking and mistreating children, made her reconsider the dangers of unauthorized child exchanges:
Exon would come to regret her role in the re-homing network, a collection of Internet forums where people seeking children can find one quickly. They are able to do so without involving the government and sometimes with the help of middlemen whose activities can be naïve, reckless or illegal, a Reuters investigation has found… Exon grew alarmed on April 5, 2007, when she took a phone call from Lynne Banks, a woman in South Dakota who followed the activity on the online adoption boards. Banks warned of an Illinois couple using the Internet to obtain children. The woman sometimes called herself Big Momma. Her real name was Nicole Eason. In her conversation with Exon, Banks said she believed that Eason and her husband, Calvin, were lying about being approved by the government to take in children. While surfing the Internet, Banks also came to suspect that a man who’d been living with Nicole was possibly a sex offender.
Adoption laws differ from state to state, making it easier for adults to exchange children without oversight and without official vetting of new parents. Click through an extensive Reuters report for more stories about disruptive adoptions, and the middlemen who facilitate the dangerous transactions.
Police escort men (face covered) accused of a gang rape, outside a police station in Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi, August 31, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Indian gang-rapers charged. Four men were convicted of raping and torturing a woman who later died of her injuries, concluding a high-profile case that shed light on sexual violence in the country:
The case has resonated with thousands of urban Indians who took to the streets in fury after the attack. The victim’s path through education onto the first rungs of middle-class life seemed to epitomize the aspirations of millions of young women in a society where many men believe women should stay at home…The verdict capped a seven-month trial, often held behind closed doors, that was punctuated dramatically by a fifth defendant hanging himself in his jail cell. A sixth, who was under 18 at the time of the attack, was earlier sentenced to three years detention, the maximum allowed under juvenile law.
The men face death by hanging, the maximum penalty for murder. The trial judge could decide their sentence as soon as Wednesday.
Nota Bene: Kenya’s deputy president pleads not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity.
Chatty Francis - The Pope is making cold phone calls to strangers. (New York Times)
Nosebleed recess - Chinese authorities close schools after pollution prompts mass nosebleeds. (Global Times)
Beyond poppy - Afghanistan’s cannabis production rises this year. (The Guardian)
Sexy spring - Iran and China see a sexual revolution. (Salon)
Social sentence - In China, 500 retweets could send you to prison. (Quartz)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
US Secretary of State John Kerry holds a news conference with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague on the situation in Syria. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
World Wrap: September 9, 2013
A Reuters report details the dangerous world of trading adopted children, Obama faces uphill battle on Syria strike, and Tokyo’s Olympics triumph sheds light on Fukushima fallout. Today is Monday, September 9, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Inside the black market for adopted children
Adopted child Quita Puchalla, 21, poses outside her apartment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 7, 2013. REUTERS/Jeffrey Phel
Traded online. When Liberan-born Quita’s adoptive parents decided they could no longer care for her, they took to a Yahoo chat room to find new guardians. After two days, a couple responded that they would take Quita, providing little more than a fabricated document as evidence that they were qualified to care for the teenager. Quita’s life in the United States quickly became a nightmare:
Nicole and Calvin Eason, an Illinois couple in their 30s, saw the ad and a picture of the smiling 16-year-old. They were eager to take Quita, even though the ad warned that she had been diagnosed with severe health and behavioral problems. In emails, Nicole Eason assured [adoptive parent] Melissa Puchalla that she could handle the girl. “People that are around me think I am awesome with kids,” Eason wrote…. Had [Melissa Puchalla] vetted them more closely, she might have discovered what Reuters would learn: Child welfare authorities had taken away both of Nicole Eason’s biological children years earlier. After a sheriff’s deputy helped remove the Easons’ second child, a newborn baby boy, the deputy wrote in his report that the “parents have severe psychiatric problems as well with violent tendencies.” The Easons each had been accused by children they were babysitting of sexual abuse, police reports show. They say they did nothing wrong, and neither was charged.
An extensive Reuters report exposes the online black market for adopted children – most of them foreign-born – where guardians can discard adoptees without official oversight and at great risk to the children. A year-long effort including analysis of more than 5,000 posts in a now-defunct Yahoo chat room reveals that a child was advertised for re-homing on an average of once a week. Click through the Reuters special series to learn more about Quita and other victims of the shadowy online child exchange.
A Free Syrian Army fighter sets up homemade rockets to be launched towards forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad based in the Kwers military airport in Aleppo, September 9, 2013. REUTERS/Loubna Mrie
Losing steam on Syria. As Congress returns from its summer recess to discuss Syria, Obama faces an uphill battle to convince lawmakers to agree to military action against Assad:
During the break, their constituents voiced strong objections to the action, worrying that it would drag the country into another costly, and broader, Middle East conflict. Opinion polls show most Americans oppose a strike. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll said 56 percent of Americans believed the United States should not intervene in Syria; 19 percent backed action. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, led the administration’s lobbying effort on Sunday, part of an intensive push for support that will continue on Monday when Obama sits for six network television interviews and culminate with an address to the country on Tuesday night.
Members of Congress could make a decision on the strike as soon as Wednesday, around the same time U.N. chemical weapons investigators are expected to turn over their report on the attack. In an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied responsibility for last month’s apparent chemical attack that, according to the U.S., killed more than 1,400 people. CBS and PBS will air the interview tonight.
An aerial view shows people sitting in formation to the words “thank you” and displaying signs that collectively read “arigato” (thank uou) during an event celebrating Tokyo being chosen to host the 2020 Olympic Games, at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in this photo taken by Kyodo, September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo
Tokyo’s a go. The International Olympic Committee picked Tokyo to host the Olympic Games in 2020, paving the way for an economic boost to the country while highlighting its worst nuclear disaster in decades:
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bold gamble to throw himself into the Tokyo bid paid off handsomely, his claims to have the problems of the crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor under control ran into fresh resistance… “I would like to state clearly that there has not been, is not now and will not be any health problems whatsoever,” Abe told a news conference. “Furthermore, the government has already decided a program to make sure there is absolutely no problem, and we have already started.” Tokyo pledged last week to spend nearly half a billion dollars on cleaning up the plant, with critics saying the announcement was aimed at the Olympic vote. But a poll by the Asahi newspaper over the weekend found that 72 percent of the respondents thought the government’s response was too late, while 95 percent thought Fukushima was a serious problem.
Some hope that the national attention will force Japan to deal with the nuclear fallout from Fukushima. Madrid was first contender to be eliminated from the race, and Istanbul lost by a large margin in a head-to-head vote.
Nota Bene: Opposition leader Navalny accuses the Kremlin of rigging Moscow’s mayoral race.
Benefit breakdown - Reuters editor Hugo Dixon argues that the EU should change its welfare policy. (Reuters)
Visa diet - South African man facing deportation for being too fat gets a 23-month reprieve. (BBC)
Join jaunt - Jamaica now offers marijuana farm tours. (Associated Press)
Iran intricacies - Tehran’s new government debates what to do about Syria. (Time)
Presidential precedent - Pakistan’s president is the first to complete a full term in office. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 4, 2013
Key lawmakers back Obama’s call for action in Syria, troubled cities vie to host 2020 Olympics, and dissident’s mayor race rattles Moscow. Today is Wednesday, September 4, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Obama secures Congressional leadership support for Syria
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin E. Dempsey (L), John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State (C), and Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, present the administration’s case for U.S. military action against Syria to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
No boots on the ground. Republican and Democratic leaders lent support to President Obama’s call for a limited military strike on Syria Tuesday, agreeing on a draft resolution that rules out the deployment of American troops and sets a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with a possibility of one 30-day extension:
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both pledged their support for military action after the meeting. Votes are expected to be held in the Senate and House next week, with the Republican-led House presenting the tougher challenge for Obama. The House leadership has indicated the votes will be “conscience votes,” meaning they will not seek to influence members’ votes on party lines. All the same, it would have been a blow to Obama if he had not secured the backing of the top two Republicans.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he wouldn’t take the option of ground troops off the table, but quickly walked back the statement when pressed by Republican Senator Bob Corker, saying he was merely “thinking out loud.” Members of Congress appear to be divided based on experience rather than party affiliation, with veteran lawmakers siding with Obama and newcomers taking a stance against intervention. Russia said it sent a warship to the eastern Mediterranean, however President Putin showed a sliver of willingness to compromise by saying he has not ruled out involvement in a strike if given more proof the regime carried out a chemical attack. Tensions between Moscow and Washington have been especially strained this year, due in part to Russia granting asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Putin’s unwavering support for the Syrian government. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that U.S. action against Syria without support from the U.N. could be illegal. He added that samples collected by the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors are expected to reach European labs on Wednesday.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures as he speaks during Tokyo 2020 kick-off rally in Tokyo, August 23, 2013. REUTERS/Yuya Shino
Let the games begin. On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee will decide whether Madrid, Istanbul, or Tokyo gets to host the 2020 Olympics. Each of the candidates, however, has issues that could hamper its chances. Spain continues to suffer from the country’s economic crisis, and faces opposition from its citizens:
Struggling Spanish taxpayers, and particularly residents of the capital, must be persuaded that the long-term benefits of hosting the Olympics outweigh the economic cost. At the same time, IOC members must be convinced that a Madrid Olympics will be a resounding success — something like the Barcelona Games in 1992 — despite the drive to keep a lid on spending.
Meanwhile, instability in the region stemming from the conflict in Syria could pose a safety risk in Istanbul:
The possibility of a U.S. military strike against the Syrian government has prompted questions about whether Istanbul could be a risky choice… Istanbul is vying to be the first Muslim country to stage the Olympics and Arat said the Games would be a boon for the Middle East.
The leader of Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympics has written to IOC members, trying to reassure them that the city is “completely unaffected” by the leak of radiation-contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Tsunekazu Takeda says in the letter that life is “completely normal and safe” in Tokyo and the city’s air and water are not affected by the leak from the crippled plant.
On Wednesday, radiation readings hit record levels near crippled tanks at Fukushima.
Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny (L) addresses his supporters after arriving from Kirov, with his wife Yulia standing nearby, at a railway station in Moscow, July 20, 2013. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
Navalny needles Moscow. Anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is standing his ground against Kremlin candidate Sergei Sobyanin in Moscow’s mayoral race, shaking up a historically staid campaign up ahead of the weekend election:
Navalny’s campaign, based on working crowds, mobilizing thousands of volunteers and pressing the flesh, is still a novelty in Russia more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The stakes in Sunday’s election are high – both for the opposition, which is struggling to revive the momentum of its challenge to Putin, and for the Kremlin. After a trial that he and his supporters say was politically motivated, Navalny was convicted in July of stealing timber from a state firm and sentenced to five years in prison. In a highly unusual ruling, a judge released him on bail the following day. Many political observers say the Kremlin wanted Navalny to run in Moscow because it expected him to be humiliated, and believed this would remove him as a political threat.
Navalny’s ambitions were nearly quashed earlier this summer, when he faced jail time and possible expulsion from Russia’s political sphere.
Nota Bene: A top Palestinian aide says peace talks with Israel are going nowhere.
Wishful thinking - Reuters columnist David Rohde discusses the fallacy of a quick-fix for Syria. (Reuters)
Party in Pyongyang - A night out in North Korea features artisanal beer. (The Atlantic)
Soil reveals - Richard III suffered from a roundworm infection. (BBC)
Putin points - Ten interesting things Putin said during his interview with the AP. (Associated Press)
Moscow Shield - An isolationist Russian youth group targets illegal immigrants. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 3, 2013
Obama tries to convince Congress to strike Syria, Japan makes conveniently-timed pledge, and Chinese land grabs turn ugly. Today is Tuesday, September 3, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Obama lobbies lawmakers for Syria strike
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with bipartisan Congressional leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington to discuss a military response to Syria, September 3, 2013. From L-R are: National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. Vice President Joseph Biden is in the foreground. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Reputation roulette. After announcing on Saturday that he will seek congressional approval to strike Syria, President Obama is trying to convince lawmakers to agree to military action. A failed vote may further damage the United States’ credibility in the Middle East:
Obama’s abrupt decision on Saturday to halt plans to punish Assad for using poison gas and instead wait for congressional approval momentarily united a fractious region in astonishment. Reflecting a widespread view voiced in interviews by Reuters across the region, Algeria’s El Watan newspaper said Assad’s foes seemed riven with doubt in their confrontation with the embattled Syrian leader, fearing intervention would be a “flop”…. Used to the uncompromising approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who proclaimed “You are either with us or you are with the terrorists” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks of 2001 and went on to invade Iraq in 2003, many Arabs tend to see Obama’s apparent distaste for war as unusual, even exceptional.
In his appeal, Obama will target Democrats - some of whom see his draft resolution as too broad to preclude the possibility of a long military engagement in Syria - and “Tea Party” Republicans, who oppose more involvement in the Middle East. According to the New York Times, divisions in the GOP between non-interventions and military hawks could lead to clashes. Although Britain withdrew its support after the UK parliament voted against authorizing strikes, France has said it would support military action. A French intelligence report released Monday suggested the Syrian government was behind the Aug. 21 chemical attack, prompting Syrian President Bashar al-Assadto threaten retaliatory action against Paris. Obama will head to Russia on Thursday for the annual G20 meeting, where he will meet with human rights groups instead of Putin. Today marked another grim landmark in Syria’s conflict, as the U.N. announced two million refugees have fled Syria since the conflict began. Nearly one-third of the population has left their homes – the highest number of displaced people in the world.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka (L) is seen in front of a screen showing the current situation of the contaminated water leakage in Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Fixing Fukushima. The Japanese government announced a $500 million commitment to contain radioactive leaks and decontaminate water coming from the Fukushima nuclear plant:
The government intervention represents only a tiny slice of the response to the Fukushima crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which caused reactor meltdowns at the plant. The clean-up, including decommissioning the ruined reactors, will take decades and rely on unproven technology. The measures do not address the full problem of water management at the plant or the bigger issue of decommissioning. The sensitive job of removing spent fuel rods is to start in the coming months. The ultimate fate of the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), also remains unclear, as does the question of who will eventually foot the bill – Japanese taxpayers, or the embattled Tepco.
The announcement of funding to stem the effects of the worst nuclear meltdown in 25 years comes days before the International Olympic Committee’s decision on whether Tokyo will host the 2020 Games.
Xu Haifeng poses at a construction site area where her house stood in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, August 20, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Government grab. In Wuxi, China, complaining about government land grabs leads to beatings, kidnappings, and threats:
Family members have been kidnapped at least 18 times, typically having black bags thrust over their heads before being taken to a hotel-turned-illegal jail in the eastern city of Wuxi and locked for weeks in a tiny, windowless room. Xu’s story is shocking even in a country that has become used to tales of arbitrary and sometimes violent land expropriations. It illustrates how the stresses from the deep indebtedness of China’s local governments extend beyond banks into the lives of ordinary Chinese, as hard-up authorities resort to any means they can in a desperate scramble for funds.
Aggressive land seizures are a major source of social tension in China, where economic pressure has led to desperate measures to spur urbanization. The practice contributes to tens of thousands of protests across the country every year.
Nota Bene: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman returns to North Korea on his own mission.
Common ground - The Kennan Institute’s William E. Pomeranz says Obama and Putin can agree on something. (Reuters)
“Uhh, dad, I’m gay” - Unilever pulls a homophobic ad in South Africa. (BBC)
Toxic tanneries - Bangladesh’s booming leather industry hurts workers and the environment. (Time)
Hooking up Africa - Entrepreneurs tackle Africa’s connectivity problem. (Al Jazeera)
Class experiment - Chinese educators veer away from the memorization model. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.