World Wrap: October 9, 2013
Riyadh upset with Washington’s moves in the Middle East, Mursi’s trial set for November, and businessmen stay away from dangerous investments in Russia. Today is Wednesday, October 9, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Saudi Arabia simmers over U.S.-Iran communication
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) has coffee with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Abdulrahman upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool
Keep your friends close. Washington’s overtures to Tehran could shake the U.S.’s longstanding friendship with Saudi Arabia, which adds the recent direct communications between President Obama and his Iranian counterpart to a long list of grievances against its Western ally:
Engaged in what they see as a life-and-death struggle for the future of the Middle East with arch-rival Iran, Saudi rulers are furious that the international body has taken no action over Syria, where they and Tehran back opposing sides… The alliance between the United States, the biggest economy and most powerful democracy, and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic monarchy that dominates oil supplies, is not about to break. But, as happened 40 years ago next week when an OPEC oil embargo punished U.S. war support for Israel, Riyadh is willing – albeit without touching energy supplies – to defy Washington in defense of its regional interests.
On Monday, King Abdullah denounced the Muslim brotherhood in a rare TV appearance, indirectly criticizing the U.S. for not protecting then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak against the mass 2011 protests which led to his ouster. Saudi Arabia is primarily concerned with Shi’ite Muslim clerics who call for revolution in Iran and, they believe, contribute to anti-Sunni sentiment in the region at large. Iran has rejected any U.S. condition for participating in the Syria peace conference, effectively refusing to consider cease support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Iran will discuss its disputed nuclear program with world leaders next week, a meeting one former nuclear negotiator said should be used as an opportunity to build confidence between respective leaders.
University students and members of the Muslim Brotherhood shout slogans against the military in front of Cairo University in Cairo, October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Brotherhood trial set. An Egyptian court set a November 4 date for deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi’s trial. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders were charged with inciting violence during a protest that left dozens dead last December:
Mursi has been held in a secret location since his overthrow in early July. If he is brought before the court, it will be his first appearance in public since then. The trial could further inflame tensions between the Islamist movement and the army-backed government and deepen the political instability that has decimated tourism and investment in the most populous Arab state. Judge Nabil Saleeb said Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood members had been charged with “inciting the killing and torture of protesters in front of the Etihadeya (presidential) palace.”
A U.S. official said Washington will likely stick to an earlier decision to withhold most military aidfrom Egypt, as it walks the line between supporting the democratic process that led to Mursi’s election and maintaining ties with Egypt’s powerful army.
Private security officers guard the Georgian restaurant Khachapuri in Moscow, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Risky business. Men in hoods and balaclavas chased staff out of a restaurant with metal rods, beat employees, and smash furniture in a Moscow raid that exemplifies why investors are discouraged from Russia’s business landscape, where property laws offer little protection and corruption is pervasive:
Putin made improving Russia’s investment climate a priority when he returned to the Kremlin last year for a third term. He has since pushed through an amnesty on some economic crimes that has seen hundreds of entrepreneurs released from jail. Critics say the changes are cosmetic and that the weak rule of law and collusion between corrupt law enforcement and justice officials still mean that victims of corporate raids lack adequate recourse to defend their rights. Several small and medium-sized businesses in Moscow polled by Reuters for this article described an insecure environment with movable laws, weak enforcement and the threat of being targeted by government or law enforcement officials on the make.
One foreign businessman said he felt his interests were safe after seeking protection from local, well-connected investors, and one restaurant owner said, “You are protected as long as your property is not of any interest to the people in power.”
Nota Bene: Isolated Hamas struggles to meet its payroll in Gaza strip.
Not the worst - The U.S. debt disaster is still better than Japan’s. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Donut-muffin wars - An English bakery is disputing Starbucks’ proprietary claim to the “duffin.” (The Atlantic Cities)
Maduro-man - Maduro asks parliament for special powers to fight corruption. (BBC)
E-OK - The European Parliament rejects strict restrictions on e-cigarettes. (New York Times)
Virtual kidnap - Spanish band told by phone they could be shot at any time. (The Guardian)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 7, 2013
Rival Libyan factions try for independence, bloodshed continues after weekend violence in Egypt, and Syria wins praise for starting disarmament process. Today is Monday, October 7, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Libyan factions far from secession as U.S. raid highlights unrest
Ali Zeidan, Prime Minister of Libya, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Libyan oil battles. Two years after the end of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year regime, Libya is divided into rival factions striving towards independence and vying for oil:
The main city Benghazi has already set up its own council demanding to run local affairs, and called for state oil company NOC to return to an area that was once Libya’s economic heartland. “The government and congress exploit Libya’s wealth and use it to serve their agendas,” said Ibrahim al-Jathran, the former head of an oil protection security unit who defected and seized eastern ports as a self-styled federalist chieftain. Yet as chaotic as Libya appears, it is far from partition or from taking the path of Iraq, where federalism splits oil revenue between Baghdad’s Arab-led government and a Kurdish enclave that runs its own administration and armed forces. Rather than a widespread popular movement, Libya’s autonomy protests have grown out of Tripoli’s lack of control, tribal loyalties and a series of unresolved local grievances over security, corruption and poor services that have festered since the 2011 revolution.
Analysts say that declarations of independence by various federalist groups lack the necessary support on the ground to make a political difference. It would be difficult for independent groups to trade oil without Tripoli’s consent, as the government has threatened to destroy unauthorized international shipments. Still, the unrest could make it easier for Islamist operatives to take hold in the region. Over the weekend, U.S. forces captured an al Qaeda leader wanted for the 1998 bombing of an American embassy in Nairobi, prompting an angry response from Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan:
The capture of Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, also provoked a complaint about the “kidnap” from the Western-backed Libyan prime minister, who faces a backlash from armed Islamists who have carved out a share of power since the West helped Libyan rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi two years ago… “This won’t just pass,” [Abdul Bassit Haroun, a former Islamist militia commander who works with the Libyan government. Islamist militants] said. “There will be a strong reaction in order to take revenge because this is one of the most important al Qaeda figures.”
The U.S. also attempted to capture a wanted militant in Somalia on Saturday but was unsuccessful.
A riot police officer fires tear gas during clashes between anti-Mursi protesters, and members of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi supporters, along a road at Ramsis square, which leads to Tahrir Square, at a celebration marking Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, in Cairo, October 6, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Cairo clash resurgence. Suspected militants killed six Egyptian soldiers and fired a grenade at a satellite station in Cairo, following one of Egypt’s deadliest weekends since former president Mohamed Mursi was deposed by the military in July:
Dozens of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed on Sunday in clashes with his opponents and security forces. The death toll from the violence across the country rose to 53, state media said, with 271 people wounded in one of the bloodiest days since the military deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July. Further confrontations may shake Egypt this week, with Mursi’s supporters calling protests for Tuesday and Friday. They are likely to be angered by the publication of an interview with Egypt’s army chief on Monday in which he said he told Mursi as long ago as February he had failed as president.
Egypt’s military has cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood leaders since breaking up pro-Mursi protest camps in an August 14 attack that left hundreds dead. The political unrest has led Islamists in the turbulent Sinai region to increase attacks, killing more than 100 Egyptian security officers since July.
A Free Syrian Army fighter helps a civilian carry his belongings in Deir al-Zor October 6, 2013.
Assad acclaimed. International leaders praised Syria for starting to destroy its chemical weaponsover the weekend, in compliance with a U.N. resolution demanding chemical disarmament passed last week:
An official from the international mission overseeing the stock pile’s elimination said Damascus had made an excellent start, and the United States acknowledged its rapid compliance with a U.N. resolution on destroying chemical weapons as extremely significant… U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday’s work was a good beginning and offered rare praise for Assad, a leader Washington insists lost legitimacy when he responded with force to protests against his rule which erupted in March 2011… “I think it’s also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly, as they are supposed to,” [Kerry] said. “I’m not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road, but it’s a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning.”
Opposition activist Susan Ahmad argues the disarmament program is a step backwards, saying “It is all about giving Assad more time to kill more people. And here he is, using Scud (missiles) and recruiting fighters.” The U.N. expects 4 million more Syrians to flee their homes or country in 2014.
Nota Bene: Suspected Islamist fighters attack a northern Mali city in the first strike on the former rebel stronghold in months.
Global gastronomy - A chart shows the diets of different nations. (The Atlantic Cities)
Romancing rays - Manta rays won’t mate in the Maldives’ nutrient-low waters. (The Guardian)
Presidential flame - Putin launches torch relay for Sochi Olympics. (BBC)
Cloud crackdown - Europe Union wants to regulate the Cloud. (New York Times)
Ski rush - North Korea rushes to finish luxury ski resort. (Associated Press)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
It was the second large-scale attack in Kabul claimed by the hardline Islamist group in two days. On Monday, seven insurgents, including suicide bombers, laid siege to Kabul’s main airport for four hours before they were killed.
Tuesday’s bomb struck three minibuses taking Supreme Court staff home. A Reuters witness described seeing a damaged minibus leaning against some trees about 30 meters from the point of the explosion. The witness later saw police carry two bodies from the same area. The Supreme Court is less than 500 meters from the entrance to the heavily fortified U.S. embassy.
Earlier this week, the Taliban beheaded two boys in southern Afghanistan. The cruel murders of the young boys, ages 10 and 16, was claimed to be a “warning” to locals not to cooperate with the government.
In this photo, a victim is seen among damaged vehicles at the site of the explosion in Kabul on June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
It was a harrowing international debut for Chuck Hagel, whose first trip to Afghanistan as U.S. defense secretary went dramatically off-script and challenged the American narrative about the 11-year-old war.
His first full day in Afghanistan began with the sound of suicide bomb attack about a kilometer away from his morning meetings at a NATO facility. But the real damage came the next day when Washington’s mercurial ally in the war, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, accused the United States of colluding with the Taliban hours before the two met.
Put in an awkward position, Hagel appeared cautious and at pains to avoid sharply criticizing the Afghan leader, even as he firmly disputed Karzai’s assertions. Having weathered a brutal confirmation battle last month, the former two-term Republican senator at one point even appeared to commiserate with Karzai.
"I was once a politician," Hagel, 66, told reporters traveling with him. "So I can understand the kind of pressures - especially leaders of countries - are always under."
NATO officials are strongly considering a proposal to keep Afghan forces at their peak strength of 352,000 until at least 2018, as opposed to current plans to cut the force by a third after 2015, alliance officials said on Thursday.
Backers say the proposal, disclosed to a small group of reporters during NATO talks in Brussels, would send a crucial signal of enduring support for Afghanistan and bolster Afghan confidence after the United States and its allies declare their long, unpopular war in the country over at the end of 2014.
But it could also cost allies billions of dollars more at a time when budget pressures are already squeezing defense spending and forcing Western nations to make tough choices about military priorities.
Pakistan plans to build a $30 million amusement park and outdoor activity center on the edge of the northwestern town of Abbottabad, where U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden, an official said on Monday.
The private venture in the foothills of the Himalayas will include a zoo, water sports, a mini-golf course, rock climbing and paragliding, said Jamaluddin Khan, the deputy provincial minister for tourism.
"The project will take five years to complete," he told Reuters.
U.S. Navy SEALs killed the al Qaeda leader in 2011 in a secret raid that humiliated Pakistan’s military - which has an academy nearby - and heavily strained ties between strategic allies Washington and Islamabad.
Iran said on Monday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.
The Defense Ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a standoff with the West over Tehran’s contested nuclear program before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.
Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly and the powers fear Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.
The Islamic Republic denies seeking weapons capability and says it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its considerable oil wealth.
More than 100 people were shot, stabbed or possibly burned to death by government forces in the Syrian city of Homs, a monitoring group said on Thursday, and fierce fighting raged across the country.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said women and children were among the 106 people killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad forces who stormed Basatin al-Hasawiya, a poor district on the edge of Homs, on Tuesday.
The massacre in the central city came the same day twin explosions killed over 80 people at Aleppo’s university in the north, according to the group.
Reuters cannot independently confirm reports due to reporting restrictions in Syria.
Two explosions tore through one of Syria’s biggest universities on the first day of student exams on Tuesday, killing at least 52 people and wounding dozens, a monitoring group said.
Bloodshed has disrupted civilian life across Syria since a violent government crackdown in early 2011 on peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform turned the unrest into an armed insurgency bent on overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad.
More than 50 countries asked the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes. But Russia - Assad’s long-standing ally and arms supplier - blocked the initiative, calling it “ill-timed and counterproductive.