World Wrap: November 14, 2013
Moscow fears return of militants from Syria, Bangladeshi workers get a raise but protests go on, and Philippines president blasted over typhoon reaction. Today is Thursday, November 14, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Russian militants fight in Syria, raise fears back home
Local resident Dzhabrail Magomedov, who studied at a religious school in Damascus, looks on in Novosasitli village in the Dagestan region, September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji
Militants’ return. Russian officials fear that locally-born Islamist militants, fighting in Syria alongside rebel troops, may return home to join a violent movement for an independent Islamic state. Deadly clashes between militants and law enforcement are a near-daily occurrence in the North Caucasus region, where some residents abide by Sharia law. Moscow reports that hundreds of Russians are now fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Russian ally. Some Russian militants who joined troops in Syria fought for Chechen independence in the 1990s, repurposing their training for a new battle:
Since Putin rose to power 13 years ago and crushed a Chechen separatist revolt, he has said he would not allow the Caucasus provinces to split from Russia. But the nationalist cause that inspired Chechens to revolt after collapse of the Soviet Union has mutated into an Islamic one that spread to nearby Caucasus mountain lands. Defeated in Chechnya, rebels now launch near-daily attacks in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. Today, the ranks of fighters are filled by youths disillusioned by police brutality, joblessness, corruption and the perceived persecution of religious conservatives.
Russia will host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, and has renewed anti-terrorism lawsin preparation for the event. This summer, insurgent leader Doku Umarov called for “maximum force” during the Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed plans for a stalled peace conference and the country’s chemical weapons disarmament process with Assad. The opposition has insisted Assad’s removal be a prerequisite for peace negotiations.
A view of a cemetery, where people including militants killed by security forces are buried, on the suburbs of Makhachkala, October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji
Wage war. Bangladeshi garment workers protested on Thursday, saying the 77 percent minimum raise proposed by their employers was not enough. The hike would increase the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $68, a figure that would keep Bangladesh’s minimum wage the lowest in the world.
A policeman loads his gun during a clash with garment factory workers in Ashulia, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj
Violent protests have shuttered more than 100 clothing factories this week. Bangladesh’s lucrative garment industry was put under an international spotlight following the death of 1,130 people, mostly women, killed in the April collapse of a building housing several garment factories.
Aquino under fire. Philippines President Benigno Aquino faces criticism over his response to – and preparation for – the typhoon that devastated his country over the weekend, as foreign aircraft begin to deliver aid and ravaged towns start to bury their dead.
Remnants of a wall that was once part of a building of the Philippine Air Force is seen damaged in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan at the Tacloban airport, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
Aquino said casualties were avoided by evacuations, but victims report they did not receive sufficient warning of the tsunami-like wall of water. Philippines officiasl report 2,357 confirmed deaths, but aid workers expect the number of casualties to rise. According to the United Nations, 544,600 people were displaced by the storm and nearly 12 percent of the population was affected. Click through for an interactive chart showing the damage, and information on how to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
Nota Bene: Disgraced German ex-president Christian Wulff stands trial for corruption.
Duke of Conehead - Glasgow saves a beloved statue. (The Atlantic Cities)
Book city - Krakow earns its literary accolades. (The Guardian)
Rock record - Pink Star diamond sets the record for most expensive gem. (BBC)
Prayer pair - Jews and Muslims may share Israel’s al-Aqsa Mosque. (Al Jazeera)
Oh, Canada - Canadians are not interested in a merger with the U.S. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: November 7, 2013
Xi’s inability to close labor camps indicates limits to his political clout, Russia scales back its economic growth prediction, and world powers meet with Iran to discuss its nuclear program. Today is Thursday, November 7, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Xi Jinping’s power cuts
China’s President Xi Jinping lets Jordan’s King Abdullah (not pictured) leave first after a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Feng Li/Pool
Failure to launch. Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected to usher in reforms when he took office last year, has so far failed to shutter China’s labor camps in an indication of weakness:
Despite holding the three top posts in the country – president, party chief and head of the military – [Xi] is not as strong as he seems, said at least half a dozen sources in the party and government. His two immediate predecessors as president, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, wield considerable clout through allies and protégés they promoted, as do powerful factions within the Communist Party. Xi must keep the two former presidents on his side, but this means an erosion of his power… despite being obstructed on major political and social change, Xi has implemented considerable economic reform in recent months – on interest rate policy, the banking system and converting Shanghai into a free trade zone – in the face of opposition from powerful ministries and state banks, two of the sources said. However, failure to address some of the political and social ills in China – including regional tensions, the rich-poor gap, corruption and degradation of the environment – could affect stability.
Last week, a car drove into a crowd and burst into flames in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five including three in the vehicle. China blamed the attack on members of the Xinjiang region’s Muslim minority, calling it part of a holy war against the country. Many Uighur Muslims are upset by official controls on their culture and religion, despite official claims that the group is not oppressed by Chinese policy. Chinese citizens also struggle with housing prices which continue to rise despite a four-year government effort to stabilize rates – perhaps because local governments rely on revenue from property sales for income. Xi has continued cracking down on corruption, currentlytargeting a top executive in the shipping industry, following the high-profile sentencing of ousted politician Bo Xilai. The fate of Xi’s plans for reform plans will likely be determined during the Communist party’s Central Committee’s third plenum meeting from November 9 to 12, when Chinese leaders determine their term agendas. Below, Chinese officials target corruption.
Men look at a screen displaying a picture of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai standing trial on the website of a court’s microblog, in Jinan, Shandong province, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song
Yang Dacai, a former provincial official, listens to a verdict at a court in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Putin backtrack. Russia lowered its growth expectations on Thursday, admitting in public for the first time that its economy would trail behind global growth over the next twenty years. According to Russia’s Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, Russia’s economy will grow 2.5 percent on average in that time period, compared to 5.2 percent average growth in Brazil, China, India, and South Africa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on before an award ceremony to mark National Unity Day at the Kremlin in Moscow, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
The revision could cost Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has promised to make Russia one of the top five economies by 2020, credibility and power in the future. In an effort to increase patriotism among young people, Putin today asked parliament to pass a law to increase displays of Russia’s flag.
Nuclear negotiations. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with representatives of six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain – in Geneva to discuss his country’s contentious nuclear program, calling the negotiations “tough,” but adding that “the talks went well.” He added, “I’m hopeful that we can move forward.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) leaves with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a photo opportunity before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
The leaders seek a “first step” towards a solution over the nuclear dispute. Western powers fear that Iran is developing nuclear capabilities but Iran maintains it is using its nuclear program for energy and science alone. Reuters learned that Iran has offered to ship crude oil to India for free, in a sign that Western sanctions on Iran have taken a toll. Talks continue through tomorrow.
Murderers into martyrs - Reuters columnist David Rohde argues that covert drone strikes are counterproductive. (Reuters)
Femme retail - Voluptuous Venezuelan mannequins reflect plastic surgery trend. (New York Times)
Meteoric warning - Fireball that exploded over Russian city could be a sign of greater risk from meteors. (Associated Press)
Christmas cuts - Spain has cut holiday spending by over 40 percent over the past five years. (Quartz)
Biker ban - Liberia forces hundreds to walk to work with motorcycle taxi ban. (BBC)
Full-time students - French children might have to start going to school on Wednesdays. (Los Angeles Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 31, 2013
Syria meets its first disarmament deadline, Putin cracks down on Salafists ahead of Winter Olympics, and Maduro mulls Venezuela’s motorcycle problem. Today is spooky Thursday, October 31, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Syria destroys chemical weapons facilities on schedule
Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, the newly appointed Special Coordinator of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations speaks to the media after meeting Syrian officials in Damascus, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri
Disarmament deadline met. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports that Syria has destroyed or made inoperable all facilities used to mix and produce chemical arms, meeting a November 1 deadline that is part of Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament agreement:
The next deadline is November 15, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions. Under a Russian-American brokered deal, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. It was the world’s deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein’s forces used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago. “This was a major milestone in the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program,” Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical weapons disarmament specialist, said.
The inspections team investigated 21 of 23 sites, skipping two that were too dangerous to check, but noting that the weapons there had been moved to sites that they were able to visit. Under the agreement, Syria must destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014. Diplomatic sources reported that long-delayed peace talks to discuss a solution to Syria’s civil war are likely to be stalled again. The talks, initially proposed in May, were to be held in Geneva on November 23 but now could take place up to a month later. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is subject to sanctions by the United States, but is able to reach global markets and get access to food, arms and oil via Russian banks. The Kremlin has remained Assad’s ally, and clashes between Russian and Western leaders over Assad’s future in Syria have contributed to delaying the peace conference. Below, OPCW inspectors train in Germany:
Inspectors of the OPCW look after mock victims after an explosion during a training scenario at the United Nations training center at the German Bundeswehr barracks in Wildflecken, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Sochi safety crackdown. Russian officials are clamping down on an Islamist insurgency in Dagestan ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February, moving away from previous attempts at dialogue with Salafist Muslims.
Abdurakhim Magomedov, a Salafi preacher who ran a woman’s madrassa, speaks during an interview inside his house in Novosasitli village in the Dagestan region, September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji
According to locals in the North Caucasus, Russian officials have been taking saliva samples from conservative Muslim women to be able to identify their body parts in a suicide attack. An October 21 suicide bombing that killed six people in a major city north of Sochi was blamed on a Dagestan woman, and an October 25 ruling by parliament increases punishment for militant attacks by holding the attacker’s relatives responsible for paying damages. The Kremlin dismissed Dagestan’s leader in January, and has since walked back his flexible religious policies which allowed Salafi leaders to open religious schools and set up rehabilitation programs for rebels. Some fear the crackdown may backfire by prompting an increase in violent attacks.
Maduro’s Motorizado problem. Hordes of Venezuelan motorcyclists, called “motorizados,” are credited with providing quick, cheap transport in gridlocked roads and blamed for increasing violent incidents and road accidents in the country, presenting a problem for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Motorcycle taxi drivers wait for customers in Caracas, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva.
The government plans to meet with motorizado groups in order to agree on basic road rules and to propose laws that could ban late-night driving, block motorcycles from freeways and implement parking restrictions. The number of motorcycles in Venezuela increased sharply over the last 10 years thanks to Chavez-era deals with China.
Nota bene: U.S. spy chiefs defend surveillance by saying Europeans were complicit.
Happiness branch - Venezuela establishes a Vice-Ministry for Supreme Social Happiness of the People. (Foreign Policy)
Move over, Obama - Forbes names Putin the most powerful man of 2013. (Forbes)
Booze brink - We are facing a global wine shortage. (BBC)
Poverty pull - Tourists flock to Brazil’s slums. (Newsweek)
Back to the future - Germany’s bike of the future looks kind of old school. (The Atlantic Cities)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 16, 2013
Rescuers in the Philippines continue search for survivors of Tuesday’s earthquake, China sends riot police to stop flood victims from protesting, and Russian opposition leader Navalny’s sentence is suspended. Today is Wednesday, October 16, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Search continues for Philippines earthquake victims
Vendors and shoppers run to safety after an earthquake hit Mandaue town in Cebu City, central Philippines, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Philippines death toll rises. Rescue workers search through the remains of buildings destroyed by the 7.2 earthquake that killed at least 144 people and injured 300 when it hit the Philippines yesterday. Roughly 3 million people were affected by the disaster, which damaged roads, bridges, and ancient churches in the Bohol and Cebu islands, and has caused more than 840 aftershocks. Officials fear more bad news:
“I think this is a growing number,” Loon mayor Lloyd Lopez told Philippine radio. “Yesterday, we had a partial communications block-out.” “We have not reached all barangays, many are cut off, the roads are blocked by big boulders,” Lopez said, referring to villages. Mobile phone links from the country’s main provider had been restored but a rival provider still had to fix some of its damaged equipment, a state telecommunications official said. Many of the millions hit by the quake spent the night outdoors, including patients at some hospitals, because of aftershocks.
The government declared a state of calamity in Bohol and Cebu, triggering a price freeze in the areas. Philippine President Benigno Aquino said anyone attempting to profit off the tragedy will be penalized. View images of the aftermath here. A separate disaster rocked Japan today in the form of Typhoon Wipha, which killed 17 people but largely avoided the capital and problematic Fukushima nuclear plant:
More than 50 people were missing after the “once in a decade” Typhoon Wipha roared up Japan’s east coast. About 20,000 people were told to leave their homes because of the danger of flooding and hundreds of flights were canceled…. Television footage showed roads clogged with wreckage and houses with gaping holes smashed into them. “I heard a crackling sound and then the trees on the hillside all fell over,” a woman on Izu Oshima told NHK television.
Typhoon Wipha was the strongest storm to hit the area since October 2004, when a cyclone killed nearly 100 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.
A man paddles a raft amidst a flooded street as residents are seen atop a partially submerged building in Yuyao, Zhejiang province, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily
Protest police. Chinese authorities send riot police to Yuyao city to prevent a second day of anti-government protests which pitted thousands of flood victims against security forces:
On Tuesday, residents of Yuyao city massed in front of the local government headquarters, denouncing what they decried as inadequate relief efforts and demanding the local Communist Party secretary and mayor step down. Accounts on microblogs, supported by photographs posted on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, said they vandalized the government building, using metal tools to pry loose and remove the party slogan “Serve the people” mounted at the entrance. Photographs showed several residents bleeding from the head.
According to state media, more than 70 percent of Yuyao was flooded by the heaviest rainfalls in a century after typhoon Fitow hit eastern China. Senior party official for Zhejiang province Cai Qi used social media to praise the government reaction to the tragedy, saying “the leaders and cadres of all levels in Yuyao city have done everything possible for the typhoon relief efforts.” Citizen may fear disputing an official’s stance, especially following a September ruling that said bloggers could be prosecuted for disseminating rumors.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (2nd R), his co-defendant Pyotr Ofitserov (L) and their lawyers react after the announcement of the verdict at a court building in Kirov, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Navalny walks. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is freed from court after his five-year sentence for theft was suspended, but with a significant caveat:
The conviction, however, will prevent Alexei Navalny, borne to prominence nearly two years ago by the biggest protests of Putin’s 13-year rule, from seeking elected office for several years. He said he would appeal. “It’s clear for me that the authorities are trying by all means to hound me out of politics, coming up with some restrictions and fabricated cases,” Navalny, 37, said after embracing his wife following a tense three-hour hearing. “One thing is for sure, they will not succeed in pushing me and my allies out of political life,” said Navalny, who posted a strong second-place showing against a Putin ally in a Moscow mayoral election last month.
The Kremlin denied involvement in the court’s decision, but analysts suspect that the ruling is a way for Russia’s government to nullify any political threat posed by Navalny without making him a martyr.
Nota Bene: Iran offers concessions during Geneva nuclear talks.
Frenemies - Obama’s biggest Iranian challenge may come from his allies. (Reuters)
Marsupial medicine - An injured kangaroo pays a visit to the pharmacy in an Australian airport. (The Telegraph)
Price of civility - Madrid residents may be fined for beating carpets in the street. (The Atlantic Cities)
“American arrogance” - World looks on as U.S. government heads toward possible default. (New York Times)
Media culpa - Chinese viewers mock U.S. TV show’s depiction of the one-child policy. (Foreign Policy)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 14, 2013
Indian officials halt search for stampede victims after weekend of disaster, Iranian leader says nuclear talks in Geneva could be productive, hopefully, and migrants are rounded up in Moscow after a violent protest targeted them this weekend. Today is Monday, October 14, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
India weathers weekend storm, but questions remain on pilgrims’ stampede
A woman cries next to the body of a victim killed in a stampede near Ratangarh temple in Datia district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, October 13, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Stampede, cyclone plague India. Indian officials counted at least 115 pilgrims dead in a stampede that broke out among 150,000 pilgrims gathered at India’s Ratangarh temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday before announcing the end of their search:
Devotees thronging towards the temple across a long, concrete bridge panicked when some railings broke, triggering the stampede, Dilip Arya, a deputy inspector general of police, told Reuters. Many victims were crushed by the crowd while others drowned when they fell or jumped into the fast-flowing Sindh river, swollen by heavy rain. “The death toll has increased to 115 and the rescue operation is over,” Arya said. Most of the dead were women and children. Many pilgrims were injured and in hospital, Arya said. Rescuers had combed the river in the hunt for victims.
Sunday’s incident marks the second deadly stampede at the holy site in seven years. In February, 36 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a charge at the world’s largest religious festival. Some victimsblamed police for fuelling the panic by using sticks in an effort to control the crowd. Indian officials were praised for their handling of another disaster that hit India over the weekend:
Cyclone Phailin, India’s fiercest storm in 14 years, smashed into the coastline of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states over the weekend, flooded swathes of farmland and ripped part tens of thousands of mud-and-thatch homes – but surprisingly, only 15 people have been reported dead. Early warnings which started five days before the storm’s arrival, the pre-positioning of food rations and packaged drinking water in shelters, and the orderly – and sometimes forceful – evacuation of close to one million people saved many lives, said aid workers.
A 1999 cyclone which left more than one million homeless served as a wake-up call for authorities. Reuters reported that roughly 76 percent of India’s coastline is vulnerable to cyclones and tsunamis, 59 percent of the country to earthquakes, and 68 percent to droughts. Authorities still fall short in emergency preparedness, however, as demonstrated by the catastrophe caused by unprecedented rainfall in Uttarakhand in June, which has left 6,000 missing and presumed dead.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) are seated during a meeting of the Foreign Ministers representing the permanent five member countries of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Cautious optimism on nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said he is hopeful that global negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program – slated to begin in Geneva on Tuesday – will lead to a means of solving the standoff, adding that the process will be complicated:
“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward. I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution,” Zarif said in a message posted on his Facebook account late on Sunday. “But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level.”… Zarif’s deputy on Sunday rebuffed the West’s demand that Iran send sensitive nuclear material abroad but signaled flexibility on other aspects of its atomic activities, including the degree of uranium enrichment, that worry global powers.
The nuclear conference is the first since Rouhani’s election in June, and onlookers hope that the president’s apparent openness to dialogue over the program will make these talks more fruitful than previous efforts. Western leaders contend that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is designed to develop nuclear arms capability for the nation, an outcome Western leaders would find unacceptable. Iranian leaders say their program is focused solely on producing energy and medical advances.
Russian police detain migrant workers during a raid at a vegetable warehouse complex in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow, October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Stolpnikov
Moscow migrants detained. Russian police rounded up roughly 1,200 migrants a day after violent protests erupted over the death of a Russian man who was allegedly killed by a migrant from the largely Muslim Caucasus region:
The detainees were taken to police stations and police will seek to determine whether they were involved in any crimes, he said. Televised footage showed detainees standing against walls or lined up in front of camouflage-clad police. By rounding up migrants, authorities seemed to be trying to appease residents who had rallied in the Biryulyovo district to demand police find the killer of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, and take more action to prevent crimes by migrants… On Sunday, a mob in the southern neighborhood smashed shop and vending stalls, fought with police and stormed the vegetable market in the biggest outbreak of anti-migrant violence in Moscow in three years.
Police arrested at least 380 people involved in the riots in an attempt to contain violence. The outbreak highlights tension between Moscow residents and migrants from North Caucasus and the ex-soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, who have played a key role in Russia’s economic transformation since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.
Nota Bene: Three Americans have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics for their work on asset price forecasting.
African leaders lose - The Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa is awarded to nobody for the fourth time in five years. (BBC)
Home-grown - Russia’s Side by Side LGBT festival wins appeal against its ‘foreign agent’ classification. (The Guardian)
Professional smoker - A Chinese tobacco appraiser has been smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day over a 21-year career. (Quartz)
Criminal campaign - Indian politicians wear jail time as a badge of honor. (New York Times)
Journey to Mount Arafat - Muslim pilgrims start Hajj in Saudi Arabia. (Associated Press)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
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: 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 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.
Video: Russian legislators told President Vladimir Putin they want to fly to Washington, DC and meet with U.S. lawmakers ahead of a critical vote on whether the U.S. should carry out military strikes on Syria. Reuters Deborah Gembara reports.