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.
Syria is starting to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, but an opposition activist says the world is giving President Assad more time to gain an advantage in the civil war. http://reut.rs/1fcDlK2
Photo: An Islamic flag hangs in the middle of a damaged neighborhood in Homs on October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Yazen Homsy
World Wrap: October 4, 2013
Assad speaks out against Erdogan in TV interview, Italy postpones search for migrant bodies, and Maduro struggles to fill Chavez’s shoes. Today is Friday, October 4, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Assad warns Turkey of consequences for aiding rebels
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaks during an interview with Italian television station RaiNews24 in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA on September 29, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters
Assad gives warning. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued harsh words to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV airing today, warning the leader that Turkey will pay a price for aiding Syrian rebels.
In an interview with Turkey’s Halk TV due to be broadcast later on Friday, Assad called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan “bigoted” and said Ankara was allowing terrorists to cross into Syria to attack the army and Syrian civilians…”In the near future, these terrorists will have an impact on Turkey and Turkey will pay a heavy price for it.” Turkey, which shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has NATO’s second largest deployable armed forces, is one of Assad’s fiercest critics and a staunch supporter of the opposition, although it denies arming the rebels. It shelters about a quarter of the 2 million people who have fled Syria and has often seen the conflict spill across its frontier, responding in kind when mortars and shells fired from Syria have hit its soil. It has also allowed rebel fighters to cross in and out of Syria but has grown alarmed, along with Western allies opposed to Assad, by divisions among their ranks and the deepening influence of radical Islamists in Syria.
Erdogan said on Thursday that Syria is headed towards sectarian war, adding, “this is the danger we are facing.” Turkey has sent additional troops to the Turkey-Syria border in recent weeks, and the Turkish parliament voted to extend a mandate allowing for troop deployment to Syria if necessary. In his interview, Assad denied again that his regime was behind the chemical attack that left hundreds dead in a Damascus suburb in August, and has left survivors defiant against the Syrian government. Last week, the U.N. adopted a resolution demanding Syria give up its chemical weapons. The chemical attack has struck a chord with Iraqi Kurds, who recall the 1988 gas attacks that killed at least 5,000 people and fear chemical weapons from Syria will eventually be used against them. On Thursday, the U.N. said that a team of chemical weapons experts is making“encouraging initial progress” in efforts to facilitate Syria’s chemical disarmament.
A still image taken from video released on October 4, 2013 by the Italian Coast Guard shows migrants rescued from the water off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, October 3, 2013.REUTERS/Italian Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters
Search stopped. Italian authorities postpone divers’ search for bodies trapped in a wrecked boatwhich sank off the coast of Italy early on Thursday, killing an estimated 300 migrants traveling from African countries including Eritrea and Somalia in one of the worst incidents in Europe’s immigration crisis:
Choppy seas prevented divers on Friday from recovering more bodies of migrants… Rescue teams have so far recovered 111 bodies and expect to find more than 100 others in and around the wreck, submerged in 47 meters of water less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the shore of the southern island of Lampedusa. After 155 people were pulled from the water alive on Thursday, strong winds and meter-high waves made it impossible for 40 divers to safely collect bodies. There was little hope of finding more survivors from the almost 500 passengers estimated to have been on board. “Though the bad sea conditions persist, our guys are ready to go down if a window opens up that makes it safe for them,” coastguard spokesman Filippo Marini told Reuters. Though the tiny island takes in thousands of immigrants every year and there have been similar wrecks in the past, residents were shaken by the sheer size of the tragedy.
Italy’s strict immigration law has come under fire for requiring repatriation of illegal immigrants and has led to the sequester of fishing boats that save migrant lives. Nearly 500 people were reported dead or missing traveling from Tunisia to Italy last year.
A man sits next to a mural depicting the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in downtown Caracas, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
Chavez still center stage. Months after being elected president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro remains in the shadow of Hugo Chavez’s legacy:
After Chavez’s death from cancer in March at the age of 58, the popularity of “El Comandante” has grown and taken on even deeper religious undertones among the support base that kept him in power for 14 years. While that helped Maduro, a former bus driver, union activist and member of parliament win a six-year term as president, it is also making it near-impossible for him to step out of Chavez’s shadow. “As long as Nicolas maintains Chavez’s route, the people will be with him. If he deviates from Chavez, everything will change, he’ll be finished,” [said Chavez supporter Yalmy] Rumbo. Therein lies Maduro’s dilemma. He owes everything, from his political inheritance to his election, to his late mentor. So, unsurprisingly, he parrots Chavez at every turn, be it thundering at the U.S. “empire” or trying to prove himself a man of the people during his daily, televised walkabouts. Yet to solve a daunting array of problems, from the highest inflation in the Americas and embarrassing shortages of basic goods to rampant corruption and shoddy infrastructure, many feel Maduro needs to become his own man and tweak some policies.
The country’s floundering economy presents further difficulty for the new president. Venezuelans struggle to make ends meet in light of power cuts and rising prices, and according to pollster IVAD, 67 percent of Venezuelans have a pessimistic view of the country’s general direction.
Nota Bene: Muslim Brotherhood supporter killed as clashes erupt in Egypt.
Skype censorship - Pakistani province attempts to ban instant messaging. (BBC)
Danish joy - Denmark is the happiest country. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Pervasive parochials - Irish parents struggle to find non-Catholic schools. (The Atlantic)
Stitching on camera - Norwegian TV will broadcast a knitting competition. (Associated Press)
Pay parity push - UK minister tells women to ask male colleagues how much they earn. (The Guardian)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 30, 2013
The U.N. Security Council delivers statement on humanitarian aid in Syria, Rouhani’s nuclear stance could be driven by financial turmoil, and Berlusconi meets with lawmakers after shoving Italy’s government over the brink. Today is Monday, September 30, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
U.N. Security Council seeks aid for Syria
Abboud, 12, plays with a cat while holding his weapon in Aleppo’s Sheikh Saeed neighborhood, September 28, 2013. Abboud and his brother Deeb, 14, both school-going children before the civil war, joined the Free Syrian Army after the deaths of two of their brothers and an uncle in the conflict. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman
Switching gears on Syria. Following Friday’s unanimous adoption of a resolution for the eradication of Syria’s chemical arms at the U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Security Council shifted its efforts towards solving the country’s humanitarian crisis:
The Security Council is considering a statement to try to boost aid access in Syria by urging Syrian authorities to allow cross-border deliveries from neighboring countries and asking parties to the conflict to hold humanitarian pauses in the fighting… Deputy U.N. council envoys are due to meet to discuss the proposed Security Council presidential statement on Monday, said diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Unlike a resolution, a presidential statement is not legally binding. The draft text, obtained by Reuters, urges all parties to “agree on the modalities to implement humanitarian pauses, as well as key routes to enable promptly – upon notification from relief agencies – the safe and unhindered passage of humanitarian convoys along these routes.”
Syria’s two-and-a-half year civil war has displaced over one million people and left roughly 100,000 dead. Some diplomats said that Russia has been constructively engaged in drafting the aid statement but others warned the country would be reluctant to back a council declaration that called for cross-border assistance in the region. Friday’s declaration marked the culmination of weeks of debate over the details of a Syrian chemical disarmament plan, during which the U.S. and Russia clashed over the option of military force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The resolution removes the option of automatic punishment under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which allows the council to use military force or sanctions to punish a breach. Experts from a world chemical watchdog will head to Syria on Tuesday, and the U.N. chemical inspectors depart today. On Sunday, Assad said he would respect the resolution.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani speaks with Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society in New York, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Keith Bedford
All about the Benjamins. Some analysts say that Iran’s recent efforts to build up relations with the U.S. are driven by internal economic woes:
Iran is adept at surviving economic pressure, but sanctions have bitten deeply. Existing U.S. and EU measures have reduced Iran’s oil exports by more than half from pre-sanction levels of about 2.2 million barrels per day (bpd), costing Tehran billions of dollars in lost revenue a month. The U.S. Congress could soon pass a bill to squeeze Iran’s oil exports further. Deeper cuts in oil sales, if accomplished, could worsen the damage Western sanctions have already done to Iran’s economy, which suffered a loss of about $26 billion in petroleum revenue in 2012 from a total of $95 billion in 2011; soaring inflation; and a devaluation of its currency, the rial…Mehrdad Emadi, an economist at Betamatrix consultancy, said knock on effects of sanctions on businesses included lack of investment and job losses. In the car and related components sector, about a third of workers had lost jobs in an industry that is Iran’s largest after oil, he said.
On Friday, Presidents Obama and Rouhani spoke on the phone in a historic conversation that marked an acceleration in the level of direct communication between the nations. Prior to the call, Rouhani and Obama had exchanged letters.
People of Freedom party (PDL) leader Silvio Berlusconi (R) carries his pet dog upon arriving at his residence in Rome in this still image taken from video, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/via Reuters TV
Berlusconi breakdown. Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi meets with lawmakers from his center-right People of Freedom (PDL) party on Monday after ordering five ministers to resign from Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition over the weekend, leaving the country’s government in disarray:
Financial markets, which have been increasingly nervous about Italy after a week of rising political tensions, are expected to sell off government bonds and stocks on Monday, adding to the atmosphere of crisis. Letta will go before parliament to seek support to continue in a confidence vote, probably on Wednesday, leaving two days of maneuvering among the parties, starting with a meeting between Berlusconi and PDL parliamentarians on Monday afternoon. The billionaire media tycoon, who is fighting moves to expel him from parliament following his conviction for tax fraud last month, said at the weekend he wanted elections as soon as possible. But he faces resistance not just from President Giorgio Napolitano, who would have to order parliament to be dissolved, but also from his own increasingly fractious supporters, some of whom may switch allegiance and back Letta’s government.
Italy has struggled under Letta’s government, which was hobbled together after February’s deadlocked elections and has failed in efforts to lower its budget deficit.
Nota Bene: Car bomb kills at least 54 in Shi’ite districts of Baghdad.
Pseudo-science - A Saudi cleric warns driving can hurt a woman’s ovaries… (BBC)
Science - … and a Saudi doctor says it won’t. (Associated Press)
Dress code - Turkey lifts ban on headscarves in most state offices. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Maternity saddle - An inflatable cushion turns donkeys into ambulances for Afghan women in labor. (The Atlantic)
Arrested for sleeping outside - A new Hungarian law could make being homeless a criminal act. (Al Jazeera)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: September 23, 2013
Kenyan officials claim progress in al Shabaab siege, Merkel wins big in weekend elections, and crises take center stage at this week’s U.N. General Assembly. Today is Monday, September 23, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Gunmen hold hostages in third day of Nairobi mall siege
Kenyan police officers take position during the ongoing military operation at the Westgate Shopping Center in the capital Nairobi, September 23, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Nairobi nightmare continues. Some hostages remain trapped in a Nairobi mall on Monday, after al Shabaab operatives took hold of the shopping center on Saturday in a violent siege that has left nearly 70 dead so far. The Somalia-based militant group demanded Kenya withdraw troops from Somalia, where it has worked to push out al Shabaab as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said on Sunday he won’t end the mission:
It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, two hours after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by a plume of black smoke, that grew in volume from one part of the complex. Kenya’s interior minister told a news conference that the militants – all men, though some wore women’s clothing during the assault – had set a fire with mattresses in a supermarket on the mall’s lower floors. Two “terrorists” had been killed on Monday, he added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.
Officials said the attackers come from various nations. One woman described her escape from the mall, explaining that she fled to safety through a staff exit. While Kenyan officials say they are “closing in” on the attackers, citizens expressed frustration that the situation has not yet been resolved. Judges at the International Criminal Court on Monday adjourned Deputy President William Ruto’s crimes against humanity trial for one week so that he could deal with the crisis.
German Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel smiles as she receives flowers after first exit polls in the German general election (Bundestagswahl) at party headquarters in Berlin, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Merkel madness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel nabbed an easy victory in Sunday’s elections, winning 42 percent of the vote for her conservative party – the strongest show of support for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in decades. Still, Merkel will have to find a way to compromise with the losing parties on how to lead the country:
Despite leading her conservatives to their best result since 1990, with 41.5 percent of votes putting them five seats short of the first absolute majority in parliament in over half a century, 59-year-old Merkel had little time to celebrate. “We are, of course, open for talks and I have already had initial contact with the SPD (Social Democratic Party) chairman, who said the SPD must first hold a meeting of its leaders on Friday,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that she did not rule out talks with other potential coalition partners.
Though German voters would welcome coalition rule, the partnership would not be easy and may force Merkel to reconsider austerity measures that have kept Germany strong during the euro zone crisis.
A U.N. worker rests after checking the temporary General Assembly Hall at the U.N. headquarters ahead to the start of the U.N. general assembly in New York, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Syria summit. The crisis in Syria will dominate the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly, where global leaders, including wanted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and recently-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, will meet in New York for the annual conference which begins tomorrow:
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the top agenda item will be Syria’s 2-1/2-year civil war, which the United Nations says has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions… No one expects a breakthrough in the crisis this week, though there may be approval of a U.N. resolution backing a U.S.-Russian plan to … remove Syria’s chemical weapons by June 2014 to avoid U.S. air strikes. That plan was agreed to as U.N. inspectors confirmed sarin nerve gas was used in an August 21 attack near Damascus that killed over 1,400 people, many of them children, according to U.S. estimates.
Onlookers also are on the lookout for a possible impromptu meeting – or even just a handshake – between President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart. Iran’s foreign minister said his country will join six-power talks on its nuclear program later this week, and Iranian media reported Iran pardoned 80 prisoners ahead of Rouhani’s visit. The most controversial attendee is Sudan’s Bashir, wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Snake on a plane - Qantas grounds a flight in Sydney after finding a Mandarin rat snake on board. (BBC)
Reef barrier - A massive port project could damage Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. (Time)
Entrepreneur spring - Despite unrest, Egypt’s startup culture grows. (The Atlantic)
Movie Metropolis - A Chinese businessman wants to build the world’s most expensive film studio. (The Guardian)
Mubarak on Mubarak - A secret recording reveals Mubarak’s stance on the U.S., Jews and himself. (New York Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
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)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
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.