-QUOTEABLE “The world is now in a synchronized slowdown.” – Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of Pacific Investment Management Co., the biggest bondholder in the world.
-THE BIG PICTURE European officials are rushing (one hopes) to boost the firepower of their financial-bailout fund after the world’s finance ministers ratcheted up pressure on euro-zone officials to act. The BBC reports that the outline of a large and ambitious Eurozone rescue plan is taking shape and is expected to involve a 50% write-down of Greece’s massive government debt. The plan also envisages an increase in the size of the Eurozone bailout fund to 2 trillion euros. Among the many difficulties and questions: Is it ambitious enough? Will individual parliaments support it? And will it come soon enough for jittery investors? European governments hope to have the plan in place in five to six weeks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, clearly trying to sway a skeptical public, said “We are doing it for ourselves.” Leaving Greece and other neighbors to default, she said, would mean “the stability of the euro would be in danger.” This morning, European markets were down about 1%, while Dow Jones futures were up .2 percent.
-ABC NEWS + TIM GEITHNER David MUIR interviews the man pushing/prodding the Europeans – Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – in Louisville today. Watch World News for the interview…
-CHINA: NO BAILOUT FROM US China to Europe: Don’t expect a bailout from us. The Wall Street Journal reports that was the message delivered by a number of Chinese officials during meetings at the International Monetary Fund, where China was widely seen as an answer to the euro zone’s problems.
-GREEK STRIKES As the prospect of a disastrous debt default hung over Greece, the government faced more strikes and protests against its new austerity measures needed to appease the country’s rescue creditors. Athens commuters faced more misery as metro, tram and suburban rail workers were on a 24-hour strike, while buses and trolleys were to stop operating for several hours in the middle of the day.
CIA OFFICE ATTACK: AMERICAN KILLED
Nick SCHIFRIN reports that an Afghan employee – working in the building believed to house the CIA in Kabul - opened fire inside the building last night, killing one US citizen and wounding another. The shooter was shot dead. The embassy says the motivation for the attack “is still under investigation.” The spokesman won’t say it, but SCHIFRIN believes that this means an Afghan working for the CIA opened fire on his CIA colleagues. “Indications are that the Afghan employee started shooting, people took shelter, and these two people were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a U.S. official said. As we’ve been reporting, the Afghan capital, not long ago a relatively safe place in that country, has been the scene of repeated and brazen attacks of late.
UK TERROR PLOT?
We now know more about the alleged plot uncovered last week in Britain. Six men arrested last week have been formally charged with acts to commit terror. The men, in their late 20s and early 30s, are from the Birmingham area and police say some travelled to Pakistan for terrorism training — and then built a bomb, made a martyrdom video and were planning to conduct a suicide bombing. The intended target was not revealed.
THE ARAB SPRING
-MASS GRAVE IN LIBYA A mass grave believed to contain up to 1,270 bodies has been found in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, says the National Transitional Council. The BBC reports that the remains are thought to be those of inmates who were killed by security forces in 1996 in the Abu Salim prison.
-ARMED REBELLION IN SYRIA? The Washington Post reports that a group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Many of the group’s claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, but it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas of the defections.
-SALEH CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS In his first televised address since returning to Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said he wanted to transfer power through early presidential elections. “Let’s all go towards dialogue, understanding and peaceful exchange of power through elections and early presidential elections,” he said Sunday, adding that he was still committed to the GCC plan.
-MOROCCAN SPRING? Compared to other Arab cities, Moroccan streets have been relatively tame since February, but yesterday thousands of Moroccans demonstrated against the government in the North African kingdom’s biggest city, threatening to boycott the upcoming elections. The demonstration by the pro-democracy February 20 movement on Sunday attracted around 10,000 people in Casablanca, making it the largest demonstration in months.
”PALESTINIAN SPRING” WHAT NEXT?
The UN Security Council has begun consultations on the Palestinian application for full state membership to the UN. The request needs the support of nine out the 15 members of the council, but the US has said it will veto the bid. Diplomats say it could take weeks before the issue comes to vote. Alex MARQUARDT notes that President Mahmoud Abbas got a hero’s welcome in Ramallah yesterday, announcing that the “Palestinian Spring” had been born. On the peace process, Abbas said, “There will be no negotiations without international legitimacy and a complete halt to settlements.” The Wall Street Journal notes that, whatever its outcome of the bid, it is already helping reshape Palestinian attitudes to expect less of negotiations and embrace a more confrontational stance toward Israel.
PUTIN TILL 2024?
-THE MANEUVER Russians are still digesting the news of the Medvedev-Putin swap – a piece of political maneuvering that could allow Vladimir Putin to rule the country for another dozen years. From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: “Putin is now set to win the 2012 elections which opens up the possibility of a second term after that – thus remaining in power till 2024.”
-U.S. & RUSSIA The White House says it remains committed to a “reset” of US-Russia relations regardless of who becomes the next Russian president. Washington notes the “reset” was not about “individual personalities”, but is a matter of national interests. The Wall Street Journal writes that Putin’s return will complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to advance arms-control and trade agreements, adding to already deep suspicions among U.S. policy makers and lawmakers about the country’s intentions and direction.
-PUTIN PLASTIC SURGERY? The Telegraph thinks so. “Speculation that Vladimir Putin may have had cosmetic surgery has resurfaced as he prepares to assume the Russian presidency for the third time…The 58-year-old Russian prime minister set the blogosphere alight at the weekend after accepting his party’s presidential nomination at a glitzy Moscow event with his face looking suspiciously smooth. The skin around his eyes was almost totally clear of bags and wrinkles, triggering a fresh wave of speculation that he has had a series of cosmetic procedures to keep his face looking youthful.”
CASTRO ON OBAMA: “GIBBERISH”
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused President Barack Obama of speaking “gibberish” in his recent address to the United Nations and called NATO’s actions in Libya a “monstrous crime” on Monday in his first opinion column since early July. The written “reflection” as he called it – was published on www.cubadebate.cu.
SUNKEN TREASURE: $240 MILLION?
It may be the ultimate undersea find- at a time when the UK government could use some cash flow. In 1941, a British merchant ship carrying a fortune in silver to England from India went down and killed all on board except one – a second officer who survived 13 days on the lifeboat. But now, divers have found the wreck intact and they estimate its cargo at up to 240 tons of silver — a trove worth more than $200 million. They plan to recover it this spring. But who gets the money? According to the New York Times – Odyssey, the company that found the wreck will get 80% and the British government, only 20%.
KNOX TRIAL: PROSECUTION CALLS HER “SHE-DEVIL”
The appeals case to uphold the murder conviction of American student Amanda Knox in the 2007 slaying of her roommate continued today – with a lawyer representing the family of the murdered student, presenting closing arguments — and going so far as to call Knox a “She-Devil.” More here…
STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS BOOMING
As more and more students from varied programs participate in study abroad programs, the AP writes American universities are pressing students abroad to get out of their comfort zones by limiting free time, requiring students to speak the local language and hold internships and hosting scavenger hunts where students are required to find their own way in a foreign country. 300,000 students are expected to study abroad this year.
BRUNI SPEAKS ABOUT PREGNANCY
French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy says she hasn’t spoken much publicly about her pregnancy because she’s been “superstitious” about it, and it’s “so uninteresting for French people” anyway. In an interview with British radio, the 43-year-old former supermodel turned singer says the pregnancy is “something very banal” — even if “great news” for her personally.
JAPAN: ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY MEANS MORE ENGLISH SPEAKERS?
Akiko FUJITA notes that Japan Inc. may be struggling to lift itself out of recession, but at least one industry is thriving as a result of the economic slowdown: English language courses. Reuters reports that legions of Japanese “salarymen” are signing up for language classes as more Japanese companies look abroad for business opportunities, amid a strong yen and shrinking domestic market.
SUNSPOTS AND EARTHQUAKES
Akiko FUJITA reports that a team of Japanese researchers have found that mega quakes are more likely to occur when the sun has fewer sunspots. Researchers at Kyushu University’s Space Environment Research Center say the sun’s activity directly influences movements beneath the earth’s surface, and the March 11th quake occurred when there were few sunspots.
KENYA REJOICES: NEW WORLD RECORD
Dana HUGHES reports from Nairobi that Kenya’s Patrick Makau is expected to get a hero’s welcome when he returns to Kenya this week after setting a new world record in the marathon on Sunday winning the Berlin race in a remarkably speedy 2:03:38. 26-year-old Makau’s time beat the previous record by 20 seconds. The win is especially sweet for Kenya, still reeling from the death of half-marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru, who died tragically last May.
KENYA MOURNS: NOBEL LAUREATE DIES
Dana HUGHES notes that Wangari Maathai, a towering figure in Kenya and the the first African woman recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, died after a long struggle with cancer, the environmental organization she founded said Monday. She was 71.