-GERMANY EXPANDS BAILOUT FUND Wondering what relevance a Bundestag vote could possibly have for you? Well, your 401K is likely a bit healthier (for now at least) thanks to a crucial vote in Germany today. German lawmakers have voted to expand the powers of the eurozone bailout fund — a major step toward tackling the region’s sprawling sovereign debt crisis. With today’s vote, Germany will be guaranteeing loans in the future of up to $287 billion. Today’s vote was hotly debated in Germany, with lawmakers spilt over whether economically strong Germany should be footing the bill for debt-ridden neighbors. We say “for now”, by the way, because – as Der Spiegel explains today – even today’s bailout pledge may not be enough to stave off a Euro-collapse. (Here in New York, stocks are up more than 150 points at this hour…)
-ANGRY GERMANS Further to the above point – good Wall Street Journal take on German bitterness over this. Even some champions of European integration voted “No” today. As one said of the bailout strategy: “The first medicine didn’t work, and now we are simply doubling the dose…My fear is that when the big bang happens, it won’t just be us who will have to pay but generations hereafter.” It all sounds a lot like the arguments made over U.S. bailouts for big banks a couple of years ago.
SYRIA: U.S. AMBASSADOR ATTACKED
From Kirit RADIA in Washington and Alex MARQUARDT in Jerusalem: U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford is back at the embassy in Damascus – and unhurt – after his convoy was assaulted. Ford was meeting with an opposition leader when a mob attacked his vehicles outside, then tried to force their way into the building. Ford and his team locked themselves inside and the mob was unable to enter. Syrian security eventually arrived to disperse the crowd. The AP adds that Ford was pelted with eggs and tomatoes and that it took an hour for security to arrive. Reminder: Christiane AMANPOUR recently interviewed Ambassador Ford on the Syrian crackdown — which he called “grotesque” and “abhorrent”.
OTHER ARAB SPRING…
-SAUDIS’ LANDMARK VOTE Saudi Arabia holds its second municipal elections in history today. The proceedings will be watched carefully because of King Abdullah’s announcement earlier this week that women will be allowed to vote in these elections in 2015, as well as the unprecedented Arab Spring protests that have cropped up in the kingdom.
-NO LASHES FOR WOMAN DRIVER Alex MARQUARDT reports King Abdullah has revoked the 10-lashes sentence handed out to the Saudi woman, Shaimaa Justaneyah, found guilty of driving. Princess Ameerah Al Taweel – wife of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal – tweets that it has been “cancelled.”
-BAHRAIN JAILS DOCTORS, NURSES Bahrain’s special security court gave doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters lengthy prison sentences. The tribunal, set up during Bahrain’s emergency rule, sentenced 20 medical professionals to up to 15 years in prison. The court also sentenced a protester to death for killing a policeman. The harsh sentences suggest Bahraini authorities will not relent in punishing those who participate in dissent.
-YEMEN CLASHES Agence France-Presse reports fierce clashes have erupted in the Yemeni capital between troops loyal to embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh and forces led by a leading military defector, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. The firefights broke out in the north of the city between forces from the elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh’s son Ahmed, and soldiers from Ahmar’s First Armored Division, which provides protection for anti-Saleh protesters.
PAKISTAN: WHAT TO DO ABOUT AMERICA?
Habibullah KHAN reports from Islamabad: Pakistan’s political and military leaders are meeting to formulate a response to U.S. allegations that the country’s main spy agency is support Afghan insurgents. Admiral Mike Mullen last week accused the militant Haqqani network of being “a veritable arm” of the Pakistani spy agency. KHAN writes: “There has been a constant debate in Pakistan about a looming U.S. attack since Admiral Mullen’s statement…Businesses have suffered, people are worried and the political parties are each giving their solution to the problems. To address these issues, Prime Minister Gilani has called an ‘All-Parties Conference’ today, to find a common and agreeable solution and a consensus response. In his opening remarks, Gilani said that the ‘U.S. statements were in contradiction to our sacrifices in the war against terror.’ Calming the tempo, he said that ‘Doors are open for negotiations’ but added that the Army is ‘ready to defend country’.”
KNOX TRIAL: CLOSING ARGUMENTS
Phoebe NATANSON reports from Perguia: Amanda Knox‘s lawyer attacked the last key piece of evidence in her Italian murder trial today, saying the prosecution’s claim that a knife found in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment was the murder weapon was “total imagination.” Defense lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova also pointed out to the jury that the prosecution’s motive for the November 2007 murder in Perugia, Italy, has shifted several times. The initial accusation was that Knox’s British roommate Meredith Kercher died in a sex game gone awry. During the trial the motive changed to a furious Knox attacking Kercher out of hatred over her criticism and a fight over money. A verdict is now expected Monday. As Knox’s mother told ABC News, “It’s hard to stay grounded” as the case nears its conclusion.
TYPHOON NESAT TARGETS CHINA
Hong Kong’s stock market, ferry service and schools are closed today as Typhoon Nesat makes its way to China from the Philippines, where the storm killed 35 people and left another 45 missing. The typhoon is expected to skirt south of Hong Kong and reach China’s island region of Hainan and Guangdong province this afternoon or evening, local time. It’s the 17th – and strongest – typhoon to hit Hainan this year.
STRAUSS-KAHN AND FRENCH ACCUSER MEET WITH POLICE
Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn meets with the French journalist, Tristane Banon, who accused him of rape during an interview at a French police station today. The face-to-face meeting is a technique sometimes used in France to help officials decide if a case is worth pursuing.
PLANT POT, SAYS RUSSIAN DRUG CZAR
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: “Plant Cannabis” – that’s the message from Russia’s top anti-drug official, Victor Ivanov. He says this would be a good way to boost the agricultural sector – if you plant “strategic resource” cannabis – a type of drug-free cannabis. Ivanov said that at least three Russian research institutes have cultivated 20 sub-species of this “harmless” cannabis that could be the essential raw material for seed oil, livestock feed, pulp for paper production and other products. Ivanov also pointed out that the drug-free species would be able to push out potent cannabis plants covering about 1 million hectares. A top Social Development Ministry official, Yevgeny Bryun, said even so-called harmless species contains traces of the substance that gives marijuana’s exhilarating effect. In fact cannabis, mainly for hemp and oil used to be grown in the USSR but production was halted after most species were blacklisted in the early 1960s.
TRAINING FOR A PLANE CRASH
The Wall Street Journal writes of an unusual British Airways safety course that teaches passengers how to react in the event of a plane crash. British Airways started a one-day emergency safety course – that teaches passengers how to open safety latches and find exits in smoke-filled cabins – for passengers five years ago at the request of oil company BP, which has lots of employees flying around the world. The airline plans to open up the course, which costs about $210, to individual travelers next year, possibly letting passengers redeem frequent-flier miles to attend.
From the Telegraph — and yet to be vetted by our medical unit: Scientists are developing a “ stay sober” pill which allows you to drink as much as you want while limiting the effects of alcohol on their brains.
PAID SNITCHES IN SOUTH KOREA
The New York Times has an interesting article on South Korean government agencies that are paying people to turn their fellow citizens in for minor offenses. Most of the so-called “paparazzi” are those who have lost their jobs in the global economic downturn and are drawn by reports of fellow Koreans making tens of thousands of dollars a year reporting crimes. The outsourcing of law enforcement has also been something of a boon for local governments. They say that they can save money on hiring officers, and that the fines imposed on offenders generally outstrip the rewards paid to informers.
HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY, SILVIO BERLUSCONI
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi marks his 75th birthday today, engulfed in four trials, facing daily calls for his resignation – all as his country teeters on the brink of financial collapse. We can only hope for a “bunga bunga” party to mark the occasion…