The Global Note: U.N. “Train Wreck”…Yemen Crackdown…U.K. Terror…Billionaires’ Fistfight

By Tom Nagorski

Sep 19, 2011 9:54am

U.N. SESSION OPENS: FIREWORKS EXPECTED

-BIG PICTURE The UN General Assembly opens for general debate today. There’s a busy and messy agenda: what to do about Libya; what to do about Syria; what to about the Euro-crisis; what to expect from Iran’s Ahmadinejad; a huge initiative on chronic disease (more below); and there’s a new nation there (South Sudan). But the story that will dominate — and reverberate — is the Palestinians’ bid for statehood.

-PALESTINIAN SHOWDOWN As Alex MARQUARDT says, there’s a diplomatic “train wreck” ahead – in the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N., and the frantic U.S. efforts to slow or alter the process. The New York Times calls the impending showdown over Palestinian statehood, “the most dramatic UN General Assembly in years.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says, “We need a state — a seat at the United Nations.” The U.S. will veto any Security Council bid – supporting the Israeli view that statehood should come only as a result of negotiations over boundaries, security, the status of Jerusalem and so on. But the U.S. will take a big hit (it’s already taking a hit) for on the one hand supporting the rights of protesters across the Arab world and, on the other, refusing to support Palestinians in this step. Already several countries (key U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to name two) have warned of consequences if the U.S. goes ahead with the veto. As Alex puts it, “Forcing a vote at the Security Council will pit the United States against most of the world, forcing the Obama administration to go back on the president’s words and veto a people’s desire for self-determination.” This will play out all week – culminating Friday, when Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu are giving their annual speeches to the U.N., within hours of one another.

WAR ON DISEASE For the first time, the UN will tackle chronic diseases – like heart disease, cancer and diabetes – in a special summit. Ahead of the summit, the World Health Organization listed 14 solutions it says could save tens of millions of people, including: raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, cutting back on salt and providing generic drugs for high risks patients. The price tag for adopting those measures is $11.4 billion and there’s no guarantee of any money out of this summit. 

 YEMEN: CRACKDOWN

At least 20 people have been killed by security forces in Yemen, doctors say, continuing a bloody crackdown on protesters that started on Sunday. One freelancer in Sanaa tweets: “Can barely describe what I’m seeing…” Snipers in Sanaa fired from rooftops at a protester camp, killing bystanders including a child, witnesses said. And government forces have begun shelling areas held by soldiers loyal to the protesters. The opposition has promised to carry on its campaign to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh. For months, thousands of people have been waging a campaign to depose Mr Saleh, who is currently in Saudi Arabia recovering from a bomb attack in June. 

IRAN: HIKERS’ RELEASE DELAYED

We ought to know this by now — but it’s never easy in Iran. As Jim SCIUTTO reports from Muscat, Oman, the release of two American hikers held in Iran has been delayed until at least Tuesday because a judge whose signature is required is on vacation. One can only imagine what family members and friends are going through – nearly a week after Iran’s President Ahmadinejad said the Americans would be released “in a couple of days.”

U.S. WEIGHING DIRECT MILITARY HOTLINE WITH TEHRAN

The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. is weighing establishing a direct military hotline with Iran after a series of near-miss encounters between American and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf. American officials fear a misunderstanding could lead to a wider conflict, so they’re considering a proposal for emergency communications.

AFGHAN WAR: U.S. NIGHT RAIDS A LOSING TACTIC?

 A new report out today from Open Society Foundations says increased nighttime raids by forces in Afghanistan has created resentment that undercuts any gains the raids may wrought. The report does say NATO and U.S. troops have improved the way they conduct night raids following complaints from the Afghan government, but goes on to say that even the very best practices breed discontent among Afghanis. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly denounced nighttime raids, saying they violate citizens’ privacy in a very private society. Nick SCHIFRIN has the story of one such night raid – that turned Afghans who were friendly to the U.S. into Taliban sympathizers.

TERROR ARRESTS IN THE U.K.

Seven people have been arrested in Birmingham in an anti-terrorism raid. They were taken into custody by unarmed officers who are also searching their homes and other properties in the city. The BBC calls these arrests the most significant terror arrests of the year in the UK, but as Dimitrije STEJIC notes, the fact that unarmed officers were used suggests no threat is imminent.

BRITISH TOURIST HELD IN SOMALIA, SUSPECTS IN COURT

The BBC reports the British tourist, Judith Tebbutt, who was kidnapped from a Kenyan resort is thought to be held in Somalia at a pirate base. Meanwhile, two Kenyan charged with killing Tebbutt’s husband and abducting her are due in court today. The court case is likely to shed some light on the attack, but is unlikely to help in the effort to secure her release.

BRITAIN: CONJOINED TWINS SEPARATED

Twins who were born joined at the head have been successfully separated by a team of British doctors. Baby girls Rital and Ritag Gaboura, who are 11 months old, were separated on 15 August after four operations at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. They do not appear to have suffered neurological side effects. The chances of surviving the rare condition are put at one in 10 million. The Sudanese infants were flown to the UK by the charity Facing the World. Conjoined twins are very rare – only one in every 2.5 million births – and only 5% of conjoined twins are craniopagus, which means they are fused at the head. About 40% of twins fused at the head are stillborn or die during labour and a third die within 24 hours.  

TOLL RISING IN INDIA QUAKE

The death toll from a 6.9-magnitude quake that struck India’s mountainous Himalayan region has jumped overnight, currently standing at 50. Hundreds of rescue workers worked through the night, pulling people from under the debris of collapsed houses. The destruction was made worse by monsoon rains in recent days that weakened the foundations of many buildings, making them prone to collapse. Those rains also triggered landslides that have blocked roads, making it nearly impossible to reach remote villages and distribute much-needed rescue supplies. 

MANDELA WELCOMES GREAT-GRANDCHILD

From Dana HUGHES in Nairobi: This weekend Nelson Mandela was on the front pages of newspapers cradling his eigth great grandchild, born two weeks ago. He appeared with the infant’s father, grandson and heir Mandla and his wife. The Sunday Times in South Africa also says Mandela went to Qunu after going on a hunger strike, maintaining hours of silence and throwing tantrums in protest of being kept in his Houghton home in Johannesburg. The paper quotes a source close to the family as saying he’s been in “high spirits” since his arrival in Qunu more than two months ago, although he spends most of his time sleeping.

RUSSIA CRASH: PILOT WAS DRUNK

From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Russia’s top investigative body says the pilot of a plane that crashed there in June, killing 47 people, was drunk. The Tu-134 slammed into a highway just minutes before it was to land at the Petrozavodsk airport in Russia’s northwest on June 20. Five people survived.

CHINA + INDIA TO CHALLENGE U.S. IN BIOTECH?

Good story from the NYTimes: Chinese and Indian drug makers have taken over much of the global trade in medicines and now manufacture more than 80 percent of the active ingredients in drugs sold worldwide. But they had never been able to copy the complex and expensive biotech medicines increasingly used to treat cancer, diabetes and other diseases in rich nations like the United States — until now.  These generic drug companies say they are on the verge of selling cheaper copies of such huge sellers as Herceptin for breast cancer, Avastin for colon cancer, Rituxan for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Enbrel for rheumatoid arthritis. Their entry into the market in the next year — made possible by hundreds of millions of dollars invested in biotechnology plants — could not only transform the care of patients in much of the world but also ignite a counterattack by major pharmaceutical companies and diplomats from richer countries. Already, the Obama administration has been trying to stop an effort by poorer nations to strike a new international bargain that would allow them to get around patent rights and import cheaper Indian and Chinese knock-off drugs for cancer and other diseases, as they did to fight AIDS. The debate turns on whether diseases like cancer can be characterized as emergencies, or “epidemics.”

JAPAN BRACING FOR ANOTHER TYPHOON

From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Areas devastated by Japan’s worst storm in nearly 2 decades are bracing for yet another typhoon. Typhoon Roke is slowly making its way up to mainland Japan, bringing heavy rain and powerful winds to Nara and Wakayama Prefectures. That’s the same area that suffered landslides and flooding earlier this month. The Japan Meteorological Agency is forecasting heavy rain through tomorrow, and warning of more landslides.

“SAYONARA, NUCLEAR POWER”

While Monday marked a national holiday to “respect the elderly” in Japan, thousands of Japanese spent the day protesting against the country’s nuclear policy. More than 20,000 marched through the streets of Tokyo chanting “Sayonara nuclear power,” making it one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations to date, since March 11th. The protest came just one day after Germany’s Siemens AG announced it would pull out of the nuclear-power industry altogether. Despite strong opposition against nuclear energy, new Prime minister Noda has insisted that it must remain in the mix, to meet Japan’s energy demands. Just last week, the trade minister said he expected idled reactors to start, once the safety inspections were completed.

BERLUSCONI: IT NEVER ENDS…

From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi decided to show up in court in Milan today for the first hearing after the summer break of the trial into allegations that he paid David Mills, his British former tax lawyer,$600,000 to provide false testimony about his business operations. “I’m doing fine, you are the ones with the ugly faces,” Berlusconi said to reporters outside Milan’s courthouse before adding “I’m joking.” The trial is one of four Berlusconi currently faces in Milan, including a case into allegations he paid to have sex with an underage prostitute and alleged abuse of power to cover it up. In a separate investigation, The premier has also so far defied a summons by prosecutors in Naples to face questioning about whether he was the target of extortion over his alleged use of prostitutes. Leaked wire taps of this investigation have flooded the papers over the last few days

FAKE PILOT PROMPTS SCARE AT NEW ZEALAND AIRPORT

A man posing as a pilot who tried to gain access to a restricted part of New Zealand’s Auckland Airport and then escaped when questioned prompted a major security scare – but it turns out the incident was part of an elaborate television stunt gone wrong. Three men who work on a comedy show called “Wanna-Ben” about an unemployed man who tries to find exciting work were charged and have said the incident was part of a skit for the show and was not intended to breach security or cause any concern. 

BILLIONAIRES BEHAVING BADLY, ON TELEVISION

Must-see TV from Russia: The billionaire Alexander Lebedev may pride himself on not interfering with the editorial policy of his UK newspapers, the Independent and Evening Standard, but there was no sign of such restraint when he took exception to the words of a fellow guest on Russian television.  Clad in very tight grey jeans, Lebedev showed a glimpse of his past as a KGB agent as he launched two blows at the former property developer Sergei Polonsky during a television debate on the financial crisis. Polonsky, once ranked Russia’s 40th richest man, had said he wanted to “stick one in the mouth” of Lebedev. In the clip posted on the NTV channel’s website, Polonsky was sent tumbling to the floor and Lebedev then stood over him in a crouched fighting stance.  The newspaper baron said later that he had been reacting to Polonsky’s threatening manner. The colorful proprietor was quoted as saying: “In a critical situation, there is no choice. I see no reason to be hit with the first shot. I neutralized him.”  Polonsky later posted photographs online showing a cut on his arm and a tear in his trousers.

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