-HUGE PROTESTS…It’s the biggest protest in years for Greece – tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Athens in a two-day general strike, as the Greek parliament prepares to vote on sweeping new austerity measures designed to avoid a default. The strike has shut down government departments, businesses, stores and public services. Initially things were peaceful; but now militants have started lobbing Molotov cocktails and stones at police who have responded with tear gas. The pace of protests in Greece has been increasing in recent weeks, and strikes have already left garbage piled in the streets of Athens, closed tourist monuments including the Parthenon and seen government departments including the finance ministry occupied by strikers. Prime minister George Papandreou has compared his country’s struggle to a war, as Greece remains trapped in a third year of recession and strangled by public debt (which few now believe can be paid back). Legislators are voting on legislation today and tomorrow, and the government’s narrow majority is expected to be enough to ensure they get passed. The austerity package mixes deep cuts to public sector pay and pensions, job losses, tax rises, and other reforms. Papandreou has promised to resist pressure from the streets. Greece must pass the bill if it is to continue receiving funds from its euro110 billion ($150billion) bailout, and unless it receives a now long-overdue euro8 billion installment, the country has said it will run out of funds to pay salaries and pensions by mid-November.
-HEADED FOR DEFAULT?…The LA Times reports that Greece is almost certainly going to default on its debt – and that’s what some economists at the Milken Institute recommend. The economists, in a report titled “Greece’s ‘Unpleasant Arithmetic,’” say that the probability of Greece defaulting on its debt is 89 to 97% — and that the country should just write down its debt to end the uncertainty about the country’s economic stability.
SPAIN TAKES A HIT
Meanwhile, Moody’s has cut Spain’s sovereign credit rating, making it the last of the big three rating agencies to take action in less than a month as confidence wanes over whether the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy will be able to meet its ambitious deficit reduction targets.
Asia stocks closed up, stocks are higher in Europe and U.S. markets opened higher today. Also today, a new Credit Suisse report finds that global wealth could rise 50 percent to $345 trillion over the next five years, spurred by a near doubling of total household wealth in China and strong growth in Asia Pacific, Latin America and Africa. The Global Wealth Report 2011 said total global wealth jumped 14 percent between January 2010 and June 2011 – and with an expected $81 trillion, the United States is seen remaining in the top spot in 2016 in terms of total household wealth, while China is set to leapfrog Japan into second place by almost doubling its household wealth to $39 trillion.
RADIOACTIVE HOTSPOTS IN TOKYO
Akiko FUJITA reports: Radiation hot spots have been detected all over Tokyo in the last week, raising new concerns about how far contamination from the Fukushima nuclear accident has spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking, and potentially exposing people to levels above accepted international standards. FUJITA reports an elementary school was forced to decontaminate school grounds yesterday after high levels of radiation were detected. Today there are reports of high levels in two other Tokyo districts, and in one of these radiation measured 6.7 microsieverts an hour, equivalent to levels seen only 12 miles from Fukushima. Wind and rain has scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials far outside the evacuation zone around the stricken plant. As Akiko notes, it’s interesting that all the Tokyo “hotspots” have been detected by local officials and residents, and not by the government, fuelling an already considerable distrust in the authorities.
BANGKOK: STILL UNDER THREAT
Those who know Thailand — and the wonderful Thai people — will also know the phrase “Mai pen rai”. Essentially, it means, “No worries”, or “things will be fine.” We were reminded of this today, given that just 72 hours ago Thai authorities had told us, basically, Crisis averted – the flood waters would spare the capital – and now we learn that Thailand’s capital is by no means in the clear. Today authorities in Bangkok were staging a retreat against flood waters, after the country’s oldest factory park just north of the city was completely inundated, while civilian volunteers joined soldiers in desperate dike-building efforts in another neighborhood. Bangkok’s governor delivered a dramatic late-night TV warning that the city had until late today to lay down 1.2 million sandbags to protect an especially vulnerable stretch. The city has already prepared 156 evacuation centers, but there are serious concerns that the largest one, at Thammasat University will now be flooded as well. A temporary home to more than 1000 residents, the evacuation center showed no signs of flooding when we went on Monday. To make matters worse, the government continues to send mixed messages. Stay tuned…
SOUTH POLE EVACUEE: I’M O.K.
The American engineer who was successfully evacuated from the South Pole to New Zealand says preliminary medical tests indicate she had a stroke and that she is expected to recover well, though not completely. She tells the AP by e-mail that a neurologist who reviewed her MRI and echocardiogram believes she had a stroke on the left side of her brain. The neurologist said Renee Douceur is likely to make a “very good” recovery with proper treatment, “though not 100 percent,” she wrote. “So in a nutshell, no tumor or other type of degenerative disease noted!” Douceur said that doctors in New Zealand would consult with others she contacted at Johns Hopkins University to further review her test results, and that more in-depth testing is likely once she returns to the US. Douceur landed in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Monday, two months after she began experiencing vision, language and memory problems while working at the National Science Foundation’s South Pole research station. After initially having half her field of vision vanish, Douceur said last week she can now read if she concentrates on just a few words at a time. She said she sometimes jumbles words and has had trouble remembering simple lists of words.
DSK: FRENCHWOMAN DECIDES NOT TO FILE SUIT
The French writer who claimed that Dominique Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2003 says she won’t file a civil suit against the former IMF head and one-time French presidential hopeful. Tristane Banon says she’s “always said that I’d file a civil suit only if my status as a victim was not recognized.” French prosecutors last week dropped their criminal probe into Banon’s attempted rape claim, but said that Strauss-Kahn admitted during questioning to actions that qualify for the lesser charge of sexual assault. Speaking yesterday on French TV channel Canal+, Banon said the prosecutor had recognized her as a victim of sexual assault, but the case couldn’t be pursued because the three-year statute of limitations on sexual assault had expired.
SHALIT RELEASE: THE DAY AFTER
Alex MARQUARDT reports that most Israeli newspapers are focusing on Shalit’s return, rather than the price paid in the deal. Headlines include “Saluting You, Gilad,” “How Good,” and “Hero.” One columnist calls the moment “almost religious.” Another who was against the deal writes, “You squeezed tears from all of us, yesterday, Gilad…Our soul trembled yesterday together with your voice, our breath was heavy along with your breathing. Indeed, it is good to have you home.” Shalit was visited again by doctors today, and YNet reports that he was seen leaving the house for a short stroll outside. He was wore a baseball cap with an IDF sign on it and a big smile. Last night, 40 of the Palestinian prisoners who were not allowed back to the territories arrived in Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and Syria. Following a boost from the deal, there is talk of Hamas now agreeing to elections; top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar reportedly said “We invite Abu Mazen [Abbas] to enter into elections to see the extent of his popularity in the Palestinian street.” The New York Times reports that Egyptian TV’s exclusive interview with Shalit has provoked strong criticism, with Israelis blasting the station for putting an obviously exhausted captive into the spotlight and fishing for compliments for Egypt – while Egyptians criticized the broadcaster for focusing on the Israeli captive instead of the hundreds of Palestinians being released.
SIGNS OF HOPE FOR CHINA TODDLER — THE ONE IN THE HORRIFIC VIDEO
Two-year-old Yue Yue, who was left bleeding on the road after a hit-and-run accident Thursday, is now showing signs of stability, China Daily reports. The scenes captured on a closed-circuit camera provoked outrage and soul-searching in China, as many wondered why no one had helped the child except a “good Samaritan” trash collector who moved her bleeding body from the road. Chen Xianmei, the trash collector who helped Yue Yue, has been given a reward of $1,570 by government officials for her good deed. “I don’t have enough words to thank her with,” the mother, who would identify herself only as Qu, said at the hospital on Monday, according to China Daily. “I was picking up trash in the hardware market when I saw a child lying in the road,” Chen Xianmei said. “I walked up in a hurry to the girl and heard her groan. I lifted her up and saw that one of her eyes was closed, that she had tears in her eyes, and she was bleeding from her mouth, nose and the back of her head,” Chen told China Daily. “I wanted to carry her but she was soft and collapsed immediately. I was scared to try again and so I dragged her to the side of the road and shouted for help. But nobody showed up,” Chen as quoted in Yangcheng Evening News as saying. The two drivers involved in the hit-and-run are in police custody. One was arrested by police and the other turned himself in on Monday. A security camera video of the incident has gone viral in China and ignited much heated discussion and soul-searching across the country. China’s version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, has created and organized all the comments under the hash tag “Please end the cold-heartedness.”
FRENCH HOSTAGE HELD IN SOMALIA DIES
A French woman kidnapped from Kenya by suspected Somali gunmen earlier this month has died, according to French officials. Diplomats said they were told of Marie Dedieu’s death by contacts through whom they had been negotiating her release. She was one of four Westerners abducted from Kenya in October. The 66-year old woman had learning difficulties and was suffering from cancer and heart problems. Her kidnappers wouldn’t take her wheelchair or medicine when they seized her in Lamu. In September, Briton David Tebbutt was killed and his wife Judith abducted from a luxury resort of Kiwayu on the Kenyan coast. And last month, two female Spanish aid workers were seized from the Dadaab refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border. All three kidnapped women are still missing.
JANE FONDA’S HANOI BUNKER
One of Hanoi’s historic hotels has discovered an underground bunker that sheltered Jane Fonda, Joan Baez and other foreign guests during the Vietnam War. The bunker’s exact location remained a mystery until workers pierced its concrete roof while renovating a bar at the Metropole Hotel. The Hotel has not decided yet what to do with this space.
RARE NORSE BURIAL SITE FOUND IN SCOTLAND
Archaeologists said Tuesday they have discovered the remains of a Viking chief buried with his boat, ax, sword and spear on a remote Scottish peninsula — one of the most significant Norse finds ever uncovered in Britain. The 16-foot-long (5-meter-long) grave is the first intact site of its kind to have been discovered on mainland Britain and is believed to be more than 1,000 years old. Much of the wooden boat and the Viking bones have rotted away, but scraps of wood and hundreds of metal rivets that held the vessel together remain.