The Global Note: Thailand “Catastrophe”…Euro-Rescue…Libya’s Weapons…Bhutan Wedding

By Tom Nagorski

Oct 13, 2011 1:52pm

THAILAND DISASTER

-”SLOW-MOTION CATASTROPHE“  Strong pictures from across Thailand and fears for the capital, Bangkok, as floodwaters rise and rage. At least 280 people have been killed in the country’s worst floods in half a century. 61 of the country’s 76 provinces have been flooded, affecting more than 8 million people – and there are serious concerns that Bangkok could be next. From Vietnam to India, monsoon rains and typhoons have battered Asia this year, causing major flooding in an area the size of Spain, but Thailand has been hit hardest. Much of the damage has been in the northern and central plains, including the city of Ayutthaya, just north of Bangkok. Famous for its ancient temples, large sections of Ayutthaya are buried under  water. 108 temples, including a UNESCO World Heritage Site have been flooded, and the Prime Minister says many provinces could remain submerged for the next 2 months. All eyes are now on Bangkok, where people are working around the clock to put up protective floodwalls. The government is reportedly releasing water from a dam in the north to ease flooding – but that will make its way to Bangkok, and could merge with predicted high tides from the south. Keep in mind, Bangkok is just 2 meters above sea level – and more rain is forecast for the next 5 days.

-THE COSTS   From Akiko FUJITA. The economic toll from the floods is already high. A Honda factory north of Bangkok has been submerged, destroying hundreds of cars, and Toyota announced it would suspend operations at its three plants in the country. U.S.-based Western Digital Corp announced it would shut down its factories. The AP is describing this as a “slow-motion catastrophe.” 

LIBYA (1): WHERE THOSE WEAPONS WENT

Call it an unintended – and unfortunate -  consequence of revolution. Egypt’s regime falls, loosening a key border; then Libya’s goes, and surface-to-air missiles go unguarded, as Lama HASAN witnessed during her recent tour in Libya. The result? Large caches of weapons from Libya are making their way across the Egyptian border and flooding black markets in Egypt’s already-unstable Sinai Peninsula, according to current and former Egyptian military officials and arms traders in the Sinai. The Washington Post reports surface-to-air missiles, most of them shoulder-launched, have been intercepted by Egyptian security officials on the road to Sinai and in the smuggling tunnels that connect Egypt to the Gaza Strip since Moammar Gaddafi fell from power. Arms traders said the weapons available on the clandestine market in Sinai also include rockets and antiaircraft guns. The addition of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to arsenals of Palestinian fighters in Gaza could add significantly to the threat against Israel, whose helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft frequently patrol the zone. “We don’t want to see Egypt as a pathway to smuggle weapons,” said Sameh Seif el-Yazal, a retired Egyptian general tells the Post.

LIBYA (2): GADHAFI’S HOMETOWN ON THE ROPES

As the battle for Sirte rages on, the BBC reports as much as 80 percent of Gadhafi’s hometown is under the rebels’ control. Capturing Sirte is key as Libya’s provisional leaders say they will only declare the conflict over and announce a new government once Sirte is captured. Meantime, the National Transitional Council says it cannot confirm reports Gadhafi’s son Mutassim has been captured.

EURO-MESS

-SLOVAKIA TO THE RESCUE   After a bit of parliamentary gamesmanship, Slovakia has approved the revamped, $600-billion Eurozone bailout fund. Slovakia is the last holdout of the 17 nations that use the euro, meaning that once they vote, the changes will go into effect. The new agreement will allow the Eurozone to deploy as much as $600 billion to buy government bonds and recapitalize banks. Still lots of questions as to whether the rescue package is enough to lift the continent from its crisis.

-U.S. EXPOSURE?   We may get a better sense of how exposed U.S. banks are to the European debt crisis as the banks kick off their earnings season today. JPMorgan Chase will be the first bank to report results at 10a ET – followed by Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs next week.

-GREECE PROTESTS   Meanwhile, Athens’ transportation workers have launched a 48-hour strike against new austerity measures that has ground the Greek capital to a halt. State power company employees have also occupied the company’s building to prevent electricity bills bearing a new property tax from being issued.

 U.S. KILLS HAQQANI COORDINATOR

Habibullah KHAN reports from Islamabad: An American missile strike has killed a ranking member of the Haqqani network in northwest Pakistan, as well as two other militants. The Haqqani member was identified as Jalil, a “coordinator” for the group. The strike came as U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman arrived in Pakistan to improve ties between Washington and Islamabad that have been severely strained by stepped-up American claims of Pakistan assistance to the Haqqanis.

WHITE HOUSE HOSTS SOUTH KOREAN STATE DINNER

President and Mrs. Obama welcome South Korean President Lee and First Lady Kim to the White House for the fifth State Dinner of Obama’s presidency. The New York Times takes note of the close relationship – the “bromance,” if you will – between Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Obama’s admiration for Lee began during a visit to Seoul in 2009 and is rare for a president who has been criticized for not having many close relationships with other foreign leaders. Great tidbit from the Washington Post: The first State Dinner for a foreign leader was for King David Kalakaua of the Sandwich Islands in 1874.

AFRICA’S BOOMING MIDDLE CLASS

The Wall Street Journal highlights a report out today from the African Development Bank that finds Africa’s middle class will triple to more than one billion people in the next half-century. The number of Africans earning between $4 and $20 a day will balloon from 355 million people today—a number on par with China and India. That might seem low for inhabitants of many developed countries, but the bank says it is a level at which Africans can spend a bit on products or entertainment beyond the bare necessities of food and shelter. 

SHE WON THE NOBEL, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE VOTE?

The first results from Liberia’s election are coming in. Incumbent President and new Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf may be beloved abroad, but faces a tough challenge at home. Her opponent former diplomat Winston Tubman has accused Johnson Sirleaf of not doing enough to end corruption in the government and impeding the economic progress of ordinary Liberians.

BLACKBERRY OUTAGE CAUSES HAVOC IN NIGERIA

Many of us suffered from the Blackberry meltdown — and today we’ve learned that three days of blackberry service outage ground business in Africa’s most populous nation to a standstill. Nigeria, which is fast becoming the center for African banking, is a society that relies on blackberry more than any other form of smartphone technology. The RIM service is so popular during the last election the government sent out messages using blackberry messenger. Nigerian businesses are complaining that this week’s outage was not just an inconvenience, but also cost the economy money.

FIREBOMBS ON BERLIN’S TRAIN TRACKS

Since Monday, 16 firebombs have been found in nine locations along Berlin’s rail system. Two have gone off to little effect, but hundreds of trains have been delayed. A leftist group has claimed responsibility for one of the firebombs.

PAN AM GAMES WARN ATHLETES: DON’T EAT STREET MEAT

Pan American Games officials are warning athletes to avoid eating on the street because of the fear of ingesting meat contaminated with clenbuterol. Mexico continues to struggle with clenbuterol in their meat, largely because farmers continue to give steroids to their livestock, even though it is illegal. As reported in this note, five Mexican soccer players tested positive earlier this year for clenbuterol linked to tainted meat. 

D-DAY (AGAIN) FOR BERLUSCONI

Another big day looms tomorrow for Prime Minister Berlusconi – who addressed parliament ahead of Friday’s confidence vote. The opposition vacated the hall in protest while Berlusconi spoke – but will return for the confidence vote tomorrow. As Phoebe NATANSON reports, “This will be the 53rd confidence vote called during Berlusconi’s three and a half year’s leadership of the country and if he loses it, he will be forced to resign. Berlusconi has reportedly been frantically preparing today’s speech and is very concerned about the outcome. The Italian media is frantically trying to count each vote to work out if his government can survive; it looks very close right now.”

FRANCE DROPS DSK CHARGES

French police have dropped an inquiry into allegations that former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn attempted to rape a French writer in 2003, French prosecutors said today. “There aren’t enough elements of evidence to pursue an attempted rape case,” said a statement released today by a Parisian court. But the statement said the inquiry did find “facts that can be qualified as sexual assault have been recognized.” The prosecutors said that investigators could not go forward with a sexual assault case because the statute of limitations for those charges had long passed. The French writer, Tristane Banon, said the alleged incident took place in 2003, but did not come forward with the accusations until July 2011.

 THE CHILEAN MINERS, ONE YEAR LATER

Today marks one year since those 33 Chilean miners were pulled to safety in a rescue mission broadcast around the world. As we’ve noted here, many of the men are struggling to get by, piecing together odd jobs. As one miner told the New York Times, “They made us feel like heroes. In the end, we’re selling peanuts. It’s ironic, isn’t it?”

ROYAL NEWS (1): BHUTAN’S BIG DAY

Dan HARRIS reports from Bhutan (you don’t hear that every day): Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchunk wed commoner and longtime girlfriend Jetsun Pema in a traditional Buddhist ceremony. The ceremony kicks off three days of celebration in this tiny Himalayan land that is slowly but steadily emerging into the modern world. Family friends said it was a love marriage between a couple who had already been living together for eight months.

ROYAL NEWS (2): UK MOVES TO CHANGE ROYAL RULES

British Prime Minister David Cameron has taken the first step toward a constitutional change that would allow girls and women to ascend to the British throne before their younger brothers. Cameron is urging the commonwealth to accept a change in the succession rules set by the Act of Settlement, adopted in 1701, which stipulates that male children have precedence over their older sisters in succession to the throne.

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