MESSAGE TO SYRIA: “HEAR THE SCREAMS”
-PRESSURE FROM TURKEY…That powerful phrase comes from Turkish Prime Minister (and former ally) Recip Erdogan, who suggested today that the world should be as serious about the Syrian crackdown as it was about Libya’s. The AP quotes Erdogan: “We have to see the tragedy in the area, hear the screams and urgently take measures to stop the bloodshed.” Erdogan, speaking at an international energy conference in Istanbul, did not specify any possible actions, but he called on the international community to be as sensitive to the plight of Syrian people as they were to the uprising in oil-rich Libya. “Syria may not be attracting attention as much as Libya because it has not enough oil…But I want to stress that those killed in Syria are as human as those killed in Libya.”
-PRESSURE FROM EUROPE…Meanwhile, Germany, Britain and France are pressing for a UN resolution to condemn Syria’s human rights violations and call for an immediate end to violence there. The resolution will be sent to the UN Secretariat today with a vote expected next week.
-ULTIMATUM…The Arab League’s latest ultimatum demands that Syrian President Assad stop the violence within three days, and allow League monitors to visit the country. But it’s not clear that the “or else” is particularly potent, or that Assad is in a mood to listen. Syrian troops are said to have made sweeping arrests today in the restive city Hama. Yesterday, the Arab League suspended Damascus and threatened economic sanctions if the regime continues to violate a League-brokered peace plan.
-THE FEAR RETURNS…”Contagion!”writes Richard DAVIES, as fresh worries arise about the spread of Europe’s debt crisis. As Richard notes, “Months ago markets were most concerned about Greece, and its second bailout. Now bigger economies are facing rising interest rates with bond investors running scared. Spain’s bond auction this morning involved 10-year bonds. The interest rate of nearly 7 per cent was a 14 year high. The rate of 6.97 percent compared with 5.43 percent in the last auction Oct. 20.” It’s all about the cost of borrowing – and the massive debts these Eurozone nations are piling up.
-ANGER IN ATHENS; BABY STEPS IN ROME…In the streets, away from the trading floors, it’s all about “austerity.” The most-hated word across Europe these days. Thousands of police have been deployed across Athens ahead of a planned anti-austerity march to the U.S. embassy today. Just yesterday Greece’s new government headed by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos won a confidence vote. Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti will present his austerity plan to parliament and subject his government to a confidence vote in the Senate today. The Wall Street Journal warns that new governments in both Greece and Italy face stiff odds as they try to reform their countries’ economies – and huge consequences if they fail.
PRESIDENT OBAMA IN ASIA
-ASIA TRP = AMERICAN JOBS?…Per Jake TAPPER: The White House announces that “On the margins of the President’s trip, trade transactions were announced or showcased, exceeding $25 billion in total value (and an additional $14 billion in potential value) and supporting an estimated 127,000 U.S. jobs.” The deals are with Boeing, GE, and Sikorsky.
-OBAMA TO BALI…President Obama has arrived in the Indonesian resort of Bali to join East Asian leaders, including Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. On a busy agenda for the President: Regional trade, territory disputes in the South China Sea, integrating Southeast Asian countries into a block like the European Union and Myanmar’s proposed chairmanship in the organization.
-THANK YOU, AUSTRALIA…Earlier today, President Obama traveled to Darwin, Australia where he visited the USS Peary Memorial and addressed Australian troops. The president came to Darwin to thank the Australian military for hosting the new US military presence here. As we reported yesterday, a small liaison team of US Marines is already here. By 2012, a company-sized US Marine presence – between 200 and 250 Marines — will call Darwin home, and that force will ramp up to 2,500 in the coming years. Oh and there was the “ crocodile insurance” story — as Jake explains…
CLINTON TOURS FLOOD ZONE
On her way to Bali to meet President Obama for the summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a detour to Bangkok where she visited an evacuation center for Thai flood victims. Yesterday, the U.S. announced an aid package worth $10 million to aid the flood victims.
MYANMAR: AN OPENING?
As the Asian world turns its attention in to Myanmar at those Bali meetings, the reclusive country’s government has shown signs of opening up and easing – slightly at least – its repressive ways. The leadership has given its first extended interview with a major Western news organization – a senior minister telling the Wall Street Journal. Myanmar has embarked on an “irreversible” reform process. The minister, U Kyaw Hsan, blamed U.S. sanctions for delaying the country’s development and said they made Myanmar more reliant on Chinese companies. Also — the BBC’s David Lyon has interviewed long-time democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi. She said she’s been given assurances from President Thein Sein that her party the National League for Democracy will be allowed to stand in the next mid-term elections.
KUWAIT PARLIAMENT STORMED
The government holds an emergency meeting today after Kuwaitis stormed parliament last night, while others marched on the prime minister’s residence. Hundreds called for the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of the prime minister. Dozens reached the main chamber where they sang the national anthem, others were beaten by police near the PM’s residence. Opposition MPs want to question PM Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah about corruption and illegal overseas transfers; sixteen MPs are alleged to have received $350m in bribes. To date Kuwait has been relatively immune to the Arab Spring.
ISRAELI OFFICIAL: IF I WERE IRANIAN I’D WANT NUKES, TOO
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak tells Charlie Rose that if he were Iranian, he’d want nukes too. “Probably…I don’t delude myself that they are doing it just because of Israel. They have their history of 4,000 years. They look around, they see the Indians are nuclear, the Chinese are nuclear, Pakistan is nuclear…Israel allegedly has it (military nuclear capability).” Barak then warned that a nuclear Iran would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
ROCKET ATTACK AS THE LOYA JIRGA MEETS
From Aleem AGHA in Kabul: two rockets were fired toward the site of the Loya Jirga where Afghan elders are meeting with President Hamid Karzai to discuss the future U.S. military presence there. The rockets landed away from the meeting place, shattering windows and injuring one civilian
FUKUSHIMA RICE BAN
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: High levels of cesium have been found in rice harvested in Fukushima city, forcing the government to ban shipments of the Japanese staple for the first time since the nuclear disaster. The contaminated rice was harvested in Onami, about 35 miles northwest of the Fukushima plant. The cesium was found in tests conducted prior to shipments, so the rice hasn’t reached store shelves yet. While bans have been placed on a handful of produce and meat since March, a rice ban is significant, because Japanese eat rice 2 to 3 times a day. You may recall, the price of rice skyrocketed this summer, when people rushed to stock up out of concern that the new harvest would be contaminated. This finding, confirms their worst fears, and will likely be devastating for aging rice farmers.
PASSING THE HAT TO GET HOME — A TRUE AIR TRAVEL NIGHTMARE
From Dimitrije STEJIC: Airline passengers stranded on a refueling stop on their way back to Britain from India were forced to raise £20,000 ($35,000) to secure the release of their charter flight. After a five-day delay in Amritsar, their anguish only grew when told they would have to leave the aircraft in Austria as the airline had run out of money to complete the onward journey. As the Comtel Air flight to Birmingham stood stricken on the tarmac in Vienna, passengers refused to disembark. They claim to have met the demands of crew and raised money to secure the jet’s release. Some described being marched to cash machines under armed guard to withdraw money to pay the airline’s bill. Kamal Paul from Kettering, Northamptonshire, told The Times that passengers teamed up to raise the money after threats from the airline pilot. “The captain said, ‘We need €24,000 to enable this flight to get back to the UK and if not we are going to take you off the plane and you will be put in police custody and arrested’,” he said. “There was a person in her eighties, a blind person and for them it must have been very upsetting. It was like we were being held to ransom for seven hours. It was bully-boy tactics.” Mr. Paul said that he and five fellow travellers compiled a list of all passengers on board, detailing individual contributions towards the release fee. “We raised €24,000. It was like a united front because everyone wanted to get home after four or five days (stranded),” he said. Mr Paul said that he took the money to the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. The pilot placed a wooden panel over the controls and began to count out the money. “When he got to €20,000 – there was a good €5,000 left – he said, “That is enough, put the rest in the plastic bag.” Then his phone rang and he said, “I have got clearance’.” The Civil Aviation Authority, which runs the Atol travel protection scheme, said that Comtel Air had unpaid landing charges, fuel bills, hotel bills and air traffic control fees in Europe and in India.
SEX EDUCATION – AT AGE 4?
Carolyn DURAND in London notes this story from the Daily Mail: A British school may teach reproduction to children as young as 4 – good and bad touching and same-sex relationships to children as young as six and family planning and protection by the age of 8. At 9 intercourse, casual sex contraception and birth. One mother told the Mail, My son still believes in Santa Claus, he doesn’t need to be told about these things.
BENETTON PULLS POPE AD
The Benetton clothing company has pulled an ad featuring Pope Benedict kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb after the Vatican denounced it as an unacceptable provocation that offended the faithful. As Joe SIMONETTI noted, the ad campaign features fake photos of purportedly-opposed world leaders in lip-locked embraces, including President Barack Obama and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.