-CRIES FOR HELP…The opposition Local Coordination Committees are pleading for help from the international community, to stop what it says is a humanitarian crisis in and around the city of Homs, which has been under siege by Syrian security forces. Government troops appear to have mounted an all-out assault to put down the uprising in Homs, which has been a crucible of unrest for months. The LCC calls Homs “a disaster area”, and describes “incessant shelling” by security forces in the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Heating fuel, drinking water and electricity have been cut, the LCC says. “What is taking place, for about a week now, in the neighborhood of Baba Amr, exceeds all the crimes of the times, in cruelty and savagery.” More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in the last several days in Homs. The opposition is calling for outside intervention – to protect the population. Their request echoes the pleas made by the people of Benghazi – nearly eight months ago. Of course Libya’s opposition got its intervention. No indications the Syrian opposition will. The New York Times notes, “Homs may be emerging as an example to the rest of Syria of the relative success of fighting back against a military that, while still unified, has suffered more defections as fighting persists and the death toll mounts. ‘Homs is a turning point for now,’ said an analyst based in Damascus who spoke on the condition of anonymity. ‘It’s a successful model of self-defense, if you will, at a time when you really can’t expect people to take any more. They’ve seen too many corpses come back, too many people arrested, disappeared or returned after abominable treatment. It’s too much. And everybody seems to be losing control of the street.’”
-U.N.: DEATH TOLL TOPS 3,500…The U.N. human rights office now says at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since the crackdown began in mid-March. As Alex MARQUARDT notes, that means 500 killed in the past three weeks alone, as the Assad regime shows no signs of abiding by the terms of a recent Arab League peace deal.
-ITALY IN THE CROSS-HAIRS; BERLUSCONI ON THE ROPES…One ancient nation (Greece) takes some baby steps towards political stability; another (Italy) heads in the wrong direction. As Phoebe NATANSON writes from Rome, “Today is a very dicey day in Italian politics.” Italian borrowing costs spiked to new record highs this morning, nearing levels that prompted bailouts in Ireland and Portugal and intensifying pressure on Premier Berlusconi to resign amid signs his government cannot manage the country’s huge debts. Italian lawmakers have just voted to approve the country’s accounts for last year — that’s a win for Berlusconi. He’s still under fire from many quarters…and as Phoebe reminds us, Berlusconi has survived no fewer than 51 no-confidence votes.
-WHY THIS MATTER$…The Italian economy – and its staggering debt – dwarf those of Greece. As hard as it’s been for the Eurozone to shore up Greece against default – doing so for Italy would be much harder. And even the spectre of default in Italy would crush global markets. As the Washington Post puts it, “The escalating turmoil in Italy highlights the repeated failures of European leaders to come to grips with the debt crisis, which has been building over the past two years. Officials had hoped that the markets would calm after politicians in near-bankrupt Greece rallied around a plan last week that would bring sharp austerity in exchange for a bailout. But investors — now fretting over Italy and doubting whether European leaders can muster the will to truly resolve the crisis — instead appear as skeptical as ever that highly indebted European countries will be able to pay their bills.”
-GREECE HAMMERS OUT INTERIM GOVERNMENT…Meanwhile, over in Athens…Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and conservative opposition leader Antonis Samaras are meeting this morning with President Karolos Papoulias in hopes of coming to an agreement on a leader and cabinet for the interim government. That new government would hopefully pave the way for that $11 billion bailout from the EU. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes an uptick in Greeks moving back to New York‘s traditional enclave, Astoria, as economic woes batter their homeland.
LOOSE LIPS: OBAMA, SARZOKY CAUGHT COMPLAINING ABOUT NETANYAHU
President Obama and French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy were caught on a hot microphone discussing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And it’s not pretty. Alex MARQUARDT reports: Netanyahu is “a liar”, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told President Barack Obama on the sidelines of last week’s G-20 summit, according to reports from Paris. “I can’t look at him [Netanyahu] anymore, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, the French media website Arret Sur Images reported. “You’ve had enough of him, but I have to deal with him every day,” Obama is said to have responded. The (supposedly) private conversation happened last Thursday in the southern French city of Cannes, heard by half a dozen journalists whose headphones were still receiving audio from the presidents’ wireless microphones. The handful of reporters included one from the Reuters news agency who confirmed the quotes. “By the time the team from the Elysee [presidential palace] realized, it must have been three minutes,” one of the journalists told Arret Sur Images. The comments took several days to leak out because the French reporters decided to abide by ethical standards and not publish them. Netanyahu’s office declined ABC News’ request for comment and the White House has yet to respond. Sarkozy and Obama were discussing the recent admission of Palestine to UNESCO, part of its bid to get recognition at the United Nations. The conversation then turned to Netanyahu, which is when Sarkozy is said to have called him a liar. Also — as Lee FERRAN notes, At least one Iranian news outlet seems to be enjoying it - Fars News Agency has the story near the top with the headline “Obama, Sarkozy Hate Netanyahu”.
IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM
From Jim SCUTTO: The IAEA tells me it’s still possible its report on Iran’s nuclear program will be released to member states later today, or tomorrow at the latest, at which point member states will almost certainly leak it. One key nuclear expert says there will be more news in the report about uranium enrichment, in addition to the information about weaponization that came out yesterday in the Washington Post. If that information shows continuing problems with centrifuges (brought on by the Stuxnet virus), expect Iran to announce some positive news in its nuclear program to tamp down any embarrassment at home. More to come as day goes on.
The Los Angeles Times reports White House restrictions on drone strikes have lead to an increase of high-value targets being killed by the strikes, but lower-level militants are still the most likely to be killed. Since June, when some of the new strictures went into place, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 235 suspected militants, the paper reports. Thirteen of those, or 5.5%, were significant Al Qaeda figures or militant commanders, according to data compiled by Long War Journal, a website that tracks the strikes through Pakistani and Western news reports. The restrictions were put in place after a March 17 strike that the government of Pakistan condemned, saying it killed more than 40 civilians.
SCANDAL MAY ENGULF OLYMPUS; “JAPAN’S ENRON”?
Akiko FUJITA continues to monitor the scandal engulfing Olympus. Olympus is forcing its vice president out today, just a month after former CEO Michael Woodford was dismissed after he raised questions about the excessive advisory fees the company pays. Weeks later, Woodford’s replacement, Shuichi Takyama, resigned. An independent advisory panel found the company has been using those advisory fees to cover up its losses. Olympus stocks have plummeted 70 percent in just three weeks. Observers have called this “Japan’s Enron.”
INDIA: DEADLY STAMPEDE
At least 16 people have been killed in a stampede at a Hindu festival in northern India/ At 50 others were injured. Thousands of worshipers were gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of the founder of the Haytari Parivar sect (more than police had expected.
YAO MING GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
Former NBA giant — and arguably China’s biggest sports star — Yao Ming is going to college. Yao told reporters on his first day at Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University that the teacher “showed me some mercy and didn’t assign me any homework.” Yao has pursuing a degree in economics.
SOMALIS HIT THE BEACH
The New York Times has a fascinating read on Somalis venturing back to Mogadishu’s Lido Beach as the militant Islamist group Shabab retreats from the capital. Since the Shabab largely retreated from Mogadishu in early August, the city has slowly and cautiously been stirring to life. Vendors are moving back into the central market. People dine in outdoor cafes. Maybe most cathartically, they are going back to the beach — men and women alike.
SECRETARY OF STATE CLINTON’S NEW AIDS PUSH
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will call today for a new push by the U.S. and other countries to harness recent science to stem the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In a speech to be delivered at the National Institutes of Health, Clinton is expected to call for those tools to be widely implemented in countries where the pandemic continues to rage, and to ask donors to step up aid to intensify the response, according to people briefed on the speech.
ASTEROID TO JUST SQUEEZE PAST EARTH?
As Gina SUNSERI has been reporting, a large asteroid called 2005 YU55 is expected to come within approximately 201,700 miles of Earth at 6:28p ET. The 1,300-foot-wide asteroid poses no hazard to Earth, but it is the first time since 1976 that an asteroid has come so close to Earth.
MISSION TO MARS
The U.S. may have scuttled its Mars plans – but Russia hasn’t. Alexandra NADEZHDINA reports scientists saying today that Russia’s ambitious mission to bring back soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos will pave the way for the exploration of the Red Planet. The launch of the Phobos-Grunt mission, Russia’s first foray in deep space since losing a $300-million Mars-bound lander in 1996, is scheduled for 20:16 GMT Tuesday. Lev Zelyony, head of the Institute of Space Studies and a senior researcher at Russia’s Science Academy, said the mission could shed light on some of mankind’s most enduring mysteries, including the genesis of the solar system. The $163-million mission, Zelyony said, “will provide clues as to the genesis of Phobos and Deimos [its sibling moon] as well as other planets in the solar system…While studying the soil of Phobos, we’re expecting to proceed in the future to the study of the substance of Mars itself.” In 1996, Russia’s Mars 96 Orbiter suffered engine failure after launch, reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Last week, Russia brought to a successful end an experiment to simulate a return trip to Mars.
YIKES. YUK. HISTORIAN KEPT MUMMIFIED BODIES
Russian police say a historian arrested last week for desecrating several Nizhny Novgorod cemeteries had kept 29 female mummies at home and dressed them up like dolls. The 45-year-old local resident was detained last week and accused of digging up dead bodies at the local cemeteries over the past two years. A search of his apartment turned up 29 dolls made of mummified human remains and dressed up in clothes of the buried women. Police said that several plaques from gravestones, maps of local cemeteries and doll-making manuals had been retrieved during the search. Forensic experts matched the man’s fingerprints and footprints with the ones lifted from disturbed graves at the Nizhny Novgorod cemeteries. Official releases would not identify the man but the Nizhny Novgorod media reported last week that the suspect is a well respected specialist in necropolises named Anatoly Moskvin, a PhD in Celtic studies. The suspect was charged with desecrating dead bodies and their burial sites, a crime punishable by up to three months in jail or a year of correctional labor. AP has the photos
ZOO TO SEPARATE GAY PENGUINS
The Toronto Zoo is planning to separate a pair of gay male penguins so they can mate with females. Buddy and Pedro came to Toronto in May from the Toledo Zoo as part of a popular African penguin exhibit and quickly paired off, showing signs of traditional mating behaviors, including as this article suggests, “arguing over whose family to spend holiday with and where to find an affordable apartment.” And yes, this was the subject of a Will & Grace episode.