SAVING THE EURO?
After marathon negotiations, a group of 23 European leaders, including those from the 17 nations that use the euro, agreed to a pact with strict caps on government spending and borrowing to shore up the foundations of the currency. But the summit in Brussels fell short of winning full support of all 27 nations of the European Union. Notably, the UK refused to sign up – two decades to the day of the Maastricht Treaty the English Chanel still divides the EU. The Telegraph has a live blog, while the Economist calls it “the great divorce.” The FT says the deal leaves the UK “isolated.” Some quotes from the principals: U.K. Prime Minister David CAMERON: “What is on offer isn’t in Britain’s interests, so I didn’t agree to it.” French President Nicholas SARKOZY: “We’re doing everything we can to save the euro.” And German Prime Minister Angela MERKEL: “I have always said, the 17 states of the euro group have to regain credibility. And I believe with today’s decisions this can and will be achieved”.
So far — not bad. Stocks are up more than 100 points in New York at this hour. Earlier, European and Asian markets were subdued after most European Union leaders signed on to that treaty aimed at shoring up the euro. Also today, a lower-than-expected inflation reading in China kept declines in Asian markets in check after opening way down.
MISSING AMERICAN – HOSTAGE VIDEO RELEASED
The New York Times reports that the mystery surrounding the disappearance nearly five years ago of Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in Iran was rekindled today with the expected release of a hostage videotape showing him alive. Despite a lengthy investigation, however, the U.S. government has no evidence of who is holding the 63-year-old father of seven.
Alex MARQUARDT in Damascus reports things are quiet following Friday prayers. He was told there would be a protest outside the main mosque in Berza – fairly restive Damascus suburb. Streets were empty of protestors but filled with uniformed and plain clothes police officers “holding AK47s and batons.” Police have been posted there every Friday for the past three months. And despite the continuing crackdown protests have taken place in other parts of Syria today. This was the scene in Anadan, Aleppo and Zabadani near Damascus. In Kafranbel, Idlib protesters held up a placards of Assad as the Godfather. In this demonstration in Ma’arrat an Numaan, protesters held a banner in English which read: “All the massacres in the world doesn’t compare with Assad’s one”. And we’ve received reports – but nothing close to confirmation – that Syrian troops have opened fire on a rally in Homs. That follows the Syrian National Council issuing a statement this morning warning of an imminent massacre: “Evidence received from reports, videos and information obtained by activists on the ground in Homs, indicate that the regime paving the way to commit a massacre in order to extinguish the Revolution in Homs and to discipline by example, other Syrian cities that have joined the Revolution.”
BIN LADEN WIVES TO GO HOME?
From the Guardian: Two wives of Osama bin Laden, held in Pakistan after the raid in May that killed their husband, are set to return to their homeland of Saudi Arabia, Pakistani officials have said. A third wife will not travel back to her native land, Yemen, after authorities refused to accept her but may instead be offered a new home in Qatar, the Gulf emirate, a source in the Pakistani interior ministry told the Guardian. All three women were detained by Pakistani military personnel after the American special forces raid on a house in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad during which Bin Laden was killed. Around a dozen children were also taken into Pakistani custody. According to the officials and Saudi press reports, the two Saudi-born wives, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, recently had their Saudi citizenship restored, a move which would allow their return, possibly as early as next week. “The Saudi government has agreed to accept his children and two wives, and we are working on logistical arrangements now,” one senior source said, requesting anonymity. Eight children of the late al-Qaida leader would travel with the women, the official added. Western officials in the region urged caution. “Let’s wait and see. It’s likely they will go back [to Saudi Arabia] at some stage but it may well not be imminent,” said one.
SCOTLAND STORMS AFTERMATH
Cleanup begins in northern Scotland following Thursday’s storms that brought winds gusting well above 160mph. More than 70,000 homes and businesses are without power. The wind were strong enough to bring down a 300ft high wind turbine after two caught fire. Strong pictures here.
OPPOSITION PLANS MAJOR RALLIES IN RUSSIA
Russian authorities have allowed the opposition to hold a massive protest against election fraud, following a violent police crackdown on a series of demonstrations earlier this week, the rally organizers said Friday. The decision to sanction a rally of up to 30,000 on Saturday on a square across the river from the Kremlin appears to be an attempt to avoid the violence that occurred at the previous, unsanctioned protests that occurred after last Sunday’s parliamentary election. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won about 50 percent of the vote, barely holding onto its majority in the lower house. But Russia’s opposition parties and observers said that even that result was highly inflated because of vote-rigging, and international monitors also pointed to ballot stuffing. Also, a security expert tells the BBC hijacked PCs may have helped drown out online chat about Russian election protests. The computers were used to disrupt Twitter as Russians chatted about ongoing protests in Moscow’s Triumphal Square, said security firm Trend Micro. Analysis of the many pro-Kremlin messages posted to some discussions suggested they were sent by machines. Russian activists said thousands of Twitter accounts were being used to drown out genuine dissent.
HOSPITAL FIRE IN INDIA
The death toll continues to rise with 88 persons killed – most from suffocation in a hospital fire in Calcutta. The AP reports six hospital employee are under arrest – charged with culpable homicide after they and other staff reportedly abandoned patients and fled for their own safety. It also reportedly took the fire department over an hour to arrive on the scene. Local government officials vowed to hold the hospital accountable. “It’s a very serious offense, and we will take the strongest action,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, told reporters at the scene.
ANOTHER AFGHAN MOSQUE BOMBING
From Aleem AGHA in Kabul: A suicide bomber walked intto a mosque during prayers in Ghaziabad district of Kunar province. A spokesman with the Afghan Interior ministry says the target of the attack was the district police chief who was there to deliver prayers. The police chief & his 2 body guards were killed. 2 civilians got injured.
BAN KI MOON IN MOGADISHU
Dana HUGHES reports from Nairobi: The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is in Mogadishu; the first visit by a U.N. chief in 18 years. Yesterday heavy fighting engulfed the northern part of the city, although there have been no reports of further exchanges today. The Secretary-General is touring the military gains made by the UN-backed African Union force (AMISOM) against the Al-Queda-inspired Islamic fighters of Al-Shabaab. He also announced that the UN Political Office for Somalia will transfer it’s headquarters from Nairobi to Mogadishu beginning in January.
US TROOPS DEPLOYED TO HELP LRA FIGHT
The state department’s top Africa diplomat Johnnie Carson said that US special forces will begin deployment this month to strongholds of the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army within Uganda, DRC, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic. He outlined the mission at a U.S. Institute of Peace policy seminar yesterday. Though the troops will be combat equipped, they are there as an advisory and training role to help the national militaries pursuing the LRA and will not engage in combat, Carson said. Some troops will be out in the LRA stronghold areas, while the rest will be based in Uganda providing logistical support. Carson said this is not an “open-ended commitment” but gave no end date, saying that progress will be regularly reviewed. President Obama announced in October that about 100 troops were expected to be deployed to help rid the region of the LRA and kill or capture it’s leader Joseph Kony, who’s wanted for war crimes. It’s the largest US troop deployment in Africa since a marine contingent went to Liberia in 2003.
U.S. BATTERIES A RISK FOR MEXICO
From the NYTimes: The spent batteries Americans turn in for recycling are increasingly being sent to Mexico, where their lead is often extracted by crude methods that are illegal in the United States, exposing plant workers and local residents to dangerous levels of a toxic metal. The rising flow of batteries is a result of strict new Environmental Protection Agency standards on lead pollution, which make domestic recycling more difficult and expensive, but do not prohibit companies from exporting the work and the danger to countries where standards are low and enforcement is lax.
16-YEAR-OLD BECOMES YOUNGEST TO SKI TO THE SOUTH POLE
We noted last month when she took off and today the BBC reports that 16-year-old Amelia Hempleman-Adams has become the youngest person to ski to the South Pole. She traveled with her father, famous Brit explorer David Hempleman-Adams. The pair spent 17 freezing nights camping in the Antarctic and skied 97 miles together. Worst part of the trip? Her father’s snoring.