U.S. MARINES & TALIBAN DEAD
-CHARGES COMING?…Martha RADDATZ and Luis MARTINEZ have learned that criminal charges could come as early against those four Marines seen urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban. All four Marines have been identified, Raddatz reports — though only two have been interviewed. The criminal charges are expected to include bringing dishonor to the military and possible war crimes charges. The Marines could face jail time.
-THE FALLOUT…In the meantime, condemnation is coming fast and furious from every direction for the viral video that shows four Marines urinating on the bodies of three dead Taliban fighters. Arab media today joins the State Department and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the host of voices condemning the act. Nasser ATTA notes an editorial today in Alqud Al Arabi that reads, “This story in Afghanistan is not an isolated incident. It is part of their military education that does not respect the other and looks at other cultures with spite and enjoys the humiliation of others and their believes.” However, the regional press from Kabul to Islamabad through much of the Arab world continues to play the story in a straightforward way. And no big protests anywhere…yet.
U.S. + IRAN: “SHADOW WAR”
-SECRET U.S. CHANNEL TO WARN IRAN…The New York Times reports the Obama administration is using a “secret channel of communication” to warn Iran that closing the Strait of Hormuz would provoke an American response. Officials declined to describe the unusual contact between the two governments, but say the secret channel was chosen to underscore privately to Iran the depth of American concern about rising tensions over the strait. The threats and counter-threats over the Strait are a major source of worry — not only because of what a shutdown would mean economically, but also due to the fear that one misstep by either side could provoke war.
-FUNERAL FOR NUCLEAR SCIENTIST…Iranian state television showed thousands of people turning out for the funeral of assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan today.
-NUCLEAR INSPECTORS…Meantime, the Wall Street Journal reports Iran has agreed to allow UN nuclear inspectors into the country later this month. The visit is tentatively set for January 28, though it’s not yet clear if Tehran will allow the inspectors to visit key nuclear sites and interview the officials who head the country’s nuclear weapons program.
-AHMADINEJAD + CASTRO…Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to look for friends in Latin America today, wrapping up his tour through the region with a visit to Ecuador. He found a friend yesterday — when he met with longtime Washington foe Fidel Castro to discuss world affairs.
-MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE U.S….A very different U.S.-Iran story: A 111-year-old Iranian woman is set to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen today. Warina Zaya Bahou will be sworn in at 2p ET in her metro-Detroit home. She just the second-oldest person on record to be naturalized.
U.S. WARNS OF TERROR ATTACK IN BANGKOK
Reuters reports a Lebanese suspect with Hezbollah ties has been taken into custody by Thai officials — following a U.S. Embassy warning that American citizens may be the targets of terrorist attacks in Bangkok. The embassy said in a message posted on its website on Friday that ”foreign terrorists may be currently looking to conduct attacks against tourist areas in Bangkok in the near future.”
MASSIVE PROTESTS EXPECTED IN SYRIA
Al Arabiya reports Syrian opposition groups are calling for mass protests around the country today, just as the Arab League struggles define its much-maligned mission. More of those Arab League monitors tell Reuters they may defect from the mission today. Demonstrations are reportedly already underway in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, Homs, Idlib and suburbs of Damascus. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed one protester in Idlib, where more than 20,000 people were demonstrating.
BEIJING’S APPLE STORE EGGED
What a scene in Beijing, where Karson YIU reports: Apple has halted all sales of all iPhone models in China after an angry crowd threw eggs at Apple’s Beijing flagship store when it failed to open on schedule at 7a to sell the new iPhone 4S. The smartphones are wildly popular in China and stores there are often mobbed for the release of new models. Several people had traveled hundreds of miles for the opening.
PAKISTANI PRESIDENT BACK HOME
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is back home this morning after a private trip to Dubai that stoked rumors that he was being pushed out by the army or was fleeing a potential coup. Those rumors first surfaced last month with Zardari traveled to Dubai for medical treatment during a deepening crisis between the country’s civilian government and the military.
AFGHANISTAN’S OPIUM FARMERS MADE $1.4 BILLION LAST YEAR
New numbers show the uphill battle we face in restricting Afghanistan’s economy. Rising opium prices mean Afghanistan’s opium farmers made a bundle last year. As much as $1.4 billion, the BBC says. Prices started to rise in 2010 after the poppy crop was hit by a fungal disease and were up 133 percent last year alone.
MYANMAR FREES POLITICAL PRISONERS
Myanmar freed many of its most prominent political prisoners today in a long-awaited step toward national reconciliation that also has been a key condition set by Western nations for easing sanctions against the country. The releases of several political activists and ethnic minority leaders were part of a presidential pardon for 651 detainees. It was the latest in a flurry of reforms by the new, nominally civilian government as it seeks international legitimacy after years of military repression.
SECOND NORTH KOREA MISSILE TEST SINCE KIM JONG IL’S DEATH
Akiko FUJITA notes a Yonhap report that North Korea test-fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea this week. This is the second missile test since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
INMATE NABBED AFTER BOLD JAILBREAK IN JAPAN
FUJITA again: Japanese police have captured a Chinese inmate who sparked a nationwide manhunt when he bolted from a prison earlier this week, clad only in his underwear. NHK even broke into programming to show police taking 23-year-old Li Guolin into custody, only a mile from the prison from which he escaped. Unfortunately, he managed to find some clothes along the way – he was wearing a jacket and ski cap when he was arrested. This is the first prison break in two decades in Japan.
Quite a story from Kelly COBIELLA in London: An Oxford mathematician was released on bail today after being grilled for 36 hours in the death of his best friend — another Oxford professor. Dr. Devinder Sivia was arrested in connection with the death of 50-year old astrophysicist Steven Rawlings, although police have not been able to determine how Rawlings died Wednesday night. An autopsy was completed on Thursday but coroners were not able to pin down the cause of death. “This is a tragic incident and our investigations are ongoing to establish the cause of death,” Detective Superintendent Rob Mason said. Mason emphasized that police are looking into “all potential circumstances that could have led to his (Rawling’s) death. We are mindful that ultimately the death may be a matter for a coroner’s inquest rather than a criminal court.” Neighbors called police Wednesday night after hearing Rawlings and his mathematician friend fighting. When they arrived, Rawlings was unconscious. A neighbor tried to revive Rawlings using CPR, but he was pronounced dead at the home. Neighbors said Rawlings and Sivia were the “best of friends.” The two had known each other for decades. They wrote a book together in the late 1990′s called “Foundations of Science Mathematics.” Police believe the professors had dinner at a pub Wednesday night, but it’s not clear what sparked their late night argument. Police arrested Sivia Wednesday night. Police questioned him for 36 hours before releasing him on bail today. “It must have been a terrible accident,” Professor Rawlings’ sister told British newspaper The Telegraph. “They have been friends for 30 years. We can’t think that there was any kind of fight.”
JORAN VAN DER SLOOT MAY BE SENTENCED TODAY
Joran van der Sloot may be sentenced today after pleading guilty to the murder of a 21-year-old Peruvian woman. Just yesterday, an Alabama judge officially declared Natalee Holloway dead. Van der Sloot was, of course, the main suspect in her disappearance.
MILESTONE IN INDIA – A YEAR WITHOUT POLIO
The Los Angeles Times notes a milestone in India: the South Asian nation has gone a year without recording a new case of polio. Most health experts gave India relatively little chance of getting this far given its huge population, poor infrastructure, widespread poverty and infamous bureaucracy, so it’s considered an encouraging development for health professionals fighting to eradicate the disease, but experts warn that premature declarations of victory could lead to complacency among Indian parents who might stop immunizing their children.
NEGATIVE COMMENTS VANISH ON PUTIN’S ELECTION WEBSITE
The New York Times reports negative comments that rolled into Vladimir Putin’s presidential campaign website have mysteriously disappeared, replaced with a flood of support for Putin. Putin’s press secretary says only comments with obscene language were removed. The episode seems to underscore the delicate balance Putin must strike in his election bid. He could ignore last month’s protests, set off by the public rejection of parliamentary election results, but that would risk further undermining the government’s legitimacy.
2 U.S. BRIGADES TO LEAVE EUROPE
The Obama administration has decided to remove two of the four U.S. Army brigades remaining in Europe as part of a broader effort to cut $487 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade, senior U.S. officials tell the Washington Post. The reductions in Army forces, which have not been formally announced, are likely to concern European officials, who worry that the smaller American presence reflects a waning of interest in the decades-long U.S.-NATO partnership in Europe. Top Pentagon officials have sought to allay the concerns by telling their NATO allies in private meetings that the United States will continue to rotate Army units through Europe on training missions to augment the presence of the remaining two brigades.
BALTIMORE MAN HAS SUCCESSFUL WINDPIPE REPLACEMENT
A Baltimore man, Christopher Lyles, has had a successful windpipe transplant. He traveled to Sweden to have his cancerous windpipe removed and replaced with a synthetic one. The New York Times reports it was the second procedure of its kind and the first for an American. Our affiliate WMAR interviewed him before he went for the surgery at the beginning of November.
DIAMOND STOLEN IN LONDON HEIST TURNS UP IN HONG KONG PAWN SHOP
As Andreena NARAYAN notes, a 16-carat yellow diamond snatched in London by Bentley-driving bandits has turned up in a Hong Kong pawn shop. The diamond was stolen in a July 2007 holdup in which a pair of sharply dressed bandits stepped out of a $250,000 Bentley and pretended to be shoppers at a tony London jeweler before brandishing handguns and stealing diamonds and a host of other jewelry. The jeweler is suing in an attempt to get the gem back.
HUGE NUMBER OF SEALS WASH ASHORE
Sad nature story from northern Europe — though the humans are trying to help: The BBC reports overwhelming numbers of seals are washing ashore in The Netherlands, thanks to rough seas that are tearing pups and their mothers apart. Marine specialists and veterinarians have erected a tent along the shore, inside which they’re treating the seals with donated fish and kiddie pools.
Looks like Will and Kate have adopted a dog…