SYRIA: DEATH + DIPLOMACY
-SHOWDOWN ON THE GROUND…Can Bashar al-Assad hang on? And if so, for how long? It’s a big day on the diplomatic front – following a particularly deadly day on the frontlines of Syria’s uprising. Activists say Syrian troops are crushing pockets of resistance on Damascus’ outskirts as they advance into suburbs previously held by rebel forces. Activists in eastern districts of Damascus said troops fired in the air as they advanced beyond areas from which the opposition Free Syrian Army withdrew, capping three days of fighting which activists said killed at least 100 people. Tanks also swarmed into the area. “The suburbs are under an unannounced curfew. A small grocery shop opened this morning and soldiers came and beat the owner and forced him to shut down,” an activist in the Ain Tarma neighborhood told Reuters. Others said residents of some eastern districts were allowed to flee their neighborhoods in vehicles by advancing troops, but that security forces rounded up young men at gunpoint and detained them.
-SHOWDOWN AT THE U.N….Tuesday’s offensive comes hours before key U.N. talks over a Security Council resolution demanding Assad step aside. Hillary Clinton will be at U.N. headquarters to voice U.S. support for the plan. Alex MARQUARDT reports the draft resolution calls for a “political transition” and threatens “further measures” – not military actions or sanctions. A majority of the 15-country Security Council is believed to support the resolution – but Russia may well use its veto power to scuttle the measure. The Washington Post has a compelling editorial about Russia’s vital role. In sum: Russia is the lynchpin; as long as it has Russia’s diplomatic and material support, the Assad regime is more likely to hold together.
DRONE STRIKES IN YEMEN – KEY FIGURE KILLED?
Alex MARQUARDT and Nasser ATTA report that two vehicles carrying Al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen were struck by a drone overnight, according to Yemeni media and agencies. At least 11 were killed, and there are some reports – unconfirmed – that Nasir al-Wuhayshi, a former Bin Laden aide and leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemen wing was killed in the strike.
COSTA CONCORDIA: UNDERWATER SEARCH ENDS?
BBC reporting Italian divers have abandoned their search for bodies inside the wrecked cruise ship Costa Concordia after conditions underwater deteriorated. “We have definitively stopped the underwater search inside the ship,” a spokesman for the fire brigade on the island said. Fifteen people are still missing after the ship ran aground off Italy on 13 January with the loss of 17 lives. Italian emergency officials say they are calling off the search in the submerged part of the cruise ship, due to the danger to rescue workers. Italy’s civil protection agency, which has been overseeing rescue efforts, said it had contacted the families of the missing, and the foreign embassies involved, to explain its decision. Emergency crews would continue to inspect the part of the ship that is above the water line and use specialist equipment to check whether there could be any corpses on the sea bed, it said.
GOOD EURO-NEWS$ SEND WORLD MARKETS UP
World markets rose Tuesday as traders watched for a possible deal to cut Greece’s debts and progrerss waas made on a Eurozone framework to deal with the continent-wide debt crisis. All European Union countries except Britain and the Czech Republic agreed late Monday to sign a treaty designed to stop overspending in the eurozone. EU leaders also pledged to stimulate growth and employment.
MAKING THEMSELVES AT HOME – IN GADHAFI’S COMPOUND
The BBC reporter who was first to the scene where Moammar Gadhafi was found – travels back to find Libyans, as he says, “finding freedom in the ruins of Gadhafi’s compound.”
THIRD U.S. SHIP TO THE GULF
Naval Today reports that a third carrier will be heading for the Persian Gulf. The carrier group based in Norfolk, VA will also include a guided missile cruiser and three guided missile destroyers.
A HERO’S LONG ROAD HOME
A wrenching, compelling and ultimately uplifting story from the NYTimes – about one soldier’s long and rough road back from traumatic injury. Specialist Joey Paulk awoke from a coma in a Texas hospital three weeks after he was burned nearly to death in Afghanistan. Wrapped in bandages from head almost to toe, he immediately saw his girlfriend and mother, and felt comforted. Then he glanced at his hands, two balls of white gauze, and realized that he had no fingers. So it began: the shock of recognition. Next came what burn doctors call “the mirror test.” As he was shuffling through a hallway at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he passed a large mirror that he had turned away from before. This time he steeled himself and looked.
U.N. REPORT: AFGHAN POLICE STILL CORRUPT
A U.N. survey has found that more than half of Afghans see the national police as corrupt, though their overall reputation is improving. The survey released Tuesday indicates only 20 percent of those surveyed think police are ready to keep order without international troops. Less than a quarter wanted the NATO military force to leave immediately.
CHINA’S TIBET FEARS
A senior official in Chinese-ruled Tibet is ordering heightened security in Buddhist monasteries and along key roadways as the government tries to prevent protests that erupted in neighboring Tibetan communities from spreading. Inspecting security around the Tibetan capital of Lhasa this week, the city’s Communist Party secretary, Qi Zhala, warned officials and clerics at monasteries that they would be dismissed if any trouble arose and told police at a highway checkpoint to be alert for acts of sabotage. Officials “must profoundly recognize the important significance of preserving stability in temples and monasteries,” the state-run Tibet Daily on Tuesday quoted Qi as saying Monday. “Strive to realize the goal of ‘no big incidents, no medium incidents and not even a small incident.”‘
From the AP: Six rowers who capsized in the Atlantic Ocean while attempting to row from Morocco to Barbados have been rescued. Falmouth Coastguard said Tuesday that the rowers capsized 520 miles (837 kilometers) from Barbados and climbed onto a life raft tethered to their boat. Coast guards from Britain and Martinique launched a rescue mission after the rowers contacted their support team by satellite phone but the men were picked up by a cargo ship before the coast guards reached them. Falmouth Coastguard said the cargo ship is now taking the rowers to Gibraltar. The men were taking part in the Atlantic Odyssey Challenge to row from Morocco to Barbados in less than 30 days. Their boat capsized Monday, 27 days into their journey. The Atlantic Odyssey website said the crew were safe and well.
iPHONE’s SIRI vs ACCENTS
D’ye want me tae spaek more clearly, Siri? Molly HUNTER flags an LATimes piece, which reports that foreigners still flock to the iPhone 4S - even thought Siri often doesn’t understand what they’re saying. A few amused and befuddled users have posted videos of themselves to show the world what happens when irresistible accent meets immovable assistant.
IAEA GREEN-LIGHTS JAPANESE NUCLEAR “STRESS TESTS”
Akiko FUJITA reports that U.N. nuclear experts have endorsed the so-called “stress tests” conducted by the Japanese government, a key step in restarting idle nuclear reactors. The experts wrapped up a 9-day mission to examine Japan’s review process – a trip requested by the Japanese government, struggling to regain public trust on the nuclear issue.
JAPAN: HUGE PRICE-FIXING CASE SLAMS PARTS-MAKERS
The Justice Department calls it the “largest criminal investigation the Antitrust Division has ever pursued” – and it’s resulted in yet another black eye for corporate Japan. Parts supplier Yazaki Corp and Densor Corp. have agreed to pay a combined $550 million fine, after pleading guilty to an elaborate price-fixing scheme over the last decade. The LA Times reports, the scheme fixed prices and controlled allocation of parts to automakers like Toyota from 2000 to 2010. The companies mapped out strategies for controlling the supply of automotive wiring, fuel sensors, gauges, and on-board computers…and sold electrical components at inflated prices. In addition to the multi-million dollar fines, 4 executives will serve 2 years behind bars. And there are separate cases pending. The Times writes 45 suits seeking class action status have been filed since October. They allege the companies collectively controlled 85% of the global market.
AL SHABAB SHUTS DOWN RED CROSS IN SOMALIA
From Bazi KANANI: Upset about what it calls false accusations of blocking food aid into the country, the Somali Islamist militant group said it will now ban the International Committee of the Red Cross from regions it controls. Al-Shabab also accused the ICRC of “repeated distribution of expired food, particularly to the weak women and children who are slowly recovering from the severe droughts that have hit the nation.” Al-Shabab said it destroyed nearly 2,000 tons of expired ICRC food rations. The ICRC is one of few aid agencies operating in southern Somalia, the hardest hit area of the famine and one of the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers.
MORE THAN A MILLION CONDOMS RECALLED IN SOUTH AFRICA
KANANI again: The South African government has recalled more than one million condoms, after complaints from the public that the condoms were faulty and broke easily. One HIV/AIDS advocacy group did a test and the official told the BBC “When you poured water in them, the water seeped through.” More than 8700 boxes of condoms were distributed to hotels, bars and restaurants last month ahead of the 100 year celebration of the ANC, the country’s ruling party. Health officials have said the recall is a “precautionary measure,” but are urging the public to not use the condoms. South Africa has one of the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates. Dana HUGHES notes: The recall may be another embarrassment for the ANC, which has faced a stream of sexual scandals over the last decade.
From the AP: For decades, archenemies Pakistan and India have engaged in border conflicts and a dangerous arms race. Now they’re also competing in the kitchen. The outcome will be mouthwatering curries and soothing Sufi ballads, not violence. The fractious neighbors are going head-to-head in a pair of reality TV shows that pit chefs and musicians against each other. Producers hope the contests will help bridge the gulf between two nations that were born from the same womb and have been at each other’s throats ever since.
SAUDIS PUSH YOUNG PEOPLE INTO JOBS
In an interesting reversal of an age-old mindset – the WSJournal reports that the Saudi government is pushing young people – especially women – into jobs. Keenly aware that youth unemployment has been a driving factor in revolutions elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, and that half its own population is 18 or younger, the government is taking steps to change a mindset left from the days when the oil kingdom’s citizens were few and jobs were many: that Saudi Arabia’s citizens take the cushiest jobs or take no jobs at all.
BIZARRE WORLD RECORDS (1)
Molly HUNTER finds two stories today about odd world records. The BBC has video of an attempt in Australia to beat the highest number of water-skiers to be pulled behind one boat. Amazingly – no one fell and all 145 participants remained upright for a full nautical mile inside Macquarie Harbor in Strahan, Tasmania.
BIZARRE WORLD RECORDS (2)
Forget cycling horizontally, the UAE’s National paper reports that one polish cyclist climbed 2,040 steps in one hour, 13 minutes and 41 seconds in the world’s tallest hotel. Yes folks, he did it on a bike. And that’s a world record.