U.S. CARRIER – AND ABC NEWS – IN THE STRAIT OF HORMUZ
The U.S. is making a statement to Iran – courtesy of its naval power. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has passed through the hotly-disputed Strait of Hormuz, shadowed by Iranian patrol boats. Martha RADDATZ and Matt MCGARRY are aboard the USS Sterett, a destroyer with the group. The hours-long transit was harassed by Iranian speedboats – but there were no major incidents reported as the vessel crossed through the narrow strait, which Iran has threatened to close in retaliation for tighter Western sanctions. Several U.S. choppers flanked the carrier group throughout the voyage from the Gulf. The AP reports radar operators also picked up an Iranian drone and surveillance helicopter in Iran’s airspace near the strait, which is jointly controlled by Iran and Oman. The Lincoln entered the Gulf last month amid heightened tensions with Iran. It is scheduled to begin providing aid to the NATO mission in Afghanistan starting Thursday.
IRAN + ISRAEL: WAR VIA MOTORCYCLE BOMBS?
Today it was a pair of bombs in Bangkok, injuring five people, including an Iranian man who is believed to have thrown the explosives. Police report Sayed Murabi hurled the first bomb at a taxi – and then a second which ricocheted back and wounded Murabi himself. He lost both of his legs in the blast, the report said. Alex MARQUARDT notes that the Israeli Foreign Ministry says they can’t rule out that these were bombs meant to hit Israelis – in retaliation for the motorbike bombs that have taken out nuclear scientists in Iran. Meanwhile Indian investigators are still searching for the motorcyclist who attached a bomb to an Israeli diplomatic car in the heart of New Delhi Monday. MARQUARDT adds that on further examination of yesterday’s bombs, Israeli officials are convinced that Iran and/or its proxies were behind the attacks. Def. Min. Ehud Barak said today that “the Iranians and Hezbollah are determined to sabotage Israeli daily life and are operating against Israelis all over the world.”
SYRIA: TANKS RESUME SHELLING
Syrian government forces on Tuesday brushed aside a castigation from the top United Nations human rights official about its deadly attacks on civilians, resuming what one activist described as the “brutal shelling” of the city of Homs. A day after Navi Pillay, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human rights, offered a grim appraisal of the Syrian conflict on Monday, activists said the shelling resumed at 6 a.m. local today, with rockets and tank shells whistling into the neighborhood as often as every two minutes. Molly HUNTER on the latest, and the live stream video from Homs.
BAHRAIN MARKS AN ANNIVERSARY
Lara SETRAKIAN reports that today marks one year since an uprising that called for democracy and greater rights for Bahrain‘s Shiite majority – some looking to overthrow the ruling Sunni monarchy. The protesters who named themselves the February 14th Movement, after the day the protests kicked off, have returned to the streets in force, chanting for the end of the regime.
CHINA’S NEXT LEADER COMES TO WASHINGTON
President Obama is to meet with Vice President Xi Jinping of China in the Oval Office today to discuss “a broad range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” according to the White House. Vice President Joe Biden will also attend. It’s a crucial sizing-up meeting for both sides – with economic tensions as well as key differences on Iran and Syria. For Xi, it’s a return to a country he first visited more than two decades ago, when he spent time studying life and agricultural business on an Iowa pig farm.
APPLE OPENS UP CHINA FACTORIES
Responding to a growing outcry over conditions at its overseas factories, Apple announced that an outside organization had begun to audit working conditions at the plants where the bulk of iPhones, iPads and other Apple products are built, and that the group would make its finding public. For years, Apple has resisted calls for independent scrutiny of the suppliers that make its electronics. But for the first time it has begun publicly divulging information that it once considered secret, after criticism that included coordinated protests last week at Apple stores around the world and investigative news reports about punishing conditions inside some factories.
E.U. LEADERS IN CHINA FOR DEBT CRISIS TALKS
When you’re strapped for cash, head for Beijing? Leaders from China and the European Union are meeting for talks likely to be dominated by Europe’s debt crisis. Premier Wen Jiabao is set to meet EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Beijing.
Stocks dropped and commodities slid after Moody’s Investors Service cut debt ratings on six European countries. The cost of insuring against default on European government bonds increased for a fifth day. Also today – a report that Greece’ gross domestic product decreased by 7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. Greece’s economy has declined since late 2008, with successive quarterly contractions since then, with the exception of the first quarter of 2010.
CHINA BANS FOREIGN TV SHOWS DURING PRIME TIME
China’s TV broadcasting regulator has announced that foreign TV shows will no longer be aired during prime time, state media report. According to the China Daily newspaper, the “aim is to improve the quality of imported TV programs”. Hmm…
POLICE DETAIN AMERICAN CARRYING BULLETS AT PAKISTANI AIRPORT
From Nick SCHIFRIN and Habibullah KHAN: An American was briefly detained in Peshawar after trying to board a plane with a magazine and 17 bullets for a 9mm pistol, according to Pakistani police and U.S. officials. Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, posted a picture of the American’s passport identifying him as Charles Arthur Williams, a 41-year-old from Mississippi. Without confirming Williams’ name, a U.S. official said that the American detained this morning has diplomatic immunity and works for the embassy in Islamabad, but was on “temporary duty,” or TDY, in the U.S.’ Peshawar consulate. Williams has been released by Pakistani police and is now at the consulate, according to police.
NORTH KOREANS MARK KIM JONG IL’S BIRTHDAY
The first bronze statue of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has been unveiled in Pyongyang as part of celebrations marking what would have been his 70th birthday this week. The monumental sculpture depicts Kim Jong Il and his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, on horseback.
HOW MANY TURTLES CAN YOU FIT IN A SUITCASE?
1,495, to be exact. 1,495 turtles were concealed inside two suitcases and discovered at Indonesia’s Mopah Airport en route to Jakarta, the nation’s capital and a major hub for illicit wildlife trade, reports the Wildlife Extra News.
SOUTH KOREA’S INCHEON AIRPORT VOTED WORLDS BEST
And the winner is…South Korea’s Incheon International Airport was voted the best in the world for the seventh consecutive year in 2011.
TALL BRIT SIGNS FOR HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS
The man believed to be the world’s tallest basketball player has been introduced by the Harlem Globetrotters. Paul “Tiny” Sturgess, who is 7ft-8in tall, has just been signed up by the team. Originally from Loughborough, Leicestershire, he spoke to the media at the top of the Empire State Building.
MAN WHO MOONED QUEEN FINED FOR HIS CHEEK
An Australian man has been fined $750 after admitting he sprinted alongside a motorcade carrying the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh during a visit to Brisbane – while holding an Australian flag between his bared buttocks, The Guardian reports.