The Global Note: Syria’s “Friends”…The Koran Protests Spread…Betting On Putin…China’s “Potty Parity”

By Tom Nagorski

Feb 24, 2012 11:02am

“FRIENDS OF SYRIA” MEET – AS THE NIGHTMARES CONTINUE

-BIG PICTURE…It’s the largest-scale effort yet to find answers to the carnage inside Syria – Hillary Clinton and officials from 69 other nations are meeting in the country where the Arab Spring began. But as these “Friends of Syria” gather, a brutal round of shelling has begun in Homs – and the U.N. now says they have evidence of war crimes, with a list of those it believes should be held responsible.

-THE REBEL FIGHTERS…Who are these young men we may support – who say they can do the job of bringing down the Syrian regime? Alex MARQUARDT interviews soldiers who once served Assad and are now risking their lives in the fight to finish him.W With money and weapons they say they will win their “freedom” – but of course there are many outsiders who fear that arming these guys will only inflame the situation – and give Assad’s regime another pretext (if it needs one) to launch a wholesale crackdown. We also have fresh material of fighters inside Syria – taking up rifles, stomping on pictures of Assad, “guarding” a protest, and operating in a “safe house” already battered by shellfire. 

-THE SUMMIT…Secretary Clinton says that “somehow” the opposition will get stronger. Remember how long and complicated that was in Libya? And – as we are reminded daily, Syria is vastly more complicated, with a more powerful army and a more popular President. Among the questions Clinton and the other leaders are asking: Should the opposition be armed and if so how? By whom? How to better organize the opposition? What about providing money? How would it be spent? Can a humanitarian corridor be set up to Homs and other battered cities? And – how else to punish the regime? Secretary Clinton is expected to speak at 2pm ET.

-INSIDE HOMS…After a relative calm overnight, activists report a constant stream of attacks since dawn. Several very strong new videos have surfaced this morning and for the first time, the footage departs from the ongoing shelling, showing what appears to be intense street fighting.

-INJURED REPORTERS…After yesterday’s videotaped pleas from Edith Bouvier, William Daniels and Paul Conroy, the Red Cross said today it “is attempting to reach all persons affected by the ongoing violence including the wounded journalists in Homs.” We have not heard from the journalists since their videos yesterday. The most recent Red Cross report calling for daily two-hour cease-fires

THE KORAN PROTESTS

As Friday prayers wind down Nick SCHIFRIN reports from Kabul: Today has turned out to be the deadliest day yet, and the protests over those Koran burnings have extended to areas that were previously calm. Here’s the tally, confirmed by local officials: 6 killed in Herat in western Afghanistan. Three killed in the city and three killed outside the city. This is the safest city in Afghanistan.  1 killed in Kabul. Seems that the police didn’t quite fire into the air as effectively as we thought. Three small police huts were burned down. 2 killed in Khost, including one child (along Pakistani border). 1 killed in Baghlan (north of Kabul). Nick also reports protests spreading outside the country – to neighboring Pakistan. Earlier, about 200-300 angry Afghans protested in front of the Defense Ministry – Afghan police fired into the air and seemed to have successfully dispersed the crowd without shooting anyone. There are massive protests in eastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. The numbers could be as high as 4,000 people in one protest – that would be the largest one we’ve seen. SCHIFRIN also notes that security does not seem to be ramped up in Kabul ahead of protests that are expected to turn deadly. Meanwhile, last night, unannounced, top U.S. Commander John Allen visited the base where two US soldiers were killed by an Afghan army officer (the same base where 2 protestors were killed.) He gave an impassioned speech on camera – one that you definitely do not see very often from a U.S. officer. He is clearly angry, and he beseeches his men not to lash out with their own anger.

IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM

The International Atomic Energy Agency will likely release its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program today.  In the meantime the LA Times reprts that U.S. intelligence officials still are not convinced that the Iranians are actively trying to build an atomic bomb.

LIBYA: CAGING PRISONERS

Nasser ATTA flags this awful story – with video – of black Africans in a cage in Libya, hands tied behind their backs, green (I.e., pro-Gadhafi) flags stuffed in their mouths, being shouted at by Libyans calling them “dogs.” The Arabs doing the shouting are saying that those are in the cage are from Tawergha, formerly a predominantly black town near Misrata from which Gadhafi forces launched attacks on the city. The town is now basically deserted, the residents that haven’t been arrested, tortured and killed in revenge attacks have fled. Since the start of the revolution, blacks have been (often incorrectly) accused by the rebels/militants of being mercenaries and siding with Gadhafi. Many are simply migrants who came north for work. As Alex MARQUARDT notes, “Further proof of the lawless, rudderless post-Gadhafi Libya.”

IRAQ’S AL QAEDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS

Iraq’s al-Qaeda branch has claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bombings and other attacks that killed dozens in Baghdad and across the country Thursday. 

DRUG PRICES HIT BY EUROPE’S AUSTERITY

Interesting story from The New York Times: Profits at pharmaceutical companies have been declining or showing little growth for the last year as austerity measures across Europe lead to cuts in health care spending. Some analysts say this could continue until 2014. Because the prices governments are willing to pay are falling, drug companies are recalibrating their strategies and considering economic factors earlier in the process of developing medicines. They are also reducing the number of new drugs in which they invest research money.

FAKE AVASTIN LINKED BACK TO SYRIA CASE

An update to our reporting about the discovery of counterfeit Avastin. The Wall Street Journal reports that three years before counterfeit copies of the cancer drug surfaced in the U.S., a case in Syria involved fakes of the same drug, showing the company has been grappling with bootlegging of the product for some time. In 2009, Syrian authorities seized a haul of phony Avastin at a warehouse. The company confirms the case, and acknowledges it has encountered other “individual cases” of counterfeit Avastin in recent years.

U.S.-NORTH KOREA TALKS 

The U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, Glyn Davies, has held a second day of talks today in Beijing with North Korea’s key nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan. These are the first talks since the reclusive country’s former leader Kim Jong Il died last year. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Glyn Davies said, “a little bit of progress” was made during talks with North Korea but the use of the “word breakthrough” goes “way too far.” The major concession North Korea seeks is U.S. food aid to help solve its chronic food shortage.

CHAVEZ TO CUBA FOR MORE SURGERY

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez travels to Cuba today to undergo surgery to remove a lesion that is suspected of being malignant. Last June, Chávez  traveled to Cuba to have a tumor removed from his abdomen. 

PUTIN – A GOOD BET?  

From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Vladimir Putin will win the presidential election scheduled for next weekend, with 63-66 percent of the vote, according to Russia’s largest independent pollster Levada Center. According to Levada’s director, 35 percent of voters are in doubt about the honesty of the election and believe that the election will be “dirty,” 44 percent of the respondents think it will be fair. Five candidates are running. The same poll has 15 percent voting for Communist party candidate Gennady Zyuganov, 8 percent for Liberal Democratic leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 6 percent for billionaire presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov and 5 percent will vote for A Just Russia’s Sergei Mironov.

OCCUPY CHINA? SORT OF…

From Gloria RIVIERA: One young woman in Guangzhou, alias Li Maizi, stood up for women everywhere when she decided to do something about the interminable lines outside ladies’ restrooms. She led a group of female activists who staged a protest in a public park, marching into the men’s room to highlight the fact that mainland China has yet to adopt so-called “potty parity” laws. Such rules – in place in Hong Kong and Taiwan, (and also, since 1987, in 21 state and municipalities in the U.S. according to the Wall Street Journal) call for a greater ratio of women’s restrooms to men’s in public places, given that women spend about three times longer inside than men. China launched an effort to upgrade Beijing’s 3,700 public restrooms in advance of the Olympics, but apparently it did not do enough. Online the issue has found some traction as well as some criticism from those who think there are more important things to fight for than a shorter line. Li Maizi says she will stage her next protest in Beijing.  

AUSTRALIA: INQUEST INTO MYSTERY THAT INSPIRED “A CRY IN THE DARK”

An Australian coroner has opened an inquest into the notorious case of Azaria Chamberlain, the 9-week-old baby who vanished from her tent in the Outback in 1980. Azaria’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was convicted and later cleared of killing her daughter. She has always said a dingo took her baby. Northern Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris opened a fourth inquest into the case on Friday in the territory capital, Darwin. She will hear new evidence of dingo attacks on children before issuing her finding on how Azaria died. The case is the most infamous and divisive legal drama in Australian history. It inspired the famous Meryl Streep movie, “A Cry in the Dark.”

INTRODUCING LE MCBAGUETTE

What you’ve been waiting for: the baguette burger, le McBaguette. For six weeks only, French McDonald’s chains will be offering a burger made from the finest Charolais beef, French-made Emmental cheese and French-made mustard. The Wall Street Journal reports that this promotion is in line with the U.S. company’s successful global strategy of updating its restaurants to appeal to a broader clientele. Bon appétit!

MEET YABBRA, THE NAPPING KOALA

Need some Friday levity. Say hello to Yabbra, one of only two Koala bears in the U.K. He wakes up here from a 22-hour nap, and runs through the halls of the Edinburgh Zoo.

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