JAPAN JITTERS: 6.9, THEN 6.1
As our Akiko FUJITA writes, “The shaking never ends…” The words alone – “Japan tsunami” - make us shudder. And twice today our Akiko FUJITA has wondered whether another “Big One” had hit. Certainly the anchors at NHK television looked worried. Mercifully, the first – a 6.9 magnitude quake - produced no more than some small splashes in northern Japan after a tsunami was forecast for Iwate prefecture (heavily damaged in last year’s quake and tsunami). Residents sought higher ground – no reports of injuries or major damage. Then – a few hours later – Tokyo shook. NHK reports this one was a 6.1 off the coast of Chiba – so, much closer to Tokyo. No tsunami advisory issued for this one – NHK reporting TVs and books falling off shelves in Chiba – but no reports of damage or injuries. More from Akiko: While the quakes this morning (evening here) are minor compared to what we experienced last March, seismologists have said repeatedly – that this is just a sign of things to come. They predict a major quake in Tokyo in the next 4 years, and say the northeast coast will continue to be rattled because the plates are shifting the island eastward. With more than 10,000 tremors recorded over the last year, it makes you wonder the kind of toll it’s taking on all the buildings out here – even in the most earthquake safe country…
AFGHANISTAN: THE FALLOUT
-SURVEILLANCE VIDEO OF THE SOLDIER?…An Afghan official says he was shown surveillance video of the U.S. soldier who allegedly shot 16 Afghan villagers surrendering. The official said the video, taken from an overhead blimp that films the area around the base, shows a soldier in U.S. uniform approaching the south gate of the base with a traditional Afghan shawl, hiding the weapon in his hand. He then removes the shawl as he lays his weapon on the ground and raises his arms in surrender. The official had not been shown any footage of the soldier leaving the base. We are working to confirm this.
-PANETTA IN AFGHANISTAN…Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan today – Muhammad LILA reports he met with Marines and Afghan tribal elders in Helmand shortly after landing – and that he will NOT be visiting Kandahar, where the weekend shootings took place. Panetta then heads to Kabul – for meetings with President Hamid Karzai, and the Afghan Ministers of Defense and Interior. The L.A.Times reports U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers have been ordered not to bring their weapons into a tent where Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta was speaking. The extra security precautions, apparently in response to the shooting Sunday, were announced abruptly as a crowd of several Marines awaited Panetta’s arrival.
-THE SOLDIER…U.S. military spokesman Col. Gary Kolb says “no final decision has been made yet” about where the staff sergeant will be tried. He says the U.S. does have the capability to hold court-martial hearings in Afghanistan and has done so before but that the determination on this specific case is still being made.
-VIOLENCE TODAY…Generally, improtant to note that the much-anticipated fury and violence after the massacre have NOT materialized. Having said that, a roadside bomb in Marja district of Helmand province killed eight, while an explosion in Kandahar has left one person dead.
SYRIA, ONE YEAR LATER
-REGIME FORCES RETAKE NORTHERN CITY…From Alex MARQUARDT: In two weeks, the Syrian army has subdued two of the opposition’s biggest strongholds – Homs and now Idlib in the north. This shows that a day before the anniversary of the uprising, the army is still having to put out fires across the country but is by no means losing grip. The Free Syrian Army is forced to “tactically retreat” when the going gets tough, lest they be wiped out in the face of superior firepower. Al Arabiya reports an activist in Beirut saying – about Idlib – “since last night there has been no more fighting…The (rebel) Free Syrian Army has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city.”
-REFUGEES TO TURKEY…Reuters reports “a stream of fleeing Syrians… between 200-300 refugees crossing daily into Turkey” – presumably fleeing the crackdown in and around Idlib. Some 13,000 Syrian refugees are now registered in Turkey.
-MAY VOTE ANNOUNCED…The military victory came as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed a decree stating that parliamentary elections would be held on May 7, and sent a response to Kofi Annan on the UN-Arab League special envoy’s proposals to end the conflict sweeping across the country. Anti-government fighters said troops had killed dozens of people, dumping their bodies in a mosque.
-AMNESTY: REPORT ON TORTURE…People arrested amid unrest in Syria are being subjected to systematic torture, including electric shocks, beatings and sexual violence, a report by rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday. Based on interviews with dozens of Syrians who have fled the country, the report details “31 methods of torture or other ill treatment” at the hands of the security forces, army and pro-government armed gangs.
IRAN: PARLIAMENT TAKES ON AHMADINEJAD
More evidence of the troubles Iran’s President faces at home. Afshin ABTAHI reports from Tehran: Iran’s parliament has begun the questioning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over a long list of accusations including mismanaging the nation’s economy and challenging the country’s supreme leader. Conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, who is a prominent opponent of the president, posed the questions to Ahmadinejad Wednesday in an open session of parliament broadcast live on state radio. The summons is the first of its kind for an Iranian president since the country’s 1979 revolution.
SWISS BUS CRASH KILLS 28 TOURISTS
It happened in one of the world’s safest places: At least 28 people – including 22 children – have been killed in a bus crash in a tunnel in Switzerland. Another 24 children were injured in the crash near Sierre, in the canton of Valais, close to the border with Italy. The bus, carrying 52 people back to Belgium, hit a wall in the tunnel head-on late Tuesday. Both of the bus drivers were among those killed. The children, from the Belgian villages of Lommel and Heverlee, were returning home after a skiing holiday. Belgium’s Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, who is travelling to the scene of the crash, said: “This is a tragic day for all of Belgium.”
From Bazi KANANI: As congress takes up a resolution calling for the U.S. to support an increase in African military forces fighting Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, the group behind the wildly successfully KONY 2012 social media campaign is pushing forward with plans for a day of widespread demonstrations next month. Some analysts say the debate over the merit of the video and the non-profit Invisible Children is clearly helping the group achieve its goal of making more people aware of Kony and his continued crimes. Some critics fear the result of the publicity could ultimately lead to more death and suffering. They believe increased military action against Kony will force his dwindling army to raid more villages to abduct more child soldiers. Meanwhile, government officials from the four central African countries affected by Kony will meet again in Uganda next week. They hope to finalize a regional strategy on combating Kony’s army.
EXPLOSION AT PRESIDENTIAL COMPOUND IN MOGADISHU
KANANI again: Information is still coming in, but so far at least three people are reported dead after an explosion today inside a compound that houses the palace of the Somali president and other government offices. A security official told Reuters the blast happened at the front gate of a building used by the speaker of parliament. It is not yet clear whether it was caused by a remote-controlled explosive device or a suicide bomber.
Actor George Clooney is testifying before a Senate committee on violence at the Sudan-South Sudan border today.
OBAMA + CAMERON
President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron hold formal talks at the White House on the second day of the Prime Minister’s official visit to America. The leaders are expected to focus on the timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and U.K. troops from lead combat roles in Afghanistan. They are to hold a midday press conference in the Rose Garden, and tonight the Obamas welcome the Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron to a State Dinner at the White House.
CHINA WAGE HIKES: RIPPLE EFFECT
More Asian governments are pressing businesses to hike wages as a way to prevent outbreaks of labor unrest, the NYTimes reports, raising the specter of higher manufacturing costs for global companies—and the products they sell world-wide. In the latest move, Malaysia’s cabinet has approved the country’s first-ever minimum wage – the decision follows similar moves elsewhere in the region, as officials from Thailand to Indonesia follow efforts by China over the past two years to boost pay after years of widening gaps between rich and poor. Global companies already have been facing higher labor prices in China over the past year, despite a weak global economy, as workers demand a greater share of the country’s economic boom.
IWO JIMA, 67 YEARS ON
A brass band played under a blazing sun as American veterans and Japanese dignitaries gathered Wednesday on the remote island of Iwo Jima to mark the 67th anniversary of one of World War II’s bloodiest and most symbolic battles.
RUSSIA TO SEND A MAN TO THE MOON, FINALLY?
From the Daily Telegraph: Russia will send a team of cosmonauts to the Moon, 60 years after Neil Armstrong’s Apollo mission effectively ended the US-Soviet space race. A spacecraft will “conduct a demonstrative manned circumlunar test flight with the subsequent landing of cosmonauts on [the Moon's] surface and their return to Earth” by 2030, according to a leaked strategy document from Russia’s space agency, Roskosmos. Moscow has periodically announced ambitious plans for space exploration in recent years, but this is the first time a firm deadline has been set for a manned lunar mission.
EGYPT: MUBARAK’S MEMOIRS
In the second part of his memoirs, leaked and published in serial form in the Egyptian daily Rose al-Youssef, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak focuses on the people who had the largest influence on his life and with whom he established the closest ties, both personally and politically and inside and outside Egypt, Al Arabiya reports. Mubarak tells the story of his marriage, saying he liked Suzanne’s “calm beauty” and the fact that she was the daughter of a British mother and an upper Egyptian father.
TAJ MAHAL SINKING?
The Taj Mahal, built to stand as an eternal symbol of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s love for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, could slowly be sinking according to architects. The building’s foundations, which require a steady stream of moisture from the Yamuna River to retain its strength – is slowly drying up. BBC Video
JAPAN: THAT SNOWSLIDE
FUJITA again: A follow to my story yesterday – the neighborhood in Joetsu city (in Niigata) moved another 13 feet overnight – and an additional 20 people have been evacuated because of the landslide. Reporters on the scene, say they are hearing “snapping sounds” every minute, as the snow continues its downward slide, taking homes with it. 11 homes have been crushed so far. With temperatures warming up, local crews worry there’s no end in sight, despite attempts to slow down the slide.
FIRST EGYPTIAN SUMO WRESTLER
Sumo has become an increasingly international sport over the last decade – and now you can add Egypt to the list of countries that are getting in on the sumo action. Egyptian Abdelrahman Ahmend Shaalan made his debut in the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament this week, becoming the first wrestler of African descent to enter the sport. The 320 pound wrestler is still unranked, but he won his first match. He entered the sport when he was just 15, and won a bronze medal at the 2008 world junior sumo championships. His sumo ring name is “Osuna-arashi” or “Great Sandstorm.” Mongolians have dominated the sport in recent years. One of Japan’s most popular wrestlers is from Estonia.
BODY PARTS FOUND IN GERMAN UNIVERSITY CELLARS
The University of Cologne is investigating – after hundreds of human body parts were found in the cellars of its institute of anatomy, apparently abandoned there for years, The Guardian reports. The scandal has shaken the German academic world, especially as last month the former head of the anatomy department was found dead, apparently having taken his life when rumors began to circulate.
FROM MOTHER NATURE…
-DID PUTIN’S TIGER DIE?…From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: Impossible to confirm this, but a juicy bit of gossip… Navalny’s anti-corruption blog has picked up on an another blog that suggests the endangered tiger that Putin shot with a tranquilizer in 2008 in order to install a tracking collar had in fact been let out from the zoo for the photo op and had subsequently died. Putin had supposedly been keeping track of the lioness, which had reportedly given birth since then. But the blogs have pointed out that the spots on the tracked tiger and the one Putin shot don’t match (http://navalny.livejournal.com/692600.html)… and say a Russian man has admitted to drawing up a fake tracking map for the tiger which was used by Russian news outlets.
-SUMATRAN ORANGUTANS IN PUBLIC DEBUT…Australia’s Perth Zoo Wednesday unveiled to the public one of two critically endangered Sumatran orangutans born recently. The male orangutan called Sungai was born on December 30, while another female was born on January 9, according to local media. Sungai was being held very closely by his mother Sekara as they walked about in their enclosure.
-POLAR BEAR CUBS TAKE A MOSCOW WALK…They were born at the Moscow Zoo in November and were unveiled this week: