EURO-WORRIES, YOUR 401K
Stocks are falling sharply this morning – and as Richard DAVIES reports, that’s largely due to fresh worries about Europe. Budget talks collapsed – and the government resigned – in the Netherlands, rates on Spain’s 10-year bond rose again as that country slides into recession, and the socialist challenger won the first round of France’s Presidential elections. Francois Hollande wants to put the French government’s austerity plans in reverse. And – as Jean FIEVET notes, “the markets don’t trust French socialists.” Much of this is an ongoing debate over how punishing the fiscal cuts across Europe ought to be – not enough, the debt crisis will linger; too much, and economic growth will be stunted even further.
FRANCE’S VOTE: SARKOZY’S END NEAR?
-NOW, A RUNOFF…François Hollande, the Socialist challenger, may have come out on top in the first round of the French presidential vote, but his lead over the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, was slim. Next up, a runoff that will pit the two men in a head-to-head contest May 6 – oddsmakers think Hollande is the favorite. Meanwhile the surprise “winner” may have been the far-right party and its standard-bearer Marie Le Pen, who garnered 18 percent of the vote.
-TWITTER AND THE VOTE…The New York Times notes that given strict media regulations that prevent early results from being released – officially or on Twitter – users of the social network came up with clever code words to get the information across. (Francois Holland = “Flan,” because he was known as “Flanby” before losing weight, Jean-Luc Melencho = “Tomato,” because his party is largely made of communists thus the red fruit reference and Nicolas Sarkozy = “Budapest,” because his father was from Hungary.)
EX-ICELAND LEADER CLEARED ON ROLE IN FINANCIAL CRISIS
An Icelandic court has ruled that the country’s former leader Geir Haarde, who led the country when the nation’s banks collapsed, will not face prison time for his actions during the 2008 financial crisis. Haarde is the only government leader to face trial because of the global financial crisis and could have faced two years in prison had he been convicted.
NORTH KOREA THREATENS THE SOUTH, WARNS OF “SPECIAL ACTIONS” – AND “SOON”
Joohee CHO reports from Seoul: North Korea’s military vowed Monday to launch unspecified “special actions” soon that would reduce South Korea’s conservative government and media companies “to ashes” in less than four minutes. It’s a clear escalation of its recent threats. North Korea regularly criticizes Seoul and just last week renewed its promise to wage a “sacred war.” But Monday’s military statement, which vowed actions of “unprecedented peculiar means,” was unusual in promising something soon and describing a specific length of time.
U.S. TO HELP AFGHANS FOR YEARS TO COME
After more than a year of negotiations, U.S. and Afghan officials have reached an agreement affirming the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan for a decade after its formal troop withdrawal in 2014. The document, which must be reviewed by the Afghan parliament and U.S. security agencies and signed by both nations’ presidents, does not specify troop numbers or funding levels, but it offers a broad guarantee that the U.S. role here will not end as abruptly as some feared it might. For months, Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to consider the agreement until American-led night raids were halted and the U.S. handed over its main military prison to Afghan officials. Those roadblocks were removed with the signing of recent deals, which cleared the way for the partnership agreement before a key NATO summit next month. “The document finalized today provides a strong foundation for the security of Afghanistan, the region and the world, and is a document for the development of the region,” said Afghan national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta.
OBAMA WANTS CRACKDOWN ON AUTOCRATS WHO USE NEW TECH TO PUNISH PROTESTERS
President Obama has issued an executive order Monday that will allow U.S. officials to impose sanctions against foreign nationals found to have used new technologies, from cell-phone tracking to Internet monitoring, to help carry out grave human rights abuses. Social media and cell-phone technology have been widely credited with helping democracy advocates organize against autocratic governments and better expose rights violations, most notably over the past year and a half in the Middle East and North Africa. But authoritarian governments, particularly in Syria and Iran, have shown their security services can also harness technology to help crack down on dissent — by conducting surveillance, blocking access to the Internet or tracking the movements of opposition figures.
SYRIA: NEW SANCTIONS; FEARS OF EXTREMISM
The European Union will reportedly ban the sale of luxury goods and dual-use products to Syria as a larger group of U.N. truce monitors deploys in the conflict-torn nation. This will be the EU’s 14th set of sanctions against Assad’s government. Meanwhile, the Washington Post notes that activists and rebel soldiers based inside Syria say a small but growing number of Islamist radicals affiliated with global jihadi movements have been arriving in opposition strongholds in recent weeks and attempting to rally support among disaffected residents. *Alex MARQUARDT reports
-THE GRAND PRIX…Alex MARQUARDT reports: The Grand Prix in Bahrain was held yesterday without major incident, though protests continued to rage over the weekend and security was very tight. Protesters certainly succeeded in getting the world’s attention, but obviously failed in that the race happened and soon the spotlight will shift back away from Bahrain. That is, until the fate of activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is determined, now 75 days into a hunger strike. His family says he stopped accepting water on Friday, while Bahrain’s attorney general says he is in “good health and stable and receiving full medical attention.”
-APPEAL FOR MEDICS…Meanwhile, NOWLebanon reports a court in Bahrain has delayed the hearing scheduled for today for medics charged for treating protesters during last year’s protests there. The doctors were sentenced to up to 15 years in jail – a judgment that drew widespread international criticism.
WORLD SUMMIT OF NOBEL PEACE LAUREATES
Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are just a few of the Nobel Peace Prize winners expected in Chicago for the first-of-its kind summit in North America.
PANETTA TO SOUTH AMERICA
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta travels to South America this morning. He leaves Andrews Air Force Base at 7a ET, en route to Bogota, Colombia. While in Colombia, he’ll meet with the Colombia Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno and observe U.S. military training with Colombian Special Forces. Later in the week, he’ll travel to Brazil and Chile.
Britain’s broadcast regulator says it’s investigating e-mail hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News channel. A spokesman for regulator Ofcom says that the inquiry follows the news network’s admission that it authorized journalists to hack into people’s e-mail accounts on two separate occasions. Sky News insists that the computer breaches were carried out in the public interest.
MURDOCH PIE THROWER HAS NO REGRETS
The Telegraph reports that comedian, Jonathan May-Bowles, who was jailed for throwing a foam pie at Rupert Murdoch has insisted he has no regrets over the stunt and claimed the incident made his life “more interesting.”
”KONY 2012″ – THE BIG PUSH FLOPS
Bazi KANANI reports from Nairobi: The social media campaign to stop Joseph Kony, that brutal warlord in Africa, initially had astounding success online, but over the weekend it failed to motivate many of its supporters to take the message from the internet to the streets. While groups of supporters did participate in “Cover the Night” events across the US and in several cities across the globe, not enough were involved to make another big media splash. The Guardian calls the recent awareness-raising event a “silent flop.”
ASIA-GAGA FOR CONCERTS
From the AP: When Lady Gaga launches her hotly anticipated “Born This Way Ball” world tour Friday on what is expected to be an elaborate castle-like stage, fans in Asia will be the first to see it. Western pop stars are increasingly crisscrossing the upwardly mobile region in search of new markets while financial malaise continues to afflict parts of the West – and Asian fans are ecstatic.
A SOCCER BALL’S JOURNEY – FROM TSUNAMI-RAVAGED JAPAN…TO ALASKA
Akiko FUJITA reports that the Japanese owner of a soccer ball that washed ashore on a remote island of Alaska has come forward, laying claim to one of the first pieces of debris to arrive in the U.S. from last year’s catastrophic tsunami. Speaking to reporters, 16-year-old Misaki Murakami said he was “shocked” to hear his prized possession had floated more than 3,100 miles across the Pacific Ocean. He received the ball from friends when he was in the third grade, as a good luck gift before he transferred from Osabe Elementary school in Rikuzentakata, one of the cities hardest hit by the tsunami last March. On the ball, classmates signed their names in Japanese, along with the date March 2005, and the words “Misaki Murakami. Work hard!”
MOST DECADENT EATING COMPETITION
Kirit RADIA reports (but apparently did not participate!): A Moscow restaurant hosted the first caviar speed-eating competition over the weekend. Twelve contestants were chosen by lottery and had to devour half a kilo (just over 1 pound) of the pricy fish eggs as fast as possible. Each serving cost $6,000. The total cost to organizers: a cool 2 million rubles ($70,000). The winner downed his share in 1 minute, 26 seconds. “I once saw a report on how they made big chocolate truffles in Georgia and organized an eating competition. I remembered speed eating contests in America. I thought, why shouldn’t we do our own Russian competition?” organizer Alexander Novikov asked. The competition’s website posted a note complaining about coverage of the event, saying the aim was to promote the product, not gluttony. Photo of the winner in action here: Photo of the winner in action here and video of the event here.
PRINCE HARRY TO RECEIVE HUMANITARIAN AWARD
Prince Harry has been awarded the Atlantic Council Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership for his charitable works on behalf of wounded servicemen, and will receive the award in person in Washington next month. The prince will also receive the award on behalf of his brother, Prince William, in recognition of their charitable foundation. The palace says “Prince Harry will use the award to pay tribute to British and American veterans’ charities for their achievements in helping to rehabilitate wounded servicemen and women and to reintegrate those who have served in the Armed Forces into civilian life.” Each year the Atlantic Council recognizes leaders working in business, diplomacy, the military, humanitarianism and the arts. Past recipients include former prime minister Tony Blair, media magnate Rupert Murdoch, and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
The Telegraph files these pictures of a seagull snatching up a baby duckling for a small, bite-sized snack.