The Global Note: Norway’s Mass Killer…Secret Service Mess…Paparazzi, Pippa & the Gun

By Tom Nagorski

Apr 16, 2012 11:41am

THE NORWAY KILLER

-THE TRIAL BEGINS…Norway — and much of Europe — are reliving the blow-by-blow horror of that day last summer when terror gripped Norway. The terror trial of Anders Behring Breivik, an anti-Muslim fanatic who confessed to killing 77 people in Norway, began this morning. Breivik pleaded not guilty to terror and murder charges, saying he was acting in self-defense. Breivik told the court: “I admit to the acts, but not criminal guilt.” At one point Breivik smiled to the crowded courtroom; at another, he teared up when footage was played in court; and he flashed a closed-fist salute before meeting prosecutors and court officials. “I don’t recognize Norwegian courts because you get your mandate from the Norwegian political parties who support multiculturalism,” Breivik said. The key issue is the state of Breivik’s mental health, which will decide whether he is sent to prison or into psychiatric care. Brevik will call right-wing extremists and radical Islamists to testify during the trial, to show that there are others who share his view of clashing civilizations.

-NORWAY’S “SUPERMAX”…Nick SCHIFRIN notes this angle to the story: If convicted, Breivik will go to Norway’s equivalent of “supermax.” But it’s definitely not what we think of when we think of Supermax. The Norwegian version features cells with bathrooms, mini fridges and flat-screen TVs; Inmates spend their days outside, studying or learning building, carpentry or cookery – and are permitted to use the prison’s sports courts, music studio and climbing walls (“Ikea-style walls have art on them made by the inmates”). And so on. Why does Norway do this? “If we create quite a normal life behind the walls,” the warden says, “it will help inmates rehabilitate better than if we put them into a cell for 23 hours a day.” And it seems to work. Their recidivism rate is 20%. The rate in the US is 50-60%.

THE NEWS FROM CARTAGENA

-THE SECRET SERVICE MESS…Mary BRUCE reports President Obama is calling for a “thorough” and “rigorous” investigation following the scandal surrounding the Secret Service officials tasked with his protection. Reena NINAN reports that she has located the strip club the secret service agents apparently visited. White House officials wouldn’t confirm that this was in fact the location.

-THE CUBA QUESTION…As for the summit itself…President Obama headed home on the defensive, as the talks ended without agreement on whether Cuba’s Communist leaders should be invited to the next meeting, something the United States firmly opposes. The standoff meant that the sixth Summit of the Americas ended without an official declaration — a negotiated statement of shared principles from the hemisphere’s heads of state — and left open the question of whether there would be a seventh such meeting. The ambiguous conclusion underscored the fact that Obama, while pledging a new relationship with the United States’ leery southern neighbors, has had little success in bridging significant policy differences that have divided the region for decades.

-HILLARY CLINTON ENJOYS THE TRIP…Still in Colombia, photos of the Secretary of State were snapped over the weekend as she hit the town in Cartagena, dancing and drinking a local brew. One of the candid photos makes the front page of today’s New York Post.

AFGHAN ATTACKS: THE 18-HOUR SEIGE

From the AP and Aleem AGHA: A militant arrested in the attacks on the Afghan capital and three other cities has confessed that the 18-hour assault was carried out by the Haqqani network, a lethal group of fighters with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaida. Thirty-six insurgents were killed during the brazen attacks that also claimed the lives of eight policemen and three civilians and proved that militants can still penetrate Afghan security after 10 years of war. The U.S., German and British embassies and some coalition and Afghan government buildings took direct and indirect fire, according to Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. Western officials said the swift actions of Afghan security forces kept the incidents from causing more casualties. It was the most widespread attack in the Afghan capital since an assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters last September — an assault also blamed on the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan and commands the loyalties of an estimated 10,000 fighters.

PIPPA MIDDLETON, THE PAPARAZZI, AND THE GUN

Was it a real gun? (Not sure) Does it matter? (Yes, but it’s a crime in France to brandish even a fake weapon) Is this an embarassment for Royal Family? (Hard to see otherwise) The Sun has a photo of Pippa Middleton snapped over the weekend in the passenger seat of a convertible with three male passengers in Paris. The male driver took out a gun and pointed it at the photographer who snapped the photo. If the gun is real, the punishment could be up to seven years in jail “for all parties involved;” even if it’s fake, it’s punishable by up to two years.

IRAN: EASING TENSIONS? A “FREEBIE” FOR TEHRAN?

Benjamin Netanyahu says the nuclear talks in Istanbul gave Iran a “freebie.” “It has got five weeks [until the second round of talks in Baghdad] to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition,” Netanyahu said. Others see a subtle shift from the Iranians — a series of comments suggesting the nation will never pursue a nuclear weapons program. Not new necessarily, but perhaps a coordinated set of statements aimed at preparing the public in Iran for a backing down of some kind. 

UN OBSERVERS IN SYRIA; CEASEFIRE UNRAVELS

Alex MARQUARDT reports: An advance team of six UN peacekeepers has arrived in Damascus to lay the groundwork for a force that will expand to 30 and could eventually number 250. Activist groups reported early, intense mortar shelling in Homs today, among other sporadic reports of cease-fire violations. The overall violence in the country is still down, but this partial/fragile ceasefire is certainly unravelling. On the other side, the government says “the armed terrorist groups have hysterically escalated their aggressions.” 

U.S.-BOUND VIRGIN AIRWAYS FLIGHT MAKES EMERGENCY LANDING

Flights in and out of Gatwick Airport have been suspended after a plane was forced to make an emergency landing after smoke was reported in the cabin. The Virgin VS027 had left the West Sussex airport and was bound for Orlando when it had to return to make the landing. Passengers were being evacuated by emergency services, an airport spokeswoman said. A Gatwick Airport spokeswoman said: “It has made a safe emergency landing.” A statement from Virgin Atlantic said: “Due to a technical problem on board the aircraft, the captain decided as a precautionary measure to immediately evacuate the aircraft.” The airline said the Airbus A330-300 aircraft had 13 crew and 299 passengers on board.

CHINA MURDER: BRITON KILLED AFTER THREAT TO EXPOSE LEADER’S WIFE

From Karson YIU and Gloria RIVIERA in Beijing: there are new reports out that Neil Heywood, the British businessman who was murdered last November, was poisoned after he threatened to expose a plan by Chinese leader Bo Xilai’s wife to move money abroad. Allegedly Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, asked Heywood late last year to move a large sum of money abroad, and she became outraged when he demanded a larger cut of the money than she had expected.

EGYPTIAN CANDIDATES FIGHT TO GET BACK IN THE RACE

Following the elimination of three of the main contenders from Egypt’s presidential race, the electoral commission has given the candidates until today to contest their disqualification. Alex MARQUARDT notes the presidential race is in turmoil – since these three top contenders have been ruled ineligible just a month before the vote.

EL SALVADOR’S MIRACLE: A MURDER-FREE DAY

Joe SIMONETTI spies this from The Guardian: No one was murdered in El Salvador on Saturday in what was the first homicide-free day in nearly three years for the Central American country plagued by violent drug gangs, according to officials.  “After years when the number of murders reached alarming levels of up to 18 per day, we saw not one homicide in the country,” President Mauricio Funes said in a statement on Sunday.  The murder-free day was the first recorded since Funes took office in June 2009. According to United Nations data, El Salvador has experienced a homicide rate of 66 per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the world.

NEW WORLD BANK PRESIDENT

The World Bank is expected to announce its next president today, and for the first time it’s got a competition on its hands. Throughout its more-than-60-year history, the bank has been led by an American. Europe, in turn, has maintained control of the International Monetary Fund. Now, candidates from the developing world are trying to shake things up. Dartmouth University President Jim Yong Kim, nominated last month by President Obama, is facing off against Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

6 WEDDINGS ENOUGH? SOUTH AFRICA’S POLYGAMIST PREZ “THINKS SO”

From Bazi KANANI in Nairobi: South African President Jacob Zuma will marry for the 6th time next weekend in a traditional ceremony in his rural home province. Gloria Bongi Ngema will become the 70-year-old leader’s fourth current wife. He divorced a wife in 1998 and another wife committed suicide in 2000. The presidential spokesman said Sunday Zuma will pay all expenses for the wedding and taxpayer money will not be used. Zuma is a Zulu traditionalist who is allowed under South African law to have only one civil union but multiple customary marriages. Many are critical of his refusal to break with old Zulu polygamist customs in a country where AIDS awareness campaigns urge men to be monogamous. When asked at his recent birthday party whether he was done with marriage, Zuma is quoted as having said, “I think so.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, POPE BENEDICT

Phoebe NATANSON notes from Rome: today Pope Benedict turns 85, and greetings are pouring into the Vatican. This morning the Pope meets with a delegation from his native Bavaria, but no other official events are planned.

JAPAN: NUCLEAR EXCLUSION ZONE PARTIALLY REOPENED

From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Police in the city of Minamisoma removed barriers outside the 12-mile exclusion zone checkpoint at midnight, officially reopening part of the zone to the public. Minamisoma is the first city inside the 12-mile zone to reopen since the Fukushima disaster. The new rules allow residents to return home freely, and begin the process of rebuilding, but there are still restrictions preventing people from staying inside the zone overnight. The government says radiation levels are now low enough for people to travel to Minamisoma, but not safe enough to live there yet. An official I spoke with said the homes are in no condition to live in, so it will be a while before life can return to normal in the city. The 6-mile (10 km) area around the Fukushima plant remains off limits. 

NEW ZEALAND’S “CARDBOARD CATHEDRAL”

A $6 million church made entirely of cardboard tubes (and some wood & steel) will replace Christchurch’s main cathedral that was heavily damaged during the 2011 earthquake. This is a temporary solution – it will seat 700 people. Construction will be completed by the end of the year. The Anglican church decided to go with this option – since replacing the existing stone church is too expensive.

JOHN KERCHER: “JUSTICE FOR MY DAUGHTER”

Meredith Kercher’s father speaks for the first time about her carefree young life, her horrific murder – and his agonising quest for justice after Amanda Knox’s accquital.

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