SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL
-THE LATEST…From Reena NINAN and our team in Cartagena: The Secret Service personnel relieved of duty for alleged misconduct in Colombia were partying at a Cartagena brothel called the Pley Club. The men were drinking heavily during their night out and enlisted the services of the club’s prostitutes, according to a bouncer at the club and a police source. Pierre THOMAS reports Secret Service officials are promising a thorough investigation – polygraph tests for the agents, and a team of inspectors will interview hotel employees, visit clubs in the area, and ask for surveillance video from the various locations. Martha RADDATZ reports a US official says there are now more than 10 members (but not more than 20) of the military – from each of the four branches – who may have been involved in the party in Cartagena. And Sunlen MILLER reports that Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, received a briefing by Director of the US Secret Service, in which she was told that ”twenty or twenty-one women foreign nationals were brought to the hotel.”
-”WE LET THE BOSS DOWN”…Meanwhile, top U.S. military officer Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news conference Monday “We let the boss down.” He said he regretted that the scandal diverted attention from Obama’s diplomacy at a Latin America summit. “I can speak for myself and my fellow chiefs…We’re embarrassed by what occurred in Colombia, though we’re not sure exactly what it is.”
BIN LADEN’S WIVES
From Habibullah KHAN and the AP: Osama bin Laden’s three widows and their nine children are scheduled to be deported to Saudi Arabia around midnight Tuesday, almost a year after U.S. Navy SEALs killed the al-Qaida chief at a compound in northwest Pakistan, their lawyer said. The family was detained by Pakistani authorities immediately after the pre-dawn raid on May 2 in Abbottabad. The American commandos left them behind but took bin Laden’s body, which they later buried at sea. The relatives were interrogated by Pakistani officials and eventually charged last month with illegally entering and living in the country. They were convicted on April 2 and sentenced to 45 days in prison, with credit for about a month served. Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ends Tuesday.
FOR FOUR MILLION KIDS – A BETTER CHANCE
Some good news to report on global health today. The BBC flags a new study done for Save The Children and UNICEF that finds four million more children each year are living beyond their fifth birthday than in 1990. Among the specific findings: In the decade to 2009, 56 million more children worldwide were going to school than previously; in sub-Suharan Africa, the countries which received the most aid saw children making the most progress; stunted mental and physical development as a result of malnutrition dropped by more than a quarter between 1990 and 2008; 131 countries now have immunization coverage of more than 90% for diphtheria, tetanus and major preventable diseases such as measles, compared to 63 in 1990; the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day (£0.79) has fallen from 45% in 1990 to 27% in 2005, although it increased in some unstable areas such as Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Overseas Development Institute – which did the study – cited international aid as a key factor in improving children’s well-being – along with economic growth and good government policies. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17736946
JOLIE A U.N. ENVOY
After a decade of promoting refugee causes around the world, Angelina Jolie herself has been promoted. The United Nations refugee agency has elevated the Hollywood star from being a goodwill ambassador to a special envoy, a role that will see her represent the organization at the diplomatic level to governments and diplomats.
SPANISH BONDS…AND YOUR 401K
As Richard DAVIES reports – a sigh of relief from global investors after Spain managed a successful bond auction today. Spanish bond yields had quickly become a huge cause for angst on international markets – but today, the Spanish government sold more than $4 billion of 12- and 18-month bonds, but at higher rates than last month’s auction. Yesterday a jump in Spanish bond yields spark concern the country could soon need a bailout to avoid a debt default. Germany has led calls for further austerity amid a domestic backlash against the bailouts for Greece and other troubled euro-zone countries.
-FINAL U.S. OFFENSIVE?…Following the Taliban’s coordinated attacks that spawned an 18-hour battle with Afghan and NATO forces over the weekend, the U.S. is gearing up for what may be the last major American-run offensive of the war – a bid to secure the approaches to Kabul. The U.S.-led spring offensive, expected to begin in the coming weeks, will focus on regions that control the main access routes, roads and highways into Kabul from the desert south and the mountainous east. These routes are used not only by militants but by traders carrying goods from Pakistan and Iran.
-EXPLOSIVES AND SURGERY…Fascinating piece in USA Today about guidelines for battlefield surgery – when unexploded ordnance must be removed from wounded soldiers. Operations to remove an explosive device from a servicemember’s body are rare – but the paper says it’s a big enough concern that in recent weeks guidelines on how to perform the delicate surgery have been issued for doctors in Afghanistan. Says Army Col. Jeffrey Bailey, director of the Pentagon’s program for improving battlefield care: “When it occurs, it’s nice to have some kind of road map.” The guidelines — at times gruesome — offer a primer on bomb triggers, recommend body armor for surgeons and warn against shifting the patient because of fear of detonation.
IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
-AN OFFER FROM TEHRAN?…Alex MARQUARDT reports Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has signaled that a loosening of sanctions could mean a deal at the Baghdad nuclear talks next month. “If the West wants to build trust, it should begin with sanctions, because it can help speed up the talks reaching a solution,” Salehi told INSA.
-AHMADINEJAD’S WARNING…Iran’s President says the country’s armed forces will make the enemy regret any act of aggression against Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks came as Iranians marked National Army Day Tuesday with a military parade. He did not specify who the enemy is but such language in Iran is a common reference to the West, especially the United States and Israel.
SYRIA: U.N. OBSERVERS ARRIVE, SHELLING CONTINUES
The Syrian regime widened shelling attacks on opposition strongholds Tuesday, activists said, targeting a second town in a new sign that a U.N.-brokered cease-fire is unraveling despite the presence of foreign observers. The truce is part of an international plan to launch talks between President Bashar Assad’s regime and those trying to topple him.
NORTH KOREA’S BOTCHED LAUNCHED – FALLOUT
-MADE IN CHINA?…Yonhap News Agency reports the transporter-erector-launcher that carried North Korea’s new missile in a massive military parade in Pyongyang over the weekend is Chinese-made, experts said. The vehicle, which can transport and erect a missile for a launch, drew attention as it carried what is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile with a presumed range of up to 6,000 kilometers that is capable of reaching Alaska. The 16-wheel erector-launcher is apparently based on a design from the 9th Academy of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
-ROCKET DISPLAY SHOWED LACK OF PROGRESS…Analysts sifting through information on North Korea’s failed rocket launch say it suggests Pyongyang has learned little about spaceflight since its last flubbed attempt three years ago, and that it’s a long way from being able to threaten the United States with a long-range missile. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the rocket launch and expanded U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang, warning of additional measures if the North goes ahead with a new nuclear weapons test.
U.S. TROOPS & JOSEPH KONY
Bazi KANANI flags this from the Washington Post – on reaction to the role of U.S. troops in Central Africa – where they are supporting regional armies searching for notorious warlord Joseph Kony. People in a village where the troops are stationed are disappointed they aren’t seeing more results. They are also critical of U.S. support of an expanded role by Ugandan troops who have been accused of human rights abuses in Central Africa.
PIPPA’S RISQUE NIGHT – BEFORE THE TOY GUN SHOW
Scenes from a lavish party attended by Pippa Middleton in Paris to mark the seventh anniversary of Vicomte A – a company formed by Arthur Solutrait – have emerged. Middleton, 28, was the guest of honour at the decadent 18th century-themed party. The reportedly wild bash at one of Paris’s hottest nightspots saw costume-clad socialites greeted by three dwarves lounging on a sofa for their ‘entertainment’. It concluded with a stripper bursting out of a giant birthday cake before disrobing to a remix of God Save The Queen. A smiling Pippa, in a scarlet corseted dress, even posed for photos perched on the side of a gilded throne – shipped in for the occasion – next to the vicomte, who wore a studded dog collar and chain.
STRONG QUAKE HITS CHILE
A magnitude-6.7 earthquake shook central Chile late Monday, prompting authorities to order a preventative evacuation of a stretch of coastline and causing hundreds of people in the capital to flee buildings in panic. There were no reports of major damage, but authorities in the port city of Valparaiso said a 72-year-old man died of a heart attack during the quake. The earthquake was felt for almost a minute in Valparaiso and the capital, Santiago. The quake knocked out power and telephone service in various parts of Santiago. There were reports of rockslides on a highway outside of Santiago, and residents of Valparaiso said the facades of some old buildings had fallen. In 2010, the 8.8-magnitude quake caused a tsunami that obliterated much of the coastal downtown of the central Chilean city of Constitucion.
AMERICANS STRANDED ON CRUISE SHIP – REPLACEMENT SHIP EN ROUTE
16 American passengers are among those on a cruise ship stranded near the Antarctic peninsula. The ship reportedly had engine problems and has been there since last Tuesday. They are apparently not in any danger and they have enough food and water to last until a replacement ship arrives on Wednesday.
U.S. COUPLE IDENTIFIED FROM COSTA CONCORDIA WRECK
As Phoebe NATANSON reports from Rome, the Prefect office of Grosseto has announced that 5 more bodies from the Costa Concordia wreck (found on March 22nd) have been identified. They include the American couple Barbara and Gerald Heil. The others are two German citizens – Christina Mathi Ganz and Norbert Josef Ganz – and an Italian citizen, Giuseppe Girolamo, who was a member of the crew. 30 bodies have been found and identified so far; the bodies of two other people who are still missing from the wreck have yet to be found.
NORWAY KILLER: “I WOULD DO IT AGAIN”
The BBC reports the man accused of killing 77 people in bomb and gun attacks in Norway last July is defending his actions as he takes the stand at his trial in Oslo. “I have carried out the most spectacular and sophisticated attack on Europe since World War II,” Anders Behring Breivik told the court. Breivik also told the court that he would do it all again.
MEXICO RAISES ALERT FOR VOLCANO NEAR MEXICO CITY
Reuters reports Mexican authorities raised the alert level for the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City after it started spewing red-hot fragments of rock. The lava dome of Popocatepetl, some 50 miles to the southeast of the capital, started to expand on Friday, Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention said.
THE FIRST GUEST ON JULIAN ASSANGE’S SHOW
From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s interview show airs on Kremlin-controlled RT today and the television station promised that the first guest would be so controversial it will lead to calls to shut it down. The guest – quite a get actually – Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. RT is heavily promoting the show – you can view the trailer here.
HONG KONG TO BAN PREGNANT MAINLANDERS FROM GIVING BIRTH
The Telegraph reports the southern Chinese city has been struggling to cope with tens of thousands of mainland Chinese women who arrive yearly to give birth, thereby gaining residency rights for their children and dodging China’s one-child policy. Mainlanders accounted for nearly half of Hong Kong’s 88,000 births in 2010. The incoming chief executive, said he would ban pregnant mainlanders whose husbands were not from Hong Kong, dubbed “double negatives”, from giving birth in local hospitals next year.
WORLD’S NO. 2 TOWER SHOWS OFF VIEWS
Sweeping but hazy views of Tokyo’s skyline greeted journalists taken up the world’s tallest freestanding broadcast structure before its opening to the public next month. The 634-meter (2,080-foot) Tokyo Skytree is the world’s second-tallest structure behind the 828-meter (2,717-foot) Burj Khalifa in Dubai, according to owner Tobu Tower Skytree Co. It took about 50 seconds in a high-speed elevator Tuesday to zip up to the lower observation deck at 350 meters (1,148 feet), and another 30 seconds to reach the higher deck at 450 meters (1,476 feet).
SIMON COWELL ROBBED ON A ONE-NIGHT STAND?
It’s a Sun “World Exclusive”: Simon Cowell was robbed by a woman on a drunken one-night stand. The X-Factor boss, 52, met the girl in a nightclub and smuggled her back to his hotel. The next day he woke to find her gone — taking his wallet and a laptop full of show secrets. Cowell’s team called the cops, who used security camera footage to trace the thieving girl.
ONE-MAN SPERM BANK…ODDEST STORY OF THE DAY
Dada JOVANOVIC flags this, from Der Spiegel: Ed Houben was a virgin until the age of 34. Now he’s the biological father of 82 children. Der Spiegel reports that the 42-year-old Dutchman performs his services for free, offering women and couples a chance to conceive a child without the expense of using a sperm bank. But Houben is different from typical sperm donors in that he actually has sex with the women to whom he is donating. According to his own self-collected data, Houben succeeds in producing a child 80 percent of the time. While what he does is perfectly legal, Der Spiegel notes that if any of his clients tried to sue him for child support, he’d have no legal grounds to stop them. Der Spiegel profile of papa Ed: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,827123,00.html The Daily Mail’s on to the story, too – calling Houben the “most prolific professional babymaker in the world.”