AFGHANISTAN – U.S. SOLDIERS POSED WITH DEAD SUICIDE BOMBERS
Another problem for the U.S. in Afghanistan – another case that reflects poorly on soldiers and may further inflame passions there. The LATimes broke the story - about soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division who arrived at a police station in Zabul Province in February, 2010 in the aftermath of a suicide attack. From the LATimes: “They inspected the body parts. Then the mission turned macabre: The paratroopers posed for photos next to Afghan police, grinning while some held—and others squatted beside—the corpse’s severed legs. A few months later, the same platoon was dispatched to investigate the remains of three insurgents whom Afghan police said had accidentally blown themselves up. They obtained a few fingerprints, then posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs. Two soldiers posed holding a dead man’s hand with the middle finger raised…” Today U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and top commander General John Allen issued apologies and condemnations before the photos were even released. ISAF said the incident “represents a serious error in judgment by several soldiers who have acted out of ignorance and unfamiliarity with U.S. Army values.” From the U.S. Embassy: “Such actions are morally repugnant, dishonor the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians who have served with distinction in Afghanistan, and do not represent the core values of the United States or our military.” Martha RADDATZ and Aleem AGHA both suggest the reaction may be muted. Says Martha: “Always hard to tell what Afghan reaction will be, but it says the soldiers are posing alongside Afghan police – the corpses are suicide bombers – it was almost two years ago – and a criminal investigation was already launched. But why one of the soldiers involved is apparently back in Afghanistan is another question…”
AFGHAN SCHOOL GIRLS POISONED IN ANTI-EDUCATION ATTACK
About 150 Afghan schoolgirls were poisoned on Tuesday after drinking contaminated water at a high school in the country’s north, officials said, blaming it on conservative radicals opposed to female education. Since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban, which banned education for women and girls, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul.
AFGHAN WAR – EXIT PLANS
The U.S and its NATO allies are readying plans to pull away from the front lines in Afghanistan next year as President Barack Obama and fellow leaders try to show that the unpopular war is winding down. Top military and diplomatic officials from the U.S. and other NATO nations met Wednesday to finalize the combat handover program and a strategy for world support to the weak Afghan government and fledgling military after 2014.
SECRET SERVICE SCANDAL
Investigators are looking into whether prostitutes picked up by Secret Service agents in Cartagena last week may have had access to the President’s schedule, maps or the agents’ BlackBerry phones while in the hotel rooms. Each agent involved will be given a lie detector test and now the search is on for the 20-21 women involved in the scandal. All the women are believed to have left their identification with the hotel lobby upon entering. Meanwhile, the NY Post - citing only one source – reports that cocaine and several bottles of whiskey were found in the agents’ hotel rooms.
NORWAY KILLER IN COURT
Anders Breivik planned his attacks meticulously – but one thing he didn’t plan for? Surviving the day. He just said – per Matthew Price (whose Twitter feed right now is fascinating) “I was very surprised that I survived that day. I had no other plans for what to do. I considered the chance less than 5% that I would survive the bombing. But not only that I survived Utoya.”
-CEASEFIRE: BOTH SIDES POINT FINGERS…Each side is accusing the other of breaking the ceasefire as U.N. observers meet with officials from the regime and the opposition. Antigovernment activists pointed fingers at Syrian forces shelling neighborhoods and using helicopters to attack. Meanwhile, Assad forces say they were only responding to provocations. Alex MARQUARDT notes that the Syrian Foreign Minister Mouallem said today the plan for 250 UN observers, expected to be approved today, is “reasonable and logical.” Ban Ki-Moon says it’s not enough and this morning the UN Secretary-General will formally propose EU choppers and planes for the mission.
-WOMEN IN PLEA TO ASMA ASSAD…An unusual – and compelling plea, made via YouTube, by the wives of two U.N. Ambassadors to the wife of Syrian President Assad. Worth a look.
TERROR THREAT TO AMERICANS IN NIGERIA
The U.S. Embassy in Nigeria has issued an emergency warning to its citizens that a radical Islamist sect may be planning attacks on hotels in the West African nation’s capital. The embassy issued the warning Wednesday morning, saying it “has received information that Boko Haram may be planning attacks in Abuja, Nigeria, including against hotels frequently visited by Westerners.”
BIN LADEN’S WIVES: DEPORTATION HITS A SNAG
A lawyer for Osama bin Laden’s three widows and their nine children says the family is expected to be deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia later Wednesday. Mohammad Amir Khalil said the family was unable to leave overnight Tuesday as planned because the brother of bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, was not in possession of his passport.
SUU KYI TO LEAVE BURMA…FIRST TIME IN A QUARTER CENTURY
Aung San Suu Kyi will travel outside her native land – for the first time in 24 years. The Nobel Peace laureate has accepted an invitation to visit the U.K. in June – and she will also go to Norway, where she was awarded the Nobel in absentia in 1991. In the UK, she will visit Oxford, where she studied as an undergrad in the 60s and lived for 15 years with her late husband. Earlier this month, Suu Kyi became a Member of Parliament when her party won 43 or 44 local elections – the first elections in more than two decades. She takes her seat in parliament on April 23, although her debut may be delayed over a dispute concerning the oath of loyalty to the constitution, which Suu Kyi has pledged to amend.
KENYA’S HISTORY, OBAMA’S FAMILY
From Bazi KANANI in Nairobi: The release today of thousands of previously secret documents from the final days of the British Empire is shedding light on the country’s abuses abroad – and it’s also revealing a bit more about the President Obama’s family history. On one document, Obama’s father’s name is at the top of a list of Kenyan students studying in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement. The 1959 file notes the U.S. State Department asked Britain to provide the list because it was concerned Kenyan students were “falling into the wrong hands” and becoming “anti-American and anti-white.” President Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was among the thousands of people jailed for involvement in the independence movement. Here is what the Guardian has found so far.
IRAN, ISRAEL + THE U.S.
From Alex MARQUARDT: American officials are pushing back on Netanyahu’s description of the Iran talks as a “freebie.” An American official told Haaretz that in the weeks prior to the Istanbul conference, detailed discussions were held with Israel, both face to face and by telephone, on coordination of the approach to the talks. Meanwhile, the head of Iran’s nuclear program, Fereydoon Abbasi, has been named head of the Islamic Republic’s Crisis Management Center for Nuclear and Radiation Accidents. In this role, he will “Oversee taking preparatory measures to decrease the impacts of radiation accidents in times of crisis.” Abbasi was the one who signaled just over a week ago that concessions might be made with regards to enriching uranium. He was targeted in an assassination attempt in late 2010.
EGYPT: ELECTION MESS
MARQUARDT again: The disqualifications of 10 Egyptian presidential candidates have been upheld. The landscape of the race has now totally changed – the candidates to watch are Mubarak’s former foreign minister Amr Moussa, former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and the new MB candidate Mohamed Mursi. Disqualified Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail had warned that if barred from running, “Egypt will witness an Islamic revolution.” We shall see…
U.S. CITIZEN IS INTERIM PRIME MINISTER IN MALI
A former NASA scientist and Microsoft Africa chairman has been tapped to help his embattled West African country return to stability. Cheick Modibo Diarra was appointed interim prime minister of Mali after coup leaders agreed to return the country to civilian rule. Diarra will help Mali’s interim government organize new elections. According to his biography on Microsoft’s website, he earned a Ph.D. from Howard University in Washington D.C. in 1987. He later worked for NASA and became a U.S. citizen. He returned to Mali in 2003 where he was approached by Bill Gates to work for Microsoft.
U.S. GRAFFITI ARTIST CAUSES STIR IN SOUTH AFRICA
From Bazi KANANI: An artist from California who goes by the name “Above” is boasting about a recent trick he pulled in Johannesburg. He was commissioned to paint a mural that said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend” in Jewel City, where hundreds of diamond companies operate. Instead, he painted, “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and a man’s worst enemy.” In a blog posting he wrote, “I was painting a controversial wordplay about the diamond trade and how it’s fuelled so much bloodshed in wars, making it one of man’s worst enemies.” Property owners say the mural is an embarrassment that will be scrubbed immediately. They say they are an unfair target because companies in Jewel City are not among those involved in the trade of blood diamonds.
RUSSIAN TOWN HOSTING OLYMPICS LEARNS ENGLISH, ONE WORD AT A TIME
The LATimes reports that the Russian resort town of Sochi is determined to learn English - one word at a time. Sochi, which is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics in two years, has reportedly embarked on a plan to teach its residents more than 600 words of English to help tourists visiting for the Games. To do so, it will display a new English word and phrase every day, posted throughout the city in supermarkets, buses and played on the radio, Russian news reports said. The average Sochi resident is expected to run into their new English word five times in a day. The first word – learned earlier this week? “Welcome.”
WHERE IS SHE NOW?
The AFP interviews the “girl in the green dress” in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph - a picture of a 12-year-old Afghan girl surrounded by the victims of a Kabul suicide attack last December. The girl still has nightmares, she still cries and when she first saw the image, she wondered: “How come I am alive? I can see all the dead bodies around me but only I survived.”
TREATMENT FOR BALDING (FOR MICE AT LEAST)
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: A team of Japanese scientists may finally have the answer to those receding hairlines, after successfully regenerating hair on a bald mouse. Tokyo University of Science researchers took two different kinds of cells from hair follicles in mice, then transplanted them onto the hair follicles of the bald mouse. 74% of the hair grew back within three weeks! The hair was fully functionally and even grew back, after it was pulled out. Researchers have published their study in the online journal Nature Communications. But before balding men celebrate – there is a catch. Scientists say it will take at least 10 years before the treatment can be used on human patients. They also say it would only be used as therapy for hair loss resulting from an injury or disease – NOT premature baldness. Check out the bald mouse here.
10,000 AIRLINE TICKETS -FOR 1 YEN EACH
FUJITA again: In a bid to drum up publicity, and break through the crowded low-cost carrier market, budget airline Jetstar Japan announced Tuesday it would offer 10,000 one way domestic flights, for 1 yen ($.01). No surprise – the tickets sold out in a few hours. A joint venture with Quantas and Japan Airlines, Jetstar is scheduled to begin operating in Japan this July. Their flights come amid increasing competition in the low-cost carrier market, which was virtually non-existent in Japan until this year. Peach Aviation, backed by All Nippon Airways, began operating in March, while AirAsia, also by ANA, is scheduled to begin domestic flights in August.
The McBaguette debuts at the 1,230 McDonald’s restaurants in France for a six-week trial. It’s local beef, French mustard and Emmental cheese on a fresh baguette.
WATCH: 100 DAYS TO LONDON OLYMPICS
The UK Foreign Office has released a short film marking one hundred days until the London 2012 Olympic Games.
WHOOPS – PORTMAN, DEPP MAKE SOME SIGN-LANGUAGE MISTAKES IN MCCARTNEY VIDEO
As Joe SIMONETTI says, “Lost in translation.” Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp have apparently made sign-language gaffes in Sir Paul McCartney’s new music video. In the black and white video for ‘My Valentine’, also directed by McCartney, the actress makes the sign for the word ‘tampon’ instead of the word ‘appear’ as intended Meanwhile, Johnny Depp, who also appears in the video, signs ‘enemy’ instead of ‘valentine’. The blunders were picked up by deaf viewers, who believe that confusion between American and British sign languages could be behind the gaffes.