The Global Note: Africa’s Anguish…Egypt’s Choice…Everest Traffic Jam…”Fugitive Penguin” Captured

By Tom Nagorski

May 25, 2012 11:09am

AFRICA’S CRISIS: DROUGHT & HUNGER IN THE SAHEL

Our Bazi KANANI is just back from a tough trip into the parched Sahel region of West Africa – in particular, the desperately dry and hungry village of Maradi in Niger. That nation has recently been named the toughest place on earth to be a mother – and KANANI has seen why, first hand. Overall this is a crisis that affects eight African nations, with an estimated fifteen million people at risk – including one million children. Her broadcast reports begin next week – an early look here.

EUROPE’S CRISIS, GLOBAL FEARS

-EUROPE TODAY…While global investors worry about a looming “Grexit” (a Greek departure from the Euro), today’s angst is all about Spanish banks. Trading in shares in Bankia, Spain’s fourth largest bank, have been suspended in Madrid amid reports it’s going to ask for a $19billion government bailout. Bankia, battered by its exposure to the collapse of Spanish real estate market, will be revising its 2011 results – to show a big loss. Meanwhile, four of the largest and best-capitalized banks in Sweden and Norway have been downgraded by Moody’s in a stark warning of how contagion from the eurozone crisis may affect even supposed safe havens as well. Some of Europe’s biggest fund managers have confirmed they are dumping euro assets amid rising fears of a “Grexit”. European markets are down (no news there)…

-GLOBAL FEARS…As the Wall Street Journal and our Richard DAVIES report, Europe is just the worst of a bad batch of economic facts and figures. The U.S. reported Thursday that businesses were slowing orders of computers, aircraft, machinery and other long-lasting goods – while measures of business sentiment in Europe slipped, and reports from purchasing managers at manufacturers around the globe turned down. Among them, China, the world’s second-largest economy, registered its seventh straight drop in an important manufacturing index. Says the Journal: “A new economic threat is emerging: That activity is slowing in sync around the globe and not just in a few markets with their own isolated problems.” Europe may be the “epicenter” of crisis now – but reports of economic  trouble are turning up in China, India, South Africa, Brazil and elsewhere.

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD LEADS EGYPTIAN VOTE

From Alex MARQUARDT in Cairo: The Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi is leading the early returns of Egypt’s presidential election, setting the stage for a runoff next month against former President Mubarak’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. As MARQUARDT writes, it would be “a run-off between candidates from opposite ends of the spectrum, leaving the many liberals who participated in the revolution high and dry…So who do the revolutionary moderates now vote for? The islamist – or the Mubarak crony? They almost certainly hold their noses and vote for Morsi as an anti-Mubarak vote…The real stunner here was Shafiq’s late surge, proof that many Egyptians yearn for stability and an experienced military arnd political hand.” The runoff round is scheduled for June 16-17 – with the president named on June 21.

IRAN URANIUM: A GLITCH, OR A DANGER?

The AP carries this breaking item: Diplomats say the U.N. nuclear agency has found traces of uranium at Iran’s underground atomic site enriched to higher than previous levels and closer to what is needed for nuclear weapons. The diplomats say the finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency does not necessarily mean Iran is secretly raising its enrichment threshold – that the traces could be left during startup of enriching centrifuges until the desired level is reached. That would be a technical glitch only. But the IAEA is investigating the find because the higher the level of enrichment, the easier it is to turn uranium into nuclear warhead material.

SYRIA: RUMORS SWIRL OF POISONING DEATHS

The New York Times takes note of persistent rumors in Syria that President Assad’s brother-in-law and other senior officials have been fatally poisoned. The Assad regime denies it – interestingly, via a Facebook posting – but it has proven nearly impossible to confirm or refute.

HEADED FOR MEXICO: HURRICANE BUD

The storm season is getting an early start…and Mexico’s Pacific Coast sits in the cross-hairs. Hurricane Bud is now a Category 2 storm headed toward an area of beach resorts and small mountain villages along the coastal area stretching south from Puerto Vallarta.  As Sam CHAMPION reports, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says gradual weakening is expected Friday afternoon, but Bud is still expected to reach Mexico as a hurricane. A hurricane warning is in effect for Mexico’s Pacific coast from Manzanillo northwestward to Cabo Corrientes. A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning are in effect from Punta San Telmo westward to east of Manzanillo.

CHINA (1): CHEN’S FIRST U.S. INTERVIEW

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng has given his first interview since arriving in the U.S. to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. He expressed concern over intensifying retribution against his family members who remain in China, especially his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been jailed and faces charges of attempted murder. Kegui is accused of slashing at police officers when they burst into his house, looking for his uncle. Just yesterday’s Kegui’s father and Guangcheng’s brother escaped to Beijing to discuss his son’s imprisonment with lawyers there.

CHINA (2): BASHING FOREIGNERS

From the Washington Post: Faced with political turmoil at the top, a slowing economy, and a young and wired population restless for change, China’s Communist rulers appear to have dusted off a time-tested tactic: blaming foreigners for the country’s problems. This time, however, the technique does not seem to be working as well as it used to. Judging from a torrent of online criticism, it may even have backfired.

AFGHAN WAR

-MARINE COMMANDER:  NO MORE PHOTOS…Muhammad LILA reports: After the recent scandals involving pictures/video of U.S. troops posing with dead Afghans, marine commanders in Afghanistan have instituted a “no camera” policy while off base.  General Charles Gurganus, based in Helmand Province, tells The Marine Times that “heavy snaps,” or photos that troops take as souvenirs, will only be allowed on base and in between missions. It’s an effort to curtail any photos or video taken of marines behaving inappropriately.

-FRENCH PRESIDENT VISITS…Newly-minted French President Francois Hollande made a surprise trip to Afghanistan today to meet some of the 3,300 French troops stationed there – and to see Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The meeting comes just days after Hollande announced plans to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.

ANOTHER CROWDED WEEKEND ON EVEREST

After that dangerous weekend on Mount Everest that saw four climbers die, another dangerous weekend may be shaping up. As Gloria RIVIERA notes, more than 200 people are planning to climb to the summit this weekend. That many climbers makes it dangerous because they have to wait too long at high altitudes for fellow climbers to pass through before they can continue on. This weekend is considered the last opportunity to make the climb this season.

AUSTRALIA FINDS U.S. WORKERS WILLING TO TRAVEL DOWN UNDER

The Wall Street Journal reports the Australian government and a group of natural resource and mining firms are recruiting workers in the United States. And many Americans appear willing to head to Australia and earn six-figure salaries doing mostly blue-collar work. Australia chose Houston, TX for its inaugural U.S. job fair because it’s a labor market of 130,000 workers in sectors like construction, oil and gas.

ROCKET DOCKS AT INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION

The SpaceX rocket is set to dock at the International Space Station this morning. It’s the first U.S. vessel to visit the space station since NASA’s shuttles retired last summer – and the first private spacecraft ever to attempt a delivery to the station.

GLOBAL MEDICINE

-ISRAELI SCIENTISTS MAKE BEATING HEART TISSUE FROM SKIN CELLS…The Telegraph reports Israeli scientists have been able to make beating heart tissue from skin cells. The skin cells were taken from patients with heart failure and transformed into healthy, beating heart tissue. The researchers said that while there are still many years of testing ahead, early results suggest they may be able to reprogram patients’ cells to repair their own damaged hearts in the future.

-GENE DISCOVERY MAY BE KEY TO MALE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL…The BBC reports it may be possible to develop a new male contraceptive pill after researchers in Edinburgh identified a gene critical for the production of healthy sperm. The authors of a study in PLos Genetics said a drug which interrupts Katnal1 could be a reversible contraceptive.

KENYA: U.K. ARISTOCRAT BEATEN TO DEATH

From Wilfred WAMBURA in Nairobi: The family of Alexander Monson, 28, claims he was beaten to his death after police arrested him Tuesday in the coastal town of Diani, Mombasa. The victim was allegedly arrested outside of a club when he went ahead and smoked “bhang” in public. Several hours later he was admitted to a nearby hospital with heavy police presence accompanying him. His family is blaming the police for his death; police saying his death was caused by a cardiac arrest.

BRAWL ERRUPTS IN UKRAINE PARLIAMENT

So – we were in the Ukranian parliament - and a hockey game broke out… This one really did turn the legislative chamber in Kiev into something more like a hockey rink. The video shows opposition and pro-president deputies fighting during a debate about a hotly contested bill that seeks to adopt Russian as an official language in the country.

“FUGITIVE PENGUIN” CAPTURED

From Akiko FUJITA: Japan’s most-wanted escapee is back behind bars. More than two months after it slipped out of an aquarium in Tokyo, Japan’s “fugitive penguin” is back in captivity following its capture in the capital on Thursday night. Two keepers picked up the Humboldt penguin after receiving reports that it had been seen swimming in a river earlier the same day day. The capture ended 82 days of freedom, during which it briefly achieved celebrity status around the world. The keepers, who seized the penguin after it ventured on to the riverbank, said the animal did not appear to have been harmed and had been eating enough to keep its weight stable.

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