GREEK DRAMA, GLOBAL TRAUMA
-THE BIG PICTURE…Global investors have their eyes on two major events in Europe today – both involve the debt crisis and what can be done to contain it: The talks to find a new government in Athens (they have just collapsed – raising fears of a nasty and domino-producing default?); and a meeting between German Chancellor Merkel and newly-minted French President Hollande (will France change – or end – its commitment to austerity measures?).
-IN ATHENS…Greek President Karolos Papoulias is met with all major parties to discuss the formation of a government - and as the Wall Street Journal puts it, here’s the headline that has jolted global markets: “Greek Coalition Talks Have Failed”. Just like that, stock futures have erased earlier gains, European stocks are sharply lower and the euro has fallen below $1.28 for the first time since January. Commodities are in the red and safe-haven Treasurys are getting a lift after Greece’s president admitted defeat in his talks with party leaders to form a coalition government. That raises fears that the elections in June will produce a government that won’t implement the already-accepted bailout terms. Markets are treating this as another piece of evidence pointing toward a Greek exit from the euro zone, prompting the sharp move lower in investor sentiment.
-FRANCE’S NEW PRESIDENT…Plenty of pomp and ceremony in Paris today as Francois Hollande was sworn in as President of France, becoming the first Socialist leader in 17 years to occupy the Elysee Palace. All the festivities cannot mask the rough road ahead – and Mr. Hollande said he was fully aware of the challenges, in particular the debt crisis and anemic growth. Later today Hollande flies to Berlin for that meeting with Chancellor Merkel.
HACKING SCANDAL: REBEKAH BROOKS CHARGED
Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper arm, has been charged with “perverting the course of justice” over a phone-hacking scandal at one of the media mogul’s papers, British prosecutors said Tuesday. Also charged were Brooks’ race horse trainer husband Charlie, her secretary and other staff from News International, including her driver and security officials from the British newspaper arm of Murdoch’s News Corp media empire. The maximum sentence is a life prison term – though Brooks is not expected to face anything nearly that severe.
FROM KOREA, ANOTHER “SUDDEN ACCELERATION” CASE
The Wall Street Journal’s “Driver’s Seat” blog takes note of a video posted on YouTube that shows a car belonging to an elderly couple in South Korea suddenly accelerating before causing a crash that injured 17 people. The couple’s son extracted the video of the accident from a “black box” the Hyundai Sonata was equipped with and uploaded it to the Internet because he said he didn’t think police or Hyundai believed it was a sudden acceleration accident. The South Korean Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs has launched an investigation. This, of course, has echoes of the sudden acceleration cases reported by Brian ROSS that plagued Toyota in 2009. Joohee CHO looking into the story in Seoul.
-’ISRAEL SPY’ HANGED OVER NUCLEAR SCIENTIST KILLING…BBC reports a man convicted of killing an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran two years ago has been hanged, Iran’s state media report. Majid Jamali Fashi, 24, was convicted of killing Professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi by detonating a bomb outside his home in January 2010. Fashi was also accused of being a spy for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and receiving $120,000 (£72,000) for the killing.
-EXILE GROUP NEARS US REBIRTH…The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration may remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department’s terrorism list, in an action that could further poison Washington’s relations with Tehran. The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran. The MeK has engaged in an aggressive legal and lobbying campaign in Washington over the past two years to win its removal from the State Department’s list.
-EU CARRIES OUT FIRST STRIKES ON SOMALI PIRATES…The European Union says its naval force off the Somali coastline has carried out its first air strikes against pirate targets on shore. A spokesman said maritime aircraft and attack helicopters took part in the attacks early Tuesday along the coastline. No casualties were reported in the raid, which occurred along Somalia’s central coastline in the region of Galmudug.
-U.S. MARINES TRAIN SOLDIERS TO BATTLE TERROR GROUP…The U.S. military has posted a video on YouTube of work Marines are doing in Uganda to train soldiers to better fight Al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia. At Camp Singo, many of the Marines and American military contractors there are passing on lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the U.S. withdrew troops from Somalia in 1994, it has only sent in small units of Special Forces to go after Al Qaeda members or pirates holding hostages.
SYRIANS DEFY LEADERS TO AID THOSE IN NEED
The New York Times reports that as violence across Syria reaches a treacherous new phase and the numbers of displaced and injured swell, individual and ad hoc medical efforts have grown into an increasingly organized underground network of volunteers willing to brave injury and arrest to deliver relief supplies to those trapped, wounded or displaced by the fighting. The Red Crescent said last week that as many as 1.5 million people need help getting food, water or shelter. Meanwhile, Alex MARQUARDT reports that nearly two dozen Syrian government soldiers were killed in intense clashes with the opposition over control of the central, rebel-held city of Rastan, opposition groups said Monday, deepening questions about the viability of a cease-fire engineered under United Nations auspices.
ORGAN HARVESTING IN CHINA
USA Today reports that as cultural taboos restrict voluntary organ donation, the systematic harvesting of organs from freshly executed prisoners provides almost two thirds of China’s very limited supply of livers, kidneys, hearts, lungs and corneas, says vice health minister Huang Jiefu. Last month, Huang announced Beijing will abolish the practice within the next three to five years and replace this controversial source with a new system that encourages donations of organs and regulates where they go. That’s a welcome promise but tough to realize, say China analysts, who doubt Chinese authorities can quickly shift social attitudes and sweep aside a practice in which some people profit from collusion between medical staff, judicial officers and the police.
RIGHTS GROUP: IRAQ STILL OPERATING SECRET TORTURE SITE
A clandestine jail and alleged torture site under the control of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki continues to operate more than a year after the government ordered it shut down, Human Rights Watch claims in a report released Tuesday. Roundups of suspected loyalists of late leader Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party were conducted in October and November, when government security agents went door to door in Baghdad, the capital, with lists of those targeted for secret detention, the rights group reports. Another sweep of suspected government opponents allegedly occurred in March, ahead of an Arab summit.
HEARING TODAY ON CHINESE DISSIDENT
A House subcommittee holds a hearing this afternoon on the fate of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Today’s hearing was prompted by the news that Chen’s family and friends are facing severe reprisals. There’s no word yet on whether Chen will phone in as he did the last time his plight was discussed on the Hill.
From Phoebe NATANSON in Rome: It will be at least a week before we know if the mysterious bones uncovered near the tomb of notorious crime boss Enrico De Pedis are linked to the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15 year-old daughter of a Vatican employee who disappeared nearly 30 years ago. The bones, some of which are said to predate Napoleon, were found during an inspection of the crypt at the Roman basilica of Saint Apollinaire, where the Rome-based Magliana gang boss (rather unusually) was buried in 1990 after being gunned down. In 2008 reports were leaked to the press that his girlfriend had allegedly accused the gang boss of killing Emanuela Orlandi who went missing in 1983. Anonymous calls to the press over the years have called on inspectors to look inside De Pedis’ coffin to see whose body was inside. The Vatican approved this move in an effort to stop endless rumors of the Vatican’s involvement in the unsolved mystery of the girl’s disappearance.
Police in Oslo say a man set himself on fire outside the court where confessed mass killer Anders Breivik is being tried. A BBC stringer writes that the man ran across the street with his sweater on fire, and that security personnel quickly doused him with water. The stringer saw no visible facial injuries and the man was taken away in an ambulance.
FIRST TROPICAL STORM
As Andreena NARAYAN writes, Dust off the Hurricane DL, the first tropical storm of the year has formed in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Mexico. Aletta poses no danger to land at present, but worth noting that Aletta is only the third storm since 1949 that has formed by May 15.
From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: A Russian Soyuz rocket took off from Kazakhstan today carrying two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut. Next stop: the International Space Station. Today’s launch was originally scheduled for March, but was delayed by technical problems.
ANOTHER TOURIST ATTACKED BY WILD CAT IN SOUTH AFRICA
From Bazi KANANI: Less than three weeks after a British tourist photographed the attack on his wife by cheetahs in a petting cage at a private game park in South Africa, it has happened again. The South African Press Association reports a one-year-old lion cub bit a 28-year-old Singaporean woman in the face and clawed her arm and leg. The tourist at the Tshukudu game lodge was among a group posing with the cubs for pictures. Pictures of this attack haven’t surfaced yet. This time the husband immediately stopped photographing and instead used his camera to hit the young lion cub to distract it. A park manager said the attack would be investigated, and then a decision will be made about the cub’s future.
GEARING UP FOR THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST WITH LONDON-STYLE CABS
The Wall Street Journal reports Azerbaijan has bought 1,000 London-style cabs to replace the many dilapidated, unlicensed cabs that have piled its capital Baku for decades. The new cabs which are identical to London’s iconic cabs in everything but color – Baku’s are deep purple rather than black – are intended to help Baku put its best foot forward when it hosts the wildly popular Eurovision Song contest later this month.
WORLD’S LARGEST PUBLIC TOILET?
From Akiko FUJITA: Not sure what is more troubling – the fact that a Japanese city spent roughly $120,000 on a toilet, or the fact that this could actually become a tourist attraction. As the AP writes, one of the things that visitors to Japan often notice is the abundance of, and usually well-maintained, public lavatories. You’ll find them in most convenience stores and stations, in department stores, book stores, parks and along shopping streets — in fact it’s unlikely you would be caught in the city with nowhere to “go.” In 2010, P-Vine publications even picked out 20 of the most stylish rest rooms in the capital for its guide book “Tokyo Toilet Map.” So a new women’s public toilet opening in Chiba Prefecture’s Ichihara City shouldn’t be something to be surprised about — unless, that is, it sits in a transparent booth on a 200-sq.-meter plot of land. Last month, Ichihara City officially opened what it called “the biggest public toilet in the world.” A grand gesture that is slightly misleading — it is in fact the largest plot of land for a single toilet — but nonetheless, it’s not to be sniffed at. The toilet, which is conveniently located in front of Itabu Station on the Kominato Railway Line, is boxed in glass and sits smack in the middle of a spacious garden of potted flowers and plants. For privacy, and to fend off any peeping Toms, there is a two-meter-high fence surrounding the garden.