The Global Note: Syria’s “Tipping Point”…The Pain In Spain…Mandela Appears…Kim Jong Un at the Amusement Park

By Tom Nagorski

May 30, 2012 10:06am

SYRIA: “TIPPING POINT”…THEN WHAT?

-BIG PICTURE…The conflict is at a “tipping point,” Kofi Annan says, having told President Bashar al-Assad yesterday that a U.N. plan “is not being implemented as it must be.” Of course, a “tipping point” implies something new is coming – and for all the urgent-sounding meetings and expulsions of Syrian diplomats, etc., it’s hard to see just what that new phase will bring.

-LOOKING FOR OPTIONS…Is there a military option in play? Voices as diverse as U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey and newly-minted French President Francois Hollande have floated the possibility – and certainly it will be raised again at the U.N. Security Council, which is to be briefed today on Annan’s Damascus meetings. But both Russia and China have already restated their opposition today to military action – as Kirit RADIA reports from Moscow, “A top Foreign Ministry official dismissed calls for military intervention as ‘political emotion, rather than analysis and a calculated approach.’”

-THE FIGHTING…In Syria today, regime troops are said to be shelling the cities of Homs and Douma. The Guardian is carrying a running live-blog with the latest developments.

-THE MASSACRES…U.N. officials believe pro-Assad “shabiha” - thugs – were involved in the executions that sparked the latest fury. The New York Times reports that an Alawite commander from a nearby village was killed by rebels and that the massacre may have been meant as revenge for that. As Alex MARQUARDT writes, “we may see revenge attacks against Alawites for the Houla massacre – as this crisis descends further into a sectarian mess.”

-DIPLOMATS OUT…Japan and Turkey today joined 11 other countries, including the U.S., in expelling Syrian diplomats from their countries. Once a close ally, Turkey has told all Syrian diplomats to leave within 72 hours.

IRAN V. THE “FLAME”

Iran has acknowledged getting hit by the powerful “Flame” computer virus - but also says it has produced a tool to beat it. Iran’s Information Technology Organization released a statement on its website, saying it has produced an antivirus that can identify and remove Flame. Fars, Iran’s semi-official news agency, reports that the antivirus was developed earlier this month and is ready to be put to use. It’s said to be able to spot when Flame is present and clean up infected computers. Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is slated to give an interview to France 24 at midday our time. Worth watching to see if he answers – or deflects – any questions about Flame.

EUROPE’S CRISIS

-THE PAIN IN SPAIN…Nearly all of Richard DAVIES’ daily roundup of economic news is about Europe today. As he writes, “The pain in Spain is being felt elsewhere, and misery in Madrid could replace angst in Athens as the chief threat to the health of your 401K plan.” Investors are worrying about Spain’s very weak economy and the threat to its banking system. The yield on Spanish ten-year bonds rose again to  6.61% – the higher the yield, the riskier investors consider a country’s debt – and that’s considered a perilously high number. The Financial Times reports the European Central Bank “bluntly rejected as unacceptable” a Spanish plan to rescue troubled lender Bankia with help from the ECB. A Spanish bank collapse could be another dangerous domino for the rest of the Eurozone – and the global economy.

-PUT OUT THE FIRE!…DAVIES again: The Obama Administration has sent one its top Treasury Department officials to Europe. Lael Brainard is expected to urge officials to bring the growing debt crisis under control. The Wall Street Journal says US officials “are pressing Europe on several fronts, including a broader role for the Continent’s $878 rescue plan,” according to sources. 

MANDELA APPEARS

A day after returning to his home in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu, former South African President and global icon Nelson Mandela has made a rare public appearance – sitting quietly, smiling occasionally. At one point Mandela begins to speak – and then stops after a few moments. The SABC say this video is from today, when the African National Congress’ centenary flame arrived in Mandela’s home village of Qunu. President Jacob Zuma said in a statement on Monday that Mandela “is in good health and we constantly assure him of the love, support and good wishes of millions of South Africans and people around the world.”The African National Congress Centenary Flame has crossed back and forth across South Africa since the launch of the movement’s centenary program in January.

YEMEN: U.S. STRIKES STOKE ANGER – AND SYMPATHY FOR AL QAEDA

Interesting – and distressing – read from the Washingtom Post: “Across the vast, rugged terrain of southern Yemen, an escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes is stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States. After recent U.S. missile strikes, mostly from unmanned aircraft, the Yemeni government and the United States have reported that the attacks killed only suspected al-Qaeda members. But civilians have also died in the attacks, said tribal leaders, victims’ relatives and human rights activists. “These attacks are making people say, ‘We believe now that al-Qaeda is on the right side,’” said businessman Salim al-Barakani, adding that his two brothers — one a teacher, the other a cellphone repairman — were killed in a U.S. strike in March. Since January, as many as 21 missile attacks have targeted suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen.

ITALY QUAKE: RESCUE AND RECOVERY

The BBC reports rescuers are continuing to sift through rubble for survivors after that pair of big quakes struck Northern Italy Tuesday. The quakes killed at least 16 people; a 65-year-old woman was pulled alive from the rubble late yesterday, but officials say at least one more person is still missing.

U.S., RUSSIA + A TWITTER WAR

From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: The Twitter War between the U.S. Ambassador and the Russian government has flared up – and the State Department says Russia will just have to “get used” to Ambassador Michael McFaul’s blunt way of speaking. The Foreign Ministry fired off a string of furious tweets Monday blasting McFaul for “deliberate distortion” of U.S.-Russian relations and called his conduct “unprofessional.” “This is not the first time Mr. McFaul’s statements and actions have been a cause for concern,” the ministry wrote. “Ambassadors’ job, as we understand it, is to improve bilateral ties, not to spread blatant falsehoods through the mediasphere.” The angry tweets were in response to a presentation McFaul gave to a group of students at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics Friday, about the often contentious U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship. Some of the tweets ripped McFaul for criticism of the Kremlin-backed English-language television station RT. “It is hard to understand why freedom of speech supporter Michael McFaul casts suspicion on the activities of the @RT_com network in the U.S.,” the ministry wrote in one of nine tweets fired off within a span of three minutes. “It would seem he should be pleased with the emergence of additional sources of information for the American public.” McFaul wrote today on his blog that he was “puzzled” by the Russian reaction to his recent comments.

BRITISH PM’S COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR DETAINED IN HACKING INQUIRY

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s former communications director Andy Coulson has been arrested in the ongoing Leveson inquiry into hacking at Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Coulson was editor of News of the World when the phone hacking was thought to have taken place.

WIKILEAKS FOUNDER TO BE EXTRADITED

A British court has decided WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s will be extradited to Sweden for alleged sexual offenses. He lost his appeal. Assange is accused of raping one woman and molesting another in Stockholm in August 2010, but he claims the charges against him are politically motivated.

CHEN GUANGCHENG’S OP-ED

Chinese activist Chen Gunagcheng has an op-ed in today’s New York Times. He writes that the fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. He also calls on the government to conduct a thorough investigation into his detention. 

AFRICA NOW THE MAIN SOURCE OF FOREIGN ADOPTIONS

The African Child Policy Forum finds international adoptions from Africa have increased by a staggering 400 percent in the past eight years. That increase is a concern because many African countries do not have adequate safeguards in place to protect the children being adopted. Many of Africa’s so-called orphans often have at least one living parent and are being trafficked or sold by their parents.

CHARLES TAYLOR: 50 YEARS FOR WAR CRIMES

The former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail on Wednesday for aiding and abetting war crimes during the long-running civil war in Sierra Leone.  The Guardian reports any sentence handed out on Wednesday is likely to be served in the UK, which has offered to accommodate Taylor once his trial and appeal are completed.

AFRICAN DESPOT NOW U.N. ENVOY

The Guardian reports Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has been appointed as the U.N.’s special envoy for tourism. Mugabe has, of course, been widely accused of ethnic cleansing, rigging elections, terrorizing opposition, controlling the media and presiding over a collapsed economy. Even more ironic, Mugabe himself is under a travel ban.

BLOODY BODY PARTS IN MAIL UNDER INVESTIGATION IN CANADA

The  Globe and Mail reports Canadian police are investigating after two human body parts were mailed. The first was a bloody foot mailed to the headquarters of the governing Conservative Party. The second was a hand intercepted before it got to its destination. Authorities say it wasn’t addressed to Tory headquarters.

JAPANESE FIRMS ON GLOBAL BUYING SPREE

From the Wall Street Journal: Flush with cash and bolstered by a strong currency, Japanese companies are in the midst of the biggest boom in overseas investment the country has ever seen. On Tuesday, Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp. said it agreed to buy U.S. grain handler Gavilon Group LLC in a deal that could be worth as much as $5.6 billion, including $2 billion in assumed debt. That would make the Gavilon purchase the biggest foreign acquisition for a Japanese company this year and the seventh-biggest globally, according to deal tracker Dealogic. In the past week alone, Japan Tobacco Inc. offered to buy Belgian loose-leaf tobacco maker Gryson NV for $600 million, and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. said it would acquire a Brazilian drug maker for $246 million. While previous Japanese mergers-and-acquisitions booms sometimes focused on trophy properties with little regard to value, this one is powered by fear, as a shrinking home market and stagnant economy threaten earnings, bankers and corporate executives say.

KATE’S FIRST GARDEN PARTY APPEARANCE

The Daily Mail has pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, at a Diamond Jubilee garden party. She wears a pink dress she wore for a lunch just two weeks ago.

KIM JONG UN GOES TO THE AMUSEMENT PARK

In the midst of drought and famine in North Korea, Kim Jong Un takes the time to  visit a amusement park where he looks on while others enjoy the rides. (Sadly, no shots of him on any rollercoasters). Later, he goes to a cafeteria where workers weep when he leaves.

 

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