-ANOTHER MASSACRE?…There are reports and pictures surfacing of what appears to be another massacre in Syria, according to activists. Graphic video posted to YouTube by the Syrian Revolution General Commission shows the victims – 12 men shot at close range by Shabiha militia – armed supporters of President Assad, in Qusayr.
-HOULA MASSACRE: THE CHILD SURVIVOR…We have tape of Ali el-Sayed, 11-year-old survivor of Houla massacre, who describes in searing terms the attacks and how he survived them. When the gunmen began to slaughter his family, Ali says he fell to the floor of his home, soaking his clothes with his brother’s blood to fool the killers into thinking he was already dead. He says the gunmen killed his parents and all four of his siblings, one by one. The youngest to die was Ali’s brother, 6-year-old Nader. “The military went in and my mother was afraid, because they were pointing their guns at her, they would shoot her. They shot five bullets at her…” He speaks matter-of-factly, in amateur video posted online by activists in Houla.
-U.N. TO MEET OVER HOULA MASSACRE…The United Nations’ Human Rights Committee is meeting in Geneva, today to discuss last week’s massacre in Syria that killed 108 people, many of them children. The council will call for a full U.N. inquiry into the carnage in Houla, after placing initial blame on government bombardments and gunmen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. A draft resolution, circulated late Thursday, referred to “killings confirmed by U.N. observers” and attacks that involved “the wanton killings of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse by pro-regime elements and a series of government artillery and tank shelling of a residential neighborhood”.
-UNDERGROUND TV…USA Today reports on a makeshift news network that beams news and videos on the Syrian uprising to points throughout the Arab world. It’s called Syria al-Shaab television – and it was first to report the Houla killings. The channel has become one of the most organized networks covering the revolution.
-PUTIN UNDER PRESSURE…Vladimir Putin can expect pressure from the leaders of Germany and France for a change of heart on Syria when he visits Berlin and Paris today. For now, as Kirit RADIA reports from Moscow, there’s little sign that the Russian president is prepared to tighten the diplomatic screws on the Assad regime.
-BIG PICTURE…Politicians and central bankers keep prescribing medicines for Europe – but Europe keeps spiking new fevers. And now the patient is very ill. Looming now are a pair of real possibilities that would spread the contagion: A Greek exit (“Grexit”) from the Euro and a Spanish bank collapse (“Spanic”). Markets fell again today – Germany’s DAX down 2.5 percent, France’s CAC-40 1.6 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 down 0.8 percent and Japan’s Nikkei down 1.2 percent – following its worst month in 20 years.
-BANKING CHIEF: EURO ZONE “UNSUSTAINABLE”…European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned Thursday that he considers the eurozone’s current structure “unsustainable,” and said the region’s governments must surrender far more budget and regulatory power to a central authority if the currency union is to be saved. As the Washington Post writes, Draghi’s comments — and an intense week of high-level lobbying by U.S. officials — come amid a worldwide swoon on stock markets, a flight by investors to the safe haven of U.S. and German bonds, and a growing concern that problems in Spain’s banking sector may force the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy to seek a costly bailout.
-ASIA NOT IMMUNE…The Wall street Journal reports that the economies of Asia, both the emerging markets and the more developed countries, are being hit by a double whammy of slowing domestic growth and the impact of the European debt crisis on Asian exports and finance. In India, the government reported Thursday growth in the first three months of the year at the slowest pace in the past nine years—up 5.3%, well below the 8% pace of recent years. “A gasping elephant,” said Leif Lybecker Eskesen, HSBC’s chief India economist, in a note to investors. In China Friday, an official gauge of manufacturing activity fell to a lower than expected level, which is likely to add to market concerns about China’s slowdown.
NATO BASE ATTACKED
Muhammad LILA reports: Insurgents attacked a NATO base in Khost today, causing an explosion that could be heard throughout the city, with smoke rising near the base. Afghan officials say it happened near Camp Salerno, adding that six civilians were hurt. The Afghan Taliban have claimed responsibility, saying they rammed a vehicle full of explosives into the base. ISAF is aware of the incident but says it’s too early to comment.
U.S.-CHINA: NOW A SPY SCANDAL?
Reuters is reporting that a Chinese state security official has been arrested on suspicion of spying for the United States, a case both countries have kept quiet for several months as they strive to prevent a fresh crisis in relations. The official, an aide to a vice minister in China’s security ministry, was arrested and detained early this year on allegations that he had passed information to the United States for several years on China’s overseas espionage activities. The aide had been recruited by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and provided “political, economic and strategic intelligence”, one source said, though it was unclear what level of information he had access to, or whether overseas Chinese spies were compromised by the intelligence he handed over. The case could represent China’s worst known breach of state intelligence in two decades and its revelation follows two other major public embarrassments for Chinese security, both involving U.S. diplomatic missions at a tense time for bilateral ties.
OBAMA ORDER SPED CYBERATTACKS AGAINST IRAN
The New York Times reports that from his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyber-weapons. Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named “Olympic Games” — even after an the powerful Stuxnet virus accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI’S FIRST FOREIGN TRIP – IN A QUARTER CENTURY
For more than two decades the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to leave her country – convinced it would compromise or end her fight for freedoms. She was right – and today Gloria RIVIERA reports that Suu Kyi received a standing ovation as she addressed the World Economic Forum in Bangkok – her first foreign trip in a quarter century. Suu Kyi urged the international community to exercise “healthy skepticism” about her country’s reforms. The forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, introduced her as “one of the most extraordinary personalities this century”.
PANETTA TO STRESS COMMITMENT TO ASIA-PACIFIC
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is traveling through Asia, determined to show the U.S. is serious about shifting its focus to the region. His trip comes amid growing worries about China’s increasingly aggressive posture and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. In a speech Saturday in Singapore, he’s expected to lay out more details of America’s plans to increase the number of U.S. troops and military equipment in the Asia-Pacific.
JAPAN MOVES CLOSER TO RESTART NUCLEAR PLANT
From Akiko FUJITA in Toko: Japan has moved closer to restarting the first of its nation’s idled nuclear plants – as early as next week. This comes amid s a new round of scrambling to persuade local leaders to drop their opposition. A decision to allow the plant to begin operating would end a standoff of months between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who has worried that the lack of nuclear power would create a further drag on the economy, and local leaders made skittish by last year’s nuclear disaster.
IN FRANCE, A WOMAN TO LEAD SECURITY TEAM
France’s new President Francois Hollande is shrinking his presidential security team and naming a woman to lead it for the first time. Hollande named Sophie Hatt to lead the security team – his Cabinet is half women, half men, fulfilling a pledge made during his campaign.
NORWAY PRISON TO HIRE ‘FRIENDS’ TO PLAY CHESS AND HOCKEY WITH MASS KILLER
A Norwegian prison is looking to hire people to be “friends” – or at lease partners on the rink – with mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, according to reports. Ila prison hopes to find people willing to play hockey, chess and otherwise interact with Breivik, who is on trial for killing 77 people in an Oslo bomb attack and subsequent shooting at a summer camp for young people on Utoeya island in July last year. Citing Norway’s Verdens Gang, The Telegraph reported that the “friends” would be trained experts as Breivik, 33, is feared to be too dangerous to mix with other prisoners.
CHINESE ACTRESS ZHANG ZIYI DENIES REPORT5 OF PROSTITUTION SCANDAL
The New York Post reports Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi has strongly denied reports she earned $100 million by having sex with disgraced politician Bo Xilai — and astonishingly, sources close to the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” star blame the reports on a smear campaign by a rival actress. It was reported that Zhang earned a fortune by prostituting herself to powerful Chinese men between 2007 and 2011, including to Xilai, who was recently removed from power following allegations he was involved in a murder plot.
QUEEN’S DIAMOND JUBILEE
-THE FESTIVITIES BEGIN…For the next four days, Great Britain will be home to a series of street parties, flotillas, concerts and widespread revelry in Britain – all to officially celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. As Nick WATT reports, hundreds of soldiers rode on horseback through the nearly-deserted streets of London at dawn today to rehearse the State Procession. Link to full schedule.
-WILL IT RAIN ON HER MAJESTY’S PARADE?…After several days of sunny, warm weather across the UK, forecasters are predicting periods of rain and cooler temperatures over the weekend. An estimated two million people have left Britain to enjoy the four-day holiday weekend abroad.
-WILL HER MAJESTY EAT THE JUBILEE PIE?…In her six-decade reign, Queen Elizabeth II has been given lavish gifts that include rubies, a shark-tooth sword and a diamond and platinum brooch. But for this weekend’s celebration of the queen’s 60 years on the throne, she will receive one gift she may not have dreamed of as a princess: a pie for two made of a slimy, parasitic eel-like fish known for sucking the blood out of its prey. The Wall Street Journal reports the Jubilee Pie comes from Gloucester, about 100 miles northwest of London. In a tradition dating to the Middle Ages, the city sent lamprey pies—which it considered a delicacy—to the monarch every Christmas and when kings or queens ascend to the throne.
-ROYAL HOME VIDEOS REVEALED…Never-before-seen royal home movies, including sequences filmed by the Queen herself, will be shown in a BBC documentary, airing Friday. As we saw in clips yesterday, Prince Charles shares family memories and personal insights into the Queen’s public and private life.
-ROYAL HOUSEHOLD STAFF LIST RELEASED ONLINE…The BBC reports records showing the staff who served Britain’s kings and queens have been released online to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. They include 50,000 records from the reign of King Charles II to King George V between 1660 and 1924. The Royal Household list is available for a fee at findmypast.co.uk.