SYRIA: FROM UPRISING TO WAR
-BIG PICTURE…It’s a sad and basic story today: U.N. monitors stuck in their tracks (though late word they may have reached the village); Syrian forces moving on other towns; Hillary Clinton and Kofi Annan leading the search for a reset of some kind; and the civil war that so many warned would come is underway.
-AT SITE OF ALLEGED MASSACRE: “APPALLING”…From the BBC’s Paul Danahar, inside Qubeir:“I’m inside the village and I’m inside the single storey roof (inaudible) house..that has a remarkably appalling feeling inside There are pieces of human flesh lying around the room….there is a big pile of congealed blood in the corner…. the table cloth still has pieces of someone’s brain attached to the side of it. It is an appalling scene. The villagers have told us that man came into this village sprayed the place with bullets. We can see some of the houses have been burnt out. Some of the house appear to have rpg hole blown out the side of it. There is no one alive from this village to tell us what happened at the moment. We were led up here by nearby villagers. They say it was shabiya militia from another village that have come and done this. It is an appalling scene here. ” U.N. observers have reached Qubeir, where they want to investigate reports of the bloodshed there that opposition activists claim took 78 lives. The U.N. observers say they were stopped and turned away at Syrian army checkpoints yesterday, and also warned by residents in the area they were at risk if they went further. Indeed, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said shots were fired at the UN convoy as it tryied to reach the village. Ban also said that according to preliminary evidence, the Syrian army had surrounded the village and militia had entered Al-Kubeir and killed civilians with “barbarity.” Still no video to match the scale of carnage suggested by the activists.
-HOMS – AGAIN…Heavy shelling reported today in Homs – the city that suffered under heavy regime attacks two months ago.
-NOW WHAT?…Later today Kofi Annan meets with Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. – the new idea floated is a multinational group of interested parties – including the U.S. and Russia, China and perhaps Iran – convening to ease President Assad from power. Today China called for both sides in Syria to end the violence and observe the Annan peace plan – but even Kofi Annan acknowledges that plan isn’t working.
-TWEETING FROM HAMA…BBC Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar has made his way to Hama, getting held up at checkpoints, all the while tweeting up a storm – @pdanahar.
-GLOBAL FEARS…The euro is lower and financial markets are down, following Thursday’s comments from Fed chair Ben Bernanke and another ratings-agency downgrade for Spain. Reuters reports Spain will ask for European bank aid on Saturday.
-EUROPE’S WOES HIT U.S. FIRMS…The Washington Post reports: From manufacturers in the Midwest to upscale retail shops in Manhattan, a wide variety of American companies are feeling the pinch of Europe’s economic contraction, helping to hold back recovery in the United States. Ford says Europeans are not only buying fewer cars but also replacing fewer parts. Kraft Foods, which is behind such brands as Swedish Fish and Dentyne, says sales of candy and gum in Europe are lagging. And jeweler Tiffany & Co. says fewer European tourists are shopping at its flagship Fifth Avenue store. For companies in sectors such as food, apparel, hotels and technology, sales and profits will lag if the European crisis does not ease. The effect is direct, as Europeans buy fewer U.S. products and services, and indirect, as Europe’s crisis creates financial uncertainty in the United States and slows economic growth, leading American consumers and businesses to pull back, too.
-SILVER LINING: ITALIAN FASHION HOUSES BOOMING…As Phoebe NATANSON reports, Italian fashion designers don’t seem to be feeling the economic pinch. Prada declared a sales increase of 48% this year and announced plans to open 80 new stores around the world.
-SUICIDES AMONG U.S. TROOPS: ONE A DAY IN 2012…Suicides are surging among America’s troops, averaging nearly one a day this year — the fastest pace in the nation’s decade of war. The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan — about 50 percent more — according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The AP. The numbers reflect a military burdened with wartime demands from Iraq and Afghanistan that have taken a greater toll than foreseen a decade ago. The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior. Because suicides had leveled off in 2010 and 2011, this year’s upswing has caught some officials by surprise.
-HAS AMERCIAN POW DEFECTED TO THE TALIBAN?…New questions surround the disappearance of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was captured by the Taliban on June 30, 2009, after an e-mail he sent to his parents hints that he was so disappointed with the American mission in Afghanistan that he may have defected. Shortly before he disappeared three years ago, Bergdahl told his parents he was ‘ashamed to even be American’ and was disgusted with the Army, according to emails quoted in Rolling Stone magazine. The Rolling Stone article also quotes other soldiers and associates of Bergdahl’s saying that he had talked about walking to Pakistan if his deployment was ‘lame’ and that shortly before his disappearance he had asked whether he should take his weapon if he left the base. The emails were provided to the magazine by Bergdahl’s family in Idaho, which has gone public with its own discontent with U.S. efforts to free their son.
-TALIBAN JAIL BREAK…Muhammad LILA reports from Kabul: More than a dozen prisoners, including members of the Taliban, escaped from jail today in Sar-e-Pul province, in northern Afghanistan. Afghan officials say insurgents detonated a bomb outside the prison walls, and the prisoners escaped through the rubble. Afghan guards fired at the escapees, killing three, but fourteen prisoners are still at large.
AL QAEDA: ZAWAHIRI’S WIFE SPEAKS
Alex MARQUARDT reports that a rare statement from Ayman al-Zawahiri’s wife has reportedly been posted online. She praises the role of women in the Arab Spring, which she says will turn into an “Islamic Spring.” “These revolutions toppled the tyrant criminals, and thanks to your efforts, patience and raising your sons in dignity,” she writes, according to Al Arabiya. She also encourages women to wear the veil and to raise their children “on a love of martyrdom.”
OBAMA’S IRAQ AMBASSADOR NOMINEE IN E-MAIL SCANDAL
As ABC’s Jake TAPPER and Dana HUGHES report: President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Iraq, Brett McGurk, is under fire after e-mails leaked to online blogs revealed an alleged extramarital affair with a Wall Street Journal reporter. McGurk’s Senate confirmation hearings were held earlier this week; since those hearings e-mails surfaced showing messages—some sexually explicit—with WSJ reporter Gina Chon. McGurk has since divorced his wife at the time and married Chon, but is likely to face questions on whether he shared confidential information with her.
IRAN, IAEA START NEW TALKS
The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran began a new round of talks on Friday, looking to seal a framework deal to resume a long-stalled probe into suspected nuclear weapon research. The IAEA wants an agreement that would enable its inspectors to visit a military complex, Parchin, and other sites which it suspects may be linked to what it calls the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.
OIL NEWS: A SAFETY PIPELINE
The AP reports from Fujairah: This Emirati port on the Indian Ocean will soon become a vital new exit route for Arabian crude oil to world markets. A new pipeline will allow the country to reroute the bulk of its oil exports from the Gulf to here, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf. That detour provides some breathing room at a time when Iran has threatened to shut down the narrow chokepoint through which a fifth of the world’s oil supply passes every day.
EGYPT: BIG PROTESTS
Another big rally on Tahrir Square today against the Mubarak verdict and the candidacy of his former Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq. MARQUARDT reports that political parties have finally agreed to a new body to write the constitution – a 100-person panel is expected to be chosen on Tuesday.
-BOMB TARGETS GOVERNMENT BUS, KILLS 18…Habibullah KHAN reports a bomb targeting a bus carrying government employees in northwest Pakistan has killed 18 people. Friday’s attack occurred near the city of Peshawar. The blast wounded 32 others.
-CON MAN TRYING TO PASS AS FBI AGENT NABBED IN PAKISTAN…A Pakistani conman has been arrested for impersonating an FBI agent in Islamabad, the nation’s capital, and duping victims out of $21,000, according to local police. 48-year old Hayat Khan was arrested in a sting operation, after allegedly offering victims favorable exchange rates on US dollars, but overcharging them for much larger amounts.
JAPAN PM ASKS TO RESTART 2 NUCLEAR REACTORS
In an effort to bolster public support, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiko Noda held a press conference today to announce that Japan must restart two nuclear reactors in order to protect the economy. Noda insisted the government has taken steps to ensure the safety of the two reactors. All 50 workable reactors have been offline amid safety concerns of the public since the Fukushima disaster.
MEXICO: 14 DISMEMBERED BODIES FOUND IN TRUCK OUTSIDE MAYORS OFFICE
Fourteen dismembered bodies have been discovered in a truck in northeastern Mexico, local officials say. The vehicle was parked outside the mayor’s office in Ciudad Mante, in Tamaulipas state. Reports say gang-related messages were found on the blankets covering 11 men and three women. About 50,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed the army to combat the cartels.
RACIST CHANTS AT EUROPEAN SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIPS
Black players from Holland were subjected to racist chanting this week during an open training session in Krakow, Poland, ahead of the tournament which gets underway today and is being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine. Soccer’s governing authority in Europe (UEFA) hasn’t received a formal complaint from the Dutch, but journalists who attended the training session Wednesday said the “monkey noises” forced the players to move away to the furthest end of the pitch, and it was more than just two or three people in the crowd who were responsible. Racism and hooliganism in Polish and Ukrainian soccer has been a concern in the run-up to the tournament. The documentary “Stadiums of Hate” mentioned by the AP is particularly shocking. UEFA said today it will take action if there is a repeat of such abuse.
NO CONCRETE PLAN FOR FLOATING DEBRIS?
As more tsunami debris washes up along the coastlines of the Pacific Northwest, the AP reports that more than a year after the tsunami washed millions of tons of debris into the Pacific, the U.S. government and West Coast states don’t have a cohesive strategy for cleaning up the rubble that floats to American shores.
PRINCE PHILIP MAY BE IN HOSPITAL LONGER
The Duke of Edinburgh faces spending his 91st birthday in hospital, where he is recovering from a bladder infection. Buckingham Palace said he might not be discharged by Sunday despite the Duke of York’s assurance this week that his father was on the mend. Philip had been planning to celebrate privately and was not due to attend his next scheduled engagement until Tuesday, when the Queen hosts a garden party at the Sandringham Estate to mark her Diamond Jubilee.
ROBIN GIBB FUNERAL
The funeral service for Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb is being held today Friday in his hometown in Oxfordshire. The singer, who lived in Thame, died from kidney failure last month after suffering from cancer and pneumonia. A glass-sided carriage, drawn by four horses, will travel through the town he called home before a private funeral service at St Mary’s Church.
JAPANESE COAST GUARD MOVE TO RESCUE BRITISH ADVENTURERS
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: The Japanese coast guard has rescued two British adventurers who hit a storm while rowing on separate solo treks across the Pacific. 26-year old Sarah Outen was rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard Friday night, after her boat capsized and was damaged in a tropical storm, hundreds of miles off the coast of Japan. A blog posted on her website said Outen was aboard a coast guard recovery vessel, and headed back to Japan. Outen set out on her solo row across the Pacific in April, as part of a larger 20,000 mile, two and a half year journey around the world. No word on whether she plans to resume that trip- once the storm dies down. The AP reports Sarah Outen’s blog said she was hit by a storm during her attempted journey around the world, and that her boat rolled over and was damaged. Coast guard vessels also headed to rescue Charlie Martell from his boat Blossom, 680 miles off the northeastern coast of Japan, that had got caught in the same storm, the coast guard said.
SURFBOARD CAMERA CAPTURES RESCUE
Joe SIMONETTI notes a lifeguard has performed a daring rescue of a young surfer caught in a rip-tide off the Devon coast in England. The short video shows how a lifeguard waded out on his life-board to save the stricken surfer, who was also being battered by strong waves. After first being knocked off, the young boy eventually managed to hold on to the yellow float before being steered to shore by his rescuer.
RUSSIAN BANKER – SHOT 6 TIMES – TALKS
German Gorbuntsov, the Russian banker who was shot six times in an attempted assasination in London in March, has called on Russia to mount an “honest” investigation into the hit, and arrest the high-powered businessmen he believes were behind it. He is now under the protection of 20 bodyguards.
TEACHING BASEBALL TO THE BLIND IN ITALY
IT’S GOOD TO BE PUTIN
Kirit RADIA sends this about Vladimir Putin’s luxury watch collection: An opposition group has created a video compiling a list of Putin’s luxury watches, a collection that appears to be six times his official government salary. Among them is a Lange & Sohne Tourbogragh, valued at over $500,000. The video compares Putin’s collection to Obama’s $200 timepiece.
INDIA: SWALLOWING SARDINES TO CURE ASTHMA
Tens of thousands of asthma-sufferers have mobbed a southern Indian stadium to swallow live sardines smeared with a yellow herbal paste they believe will cure their breathing problems. Despite doctors’ criticism, the Goud family has drawn throngs of people for years with its secret fish and herbal formula it says it received from a Hindu saint about 170 years ago. Hyderabad police say a man died of a heart attack and several others sought medical attention for breathing difficulty after waiting for hours. Police say the stadium was unprepared to deal with the 70,000 people who rushed the gates Friday. The family offers the treatment annually on a day chosen by astrologers.