EGYPT: MUBARAK AT DEATH’S DOOR; EGYPTIANS TRY TO SAVE THE REVOLUTION
-A DICTATOR’S LAST DAYS…From Alex MARQUARDT and Nasser ATTA in Cairo: The rumors are still swirling this morning. Security officials say Hosni Mubarak is in a coma but off life support - and that for now, his heart and other vital organs are functioning. Overnight, state media reported that the 84-year old former president suffered a stroke and was put on life support. This morning, the Interior Ministry tells ABC News that Mubarak is under observation and the state news agency MENA reports that he is still “clinically dead.”
-MEANWHILE, THE SHOWDOWN…From MARQUARDT AND ATTA, again: Both the Muslim Brotherhood and the campaign of former PM Ahmed Shafiq have declared victory in the presidential vote – and the official results we were expecting tomorrow may now be postponed as the elections commission wades through hundreds of complaints. That instability – and the fury raised by Shafiq’s claim (he was the last Mubarak-era Prime Minister) – are not what’s needed in Egypt at the moment. All eyes are on the streets – and on the security forces – to see how far the anger goes, and whether force is used to deal with it.
GLOBAL MARKETS: LOOKING FOR A BOOST
-BOOST #1: THE FED…Most European stocks advanced as investors awaited the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting. U.S. futures were little changed, while Asian shares rose. The Fed will put out a statement at 2:15pm ET and Fed chair Ben Bernanke will hold a news conference shortly thereafter.
-BOOST #2: A EUROPE RESCUE PLAN?…The Telegraph reports – but this is NOT confirmed – that European leaders are poised to announce a £600 billion (app $1 trillion) deal to bail out Spain and Italy. The paper says “two rescue funds would be used to buy the debts of the troubled economies, the cost of which have reached record highs in recent weeks. It is hoped that the move, which represents a substantial shift in policy for Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, will send a strong signal to financial markets that Europe’s biggest economy is finally prepared to back its weaker neighbours.” Merkel and other European leaders have come under intense pressure at this week’s G-20 summit to take radical action to stem the growing euro crisis which has pushed up the cost of Spanish bonds to unsustainable levels.
-BOOST #3: A COALITION IN GREECE…The three parties that back Greece’s commitments to bailout creditors have agreed in principle to form a government, officials said Wednesday. That’s good news – there had been fears of a protracted wait. Meanwhile, the AP reports hundreds of poverty-stricken Greeks are queuing for free vegetable handouts. And – from Nick SCHIFRIN: Just because Greece finally has a government does not mean it will survive and therefore provide the stability that Europe and the world needs…They will need to renegotiate the austere terms of the bailout loans and pump money into the economy. We won’t know whether Germany will agree to do that – and in the meantime the government still owes creditors massive cuts: 150,000 government workers and 14 billion from the budget. And Greece goes bankrupt in just a few weeks without European loans. Today’s news also means that Golden Dawn, the far-right, racist party that wants to mine the border to keep immigrants out will now officially be in parliament for the first time.
TOULOUSE HOSTAGE SITUATION
Four people have been taken hostage in a bank in Toulouse, France by a man claiming to be linked to al-Qaeda. This comes just three months after an attacker killed seven people in Toulouse. Several French media outlets are urging caution on today’s Al Qaeda claim. A police source told France Info radio it looks more like an armed robbery which has turned bad.
IRAN: TALKS GO SOUTH, SANCTIONS LOOM
From Kirit RADIA and the AP in Moscow: Sanctions aimed at punishing Iran will begin in two weeks – after another round of talks with world powers ended without an agreement by Tehran to curb its nuclear program. Lead negotiators for both sides said the ball was in the other’s court after the end of talks. Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and Saeed Jalili, the lead Iranian negotiator, used similar words, saying that the other had “a choice” to make to get negotiations restarted. Iran had hoped the talks might forestall the looming sanctions. With new penalties now a certainty, the long-running international dispute has entered an unpredictable new phase that will test past Iranian threats to retaliate, including a vow to choke off a key global oil channel, the Strait of Hormuz.
-SUICIDE ATTACK HITS ISAF CONVOY…Three U.S. soldiers are among the dead – after a suicide attacker targeting a foreign military convoy blew himself up today in Southern Afghanistan. Muhammad LILA reports at least 20 civilians were also killed – and at least fifteen more wounded. The attacker was riding a motorcycle filled with explosives in Khost province.
-DISCIPLINE RECOMMENDED FOR SEVEN U.S. TROOPS IN QURAN BURNING…From Muhammad LILA and Luis MARTINEZ: A U.S. military investigation is recommending that as many as seven U.S. troops face administrative punishments, but not criminal charges, in the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in February. U.S. military officials said the classified report and recommendations for disciplinary action against the service members involved were delivered to the Pentagon more than a week ago. They have been turned over to the Army and Navy secretaries. No final decisions have been made.
AL QAEDA MILITANT ARRESTED
From Habibullah KHAN in Islamabad: Security forces in Pakistan have arrested Naamen Meziche, a French Al Qaida leader near the Pakistan border with Iran in the insurgency stricken Baluichistan province, per intel source. He was arrested following a tipoff, in a raid on a hideout. He is described as a close associate of Yunus Al Muritani, another AQ leader who was arrested in Quetta. They are both described as AQ leaders directing European planning and attacks.
ITS NOT JUST HOT HERE…
Phoebe NATANSON from Rome: The heatwave continues across Italy - shattering records that date back 230 years.
Scotland Yard has announced that Julian Assange now faces arrest for breaching the terms of his bail conditions by seeking asylum at Ecuador’s embassy in London. The government of Ecuador is considering Assange’s request.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI RECEIVES HONORARY DOCTORATE
It was a long wait – more than twenty years – but Aung San Suu Kyi is finally getting her honorary degree from Oxford University. The leader of Myanmar’s opposition is being honored today at the university’s Encaenia ceremony. Tomorrow Suu Kyi adds another honor: an invitation to address both houses of the British parliament.
INDIA: TUBERCULOSIS CRISIS
India’s slow response to years of medical warnings now threatens to turn the country into an incubator for a mutant strain of tuberculosis that is proving resistant to all known treatments, raising alarms of a new global health hazard. “We finally have ended up with a virtually untreatable strain” of tuberculosis in India, said Dr. Zarir Udwadia, one of the country’s leading TB authorities. In December, Dr. Udwadia reported in a medical journal that he had four tuberculosis patients resistant to all treatment. By January, he had a dozen cases, then 15. A government backlash began immediately. Anonymous health-ministry officials denied the reports through media outlets. They accused Dr. Udwadia and his colleagues of starting a panic. A Mumbai city health official seized patient samples for verification in government labs.
CASTRO SPEAKS OUT…ON YOGA
Fidel Castro has never been accused of wanting for opinions, but the former Cuban leader’s Tuesday commentary stumped many of his fellow citizens. The subject was not the bloodshed in Syria or the economic crisis in Europe, but yoga. CNN writes that the 35-word ode was relatively short – and didn’t mention whether he personally practiced yoga.
…AND PUTIN…ON JUDO
What event is Vladimir Putin most looking forward to at the Olympics? Judo, of course. Putin said today he would like to go in a personal capacity – as we know, he is a judo black belt holder, has often been filmed practicing the sport and even recorded an instructional judo DVD.
MORE ASIAN MILLIONAIRES THAN AMERICAN MILLIONAIRES
From Mike NOBLE: After the news yesterday that there were more Asian immigrants coming to America – a new survey now finds that Asia’s millionaires outnumber North America’s millionaires for the first time. The Asia-Pacific region was home to 3.37 million people who have at least $1 million to invest. That’s up 1.6 percent from the year before. In second place was North America with 3.35 million.
-AI WEIWEI…From Karson YIU in Beijing: Chinese police on Wednesday barred Ai Weiwei from attending the first hearing of a lawsuit brought by his company against Beijing tax authorities and blocked reporters from filming at the courthouse, part of an intimidation campaign aimed at silencing the prominent artist and outspoken government critic.
-CHEN GUANGCHENG…The blind activist Chen Guangcheng penned an op-ed in the Washington Post – writing about his own plight and calling for the release of his nephew, Chen Kegui, who he says has been unlawfully detained for six weeks.
BUS PLUNGES INTO RAVINE
Chinese official Xinhua News Agency reports that 17 people were killed and three seriously injured when a long-distance bus plunged into a deep ravine Wednesday morning. The report said 45 people were on the bus, which was headed from eastern Jiangsu province to the coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province.
A JOB AT THE PALACE
The Queen is advertising a $78,000-a-year house manager position to ensure the smooth running of all her properties. And the successful candidate will get to oversee the Queen’s hospitality budget to make sure Her Majesty’s guests get the best treatment. Though mainly based at Buckingham Palace, the top hospitality servant must also act as duty manager at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, Sandringham House in Norfolk and ‘other residences as required’.
ALEC BALDWIN HAS NOTHING ON THESE GUYS…
A cameraman with NINE News Australia covering a car chase in a suburb of Darwin was repeatedly punched by a teenager from a nearby home. All caught on camera.
TURTLES FOSSILIZED HAVING SEX
From the BBC: 47-million-year-old turtles were killed while having sex and have now been found – fossilized. The animals had been buried in the lakebed sediments and locked away in geological time.
WORLD REFUGEE DAY…