SYRIA: NEW MASSACRE? NEW U.N. PLAN?
-BIG PICTURE…We put question marks after those headlines for a reason. With the U.N., it's a big day - all the key players involved - and hopes that some fresh momentum can be found in the search for a solution - but we've been here before. As for the alleged massacre - it remains shrouded in a fog of uncertainty and suspicion.
-WAS IT A MASSACRE?…Something bad happened at Qubeir; the questions are, How bad? and Who did it? This one is particularly hard to verify; Alex MARQUARDT cautions that no video evidence has surfaced to matches Syrian activists' claims that 78 people were massacred at Qubeir yesterday - and he notes it's especially suspect that the claim coincides with today's key U.N. meeting in new York. On the ground, we hear this from the chief of the U.N. Mission: "The observers have not yet been able to reach the village. Their mission is being obstructed by three factors: They are being stopped at Syrian Army checkpoints and in some cases turned back; some of our patrols are being stopped by civilians in the area; and we are receiving information from residents of the area that the safety of our observers is at risk if we enter village of Mazraat al-Qubeir. Despite these challenges, the observers are still working to get into the village to try to establish the facts on the ground…" ABC's Dana HUGHES reports that Secretary of State Clinton, speaking in Istanbul, says Syria's recent violence is "simply unconscionable" and blames President Bashar Assad for "doubling down" on his harsh crackdown. Referring to reports of a new massacre in Hama province, she says Syria cannot be a peaceful, stable and democratic country until Assad leaves power. "We are disgusted by what we are seeing," she said.
-PEACE PLAN?…U.N. envoy Kofi Annan joins Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this morning at U.N. headquarters, where Annan is expected to present a new plan for the creation of a "contact group" of world and regional powers to deal with the crisis. Such a group would bring in nations as diverse as the U.S., Russia and China - and Iran, which is accused of sending weapons and funds to shore up Bashar al-Assad's regime. Tomorrow, as Dana HUGHES notes, Annan will be in D.C. to meet with Hillary Clinton on the crisis.
WORLD MARKETS: GLIMMER OF A EURO-HOPE?
-BIG PICTURE…Global investors are all ears for Fed Chair Ben Bernanke's testimony today - and all eyes on plans being kicked around to help Spain's battered banks. So far, a good day on world markets - Asian markets hit one-week highs - but as noted regarding the Dow yesterday, people appear to be trading on hopes rather than real action.
-SPAIN'S BID FOR CASH…Spain's Treasury successfully raised $2.62 billion from bond markets, but at higher interest rates as investors remain concerned Spain's banks may need another bailout.
-THE PAIN IN GREECE…People stood in long lines outside of a state funded pharmacy in Athens yesterday trying to get drugs for ill relatives. A shortage in drugs arose after pharmaceutical companies cut credit to the country's largest public health insurance fund. In many cases, the shortages involve life-saving drugs for the seriously ill - such as chemotherapy and other expensive drugs. Hysteria ensued as one man who waited hours was heard screaming to get his mother's cancer medication. An employee of the pharmacy said the frenzy was because many turned out believing all types of medicine would be distributed, while only the most expensive types were handed out. As Richard DAVIES notes, nowhere is the pain of the debt mess being felt more severely than in Greece. Unemployment surged to nearly 22% in March, up from 15.7% in Greece during the same month last year.
-GREEK TALK SHOW GETS OUT OF HAND…An arrest warrant has been issued for the spokesman of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party after he threw a glass of water on one pundit and leapt from his seat at the round table discussion on a political talk show - and then hit another woman (a member of an opposing party) three times.
BLUNT TALK: PANETTA IN AFGHANISTAN
-"LIMITS OF OUR PATIENCE"…Defense secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan this morning for a progress report and to discuss plans for the troop drawdown, the AP reports. Panetta said he would asses confidence in NATO's ability to tackle threats from the Taliban, particularly when Taliban forces hide out in Pakistan. Panetta said the U.S. should put pressure on Pakistan to take on the Taliban - U.S. officials are "reaching the limits of our patience," he said, when it comes to Pakistan's efforts to root out the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani terrorist network.
-ON AL QAEDA: "WORST JOB"…Panetta also cracked a joke - sort of - three days after al-Qaeda's second in command was killed by a U.S. strike, telling journalists in Kabul that "the worst job you can get these days is to be a deputy leader in al-Qaida, or for that matter a leader."
CHINA, RUSSIA STRENGTHEN TIES WITH AFGHANISTAN
China, Russia and four central Asian states agreed Thursday to grant Kabul "observer status" in their regional grouping. The six nation organization, known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, announced it was embracing Afghanistan at their annual meeting in Beijing. The move is intended to create closer ties with the region as NATO troops leave Afghanistan in the next two years. One more way China and Russia are moving to exert power and influence in Central Asia.
"SUN" REPORTERS SNEAK INTO NORTH KOREA
The Sun posts a story of its two reporters who found a way to sneak behind the iron curtain of North Korea, finding dingy, colorless towns and lifeless "zombies" being patrolled by watchtower guards ready to shoot anyone wanting to flee. The towns were painted with giant mosaics of Kim ll Sung and Kim Jong ll. There had also been fake apartment flats built, visible from neighboring China to make it appear they were living well. People living there were shocked to find Michael Jackson was dead. Read more of their amazing adventure in North Korea here.
Health officials are warning about a "super" strain of gonorrhea that is now sweeping the globe. Scientists first discovered the antibiotic-resistant version of the sexually transmitted disease in Japan in 2008, and are worried about it spreading after cases cropped up in Australia, France, Norway, Sweden and Britain, the Associated Press reported. "This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we've thrown at it," Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, a scientist in the World Health Organization's department of sexually transmitted diseases, told the AP. "In a couple of years it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now," she said. Gonorrhea, sometimes known as the clap, is the second most common STD in the world after chlamydia, with some 106 million cases reported worldwide each year and about 700,000 in the U.S.
KENYA: A WHEELCHAIR ODYSSEY
From Wilfred WAMBURA in Nairobi: A Kenyan plans to travel from Nairobi to Cape Town on a wheelchair to raise funds towards the building of the first spinal injury rehabilitation center in Kenya. Zachary Kimotho will embark on the 2485- mile journey to the nearest spinal injury rehabilitation center in South Africa on Saturday. Through the journey, he will also raise awareness about the plight of paraplegics in Kenya. Along the way, Mr. Kimotho will update people about the progress via social media.
MADE IN CHINA: RECTANGLE OREOS AND CUCUMBER GUM
Reuters reports that there are no rules when it comes to foodie creations in China - because investment is booming, and consumption is rising sharply. From rectangular Oreos filled with gum, to a Ritz cracker flavored like fish boiled in spicy Sichuan peppercorn oil, nothing is off the table.
MAKING GEISHA GAGA
From Akiko FUJITA: A fun story about Lady Gaga's Japanese shoe designer: The AP reports a Japanese shoe designer has become a pop diva's favorite by taking geisha and making it Gaga. Noritaka Tatehana is the man behind Lady Gaga's towering, cloglike shoes, which have no heel and are 25 to 46 centimeters (10 to 18 inches) tall. Her appearances on TV shows and music videos, teetering in his creations, have helped make him such a fashion star that some of his shoes sell for more than $15,000 a pair. Tatehana, who has made more than 20 pairs for Lady Gaga over the last two years, said he took the traditional "geta" shoes of geishas and made a modern form with his sculptural platforms. The 26-year-old was still a student when his career took off. In fact, Lady Gaga's first pair of Tatehanas had been the subject of his graduation thesis at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts.
PENGUIN BACK AT AQUARIUM
FUJITA again: The rogue penguin, that was caught in Tokyo Bay a few weeks ago, after months on the run - has finally joined his fellow birds at Tokyo Sea Life Park. Penguin 337 drew quite the crowd, as he returned to his home today, and was unveiled to the public for the first time. The Aquarium says they've reinforced the walls to prevent another escape. Check out the bird's return.
SHAKESPEARE'S CURTAIN THEATRE FOUND
The BBC reports archaeologists have discovered the remains of an Elizabethan theatre where some of William Shakespeare's plays were first performed. The remains of the Curtain Theatre, which opened in 1577, were found behind a pub in Shoreditch, east London, as part of regeneration works. The venue was immortalized as "this wooden O" in the prologue to Henry V. It is hoped the site will be opened to the public, with plays staged there in the future.
PRINCE WILLIAM QUALIFIES AS CAPTAIN
The Duke of Cambridge has qualified as an operational search and rescue captain, Clarence House said today. William - known as Flight Lieutenant Wales in the military - has previously only co-piloted RAF Sea King helicopters but will now be able to command operations. He completed two days of ground and air-based tests to achieve the qualification, following two years of flying experience. Officer Commanding 22 Squadron, Wing Commander Mark Dunlop, said: "Flt. Lt. Wales demonstrated the required standards needed for the award of Operation Captaincy. Due to the nature of search and rescue operations, the required standards are always set at a very high level." William, whose rank remains Flight Lieutenant despite his new qualification, finished his tests on May 29. As Dimitrije STEJIC says, "What this really means is that he can be in charge rather than just a co-pilot. The big question remains whether he is going to continue to serve as a pilot. Prince William has to make that decision by the end of the year."