OLYMPIC ARRIVALS, OLYMPIC TESTS
From Dimitrije STEJIC and Nick SCHIFRIN in London:
-FIRST ATHLETES ARRIVE…Thousands of athletes, officials and spectators have begun arriving in London for the Olympic Games - which open in 11 days. London’s Heathrow Airport is set to handle a record number of passengers today (the estimate is 236,955) but so far everything is going smoothly, with no long immigration lines reported. Upon arrival athletes will be transported to the Olympic Village aboard London 2012 coaches. They will use the first of the “Olympics Games Lanes” which came into operation today. The lane is open only to athletes, Olympic officials and VIPs.
-SECURITY…After a weekend when the security of the Games was called into question, the government insists the Games will be secure. The military is now almost fully in place: as many as 17,000 troops are deployed in London, manning surface-to-air missiles in residential areas, docking the Royal Navy’s largest ship in the middle of the Thames, and protecting venues after the private company contracted to do so failed to provide enough security guards. The government is downplaying that company’s (G4S) shortfall of at least 4,000 security guards as a “hitch,” but it’s clear officials were forced to scramble at the last minute. At Heathrow,, an extra 500 border guards are in place. Government officials tell ABC that a weekend report that people on terror watch lists had slipped into the country is not accurate, but admit that an independent auditor said there are new, hastily trained guards at Heathrow – and sometimes they don’t ask tough enough questions.
-ATHLETES’ VILLAGE OPENS…The London 2012 Athletes’ Village, in Stratford, east London, also opens today. British athletes competing in diving, equestrian, football, shooting and swimming are expected to be the first to enter. The village will house 16,000 athletes and officials at its peak.
-24-7 DOPE TESTING…Half of all the Olympic athletes – including every medal-winner – will be tested for drugs, in what’s being billed as the biggest anti-doping operation in the history of the games. A team of 150 scientists will take more than 6,000 samples between now and the end of the Paralympic Games on September 9 in a bid to ensure the Games are not tainted. The London 2012 anti-doping lab in Harlow, Essex, is operated by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Locog and King’s College London.
-HEAVY FIGHTING IN DAMASCUS…Heavy fighting is reported in the Syrian capital today, just a day after the Red Cross officially called the violence there a civil war. The BBC reports Damascus has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the conflict so far. Mortar and small-arms fire have been reported in several areas throughout the capital as regime forces clash with opposition fighters. The fighting comes as U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – pressing yet again for a harder, anti-regime position from Moscow.
-FORMER CHEMICAL WEAPONS CHIEF DEFECTS…The former head of Syria’s chemical weapons program says he has defected and joined the rebels. In an online video, Maj. Gen. Adnan Sillu says President Assad will only fall by military means and calls on NATO to bomb the presidential palace. As Alex MARQUARDT notes, Gen. Sillu was retired – but certainly would have knowledge of the chemical program that has drawn so much attention in recent days.
-REVOLUTION, WITHOUT THE VIOLENCE…The Washington Post has an interesting dispatch from Yabrud, a town the Assad regime has basically ceded to the rebels. Free from the assaults that have besieged other cities, life is largely normal in Yabrud. Part of the town’s calm may be due to its geography that prevents the use of direct tank-cannon fire, but forgoing a fight here also has tactical advantages for both sides. For the rebels, it offers a trauma center that can treat fighters wounded elsewhere. The government gets a safe-haven for residents fleeing violence elsewhere.
-2 NATO TROOPS, 3 CIVILIANS KILLED…Muhammad LILA reports: Two NATO troops were killed this morning in southern Afghanistan, in an area where coalition forces are trying to regain control of territory they seized during the past few years. Their nationalities are not yet known. Three Afghan civilians were also killed in Kandahar by an IED.
-MILITANTS ATTACK PAKISTANI OUTPOST…Pakistani militants attacked an outpost belonging to the country’s intelligence wing in northwest Pakistan, taking several hostages and killing one officer. It happened in the city of Bannu, where pro-Taliban militants staged a huge jailbreak in April, freeing 400 prisoners, including two dozen hardcore militants.
AMID IRAN JITTERS, NEW PIPELINES
From the Financial Times: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have opened new pipelines bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, the shipping lane that Iran has repeatedly threatened to close, in a move that will reduce Tehran’s power over oil markets. The quiet opening of the pipelines comes as Iran’s oil production has fallen to its lowest in more than 20 years due to the impact of US and European sanctions, prompting Tehran to repeat its threats to shut down the strait, the conduit for a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade. The new links will more than double the total pipeline capacity bypassing the strait to 6.5 million barrels per day, or about 40 per cent of the 17 million b/d that transits Hormuz. The geopolitical importance of the strait is such that Cyrus Vance, former US secretary of state, called it “the jugular vein of the West”.
AFTER TOMATOES & CAT CALLS, SECRETARY CLINTON TO WRAP WORLD TOUR
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Israel today, with meetings slated with President Peres, Prime Minister Fayyad, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu before she boards a flight home. Her marathon world tour hit a rough patch yesterday when protesters threw tomatoes and shoes at Clinton’s motorcade and shouted “Monica, Monica, Monica” as she left the new U.S. consulate in Alexandria, Egypt.
BOSTON PASTOR OFFERED HIMSELF AS HOSTAGE IN EGYPT
The Boston Globe reports Rev. Michel Louis volunteered himself as a hostage when an armed man intercepted a bus carrying Boston-area churchgoers in Egypt. The Bedouin captor tried to seize a woman, but Louis insisted he go instead. In the end, the captor took both Louis and the woman. Louis’ son told this account at his father’s church last night. The Pastor suffers from diabetes – and there are concerns that he may not have his medication with him.
A NEW REFUGEE CRISIS IN AFRICA
Save the Children is warning of an escalating refugee crisis in the border region between Sudan and South Sudan. Fighting along the disputed border has led to a huge influx of refugees, with as many as 2,000 children arriving at crowded camps in South Sudan every day. As the BBC notes, summer is a particularly dire time in these camps, due to heavy rains that make them nearly impossible to reach.
NAZI WAR CRIMINAL FOUND?
The Simon Wiesenthal Center says it has given Hungarian prosecutors information about a Holocaust-era war crimes suspect believed to be living in Budapest. The Jerusalem office of the Wiesenthal Center said Sunday that it provided “new evidence” to prosecutors about Laszlo Csatary, who currently tops the organization’s list of most wanted war criminals. According to the Jewish human rights group, Csatary was police chief in the Slovakian city of Kosice – at the time part of Hungary – and played a “key role” in the deportation of 300 Jews in the summer of 1941 to Ukraine, where they were killed. Csatary also is suspected of having helped organize the 1944 deportation of some 15,700 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp. Hungarian prosecutors have said they are gathering information about the case. The Sun newspaper says it has tracked him down in Budapest after being tipped off by the Wiesenthal Centre.
-MILITARY CHIEF LET GO…North Korea’s military chief Ri Yong Ho has been removed from his post, purportedly because of illness, though he has looked healthy in recent appearances. His departure has fed speculation that new leader Kim Jong Un purged him in an effort to put his own mark on the country.
-WATCHING HEM LINES?…The New York Times picks up on a thread Joohee CHO noted earlier this month for ABCNews.com: What can be made of loosening fashion trends for North Korea women? As Joohee wrote, analysts have been puzzling for weeks now over photos of women wearing skirts and heels in downtown Pyongyang. Couple those new trends with last week’s concert featuring Disney characters and music from the movie Rocky, and many observers are wondering what these loosening cultural mores suggest about Kim Jong Un.
-KIM JONG UN’s MYSTERY WOMAN – APPEARS AGAIN…North Korea’s state-run television has again aired footage of a young woman accompanying Kim Jung Un. The woman stood in front of other officials when Kim spoke with children at a kindergarten yesterday, and giggled when Kim said something. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency says its government is trying to confirm speculation that she is the wife of the North Korean leader.
-HUGE TOKYO PROTESTS…Akiko FUJITA reports on a real rarity in Japan: a huge protest march. More than 100,000 anti-nuclear protesters brought central Tokyo to a halt today. The anti-nuclear movement has slowly been gaining steam since demonstrators held their first rally in March. The numbers have spiked since Prime Minister Hoda announced the restart of nuclear reactors for the first time since the Fukushima disaster. Great visual here of the thousands of protesters from Akiko Fujita.
-FUKUSHIMA BEACH REOPENS…As protesters take to Tokyo’s streets, others have taken to the beach in Fukushima prefecture where one beach became the first to reopen since the nuclear disaster. NHK reports the beach will test for radiation twice a day and the results will be posted online. Didn’t look like the kids at the beach today were too concerned with radiation.
-DEADLY FLOODS…Also worth noting: Strong pictures of widespread flooding in southwest Japan that left 27 people dead over the weekend.
GREAT WHITE SHARK HUNT CALLED OFF
The Melbourne Herald-Sun reports the search-and-destroy order was called off for the shark that killed a 24-year-old surfer off the Australian coast over the weekend. Some say the hunt is warranted because the sharks’ numbers have increased dramatically, putting humans at greater risk. Others say the sharks are a protected species and must be left alone. Lawmakers have halted the hunt amid the debate. This weekend’s fatal attack was the fifth by a great white in 10 months there.
FRENCH PARTY TO SUE MADONNA
From the Guardian: France’s far-right Front National (FN) party plans to sue Madonna for using a picture of its leader with a swastika on her forehead. A spokesman for Marine Le Pen, the FN president who came third in the May presidential elections, said a lawsuit for “public insult” would be lodged with the Paris courts in the next few days. At a concert in the French capital on Saturday evening, the American singer showed a video in which Le Pen’s face appears with other well-known figures including Pope Benedict, Chinese leader Hu Jintao and US Republican Sarah Palin. In the clip, shown on a giant screen to accompany the song Nobody Knows Me, Le Pen, 43, appears with the Nazi symbol overlaid on her face, just before an image resembling Adolf Hitler. The image sent a ripple through the crowd at Le Stade de France, where Madonna was performing as part of her 80-date world tour. Le Pen, who has tried to clean up the FN’s Nazi-sympathising image since taking over from her father Jean-Marie 18 months ago, had already warned that she would take Madonna, 53, to court if she aired the video in France. After the singer first used the image at a concert in Tel Aviv at the end of May, Le Pen said: “If she tries that in France, we’ll see what happens,” adding: “It’s understandable when ageing singers who need publicity go to such extremes.” Even the Socialist government spokesperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, has said that the comparison of Le Pen to Hitler is regrettable.
TOUR DE FRANCE – GOOD SAMARITAN
British cyclist Bradley Wiggins drew plaudits for very sportsmanlike behavior during Sunday’s Tour de France when some 30 competitors blew flat tires when tacks were thrown on the pavement at Stage 14. Wiggins – who has held the lead – slowed his pace so that the defending champion could catch up.
SHANGHAI AIRPORT MESS
Quite a scene at Shanghai airport – where passengers banded together in collective fury over a delay in their flight for Newark that stretched for nearly three days.
And a wild scene in British Columbia – when trees and shoreline gave way in the wake of a huge landslide. No injuries reported…