SYRIA: THE DEFECTOR
-BIG PICTURE: BEST "FRIEND"?…On the day when Hillary Clinton gathers with allies and members of the opposition for a Paris meeting of the so-called "Friends of Syria", the group has snared its most valuable "Friend" to date. Manaf Tlass was a general in President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle; his father was Defense Minister and close confidante to Assad's father, the late President Hafez al-Assad. Not only has Manaf Tlass defected, but he has apparently flown to Paris, on the day of the opposition meeting there.
-THE DEFECTOR…It's not clear what motivated Manaf Tlass - a sincere wish to break with the regime, or a bid to safeguard his money, and perhaps his own life. Either way, this is a huge blow for President Assad. Tlass was a Brigadier General, a member of the elite Republican Guards and a son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass. And now he has abandoned the regime. Tlass' whereabouts are unclear but reports suggest he is headed for Paris where his father lives. The older Tlass is said to have been instrumental in smoothing the transition after Hafez al-Assad's death; the younger general was seen recently in Homs and other hotbeds of the uprising and crackdown.
-CLINTON RIPS ASSAD, AND HIS BACKERS…At the Paris meeting, Secretary Clinton blasted the Assad regime ("It's against human decency for a government to be murdering its own people") and came close to threatening Russia and China for their failure to support punitive measures ("We should make it clear that Russia and China will pay a price for holding up sanctions").
-A CHILD SOLDIER CRIES…Video here of a child soldier in Syria - a Kalashnikov-toting boy who has seen a comrade die.
LANDMARK ELECTIONS IN LIBYA
Following Tunisia and Egypt, now another key "Arab Spring" ballot-box milestone. Libyans will head to the polls Saturday in their first chance to steer their country's political future since Moammar Gadhafi seized power in 1969. It's a development that many hope will stabilize the country after a rocky eight-month transition since a popular uprising ousted the dictator. The Telegraph takes a good look at the players in this weekend's election. The likely outcome: A Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
U.K.: MORE TERROR ARRESTS
As Jeffrey KOFMAN reported last night, London authorities are hyper-aware of all terror-related (or unrelated) activity, as the city counts the days to the Olympic games. Following six arrests yesterday, seven more men were detained this morning "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism."
BRITAIN'S OTHER PROBLEM
As Elicia DOVER asks, Are we in for a soggy Olympics? Dozens of flood alerts have been issued throughout central and northern England and Scotland, and forecasters are warning that intense rain may hit large swaths of the country. Britain's Meteorological Office says today's heavy rain is likely to cause more flooding this month, following Britain's wettest June on record.
MEXICAN ELECTION: RESULTS UPHELD
An official count of votes in Mexico's presidential election confirmed the victory of Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate seeking to return the former governing party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, to power.
REMAINS OF 6 US AIRMEN LOCATED IN LAOS
Nearly five decades later, we still see headlines like these from Southeast Asia: Six U.S. airmen missing from a combat mission over southern Laos during the Vietnam War will be buried Monday after their remains were located and identified following a 17-year investigation. The Defense Department said Thursday the six will be buried in a single casket at Arlington National Cemetery. Their AC-47D aircraft went down Dec. 24, 1965, after sending a mayday signal. A U.S.-Lao team located the crash site in 1995, and investigators searched the area four times between 1999 and 2001 but found no human remains. The search resumed in 2010 and 2011, when remains were located. They were identified using dental records and other evidence. More than 300 American personnel are still missing from Laos, where the U.S. bombarded supply lines of communist guerrillas fighting U.S. forces in neighboring Vietnam.
JAPAN'S GOVERNMENT: OUT OF CASH BY OCTOBER?
That's the headline from Reuters this morning. Japan's government could run out of money by the end of October, halting all state spending including salaries, pensions and unemployment benefits, because of a standoff in parliament that has blocked a bill to finance the deficit.
JAPAN: BULLYING HORROR
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Unfortunately no real video for this…but the suicide of a 13-year old boy in southern Japan has prompted much soul-searching among teachers across the country. The 7th grade student jumped from his 14th-floor apartment last October after being repeatedly bullied by his classmates. His father filed several reports with the police, but officers never accepted them, saying that they could never prove that bullying led to his suicide. 8 months later, students are coming forward anonymously, saying the teachers knew about the systematic bullying, but looked the other way. Details of the bullying are horrific: Students pressured the teen into shoplifting, they tied his legs and arms and duck-taped his mouth, they pressured him into eating dead bees (yes, bees), and they made him "practice" committing suicide. In a schoolwide survey, students reported that teachers ignored the bullying. They gave students a verbal warning when they tried to choke the students, but when they didn't listen, teachers joined in, laughing at the young boy. Now there are reports the boy sent text messages and voice mails to classmates who bullied him, essentially saying "I'm going to die" just hours before committing suicide. The bullies responded "you should die." Today, the tearful mayor of Otsu, said that she would do anything in her power "to investigate the truth."
RECORD COCAINE BUST IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong customs officers have made the city's biggest ever cocaine bust, seizing 1,430 pounds of the drug worth a whopping $98 million.
CHINESE ATHLETES STOP EATING MEAT…AND STOP WINNING
The coach of the Chinese women's volleyball team thinks he knows why his squad has lost four straight matches leading up to the London Olympics: They're not eating any meat. As China's Global Times and others report, they're not aspiring vegetarians (or devoted PETA activists) but instead trying to avoid clenbuterol-tainted meat to minimize the risk of accidental doping. Clenbuterol, whose presence in the bloodstream instantly disqualifies an athlete from international competition, is widely used in China to breed leaner animals. The Telegraph reports that a staggering 50 percent of meat consumed in Beijing contains the drug.
BAHRAIN LOBBYING FOR U.N. HUMAN RIGHTS SEAT
Bahrain is lobbying for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council's advisory committee as the Gulf state moves to clean up its public image following its bloody crackdown on Arab Spring protestors. The Gulf state has submitted letters endorsing its "entirely qualified" nominee Saeed Mohammed Al Faihani, the Guardian reported.
ARGENTINA: EX-DICTATOR CONVICTED IN BABY THEFTS
Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has been convicted of executing a systematic plan to steal babies from prisoners who were kidnapped, tortured and killed during the military junta's war on leftist dissenters three decades ago. The baby thefts set Argentina's 1976-1983 military junta apart from all the others that ruled in Latin America at the time. Videla and other Argentine military and police officials were determined to remove any trace of the armed leftist guerrilla movement that they felt threatened the country's future. The so-called "dirty war" eventually claimed 13,000 victims, according to official records. Many of them were pregnant women who gave birth in clandestine maternity wards. Videla was tried along with Argentina's last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, and a handful of other former military and police officials.
BILLIONAIRE HELPING CHIMP ATTACK VICTIM
The Texas billionaire who once owned the Minnesota Vikings, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets is raising money for that graduate student attacked by chimps in South Africa. Red McCombs says his foundation is writing a $5,000 check to the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County, which is collecting donations for Andrew F. Oberle. McCombs tells The Associated Press his goal is to raise $100,000 for the 26-year-old student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Oberle was attacked last week by two chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden in eastern South Africa.
ITALIAN ART HISTORIANS FIND 100 CARAVAGGIOS
Phoebe NATANSON in Rome notes that if this one is true, it would be an almost unheard-of art-world bonanza. As Phoebe writes, "You wait 400 years for a Caravaggio then 100 arrive at once." Italian art historians claim they have found 100 previously unknown works by Caravaggio, one of the giants of the Renaissance. The sketches and paintings, if proved authentic, would be worth an estimated $866 million.
It's the mother of all local sports stories in the U.K. Andy Murray attempts to become the first British man to reach a Wimbledon singles final in 74 years today. (Oh, and by the way, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are in a tight battle for the other finalist slot, as we write…)