-TALIBAN COMMANDER: WE CANNOT WIN…As our long-time Taliban-watcher Nick SCHIFRIN notes, a startling statement from one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders. He says the insurgents cannot win the war in Afghanistan – and that capturing Kabul is “a very distant prospect”. For that reason, the commander says, the Taliban is seeking a settlement with other political forces in the country. In an interview in Thursday’s New Statesman, the commander – described as a confidant of the Taliban leadership, and a former Guantánamo inmate – also uses the strongest language yet from a senior Taliban figure to distance the Afghan rebels from al-Qaida. “At least 70% of the Taliban are angry at al-Qaida. Our people consider al-Qaida to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens,” the commander says. “To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama [bin Laden]. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country.” The interview was conducted by Michael Semple, a former UN envoy to Kabul who has maintained contacts with members of the Taliban leadership, and served as a diplomatic back-channel to the group. Semple said the commander’s identity had to be protected because the Taliban was highly sensitive about unauthorised pronouncements on the movement’s behalf, but he added there was no doubt about the man’s role within the movement.
-RARE PROTEST IN SUPPORT OF AFGHAN WOMEN…It’s rare to see any women rallying in Afghanistan. Today dozens of women took to the streets of Kabul - in a rally in support of women in Afghanistan and specifically to protest the execution of a woman accused of adultery. The woman was shot to death with more than 100 men watching – many cheering – for having allegedly slept with a man who was not her husband – and who happened to be a Taliban commander.
CONCORDIA CAPTAIN GIVES FIRST INTERVIEW
Captain Francesco Schettino of the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise ship that sank off the coast of Italy in January has given his first interview – to the Italian TV channel Canale 5. As Jeffrey KOFMAN reports, Schettino is unapologetic for the most part, saying the crash was a “banal accident” in which “destiny” played a role. He also addresses the hotly contested topic of his dinner companion that night, the Moldovan woman, Domnica Cemortan. He maintains that she’s just a friend, saying “In the end, there are people that are worth a laugh, nothing more.” Only once during the interview – speaking about the death of a child – does the Captain show emotion for the loss of lives.
YEMEN: BIG TOLL IN SUICIDE ATTACK
From Alex MARQUARDT and Nasser ATTA: The reported death toll at a Sanaa military academy ranges from 10 to dozens, after a suicide bomber struck at midday there. Yemeni security officials tell the AP the attacker threw himself into a crowd of cadets as they left after class. It’s the biggest suicide attack since the one on the parade rehearsal in May that killed around 100, when Atta and Martha RADDATZ were in Yemen.
SYRIA: ANNAN TO BRIEF SECURITY COUNCIL
U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan is back from another whirlwind tour – Damascus on the weekend, Tehran Monday – and is expected to brief the Security Council today. Annan and his plan have taken considerable heat – and even the former Secretary General has acknowledged: thus far, his diplomacy isn’t working. Meanwhile, Reuters reports Russia has circulated a draft resolution that would extend the U.N. mission in Syria for three months, but stops short of threatening the Assad regime with sanctions. It’s unlikely to satisfy American and European council members.
THE PAIN IN SPAIN GETS WORSE
Spain unveiled more austerity measures today, just a day after winning approval for a bailout from the European Union. The sales tax hikes and spending cuts are aimed at shaving $79 billion off the country’s budget over the next two and a half years, by raising taxes by as much as 21 percent on things like cigarettes and telephone services. Meanwhile, thousands of Spanish coal miners took to the streets of Madrid to protest measures they feel are already having a negative impact on the mining industry. Good pictures of those protests.
SECRETARY CLINTON TO LAOS, CAMBODIA
-LANDMARK VISIT…The datelines evoke the war in Indochina; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has visited Laos and Cambodia today. The U.S. bombed both countries four decades ago – in an effort to hit Viet Cong supply lines – and in Laos today, Secretary Clinton toured a clinic that treats those wounded when the old bombs go off. Clinton was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Laos in more than five decades. In Cambodia Clinton attends a U.S.-ASEAN meeting aimed at bolstering American commerce and ties with Southeast Asia.
-COUGHING FIT…Secretary Clinton’s travels may be catching up with her. Yesterday, during a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, Clinton was felled by a coughing fit that forced her to cut her speech short. Watch the video at ABCNews.com.
GATES FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES MAJOR BIRTH CONTROL INITATIVE
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is set to unveil a campaign to improve access to birth control in the developing world. As Reuters reports, the exact amount of funding will be announced at the London Summit on Family Planning, but it’s expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. According to U.N. figures, about 220 million women in the developing world who do not want to get pregnant have no reliable access to contraception.
MASS BURIALS FOR SREBRENICA VICTIMS
More than 500 newly indentified victims of the Srebrenica massacre were reburied today in an emotional outdoor funeral. Thousands of people gathered – most of them relatives of the victims – at the Potocari memorial center.
GUNMEN OPEN FIRE ON MEXICO NEWSPAPER OFFICES
We’ve seen another case of violence on journalists in Mexico. This time, officials say a gunmen threw grenades and opened fire on two newspaper buildings. The media in Mexico have come under attack as drug cartels wage a war to keep control of smuggling corridors into the United States.
WATCH THIS (AFTER YOU’VE DIGESTED BREAKFAST)
The BBC is airing a program tomorrow night called “Guts: The Strange and Mysterious World of the Human Stomach.” The presenter Michael Mosley spends the day at the Science Museum in London where he swallows a tiny camera placed inside a pill which transmits live pictures of his body digesting food. Have a look
ANNALS OF ANIMALS
-MAN KILLED BY TIGERS IN COPENHAGEN ZOO…A young man was found dead inside the tiger cage at the Copenhagen Zoo and authorities say he was killed by the tigers. “We got a call early this morning that there was a man in a tiger cage. The man probably crawled into it overnight. When zookeepers saw that there was a man in there, they shooed away the tigers, but when they reached him he was dead,” said Copenhagen police spokesman Lars Borg. According to staff at the zoo, there were three tigers in the cage. The 21-year-old man was therefore badly mauled when zookeepers finally succeeded in to getting him out of the cage.
-SHEEP WITH CELL PHONES…Clark BENTSON flags this: A South African farmer is fielding phone calls from his sheep, after equipping them with cell phones to keep tabs on the flock amid recent livestock thefts, according to local press Wednesday. When the sheep call, it is always bad news for farmer Erard Louw of the Cape Town suburbs, as the phones around their necks are only set to switch on when the sheep start running, a sign thieves have cut through the fences. “As they run it gives me a phone call and says ‘sheep one’ or ‘sheep two’ and so on, so at least I know where to start looking because the farm is 750 hectares (1,850 acres),” Louw told daily The Cape Times. Louw attached the phone-like security device to the collars of four sheep in separate flocks after thieves sneaked in and stole 27 sheep and 13 lambs a couple weeks ago, driving Louw to rack his brain for ways to protect his animals. He said there was no use calling nearby police, as they were stationed too far away and in his experience either lacked an available car or the vehicle was out of fuel or missing tires – also, incidentally, the work of thieves. According to Louw, the cell phones have already proved their muster, with one sheep-snatcher caught thanks to the device.
-TOKYO’S NEWBORN PANDA DIES…The first giant panda born at the Tokyo Zoo in 14 years died today, just six days after its birth. The highly celebrated cub died of pneumonia after the mother’s milk got into its lungs. Zoo officials announced the death in a very emotional press conference today.
ANNALS OF GENDER
-GERMAN MAYOR DESIGNATES MALE-ONLY PARKING…The mayor of a small town in Germany, Triberg, is making headlines for introducing male-only parking. The spaces are smaller and more difficult to park in, and Mayor Gallus Strobel said male drivers would be better for the challenge of harder parking. Hmm. Meanwhile, the women’s spaces are larger and well-lit.
-NO SAUDI WOMEN GOING TO OLYMPICS…After all that (meaning, the edict that women would be allowed, in principle, to compete), an official for the Saudi Olympic committee confirms that no women would be going to the Olympics on their behalf, ABC’s Alex MARQUARDT reports. If the decision holds, Saudi Arabia will be the only nation represented by a “men-only” team, after Qatar and Brunei diversified their contingent for London. In contrast, women outnumber men for the first time on the U.S. Olympic team.
U.S. OLYMPIC OPENING CEREMONY OUTFIT NOT MADE IN AMERICA
Team USA will greet the world at the U.S. Olympic ceremony wearing outfits made in China. Another complaint since the release of the uniform is that both the men and women in navy Ralph Lauren suits will also be outfitted in French-style berets, the Daily News reports.
ANNALS OF TECHNOLOGY
-T-SHIRTS AS PHONE CHARGERS?…From the BBC, via some U.S.-based scientists: Scientists at the University of South Carolina have found a way to use a cheap T-shirt to store electrical power. It could pave the way for clothes that are able to charge phones and other devices. Experts predict that new technologies including roll-up smartphones and laptops will be on the market soon. These developments would spur on the need for “flexible energy storage”, said the professor behind the project. Xiaodong Li, a professor of mechanical engineering at the university teamed up with post-doctorate researcher Lihong Bao to find a solution. They used a T-shirt bought from a local discount store, which was soaked in a solution of fluoride, dried and then baked in an oxygen-free environment at high temperature. The fibres in the fabric converted from cellulose to activated carbon during the process, but the material remained flexible. By using small parts of the fabric as an electrode, the researchers showed that the material could be made to act as a capacitor. Capacitors store an electrical charge and are components of nearly every electronic device on the market.
-GLOVE THAT TRANSLATES SIGN LANGUAGE?…A team of Ukrainian inventors has developed a hi-tech glove capable of converting sign language into speech. EnableTalk is fitted with a complex network of sensors that recognise hand movements and translate signs – which are then converted into spoken word by a smartphone app. The inventors have already won an award for their design and hope EnableTalk will improve the quality of life of millions of people around the world with speech and hearing impairments. The hi-tech glove comes complete with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscops and accelerometers, as well as solar cells that help keep it powered. The project was a winner at the recent Microsoft Imagine Cup in Australia, a competition to promote technical innovations.
HOMELESS COUPLE FIND $10K, AND HAND IT OVER
Officers in Sao Paolo were apparently stunned when a homeless couple who found a rubbish bag filled with roughly $10,000 in stolen cash handed it in to police. Officers were given the money by Rejanel Jesus dos Santos and his partner Sandra Domingues, and said the amount would have been enough for them to buy their own home. The cash had been stolen from a restaurant and the owner was so grateful he offered the couple a job. Mr dos Santos and Ms Domingues, both 36, have been homeless for a year and live underneath a viaduct in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo. Mr. dos Santos, who earns about £5 a day selling recyclable rubbish, told Brazil’s Globo TV station: ‘I learned from my mother never to take what doesn’t belong to me.”
CANADIAN BBQ POTATO CHIP THEFT STORY GOES VIRAL
From Joe SIMONETTI: Over the weekend two drunken Canadian college students walked into an open garage and stole a bag of BBQ potato chips. The homeowner called police. What’s made this story go viral is the CTV package that aired and in particular the police press conference about the theft (and the officer laughing as he described the theft – about two minutes in).