-WHAT HAPPENED IN TREMSEH?…As Alex MARQUARDT reports from the Syrian border, the morning hasn’t offered much more clarity on what happened yesterday in Tremseh. We know that many people (maybe not 200) were killed. Graphic pictures have surfaced showing young men killed – nothing matching the scale described by opposition activists, who say more than 200 were killed. Some opposition groups say the victims are villagers; another opposition website says they are extremist gunmen who were fighting against the military. And Nasser ATTA reports a local doctor claiming the dead were extremist fighters – “Al Qaeda types.” As Alex writes, “The opposition narrative is familiar: following shelling and helicopter attacks by regime forces, shabiha (thugs) from nearby Alawite villages stormed the Sunni village, shooting and stabbing men, women and children. It also coincided, again, with a UN Security Council meeting on Syria. The Regime is also sticking to its narrative: yes many were killed but it was when ‘tens of terrorists…opened random fire on its inhabitants and houses, killing more than 50 persons, and exploding houses.’ In their account, regime forces were called in by residents, who then ‘clashed with the terrorists, inflicting huge losses upon them, capturing scores of them…’ The head of the UN mission in Syria – said that from a distance of roughly 3 miles, they saw ‘fighting yesterday involving mechanized units, involving indirect fire impact and involving helicopters.’ But until there’s a ceasefire, they won’t investigate further.” For his part, Kofi Annan is “shocked and appalled” by the violence and condemned the use of heavy weaponry.
-FSA OFFICER…MARQUARDT also spoke today with Free Syrian Army Colonel Ammar al-Wawi – a former rebel leader in Idlib, in northern Syria, and now “Secretary General” of the FSA’s military wing. of FSA military council. Al-Wawi insists the rebel army is a cohesive unit (he proudly showed off a YouTube declaration he had made) and insisted the recent defections were making a difference on the ground.
-SYRIA MOVES CHEMICAL STOCKPILE?…The Wall Street Journal reports Syria has begun moving some of its chemical weapons out of storage facilities. Observers are divided over what this means. Some fear President Assad intends to use the weapons against rebels or civilians; others believe he’s trying to safeguard the material from his opponents or complicate Western efforts to track the weapons. Whatever the motivation, the State Department’s Victoria Nuland weighed in while traveling with Secretary Clinton in Asia, reiterating U.S. demands that Syria safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
-LIBOR SCANDAL…The Federal Reserve of New York is slated to release documents showing it took “prompt action” four years ago to highlight problems with the interest rate – known as Libor – that landed Barclays and its CEO Bob Diamond in so much trouble. The scandal extends well beyond Barclays, to more than a dozen banks that are under investigation in Europe, Japan and the U.S. for suspected rigging of the Libor. As Richard DAVIES note – while bankers watch for Jamie Dimon’s update on JP Morgan’s huge loss on risky derivatives trades – the growing scandal over the rigging of Libor rates could be far more damaging to the industry. So far Barclays is the only firm to have been hit with a big fine; but those others may well be implicated by regulators in the US, UK and elsewhere.
-CHINA’S ECONOMIC GROWTH HITS LOW…When they’re not worrying about the Euro-mess (or the Libor), global investors worry about the China slowdown. Today we learn that China’s economic growth slowed to a three-year low, growing by just 7.6 percent in the three months ending in June. That would be considered phenomenal growth in most parts of the world (certainly would look nice here in the U.S), but in China, where growth in the previous quarter was 8.1 percent, it’s the lowest rate since the depths of the recession. Again, China’s slowdown could have global repercussions, especially at a time when the U.S. and Europe are struggling.
BERLUSCONI: HERE WE GO AGAIN
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will return as the center-right candidate in next year’s general election, a senior official in his PDL party was quoted as saying. “Yes, Berlusconi is the candidate for premier,” Fabrizio Cicchito, PDL parliamentary leader, told Italian news agencies after a meeting of the party leadership at Berlusconi’s Rome residence. He said the return of Berlusconi, the undisputed master of a party built up entirely around himself, meant there would be no primaries to find a candidate, as had been originally expected. The confirmation follows growing speculation about a likely return by the former premier, who has kept a low profile since he resigned last year in the middle of a trial, and financial turmoil that risked tipping Italy into a Greek-style debt crisis. As Clark BENTSON reports from Rome, the news isn’t going over well. From the Italian papers: “Berlusconi terrorizes Europe; his return is a danger.” EU countries have warned that a return of Berlusconi would undo all the efforts of Italy’s new government to stabilize the situation. One paper calls it the “ghost returning that everyone that has been exorcised.” Berlusconi himself has still not confirmed he is a candidate. As Clark notes, “Many pundits view this as a way for Berlusconi to try to save his companies and avoid further legal problems.” Berlusconi’s trial for paying for underage sex continues.
ANOTHER MEXICAN DRUG TUNNEL FOUND
Two days, two underground revelations along the U.S.-Mexican border. The Mexican army says it seized more than 40 tons of marijuana at the entry to a secret tunnel that crossed the border to the United States but didn’t have an exit on U.S. soil. The army said the tunnel found Thursday in Tijuana extended nearly 400 yards — including more than 100 yards into San Diego. It began in a warehouse where soldiers found a trailer filled with dirt, shovels, drills and other equipment. The tunnel was lit, ventilated and equipped with a rail system.
IRAN WAR GAMES REVEAL MISSILE ACCURACY
Iranian media report war games this month showed missiles with improved accuracy and firing capabilities. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards conducted the exercise in the central desert. The targets were models of foreign military bases, and the stated goal was to show that Iran’s missiles can hit Western bases and Israel. This comes as the West steps up sanctions aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.
SECRETARY CLINTON’S ASIA TOUR
-LANDMARK MEETING: SECRETARY CLINTON MEETS BURMESE PRESIDENT…Another landmark moment for Myanmar: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Burmese President Thein Sein in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s a meeting intended to reward Burma for its recent moves toward democratic reforms. And, as Agence France-Presse writes, it also signals Washington’s desire to bolster Sein’s base on those very reforms.
-NO RESOLVE OVER SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE…Talks among Asian leaders – and Secretary Clinton – over the South China Sea disputes were not successful at the Association of Southeast Asian Nation conference in Cambodia. The issues were a key focus for Mrs. Clinton in talks yesterday, but multiple reports suggest they bore no fruit.
OLYMPIC COUNTDOWN, OLYMPIC CLAMPDOWN
-SECURITY ROUNDUP…The Olympic clampdown kicks in with gusto today: A 30-mile exclusion zone begins tonight – and lasts for a month; commercial aircraft will be able to fly within the zone but private planes will be banned; any aircraft that violates that space could be shot down; the Ministry of Defense says members of the Royal Navy and Airforce are now on standby at a number of locations; the carrier HMS Ocean is cruising the Thames to be in position near the Olympic Stadium; the military is searching for a site to house those 3000 additional troops that will provide security; and the Daily Mail reports the security firm botched the hiring/training of students to help with security.
-OLYMPIC MENU: A MCDONALD’S MONOPOLY…McDonalds will be the sole French fry provider at the Olympic games. The games’ 800 other food vendors are shut out from selling the fries. McDonald’s will open its largest-ever restaurant at Olympic Park – a 1,500-seat behemoth that is expected to sling some 50,000 Big Macs a day – and the place will be taken down after the games.
BILLIONAIRE CHARGED WITH WIFE’S MURDER
The Daily Mail is reporting Hans Kristian Rausing has been arrested on suspicion of murdering his American wife Eva. Detective Inspector Sharon Marman told Westminster Coroner’s Court: “We have not yet been in a position to interview Mr Rausing. He has been arrested on suspicion of her murder and we await notification of when he would be fit to be interviewed by police.’ Mr Rausing remains in a secure medical facility for treatment (drugs and alcohol withdrawl) the Met Police told MailOnline, and is not fit to be questioned. And as Joe SIMONETTI notes, in this video shot recently on a busy street…both Rausings appear barely able to walk.
ECUADOR’S UNIQUE INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION
The AP reports that the government of Ecuador is offering $250,000 scholarships to students accepted at the world’s top 50 universities. The tradeoff? Students must return home and devote two years to government service for each year of state-paid education.
SOUTH AFRICA: DEADLY TRAIN CRASH
Authorities say 19 people were killed and 24 others injured in a train crash in a province in eastern South Africa. An official said the crash occurred when a truck carrying farm workers collided with a train at a crossing. Officials described the scene as “gruesome” with several bodies scattered around.
QATAR’S ROYAL FAMILY TO BUY VALENTINO
Another high-end purchase for the Qatari royal family. The Wall Street Journal reports the Gulf kingdom is buying Italian fashion house Valentino. The Qataris already own London department store Harrods and recently paid the highest sum ever for a work of art when they dropped $250 million on Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players.”
VIRGIN AIR NEWS
-LIGHTNING STRIKES JET WING…A Virgin Air passenger flying from Sydney to Adelaide captured amazing footage of lightning striking the wing of the plane. The passenger videoed the blinding flash and burst of sparks on his camera — turning it on after the pilot warned of some turbulence ahead last night. The plane continued flying and managed to land safely.
-ROCKET HAS A LAUNCH DATE…The Daily News reports Richard Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic will begin shuttling passengers into the cosmos beginning in December 2013, the British entrepreneur announced. So far, 529 future astronauts have put down a deposit for the suborbital flights, “a number greater than the total count of people who have been to space throughout human history,” the company said.
-NOW YOU CAN DRESS LIKE A FLIGHT ATTENDANT…Starting August 8, for Virgin America’s 5th anniversary, more than 2,000 pilots, flight attendants and other crew will make their debut in modern, sleek uniforms designed by Banana Republic. Now anyone can get various pieces of the uniform at select Banana Republic stores. For security reasons, they won’t sell the exact outfits. The attendants’ trench coat, aviator sunglasses and tote bags can be yours for $78 to $250, USA Today reports.
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
-LEMURS HEADED FOR EXTINCTION?…A group of researchers in Madagascar say the lemur is sliding toward extinction. They concluded that 90% of the 103 species should be placed what is called the Red List of Threatened Species. Illegal logging and hunting of lemurs are to blame.
-KITTEN SURVIVES PACIFIC CROSSING…Thanks to Elicia DOVER for this one: A kitten survived a journey across the Pacific Ocean, locked in a freight container on a ship traveling from Shanghai to Los Angeles. He’s been named Ni Hao, which means “hello” in Mandarin.