HERE COMES ISAAC
At the moment it’s a minor storm – with winds close to 45 mph – but not for long. The National Hurricane Center reports that Isaac could become a hurricane by Thursday as it approaches the Caribbean. A hurricane watch has been issued for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the center said. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for islands including Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Kitts. And when the storm packs a bigger punch – as the weekend arrives – Isaac could spell Category-2-level trouble for Haiti and Cuba. Meanwhile, USA Today asks: are we becoming complacent? It has been 2,500 days since a Category 3 or higher hurricane has hit American soil.
-A REPORTER’S FINAL DISPATCH…Akiko FUJITA flags this chilling report – the last that journalist Mika Yamamoto would file before her death in Aleppo. Much of it is in Japanese – you can hear heavy gunfire in the back (around :47), then Yamamoto saying “That was a close call. They are shooting directly at people. They are shooting at random. They are dropping explosives on places where people are walking, directly into the city. It’s just one after another.” In the car you hear her saying “We are heading to the frontline. We hear they’ve come under aerial attack…. There’s a lot of damage …we are hoping to get out to report on it.” Around 4:01 you hear her cameraman say “the city is shutting down. People are trying to get out.” The video cuts out, right at the moment where she’s shot.
-OFFICIAL ADDRESSES POSSIBLE ASSAD RESIGNATION…The L.A. Times reports that Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil says “there is nothing off the table,” including President Bashar Assad’s resignation, if the opposition agrees to talk. But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters “we didn’t see anything terribly new” in Jamil’s statements. Meanwhile, Burhan Ghalioun, a member of the Syrian National Council, told Al Arabiya television in an interview that “There is no room for dialogue with the Syrian president…He is no longer a president, people no longer consider him a president.”
-DAMASCUS FIGHTING…Alex MARQUARDT reports that fighting is raging outside of Damascus, leaving at least eight dead.
-ANALYSIS: US OPTIONS LIMITED…The New York Times examines the difficult and unpleasant options facing the U.S. at the moment. Any American military operations against Syria would risk drawing in Syria’s patrons, principally Iran and Russia, at a much greater level than they already are involved. It would allow Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to rally popular sentiment against the West and embolden Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups now fighting the Assad government to turn their attention to what they would see as another American crusade in the Arab world.
-DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS OPERATING IN NORTHERN SYRIA…Working in a converted villa in a town in the Syrian north, an international team of doctors and nurses has been quietly treating Syrian opposition fighters and civilians for the past two months, Doctors Without Borders announced in Paris on Tuesday. The seven-person team, working in conjunction with a group of Syrian doctors, represents one of the precious few aid groups that have entered Syria and established operations since the conflict began last year.
-REFLAGGING TANKERS…Molly HUNTER flags this latest effort Iran is making to evade sanctions – the Financial Times reporting on Tehran working to find new flags to fly above their tankers. Under international law, vessels need to be registered and flagged. But as the FT reports, Tehran dropped its own flag when sanctions tightened – and those of Malta and Cyprus, Tanzania and the Pacific island-state of Tuvalu have flown on the vessels instead. No longer. Other countries, under pressure from Washington and Brussels, have announced they would deregister the vessels owned by NITC, forcing Iran to look for replacement flags. Some large crude oil carriers are each capable of transporting roughly 2m barrels a day – the equivalent to the daily consumption of France. U.S. lawmakers have urged President Barack Obama to sanction any country that provides a flag of convenience to Iran.
-ANOTHER BANK INVESTIGATED OVER IRAN DEALINGS…The Financial Times also reports that federal authorities are now investigating RBS for possible breaches of Iran sanctions in a probe that has already led to the departure of a senior risk manager. This comes on the heels of last week’s settlement by Standard Chartered, which agreed to pay a $340 million fine to New York state’s Department of Financial Services.
TOP U.S. GENERAL IN IRAQ
From Mazin FAIQ in Baghdad: The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad says Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Martin Dempsey’s talks with Iraq’s prime minister included discussions about Syria, underscoring concerns that the civil war there risks destabilizing Iraq’s own fragile security.
FOXCONN IMPROVES WORKER CONDITIONS
The BBC reports that Foxconn, Apple’s main manufacturer in China, has taken steps to improve working hours and conditions, according to the U.S.-based Fair Labor Association. Health breaks and measures to guard against repetitive stress injury were some of the changes the FLA found after an inspection. The report said Foxconn was ahead of schedule in implementing the FLA’s recommendations. The review came after a number of suicides at Foxconn factories. And – this reminder about Bill Weir’s reporting from Foxconn.
IN MEXICAN “MURDER CAPITAL” – AN END TO THE DRUG WAR?
The Washington Post looks at what may be a hopeful sign in Ciudad Juarez. “When this city was among the most murderous in the world, the morgue ran out of room, the corpses stacked to the ceiling in the wheezing walk-in freezers…It was one of the most sensational killing sprees in recent history, with 10,500 people left dead in the streets of Juarez as two powerful drug mafias went to war. In 2010, the peak, there were at least 3,115 homicides, with many months posting more than 300 deaths, according to the newspaper El Diario. But the fever seems to have broken. Last month, there were just 48 homicides…Of these, authorities consider 40 to be related to the drug trade or criminal rivalries. Authorities attribute the decrease in killings to their own efforts: patrols by the army, arrests by police, new schools to keep young men out of gangs and in the classroom. Yet ordinary Mexicans suspect there is another, more credible reason for the decline in extreme violence: The most-wanted drug lord in the world, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and his Sinaloa cartel have won control of the local narcotics trade and smuggling routes north…”
DERAILMENT CUTS INTERNET AT GITMO
Yesterday’s train derailment outside of Baltimore cut internet service between the war court compound on Guantanamo Bay Navy Base and the Pentagon. The Miami Herald reports that all internet links from Gitmo move through two satellite dishes on the base that beam signals to downlink locations in Maryland and the derailment damaged the fiber-optic line. The judge was then forced to delay the start of six days of hearings until Thursday morning.
SOUTH AFRICAN MINERS UNREST SPREADING?
From Bazi KANANI: During a week of national mourning for the 34 killed last week when police opened fire on a crowd of striking workers at the one of the world’s largest platinum mines, workers at two other platinum mines now say they may also go on strike, according to a report today in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper. The SABC is now reporting some workers at the Royal Bafokeng mine have already put down their tools and are gathering near the mine’s entrance. Memorial services for the miners killed at the Lonmin strike are scheduled for tomorrow.
ETHIOPIANS MOURN MELES ZENAWI
KANANI again: Ethiopia’s state media reports the body of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will lie in state at his official residence in the national palace until the funeral – which has not been announced yet. A government spokesman says parliament will be reconvened soon to swear in Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to replace Meles until the next scheduled elections in 2015. Meles’ body arrived in the capital Addis Ababa Tuesday where thousands came out to mourn the passing of the man who ruled the country for more than 20 years. Meles died Monday night at a hospital in Belgium.
LIBERIA’S PRESIDENT SUSPENDS HER SON FROM GOVERNMENT POST
One more from Bazi KANANI: The first female president in Africa, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is making headlines in Africa today for suspending her own son along with 45 government officials in a move to reduce corruption in Liberia. Her son, Charles Sirleaf, is serving as Deputy Central Bank Governor. He is one of three of Johnson-Sirleaf’s sons appointed to government posts. According to a statement released to the media, Johnson-Sirleaf said the officials could be reinstated only after they declared their assets to an anti-corruption commission.
PRINCE HARRY – IT DIDN’T STAY IN VEGAS…
From Jean FIEVET: Royal officials have confirmed that photos of a naked Prince Harry first published by TMZ are genuine. In one, Harry is shown cupping his genitals with his hands; in another he appears to be shielding himself behind an unknown woman who also seems to be naked. The website says they were taken last Friday in Vegas during a game of strip pool, when the third in line to the British throne was taking a private vacation. Sources have told ABC News that the prince – an Army officer and Apache helicopter pilot – was just “letting off steam” before the next phase of his military career. It’s widely reported that the palace has asked newspapers in the UK media not to print the snaps on the grounds of privacy, and so far they have adhered to the request. The prince has a history of tabloid scandal, ranging from smoking marijuana to wearing a Nazi uniform, but in recent years news stories about his military career and official duties have gone some way to shaking off his reputation as a playboy prince.
D-DAY: A MYSTERY SOLVED
A telegram found during a clear-out at a British bus depot has finally solved the mystery of a soldier not seen since the D-Day landings. The Mirror, The Daily Mail and others report that the family of Private Gordon Heaton assumed the Worcestershire Regiment soldier had been killed in fighting following the World War II landings, but they never received a telegram. It was discovered recently that the letter was left on a bus by a post office messenger boy along with Heaton’s will.
THE PARALYMPIANS ARRIVE
From Rashid HADDOU in London: The world’s top Paralympians are beginning to arrive in London – as teams scale the highest peaks in the U.K. to light the Paralympic flames. Groups of climbers, made up of scouts, mountain guides and people with disabilities, began their ascent of Scafell Pike, Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Slieve Donard at dawn this morning. When all four groups have reached their respective summits they will spark “National Flames” by striking flint against steel. Each climb is expected to take about four hours. The flames will then be conveyed in torches to cauldrons in their respective capitals before being joined together next week at Stoke Mandeville, which gave birth to the Games after Second World War veterans with spinal injuries competed in archery events there in 1948, 12 years before the first official Paralympics in Rome. The Games open next Wednesday – and London is preparing to receive a record 4,200 athletes from 166 countries for the 11-day Games.
RIP BAO BAO
The Berlin zoo says Bao Bao, who was given to West Germany by China in 1980 and was one of the world’s oldest giant pandas, has died.