FRANCE BRACES FOR POSSIBLE BACKLASH AS MAGAZINE PUBLISHES MOHAMMED CARTOON…
A French satirical weekly newspaper has published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in an issue that hit the newsstands this morning, prompting France to immediately step up security at some of its embassies overseas and announce that it intends to close embassies and schools in around 20 Muslim countries on Friday. Riot police have been posted outside the Paris offices of the magazine "Charlie Hebdo", while the government and Muslim leaders have urged calm. France has western Europe's largest Muslim population. The magazine's lewd cartoons make reference to the US-made film that has provoked protests around the world, and ridicules the sometimes violent reaction to the movie. The publication of the cartoons has set off a debate in France about the the limits of free speech in a modern democracy.
…AS ANTI-US PROTESTS CONTINUE AROUND THE WORLD
It's been another day of anti-US protests, albeit on a much smaller scale than previously seen. Habibullah KHAN reports that a small group of protesters briefly breached the entrance to the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad where the US embassy is located. All religious groups in Pakistan have called for protests this Friday. In Sri Lanka about 300 protesters carried signs that read "U.S. should apologize to Muslims." In Jalalabad, university students marched and chanted anti-American slogans, and burnt an effigy of President Obama. Phoebe NATANSON in Rome reports that Pope Benedict has made a direct call for Muslims and Christians "to express together a determined stance against violence and war."
HEAVY FIGHTING IN DAMASCUS
The Syrian capital is seeing more fierce fighting, according to reports from opposition activists. The BBC's Lyse Doucet is in Damascus and says plumes of smoke can be seen rising above the city during the day, with regular government shelling of suburbs known to have a strong rebel presence. She writes: "The government has reinforced its control of large parts of Damascus after intense fighting in July reached the heart of capital. But the battles clearly are not over and there's mounting concern over the human cost as people flee their homes, and parts of some neighbourhoods lie in ruin." Iran's Foreign Minister has arrived in Damascus to meet President Bashar al-Assad and other officials.
Rebels have seized control of a border crossing on the frontier with Turkey on Wednesday, pulling down the Syrian flag and sending a stream of jubilant people pouring across the border into Turkey.
Amnesty International says the Syrian regime has carried out indiscriminate air bombardments and artillery strikes on residential areas that do not target opposition fighters or military objectives, and instead appear aimed solely at punishing civilians seen as sympathetic to rebel forces.
PANETTA MEETS "MISSING" CHINES LEADER
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping on Wednesday in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. It's interesting because its the first time we've really seen the man widely expected to be China's next president since he recently cancelled several meetings with foreign officials . Xi's two-week disappearance from public view sparked all kinds of rumors about his health. What caused his "disappearance" is still unclear.
"LAST OF THE GREAT DRUG BARONS" CAUGHT
Colombian Daniel Barrera - aka "El Loco" - has been captured in Venezuela with the help of U.S. and British intelligence agencies, according to Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos, who went on national TV himself to make the announcement. He called Barrera "the last of the great drug barons." "Crazy" Barrera, as he is known, stands accused of shipping vast amounts of cocaine to the U.S. and Europe, as well as having links to various paramilitary and rebel groups.. Barrera also faces narcotics-related criminal charges in the U.S.
USAID BOOTED OUT OF RUSSIA
The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that it's expelling the U.S. Agency for International Development. Kirit RADIA in Moscow reports that the move is intended to clamp down on the work of Russian pro-democracy activists, and what the Kremlin sees as American meddling in the country's affairs. A large part of USAID's budget in Russia is spent on democracy promotion projects.
MORE MILLIONAIRES IN ASIA THAN IN US
The Financial Times reports that Asia has overtaken North America for the first time as the region with the most super-wealthy individuals, according to an annual survey by Royal Bank of Canada and consulting firm Capgemini. Last year a similar survey found that Asia had overtaken Europe in the same category, defined as those with $1m or more immediately available for investing, excluding property and collectable items.
SHOES THAT SHOW THE WAY HOME
Phoebe NATANSON draws our attention to a pair of shoes that can guide you home with a click of the heels. British designer Dominic Wilcox has made a pair of shoes with a GPS device that is activated when the heels are clicked together. The designer says that LED lights in the toes of the shoes point in the direction in which you should be traveling to get home. You can see the shoes here.