The Global Note: Inside The Refugee Camps…Taliban Threats, Taliban Concessions…Mandatory Mandarin?…Losing the Wedding Ring

By Tom Nagorski

Sep 10, 2012 9:54am

SYRIA’S WAR

-INSIDE THE REFUGEE CAMPS…Alex MARQUARDT has gained access to the Zaatari refugee camp, holding thousands of Syrians who’ve fled aerial attack and other horrors to the Jordanian side of the border. In an otherwise nightmarish story, there is this: Two young Syrian refugees were married at Zaatari – a carpenter, Hodasa al-Hariri, 23, married 20-year-old Hanan al-Hariri, who was dressed in a bright pink dress and white headscarf. The groom said the couple decided to wed in the camp because the crisis in Syria was dragging on and they don’t expect to be homeward bound anytime soon. Our team has also shot in a medical facility in the camp – met top aid official – and groups from Dera’a, cradle of the revolution and a place Alex visited several months ago. Alex also reports conditions hampered by dust storms that have coated tents and supplies – they’ve shot the dust swirling in the camps. The Syrian regime has pledged to allow these people back – a pledge few believe or take at face value.

-FORCED TO MOVE…Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Turkish authorities have begun knocking on doors of thousands of Syrian refugees there – to demand that they either enter camps or move deeper inside Turkey, far away from a border region tense with sectarian strife. The surprise crackdown began this weekend, creating a panic in the community of about 40,000 Syrians living in rented housing in southern Turkey as bewildered families were told by government security agents and police to pack their belongings and move out.

AFGHAN WAR

-TALIBAN THREATEN PRINCE HARRY…From Muhammad LILA in Kabul: The Taliban are threatening to kill Prince Harry while he is deployed in Helmand province. ”We will do our best to kill Prince Harry and Britain’s other troops based in Helmand,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson told AFP. ”It is not important for us to kidnap him. We will target him and we will kill him.” This comes a day after the Telegraph quoted the same spokesperson seemingly taunting the British, saying the prince was only sent to Afghanistan to atone for his naked photos (not true – the deployment was planned long before that).

-TALIBAN OPEN TO CEASEFIRE, U.S. BASES?…The Taliban are open to a ceasefire and willing to accept U.S. bases on Afghan soil, provided certain conditions are met, according to a paper published by the Royal United Services Institute. The briefing, based on interviews with senior Taliban officials, offers concessions that haven’t previously been reported: The Taliban will renounce Al-Qaeda and work with ISAF to remove any remaining elements from the country; the Taliban would accept a US military “stabilization force” operating in Afghanistan up to 2024, as long as it does not constrain Afghan independence or Islamic jurisprudence (in other words – that the Taliban can still hang and stone people convicted of serious crimes); it will not allow US bases to be used for launching attacks against other countries; Mullah Omar would personally endorse a general country-wide ceasefire, with careful wording to avoid making it look like a surrender. The full report here.

-BAGRAM HANDED OVER TO AFGHANS…ALMOST…In a ceremony today, the US formally handed over the Parwan Detention Facility, where the infamous Quran burning incident took place, to Afghan control. As part of the transfer agreement, the US military will continue to hold approximately 50 non-Afghan detainees, in a small part of the prison that will remain under US control.

-US WATCHDOG QUESTIONS AFGHAN SPENDING…More than one billion dollars worth of fuel, paid for by the US and earmarked for the Afghan Army, may have been diverted to the insurgency, according to a report by the US watchdog in charge of spending in Afghanistan The report, written by Special Inspector General John F. Sopko, says there’s no proof the fuel was actually being used by the ANA. The same report says an audit of spending is being hampered because someone shredded $475 million worth of financial records, and that new proposed funding should be cut until there’s more accountability from the Afghans.

GLOBAL MARKETS DOWN

World stock markets sagged Monday, ahead of a meeting by Federal Reserve policy makers who are expected to announce new plans to stimulate a sluggish U.S. economy in response to a disappointing jobs report. Having said that, big-name stocks such as Amazon.com, Chevron, CBS, Walt Disney and Apple are either at or in striking distance of all-time highs. So far, 83 stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500 are at or within 5% of their high-water marks. Still, as  USA Today notes, despite a powerful rally for stocks this week, sparked in part by that promise by the European Central Bank to shore up the debt crisis, the market at large remains 8% below its October 2007 high.  

GIRL AWAKES FROM COMA…TO LEARN HER PARENTS MURDERED

The seven-year-old daughter (Zainab) of a British couple murdered while on holiday in the French Alps has regained consciousness…only to hear her parents were no longer alive. There is hope among investigators that Zainab might be a key to a breakthrough in the case .  

JAPAN MINISTER A SUICIDE

From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: Police are investigating Minister Tadahiro Matsushita’s death as a suicide. NHK is reporting that the 73-year-old Matsushita hung himself – and that his wife found him dead on the floor in their Tokyo house.  Matsushita had just been tapped as Minister of Postal Reforms and Financial Services in June, as part of Prime Minister Noda’s cabinet reshuffle. He was tasked with cracking down on insider training in Japanese companies, in light of a series of high profile scandals, including Olympus’s accounting fraud and AIJ Investment Advisor Co concealing more than $1 billion in pension fund losses.

INDIA: FIRE OFF MUMBAI

A major fire broke out on merchant vessel MV Amsterdam Bridge off the coast of Mumbai yesterday. Included in the ship’s cargo were 24 containers carrying chemicals which could be hazardous to human and marine life if released into the sea, as well as 2,000 tons of diesel fuel. Firefighting efforts were led by the Indian Coast Guard, which gained control of the blaze early Monday morning. Strong pictures here… (Credit: Shashi Kallada)

MANDATORY MANDARIN IN AMERICAN KINDERGARTEN?

A school district in Georgia has begun teaching Mandarin to its youngest students – the classes are mandatory — in an effort to have all its students fully bilingual by the time they graduate from high school. With instructors from a program underwritten by the Chinese government, the new curriculum is not without its skeptics writes the New York Times. 

DRUG SMUGGLERS GO UNDER THE SEA

American authorities have discovered models of a new drug-ferrying submarine capable of traveling, unseen from the surface, from Ecuador to Los Angeles. The  New York Times writes that narcotics organizations are now bankrolling machine shops operating in the South American jungles that build diesel-powered submarines to transport drugs underwater. 

CUBA: WIDESPREAD BLACKOUT

Millions of people remained in darkness overnight after power went out across a large swath of western Cuba. Although electricity was being restored in some places, much of Havana remained blacked out hours after the outage. The outage affected a wide area including the capital, home to about 2.2 million people, and the popular beach resort of Varadero.

PUTIN: PROTESTORS ARE LIKE “WEAK CRANES”

From Kirit RADIA in Moscow: Speaking at the APEC summit Sunday, Putin compared the past year’s wave of protests to the weak cranes that wouldn’t follow his lead during last week’s hang gliding stunt. Adding to the metaphor, he said the pilot of his hang glider was at fault for flying too fast and too high. Meanwhile, Moscow city authorities have denied requests for another anti-Putin rally on September 15 in the center of the city…suggesting instead a route southwest of the center.

UK: ROGUE TRADER IN COURT

Reuters reports that the trader accused of losing $2.3 billion in a fraud at Swiss bank UBS goes on trial in London on Monday, in a case expected to once again put the supervision of bankers under the spotlight. Ghanaian-born equities trader Kweku Adoboli denies two counts of fraud and two of false accounting between 2008 and September last year. 

CHINA: WHERE IN THE WORLD IS XI?

Where is China’s President-in-waiting Xi Jinping? Is he nursing a bad back after pulling a muscle in a soccer game? Was he in a car accident? Or just getting ready to lead the world’s No. 2 economy ahead of a leadership transition next month? The rumors are swirling about why the Vice President has gone unseen for a week and canceled meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Singapore’s prime minister.

MORE MEXICANS BUYING “MADE IN U.S.A.”

From The Washington Post: When the governor of Colorado came to Mexico on a trade mission this year to see the sights, “one of the most amazing” was a Costco. “It was as big, clean and modern as any in America,” recalled Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who found the aisles filled with shoppers bearing “nothing but positive feelings toward the United States.” Especially toward U.S. stuff. The Costco was stocked with products stamped “Made in U.S.A.,” including some of the $755 million in goods that Colorado exports to Mexico each year: marbled slabs of steak from Greeley, cans of pinto beans from Holyoke and sacks of russet potatoes out of Monte Vista. Trade between the United States and Mexico  is surging, up 17 percent in 2011 to a record $461 billion, as Mexico vies with China to become America’s second-largest trading partner after Canada. China and the United States did $502 billion in trade last year. The growing middle class that is fast becoming Mexico’s majority is buying more U.S. goods than ever, while turning Mexico into a more democratic, dynamic and prosperous American ally. ”We are obsessed with China when we ought to seriously focus, for our own benefit, on our neighbor Mexico,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University and author of “The North American Idea.”

U.K.’S OLYMPIC – AND PARALYMPIC – CELEBRATIONS

From Timon WOODWARD in London: Up to one million people are expected to line the streets of London today to honour Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes in what could be the country’s biggest ever sporting victory parade. Meanwhile – some spectacular pictures of the Paralympics closing ceremony.

FIST FIGHT ON BOARD CHINESE PLANE

Shared on the Chinese social platform YouKu, this video shows two men throwing punches on board as flight attendants and passengers try to stop them. Apparently, the fist fight was over a drink.  

BEST MAN LOSES WEDDING RINGS

It is the stuff of sitcoms and nightmares: the best man losing the ring in the middle of a wedding ceremony. Flower displays were pulled apart, carpets lifted and floor grates removed but as the  Telegraph writes, after 10 minutes of fruitless searching, the bride’s mother offered the use of her own ring so that the couple could be married.

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