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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Syria: Algeria’s Brahimi Will Mediate Conflict

After the failure of the United Nations peace mission led by Kofi Annan in Syria, Algerian Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has agreed to become the international mediator for Syria, Reuters reports. Brahimi was sent to Iraq by the U.N. after Saddam Hussein was overthrown and into Afghanistan before and after the Taliban rule ended. He is said to have new ideas on how to approach the problem and he has demanded strong support from the U.N. Security Council, which has been unable thus far to reach a compromise on sanctions against the Syrian government. Annan recently blamed the deadlock for the failure of his mission. Meanwhile, Western countries are preparing for a worst-case scenario to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapon sites to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands should President Bashar al-Assad be toppled. The plan would involve sending tens of thousands of troops on the ground, as bombing would not be an option due to health and environmental risks.

Germany Backs ECB Conditions to Help in Debt Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today she backed the European Central Bank’s conditions for helping to lower borrowing costs of Eurozone countries. ECB President Mario Draghi said on August 2 the central bank could begin to buy bonds in countries like Spain and Italy, but only if the countries agree to strict conditions, and only if European governments use the region’s new bailout funds to buy this debt first. Merkel agreed to these, although Spanish and Italian authorities haven’t said yet whether they will ask for help. As European leaders return from their summer breaks, meetings are due to resume. Germany’s highest court will rule next month on the legality of permanent rescue funds for the Eurozone. Germany is the largest contributor to bailout funds, and Merkel is facing pressure domestically and externally to take the lead on solving the crisis. Europe could be facing a double-dip recession, heightened by austerity measures implemented across the bloc.

South African Police Shoots Miners on Strike

South African policemen fired at a group of workers on strike outside a platinum mine in Marikana, almost two hours north of Johannesburg. At least 18 miners died in the bloodshed. The strike, which began a week ago, already had claimed 10 lives when violence began last Friday. Members of a radical labor union demanded their salaries be tripled. The company who runs the mine, London-based Lonmin, shut it down on Tuesday because of the conflict. This is the most brutal event between police and protestors since the end of apartheid.

Romney Says He Paid at Least 13% in Taxes for Past Decade

U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney said today he paid at least 13 percent in taxes each year for the past 10 years. This is the most detail he has provided after his opponents both in the primaries and in the general election pressured him to release his tax returns. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said recently an investor at Bain Capital, the company that made Romney’s fortune, had told him the candidate hadn’t paid taxes in at least a decade. Reid didn’t provide any evidence for these claims and Romney vigorously denied the allegations. Because most of Romney’s income comes from investments, his tax rate should be 15 percent, or less if he takes advantage of breaks and loopholes. If his income came from a salary, his tax bracket would require him to pay 35 percent.

Ecuador Grants Asylum to Assange

Ecuador said today it will grant asylum to WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, who has been hiding at the country’s embassy in London for two months. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño announced the decision today, citing the possibility of political persecution or extradition to the U.S., where Ecuador says Assange could face the death penalty. Should he leave the embassy, he could still be arrested by the British authorities and sent to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on charges of sexual abuse and rape. Assange believes he is wanted in the U.S. for releasing thousands of secret documents in 2010 about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as diplomatic cables. Still, as signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, Sweden and England cannot extradite anyone to a country where they may face the death penalty. With this decision, Ecuador is straining trade relations with Britain and the European Union, though some say it may be a way for the South American nation to assert itself on the international stage.

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