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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Syria Prepared to Discuss Assad Resignation in Talks

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Qadri Jamil said today the government is prepared to discuss the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad in negotiations that would end the 17 month conflict, so long as resignation isn’t a condition to the talks themselves. “As far as his resignation goes, making the resignation itself a condition for holding dialogue means that you will never be able to reach this dialogue,” Jamil said. “But any problems can be discussed during negotiations. We are even ready to discuss this issue.” Both rebels and western countries have made this issue a condition to engaging in settlement talks, a demand Jamil rejected. Violence continues in the country: one Japanese journalist was killed in Aleppo and two other reporters are missing. At least 19 journalists in total have been killed since the conflict began, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the U.S. against intervening in Syria a day after President Barack Obama threatened Assad’s regime with “enormous consequences” should it seek to use biological and chemical weapons. Meanwhile, French President François Hollande met with the leader of Syria’s main opposition group Abdel Basset Sayda. He also met yesterday with new United Nations Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The civil war has claimed between 17,000 (U.N. figure) and 23,000 (according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights) lives since it started.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Dies

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi died overnight in Brussels after a long illness at the age of 57, 21 years after seizing power in the country. Western countries considered him an ally in Africa in the fight against Islamist extremism, even though international organizations criticized him for his handling of dissenters and his crackdown on free speech. He was also hailed as the person who led one of the continent’s poorest countries into a period of rapid economic growth. As Ethiopia, Africa’s second most-populous nation, prepares for the transition, Government Spokesman Bereket Simon said the ruling party would choose Meles’ successor and ensure that the country stays on the same path.

Afghan Fighters Attack U.S. Top Commander’s Plane

Afghan insurgents fired two rockets at the plane of Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, and damaged it. Dempsey was not hurt, and will use another plane for the rest of his trip. He is in Afghanistan to discuss the rising number of killings of American and NATO soldiers by the country’s police and military, so-called green-on-blue attacks. The rockets were directed at the Bagram Airfield in the Shomali Plain, considered a strategic location in the conflict. It is proof that the area is becoming less stable after a period of relative calm and prosperity.

Libor Reform Under Way

U.K.’s Financial Services Authority top official Martin Wheatley, who is in charge of “fixing” Libor, is in the U.S. this week, meeting with regulators to determine what must be done to improve the way the benchmark interest rate is set. Wheatley has a reputation for being tough and his move should be taken as an indication for banks that submit their rates at the British Bankers Association that they should prepare for changes. This would represent a significant shift for the secretive BBA Foreign Exchange and Money Markets Committee, the body responsible for Libor. Wheatley must present his proposals for the calculation and supervision of the rate at the end of September. At the moment, Libor, which underpins a market of hundreds of trillions of dollars (including mortgages, student debt, and other loans), is set on an honor system, with no regulation. Participating banks report each morning an estimate of how much they will be charged to borrow money with no further verification from the BBA, leaving Libor vulnerable to profit-driven manipulation. Last week, U.K. Members of Parliament said in a report the “standards and culture of Barclays,” the first bank to be investigated and fined, “are in a poor state.”

Akin Confirms He Won’t Quit as GOP Platform Approves Anti-Abortion Stance

U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney called for Missouri Congressman Todd Akin to drop out of the Senate race after Akin told Mike Huckabee he will not quit, defying his own party. This comes two days after Akin said on television that women seldom get pregnant after being victims of “legitimate rape.” He later apologized for this remark, which was meant to explain his position on abortion, insisting that no exception should be made for pregnancies caused by rape. Even as the GOP as a whole distanced itself from its Missouri senatorial candidate, Republicans approved a strict anti-abortion stance for the platform, calling for a constitutional amendment that would prohibit abortion even in the case of rape or incest. This poses a problem for Romney, as he and his running mate Paul Ryan said yesterday they favor abortion under those conditions. The new platform must be approved next Monday by the GOP Convention.

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