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Friday, October 19, 2012

Car Bomb Explosion in Beirut Kills Top Lebanese Intelligence Official

A large explosion of a car bomb in the Christian quarter of Lebanon’s capital Beirut today wounded 80 people and killed at least eight, including Wissam al-Hassan, intelligence chief of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the national police. Hassan was responsible for the arrest of the country’s former Information Minister Michel Samaha, who had close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and was accused of plotting a bombing campaign and killings across Lebanon. Hassan received numerous threats after the arrest, prompting him to move his family to Paris. He was returning from a trip to Germany and France when the blast occurred. Hassan, who was a staunch supporter of Syria’s armed opposition, also led an investigation that found the Syrian government and the terrorist group Hezbollah were implicated in the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Saad al-Hariri, the son of Rafik who also served as prime minister, blamed Syria’s Assad for the attack. So did Nadim Gemayel, a Lebanese member of parliament from the Christian Phalange Party, a group that opposes the Syrian regime. Both Assad’s government and a representative of Hezbollah’s political arm denied they were involved, and condemned the attack. The blast comes two days after Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, warned that the conflict could spill over and set the region afire.

EU Leaders Agree on Banking Supervision, Greece Nears Agreement

The summit of European leaders ended today in Brussels with an agreement on a banking union in the region as the participants committed themselves to creating central oversight for banks in the euro area by 2013. This will establish the European Central Bank as the main supervisor by January 1 and the plan will be phased in during the year, covering as many as 6,000 banks by January 2014. The goal of this banking union is to break links between banks and national governments, which have made it difficult to find a solution to the crisis that has bogged down the budgets of countries like Spain and Ireland. This reform paves the way for direct aid to Spain’s troubled banks, though German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her nation will oppose any effort to directly recapitalize banks before “practical completion” of the banking union. This delay means Spain may have to continue to carry the burden for its financial sector, paying the costs of loans for most of next year. Meanwhile, European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso lamented a lack of progress on economic growth as leaders shied away from enacting a jobs and growth compact agreed upon in June. There was a bright spot for Greece as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras received praise for his cost-cutting effort: “Good progress has been made to bring the adjustment program back on track,” the 16 leaders of the euro area said in a joint statement. This brings the nation a closer to receiving the next tranche of its bailout package, a much-needed €31.5 billion ($41 billion) before the government runs out of money mid-November.

China’s Leadership Agrees on Succession

China’s three most powerful men have announced today a list of names for the nation’s top decision-making body, the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. Former President Jiang Zemin, Current President Hu Jintao and President-to-Be Xi Jinping released the list ahead of the 18th Congress of the Communist Party, which will set the stage for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition. They propose to cut the number of Politburo members to seven, though their decision must be confirmed by other senior party officials. Experts say a smaller committee would make it easier for new President Xi to govern and push reforms. The three showed a commitment to foreign investment as their list includes Vice Premier Wang Qishan. Wang, who in charge of finances, has strong links to foreign investors. The Party’s Organization Department Chief Li Yuanchao, who established a meritocratic style of management, was also included in the list. The committee is expected to be finalized on November 1, a week before the Congress is due to begin.

Unemployment Rate Falls in U.S. “Swing” States While Obama Campaigns on “Romnesia”

A report from the Labor Department showed today the unemployment rate fell last month in 41 states, including those that are considered undecided in the next presidential election. Construction job numbers increased in Florida, thanks to a 15 percent jump in new housing starts in September. The result in these battleground states could determine the outcome of the election and the drop in unemployment could give President Barack Obama a boost against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, Obama diagnosed his opponent with “Romnesia” today for recently adopting moderate positions after months of campaigning on conservative ones. He listed abortion and tax cuts for America’s wealthiest as some of the issues on which Romney tempered his rhetoric in recent debates.

Weekend Read: How an Accused Guatemalan War Criminal Won U.S., Canadian Citizenship

A Guatemalan army lieutenant who obtained Canadian, then U.S. citizenship, now stands accused of having committed mass murder in his native country. In ProPublica.

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