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Monday, October 22, 2012

Lebanese Army Moves to Quell Violent Syria Spillover

At least seven people died and 20 were wounded in gunfire in Lebanon’s capital Beirut and the coastal city of Tripoli today, as sectarian unrest took over the country after the killing of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan last week. The country’s military said it will stamp out violence, asking politicians to “be cautious when expressing their stances and opinions” to help calm their constituents. Hassan’s emotional funeral fueled rivalries between Lebanese supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as many blamed Syria’s regime for the death of the security chief. Assad’s opponents called for Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign, arguing that he is too close to Assad. Mikati did offer to step down on Saturday, but was dissuaded from doing so by Lebanon President Michel Suleiman. Mikati will resume work tomorrow and meet with the European Union High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

Japan Exports Tumble 10%, Most Since Post-Earthquake

Japanese exports fell 10.3 percent in September, the most since the aftermath of last year’s earthquake, as the world economy continued to slow down, the country’s currency strengthened, and Japan found itself locked in a dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea. Exports to the European Union (EU) dropped 21.1 from a year earlier, while those to China fell 14.1 percent. This is the most since May 2011, when Japan struggled to rebuild its supply chain after the earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of the country. The numbers came a day after Japanese Economy Minister Seiji Maehara called on the Bank of Japan (BOJ) for further action, saying the nation’s monetary economy is “falling behind.” In response, BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he will carry out “seamless” monetary easing. The BOJ published a quarterly report today in which it downgraded its economic outlook for eight out of nine regions in the country, the most downgrades since 2009. Japan’s economy is the world’s third-largest, not counting the EU as a whole.

Regional Elections in Spain Show Mixed Picture for National Government

Regional elections that took place over the weekend in Spain showed a mixed picture for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s right-of-center government. While Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP) increased its majority in his home region of Galicia, the Basque Country gave its nationalist and separatist parties their second-largest majority since the death of General Franco in 1975, which marked the end of his dictatorship. Galicia was among the first regions to see austerity measures implemented, even before Rajoy took office. Voters granted its support to the PP for its handling of the economy. In the Basque country, the National Basque Party (PNV in Spanish) and EH Bildu, a coalition of left-wing separatists and the former, outlawed Batasuna party, won respectively 34.6 percent and 25 percent of the vote. Likely President Íñigo Urkullu, of the PNV, said the priority was to fix the Basque Country’s economy, the richest autonomous community in Spain in gross domestic product per capita.

Italian Seismologists Convicted of Manslaughter

Six Italian scientists and one government official were convicted today of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison over their risk assessment and communication of the 2009 earthquake that razed the town of l’Aquila and killed 309 people. The verdict, which also requires the defendants to pay over €9 million ($11.7 million) in damages to survivors, came after 13 months of trial. The seven, who were part of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, said they will appeal the decision. They were found guilty of not issuing a safety warning in 2009 after weeks of small and frequent tremors, underplaying the risk of a major disaster. The scientific community reacted with shock to the news, saying this decision will only serve to dissuade experts from being forthcoming about risk assessments. The defendants said they will appeal the ruling.

U.S.: Last Presidential Debate to Focus on Foreign Policy, Leadership

U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will meet this evening at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time/6 p.m. Pacific in what will be their third and last debate before the November 6 election. The encounter will focus heavily on foreign policy, putting greater emphasis on Obama’s handling of the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens as well as three staffers in Libya last month, as well as his policy of non-intervention in Syria. Romney will also get a chance to attack him on what he describe as the President’s lack of strength in defending American interests abroad. Even still, after four years of dealing with geopolitical and international security crises, the incumbent is going in with a clear advantage over his opponent. His clumsiness in the U.K. and his words on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which have infuriated the Palestinians, have betrayed, in the eyes of many, a tenuous grasp on world matters and a lack of self-control in communicating with foreign leaders. Analysts say that while U.S. voters care little for foreign policy, the topic is largely seen as a proxy for leadership, making it easier to identify the best man for the White House. International Business Times has a list of resources to watch the debate and follow the commentary live.

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