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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Syrian Government Agrees to Eid Truce as U.N. Denounces War Crimes

The Syrian government announced a ceasefire to mark the four days of Islam’s most important holiday, Eid al-Adha. The truce, brokered by United Nations (UN) and Arab League Peace Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, will start tomorrow and end Monday, though observers believe it may not do much to stop fighting. This is the second ceasefire established in the war-torn nation. The first one, which was negotiated by Kofi Annan, took place in April, and while violence slowed during a few days, it did not stop. The Syrian military said it will respect the truce, but reserves the right to retaliate if attacked. Residents of the capital Damascus said the army shelled the city after it announced the ceasefire, only hours before it was due to begin. Meanwhile, U.N. investigators said “war crimes and crimes against humanity” are taking place in Syria, and vowed to investigate. Carla del Ponte, the former Chief Prosecutor of two U.N. international criminal law tribunals who recently joined the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, promised today to find and bring to justice high-ranking Syrian politicians and military leaders who committed war crimes.

U.N. to Investigate U.S. on Drone Attacks, Secret Rendition, Torture

The United Nations (U.N.) will create a special investigative unit in Geneva next year to look into U.S. led drone attacks that have caused the deaths of civilians in counter-terrorism efforts. U.N. Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC announced the plan during a speech he gave at Harvard, in which he also criticized secret rendition and water-boarding, which the Bush administration defined not as a method of torture, but an “enhanced interrogation technique.” They are crimes under international law, Emmerson asserted. He said some drone attacks in Pakistan could qualify as war crimes. This is a warning for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has ordered multiple drone strikes that have allegedly caused the deaths of at least 50 civilians in nations like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In his speech, he also discussed the fact that both Obama and his Republican opponent in the presidential election Mitt Romney agree on the use of drones, something they both made clear at the last debate on foreign policy on Monday. Emmerson regretted no mention was made of the consequences of such attacks, as well as the consequences of the torture methods employed. He singled out Romney and his advisors for their support of water-boarding.

Olympic Games Bring Tentative Recovery to U.K.

The U.K. economy grew one percent in the third quarter, pulling the nation out of its second recession in four years, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said today. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne presented the figure as proof the government’s policies have borne fruits. “This is another sign that the economy is healing and we have the right approach,” he said. Breaking down the figure, the ONS explained the biggest expansion rate since 2007 owes in large part to the Olympic Games and a bounce from the Queen’s Jubilee, which took place in June, both of which provided a temporary boost. The ONS also estimates ticket sales for Olympic events added 0.2 percent to the gross domestic product. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls cautioned against too much optimism: “Today’s figures show that underlying growth remains weak and that our economy is only just back to the same size as a year ago.” A recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

China’s Currency Rises to 19-Year High, Tests Peg Limits

China’s currency, the yuan, rose to to its highest level against the dollar since 1993, testing the upper limit of its trading band, after the nation’s government presented new measures to boost the economy. A statement on the government’s site called for more spending into public transport, something analysts have taken as an indication that the country could be announcing more stimulus measures as the political landscape stabilizes. The 18th Congress of China’s Communist Party will set the stage for a once-in-a-decade leadership change, which has been roiled by corruption scandals. Chinese authorities keep the yuan artificially low, within a trading range. Preventing its appreciation makes the nation’s exports more competitive on the world market. China widened the trading band in April in a show of confidence about its economy, but also to stem fears about accelerating inflation. The country’s currency policy has prompted other nations to criticize it as an unfair trade practice.

Sectarian Violence Erupts in Burma

Violence between Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims in the western coastal state of Rakhine in Burma has erupted and spread, causing the deaths of 56 people and the burning of 2,000 homes. Burma’s President Thein Sein and the government said they will endeavor to bring it under control with the help of the military, the police, and local residents. This comes only five months after turmoil that killed 80 people and displaced tens of thousands of people. President Thein Mein, who came to power last year after five decades of a military dictatorship, has implemented a series of reforms and opened dialogue with various ethnic communities, but still hasn’t recognized the Rohingya Muslims as citizens. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana said the government has no “real analysis of the situation,” delaying a solution to the problem.

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