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Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy Targets the East Coast After Battering the Caribbean

The U.S. East Coast was in lockdown mode before the impending arrival of hurricane Sandy on Monday. President Barack Obama urged citizens to “please listen to what your state and local officials are now saying. Do not delay, don’t pause, don’t question the instructions that are being given because this is a serious storm.” The gale had already cut a swath of destruction in the Caribbean, with 58 dead in Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba. In New York City, contingencies included the closure of the transportation system, the suspension of classes and the evacuation of low-lying areas. The United Nations was also shut, as was the New York Stock Exchange. The last time the trading floor had been closed by a hurricane was in 1985, when hurricane Gloria hit the city. Public transport had also been suspended in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. The storm could affect up to 50 million people and forecasters fear it could become a super-storm when it collides with cold weather fronts coming into the area from the west and the north.

UN Envoy to Syria “Terribly Sorry” Over End of Truce

The United Nations envoy to Syria, Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, has expressed regret on the failure of a four-day truce he had arranged between the Syrian government and rebel forces in the country. Speaking at a news conference in Moscow after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Brahimi said he was “terribly sorry that this appeal has not been heard to the level we hoped it would, but that will not discourage us. It will not discourage us because Syria is very important and the people of Syria deserve our support and interest”. Hostilities paused briefly during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, but air strikes and a car bomb in Damascus shattered the peace. Asked if UN peacekeepers might step into the conflict, the UN envoy said that “there is no plan for the moment to send a peacekeeping mission”, but that it could “become a possibility in the future”.

Rockets and Bombings End Israel-Gaza Ceasefire

The ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, brokered by Egypt last week, was ended over the weekend. The BBC’s Jon Donnison reports that extremist Salafi groups who were not parties to the truce fired rockets into Israel on Thursday and Friday. Israel responded with air attacks. “In response to the incessant rocket fire at southern Israel, the Israeli Air Force aircraft targeted a rocket launching site and a terror activity site in the northern Gaza Strip as well as a terror activity site in the southern Gaza Strip”, said a statement by the Israeli military on Monday. Hamas responded to this activity by launching rockets and mortars into Israel. The Egyptian government will likely attempt to mediate a new truce, but few expect it to last.

France Arrests Top ETA Leader

French police arrested a leader of Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Basque separatist group, in a hotel in Macon, near Lyon, on Sunday. Izaskun Lesaka was the military commander of ETA, responsible for logistics, weapons caches and explosives, and was among the most wanted fugitives by the Spanish Interior Ministry. She was among the three masked ETA members who read a communique last year announcing that the group had renounced violence after a campaign of more than 40 years of bombings. Also arrested with Lesaka was her partner Joseba Iturbe, an ETA member responsible for the attack on Madrid’s Barajas airport in December 2006. That bombing broke a peace process between the group and the Spanish government at the time. David Pia and Iratxe Sorzábal, the remaining members of ETA’s secretariat, are still at large.

Greek Journalist Arrested Over Leak of Swiss Bank Account Holders

A Greek journalist has been arrested after publishing a list of Greek citizens who hold bank accounts in Switzerland. Kostas Vaxevanis was charged with breach of privacy for publishing the list on HotDoc, a weekly news magazine. The list contains some 2,000 names of HSBC account holders, some of which are prominent Greeks. The list was allegedly first leaked in 2007 by an HSBC employee to Christine Lagarde, who was then the French Finance Minister, and who is now the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She then passed this list to Greek authorities, who did not act on its contents. Greek daily Dimokratia reported that the then Greek Finance Minister, George Papaconstantinou, said he forgot to whom he forwarded it, while his sucessor Evangelos Venizelos says he had lost the list. The journalist who leaked the list was due to appear before a court in Athens on Monday.

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