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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Civilian Casualties Rise in Gaza Conflict

Israel continued its military assault on Gaza for a second day, its most intense attack on the Palestinian territory since a land invasion in 2008. The death toll in Gaza rose to 16 as Israel struck what it said were 156 military targets within the territory. Among those killed by Israeli bombardments was the 11-month-old son of the BBC’s picture editor. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed “Israel will continue to do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties” and the country’s military reportedly dispersed leaflets asking residents to stay away from Hamas facilities and operatives. In Israel, an apartment block was struck by a militant rocket in Kiryat Malachi, killing three residents. The deaths could strengthen Israel’s resolve to begin a land invasion of Gaza. President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt said the country would “stand with all its resources to stop this assault, to prevent the killing and the bloodshed of Palestinians”. Morsi said he had called U.S. President Barack Obama and that the U.S. leader had agreed to speak with Israeli leaders. Israel’s last incursion into Gaza in the winter of 2008 killed as many as 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians.

China’s New Ruler Sets the Tone With an Apology

China’s new leader Xi Jinping, an economic reformer and the son of one the country’s revolutionary heroes, began his tenure on Thursday with an apology. He strode into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People and began his comments by apologising for being late, a marked difference from his predecessor Hu Jintao, who began his rule by droning in Communist jargon and quoting Marx, Lenin, Mao and Deng Xiaoping. Addressing the foreign media, Xi said that “just as China needs to learn more about the world, so does the world need to learn more about China”. He also cited the challenges to come, such as tackling corruption and bringing the Communist party closer to the country’s 1.3 billion people. Despite the constant censorship, some internet users took to China’s popular Sina Weibo microblogging service to give their opinion on Xi’s takeover speech. “Xi is more practical. He can make a difference”, said Beichuan, a screenplay writer and poet.

Russia Threatens U.S. with ‘Tough Reaction’ if Human Rights Bill is Passed

Russia warned the U.S. on Thursday that it would “react toughly” if Congress passed legislation designed to deny U.S. entry to Russian officials involved with human rights violations. The bill would force the U.S. government to deny visas to officials involved in the detention, abuse or death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer. He died in jail in 2009 after being arrested on suspicion of tax evasion and fraud. His colleagues say the charges were fabricated by police investigators who Magnitsky had accused of corruption. The government’s own human rights council said the lawyer was probably beaten to death while in detention. “Such a step will unavoidably have a negative effect on the whole range of Russian-U.S. relations”, said Alexander Lukashevich, spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We will have to react, and react toughly, depending on the final version of this unfriendly provocative act.”

Miscarrying woman dies in Ireland after being denied an abortion

The debate over abortion rights in Ireland was reignited when the government confirmed that a woman died after miscarrying and being denied an abortion. Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian citizen living in Galway, was 17 weeks into her pregnancy when she suffered foetal distress on October 21. Her family pleaded several times for a termination over a period of three days, but the hospital refused their requests because a foetal heartbeat was still present and because that was the law in Ireland, a Catholic country. The foetus died on October 25 and its remains were surgically removed, but Savita developed blood poisoning soon afterwards. Her heart, kidneys and liver stopped functioning on October 28. Ireland’s constitution bans abortions, but a 1992 Supreme Court ruling allowed interventions if a woman’s life was at risk. The local member of Parliament (TD) for Galway, Derek Nolan, said “that the religious ethos of the State should interfere is seriously damaging”. Opposition politicians also appealed for the Supreme Court’s ruling to become part of statutory law.

Cambodia Arrest Villagers for Sending an ‘S.O.S.’ to Obama

Eight Cambodian villagers were arrested in the capital Phnom Pehn for putting up posters of U.S. President Obama and writing “S.O.S.” on their rooftops ahead of Obama’s visit to Cambodia next week. They are part of a community of 400 families who live in shacks next to the city’s airport. They were ordered to leave the area so that the airport could build a second runway. “We are being forcibly evicted from our land without proper compensation”, said Sim Sokunthea, a 32-year-old resident. “We didn’t mean any harm. We just wanted Obama to help us.” Police officers arrived at the village on Thursday morning and ordered residents to remove the artwork, deeming it illegal. Land disputes have become an important issue in Cambodia. Companies connected to the government are alleged to take over land and evict villagers, who are then offered little or no compensation.

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