More Casualties as Israel Mounts Air and Naval Strikes
At least 26 people died in the Gaza Strip after Israel struck by air and sea at targets with the aim of stopping further rocket attacks from the territory, the latest among the 95 Palestinians casualties and three Israelis dead since the conflict began six days ago. Speaking in Cairo, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had requested a ceasefire, but that it was up to Israel to stop firing first. An Israeli government spokesman countered that Meshaal’s comments were innacurate. Meshall also said that a truce was possible, but that Hamas was ready to fight back if Israel decided to invade by land. Israel had authorised the call-up of 75,000 reservists on Sunday, leading to fears of a ground offensive. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said such a move would have “serious repercussions” and that Egypt would not accept it. The aerial and naval bombardment of Gaza by Israel has been the most intense since a full-scale invasion was launched four years ago.
U.S. President Obama Praises Burma’s ‘Flickers of Progress’
U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Burma’s “remarkable journey” of reform in a speech during the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to the Southeast Asian nation. Speaking at Rangoon University, Obama said the country still has “much further to go”, telling those in attendance that “reforms launched from the top society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundations. The flickers of progress that we have seem must not be extinguished”. He also called for an end to violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the west of the country, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced by ethnic violence. The U.S. president also met pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and she thanked him for the country’s support during her extended period of house arrest, but warned of potential pitfalls in Burma’s transition to democracy. “The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight”, she said. The country’s ruling military junta was replaced by military-backed civilian government in November 2010 after a heavily criticised electoral process.
Turkey to Hold Talks with Kurdish Separatists
The government of Turkey announced on Monday that it will begin talks with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after hundreds of PKK inmates ended a 68-day hunger strike in jails across the country. The announcement brings hopes of ending the 28-year-old conflict between Turkey and the organisation, which seeks to establish an independent Kurdistan. The hunger strike was ended after an appeal from Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader. Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin did not specify when or where the talks might take place, but the Reuters news agency stated that secret discussions were held between Turkish officials and PKK representatives recently in Oslo, Norway. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had recently hinted at fresh talks in September. “These talks have been held as and when deemed necessary in the past, and will be held in the future”, said Ergin. Fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK flared up in the summer after the government in Ankara accused Syria of arming the PKK.
FARC Announces Ceasefire at Start of Peace Talks in Cuba
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced a unilateral two-month ceasefire at the beginning of peace talks with representatives of the Colombian government in Havana, Cuba. Lead FARC negotiator Ivan Márquez said the rebel group would cease all hostilities from midnight on Monday until January 20. He said the gesture was “a contribution made to strengthen the climate of understanding necessary so that the parties that are starting the dialogue achieve the purpose desired by all Colombians”. Chief Colombian government negotiator Humberto de la Calle called it a defining moment. The talks in Havana are the fourth to be held since the conflict began in late 1960s, with more than 600,000 casualties along the decades. Among the topics to be discussed are the issue of land reform in Colombia, guarantees for the exercise of political opposition, drug trafficking and the rights of victims of the conflicts.
French Opposition Leader Elections Descend into Confusion
A heavily-contested internal election to choose the next leader of France’s UMP centre-right opposition party descended into confusion after both sides claimed to have won the ballot. Jean-François Copé, the president of the party in the country’s National Assembly, claimed victory late on Sunday night. Twenty minutes later his rival, former Prime Minister François Fillon, claimed that he was ahead in the vote. Both camps complained of irregularities in the vote, including sections where more votes had been counted than there were voters on the party list. There are worries that further fractions in the UMP could benefit the National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, who came third in last year’s presidential elections. Former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Alain Juppé called on both sides to accept the results to be announced on Monday by the electoral authority “to avoid the implosion of our party”.