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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

US Secretary of State Sees ‘Diplomatic Path’ to Iranian Nuclear Issue

New US Secretary of State John Kerry told an audience in Berlin on Tuesday that a “diplomatic path” could still be pursued with Iran in relation to its controversial nuclear programme. His remark came as the five permanent UN Security Council members along with Germany, a group known as the P5+1, met with Iran for the first time in eight months in Kazakhstan. “There is a diplomatic path”, said Kerry, adding that he hoped “Iran itself will make its choice to move down the path of a diplomatic solution”. He refused to make any further comments on the ongoing negotiations in Almaty, saying that it “would really be a mistake in the middle of the talks for me to try to talk at any length about what the dynamics of those talks are. I want these talks to have their chance to work through before I comment”. The P5+1 group is apparently willing to ease some of the sanctions on Iran, such as the country’s freeze from the international banking system. In exchange, said the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, “Iran needs to understand that there is an urgent need to make concrete and tangible progress in the talks”. Iranian state news agency FARS said that the country’s representatives had brought several proposals to the talks and said it would present one that fit the offer made by the their counterparts. Talks are expected to continue into Wednesday.

Italy Votes Itself into a Deadlock

With all domestic votes counted, the centre-left bloc of Pier Luigi Bersani emerged as the winner of the lower house in the Italian elections, but failed to secure a majority in the Senate. Bersani’s bloc obtained a slim margin of victory of less than one percent, but automatically won a majority in the lower house. The same margin was observed in the Senate race, but seats are allocated by region and there the centre-right alliance led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi gained 116 seats against Bersani’s 113, with no political group obtaining a clear majority. A protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo, who pushed a platform of suspending debt payments and holding a referendum on euro membership, obtained 25 percent of the vote and could be instrumental in forming a coalition. Grillo said he wasn’t open to partnerships, but said his movement would analyse each reform and law as they came through. “We are not against the world”, he said. Outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti’s centrist bloc obtained approximately 10 percent of the vote.

Gaza Rocket Lands in Israel, Breaks Ceasefire

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel on Tuesday morning for the first time in the last three months. The attack effectively breaks a ceasefire put in place after a week of heavy shelling between Israel and the Gaza Strip last November. Israeli sources said that a single rocket had landed in the outskirts of Ashkelon, causing damage, but no injuries. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade said in a statement e-mailed to media outlets that the rocket was “an initial natural response to the assassination of prisoner Arafat Jaradat”. Jaradat, a 30-year-old Palestinian, died in an Israeli jail last week. Palestinian officials said the death was caused by “severe torture” at the hands of Israeli interrogators. Jaradat had been arrested on February 21 for throwing rocks against Israeli settlers in November. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the attack, but Israeli President Shimon Peres said that “quiet will be met with quiet, missiles will be met with a response”.

South Africa to Investigate Zimbabwe Ruling Party for Crimes Against Humanity

South African prosecutors have decided to investigate Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party for crimes against humanity after an alleged campaign of mass rapes during the country’s last presidential election, held in 2008. It marks the first time an African government has decided to use its domestic legislation to investigate another country. A report by NGO AIDS-Free World, who initiated the request for an investigation with the South African prosecution service, stated that Zanu-PF used rape “as an organised political tactic”. Rape survivors spoke to the organisation and identified more than 200 rapists who wore the party’s t-shirts and sang songs at party base camps used for rape and torture. “Each woman, on average, was raped five times, although these numbers may be underestimated because many women fell unconscious during the violent rapes and therefore lost count of the number of rapists and rapes at some point”, said the report. Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN and head of the AIDS-Free World organisation, said that the move by the South African prosecution service “puts Mugabe on notice that the world is watching”.

Pope to Retain Title after Retirement

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI had chosen his post-resignation title, “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus”. He said the pontiff was organising his belonging and preparing to move to Castel Gandolfo, a small town east of Rome where popes customarily spend their summers. Among other details divulged by Fr. Lombardi is that the Swiss Guard will no longer protect Benedict after his resignation on Thursday. He will continue to wear a white cassock, but will no longer be seen in red shoes. Instead, the outgoing pope was elected to wear a pair of brown shoes given to him during a visit to Mexico. His fisherman’s ring, a symbol of his papacy, will also be destroyed, but the exact moment is to be decided by the College of Cardinals. A formal letter calling for the cardinals to meet and elect a new pope will be sent on March 1 and they are not expected to meet until three days later. This informal meeting precedes the formal conclave, but no date has been set for the start of the process.

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