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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Syrian Opposition Takes Arab League Seat, Asks for NATO Protection

Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib formally took over Syria’s seat at an Arab League gathering in Qatar on Tuesday to the applause of other Arab heads of state, a mark of the further diplomatic isolation of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Alkhatib told the assembled heads of state that he had asked US Secretary of State John Kerry for US forces to defend the parts of Syria controlled by the rebels with Patriot missiles. The missile battery is currently deployed by NATO to protect Turkish airspace from Syrian strikes. “I have asked Mr Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject. We are still waiting for a decision from NATO to protect people’s lives, not to fight but to protect lives”,” he said”, said the Syrian opposition leader. The suggestion was quickly rejected by NATO, with an official saying the organisation had “no intention to militarily intervene in Syria”.

All Cypriot Banks to Remain Shut Until Thursday to Prevent a Run on Deposits

A statement released by the Cypriot Central Bank late on Monday announced that all banks in the country would remain shut until Thursday “to ensure the smooth functioning of the entire banking system”. The decision was made by Finance Minister Michael Sarris on the recommendation of Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades. The statement came hours after the Central Bank had said that all banks, except for the two worst-hit by the crisis, would reopen today. Laiki Bank and the Bank of Cyprus were the only banks to remain shut until Thursday because they would be restructured and merged under the bailout agreement brokered with the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The decision to completely shut the country’s banks for a further four days seemed to be hinted at by President Nicos Anastasiades as he left Brussels after closing the deal. “This is a very temporary measure, which will gradually be relaxed. I can assure that we will do everything possible to return soon to complete normality”, he had declared.

North Korea to ‘Target’ US Bases with Rockets and Artillery Fire

North Korea has placed its rocket and long-range artillery units in combat readiness and will target US military bases in the region, according to a statement carried on the KCNA state news agency. “From this moment, the supreme command of the Korean People’s Army will be putting into combat duty posture No 1 all field artillery units, including long-range artillery units and strategic rocket units, that will target all enemy objects in US invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam”, read the statement. South Korea said it had been monitoring the situation north of the border, but had found no signs of unusual activity or military movements. China, North Korea’s main ally and aid benefactor, issued at statement saying that it hoped that all sides on the Korean peninsula would exercise restraint. The Pentagon condemned North Korea’s statement, saying it was “bellicose” and that it would be ready to “respond to any contingency”. On a lighter note, the Guardian reported that North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried an article about leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to a new restaurant boat in Pyongyang, “feasting his eyes on the deck and handrails around it” and expressing concern that the view and air-conditioning should be satisfactory.

Rebels Now in Control of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic was plunged into chaos as looters and gunmen roamed the streets of the capital Bangui two days after a coup in the mineral-rich country. A collective of rebel groups known as Seleka marched onto Bangui on Sunday and ousted President François Bozize, embarassing a 400-strong South African contingent which had been sent to push them back. At least 13 South African soldiers were killed and another 27 were wounded in the skirmishes. On Monday, self-proclaimed president Michel Djotodia requested assistance from soldiers belonging to the Central African Multinational Forces (Fomac), a peacekeeping contingent drawn from the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC). They have so far been unable to restore order to Bangui, whose 600,000 residents were plunged into darkness since the Seleka cut off electricity. “We have been patrolling for two days in an effort to stop the pillaging. Things are slowly getting better, but we are far from being able to say things are normal”, said a Fomac senior officer.

UK Government Abolishes UK Border Agency

UK Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that the UK Border Agency is to be abolished, with its work returned to the Home Office. The agency had already been split last year when ministers decided its management of migration was not good enough. “The performance of what remains of UKBA is still not good enough. The Agency struggles with the volume of its casework, which has led to historical backlogs running into the hundreds of thousands. The number of illegal immigrants removed does not keep up with the number of people who are here illegally”, May told Parliament. She added that the UKBA was plagued by a “closed, secretive and defensive culture”. The Home Office will now constitute a board to oversee all organisations related to the UKBA’s operations, immigration policy, the Passport Service and the Border Force. Home Affairs Committee chairman and Labour MP Keith Vaz welcome the decision to scrap the UKBA, but added that “this cannot be an excuse not to clear the backlogs, which stand at a third of a million cases”.

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