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Monday, June 24, 2013

Anti-Hezbollah Militia Clashes with Lebanese Army

At least 16 Lebanese soldiers have died in a spate of clashes between government troops and followers of Ahmad al-Assir, a Sunni sheikh opposed to the Shia movement Hezbollah and its involvement in the war in Syria. Fighting broke out last night near Abra when Assir’s supporters surrounded an army checkpoint, where a vehicle transporting other supporters of the Sunni cleric had been stopped. A security official said the army was fired upon and then returned fire. Since then, clashes have spread throughout Abra, where last week, Assir’s followers fired at apartments alleged to belong to Hezbollah members. Heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenade explosions have rocked nearby Sidon, Lebanon’s third largest city, as Assir’s followers have taken up positions in a mosque complex with sniper fire echoing out periodically city wide. According to the Lebanese army, the majority of Assir’s followers have been captured or killed, while the whereabouts of Assir himself are unknown.

Qatari Emir Abdicates

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, met royals and prominent members of Qatari society today, and announced plans for a transition of power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The elder al-Thani took power from his father, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, in a bloodless coup d’état after realizing Qatar, while the richest country in the world, was stagnating. Sheikh Hamad has presided over a significant modernization of the country; he was instrumental in the founding of al-Jazeera, and has begun hedging Qatar’s oil and gas wealth into a service and industrial economy. While Hamad’s abdication has surprised many, especially given Qatar’s current involvement with nearly every conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, abdication is common in Qatar; every Qatari emir, barring Sheikhs Khalifa and Ali, has abdicated his throne. Analysts suggest that Crown Prince Tamim is unlikely to deviate far from his father’s policies, but the Qatari government’s inner workings are famously opaque to outsiders.

Berlusconi Convicted of Sex With Underage Prostitute

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years in jail, following a conviction on charges of having sex with an underage prostitute. While having sex with prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, having sex with prostitutes under 18 years of age is felonious. Both Berlusconi and the woman in question, who was 17 at the time the allegations took place, deny ever engaging in sex. The woman testified that she was, like a score of other women, merely paid for attending parties at Berlusconi’s residence, and that she never saw sexual contact between any of her co-workers and the party guests. Berlusconi’s lawyer Niccolo Ghedini announced an appeal immediately after the verdict was announced. “This is beyond reality,” said Ghedini. “The judges even went beyond the prosecutors’ request.” Even if the judgement is affirmed, the ex-PM will likely not serve time in jail, as he is currently 76 years old and the Italian court is especially lenient for those over the age of 70.

Mild Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

Today the United States Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions policy. The 7-to-1 decision avoided giving a specific answer regarding the constitutionality of the program used by the University of Texas at Austin. While for the time being, Texas’ programs and others like it across the U.S. may remain unchanged, the SCOTUS also sent the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, with orders to take a fresh look at affirmative action policy, using a more demanding standard than is currently required. Specifically, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the courts must “verify that [racial classification] is necessary… to achieve the benefits of diversity.” In his opinion, Justice Kennedy instructed them to investigate whether “a university could achieve sufficient diversity without racial classifications.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who read her dissent from the bench, said that “the court rightly declines to cast off the equal protection framework settled 10 years ago” and noted the race-neutral part of the Texas program worked only because of an extant “de facto racial segregation in Texas’ neighborhoods and schools.”

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