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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rebels Claim (and Government Denies) Attack on Neighborhood Near Assad

Rockets and mortar shells landed in a pro-regime neighborhood in Damascus today where President Bashar al-Assad was visiting a mosque.  Two rebel groups initially claimed Assad’s motorcade had been hit, then later admitted that while it had been the target, the shells had missed the motorcade itself. Nevertheless, they successfully attacked Assad’s route through a high-security neighborhood in what is one of the most direct attacks on Assad to date in the two-year civil war.

Syria’s information minister dismissed the statements that the motorcade had been hit as “rumors” and state television showed the unharmed president leading prayers at the mosque. Later, the government insisted that rockets may have fallen, but the motorcade was not the target.

Today, Jordan allowed a Syrian opposition leader to cross into Syria from its territory for the first time, suggesting the country may increase its public support for the rebels.

Over 300 Dead in South Sudan’s Jonglei State

A team of local chiefs traveling around Pibor County in the eastern Jonglei state reported at least 328 people had been killed in the past month in clashes between the government, rebels and rival tribes.  South Sudan’s army is grappling with a rebellion there led by the politician David Yau Yau while ethnic tensions have simultaneously flared up once again between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes.  The violence has since died down, although many are still hiding in the bush out of fear. All of the reported dead in Pibor County were from the Murle tribe, and some were women and children. The number of Lou Nuer deaths is not yet known.

More than 1,600 people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced as part of the cycle of tribal violence in eastern South Sudan since 2011.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ Role in FISC

It is a public, but often-overlooked fact that the authority to name the 11 judges to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), lies with just one person:  Chief Justice John Roberts. So far, he has named 10 Republican-appointed judges to the court (more than either of his predecessors). He also appointed the three judges who review the FISC’s special decisions.  He is not required to consult with or get approval from any individual or agency.

In a surprise to absolutely no one, it’s now official that the NSA is searching the contents of Americans’ e-mails and texts – looking for mentions of foreigners under surveillance – in addition to everything else.

In news that might actually result in oversight of the NSA: The U.S. cloud computing industry could lose up to $35 billion in contracts over the next three years as companies shy away from trusting them with their data.

Coca Production Down in Colombia and Bolivia

The area of land planted with coca in Columbia has dropped 25% since last year – it is the lowest level of coca production since monitoring started a decade ago. While coca areas fell nationally, they did increase in three provinces that have been plagued by rebels and drug gangs. The national drop may be because illegal groups have turned to illegal gold and emerald mining, which are on the rise.

Bolivia’s total coca production dropped for the second year in a row, this time by 7%. A UN report suggested two causes for the drop: the government’s increased efforts to contain illegal coca production and the drop in coca yield due to over-cultivation.

Bloody Ending to a Bloody Ramadan

On one of the holiest days in the Muslim calendar, two separate funerals were bombed in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a combined death toll of at least 50.

In Pakistan, officers were burying a fellow policeman who had been killed only a few hours earlier when a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing at least 37, including several senior officers as well as women and children. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. During Ramadan, there have been 11 bombings in Pakistan resulting in over 90 fatalities.

In Afghanistan, 14 women and children from the same family were killed by a bomb planted near the grave of a relative who had been killed by the Taliban.


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