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Thursday, October 24, 2013

NSA Eavesdrops on World Leaders

The Guardian has revealed that the National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 unspecified world leaders after being given the numbers by a U.S. official. The confidential memo illustrating this practice comes via the trove of formerly secret documents provided to news agencies by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The memo encourages senior officials attached to the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, to share their personal and professional address books with the NSA so the agency might focus their surveillance on the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians, though it also admits eavesdropping on the numbers had produced “little reportable intelligence”.

Just yesterday, German chancellor Angela Merkel was assured by U.S. President Barack Obama that his country’s spies were not actively wiretapping her cell phone, nor would they in the future. But today’s revelation prompted German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to summon U.S. ambassador John B. Emerson for further explanations and to make clear his “incomprehension and outrage”.

Cuba to Abandon Two Currency System

Pursuant to Cuban President Raul Castro’s goals to alleviate his country’s economic woes, Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban government, announced that the country will deprecate the nearly 20 year-old two currency system. The two local currencies are the peso (CUP) – in which most wages are paid and local goods priced – and the convertible peso (CUC), used in the tourism industry, foreign trade, and upscale eateries and stores carrying imported goods. While the announcement gave scant details it did suggest that the unification of currencies “is imperative to guarantee the reestablishment of the Cuban peso’s value and its role as money, that is as a unit of accounting, means of payment and savings.” Cuban economists told Reuters unification of the two currencies is expected to be a gradual process that will take up to 18 months and will involve devaluing the CUC, currently pegged to the U.S. Dollar, and potentially revaluing the peso.

The Cuban Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development’s deputy chief Andollo Leonardo Valdes also presented plans to further restructure the state controlled agriculture businesses, which languished badly in the years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, but have since begun to show signs of revitalization.

Pirates Strike Off Nigerian Coast

Gunmen boarded the oil supply vessel C-Retriever, near the coastal town of Brass in Nigeria’s oil rich Bayelsa State, yesterday, taking both the captain and chief engineer captive. Unlike pirates in the Gulf of Aden which usually hold an entire vessel hostage, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea typically drain the oil bearing vessels of their cargo and leave the boat and crew harried but ultimately unharmed. The International Maritime Bureau has recorded more than 40 attacks in the Port Harcourt area this year with 132 crew members taken hostage. Since 2010, more than $100 million worth of oil products have been successfully pirated. The C-Retriever’s 11 other crew members were released, and it is as yet unclear if ransom demands have been made for the other two.

Israel to Continue Settlements

Israel announced today that it would continue building settlements in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. An unnamed official suggested the resumption of settlement building was an agreed upon part of the ongoing peace talks, saying “both the Americans and the Palestinians have been aware of these understandings.” That the may be difficult to reconcile with today’s announcement by Habayit Hayehudi, one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partners, stating it plans to propose a bill barring the release of Palestinian prisoners, a concession which has been linked to the settlements. Senior members of Habayit Hayehudi released a statement saying, “it will be better if the prime minister does not release murderers and does not build.”

The settlements that Israel has built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, the most divisive issue in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, are considered illegal by most countries. But the Israeli government regards all of Jerusalem as its “eternal” capital and has gone so far as to annex the city’s eastern section. According to Peace Now, an Israeli non-governmental organization which opposes the settlements, Israeli expansion in the occupied areas is up 70 percent over last year.

Protests Roil Tunisia

Thousands of protesting Tunisians gathered in front of a government building in northern Tunisia today to express anger and frustration with the government’s inability to reign in hardline Islamist militants which have terrorized the country, just yesterday killing seven police officers. According to police officials, tear gas and other means were used to prevent the assembled crowds from razing the building.

Due to an ongoing political deadlock, the ruling moderate Islamist Ennahda party has agreed to step down as soon as the Tunisian constitution is complete. But this has not stymied political dissatisfaction. Many protestors accuse Ennahda of being too lenient with hardline Islamists, despite the fact that the government recently outlawed Ansar al-Sharia, arresting 300 of its members. The mother of Socrate Charni, one of the seven slain policemen, holds the government responsible for a number of problems, saying, “Ennahda killed my son, I will accept consolation only after the departure of Ennahda…They are destroying our country and kill our children and want to turn Tunisia into a new Sudan.”

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