The Arab League plans to go to the UN General Assembly to seek approval of a new resolution on Syria, Saudi Arabia’s UN envoy said on Wednesday. Abdallah al-Mouallimi condemned the regime of Bashar Assad and blamed it for the ongoing violence. The new initiative by Arab nations comes after Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against the Syrian government. Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of interfering militarily, financially and politically in Syria and conspiring against international envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan.
Britain's security procedures ahead of the Olympics received a further blow when an 11-year-old boy caught a flight to Rome with no passport, ticket and no boarding pass. The child boarded at Manchester airport and was only discovered mid-flight. He avoided airline and security checks by blending in with another family. It couldn't come at a worse time, as thousands of people arrive for Friday's start of the Games. It follows a security contractor's 11th-hour pullout because it could not get enough staff.
Six people died when a helicopter crashed in south-east France on Wednesday, say officials. The civilian helicopter was carrying out a test flight deep in the Verdon Gorge, a popular hiking destination, when it went down. All six on board were employees of Eurocopter, the company which owned the aircraft. The exact causes of the accident are being investigated.
A second car bombing in a week has killed five police officers in Thailand's south. One officer was wounded, police said, blaming Muslim insurgents for Wednesday's ambush in Yala province. The bomb was hidden in a pick-up truck. The victims protected teachers, who are frequently targeted in the violence. But the police were not escorting teachers at the time they were attacked. On Friday, a bombing in Narathiwat province wounded several people when the region's Muslims were starting to honor the holy month of Ramadan.
The Palestinian economy is not yet strong enough to support a sovereign state, the World Bank said in a report published on Wednesday. “Economic sustainability cannot be based on foreign aid so it is critical for the Palestinian Authority (PA) to increase trade and spur private sector growth,” economist John Nasir said. The PA is facing its worst financial crisis since it was founded in 1994. Debts reached $1.5 billion with an immediate cash shortfall of $500 million, AFP reports. Saudi Arabia last week pledged an emergency $100-million donation after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed for help.
Four men charged with plotting an attack in Germany went on trial in the city of Dusseldorf on Wednesday. Prosecutors said the men, aged between 20 and 30, had intended to stage a “sensational terror attack.” The group, also accused of membership of Al-Qaeda, had reportedly not “decided on a specific target.” The ring leader, a Moroccan named as Abdeladim El-K, had allegedly trained at an Al-Qaeda camp in the Waziristan region of Pakistan in 2010, AP reports. He recruited three men he knew and gathered information on the security set-up at public buildings, airports and stations, prosecutors say.
The death toll from ethnic violence in northeast India rose to 38 Wednesday after four days of clashes. At least 170,000 villagers have fled from their homes in the remote state of Assam to relief camps and government buildings, AFP reports. Military personnel have been trying since Friday to quell the fighting between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers. They have competed for years in territorial disputes.
North Korean state TV has reported for the first time that the county’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, is married. Wednesday’s announcement followed wave of speculation about a mysterious woman who has appeared beside him at recent public events. Kim toured an amusement park with his wife, “Comrade Ri Sol-ju,” the North Korean announcer said. Japan's Yomiyuri daily assumed that Kim and his wife “may already have a daughter, born in 2010.” The short-haired brunette was first shown with the leader during a concert in Pyongyang on July 5.
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for laws protecting the rights of impoverished ethnic minorities in her first speech in parliament on Wednesday. She urged lawmakers “to enact necessary laws or amend laws to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities,” AP said. She supported a motion by a ruling-party lawmaker from the ethnic Shan state on upholding ethnic minority rights. Soaring poverty rates especially hit Chin, Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states. The Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi won her first seat in the parliament in an April by-election.
The decision to introduce an emergency situation after the devastating flood in Krymsk was fabricated, head of the Russian Investigative Committee Aleksandr Bastrykin said on Wednesday. The city’s administration issued the order on the morning of July 7, Bastrykin said. He added that no decision had been made during the night, when the flood hit. More than 170 people were killed in Russia’s southern Kuban territory. Some 29,000 people lost their property, 5,500 people lost part of theirs, and 1,198 houses were destroyed completely. People in the area say they were not alerted in time.
Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Wednesday that legislation permitting same-sex marriages would soon be introduced. The government’s plan has backing from the major Scottish political parties and follows a public consultation on the issue, AP said. When adopted, the measure will make Scotland the first part of the UK to allow same-sex marriages. UK officials are waiting for the results of the public consultation before taking similar steps.
Border agency guards who had threatened to strike for 24 hours over job cuts on the eve of the Olympic Games called off their action on Wednesday. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) includes immigration and passport workers at Heathrow airport. General Secretary Mark Serwotka said progress had been made in talks with the government. There is now no need to strike after a promise of 800 new jobs to be created in the UK Border Agency and 300 in passport offices, he said. The strike was aimed at “inflicting maximum pain” on the eve of the Olympics. The Home Office on Tuesday sought a High Court injunction to prevent the strike.
Syria's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates has defected to Qatar, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council (SNC) said Wednesday. Ambassador Abdelatif al-Dabbagh is now in Qatar, Mohammed Sarmini told Reuters. If confirmed, the statement makes al-Dabbagh the third senior diplomat to join the opposition. Syria's envoy to Cyprus Lamia al-Hariri has also defected to Qatar, SNC member Wael Merza said on Wednesday. Officials in Cyprus said they had no information on Hariri. Opposition sources say the diplomat left the mission in Nicosia on Tuesday, telling staff she was feeling unwell. Meanwhile, diplomats in Ankara claim that two more Syrian brigadier generals crossed into Turkey on Tuesday, bringing to 27 the number of generals who have defected.
Half of the United Nations observers in Syria have left the country, two mission members said on Wednesday. “One hundred and fifty observers left Syria Tuesday evening and Wednesday,” one observer told AFP on condition of anonymity. “They will not come back,” he said.
The organizing committee of the London 2012 Olympic Games has refused accreditation to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, the Russian State Duma first deputy speaker, Aleksandr Zhukov, said on Wednesday. Neither London Olympics Organizing Committee nor the Belarusian president’s press service has commented on the issue. Lukashenko heads the National Olympic Committee of Belarus. He asked this month the country’s Olympic team to bring home at least 25 medals, including five gold. Zhukov is the president of the Russian Olympic Committee.
Syrian General Manaf Tlass has made his first public appearance since defecting from the regime. Speaking on Al-Arabiya television on Tuesday, he called on Syrians to “unite... to serve a Syria after [President Bashar] al-Assad... and do the impossible, to ensure the unity of Syria, and to be sure to start building a new Syria.” Tlass said that “new Syria... should not be built on revenge, exclusion or monopoly,” AFP reports. The general defected on July 6. Tlass said he did not blame those troops who have not defected, describing those who “have not partaken in the killing” as the extension of the rebel Free Syrian Army.
Russia has received “firm assurances” from the Syrian government that Damascus’ chemical arsenal is “fully safeguarded,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Wednesday. He recalled that Syria has commitments not to use chemical and biological weapons as it has joined international agreements. However “it could not be ruled out” that stockpiles of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of the opposition groups, Gatilov told Itar-Tass. The international community should keep tracks of the issue, the diplomat stressed.
Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks across the country this week that killed and wounded hundreds of people. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) said in a statement posted on radical Islamist websites on Tuesday that it was behind the terror acts, Reuters reports. The group called the attacks targeting mostly Shiite Muslims the “Destroying the Walls” campaign. At least 116 people were killed and around 300 wounded in bomb and gun attacks on Monday. This has been by far the bloodiest day of violence since US troops withdrew in December.
Israel's foreign minister has warned his country will act immediately if it discovers Hezbollah militants are raiding Syria's chemical or biological weapons stocks. “For us, that's a casus belli, a red line,” Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Wednesday. The Israeli leadership fears that the Lebanese movement or other militants may size Syria’s arsenal in case the regime of Bashar al-Assad falls. However, Israeli military warns that an attack on Syrian chemical weapons depots could drag Israel into a broader war, AP said. Meanwhile, some Israeli officials said earlier this week the Syrian government is still “in full control” of all its weapons.
Pranab Mukherjee was sworn in Wednesday as India's 13th president during a parliamentary ceremony. The head of state is largely a ceremonial figure, but Mukherjee may play a key role in determining who forms the next government in the event of a hung parliament after elections in 2014. Mukherjee, 76, traveled to parliament on Wednesday in a bulletproof limo escorted by an honor guard on horseback and security jeeps, AP said. Mukherjee is a senior figure in the Congress Party. He resigned his post as finance minister to run for president, and was elected last week by national and state lawmakers.
Turkey's border gates with Syria will be closed on Wednesday, Turkish Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici has said. His statement was broadcast by NTV television. The move comes after Syrian rebels seized control of several border gates along the frontier with Turkey during the uprising, Reuters reports. Other sources did not immediately confirm the decision to close borders.
France and Britain have signed two agreements for further cooperation on the use of military drones, AFP reports. British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian met in London on Tuesday to agree closer military ties. Under the first deal France will cooperate with Britain on the Watchkeeper tactical unmanned air system, which provides British armed forces with surveillance and reconnaissance. The second agreement represented the first phase of a collaborative "demonstration program" for a Future Combat Air System (FCAS), another unmanned air system, to be completed between 2030 and 2040, the ministers said. According to Le Drian’s aide, Britain and France are soon to make an announcement on plans to jointly develop medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles.
Ratings agency Moody's lowered the outlook on the EU's bailout fund from stable to negative on Tuesday. Moody’s maintained the European Financial Stability Facility’s triple-A rating but said it had lowered the outlook due to changes in outlooks on Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. On Monday the ratings agency downgraded these countries' outlook from stable to negative. "Risks that would negatively affect the creditworthiness of the EFSF program leading to a downgrade of the EFSF's rating would include a deterioration in the creditworthiness of the participating euro area member states," Moody's said in a statement on Tuesday. "Conversely, the outlook on the EFSF's ratings could return to stable if the outlooks on the ratings of Aaa countries with large EFSF contribution keys, i.e. Germany, France and the Netherlands, were moved to stable."
A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake has hit Indonesia’s Aceh province on Wednesday morning, the US Geological Survey reports. There have been no immediate reports of casualties or damage. The epicenter of the tremor was located at a depth of 45.9 km near Simeulue Island, 28 km north-west of the town of Sinabang. Parts of Indonesia are located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which experiences frequent earthquakes.