World Wrap Daily briefing on top international stories from Wed, 28 May 2014 12:00:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 China eases one-child policy for first time in decades Fri, 15 Nov 2013 18:02:56 +0000 China announces major reforms, Syria peace talks may favor Assad’s rule, and Philippines death toll rises as Aquino fights for his reputation. Today is Friday, November 15, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

China’s President Xi Jinping stands next to a Chinese national flag during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Sibling solution. Chinese officials plan to alter the one-child law for the first time in nearly 30 years. The revision could be a step towards abolishing the policy altogether, though its demographic effect may be relatively small:

Wang Guangzhou, a demographer from top government think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, estimated the new policy would affect 30 million women of child-bearing age In a country which has nearly 1.4 billion people. Although it is known internationally as the one-child policy, China’s rules governing family planning are more complicated. Under current rules, urban couples are permitted a second child if both parents do not have siblings and rural couples are allowed to have two children if their first-born is a girl.

In addition to skewing the gender ratio in favor of male children, the restrictive policy hurts the economy by decreasing the Chinese labor pool. Studies show that, under the current one-child system, the country’s labor force will begin to decline at a rate of roughly 10 million per year in 2025, while the elderly population will continue to grow. In July, China passed a law forcing children to visit their elderly parents, in a possible bid to ease the state’s responsibility for elderly care. Economic reforms include allowing the market to set fuel, electricity, and other prices, calming initial fears that  President Xi Jinping would fail to limit the power of state-owned firms. The document also reiterated Xi’s commitment to closing China’s controversial labor camps, a move sources previously said was met with resistance by Xi’s colleagues.

Assad alliance. As world leaders push for a second, much-delayed round of peace talks in Geneva, analysts expect the discussion to favor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power.

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad demonstrate combat movement during a graduation ceremony for a new batch of special forces at an unknown location, in this handout picture provided by Syria’s national news agency SANA, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

According to a member of the Syrian opposition, Western leaders are shifting “from an Arab Spring narrative to a counter-terrorism narrative,” adding that the West sees Syria as “a source of terrorist recruits that will come back to Europe and America.” Russia fears that local militants fighting in Syria will bring the violence home, and countries bordering Syria are concerned over spillover from the conflict.

Typhoon toll rises. Typhoon Haiyan has killed more than 4,000 people in the Philippines according to the country’s official toll, which was revised upward by roughly 2,000 since last reported on Thursday.

A displaced man scavenges through debris, in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan, for useful item in Tacloban, November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hundreds of international aid workers set up makeshift hospitals and  began delivering supplies to survivors, but shortages remain. Philippines President Benigno Aquino’s is under fire for mishandling the disaster. Analysts predict that the massive devastation will harm his political chances in the future, and prevent him from completing planned economic reforms. Click through for updates and information on how to help.

Nota Bene: Venezuelan women seek surgery to remove liquid silicone, motor oil, and other substances they had injected in pursuit of beauty.


Deactivating giving – Reuters columnist Ian Bremmer explains why China’s Philippines aid is so paltry. (Reuters)

Food revolution – Grasshopper taco, lab-grown burger, and Plumpy’Nut could change the world. (Time)

Tech takeoff – Europe eases laws regulating gadget use during flights. (BBC)

Dial H2O – In a small town in England, an aquarium masquerades as a phone booth. (The Atlantic Cities)

Bribe ballet – A U.S. dancer quits Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet over alleged bribery. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Bill Gates implores Norway to spend more of its $800 billion oil fund in Africa and Asia.
  • Italy’s Berlusconi struggles to keep party united.
  • Twelve migrants drown off Greek coast after boat capsizes.
  • Libyan television reports six deaths in Tripoli clashes.
  • EU says Spanish controls at Gibraltar border do not break law.
]]> 1
Russian militants fight in Syria, raise fears back home Thu, 14 Nov 2013 18:36:21 +0000 Moscow fears return of militants from Syria, Bangladeshi workers get a raise but protests go on, and Philippines president blasted over typhoon reaction. Today is Thursday, November 14, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Local resident Dzhabrail Magomedov, who studied at a religious school in Damascus, looks on in Novosasitli village in the Dagestan region, September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji

Militants’ return. Russian officials fear that locally-born Islamist militants, fighting in Syria alongside rebel troops, may return home to join a violent movement for an independent Islamic state. Deadly clashes between militants and law enforcement are a near-daily occurrence in the North Caucasus region, where some residents abide by Sharia law. Moscow reports that hundreds of Russians are now fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Russian ally. Some Russian militants who joined troops in Syria fought for Chechen independence in the 1990s, repurposing their training for a new battle:

Since Putin rose to power 13 years ago and crushed a Chechen separatist revolt, he has said he would not allow the Caucasus provinces to split from Russia. But the nationalist cause that inspired Chechens to revolt after collapse of the Soviet Union has mutated into an Islamic one that spread to nearby Caucasus mountain lands. Defeated in Chechnya, rebels now launch near-daily attacks in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria. Today, the ranks of fighters are filled by youths disillusioned by police brutality, joblessness, corruption and the perceived persecution of religious conservatives.

Russia will host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, and has renewed anti-terrorism laws in preparation for the event. This summer, insurgent leader Doku Umarov called for “maximum force” during the Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed plans for a stalled peace conference and the country’s chemical weapons disarmament process with Assad. The opposition has insisted Assad’s removal be a prerequisite for peace negotiations.

A view of a cemetery, where people including militants killed by security forces are buried, on the suburbs of Makhachkala, October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji

Wage war. Bangladeshi garment workers protested on Thursday, saying the 77 percent minimum raise proposed by their employers was not enough. The hike would increase the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $68, a figure that would keep Bangladesh’s minimum wage the lowest in the world.

A policeman loads his gun during a clash with garment factory workers in Ashulia, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Violent protests have shuttered more than 100 clothing factories this week. Bangladesh’s lucrative garment industry was put under an international spotlight following the death of 1,130 people, mostly women, killed in the April collapse of a building housing several garment factories.

Aquino under fire. Philippines President Benigno Aquino faces criticism over his response to – and preparation for – the typhoon that devastated his country over the weekend, as foreign aircraft begin to deliver aid and ravaged towns start to bury their dead.

Remnants of a wall that was once part of a building of the Philippine Air Force is seen damaged in the aftermath of super typhoon Haiyan at the Tacloban airport, November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Aquino said casualties were avoided by evacuations, but victims report they did not receive sufficient warning of the tsunami-like wall of water. Philippines officiasl report 2,357 confirmed deaths, but aid workers expect the number of casualties to rise. According to the United Nations, 544,600 people were displaced by the storm and nearly 12 percent of the population was affected. Click through for an interactive chart showing the damage, and information on how to help survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.

Nota Bene: Disgraced German ex-president Christian Wulff stands trial for corruption.


Duke of Conehead – Glasgow saves a beloved statue. (The Atlantic Cities)

Book city – Krakow earns its literary accolades. (The Guardian)

Rock record – Pink Star diamond sets the record for most expensive gem. (BBC)

Prayer pair – Jews and Muslims may share Israel’s al-Aqsa Mosque. (Al Jazeera)

Oh, Canada – Canadians are not interested in a merger with the U.S. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

From the File:

  • Assad allies profit from lucrative food trade.
  • Revival of Islamists in Mali tests French, U.N. nerve.
  • Nasrallah says Hezbollah will stay in Syria as long as needed.
  • Egypt’s Sisi sees new defense cooperation with Russia.
  • Maduro vows no let-up in Venezuela business crackdown.
]]> 1
Ayatollah Khamenei’s vast funds Wed, 13 Nov 2013 18:34:59 +0000 Iranian officials manipulate laws to maintain Ayatollah’s assets, China’s plenary communique fails to impress market, and looting starts as victims struggle to survive in typhoon-torn Philippines. Today is Wednesday, November 13, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

[yospace_video ratio=”4:3″]70105892[/yospace_video]

Bending the rules. In his time as Iranian supreme leader, Ali Ayatollah Khamenei oversaw the massive expansion of Setad – a property-seizing firm founded in 1989 as a temporary way for the Ayatollah to appropriate assets from “enemies of the state” for charity. Under Khamenei, Setad grew to a $95 billion operation that secured his economic power, often using suspect means:

To make Setad’s asset acquisitions possible, governments under Khamenei’s watch systematically legitimized the practice of confiscation and gave the organization control over much of the seized wealth, a Reuters investigation has found. The supreme leader, judges and parliament over the years have issued a series of bureaucratic edicts, constitutional interpretations and judicial decisions bolstering Setad. The most recent of these declarations came in June, just after the election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. The thinking behind this painstaking legal effort is unclear… the legal machinations served several purposes. The decrees enabled Setad to beat back rival institutions seeking to take property in the name of the supreme leader. A ruling on the constitutionality of privatizations smoothed Setad’s expansion beyond real estate and into owning and investing in companies.

Though Khamenei has said he welcomes oversight, Setad’s growth and practice tell a different story. According to a six-month Reuters investigative report, Setad has seized land from minority Baha’is and others, and ensured that Khamenei can avoid Western nation-backed sanctions.

Underwhelmed. China’s markets were not impressed by the communique that emerged from a secret four-day reform-setting meeting. Its attendees, members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, did not propose altering a financial system that prioritizes state-owned firms, but said that the market should have a “decisive” role in economic growth.

[yospace_video ratio=”4:3″]72395419[/yospace_video]

China reform watchers will have to wait.

The committee promised results by 2020. A more detailed account of the meeting’s conclusions is supposed to appear next week. The meeting generally sets reform goals for the current administration, and local media were expecting a more structured plan to emerge.

Typhoon looting. Typhoon Haiyan is prompting panic in survivors who need food, water, and medicine. Looting turned deadly on Wednesday as victims ransacked shops and warehouses for supplies.

[yospace_video ratio=”16:9″]72420996[/yospace_video]

Aid to Typhoon-hit Philippines arrives as looting turns deadly.

Officials have confirmed 2,275 deaths and 84 missing, contradicting earlier claims by local officials that estimated the death toll at about 10,000. But aid workers think the lower, official numbers might not be accurate. “Probably it will be higher because numbers are just coming in. Many of the areas we cannot access,” said Secretary General of the Philippine Red Cross Gwendolyn Pang. The Red Cross estimates that 22,000 are missing. Click through for live updates, more images, and information on how to help the victims.

Nota Bene: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reports that his peace talks delegation has resigned.


Carbon investment – Switzerland proposes monthly paycheck for every living Swiss. (New York Times Magazine)

Fit ride free – Moscow now offers free subway rides to any passenger who does 30 squats. (Wall Street Journal)

Universally misunderstood – Huh? means huh? in every language. (The Atlantic)

Craft call – Domestic disturbance call placed over couple building IKEA furniture. (Time)

Catacomb – Oldest big cat fossil found in Tibet. (BBC)

From the File:

  • IAEA reports no radical change in Iran’s nuclear program.
  • Syrian Kurds make fresh military gains after declaring self-rule.
  • Sectarian divisions deepen in Yemen.
  • Deflation threat in Europe may prompt investment rethink.
  • Japan passes law to launch reform of electricity sector.
]]> 0
Ayatollah’s assets protected him from sanctions squeeze Tue, 12 Nov 2013 18:02:40 +0000 Khamenei’s corporation eased sanctions strain, Iran blames nuclear impasse on Western leaders, and China’s meager Philippines aid could further harm ties with Southeast Asia. Today is Tuesday, November 12, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with high-ranking officials in Tehran, August 31, 2011. REUTERS/

Spotlight: Iran → Sanctions sidestep. A six-month Reuters investigation found that Setad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Khamenei’s land-grab firm, has provided the leader with the economic backing needed to remain in control. Setad has also been key in allowing Iran to maintain independence despite tough Western sanctions, and has managed to avoid restrictions:

In July 2010, the European Union issued a 12-page list of Iranian individuals and entities it was sanctioning. Among them: Mohammad Mokhber, president of Setad, which the EU described as “an investment fund linked to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.” Mokhber and the others were cited for alleged links to Iran’s nuclear or missile programs, but the EU gave no further details. The action didn’t target Setad itself. The broader sanctions effort grew tougher. That same month, Washington enacted its strictest measures so far, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which targeted Iran’s oil and gas sector. The Act, and a series of EU and U.S. sanctions over the following two years, increased pressure on Iran, in particular its energy exports and its banks. Growth slowed to 3 percent in 2011, and the economy shrank 1.9 percent in 2012. Oil exports have fallen by around 60 percent in the past two years as European and most Asian buyers reduced imports because of U.S. and EU sanctions. Iran now earns around $100 million from oil sales a day, down from $250 million two years ago. Setad itself, however, managed to evade the tightening noose. In October 2012, without any explanation, the EU removed Mokhber from its sanctions list.

In June of last year, the U.S. sanctioned Setad and several companies it oversees. Though an official from the U.S. Treasury department told a Senate committee that Khamenei controls Setad, the Ayatollah was not specifically targeted because the U.S. did not want to be seen as motivated by regime change. Explore Setad’s corporate holdings in an interactive chart, and click through for parts one and two of the special report on the Ayatollah’s assets. Stay tuned for part three tomorrow.

Spotlight: Iran → Geneva flop. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Western leaders for the impasse during last week’s nuclear negotiations in Geneva, contradicting Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that Iran held up proceedings. On Monday, Kerry said that major powers had drafted a proposal over the weekend: “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at particular moment.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves after a news conference following nuclear talks in Geneva, November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

On Twitter, Zarif responded: “Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of U.S. draft Thursday night?” Russia agreed that it was not Iran’s fault that representatives from France, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, China, and Russia could not agree over the future of Iran’s disputed nuclear program with representatives from that country. Hopes were high for the Geneva meeting, which followed a warming of ties between Tehran and Washington.

Beijing backlash. China’s relatively meager offering of aid to the super typhoon Haiyan-devastated Philippines could harm any chance of goodwill between Beijing and Southeast Asia, long engaged in a dispute over claims to the South China Sea.

Residents cover their noses as they walk past devastated houses after super typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco. See more images here

China has promised $100,000 in aid to the Philippines – a paltry commitment compared to Japan’s $10 million and relief team, or Australia’s $9.6 million donation. Manila and Beijing have sparred over access to the energy-rich region. Click here for up-to-date information on the aftermath of the storm that left an estimated 10,000 people dead, and here to learn how to help Haiyan’s survivors.

Nota Bene:  The Japanese government is completing plans to borrow another $30 billion towards cleaning up Fukushima.


“Let’s get it on” – Toronto Mayor Rob Ford prepares to face motion urging him to take a leave. (The Star)

Fructose fallacy –  Mexican Coke is more American than you may think. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Dope drive – The leader of Liberia’s presidential motorcade is arrested for smuggling 654 pounds of marijuana in an official vehicle. (BBC)

Bridesmaid brigade – Sri Lankan couple breaks record for most bridesmaids in a wedding party. (Huffington Post)

Rice regrets – Thailand admits its rice subsidy program may have been a mistake. (Quartz)

From the File:

  • Western-backed Syrian opposition names cabinet for rebel areas.
  • Pro-Mursi students, police, residents clash at Egyptian university.
  • China vows ‘decisive’ role for markets, results by 2020.
  • Islamic Jihad grows in Gaza’s shadow.
  • Europeans and Americans oppose spying on allies, according to poll.
]]> 0
Typhoon leaves an estimated 10,000 dead, and survivors begging for help Mon, 11 Nov 2013 18:41:36 +0000 Super typhoon survivors seek aid, Khamenei’s economic power comes from property seizures, and Fukushima residents face the prospect of never going home. Today is Monday, November 11, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

[yospace_video ratio=”16:9″]72261716[/yospace_video]

Survivors’ plight. Victims of typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 10,000 people and left whole towns isolated from help, struggle to find food, water, and medicine after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded devastated the Philippines this weekend:

Three days after the typhoon made landfall, residents of Tacloban told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water, revealing a city that had been hopelessly unprepared for a storm of Haiyan’s almost unprecedented power. Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

According to the U.N., more than 600,000 people have been displaced by the storm. Roughly 2,000 people are missing in Basey, a seaside town destroyed by Haiyan. Tacloban, which was hit hard by the storm on Friday, reported a mass grave containing 300-500 bodies, the U.N. said. Three military transport planes are providing supplies to and evacuating survivors from Tacloban. Several countries are sending funds, personnel, and supplies to the Philippines for as aid. Officials expect the death toll to rise once access to remote areas is reestablished. Click here for live coverage of the storm’s aftermathhere for aerial shots of the destruction and here for information on how to help.

A man takes a break from salvaging reusable woods from his damaged house after super Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in Cebu Province, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Charlie Saceda.

Residents walk past a cargo ship washed ashore four days after super typhoon Haiyan hit Anibong town, Tacloban city, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Khamenei’s capital.  Setad, an Iranian company that manages and sells property on order from the Imam, is one of the most powerful firms in Iran – and a key means for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to maintain power.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits next to a portrait of late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini while taking part in a television live programme in Tehran on the occasion of the Iranian New Year, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/

The company seized thousands of properties from Iranian citizens, including members of the historically persecuted Baha’ai minority. According to the investigation, Setad’s assets are worth $95 billion – 40 percent more than Iran’s total 2012 oil exports. Click through to read the first of a three-part report on the assets of the Ayatollah.

Long way home. Fukushima evacuees are anxious to go back home, but would settle for acknowledgement from the government that some may never return. Japanese lawmakers on Monday said the government should scale back cleanup goals.

Norio Horiuchi, an evacuee from the town of Tomioka speaks during an interview with Reuters in his unit in a temporary housing estate, where 200 former Tomioka town residents also have been evacuated to, in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, November 8, 2013.  REUTERS/Sophie Knight

The government may offer compensation to residents whose homes were in the most contaminated regions and will not be able to return. So far, 1,539 displaced Fukushima residents have died due to illness associated with prolonged evacuation. Japan is dealing with fallout from the faulty nuclear plant, which was wrecked by earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and is currently leaking nuclear radiation.

Nota Bene: The chief financier of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network was killed in Islamabad.


Gold no-go – Romania thwarts a massive Canadian gold mining plan. (Associated Press)

Dreamscapes – A photographer captures images of Europe’s forgotten nuclear bunkers and hippodromes. (The Atlantic Cities)

Painful protest – A naked artist is detained after nailing his scrotum to Red Square. (BBC)

Shopping police – Venezuelan soldiers occupy stores accused of price gouging. (New York Times)

Fishy solution – An EU ban on discarding edible fish may not be all that helpful. (The Guardian)

From the File:

  • Exclusive: West scorns Assad ‘shopping list for chemical envoys.’
  • Peace in Congo remains a distant prospect despite rebel defeat.
  • Syria opposition accepts peace talks, says Assad must go.
  • Storm kills about 100 in Somalia’s Puntland region.
  • Kerry sees nuclear deal with Iran as diplomacy warms.
]]> 0
Typhoon Haiyan: The strongest ever? Fri, 08 Nov 2013 17:49:20 +0000 Super typhoon Haiyan slams into the Philippines, Snowden asked unwitting co-workers for passwords to access secret documents, and Syria to miss chemical disarmament deadline. Today is Friday, November 8, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

[yospace_video ratio=”16:9″]72109873[/yospace_video]

Typhoon Haiyan slams Philippines central islands. No reporter narration.

Haiyan havoc. Typhoon Haiyan – this year’s most powerful typhoon and possibly the strongest ever to reach land – hit the Philippines, forcing more than one million to evacuate, injuring seven and killing at least three people:

Power and communications in the three large islands of Samar, Leyte and Bohol were almost completely down but authorities promised to restore them within 24 hours. Officials warned that more than 12 million people were at risk, including residents of Cebu City, which has a population of about 2.5 million, and areas still reeling from a deadly 2011 storm and a 7.2-magnitude quake last month.

Nearly 450 domestic and eight international flights were suspended due to the storm. According to the Philippines’ state weather bureau, Haiyan should pass the Philippines on Saturday and head over the South China Sea. If it hits Vietnam, it could be the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the country. Vietnamese officials have already started evacuating residents, the Voice of Vietnam radio reports. Below, residents struggle against Haiyan winds and rain. View more images here, and charts assessing the scope of the storm here.

Girls ride on bicycles as they are splashed with water from strong waves in a coastal village as Typhoon Haiyan battered Bayog town in Los Banos, Laguna, south of Manila, November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Charlie Saceda

Residents walk along the coastal village while strong winds from Typhoon Haiyan battered Bayog town in Los Banos, Laguna, south of Manila on November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Charlie Saceda

Password, please. Wanted NSA leaker Edward Snowden asked colleagues for their login information to access some of the classified documents he showed to the media, sources report. Touting his position as computer systems administrator, Snowden reportedly convinced between 20 and 25 agents that he needed their password and credentials to do his job. A source revealed to Reuters that the employees have been identified and removed from their posts, but did not know whether they were fired. The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recently approved a bill that would set aside funds towards new software that could prevent future leaks of classified material.

Syria disarmament snag. The U.S. and Russia presented a draft timetable to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) this week which predicted that Syria’s chemical weapons won’t be destroyed until the end of next year – roughly six months past the original deadline set by their chemical weapons disarmament plan for the country.

A Free Syrian Army fighter carries handcuffs as he walks along the rubble of damaged buildings in Aleppo’s Salaheddine neighborhood, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat

The draft calls for the removal of most chemical arms by December 31 of this year, and for facilities to be destroyed by the beginning of March 2014. It is not yet clear where the weapons will be taken and destroyed upon removal from Syria. So far, Syria has met the disarmament agreement’s deadlines.

Nota Bene: Tepco will double Fukushima contract workers pay following criticism.


E-solution – Kenya launches electronic service to pay for government services and avoid bureaucracy. (BBC)

‘I’ll make it anywhere’ – South Africa might get a New York City of it’s own. (The Atlantic)

Car bots – An English town could see driverless cars by 2017. (The Guardian)

Game change – The future of chess may lie with a a 22-year-old player. (New York Times)

Auto truce – Chinese consumers start buying Japanese cars again. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

From the File:

  • How big formula bought China.
  • Standard & Poor’s lowers France’s credit rating.
  • Arab Spring fallout fuels Mediterranean smuggling.
  • Egypt to hold parliamentary elections in early 2014.
  • Congo to sign peace deal with M23 rebels.
]]> 0
Xi Jinping’s power cuts Thu, 07 Nov 2013 17:22:26 +0000 Xi’s inability to close labor camps indicates limits to his political clout, Russia scales back its economic growth prediction, and world powers meet with Iran to discuss its nuclear program. Today is Thursday, November 7, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

China’s President Xi Jinping lets Jordan’s King Abdullah (not pictured) leave first after a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Feng Li/Pool

Failure to launch. Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected to usher in reforms when he took office last year, has so far failed to shutter China’s labor camps in an indication of weakness:

Despite holding the three top posts in the country – president, party chief and head of the military – [Xi] is not as strong as he seems, said at least half a dozen sources in the party and government. His two immediate predecessors as president, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, wield considerable clout through allies and protégés they promoted, as do powerful factions within the Communist Party. Xi must keep the two former presidents on his side, but this means an erosion of his power… despite being obstructed on major political and social change, Xi has implemented considerable economic reform in recent months – on interest rate policy, the banking system and converting Shanghai into a free trade zone – in the face of opposition from powerful ministries and state banks, two of the sources said. However, failure to address some of the political and social ills in China – including regional tensions, the rich-poor gap, corruption and degradation of the environment – could affect stability.

Last week, a car drove into a crowd and burst into flames in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five including three in the vehicle. China blamed the attack on members of the Xinjiang region’s Muslim minority, calling it part of a holy war against the country. Many Uighur Muslims are upset by official controls on their culture and religion, despite official claims that the group is not oppressed by Chinese policy. Chinese citizens also struggle with housing prices which continue to rise despite a four-year government effort to stabilize rates – perhaps because local governments rely on revenue from property sales for income. Xi has continued cracking down on corruption, currently targeting a top executive in the shipping industry, following the high-profile sentencing of ousted politician Bo Xilai. The fate of Xi’s plans for reform plans will likely be determined during the Communist party’s Central Committee’s third plenum meeting from November 9 to 12, when Chinese leaders determine their term agendas. Below, Chinese officials target corruption.

Men look at a screen displaying a picture of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai standing trial on the website of a court’s microblog, in Jinan, Shandong province, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song

Yang Dacai, a former provincial official, listens to a verdict at a court in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

Putin backtrack. Russia lowered its growth expectations on Thursday, admitting in public for the first time that its economy would trail behind global growth over the next twenty years. According to Russia’s Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, Russia’s economy will grow 2.5 percent on average in that time period, compared to 5.2 percent average growth in Brazil, China, India, and South Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on before an award ceremony to mark National Unity Day at the Kremlin in Moscow, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool

The revision could cost Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has promised to make Russia one of the top five economies by 2020, credibility and power in the future. In an effort to increase patriotism among young people, Putin today asked parliament to pass a law to increase displays of Russia’s flag.

Nuclear negotiations. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with representatives of six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain – in Geneva to discuss his country’s contentious nuclear program, calling the negotiations “tough,” but adding that “the talks went well.” He added, “I’m hopeful that we can move forward.”

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) leaves with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a photo opportunity before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The leaders seek a “first step” towards a solution over the nuclear dispute. Western powers fear that Iran is developing nuclear capabilities but Iran maintains it is using its nuclear program for energy and science alone. Reuters learned that Iran has offered to ship crude oil to India for free, in a sign that Western sanctions on Iran have taken a toll. Talks continue through tomorrow.

Nota Bene: International Space Station Expedition Crew 38/39 launches into space, Olympic torch in tow. Check out Reuters outer space live blog here.


Murderers into martyrs – Reuters columnist David Rohde argues that covert drone strikes are counterproductive. (Reuters)

Femme retail – Voluptuous Venezuelan mannequins reflect plastic surgery trend. (New York Times)

Meteoric warning –  Fireball that exploded over Russian city could be a sign of greater risk from meteors. (Associated Press)

Christmas cuts – Spain has cut holiday spending by over 40 percent over the past five years. (Quartz)

Biker ban – Liberia forces hundreds to walk to work with motorcycle taxi ban. (BBC)

Full-time students – French children might have to start going to school on Wednesdays. (Los Angeles Times)

From the File:

  • Pakistani Taliban elect hardline ‘Mullah Radio’ as new chief.
  • British Muslim leader sentenced to death says Bangladesh trial ‘farcical.’
  • Swiss forensic experts to reveal findings on Arafat poison case on Thursday.
  • Kerry says ‘final status’ Israel-Palestine deal necessary.
  • Nigeria says it needs Cameroon’s help to fight Boko Haram Islamist militants.
]]> 0
Libyan wheat importers face uncertainty Wed, 06 Nov 2013 17:20:24 +0000 Chaos in Libya threatens wheat imports, Assad gunmen steal from Damascus residents, and Toronto mayor admits to using crack cocaine. Today is Wednesday, November 6, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

A customer inspects freshly-baked bread in a bakery in Tripoli, October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

Wheat woes. Libya’s unstable government, plagued by corruption and disorder since the Western-backed ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, is threatening importers’ ability to pay for wheat:

Global grain traders say big Libyan buyers are now having difficulty arranging import deals. Exporters abroad are worried about being paid on time, and about the additional risks of unloading ships in chaotic ports where armed militia members run rampant. The chairman of Matahan Tripoli, which buys wheat on international markets and sells flour and other processed foods to the state’s subsidized distribution system, said the government owed it $96.7 million…Without the state funds, the formerly state-owned milling firm would have to delay an order of 50,000 tonnes of wheat, intended to help feed the capital for three months, Idris said.

Libya may have to walk back its generous subsidy program to cut costs. According to data from the International Grains Council, 1.7 million tonnes of wheat are expected to be imported into Libya this year – a slight drop from last year’s 1.8 million tonnes, which breaks down to nearly six kilos per person per week. Last week, local protesters demanding a greater share of the oil wealth and blocking western oil fields for days refused to negotiate with the government, exacerbating the country’s oil crisis. On Tuesday, militias fought in Tripoli in one of the worst clashes in the capital city in weeks. The government now relies on militia soldiers for protection, rather than the weaker army. Last month, militia forces freed Libya’s prime minister after he was briefly abducted by a rival militia group. See more scenes of life in Libya below:

Anti-government protesters demonstrate against bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, November 3, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Men attempt to move other vehicles to keep them from catching fire after a car bomb blast near a school where a training workshop for municipal council elections was being held in Benghazi, October 26, 2013. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

State-sanctioned stealing. Damascus residents complain that militia forces serving Syrian President Bashar al- Assad are stealing their valuables, and that local police officers refuse to investigate. Militias called Popular Committees grant each new member a monthly stipend, Kalashnikov rifle, and a mandate to join vigilante missions with little oversight, transforming even the government-controlled capital into a lawless area.

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad hold up their weapons and erect a Syrian national flag at the village of al-Azizieh, on the northern edge of Safira, after capturing it from rebels, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

On Wednesday, a bomb killed eight people and wounded 50 in central Damascus, according to Syria’s state media. Syrian peace talks slated for this month are stalled by Washington and Moscow’s inability to agree on whether Iran should attend the talks, and who would represent the Syrian rebel movement.

Crack confession. On Tuesday, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack during his tenure but said he will stay in office and run for reelection next year. “Yes I have smoked crack cocaine… Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago,” he said.

Nic Bibassis from Toronto holds a sign as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (not seen) attends his weekly radio show at News Talk 1010 in Toronto November 3, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill. See more images of the scandal here.

A poll taken after Toronto’s police chief confirmed the existence of the video showing the mayor smoking crack put Ford’s approval level at 44 percent – a 5-point jump from an earlier count. Support for Ford in City Hall, however, has taken a hit. City Councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong said he would ask the mayor to take a leave of absence, and one motion would restrict Ford’s powers in office.

Nota Bene: Muslim Brotherhood fail to overturn ban by Egyptian court.


Moo money – Cow insurance reassures pastoral Kenyans. (Al Jazeera)

Cruise control – Italy will limit the number of cruise ships that pass through Venice. (BBC)

Traveling trash – Debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami is heading towards America’s West Coast. (Quartz)

Merry Maduro – Venezuela’s president declares early Christmas. (Time)

Underground show – Parisian musicians vie to perform for commuters. (New York Times)

From the File:

  • Kerry meets Israeli, Palestinian leaders over troubled peace process.
  • Berlusconi says his kids feel persecuted like Jews by Hitler.
  • Dutch ask sea tribunal to demand Russia free Greenpeace activists.
  • Colombia government, rebels announce peace talks progress.
  • Bodies of seven kidnapped Afghans found with signs of torture: officials.
]]> 0
Syria destroys chemical weapons facilities on schedule Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:53:06 +0000 Syria meets its first disarmament deadline, Putin cracks down on Salafists ahead of Winter Olympics, and Maduro mulls Venezuela’s motorcycle problem. Today is spooky Thursday, October 31, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, the newly appointed Special Coordinator of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations speaks to the media after meeting Syrian officials in Damascus, October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Disarmament deadline met. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports that Syria has destroyed or made inoperable all facilities used to mix and produce chemical arms, meeting a November 1 deadline that is part of Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament agreement:

The next deadline is November 15, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions. Under a Russian-American brokered deal, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. It was the world’s deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein’s forces used poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago. “This was a major milestone in the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program,” Ralf Trapp, an independent chemical weapons disarmament specialist, said.

The inspections team investigated 21 of 23 sites, skipping two that were too dangerous to check, but noting that the weapons there had been moved to sites that they were able to visit. Under the agreement, Syria must destroy its chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014. Diplomatic sources reported that long-delayed peace talks to discuss a solution to Syria’s civil war are likely to be stalled again. The talks, initially proposed in May, were to be held in Geneva on November 23 but now could take place up to a month later. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is subject to sanctions by the United States, but is able to reach global markets and get access to food, arms and oil via Russian banks. The Kremlin has remained Assad’s ally, and clashes between Russian and Western leaders over Assad’s future in Syria have contributed to delaying the peace conference. Below, OPCW inspectors train in Germany:

Inspectors of the OPCW look after mock victims after an explosion during a training scenario at the United Nations training center at the German Bundeswehr barracks in Wildflecken, October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Sochi safety crackdown. Russian officials are clamping down on an Islamist insurgency in Dagestan ahead of the Sochi Olympics in February, moving away from previous attempts at dialogue with Salafist Muslims.

Abdurakhim Magomedov, a Salafi preacher who ran a woman’s madrassa, speaks during an interview inside his house in Novosasitli village in the Dagestan region, September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Ilyas Hajji

According to locals in the North Caucasus, Russian officials have been taking saliva samples from conservative Muslim women to be able to identify their body parts in a suicide attack. An October 21 suicide bombing that killed six people in a major city north of Sochi was blamed on a Dagestan woman, and an October 25 ruling by parliament increases punishment for militant attacks by holding the attacker’s relatives responsible for paying damages. The Kremlin dismissed Dagestan’s leader in January, and has since walked back his flexible religious policies which allowed Salafi leaders to open religious schools and set up rehabilitation programs for rebels. Some fear the crackdown may backfire by prompting an increase in violent attacks.

Maduro’s Motorizado problem. Hordes of Venezuelan motorcyclists, called “motorizados,” are credited with providing quick, cheap transport in gridlocked roads and blamed for increasing violent incidents and road accidents in the country, presenting a problem for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Motorcycle taxi drivers wait for customers in Caracas, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva.

The government plans to meet with motorizado groups in order to agree on basic road rules and to propose laws that could ban late-night driving, block motorcycles from freeways and implement parking restrictions. The number of motorcycles in Venezuela increased sharply over the last 10 years thanks to Chavez-era deals with China.

Nota bene: U.S. spy chiefs defend surveillance by saying Europeans were complicit.


Happiness branch – Venezuela establishes a Vice-Ministry for Supreme Social Happiness of the People. (Foreign Policy)

Move over, Obama – Forbes names Putin the most powerful man of 2013. (Forbes)

Booze brink – We are facing a global wine shortage. (BBC)

Poverty pull – Tourists flock to Brazil’s slums. (Newsweek)

Back to the future – Germany’s bike of the future looks kind of old school. (The Atlantic Cities)

From the File:

  • More than 80 migrants found dead in Sahara after failed crossing.
  • Khmer Rouge duo deny ‘Killing Fields’ role as case nears end.
  • Czech leader back in talks to form government.
  • Zimbabwe court scraps controversial Mugabe insult law.
  • China state media calls for stern action after Tiananmen attack.
]]> 0
Syria peace talks set to stall again Wed, 30 Oct 2013 16:24:14 +0000 Sources say “Geneva 2” Syria peace talks are likely to be postponed, French hostages return home, and Russia denies spying on G20 delegates. Today is Wednesday, October 30, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

United Nations Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (L) leaves a hotel while on his way to meet Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian capital Damascus, October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Peace talks stall? Syrian peace talks slated for November 23 are likely to be delayed, according to Arab and Western officials. The conference was first proposed in May and has since been held up by disagreements between Western and Russian leaders and over who would be present at the negotiations table. Now, similar issues could cause a fresh setback:

A main point of contention, [an official involved in preparing for the talks] said, is the role of the Western-backed opposition coalition – an issue which has flared up since a meeting in London last week of Western and Gulf Arab countries opposed to Assad. They announced that the Geneva negotiations should be between a “single delegation of the Syrian regime and a single delegation of the opposition, of which the Syrian National Coalition should be the heart and lead, as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Russia sees the coalition as just one part of the opposition and has suggested that several delegations, including Damascus-based figures tolerated by the government, could represent President Bashar al-Assad’s foes… A communique at the end of the London meeting also said Geneva would aim to establish a transitional government by which time “Assad and his close associates with blood on their hands will have no role in Syria.” “The Russians are furious at the strong stance taken in London and that the communiqué went a long way towards satisfying the demands of the coalition,” a Western official said.

Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, a political rival to Assad who has not joined the rebel movement, was dismissed on Tuesday for leaving the country and meeting with U.S. diplomat Robert Ford without permission. U.S., Russian, and U.N. envoys will meet on Tuesday to discuss the “Geneva 2” peace talks, which a diplomatic source says will now likely take place between late November and Christmas. Meanwhile, reports from Syria emerge that the government is employing a “Starvation Until Submission Campaign” to increase pressure on rebel-held areas. The World Health Organization also reported a polio outbreak in Syria that could threaten the whole region. Civil war in the country has left more than 100,000 dead since it began in March 2011. Below, scenes from Syria:

Mohammad (2nd L), a 13 year-old fighter from the Free Syrian Army, sits with his fellow fighters in Aleppo’s Bustan al-Basha district, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Molhem Barakat. See more images of Mohammad here.

Syrian families leave the besieged town of al-Moadamiyeh, which is controlled by opposition fighters, in the Damascus countryside, October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Hostages go home. France denied reports that it paid a ransom to free four Frenchmen who returned home on Wednesday after being held by al Qaeda-linked gunmen in the Sahara desert for almost three years.

French President Francois Hollande (R) and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (L) watch as former French hostage Daniel Larribe (2ndR) is welcomed by relatives on the tarmac upon his arrival at Villacoublay military airport near Paris, October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

The men, who were captured in 2010 while working for French companies in northern Niger, were released yesterday. Earlier this year, French President Francois Hollande said the country would no longer pay ransom for hostages to make its citizens less vulnerable to kidnappings.

Russia denies ruse. Russia denied reports by the European Council’s security office that it had used spy gear disguised in teddy bears, diaries, and free USB keys to snoop on hundreds of foreign delegates during the September G20 summit in St Petersburg. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the charge was “undoubtedly nothing but an attempt to shift the focus from issues that truly exist in relations between European capitals and Washington to unsubstantiated, non-existent issues.” In July, the Guardian reported that the UK spied on G20 delegates in 2009.

Nota Bene:  China says it has detained five supsects in relation to a possible suicide attack in Tiananmen Square earlier this week.


Radio Bubble – Independent news outlets crop up in Greece. (New York Times)

No sex coverage – An Australian woman injured while having sex on a business trip won’t receive workers comp. (Time)

Sapling stock – Villagers in India plant a mango tree when a girl is born to secure her financial future. (Al Jazeera)

Pass from prison  – A Mexican teacher serving a 60-year sentence for killing seven policemen in 2002 will be pardoned. (BBC)

Starpath – British bike paths use solar rays to light up at night. (The Atlantic Cities)

From the File:

  • Egyptian students protest after Brotherhood leader arrested.
  • Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners.
  • Kenya election officials charged over faulty tallying equipment.
  • Italy Senate to hold open vote on expelling Berlusconi.
  • Congo’s army says it is closing in on last rebel positions.
]]> 1