Sunday, 2 February
• THAILAND: Thailand’s tense national election got underway on Sunday with protesters forcing the closure of hundreds of polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded. Around the country, the vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded without problems. But the focus was riveted to Bangkok where more than 400 of the capital’s 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters.
• IRAQ: The Iraqi army intensified its shelling of Fallujah on Sunday in preparation for a ground assault to regain control of the city, which has been under the control of Sunni militants for a month. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government had held off on an all-out offensive to give local tribesmen a chance to expel the militants themselves. But security officials said a decision had been made to enter Fallujah.
• YEMEN: Three large explosions were heard in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on Sunday, close to the Defence Ministry, the central bank and the former president’s home. Residents said the third explosion occurred near former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s house, which is near the French Embassy. There was no immediate word on the number of casualties or the cause of the blasts.
• EGYPT: A Cairo court has acquitted a cameraman for the Qatar-based network Al Jazeera after he was held for months on charges of committing acts of violence. Mohamed Badr, a cameraman for Al Jazeera in Egypt, was arrested following clashes in July. Egypt’s semi-official media said Sunday that he was acquitted along with 61 others. Badr’s acquittal comes amid a wider crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, after the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. Al Jazeera journalists have been targeted for their coverage of Brotherhood protests. Authorities have long depicted the network as pro-Brotherhood.
• SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa’s main opposition party said Sunday that a plan to join forces with another opposition group to challenge the ruling party in elections this year has collapsed, just five days after leaders of the two groups held an upbeat news conference to announce that they were merging their campaigns. The Democratic Alliance party said in a statement that opposition leader Mamphela Ramphele had reneged on a deal to be its presidential candidate and to merge her smaller party with the Democratic Alliance.
• SUDAN: A Red Cross official in Sudan said the organization has suspended its work there after the Sudanese government accused the organization of failing to comply with national laws. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation in Sudan, Jean-Christophe Sandoz, said in a statement Sunday that the group is in discussions with authorities on how to lift the suspension, which took effect Saturday.
Monday, 3 February
• THAILAND: Anti-government protesters in Thailand on Monday said they will seek a Constitution Court ruling to invalidate the snap polls and vowed to go ahead with street rallies aimed at ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Main opposition Democrat Party’s deputy leader Ong art Klampaiboon said they were collecting evidence to seek the Constitution Court ruling to invalidate the polls and would lodge a petition to the court soon through various channels. Thailand voted on Sunday under heavy security in a violence-plagued snap election boycotted by the opposition.
• RUSSIA: A Moscow high-school student shot a teacher and a police officer dead and held more than 20 other students hostage in a classroom on Monday before he was disarmed and detained, police said, just days before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics. In a rare school shooting in Russia, the attacker entered his school in northern Moscow carrying a rifle and held students and a teacher hostage in a biology classroom.
• IRAQ: A series of attacks in and around Baghdad, including a spate of car bombs, killed 16 people on Monday as Iraqi forces pressed an assault against militant-held areas of Anbar province. The latest bloodshed comes amid a surge in violence that left more than 1,000 people dead last month, the worst such figure in nearly six years, as security forces grapple with near-daily attacks and protracted battles with anti-government fighters.
• PAKISTAN: Imran Khan will not join an arbitration committee proposed by the banned Taliban for peace talks with the government, his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party said. The party’s top decision-making body appreciated the trust reposed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Khan and said talks must begin soon. However, the party made it clear that Khan would not be part of the process.
Tuesday, 4 February
• US/SYRIA: The US has said that it wants a negotiated political settlement to resolve the crisis in Syria and denied that Secretary of State John Kerry had called for a change of strategy and to arm opposition rebels. President Barack Obama’s view is that the US should not be putting American troops on the ground in Syria and that his administration needs to pursue a policy that presses both sides on the basis of the Geneva Communique to resolve this conflict through a negotiated settlement, he noted.
• AFGHANISTAN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been engaged in secret contacts with the Taliban about reaching a peace agreement without the involvement of American and Western allies, according to a media report. The contacts, however, have not translated into any tangible deal or any opening negotiations, but the development explains a string of actions by Karzai that might antagonise his American backers, the New York Times reported, citing Western and Afghan officials.
• YEMEN: An explosion hit a bus carrying Yemeni soldiers in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday causing several casualties, a police source and witnesses said. The police source said that out of eight wounded people, three were in critical condition. Yemen has been in turmoil ever since mass protests in 2011 ousted long-serving President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The country, which neighbours Saudi Arabia and is home to one of Al-Qaeda’s most active branches, is wrestling with instability, internal conflicts and poor governance.
• SOUTH AFRICA: Nelson Mandela’s estate, worth roughly $4.1 million, will be shared between his family, members of his staff, schools that he attended and the African National Congress, the movement that fought white rule and now governs South Africa, the will’s executors said Monday. Mandela’s third wife, Graca Machel, is the main beneficiary of the will. Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, was not mentioned in the will. The couple divorced in 1996.
Wednesday, 5 February
• PAKISTAN/INDIA: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has invited India to engage in a “comprehensive, sustained and result-oriented” dialogue with Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir issue. Sharif was speaking at a joint session of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s assembly. Sharif stressed that the region will remain in the grip of “mistrust and tension” as long as the Kashmir dispute is not resolved in accordance with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
• GERMANY/US: The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and the TV channel NDR reported that their investigations based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed that Social Democrat (SPD) Chancellor Schroeder was spied on by the NSA at least from 2002, after he opposed the US plans to go to war in Iraq. An intelligence gathering row had brought the two nations to a confrontation last year.
• US: Lawyers for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former spokesman have asked a judge to let them interview accused September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed prior to a terrorism trial scheduled to begin this month. Abu Ghaith is set for trial this month on charges that he conspired to kill Americans in his role as al-Qaeda’s spokesman after the September 11 attacks. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
• US/AFGHANSITAN: President Barack Obama met top Afghanistan war advisors amid uncertainty about the presence of US troops in the war-torn country post 2014 with Hamid Karzai government’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement demanded by America.
Thursday, 6 February
• NEPAL: At least 14 people were killed and seven others injured on Thursday when a passenger bus veered off a mountain highway and fell some 500 metres into a river. The bus, carrying 21 people, was en route to Bhirahawa from Pokhara when it skidded off the Siddhartha Highway in Palpa district and fell into the Bhalukhola river at around 2 am local time.
• PAKISTAN: Hizbul Mujahideen leader Mast Gul, who led the militant siege of the Charar-e-Sharief shrine in 1995, was allegedly behind the suicide attack on Shias in Peshawar that killed nine people recently, a Pakistani Taliban commander has said. Mufti Hasaan Swati, who claims to be the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander for the Peshawar area, told reporters in Miramshah that he had tasked Mast Gul alias Haroon Khan with carrying out Tuesday’s bombing of Pak Hotel in the Kucha Risaldar area of Peshawar’s old city. Swati described Mast Gul as a “militant commander for Peshawar”, Dawn reported on Thursday.
• UN/VATICAN: A UN human rights committee denounced the Vatican Wednesday for adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, and urged it to open its files on the paedophiles and the churchmen who concealed their crimes. In its report, the UN committee also severely criticised the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should review its policies to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.
• US/PAKISTAN: The US has issued a fresh travel alert, asking its citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan in the wake of threats from several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups across the country. At the same time, the US State Department has lifted ordered departure status of non-emergency US government personnel from its Consulate in Lahore. Consular services at the US Consulate in Lahore will remain unavailable but the US Embassy in Islamabad and the US Consulate General in Karachi will continue to provide routine consular services for American citizens.
Friday, 7 February
• PAKISTAN: A special court trying Pervez Musharraf for treason has issued summons to the former dictator to appear on February 18 and warned a non-bailable arrest warrant would be issued if he failed to do so. The court issued the directive after Musharraf again skipped a hearing of the case. The judges had earlier directed him to appear in person on Friday and issued a bailable arrest warrant for the 70-year-old former army chief. On the same day, Imran Khan the Taliban’s decision to hold talks under Pakistan’s Constitution has exposed the lobby that was deliberately maligning him with labels like “Taliban Khan”. Khan said his consistent assertion that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s terrorism was the result of the US-led campaign against terror had been validated as the main demands of the militants were related to Pakistan extricating itself from the US-led war and the stopping of drone attacks.
• THAILAND: Hong Kong police on Friday successfully dismantled the largest World War II bomb yet found in the city after its discovery on a construction site prompted the evacuation of 2,260 people. The nearly one-tonne US Navy ANM66 bomb was discovered by building workers late Thursday in the Happy Valley district, near the city’s famous downtown racing track.
• RUSSIA: The Winter Olympics kicked off at Sochi on the day, with Russian president Vladimir Putin attending and speaking at the opening ceremony. The Black Sea town in Southern Russia is not far from the restive Dagestan province which is an insurgent stronghold. The Games are marked for its security issues, with the militants having already warned several times that they would strike. Also, there is a stand-off between the west and Russia due to various civil procedures and human rights issues that the west thinks is a cause for worry. Russia have recently moved an anti-homosexuality law, and protests for greater freedom have been snubbed by force.
Saturday, 8 February
• CHINA/US: China has rejected US allegations it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control in the disputed South China Sea and in turn accused Washington of exaggerating tensions in the region. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the US should take a “rational and fair attitude”. Hong reiterated China’s position that its claims are based on history and international law, and said some US officials’ remarks were “playing up tensions”.
• IRAN/US: An Iranian naval officer said a number of warships had been ordered to approach US maritime borders as a response to the stationing of US vessels in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday. In Washington, a US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, cast doubt on any claims that the Iranian ships were approaching US maritime borders. But the official added that “ships are free to operate in international waters”. US military facilities in the region include a base for its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Iran sees the Gulf as its own backyard and believes it has a legitimate interest in expanding its influence there.
• SYRIA: An aid convoy has come under fire in a besieged rebel district of Homs, threatening a United Nations-led operation to bring food and medicine to 2,500 people and evacuate civilians trapped by months of fighting in the Syrian city. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) said mortar fire landed close to its convoy and shots were fired at its trucks on Saturday, wounding one of its drivers. At least nine Red Crescent and UN vehicles were holed up in the city for several hours after dark when the explosions struck, but the team managed to pull out shortly before 10pm local time, leaving two damaged trucks.
• TURKEY: Turkish riot police used tear gas grenades and water cannon to disperse more than 2,000 people demonstrating against new internet curbs that have sparked alarm in the country and abroad. Large numbers of police with body armour and shields backed up by armoured water cannon trucks deployed against the chanting, mostly young crowd around Istanbul’s emblematic Taksim Square.
• AUSTRALIA: Labour will not seek an inquiry into allegations that Australian navy personnel-held asylum seekers’ hands against a hot engine, despite one of its MPs calling for an independent investigation, opposition leader Bill Shorten has said. Allegations that navy personnel abused asylum seekers during an incident on board an intercepted vessel have been highly contested since their original airing by the Australian Broadcasting Company and in further investigations by Fairfax media.