Philippines Disaster Refocuses Climate Attention on Low-Lying Nations

PhilippinesIt's been two weeks since typhoon Haiyan devastated Leyte and other islands in the central Philippines. Initial estimates of casualties were ten thousand. They may end up to be far fewer. The government in Manila has released new figures on the number of people dead and injured. Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported on the latest figures.

The natural disaster risk and management council updated its casualty report on Wednesday. It said 4,011 people had been confirmed dead and 18,557 others injured. Three thousand, three hundred and ten of the deaths were in Leyte, that's about 80 percent of the total. The island was hit hard by storm surges. Nearby Samar Island suffered 411 deaths, most of the dead of have yet to be identified. The storm caused widespread damage. Severed roads and bridges are making it difficult to get food, water, and other supplies to the survivors. Many of those injured are believed to be without adequate medical services. The Philippine government has been stepping up its relief efforts, sending in helicopters and ships. The United States, Japan, China and other countries are assisting.



Typhoon Haiyan hit just as the latest international talks to slow down climate change got underway in Poland. The typhoon -- among the worst ever recorded -- may have focused the attention of conference delegates on the dangers to low-lying countries like the Philippines: threatened by more violent weather and rising sea levels brought about by climate change. Japan's NHK has the details.

Kiribati is a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. By mid century, rising ocean levels could leave 80 percent of the main island under water. Many homes already vulnerable to high tides. Experts also point out a possible link between global warming and severe weather. A recent example was typhoon Haiyan. A report from the international panel of climate change assets that if countries fail to act. Average temperature of planet could rise by up to 4.8 degrees by the end of the century. The international community has agreed try to keep this temperature rise within two degrees. But officials at the UN environment program said the pay of current measures is too slow. In an emotional intervention a negotiator from the Philippines urged his counterparts from around the world to act quickly.

Yeb Sano, Climate Change Commissioner, Philippines:
We can fix this. We can stop this madness right now, right here, in the middle of this football field, and stop moving the goal post.

The delegate went as far as started a hunger strike to underline his commitment. Other participants to the conference have decided to join him. The purpose of this year's conference is to lay the round work for new climate agreement that regulates greenhouse gas machines beyond 2020. UN officials hope the agreement can be signed in 2015. But so far, negotiators have failed to achieve real progress. European Union and United States disagree over when countries should submit their commitments to limit greenhouse gas emission. And developing countries insist the mandatory measures should apply only to industrialized nations whom they considered historically responsible for global warming. Developing countries are also demanding that a new fund be set up to help them deal with the adverse consequences of climate change. But many industrialized nations are reluctant to contribute additional funds. Some experts are pessimistic about the prospect of an agreement before the end of the conference.

Jusen Asuka, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies:
Ministers from developed countries will be forced to propose something concrete, regarding climate finance or new climate compensation for the damage caused by climate change. Otherwise developing countries will condemn the developed countries more strongly. It may take time to get concrete positions or answers for this issue for each country.

Japan announced last week that it will be scaling down its self-imposed greenhouse gas reduction target. The decision drew considerable international criticism, and it may serve as a pretext for other countries not to commit to ambitious targets.


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Is South Korea to Blame for the North's Nukes?


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North Korea Remains Defiant After New Sanctions Imposed
(LinkAsia: January 25, 2012)
Thuy Vu:
North Korea has reacted bitterly to a UN resolution that condemned the North's rocket launch last month and imposes new sanctions. Pyongyang said the launch was to send up a communications satellite. The US and most other countries said it was designed to test a long-range missile and was part of North Korea's goal of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.


Airdate: January 23, 2013

Security Council members passed their resolution unanimously. It expands existing sanctions, adding four individuals and six organizations, including the space agency. Assets will be frozen, and individuals will also face a travel ban.

Officials in Pyongyang are showing defiance. Foreign Ministry representatives issued a statement, condemning the resolution as an attempt to deprive North Korea of its right to launch a satellite for peaceful purposes. The document says it is now clear the US has a policy of hostility toward North Korea. As a result, it says that the North will no longer recognize the joint statement from the Six Party Talks in 2005. That includes plans for the country to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs.

The statement goes on to say North Korean authorities will take practical steps to strengthen their defensive military power to counter pressure from US sanctions. It says that includes nuclear deterrence. The wording suggests North Korean officials could conduct a third nuclear test. They carried out one in 2006, and one in 2009.

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If at First You Don't Succeed: North Korea Attempts Another Rocket Launch
(LinkAsia: December 7, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Moving now to North Korea. Back in April, the country defied sanctions and attempted to launch a rocket. It failed, but the country seems to be upholding the old saying "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again." But will this launch prove to be successful? Here's NHK.


Airdate: December 4, 2012

The ballistic missile launch will be the second since Kim Jong-un took power a year ago. It will use the same launch pad at Tongchang-ri, a site in the northwestern part of the country. Before the first test in April, officials in Pyongyang said the 30-meter, three-stage rocket was meant to carry a satellite, but Japan the United States and South Korea said the launch was in fact a ballistic missile test. The test ended in failure with a rocket exploding in mid-air two minutes after liftoff. It broke into more than 10 pieces and fell into the ocean. Analysts say North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un wants to correct this failure before the first anniversary of his father's death on December 17th. Kim may also be trying to consolidate his power base by showing his dedication to a military first policy. Kim has also vowed to develop North Korea's economy.

Kim Jong Un:
We must start on a path of industrial revolution for the new century to make North Korea a great economic power.

But there are no tangible signs of improvement. The UN World Food Program says that 60 million North Koreans, or nearly 70 percent of the population, suffer from malnutrition. North Korea's relations with the outside world are at a standstill. Last February, the United States agreed to provide food aid in exchange for a freeze on ballistic missile tests. But the deal was broken after the North tested a missile in April. North Korea's leadership has been trying to hold direct talks with the United States, but officials in Washington say they are not ready to accept. China is also applying pressure on its neighbor arguing that the missile launch would violate the UN resolutions.

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Pakistani Taliban Attacking Women's Right to Education
(LinkAsia: November 16, 2012)
Yul Kwon:
Moving now to South Asia, where the shooting of a Pakistani teenage girl last month shocked the world. Malala Yousufzai was badly wounded by militants opposed to schooling for girls. NHK has this report on the problems faced by women seeking education in Pakistan.


Airdate: November 12, 2012

Sixteen year old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head last month by the Taliban movement of Pakistan. The radical Islamic group said girls have no right to education. The teenager is currently in Britain receiving treatment in hospital. One month after the attack Malala's school remains under tight security from the Pakistani military. Two girls who were with Malala and were also shot that day describe what happened. Shadziya and another Kainat have returned to school. They were traumatized by the incident. But decided to come back to carry on Malala's fight for education. People around the world have praised Malala's courage. On Friday Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy on Education and the former British Prime Minister gave his support to her campaign for female education in a speech in Islamabad.

Gordon Brown:
We in the international community want to say to you today that we will support you in your determination that no girl should be prevented from going to school out of fear.

Even after Malala's shooting six schools have been blown up by militants. The attacks are believed to be the work of Pakistani Taliban. Authorities said several hundred fifty one schools were attacked by extremists in the past ten years including 233 that were almost destroyed. But Islamic extremism is not the only reason why many Pakistani girls are denied an education. Poverty is another major problem that needs to be addressed. Malala's shooting has exposed the challenges faced by the Pakistani government. It's under renewed pressure to crack down on extremism and take steps to help children of poor families get an education.

Hideki Yui, NHK World, Islamabad.


Yul Kwon:
Pakistan has announced it will provide a small subsidy – the equivalent of about two dollars a month - to families for every child enrolled in primary school.

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Thein Sein and the Power of Reform: A Burmese Leader's Newfound Popularity


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The Second Coming, Cartoon Bombs, and Angry New York Mobs: Mosaic's UNGA Roundup

 Press TV / United Nations


The UN General Assembly's yearly get-together is a time for high-flying international diplomacy between world leaders. The General Debate, in particular, allows all world leaders who participate in the United Nations to deliver a public address to the General Assembly. As such, it has been used as a highly-visible platform by many countries' representatives to push their views.

This year's debate theme was "Adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations by peaceful means," which seems a little tongue-in-cheek given the current situation in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

As BBC Arabic reported that Somali and African forces were closing in on the final al-Shabab stronghold of Kismayo, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Ali gave his remarks at the Assembly, saying that there was no place in Somalia for the "few ideological extremists" in the Islamist group's ranks.

Barack Obama's appearance at the UN was brief, which some say was to avoid tough discussions with other world leaders on Iran and Syria. He honored Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in an attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, and condemned the American-made film that criticized Islam's Prophet Muhammad and sparked anti-US riots across the Muslim world. Meanwhile, Libya's new president, Mohamed Yousek al-Magariaf, apologized for the attacks, and apologized to the world on behalf of Libya for Muammar Gaddafi's decades-long rule.

With regard to Syria, world leaders condemned the violence across the board, but their approaches to end the conflict varied greatly. According to IBA News, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan's King Abdullah II both called for Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that the Syrian president's ouster is vital to the success of peace efforts.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supported the Syrian regime, and criticized the efforts by the Western world to interfere in what he sees as an internal conflict. Ahmadinejad, in his last speech to the Assembly as a world leader, also spoke of his belief in the imminent arrival of Jesus Christ and the twelfth imam, Imam al-Mahdi, whom Shiites believe will come at the end times with the prophet Jesus to help humanity. The United States and Israel were both absent from the General Assembly Hall when he gave his remarks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the United Nations with a long-anticipated bid to join the UN General Assembly as an observer. The Palestinian Authority previously asked the UN for full member status last year, but had been rejected by the Security Council, which has the Israel ally, the United States, as a permanent member with veto power. Press TV reports that Abbas also lambasted Israel for its "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land. A UN report that came at the beginning of the week and before the General Assembly meeting echoed similar statements-- that Israel must do more to halt the abuse of Palestinian rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stole the show by using a prop, which has not been done in the General Assembly since the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi pulled out a copy of the UN Charter and threw it in the air in 2009. Netanyahu used a picture of a cartoon bomb and drew a red line through it to illustrate how far Iran has come in enriching uranium, and how the United Nations must draw a red line for the country before it acquires enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear bomb. Press TV analysts expressed concern over Netanyahu's mental health following this incident.

Outside of the Assembly Hall, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Rahmin Mehmanparast captured the attention of the American channel Fox News after he was attacked by a group of "about 100" Iranian dissident protestors on a New York City sidewalk. He managed to flag down an NYPD police car, but according to Dubai TV, the cops appeared "uninterested."


Image: Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a bomb illustration at the UN General Assembly, September 27, 2012. Press TV / United Nations


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This Week in Syria: The Battle for Aleppo, and Breakthroughs Abroad

The Syrian city of Aleppo, known in Arabic as Halab, has been suffering from intense fighting between regime forces and the Free Syrian Army since July. The onslaught has been referred to as "The Battle of Aleppo" by various news outlets, and even "the mother of all battles" by some. This northeastern city is the most populous in Syria, and is of key economic and strategic importance in the fight between the rebels and the regime.

Let's take a look at this week's developments in Syria, paying particular attention to the situation in Aleppo, as well as the recent breakthroughs regarding the Syrian conflict in the United Nations and other countries.


REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Tuesday, July 31

Syria's Aleppo under heavy fire; 40 regime soldiers killed in fighting


BBC Arabic -The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 40 members of the Syrian army were killed at a police station in Aleppo as part of a number of attacks on police and intelligence stations in the area. In addition, the Free Syrian Army took control of the strategic Adnan checkpoint only a few kilometers away from the city of Aleppo, which allows them to link the city to Turkey. The Salaheddine (or Salah ed-Din) neighborhood is thought to be the focal point of the struggle. Taking control of the city would be considered a strategic gain, and a decisive factor in the power balance between the two sides.

Meanwhile, renewed fighting also broke out in Damascus, notably in the neighborhoods of al-Tadamon and the Yarmouk camp, which is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community in Syria.

Wednesday, August 1

Free Syrian Army claims advances in Aleppo as Turkey conducts military drills at border

Future TV - Over one hundred people were killed by al-Assad's brigades, while the Free Syrian Army expanded its control over the countryside of Aleppo. It also waged an attack on several security headquarters in the governorate, and killed Zain Berri, the leader of what is known as the Shabehat al-Berri, a criminal group that killed dozens of anti-regime protestors in Aleppo. This resulted in retaliatory attacks by the shabeha on a number of the Free Army's centers in Aleppo.

Two kilometers away from the Syrian border, the Turkish army conducted a military drill in the Mardin Governorate, after Turkey warned of military intervention to protect Syrian refugees if al-Assad's brigades attack them.

In Damascus, al-Assad's brigades raided a number of neighborhoods amid resistance by the Free Army in al-Qadam and Tadamon, while the Yarmouk camp was subject to tank and mortar shelling, with fears of being stormed.

Thursday, August 2

UN warns that three million Syrians need food aid as Annan quits Syria peace envoy

New TV - International envoy Kofi Annan resigned from his position as a mediator for the United Nations and the Arab League in Syria as the battle in Aleppo intensified. Gunmen seized three police stations, while videos said to have been taken in the Salaheddine neighborhood showed a number of dead bodies. Also, the nearby Menagh Military Airport was attacked by the Free Syrian Army with heavy weaponry, including tanks they had seized.

According to United Nations figures, three million Syrians are in need of food in light of the current crisis. Also, 200,000 residents have deserted Aleppo since the fighting began; a number of them have fled to Idlib Province, particularly to the neighboring town of Dana, which is under the control of the Free Army. However, living conditions there are difficult because of the large influx of people, and reports of shelling that targets bakeries.

Friday, August 3

UN General Assembly adopts Syria resolution

BBC Arabic - A large majority of the UN General Assembly backed a resolution on Syria condemning the government's use of heavy weapons, and criticized the UN Security Council's inability to take action in the face of the ongoing crisis in the country. Ban Ki-moon says that he views the conflict in Syria as a test for the principles of the United Nations, comparing the current international stance to his helpless position before the massacres in Yugoslavia.

The Russian and Syrian ambassadors to the UN objected to the condemnation, with Syrian Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari noting that "foreign interference" is helping to push the Syrian people's demands down the Syrian government's list of priorities.

Obama authorizes secret US support of Syrian rebels

Press TV - US President Barack Obama has reportedly signed a secret order, approved earlier this year, authorizing more support for the Syrian rebels in fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The order broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to aid them against the Syrian army. A US government source also confirmed that Washington is collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

Image: A boy plays with an AK-47 rifle owned by his father in Azaz, some 47 km (29 miles) north of Aleppo August 3, 2012: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic


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Syrian Rebels Close in on Regime, and More of This Week's Top News

Syrians officers carry the coffins of former Syrian Defence Minister General Hassan Ali Turkmani, Defence Minister Daoud Rajha and Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, during the national funeral at the unknown soldier monument in Damascus July 20, 2012: REUTERS/Sana/Handout


Al-Assad's regime suffers major blow as blast kills top Syrian officials

New TV - A severe blow to security in the heart of the Syrian capital Damascus led to the death of the chairman of Syria's "crisis cell," General Hassan Turkmani, Defense Minister Dawoud Rajiha, and his aid Assef Shawkat, the Syrian president's brother-in-law. In addition, top military and security officials were injured. According to reports, one of the security leaders' guards was wearing an explosive belt, and he blew himself up inside the hall as a meeting of the group, also known as "Syria's Generals," was taking place. An opposition group called "Liwa al-Islam Brigades" claimed responsibility on its Facebook page. Syrian leadership hurried to avoid the consequences of these deaths by appointing Brigadier Fahad Jassim al-Freij as the new defense minister.

Russia and China veto Western-backed UN resolution on Syria for the third time

New TV - Russia and China blocked the West-backed resolution on Syria for the third time at the UN Security Council in defense of the Syrian regime. The American, French, and British ambassadors to the UN condemned the move, with US ambassador Susan Rice calling it shameful for the council not to seek a solution to Syria's crisis. In response, Syrian ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari accused the council of failing to support a political solution and of restricting the Annan plan, adding that those who "sympathized with the terrorists and gunmen" should host them in their own countries.

Early elections loom as Kadima quits Israeli ruling coalition

Dubai TV - Israel's Kadima party withdrew from the Israeli government coalition amid disagreement over a new alternative to the current draft law, a move that may lead to early parliamentary elections in Israel, most likely in February. Kadima's main goals in the coalition were to revive the peace process with the Palestinians, and to expand the draft law to include ultra-Orthodox Jews. However, experts say that the Likud party is bowing more and more to pressure from the Israeli right and far-right, and if Israel is heading towards early elections, Netanyahu has a better chance to win with their support, while Kadima head Shaul Mofaz seeks to secure a secular stance.

US navy kills fisherman after firing at boat off coast of UAE

Press TV - A US warship opened fire on a fishing boat in the Persian Gulf on Monday. US officials say the small motorboat ignored repeated warnings to halt its approach before the navy vessel opened fire, but survivors of the attack said they received no warning, and that their boat attempted to avoid any contact with the ship. India calls the killing and injuring of its nationals by the US navy "unfortunate." Indian Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna says that India is in contact with the US and the UAE regarding the incident.

International community remains silent on ethnic cleansing in Myanmar

Al Jazeera - Amnesty International has accused Myanmar's authorities and Buddhist groups in the state of Rakhine of raping, killing, and ethnically cleansing members of the Muslim Rohingya minority, classified by the United Nations as the world's most persecuted race. The Rohingyas say they account for around 5 million people, with the UN indicating that over 800,000 Muslims live in Myanmar. Many have fled nearby locations, but some countries have turned them away, notably Bangladesh, which has decided not to allow them enter the country in fear of what it called serious environmental and social problems. But even worse is that there is local and international silence on the issue. Western countries that have lifted their economic sanctions on Myanmar after it entered a "democratic transformation," leading many to view the country as an investment paradise.

Image: Syrians officers carry the coffins of former Syrian Defence Minister General Hassan Ali Turkmani, Defence Minister Daoud Rajha and Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, during the national funeral at the unknown soldier monument in Damascus July 20, 2012: REUTERS/Sana/Handout

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At a Fork in the Road: The Iran Nuclear Talks post-Istanbul


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