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The Overnight News Digest is an ongoing evening series dedicated to chronicling the day's news that the editor de la nuit finds of import or interest. Everyone is welcome to add their own news items in the comments. Tonight's OND showcases news from around the world.


 

Top Story


  • CS Monitor - Global defense spending dips for first time in 15 years
    Global military spending dropped in 2012 -- the first such drop in 15 years – fueled primarily by major US and Western defense reductions that offset significant increases in military outlays made by Russia, China, and other nations, according to a Swedish defense watchdog.

    Citing new figures it released today, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that global spending on the military dropped 0.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, to a total of $1.75 trillion worldwide. The decrease was due in large part to reductions in spending in North America and Western and Central Europe, which accounted for almost 60 percent of the world's military expenditures, as the US wound down its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Europe cut budgets amid regional austerity.

    SIPRI reports that US expenses dropped 6 percent from 2011 to a total of $682 billion in 2012. Although its spending still dwarfs that of all other nations -- SIPRI notes that the US spent more than the next 10 nations on the list combined -- its 39 percent share of global spending is the lowest it has been since 1991.

USA


  • Boston Globe - Obama promises all federal resources in investigation
    President Obama on Monday evening pledged the full weight of the federal government to figure out who is responsible for Monday’s double bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and the White House said it is treating the attack as an “act of terror.”

    In a three-minute address from the White House, Obama urged caution, saying “people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts.”

    Significantly, reflecting caution about the unknown motive and perpetrators, the president himself did not call the incident a terrorist attack. However, a White House official speaking after the president’s remarks but only on the condition of anonymity, said that the administration views it that way.

    “Any event with multiple explosive devices — as this appears to be — is clearly an act of terror, and will be approached as an act of terror,” a White House official said. “However, we don’t yet know who carried out this attack, and a thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic.”
  • NYT - Justices Seem Wary of Bold Action in Gene Patent Case
    In a lively Supreme Court argument on Monday, the justices struggled to find a narrow way to rule on the momentous question of whether human genes may be patented.

    “Why should we jump in and decide the broadest possible question?” asked Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

    To simplify the complex scientific and legal questions before them, the justices kicked around analogies — to chocolate-chip cookies, baseball bats and plants in the Amazon with medicinal qualities. But none of them proved wholly satisfactory, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer said there was a lesson in that.
  • Guardian - Guantánamo hunger-strike inmates forced to drink dirty water, court hears
    A federal judge declined a plea for relief from Guantánamo Bay hunger strikers on Monday despite hearing that guards displayed "deliberate indifference" to inmate's serious medical needs and forced them to drink dirty water.

    Expert medical testimony put before US district judge Thomas Hogan suggested that authorities at the controversial detention centre are now deliberately denying potable water in a bid to break the resolve of prisoners.

    But the sitting judge denied an emergency motion for relief filed on behalf of one of the striking inmates, ruling that he did not have jurisdiction over the matter. He added that petitioner Musa'ab Omar al Madhwani – who is said to be in "imminent danger" of death – had "self-manufactured" his health situation.

Europe


  • Slate - Pope Francis Will Follow Through on Benedict's Crackdown on "Feminist" American Nuns
    Pope Francis announced Monday morning that he will stick to his predecessor's hard-line approach to reforming an umbrella group representing about 80 percent of U.S. nuns, an organization that Benedict XVI believed was promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

    … Leaders of the nun's group were informed of Francis' decision at a morning meeting with church officials, according to the Vatican. As part of the ongoing plan, the Vatican has given Archbishop of Seattle Peter Sartain the authority to take the steps he sees as necessary to ensure the group better toes the party line as laid out by the Vatican and echoed by the American contingent of Catholic bishops. Those steps including requiring the nuns to get approval from the archbishop for every speaker they invite to a public event, replace their handbook, and revise their statutes, along with generally ensuring that they don't publicly "disagree with or challenge positions taken by" American bishops or the Vatican.

  • NYT - Greece Reaches a Deal for More Bailout Money
    After nearly two weeks of tense negotiations, Greece and its troika of foreign creditors said Monday that they had clinched an agreement on economic measures that Athens must enforce to secure the release of further crucial rescue money. Those measures include thousands of layoffs in the civil service.

    “We wrapped it up; we have a deal with the troika,” Yannis Stournaras, the nation’s finance minister, told reporters…

    The two sides finally agreed over the weekend that 15,000 civil servants would be dismissed by the end of next year, including 4,000 this year, according to reports in the Greek news media. The departures are to include employees close to retirement and an estimated 2,000 who have been accused of disciplinary offenses.
  • AP - Redoine Faid's brazen escape and other notorious prison breaks
    Redoine Faid's escape from a French prison landed him on Interpol's most wanted list Monday, two days after he took four guards hostage and used explosives hidden inside tissue packets to blast his way out of a prison in Lille. Faid freed his hostages along his getaway route.

    It wasn't the first time that Faid, an armed robber being held in the death of a police officer, had gone on the lam. He was arrested in 1998 after three years on the run in Switzerland and Israel, according to the French media. Faid was freed after serving 10 years of his 31-year sentence, then swore he had turned his life around, writing a confessional book about his life of crime and going on an extensive media tour.

    "When I was on the run, I lived all the time with death, with fear of the police, fear of getting shot," he told Europe 1 radio at the time.
  • LAT - Turkish pianist convicted of insulting religion through tweets
    A famed Turkish pianist was convicted Monday of insulting religion after sending a string of tweets deemed denigrating to Islam. Fazil Say was handed a suspended prison sentence of 10 months, according to news reports, stoking concerns in Turkey and abroad about freedom of speech.

    The pianist reportedly invoked a verse by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, which rhetorically asks believers if heaven is a tavern or a brothel, since wine and virgins are said to be waiting there.

    Say also joked about an unusually short call to prayer, “Why such haste? Have you got a mistress waiting or [an alcoholic drink] on the table?”
  • WaPo - Obama letter to Putin sends ‘positive signals,’ Russian official says
    The Obama administration wants to find a way to stop the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, top Russian officials said here Monday after meeting with Tom Donilon, the U.S. national security adviser.

    A letter from President Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin, conveyed by Donilon, “is written in a constructive tone and has a number of proposals promoting bilateral dialogue and cooperation,” the Russian leader’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, told reporters after the Kremlin get-together.

    Ushakov said the White House is sending “positive signals” to Moscow, though he noted that Obama has not moved to tamp down the “Russophobia” in other parts of the American government, by which he meant Congress.

Africa


  • BBC - Somalia conflict: 'Foreigners' behind Mogadishu attacks
    Foreign fighters were involved in Sunday's bomb and gun attacks in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon has said.

    At least 29 people died in the suicide bombings at the main courts and near the airport, he said. The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group said it carried out the attacks.

    African Union and government forces launched a major operation on Monday against the militants… The bombing campaign was one of the worst in Mogadishu since al-Shabab lost control of the city in August 2011 to AU and government forces.
  • Guardian - Ethiopia enlists help of forest communities to reverse deforestation
    When the Ethiopian government realised that outright bans on cutting down trees failed to stop deforestation, it instead turned to a strategy based on enlisting the help of forest communities.

    The first participatory forest management (PFM) schemes were piloted 15 years ago. Based on signs of success, PFM is being rolled out in larger areas. A particularly ambitious scheme is taking place in the mountains of Bale in the southern region of Oromia, where the authorities are applying PFM to 500,000 hectares (1.24m acres) of forest in a project run by Farm Africa, a British NGO in partnership with SOS Sahel, a local NGO.

  • CNN - Egypt's Mubarak wins petition but will stay detained
    Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will remain behind bars, even though he won an appeal in which he asked to be released while awaiting a retrial, Egyptian state-run media said Monday.

    An appeals court granted his appeal Monday, technically freeing him in the case involving the killing of nonviolent protesters during the 2011 uprising that brought him down. But that action was made moot when the court also ordered that he remain detained in connection with newer corruption charges that were added to the older allegations, state media said.

Middle East


  • LAT - Bombings in Iraq kill more than 30 people
    A string of bombings in Iraq claimed the lives of more than 30 people Monday in the run-up to provincial elections scheduled for this weekend.

    The attacks, which left dozens wounded, took place around the country, including in Baghdad; the southern city of Nasiriya; and in the northern cities of Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Samarra and Mosul. The blasts followed the assassinations over the weekend of two Sunni Muslim candidates for provincial elections.

    The deadliest attacks occurred in Baghdad, where security sources said 21 people were killed, including three in a major security breach when a pair of car bombs exploded by the heavily patrolled entrance to Baghdad International Airport. The Baghdad military command said five car bombs exploded in the morning. A sixth car bomb blew up Monday evening in the predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Sadr City.
  • McClatchy - Salam Fayyad’s resignation as Palestinian premier seen as blow to peace plan
    The resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad over the weekend has raised doubts about the stability of the Palestinian government and cast a shadow over the new U.S.-led diplomatic push to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

    Fayyad, who was beloved and praised by the West while increasingly unpopular within Palestinian society, had served as Palestinian prime minister for eight years. He was credited with stabilizing key aspects of the Palestinian economy and implementing crucial measures with the support of the United States that were intended to provide an underpinning for an eventual Palestinian state.

    "Fayyad was a key linchpin, at least in the U.S. peace plan, which called for economic development in the Palestinian territories that they hoped Fayyad would personally oversee," said one senior Palestinian official in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government.
  • Al Monitor - Yemen’s Military Earthquake
    Thawra” (revolution) has been on the tongues of Yemenis for the past two years, but revolutionary changes tend to move at a glacial pace. For example, it took President Ali Abdullah Saleh nearly a year to agree to the 2011 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) deal on the transfer of presidential power. This past week brought an the exception to the rule when President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi hastened the pace of change with presidential decrees altering the political and military balance of power in Yemen. “Awe” was the most apt word to describe the atmosphere when it occurred. Indeed, most Yemenis could be heard uttering, “Finally,” in response to Hadi’s decision to reshuffle the military…

    While Hadi’s decree removed the two dueling strongmen, appointed thirty new military leaders and concluded 30 years of Saleh-family domination of the Yemeni military, it also contained an important gesture to foster reconciliation between the Yemeni military and the Yemeni people.

South Asia


  • Guardian - Afghanistan: high expectations of record opium crop
    Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is heading for a near-record opium crop as instability pushes up the amount of land planted with illegal but lucrative poppies, according to a bleak UN report.

    The rapid growth of poppy farming as western troops head home reflects particularly badly on Britain, which was designated "lead nation" for counter-narcotics work over a decade ago.

    "Poppy cultivation is not only expected to expand in areas where it already existed in 2012 … but also in new areas or areas where poppy cultivation was stopped," the Afghanistan Opium Winter Risk Assessment found…

    Just 14 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are now "poppy free", down from 20 in 2010.
  • NYT - Afghan Interpreters for the U.S. Are Left Stranded and at Risk
    …Thousands of Afghans who have directly aided the Western military mission here and are waiting to hear from the State Department on the special immigration visa applications. In Iraq, Congressional legislative action helped thousands of at-risk Iraqis get out, but Afghans find themselves in a more difficult situation, with fewer visas and fewer options.

    Now, the backlog is growing. As the American pullout hits full pace and bases across the country are shut down, hundreds of Afghans have suddenly found themselves without jobs, leaving them without military protection despite the continued risk of attack by the Taliban.

    The danger is especially real for the estimated 8,000 interpreters who have worked for the Americans. Though no one tracks the targeted violence figures, anecdotal evidence is grim — at least a few people are said to be killed each month.
  • Times of India - Make watching porn non-bailable offence: PIL in SC
    The Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to various ministries of the central government on a PIL seeking modification of internet laws to make watching pornography a non-bailable offense.

    A bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices A R Dave and Vikramjit Sen issued notice on Kamlesh Vaswani's petition saying existing laws had failed to prohibit proliferation of internet pornography and alleged that it was affecting the younger generation and resulting in increasing sexual assaults on women.

    Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate M N Krishnamani said the government urgently needed to take pro-active steps to block all pornographic websites as they were affecting the "peace of mind, health and wellness, happiness and human potential".

Asia


  • BBC - BBC insists Panorama North Korea programme will go on
    The BBC says an edition of Panorama filmed secretly during a study trip to North Korea is due to be broadcast as planned, despite claims students may have been put in danger.

    Three BBC journalists accompanied 10 London School of Economics students and spent eight days in the country. The university and its students' union have demanded the corporation withdraw the programme. But the BBC said the film was strongly in the public interest.

    Alex Peters-Day, of the LSE students' union, said the programme should be dropped because students were lied to and could not give informed consent.
  • Fairfax - Cambodia, Thailand lock horns over temple
    Cambodia has warned a long-running dispute with Thailand over the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple could threaten friendly relations between the neighbouring countries.

    Cambodia's deputy prime minister, Hor Namhong, said unless the International Court of Justice reinforced a 1962 ruling that the temple and its surrounds belonged to Cambodia there could be "unfortunate consequences which would prevent the two states from living in a friendly, peaceful and co-operative manner". Mr Hor Namhong told a court hearing that began in the Hague, Netherlands, on Monday that Thailand had failed to withdraw troops from around the temple and unilaterally claimed the border territory surrounding it.

    He said Cambodia felt "threatened" by the Thai troop incursions and the dispute had "darkened" relations between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.
  • Reuters - China's economic growth slows to 7.7%
    China's economic recovery stumbled unexpectedly in the first three months of 2013, forcing analysts to start slashing full-year forecasts despite official insistence that the outlook was favorable.

    The world's second-biggest economy grew 7.7% in the first quarter from a year ago, slower than the 7.9% hit in the fourth quarter of 2012, below the Reuters consensus forecast of 8% and confounding expectations of a surprise uptick that emerged after surging credit and export data were published last week.

    Sheng Laiyun, a spokesman at the National Bureau of Statistics, which released GDP in a flurry of other data on Monday, said: … "Employment is very stable," Sheng said. "Stable employment is a basic indicator of China's economic stability," he added, quoting ministry of labour and social securities data showing that China created more than 3m new jobs in the first quarter.
  • Japan Times - U.S. will protect allies, Kerry assures Tokyo
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with top officials in Tokyo on Sunday and Monday, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to defend Japan and South Korea against North Korea while stressing at the same time that Washington is willing to negotiate if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization.

    Kerry met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday for more than an hour. North Korea’s belligerent diplomacy was at the top of their agenda, a senior Japanese official said.

    The secretary of state, who arrived Sunday after visiting Seoul and Beijing, told Abe that both China and South Korea are committed to trying to get North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program, the official said.

Oceana


  • SMH - Tiny Bulga wins day against mining Goliath
    The tiny NSW town of Bulga has won a three-year battle against mining giant Rio Tinto when a court overturned a state government-endorsed decision to allow it to dig an open-cut coalmine next to the town.

    A Rio Tinto subsidiary, Coal & Allied, had been granted approval to mine bushland next to the town which had been created as an "offset" a decade ago. It was to have created 150 mining jobs and extracted 18 million tonnes of coal a year, in the community of 300 people.

    In a scathing judgment, Justice Brian Preston, chief judge of the Land and Environment Court, criticised the government's approval of the proposed Warkworth mine in the Hunter Valley, which he said could damage Bulga's "sense of place".

Americas


  • Guardian - Protests in Venezuela as opposition disputes Nicolás Maduro's victory
    Venezuelan security forces quelled protests on Monday as Nicolás Maduro - the handpicked heir of Hugo Chávez - was proclaimed president after a wafer-thin and fiercely disputed vote.

    The election on Sunday gave Maduro a 1.6 percentage point victory over his pro-business rival, Henrique Capriles, according to the National Electoral Council.

    The closest vote the country has seen in more than 40 years has sparked accusations of fraud and attempts to destabilise the oil-rich South American nation.

    Capriles has refused to accept the result and called for a recount and peaceful street demonstrations. The ruling camp have accused the opposition of plotting a coup.
  • MercoPress - Brazil calls emergency meeting to address massive influx of illegal immigrants
    The Brazilian government called this week an emergency meeting to discuss measures to curb the influx of hundreds of illegal immigrants along its northern border.

    Counter-measures have not come from the meeting yet, which included the ministers of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Development. The heads the presidency’s Civil House and Brazil’s Federal Police also attended.

    Earlier, the Acre state, the most affected by immigrants, declared a “social emergency” to get the government to help stem the tide of immigrants and allocate funds to aid those already in Brazil.
  • Globe and Mail - Alberta says Suncor spill would have killed aquatic life if undiluted
    The toxic waste water that Suncor Energy Inc. spilled into the Athabasca River would have killed aquatic life if undiluted, according to the Alberta government.

    On Friday the province provided a glimpse into its investigation of Suncor’s March 25 spill, saying the samples of undiluted waste water were lethal to fingerling rainbow trout. The water samples, however, are not comparable to the fluid that poured into the river because they do not account for dilution; the province is still investigating whether diluted samples would be harmful…

    The province is now examining “the effects of dilution of the process-affected water by both treated water in the combined outfall pipe and the river water.”

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