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Tensions still high after a week of violence in Kosovo

Slovenian troops serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo set up a checkpoint on the bridge in the town of Mitrovica on Thursday, July 28, 2011. Photo: AP/Visar Kryeziu

Serbian officials are meeting with a European Union mediator today after violence erupted along the border between Serbia and neighboring Kosovo last week.

Since Thursday, NATO forces have been in control of the Jarinje and Brnjak border checkpoints in northern Kosovo after last week’s violent flare-up. Early last week, the Kosovo government sent in police forces to take control of the two border crossings in order to enforce a ban on Serbian imports. The embargo was an effort to counter to Serbia’s own ban on Kosovo imports, which has been in effect since 2008. The move effectively blocked the flow of food and medicine from Serbia to northern Kosovo, an area dominated by ethnic Serbs that rely heavily on those imported goods. Kosovo Serbs retaliated by setting fire to one border post, and the ensuing clash resulted in the death of one Kosovo police officer. Kosovo Serbs also blockaded roads, preventing NATO trucks from reaching peacekeepers at the checkpoints.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has stated that the embargo was an effort to reign in control over northern Kosovo, whose ethnically Serbian residents largely do not respect the authority of Kosovo’s government. In an interview with the Associated Press Monday, Thaci declared that he would continue his campaign to exert control over the northern part of the country.

Serbian President Boris Tadić declared over the weekend that Serbia would not seek to wage a war with Kosovo over the matter. “We live in a region of the former Yugoslavia where wars have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives,” he said. “I join the majority in the western Balkans that believes peace has no alternative.” The Serbian parliament passed a resolution late Sunday that agreed with Tadic’s statements and called for a peaceful end to the situation. Although the atmosphere remains tense, early Monday NATO began to clear several roadblocks put up by Kosovo Serbs.
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Portrait of ‘right-wing’ suspect in Oslo attacks emerges as ‘Jihadist’ link is debunked

Flags fly half-mast at Oslo City Hall on Saturday, July 23, 2011. Photo: aktuaroslo

After a series of explosions rippled through central Oslo on Friday, damaging key government buildings including the office of the prime minister, Need to Know spoke with a former U.S. State Department counter-terrorism special agent, Fred Burton, about an alleged claim of responsibility for the attacks that had been made by a shadowy Jihadist group. Burton urged caution, citing his experience with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when many officials and media outlets initially suspected Islamic militants like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had helped plan and finance the World Trade Center bombing two years earlier.

Anders Breivik. Photo: Twitter

“Historically, whenever you have these attacks every group is going to come out of the woodwork and claim responsibility whether they had anything to do with it or not,” Burton said. He pointed to the existence of right-wing extremist groups in Norway and cited unconfirmed reports from intelligence sources in the country that suggested the gunman who unleashed a hail of gunfire at a nearby day camp just after the blasts, killing more than 90 people, was “a local Norwegian, blonde and blue-eyed.”

In fact, it now appears that the suspect in custody is indeed a tall, blonde 32-year-old Norwegian man named Anders Behring Breivik, who officials described as a “right-winger with anti-Muslim views” based on previous Internet postings. According to the Associated Press, Breivik has admitted to police that he fired weapons on the island where the massacre took place. Screen captures of his Facebook profile, which has since been disabled, suggest that he was a self-identified Christian with “conservative” political views and interests in “freemasonry,” hunting and “political analysis.”
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Right-wing extremist seen behind Oslo attacks as Jihadists retract claim of responsibility

An explosion thought to be from a bomb tore open several buildings, including the prime minister

Updated | 2:04 a.m. Large explosions rattled the Norwegian capital of Oslo on Friday afternoon, killing at least seven people and wounding 15, according to Norwegian media reports. Shortly after the explosions, which seemed to be part of a coordinated bombing attack, a gunman dressed as a police officer opened fire on a day camp for young members of Norway’s governing Labor Party, killing as many as 80 people in a harrowing spray of gunfire. The shooting occurred on the island of Utoya about 25 miles from Oslo, and intelligence analysts said senior Norwegian officials, including possibly the prime minister himself, had been scheduled to visit the site in the coming days.

The Oslo blasts occurred at about 3:20 p.m. Norwegian time in the government quarter of central Oslo, where Norwegian Prime Minister Jen Stoltenberg’s office is located. Both the prime minister’s office and the office of Norway’s oil and energy minister were seriously damaged by the bombings. Stoltenberg was not in his office at the time of the explosion and was unharmed by the blast, a spokeswoman told Norwegian television.

In a phone interview conducted from a secure location, Stoltenberg told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 that he had been in touch with every member of his cabinet and that none of them had been injured in the blasts. “This is a time where the Norwegian people must stand together and show solidarity,” Stoltenberg said. “We must also think of the injured and their relatives in this terrible situation.”

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UK Prime Minister Cameron makes a bid for African trade

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on growth and trade to delegates at the Pan African University Business School in Lagos, Nigeria, on July 19, 2011. Photo: AP/Christopher Furlong, pool

Just one day before U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron returned to his country to address the heated controversy over the News Corporation phone-hacking scandal, he was in Nigeria delivering a speech on the future of the African continent.

“Tell me this,” he said to the crowd at Pan African University Business School in Lagos. “Which continent has six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world? Asia? No, it’s Africa.”

“Which country is predicted by some to have the highest average GDP growth in the world over the next 40 years? You might think Brazil, Russia, India or China. No. Think Africa. Think Nigeria.”

Cameron praised Nigeria’s rising economy – the country’s GDP has been growing at a rate of more than 5 percent a year, even in the wake of global economic crisis – and set forth an argument for forging a stronger, trade-based economic relationship between the U.K. and Africa. His speech focused on three primary topics: improving the way British aid was managed in Africa, encouraging free trade and private enterprise, and promoting democracy throughout the continent.
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Treatment of jailed Bahrain dissidents called ‘brutal,’ as activists call for U.S. action

An illustration released by Bahrain's state news agency depicting the military trial of 21 political activists, eight of whom were sentenced to life in prison Wednesday.

The son of one of Bahrain’s most prominent opposition leaders said in an interview Wednesday that the sentences handed down by a military court to 21 of the country’s most well-known political activists were pre-ordained, and that the jailed dissidents had been subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including physical abuse.

Ibrahim Sharif, the secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society, was swept up in an early morning raid at his home in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, in early March. Sharif had called publicly for a gradual transition to a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain, just as the state was executing a bloody crackdown on protests inspired by the so-called Arab Spring. Armed thugs raided his home and shoved a gun in his face, according to the accounts of family members, and he was whisked away to an undisclosed location along with several other opposition figures.

After three months of legal proceedings set up under the country’s emergency law, Sharif and 20 others were sentenced to jail time for “plotting to topple the leadership of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” according to the state Bahrain News Agency. Sharif, the only Sunni among the group, was sentenced to a relatively short five years in prison. Eight other Shiite dissidents, however, were given life sentences. They were also accused of conspiring with Iran, Bahrain’s increasingly powerful Shiite neighbor. After the sentences were handed down, the defendants pumped their fists in the air and chanted “peacefully,” a slogan from the protests, as they were dragged out of the courtroom.

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As activist detentions wind down in China, a wave of unrest poses a new challenge

Chinese security personnel face off protesters on a street of Xilinhot in northern China's Inner Mongolia province on May 23, 2011. Photo: AP/Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center

Update | June 22 Xinhua reports that Ai WeiWei was released today on bail “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.”

It’s been nearly four months since Chinese authorities initiated a sweep of detentions of human rights lawyers and activists in China for fear of an impending “Jasmine” revolution inspired by protests in the Middle East. As the number of activist arrests has slowed to a crawl and detainees are gradually released to return home or to face trial, the Chinese government has focused its energy instead on tackling a new wave of unrest in Tibet, Mongolia and southern China.

The organization China Human Rights Defenders reports that out of nearly 50 people detained in China since February, when an anonymous call for “Jasmine” protests began to spread on Twitter, 32 have been released (22 of whom are on bail and awaiting trial), while nine were formally arrested, three were sent to re-education labor camps and four remain in detention. The group notes that at least ten other activists are still missing.
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Activists plead for UN action as Syrian forces move to crush protests in town near Turkey

Syrian refugees in a camp set up by the Turkish Red Crescent in the Turkish town of Yayladagi in Hatay province, Turkey, on Thursday. Photo: AP

Updated | 11:12 a.m. As tanks and armored divisions moved into a town in northwest Syria that has been the scene of intense clashes over the last several days, activists and opposition figures called once again on the international community to condemn the regime’s bloody crackdown on protests, which has so far killed more than 1,300 people, according to human rights organizations.

Thousands fled the town of Jisr al-Shoughour in a desperate bid to escape the violence, crossing over into nearby Turkey as the Syrian army amassed tanks and infantry on the outskirts of the town. Witnesses in Turkish refugee camps reported that the city is now “pretty much empty,” said Nadim Houry, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, in an interview from Beirut.

Syrian soldiers have been dispatched to Jisr al-Shoughour, a quiet market town on the country’s northwest border with Turkey, after a series of violent clashes that the regime claimed left as many as 120 police dead. The official state news agency called the incident a “massacre” perpetrated by “armed terrorist gangs.” But Houry and others have disputed that account, saying the deaths resulted instead from the soldiers’ refusal to fire on unarmed protesters.

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What’s the endgame in Syria? Military defections are key to turning the tide, analysts say

Syrian protesters carry national flags and banners during a rally in Talbiseh, in the central province of Homs, Syria. Photo: AP/Shaam News Network

Will the Syrian regime’s depravity be its downfall?

The government of Bashar al-Assad has crossed new thresholds of ruthlessness in its desperate bid to cling to power, spraying bullets indiscriminately into funeral processions and returning the mutilated body of a 13-year-old boy to his horrified parents. Human Rights Watch puts the death toll in the Syrian uprising at about 1,300 people, and with tanks rolling into towns such as Hama and Jisr al-Shughour, the crackdown shows no signs of slowing.

As The New York Times reports, Assad may now be turning to his brother, Maher, to intensify the army’s brutal repression of protesters in the dusty agricultural towns and coastal cities that have been the scenes of the most intense fighting. So what, if anything, will break the government’s tight grip on power in Syria, given the regime’s apparently insatiable penchant for barbarism? Mass defections of Syrian soldiers, experts say.
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Christine Lagarde favored for IMF top job

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde arrives for a Eurogroup meeting at the EU Council in Brussels on May 16. Photo: AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Christine Lagarde, French finance minister — and “complete bad ass” — has emerged as the leading favorite to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Strauss-Kahn, once a leading Socialist candidate for the French presidency, resigned from the IMF top spot last week and is currently under house arrest while awaiting trial for attempted rape in New York City.

Lagarde, 55, made headlines when she took office in 2007 after she advised her famously contemplative compatriots to “think less and work more.” During her tenure, she has shown herself to be a formidable champion of controversial reforms to France’s celebrated social security safety net, including the raising of the minimum age for retirement from 60 to 62 last fall.
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