The Envoy
  • Russia's Vladimir Putin met former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in St. Petersburg, Russia, April 14, 2007. (Interpress, file/AP)As polls universally predict victory for Vladimir Putin in Russian presidential elections Sunday, a prominent Washington Russia scholar likened the once and likely future Russian president to Italy's disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was ousted from power last year during the European financial crisis.

    "Putin is now moving into his 'Berlusconi phase,'" Fiona Hill, a Russia scholar at the Brookings Institution, said in an analysis prepared by the think tank and sent to journalists in advance of Sunday's polls.

    "Like Putin in Russia, Berlusconi dominated Italian politics," Hill wrote. "Berlusconi's brand had been tarnished for a long time, but he was still the most popular individual politician in a fractious Italian political scene." Like Putin, Berlusconi "stifled the opposition...manipulated the media, [and] had mass protests against him. But none of the political opposition seemed to be capable of dislodging him from his perch."

    Read More »from Russian elections: Putin ‘moving into his Berlusconi phase,’ according to scholar

  • The bodies of American and French journalists killed in Syria were handed over to aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Friday, a day after Syrian security forces overtook the city following a rebel retreat.

    The Red Cross confirmed Friday that it had received the bodies of American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik, who were killed last week in a mortar attack while covering the terror of Homs' residents enduring Syrian forces' weeks-long indiscriminate assault.

    The ICRC said it was blocked, however, from bringing a convoy of emergency humanitarian aid into the devastated Baba Amr neighborhood of the city, which was reportedly in ruins after being under sustained assault from Syrian forces for the past month.

    "Unfortunately no access today to BabaAmr," the ICRC's spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini wrote on Twitter Friday. "We were not allowed to enter BabaAmr and assist the people in need Syria."

    ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger called the blocking of aid unacceptable. He also appealed to Syrian authorities for a two-hour daily ceasefire in Syria to allow humanitarian assistance.

    The push for increased international humanitarian access to Syria came as Syrian opposition activists gave harrowing accounts of revenge attacks after Syrian forces retook Homs.

    "Bassel Fouad, a Syrian activist who fled to Lebanon from Baba Amr two days ago, said a colleague there told him Friday that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen known as shabiha were conducting house-to-house raids," Reuters reported. "His colleague said the gunmen lined 10 men up early Friday and shot them dead in front of a government cooperative that sells subsidized food." Foreign reporters, blocked from entering Syria, were not able to independently confirm the reports, and satellite phone and Skype access to residents of Homs were lost in the past days.

    Two senior American diplomats, testifying on the Syrian crisis Thursday on Capitol Hill, said humanitarian access was the key priority right now for the international community. There was still no international consensus for more aggressive measures, such as a Libya-style international military intervention, they said, describing the situation as exceedingly complex.

    Read More »from Syria delivers journalists’ bodies to Red Cross but blocks aid convoy
  • An Iranian wearing a "God Bless America" t-shirt votes in Iran parliamentary elections March 2, 2012. (Mehr News Agency, via PBS Tehran Bureau).Tense and economically beleaguered Iranians were implored by clerical leaders to head to parliamentary polls Friday in the first elections the country has held since its widely disputed 2009 presidential elections that sparked mass protests and a subsequent crackdown.

    "A turnout as big as Iran," was a headline on state television, Reuters reported.

    Iranian reformist parties were urging their supporters to boycott Friday's polls, which an aide to one imprisoned Iranian opposition leader declared a "farce" in an op-ed in the New York Times Friday.

    Despite the scorn and apathy of the reformists, Iranian clerics and conservatives were imploring Iranian citizens to deliver a big turnout on Friday, declaring it a crucial show of national defiance against the international alliance pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program.

    "Once again, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia are busy preparing, as they have in the past, to drag men in uniform and their families to the ballot box with prepared lists of the votes they should cast," Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, spokesman for the Iranian opposition green movement, and an adviser to opposition leader and former Iranian prime minister Mir Hussein Moussavi, wrote in the New York Times Friday in the same op-ed.

    "The apathy of Iranians today is rooted in the contested nature and violent aftershocks of the 2009 election," he continued. "With most of the democratic opposition's prominent figures, including Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Karroubi, languishing in prison or under house arrest on trumped-up charges, reformist parties have announced that they do not recognize the legitimacy of a sham election."

    The elections come as Iran's economy is under intense strain from new U.S. and European economic sanctions preventing Iran from securing revenues from oil sales.

    President Barack Obama--under concerted pressure from Israeli leaders to use military force against Iran if it does not curb its nuclear program--defended his policy toward Iran as tough and effective in an interview Friday.

    Read More »from Iran holds parliamentary elections amid growing international tension


(679 Stories)
  • Venomous Snakebite Captured in a Photo
    Venomous Snakebite Captured in a Photo

    When a biologist doing fieldwork in the Sri Lankan rainforest ventured to photograph a seldom-seen snake species, a rare sight was inadvertently captured on camera: the exact moment the venomous snake bit, striking him on the hand. The incident occurred in January 2014, in a nature reserve in southern Sri Lanka where the man found two specimens of the snake, called the Sri Lankan keelback. "He strongly believed that the bite of this snake would not cause any envenoming," the doctors and other team members who treated the man at University of Peradeniya and Base Hospital in Sri Lanka wrote in their report, published online Nov. 6 in the journal Toxicon. The Sri Lankan keelback does not have front fangs, which is likely why the man assumed that "the snake wasn't a big deal," said Dr. Scott Weinstein, a toxinologist and snakebite expert at Women's and Children's Hospital in North Adelaide, Australia, who was not involved in the case report.

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