Must Reads: A 'Red Era' museum, Obama and mothers of the missing


From attacks in Afghanistan to the missing in Mexico, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from the past week in global news:

China museum builder lets history speak

Obama faces new Mideast challenges in his second term

As 'insider attacks' grow, so does U.S.-Afghanistan divide

Mothers from Central America search for missing kin in Mexico

Britain's crackdown on Web comments sparks free-speech debate

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Marta Elena Perez of from Nicaragua attends Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City on Oct. 28, 2012, with a photograph of her daughter, Karla Patricia Perez, who went missing in 2005. Credit: Marco Ugarte / Associated Press

Mystery surrounds arrested Iranian blogger's reported death

BEIRUT -- Human rights activists are calling on Iran to investigate the apparent death of a blogger who was in custody after being arrested for criticizing the government in online postings.

Sattar Beheshti, 35, reportedly died this week while in detention after his arrest Oct. 30 by Iran’s cyber police unit.

Beheshti maintained a website, My Life for My Iran, on which he criticized the Iranian government, said the human rights group Amnesty International.

The exact time and cause of his death are not publicly known, Amnesty said in a statement.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately carry out an independent investigation into his death, including whether torture played a part in it,” Amnesty International said.

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Iran reportedly bans imports of foreign 'luxury' goods

Iran reportedly bans imports of foreign 'luxury' goods

Iran is reportedly banning the import of foreign cars, laptops and scores of other "luxury" goods in an effort to protect its stash of hard currency.

Iran Daily, a state-owned newspaper, reported Thursday that a long list of foreign products including cellphones and cosmetics could not be purchased from abroad. More than 70 kinds of foreign goods were included on its published list, including home appliances, apparel and luxury cars such as Porsches.

Products that could not be made domestically could later be removed from the list after more review, the article said, but those that could be produced inside Iran would remain banned.

The step comes as Iran faces continued pressure from Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The value of Iranian currency has plunged dramatically over the last year, forcing Iranians to scale back. Western government experts believe its foreign currency reserves are in danger of running out, pushing it toward an “economic drop dead date.”

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Report: Israel leaders ordered preparedness for Iran strike in 2010

NetanyahuJERUSALEM — Israel's prime minister and defense minister tried to move their country closer to an attack on Iran in 2010 but military and security chiefs resisted, an Israeli television program reported Monday.

The Channel 2 television magazine “Fact” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the military to enter a level of preparedness termed P Plus, reportedly code for preparing for a military strike.

It remained unclear whether they intended to follow through with a strike or just wanted to signal that Israel was prepared to make such a move. Ultimately the instructions to the military were dropped.

In a taped interview that followed the segment, Netanyahu told “Fact” that he was “not eager to go to war” and would be “very happy” to see international sanctions force Iran to rein in its nuclear program, which Tehran says is peaceful in intent but Israel, the U.S. and others fear will produce a nuclear weapon.

“At the end of the day, as prime minister of the Jewish state, the responsibility is mine to prevent the threat to our existence,” Netanyahu said.

In the feature, which aired Monday night, veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan reported that the order was given somewhat casually, at the end of a ministerial forum convened on a different matter.

But Gabi Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, then army chief of staff and head of Mossad, respectively, resisted the instruction, said Dayan's report. Ashkenazi reportedly said the army wasn't ready; Dagan contended that only the security Cabinet could authorize such a step because it might lead to war. Both men have since left their posts.

The report highlights the continuing disagreement between Netanyahu and some of his top security officials on the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program, a topic that in recent years has become a permanent fixture on the agenda in Israel.

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Iranian dissidents win esteemed human rights prize

Iran eu prize
TEHRAN -- A pair of Iranian dissidents — a jailed human rights lawyer and a banned filmmaker -- were named winners Friday of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize.

The award went jointly to Nasrin Sotoudeh, an attorney who has represented political activists and others in Iran, and to Jafar Panahi, an internationally acclaimed  director now banned from  movie-making.

“The award … is a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement.

The prize, named after Andre Sakharov, the late Soviet physicist and political dissident, honors people and organizations that have contributed to human rights or democracy. The prize will be formally awarded in December in Strasbourg, France.

Before the decision was announced, Reza Khandan, the husband of Sotoudeh, said in a telephone interview: “It is an important prize and it is good not only for Iranians but for all mankind.” He later trembled when informed by a journalist that his wife had been honored. 

Among Sotoudeh’s clients have been dissidents imprisoned following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential elections, juveniles facing the death penalty, women and “prisoners of conscience,” the European Parliament noted in a press release. She was arrested in September 2010 on charges of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security and has been held in solitary confinement, the parliament said. She is serving a six-year prison term and faces a 10-year ban from practicing law.

The Iranian lawyer recently began a hunger strike to protest what she calls the harassment of her family and her inability to hug her husband and two young children. During prison visits, the family must communicate by phone from behind a clear barrier.

Panahi first achieved international recognition with his movie "The White Balloon," which won the Camera d’Or prize at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, the European Parliament noted. His films often focus on the fate of children, the poor and women in Iran. His latest work, “This Is Not a Film,” was smuggled from Iran last year on a USB memory stick hidden inside a cake, the Parliament noted.

Panahi was arrested in 2010 and later sentenced to six years in prison and received a 20-year ban on directing any films or leaving the country. He is currently not imprisoned.

The pair were chosen ahead of two other finalists-- Ales Bialiatski, the Belarus dissident; and members of the all-female Russian punk group Pussy Riot, whose prosecution for hooliganism sparked global protests on their behalf.


Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, shot by Taliban, able to stand

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban arrives in Britain for treatment

112 killed, homes burned as Buddhists, Muslims clash in Myanmar

-- Ramin Mostaghim. Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut also contributed.

Photo:  An undated handout picture of Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Credit:  EPA / Mihan News Agency

Iranian President Ahmadinejad barred from prison

AhmadinejadTEHRAN -- These are trying times for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has seen his power and prestige wane as the nation’s economy crumbles and the end of his second and final term nears.

He’s not even welcome at the prison in Tehran.

Iran’s judiciary has denied the chief executive’s request to visit Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where the president reportedly wanted to meet with his former media advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr. The  media associate is serving a six-month sentence for publishing an article deemed un-Islamic and offensive to public decency.

A spokesman for the judiciary said Monday that the president’s request was deemed not in the “national interest.”

As it happens, the head of Iran's judiciary branch, Sadegh Larijani, is part of the hard-line political faction that is not especially fond of the outgoing president.

In the West, Ahmadinejad may be regarded as the public face of a despotic theocracy. At home, however, he has clashed with the hard-line mullahs and has fallen out of favor with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This year there was even talk of impeachment. 

Undeterred, and ever-resilient, Ahmadinejad went public Monday with his outrage about the no-jail card. As president, he wrote in an open letter, he has every right to visit the prison. It is his duty, he wrote, “to make sure the articles of the constitution and the basic rights of the nation are observed and implemented.”

The two-term president is not allowed to run again in elections scheduled for June.


Lebanese army warns against violence amid tensions

Jordanian soldier killed in clash on border with Syria

Italian seismologists ordered to prison for not warning of quake risk

-- Ramin Mostaghim. Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed.

Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been denied premission to visit Tehran's Evin Prison, where an aide is  being held. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press





26 high school students, all girls, die in Iran field trip crash

TEHRAN –- More than two dozen high school girls were killed in southwestern Iran on Friday night when the bus they were riding in overturned during a field trip.

The driver of the bus lost control along a mountain road and overturned about 300 miles south of the capital, Tehran, killing 26, state media reported Saturday, adding that he was speeding in rainy weather. Twenty-three others were injured.

Iran has one of the world's worst traffic safety records, with about 20,000 people killed annually, according to an insurance research center that compiles the numbers each year. Police officials have had limited success in reducing crashes.

One of the injured students told a local reporter that the driver was reckless.

Amid public outrage over the deaths, especially during a school trip, a deputy education minister tried to play down the accident, saying, "Accidents happen -- some people are hurt while climbing up escalators. Certainly nobody wished for this to happen."

The students were on a field trip to the former front lines of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, according to the ILNA news agency.


Lebanese PM won't resign after bombing

Israeli navy intercepts Gaza-bound protest ship

Palestinians vote in first local elections since 2005

-- Ramin Mostaghim

Iran nuclear threat: More Americans want 'firm stand,' poll says

WASHINGTON -- As international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear development program continue, a growing share of Americans say they want firm action to end the threat of the Tehran regime building a nuclear bomb, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Fifty-six percent of respondents said they favor Washington taking a "firm stand" with Iran, while 41% said it is "more important to avoid military conflict," the poll found. The share saying they advocate firm action has increased from 50% since January.

The poll, taken of 1,511 adults October 4-7, didn't define "firm stand."

The Obama administration has argued that a combined effort of international economic sanctions and diplomacy can persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, and says time remains before policymakers need to decide whether to launch airstrikes and/or other military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Western nations believe that Iran is developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons; Iran says its nuclear program is meant for civilian purposes only.

The poll also found some disillusionment with the popular revolts that rocked much of the Middle East last year in the "Arab Spring," and a growing desire for Washington to support stable Middle Eastern governments, even if they are undemocratic. The results also pointed to a desire for the United States to scale back involvement in the turbulent region.

The results suggest some gulf between the public and political leaders in Washington. President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney both advocate continued deep engagement in the region and active efforts to foster democratic governments.

The survey found 57% of respondents said they don't believe the uprisings that ousted governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya will lead to lasting improvements for their citizens.That's up sharply from 43% in April 2011, three months into the upheaval.

It also found that 54% said they believe it is more important to have stable governments in the Middle East, even if there is less democracy. In contrast, 36% said it is more important to have democratic governments. Sixty-three percent said they think the United States should be less involved with changes of leadership in the Middle East, while 23% said it should be more involved. 

The poll also indicated that most Americans say they want an accelerated withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. currently has about 68,000 troops in that country, and the Obama administration plans to withdraw them by the end of 2014, although the pace of the pullout remains unclear. 

Fifty-eight percent of independent respondents and 70% of Democrats said they want American troops removed as quickly as possible. Republicans were evenly split, with 48% saying they want immediate withdrawal and 48% saying they want the troops to stay "until the situation is stabilized."


Activists: Airstrike on Syrian city kills at least 30 civilians

U.S. soldiers arrive in Israel for largest-ever military exercise

Striking Egyptian doctors begin nationwide resignation campaign

-- Paul Richter

Imprisoned lawyer in Iran goes on hunger strike


TEHRAN -- An Iranian human rights lawyer whose jailing spurred an international outcry is now going on a  hunger strike, frustrated by restrictions on her family, her husband said Thursday.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, 49, was convicted last year of acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the government. The attorney, known for defending Iranian dissidents, had earlier angered the judiciary by denouncing the unannounced execution of one of her clients, whom she was allowed to meet only briefly.

She was sentenced last year to 11 years in jail and banned from practicing law for 20 years, to the outrage of fellow activists and global human rights groups. At the time, the U.S. State Department decried the sentence as an unjust and harsh attempt to silence defenders of democracy and human rights in the country. Amnesty International calls her a “prisoner of conscience.”

Her sentence has since been commuted to six years and she will be allowed to begin practicing law again after a decade. But while Sotoudeh now faces fewer years behind bars, other restrictions have been imposed on her and her family as she passes the days in Evin Prison in Tehran.

This summer, husband Reza Khandan and their daughter were forbidden from leaving the country. Sotoudeh has since been barred from hugging him and her two children on prison visits, her husband says. Instead, the family must communicate by phone behind a clear barrier.

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U.S. soldiers arrive in Israel for largest-ever military exercise

Military exercise
JERUSALEM -- More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have begun to arrive in Israel for the largest-ever joint military exercise between the two nations to test their cooperation in the event of a large-scale missile attack against Israel.

The three-week, $30-million war games are purely defensive in nature and unrelated to any specific regional threat, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin said during a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

Israel is particularly worried about recent turmoil and new threats in the region. Syria’s unrest is raising fears about the fate of its chemical weapons. Israel has threatened to launch a military attack against Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program. An Iranian-built unmanned spy drone sent by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group was shot down over Israel last week.

Militants in the Gaza Strip this week, for the first time, fired an antiaircraft missile against Israeli planes. Israeli officials believe that weapon and many more like it were smuggled into Gaza from Libya after the revolution in that country.

But Franklin stressed that the exercise, which will include tests of U.S.-made Patriot and Aegis missile defense systems, had been planned for two years and was not intended to send any signal about possible upcoming military operations.

The drill is “not there to send a message,” he said.

In the same telephone briefing, however, Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Nitzan Nuriel said that “anyone who wants can get any kind of message he wants from this exercise.”

Israel relies heavily on its close cooperation with the U.S. military to serve as a deterrent against its enemies.

The exercise will simulate a multifront missile attack against Israel, Nuriel said.


Mexican officials hoping to use Lazcano's dead parents for ID

Suicide bomber detonates truck outside Afghan and NATO base

Rights group: Libya didn't investigate deaths of Kadafi loyalists

 -- Edmund Sanders

Photo: A U.S. soldier works on an anti-missile system in an earlier U.S.-Israeli military exercise. About 1,000 U.S. military personnel are arriving in Israel for joint military exercises to take place over the next three weeks. Credit:  Ziv Koren / European Pressphoto Agency


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