SPOTLIGHT: OBAMA VIETNAM PIVOT
Following last year's diplomatic breakthrough on Cuba and ahead of an unprecedented trip to Hiroshima, Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement this morning of an end to the longstanding weapons embargo on Vietnam can be quickly dropped into the "historic" file of his presidency. The presence of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, in Hanoi added a touch of poignancy to the news.
Still, to observers of the region, the breakthrough is much more about the future than the past. The closer ties of the former enemies reflect simmering fears the two countries share about the extent of China's military ambitions. In some sense, the end of the embargo marks a symbolic late-term bookmark on Obama's declaration early in his presidency of Washington's diplomatic "pivot" towards Asia, and away from historic areas of focus in Europe and the Middle East.
On the eve of Obama's visit to the region, a sharply worded piece in the Singapore-based Straits Times from top Chinese diplomat Xu Bu offered a view of how Beijing sees Washington's presence in the region. American officials, Xu writes, "repeatedly made irresponsible remarks about China's policy, rendered support to the countries having disputes with China, and (have) gone even further to drive wedges between China and Southeast Asian countries." Yes, in Hanoi today, history was made — with plenty more to come.
BOMBS KILL MORE THAN 100 IN ASSAD STRONGHOLDS
More than 100 people have died in multiple bomb attacks in the Syrian coastal cities of Tartus and Jableh, two Syrian government strongholds, Reuters reports, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the scale of which was "unprecedented", according to the head of the Observatory. This part of Syria had been largely quiet despite the chaos engulfing most of the country. Tartus is also home to a Russian naval base.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Austrian election results (see below)
- First ever World Humanitarian Summit opens in Istanbul.
OPERATION TO RETAKE FALLUJAH FROM ISIS
The Iraqi army has launched a vast offensive to retake Fallujah, a city located 40 miles west of Baghdad and held by ISIS terrorists for more than two years, Al Jazeera reports. The offensive, which started overnight, is expected to last several weeks.
TALIBAN LEADER KILLED
U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed the death of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, in a drone strike on Saturday, The New York Times reports this morning.
— ON THIS DAY
Bonnie and Clyde's adventure ended 82 years ago today. This and more in your daily 57-second shot of history.
AUSTRIAN PRESIDENTIAL SHOWDOWN TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer came out on top of yesterday's presidential election in Austria, with 51,9% against 48,1% for his Green Party opponent Alexander Van der Bellen, but postal votes, which are being counted today, could decide the result, Kurier reports. Final results will be announced this evening.
BAYER MAKES OFFER TO BUY MONSANTO
German drugs and chemicals company Bayer has made an all-cash $62 billion offer for Monsanto, Bloomberg reports. If it goes through, the deal will create the world's biggest supplier of farm chemicals and genetically modified seeds.
DEATH TOLL RISES IN FLOODED SRI LANKA
At least 92 people have died in Sri Lanka in the worst floodings and landslides the country has seen in the last quarter of a century. The national website Adaderana also reports that 109 are still missing.
Tunisia's Islamist ruling party Ennahda is moving away from "political Islam" and aims to put Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, on the path "toward a more mature society." In an exclusive interview with Le Monde, the group's leader Rached Ghannouchi explains the reasons behind this groundbreaking shift. "Political activism has no place in a mosque. It is a place where Muslims can come together, and should not be used by any political party as a means to preach its own ideas. We want religion to be a way for Tunisians to come together, and not to be divided.
This is why we don't want imams to become political leaders, or even party members in the long run. We want our party to tackle daily issues that are important to families. We don't want a party that focuses on Day of Reckoning Day, Reaching Paradise, and so on."
Read the full article: Tunisia's Ennahda Movement Redefines Muslim Democracy.
GREECE PASSES MORE AUSTERITY BILLS
Greek lawmakers approved a new series of austerity measures to unlock more loans from the country's creditors, Kathimerinireports. The bills include new tax hikes.
KEN LOACH WINS PALME D'OR IN CANNES
British director Ken Loach has won his second Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his movie I, Daniel Blake. See all winners (and losers) here.
FRENCH FESTS BAN EAGLES OF DEATH METAL
Two French music festivals cancelled performances by Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was playing at the Bataclan concert hall when Islamist militants struck the venue on Nov. 13 last year, after the band's frontman made controversial remarks about Muslims allegedly celebrating the terror attack.
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The International Olympic Committee is planning to distribute a record 450,000 condoms to the 10,500 athletes expected to take part in this summer's Olympic Games in Rio, amid worries over the Zika virus, which can be sexually transmitted. It represents an average of 42 condoms per athlete, three times more than for the London Olympics.