Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has named Evangelos Venizelos as the country’s new finance minister, tasking him with addressing the country’s debt crisis, even as members of his own party have rejected austerity measures that Greece must take by the end of this month in order to receive an aid package from the International Monetary Fund and European Union. A $160 billion aid package passed last year, $17 billion of which is set to be disbursed in July. Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of Athens this week to protest the measures.
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Papandreou faces a declining majority in parliament and is attempting to reshuffle his cabinet before a possible vote of confidence. According to the Washington Post:
The possibility that Papandreou will fail — and be unable to commit the country to an austerity program negotiated with the IMF and European officials — is considered one of the chief risks pushing Greece toward a default on its bond payments and what the Obama administration and others consider potentially calamitous economic fallout.
Greece’s woes have added to alarm in the United States and elsewhere as a growing number of countries face the reality of heavy debt.
Syrian Troops Take Northwest Town of Maaret al-Numan
After retaking the restive town of Jisr al-Shughour last weekend, Syrian troops, tanks and helicopters have seized the town of Maaret al-Numan, some 28 miles from the border with Turkey, causing some of the town’s 100,000 residents to flee and compounding an already growing refugee crisis in nearby Turkey.
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Thousands of protesters turned out Friday as the three-month-old opposition movement continued to call for the ouster of President Bashar Assad. International criticism of Assad and the government’s crackdown has grown steadier; on Friday France and Germany called for heavier sanctions against Syria.
Though outside media have been restricted, witnesses report summary executions, detentions of prisoners in large-scale sweeps, and other human rights abuses. Human rights groups estimate 10,000 have been arrested in addition to the 1,400 killed around the country.
Suspicious Vehicle Shuts Down Traffic Near Pentagon
Traffic was diverted around the Pentagon after a “suspicious man” was detained in Arlington Cemetery overnight, according to the U.S. Park Police. Authorities then located his vehicle, which is being examined by the Arlington County bomb disposal unit, though authorities have not confirmed if a threatening device had been located.
It is unclear whether another person or persons were involved in the incident.
The sweep has snarled several major roads in the middle of the morning commute into Washington, D.C., with Interstates 395 and 66 and Route 110 backed up.
Saudi Women Protest Driving Ban
Women in Saudi Arabia are being encouraged to take to the roads Friday as a sign of protest against the country’s edict against female drivers. Organizers have posted a Facebook page called “Women2Drive 17th June” with advice for driving, including wearing a hijab or headscarf and having a male with them.
Organizers also have called attention to the case of a woman named Manal al Sharif, who was detained for a week in May after being caught behind the wheel.
Floods Force 500,000 to Evacuate in China
Floods in central and southern China have forced more than 500,000 residents to evacuate and killed at least 100 people. Rains are expected in the region through the weekend.
The rains come after a period of drought — and have threatened large swaths of farmlands, raising concerns about a massive crop shortfall this season.