Conflict & Justice

Chatter: Mr Hollande goes to Afghanistan




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Need to know:
France's new president, François Hollande, dropped in on Afghanistan this morning, for an unexpected visit to French soldiers. He'll also meet President Hamid Karzai.

The surprise trip is apparently to allow Hollande to explain to the troops why he wants them to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year sooner than Nicolas Sarkozy had planned.

Pulling out France's 3,300 soldiers early is a "sovereign decision," Hollande says, and will be carried out "in good understanding with our allies, especially President Obama – who understands the reasons." 

Want to know:
Mexico is on hurricane watch as a major storm heads toward its Pacific coast.

The deceptively friendly-sounding Hurricane Bud has developed into a Category 3 storm with winds of 115 mph. It's expected to weaken gradually this afternoon, but forecasters say it will initially reach the Mexican coast as a hurricane. 

The storm is set to cause dangerous currents and heavy rainfall, which, it's feared, could result in flash flooding and mudslides. Authorities are preparing emergency shelters.

Dull but important:
Trading in shares in Spain's fourth-largest bank, Bankia, was suspended this morning – two days after the Spanish government said it would fully nationalize the firm.

Market regulators refers only to "issues that could affect normal share trading" – a euphemism for the multi-billion-euro bailout for which Bankia is about to ask the government later today. This, weeks after Madrid bought a 45-percent stake in the struggling lender.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has made no bones about the fact that Spain's economy is in recession and urgently needs liquidity. No wonder, then, the country's Eurovision entrant is getting nervous she might just win the contest, and saddle Spain with an international songfest to host.

Just because:
Should the organizers of the London Olympics – billed as the "Green Games" – be getting into bed with the makers of Agent Orange? A chorus of protesters and, now, the Vietnamese government say no.

They're calling on the International Olympic Committee to cancel Dow Chemical's sponsorship in the name of hundreds of thousands of children born with cleft palates, mental disabilities, hernias, lung, larynx and prostate cancer, missing limbs and extra fingers and toes.

Vietnam has tried, unsuccessfully, to win damages from Dow, which produced about one-third of the 80 million liters of Agent Orange defoliants sprayed over southern Vietnam during the war. To allow the company to sponsor the Olympics and Paralympics, Vietnamese officials and victims' associations say, is an affront to everything the Games stand for.

Strange but true:
Airline customers are used to the idea of paying more for a little extra leg room. How about a little extra, er, ass area?

European plane-maker Airbus says its passenger jets now come with an extra-wide seating option, especially for US airlines and their pudgy passengers. If they so desire, Airbus' A320 can be kitted out with two 19.6-inch seats either side of the aisle, instead of three 17.7-inch ones.

The XXL seats aren't just for overweight travelers, Airbus hastens to add: parents with small children and "large football players" might also be interested, a spokeswoman tactfully suggested. Yeah. That's definitely a better pitch than "elephant-sized transport tanks for fatties."