Chatter: One dead in Pakistan's protests over Muhammad movie




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Need to know:
Today in Pakistan, it's officially a "day of love" for the Prophet Muhammad. But some of his followers have a funny way of showing their devotion. One person, a driver for a TV crew, is already reported dead after police opened fire on protesters in Peshawar, where the crowd had attacked two movie theaters.

The demonstrations are against, you guessed it, that anti-Islam movie. Political and religious groups have called rallies all over the country, including the capital, Islamabad, where protesters are reportedly heading en masse for the US embassy. The State Department is warning Americans that they face "potential danger" throughout Pakistan.

Relations between the US and Pakistan weren't exactly warm to begin with, and the furor over the made-in-America video has stirred up some powerful anti-US sentiment. So much so that the US embassy is running a series of ads on Pakistani TV in which President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assure that the US government had nothing to do with the Muhammad movie. Let's hope those videos shout louder than the hate film.

Want to know:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: we haven't heard from him in a while, right? Not since he last appeared on national TV to talk about "cleansing" Syria through civil war, if memory serves.

If you were hoping he might have mellowed, you'd be disappointed. In an interview with an Egyptian magazine, published today, Assad insists that the armed rebels fighting against his forces "will not be victorious in the end." Syria is not Libya, its president says: he will not be toppled by a mob, and regime change will not be effected by foreign intervention. Oh and by the way, Egypt? The Arab Spring didn't bring democracy, only "chaos."

What does chaos look like? How about more than 200 people dead in one day – that's how many people opposition activists say were killed in fighting between military and rebels yesterday in Syria.

Dull but important:
It's official: the surge in Afghanistan is over. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced that the last of the extra 33,000 American soldiers sent to push back the Taliban have left Afghanistan.

The troops spent more than three years in the country, during which time, Panetta says, they accomplished their goals of "reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield" and strengthening Afghan security forces. 

Some 68,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan. They are due to continue supporting Afghan forces until the end of 2014 – provided that the rising number of insider attacks, which has already interrupted training for new police recruits, doesn't stop them working together before then.

Just because:
Aung San Suu Kyi, currently making her triumphant return to the US after more than two decades, has made her strongest call yet to drop the last of America's sanctions on Myanmar.

The democracy campaigner and now opposition MP says she supports the move now, after unprecedented government reforms, "because I think that our people can start taking responsibility for their own destiny."

It's no secret that the US takes policy cues from Suu Kyi – even more than from Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, who is expected to repeat the anti-embargo message when he arrives in Washington shortly. Sanctions are currently in limbo – suspended though not axed entirely – but language like this from The Lady seems to suggest that they'll be wiped out in the near future.

Strange but true:
Here's a question we never thought we'd have to ask: Mitt Romney, did you dye your face brown to appeal to Latino voters?

It seems too absurd even for the Gaffe-a-tron 3000 that is the Republican nominee's presidential campaign. But then, five days ago, we would have said the same thing about Romney calling 47 percent of American voters handout-grabbing, Obama-voting, wealth-redistributing welfare addicts with a victim complex.

And there's no denying that the Romney facial area was a very strange shade of orange when it appeared on Latino TV station Univision this week. We believe cosmeticians call it "burnt ochre," but perhaps in Camp Romney it's known simply as "second-generation Mexican." Listen, we don't know who put it there, but next time could they please at least try to make it look natural? We're talking about fake tan, but frankly, the same goes for the Rom-bot.