World Digest: Nov. 4, 2013

November 4, 2013
SYRIA
Damascus promises polio vaccinations

Syria said Monday that it will work with international organizations to ensure that all children in the country, even those in rebel-held areas, are vaccinated against polio amid an outbreak of the crippling and highly communicable disease.

The World Health Organization last week confirmed 10 cases of polio among children in northeastern Syria. The U.N. health agency warned that the outbreak — the first in 14 years in the country — risks spreading among an estimated half-million Syrian children who haven’t been immunized because of the civil war.

“We intend to vaccinate each Syrian child regardless of the area they are present in, whether it is a hot spot or a place where the Syrian Arab Army is present,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said. “We promise that we will give opportunity to humanitarian organizations to reach every Syrian child.”

Syria announced last month that it had launched a vaccination campaign, while UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said his organization and the WHO planned to immunize 2.4 million children throughout Syria. Access to all areas of the country, however, remains a problem.

Aid groups have called for cease-fires to allow immunization campaigns to reach zones affected by fighting.

— Associated Press

GERMANY
Nazi-looted art was kept quiet for 2 years

A Jewish group accused Germany on Monday of moral complicity in concealment of stolen paintings after it emerged that authorities failed for two years to report discovery of a trove of art seized by the Nazis, including works by Picasso and Matisse.

Customs officials’ chance discovery of 1,500 artworks in a Munich flat owned by the reclusive elderly son of a wartime art dealer was revealed in a report by the newsmagazine Focus over the weekend. Officials in the southern state of Bavaria declined to comment on what could be one of the most significant recoveries of Nazi-looted art.

The case poses a legal and moral minefield for authorities. The Nazi regime systematically plundered hundreds of thousands of artworks from museums and individuals across Europe. An unknown number of works are still missing, and museums worldwide have held investigations into the origins of their exhibits.

Focus estimated that the works found among stacks of hoarded groceries in the flat of Cornelius Gurlitt could be worth well over $1.35 billion. Some, it said, could have been bought by his father, Hildebrand, from the collections of German state museums. Others were seized or extorted from persecuted Jewish collectors.

— Reuters

Brazil acknowledges spying on diplomats: The Brazilian government confirmed Monday that its intelligence service targeted U.S., Russian, Iranian and Iraqi diplomats and property during spy activities carried out about a decade ago in the capital, Brasilia. The relatively low-key surveillance was reported by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, based on documents it obtained from an undisclosed source. The revelation forced the Brazilian government to defend its espionage while remaining the loudest critic of the U.S. National Security Agency programs that have aggressively targeted communications in Brazil, including the personal phone and e-mail of President Dilma Rousseff, who canceled a state visit to Washington in response.

Russian nationalists denounce migrants: Several thousand Russian nationalists rallied Monday in Moscow, venting against the migrants they accuse of pushing up the crime rate and taking their jobs. The protest took place on Unity Day, a national holiday established in 2005 to replace commemorations of the Bolshevik Revolution. Animosity is strong among nationalists against migrants from the former Soviet Central Asian republics and against non-Slavs from the largely Muslim Russian Caucasus region.

Toronto mayor denies drug addiction: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford dodged a direct question about whether he has ever used crack cocaine during a radio talk show appearance a day after he apologized for “a lot of stupid things” and acknowledged the need to curb his drinking. When asked by the host of “The John Oakley Show” on Monday if he has ever used crack, Ford responded by saying only that he was not a drug addict or an alcoholic. Police say they have obtained a copy of a video that appears to show the mayor puffing on a crack cocaine pipe.

— From news services

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