Taliban Talks -- The U.K.’s New Statesman magazine interviews “one of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and a confidant of the movement’s leadership.” The unnamed leader admitted the insurgents cannot win the war in Afghanistan and will likely seek settlement with other political forces. He also said at least 70% of the Taliban dislike al-Qaeda: “Our people consider al-Qaeda to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens.”
Flood Levels – The New York Times reports from Krymsk, Russia, where “grief, rage and deep mistrust” follow on from the floods that have so far killed 172 people. “It came as a shock … when officials acknowledged that they had been aware of a threat … at 10 the previous night, but had not taken measures to rouse its sleeping residents,” it wrote. “Whatever the ultimate repercussions … Krymsk offers a view of the gap that has opened between Russians and their government.”
Syria Special – Online-only Global Post launches an “Inside Syria” section exploring various aspects of the conflict; from anti-Assad forces’ fears that te Free Syrian Army is “increasingly controlled by sectarian and religious radicals,” to the unlikely sources of the rebels’ arms. The package also features video from the town of Ariha, which the Syrian army reportedly surrounded with tanks and snipers only for the rebels to retain control after fierce fighting.
Coalition Cracks – The U.K.’s Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government has been forced into a “humiliating last minute retreat” to “head off a defeat over plans for an elected House of Lords,” the Independent writes. 91 Conservative MPs voted against the measure and a further 50 abstained, resulting in Prime Minister David Cameron delaying the timetabling of the bill until fall. Senior Liberal Democrats have since “renewed threats to block Tory proposals if Mr Cameron fails to force his MPs into line,” said the paper. Meanwhile, the Labour MP Karl Turner has spoken out about PM Cameron supposedly confronting a rebel Tory backbencher after the vote, and pointing in “a very aggressive manner” at Jesse Norman. Downing Street dismissed the alleged incident.
Clinton in Laos – As Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Laos in over 50 years, the Washington Post examines “whether a place the United States pummeled with bombs during the Vietnam War could evolve into a new foothold of American influence in Asia. The visit forms part of a 14 day tour of Asia, where Clinton will visit seven nations in total, including Vietnam and Cambodia, whose relations with the U.S. have warmed in recent years.
Bribery Arrest – The BBC reports that the brother of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has been arrested on charges of corruption. Lee Sang-deuk is alleged to have accepted 600 million won, the equivalent of $525,000, in bribes from the chairmen of two savings banks, in return for helping them avoid an audit. It led to 90,000 people losing millions in savings, and has “caused widespread anger among Koreans.” Lee Sang-deuk’s charges are the latest in a string of corruption scandals involving individuals with links to the president.