Must-Reads from Around the World, July 17, 2012

Today's picks: Syria's most senior defector thinks President Assad is "ready to use chemical weapons," a U.S. senate probe learns that HSBC has been aiding Mexican drug money laundering, and reaction to the African Union electing its first female head.

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Tim Shaffer/Reuters

An exterior view of the HSBC facility is pictured in New Castle, Delaware July 13, 2012.

Drug Money — A U.S. Senate probe has discovered that HSBC, the largest bank in Europe, allegedly facilitated Mexican drug money laundering. The BBC reports that lax controls reportedly allowed huge sums of suspicious money from Syria, the Cayman Islands, Iran and Saudi Arabia to pass through HSBC banks. Chief executive Stuart Gulliver acknowledged the bank’s culpability in a memo, saying, “It is right that we will be held accountable and that we take responsibility for fixing what went wrong.” The revelation comes on the heels of the Barclays rate-fixing scandal that shed a harsh light on British banking practices.

Credit Card Clash — A World Trade Organization panel concluded that China’s tight control of credit card transactions discriminates against U.S. companies. The Wall Street Journal reports that the WTO ordered China to end restrictions against foreign credit card issuers, to ensure a level playing field. For now, companies like Visa and Mastercard must partner with Chinese card issuers and allow China UnionPay to process domestic transactions. A Mastercard spokesperson said the decision will make business opportunities in China “all the more interesting.”

Anti-Nuke Campaign — Monday’s anti-nuclear demonstration in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park was the largest in decades, with roughly 170,000 protesters demanding an end to nuclear power in Japan, according to organizers. The Global Post reports that the latest protest is “a sign that popular opposition to atomic power has endured” since the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011. In June, Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda authorized the restart of a reactor at Oi Nuclear Power Plant, even though polls show that most of the Japanese public is against restarting reactors.
Chemical Weapons —The BBC interviews the Syrian’s government’s most senior defector, who has not ruled out Bashar Assad’s regime using chemical weapons against the opposition. Nawaf Fares, the country’s former ambassador to Iraq said,”There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs,” describing Mr. Assad as “a wounded wolf and cornered.” He also made the surprising suggestion that the Syrian government has been collaborating with al-Qaeda in coordinating major bombings throughout Syria, claiming, “There is enough evidence in history that lots of enemies meet when their interests meet.”

Out With the Old — Reuters analyzes whether the replacement of North Korea’s most senior military official, Ri Yong-ho, with relative unknown Hyon Yong-chol is part of Kim Jong Un’s “bid to impose authority on a military that has been the backbone of his family’s long rule over the isolated state.” While the young leader has “already stamped his image on North Korea,” frequently being filmed in public in contrast to “the austere, reclusive image of his father,” Reuters notes that “he appears to have done little, if anything, to address the desperate economic situation he inherited from his father in a country where average incomes are estimated by South Korea at just $1,200 a year.”

First Female — Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been appointed the first female head of the African Union, the Independent writes. However, her position as the wife of former South African president Jacob Zuma has fuelled “accusations that the nation is looking to dominate the politics of the continent.” Following “a bruising six-month leadership battle, which highlighted lingering divisions between Africa’s Anglophone and Francophone nations and deflected attention from crises, such as the conflict in the Sudans and DR Congo,” Dlamini-Zuma beat the Cameroonian incumbent Jean Pin with 60% of the vote from the 54-nation bloc.