Top of the Agenda: French Police in Standoff with Shooting Suspect
French police have been in an armed standoff outside an apartment building in Toulouse, where a man suspected of gunning down an adult and three children at a Jewish school on Monday is holed up. The twenty-four-year-old French national, identified by a police official as Mohammed Merah, is also suspected of killing three French soldiers in two separate incidents last week. In negotiations with police, the suspect claimed to have ties with al-Qaeda (WSJ) and said the murders at the Jewish school were to "avenge the death of Palestinian children," according to French Interior Minister Claude Guéant. At least two policemen were injured by gunshots fired by the suspect from inside his apartment early this morning. Police indicated the suspect could surrender this afternoon (NYT).
"The appalling murders of this week are likely to soften candidates' discourse, according to political analyst Dominique Reynié. 'What will change in the campaign is the violent tone. We will as a result be able to discuss real issues,' he says. 'I think that politicians who fail to respect that change of tone will be punished,'" writes the Telegraph's Henry Samuel.
"For a couple of days, political life in France is at a standstill. The election campaign has (almost) gone quiet, and most of the presidential candidates have asserted their commitment to France's shared values in a republican consensus. The massacre at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the killing of three soldiers in the region has united the nation in mourning," notes an editorial in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Obama to Visit Korean Border
U.S. President Barack Obama will visit the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea on Sunday for the first time, ahead of an international nuclear summit in Seoul (CNN). The trip also comes amid rising tensions between the two Koreas over North Korea's planned rocket launch next month.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, indicated in a testimony to Congress that a decision about further U.S. troop withdrawals following the drawdown of "surge" troops this summer would not be made until after the U.S. presidential election in November (WSJ).
The Obama administration exempted Japan and ten European countries (NYT) from U.S. economic sanctions meant to punish countries for buying oil from Iran. The EU already enacted an oil embargo on Iran in January, set to come into effect in July, and Japan has made "significant reductions" in its Iranian oil imports.
SYRIA: Human Rights Watch accused Syria's armed rebel groups of committing "serious human rights abuses" (LAT), including kidnappings and torture, as Syrian government forces continued a crackdown on opposition strongholds throughout the country.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti put forward plans for an overhaul of rigid Italian labor laws, part of an effort to accelerate economic growth (WSJ) amid worries over eurozone sovereign debt contagion. The measures, which need to be approved by parliament, face significant opposition from Italy's largest labor union.
The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
LATIN AMERICA: The Caribbean and Latin America account for 28 percent of all the world's homicides (MercoPress), said Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank. Moreno unveiled a special fund to help countries in the region focus on crime prevention.
GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who won the Illinois Republican primarywith 49 percent of the vote, criticized Obama administration policies he says have led to the economy's "weak recovery" in his victory speech (WashPost). Contender Rick Santorum said Tuesday night that while there are many important issues at hand, including the economy, joblessness, national security, and the federal budget, the 2012 election boils down to "freedom" (NYT).