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US tries to soothe Afghanistan anger over killings

Week Ahead: US tries to assuage Afghan fury over new killings, negotiation attempts in Syria and the French presidential campaign heats up.

Afghanistan anger 2012 3 1Enlarge
US soldiers keep watch at the entrance of a military base near Alkozai village following the shooting of Afghan civilians allegedly committed by a rogue US soldier in Panjwayi district, Kandahar province on March 11, 2012. (Jangir/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — This week the US will seek to soothe anger in Afghanistan over the killings of 16 civilians by a US sergeant. The international community will keep searching for an end to the killings in Syria and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will campaign to stay in office.

US in damage control in Afghanistan 

The US military in Afghanistan will seek to minimize the harm done by the killing of 16 Afghans Sunday by a US military sergeant who left his base and entered civilian homes in Kandahar province.

Afghan and the US-led NATO forces are bracing for waves of anger from Afghans that could further damage the relationship between the US and their Afghan partners as the Obama administration draws down American forces there.

The killings took place just as Afghan public outrage began to diminish following the the burning of Qurans at a US military base last month.

More from GlobalPost: NATO general apologizes over improper disposal of Qurans 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai started a new round of fury against Americans with outspoken criticism of the killings. "This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven," Karzai said. 

US President Barack Obama countered with a conciliatory statement, saying he was "deeply saddened" by the killings and called Karzai to offer his condolences to the Afghan people.

"I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering," Obama said, according to Politico. "This incident is tragic and shocking and does not represent the exceptional character of our military."

Some Afghans are already calling for the US shooter to be tried in Afghan courts. But the US military has a longstanding policy of trying its own military personnel by court martial. 

US officials have identified the shooter as an Army staff sergeant from Fort Lewis, Washington, according to the Associated Press. Witnesses said the shooter entered three homes while firing, and set fire to some of the bodies. 

The killings come at a tense time for US troops in Afghanistan following the Quran burning incident which led to violent anti-American protests around the country which left around 30 Afghans dead. Later, six US service members were shot by Afghan soldiers, further heightening tensions. 

International efforts to resolve violence in Syria continue 

The international community is searching for an effective way to end the killing in Syria. UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, said he is "optimistic" about making diplomatic progress after meeting with President Bashar al-Assad for a second time on Sunday.

Annan hopes he made a breakthrough in solving the crisis in his talks with Assad, according to a UN official. But Annan, the former secretary-general of the UN, said that a deal with Assad will be tough to achieve.

On Saturday, Annan proposed a cease-fire, the release of detainees and unfettered access for relief agencies to deliver much needed aid. Annan also proposed an inclusive political dialogue that would "address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the people."

After talks, Annan was scheduled to meet with the emir of Qatar, whose prime minister on Saturday called for military intervention in Syria. 

But on Sunday the killing continued in Syria. Opposition groups said 32 more people were killed in Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Latakia, Daraa, Hama and the Damascus countryside.

More from GlobalPost: Annan talks with Assad yield mixed results

Sarko in tight race against Hollande for French presidency

Campaigning for the French presidential race is in high gear following President Nicolas Sakozy's mass rally outside Paris Sunday. Sarkozy urged voters to choose him, to protect "the European way of life."

Just six weeks before the first round of presidential elections on April 22, Sarkozy used rhetoric to inject drama in what has so far been an unremarkable presidential race. Sarkozy is lagging behind Socialist Party candidate François Hollande in opinion polls and struggling to recreate the enthusiasm he built around his successful 2007 campaign.

More from GlobalPost: Sarkozy trails behind Hollande in French presidential race

A large number of supporters turned out for the big event, with the crowd estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000 by organizers. 

Socialist Party candidate Hollande is a dramatic contrast to Sarkozy. Sarkozy enthralled crowds in 2007 as a man of action, promising reforms and change in a stale political scene and a static country.

But as GlobalPost's Isabelle Roughol reports, "critics now say he makes brash decisions, ignores dissenting voices and is veering to the far right on immigration. His brazen style and showy friendships with the wealthy eventually turned off many voters. Even his work on the euro crisis, which lends him credibility among some voters, hasn't helped much. His approval rate now hovers at around 35 percent.

"Hollande seems to the be opposite of Sarkozy. Hollande takes time to make up his mind. He has a reputation as a listener and a man of compromise, who spends his weekends among the people in the rural constituency he has long represented in parliament.

"He’s known as a nice guy. But that's also why some won't vote for him.

"Nice, critics say, won't cut it when negotiating on the European debt crisis or Iran's nuclear program. The French election is momentous for the entire European Union, analysts say."

Merkel backs Sarko for the win

US Republican primaries go south

This week the Republican primaries go south, to Alabama, which has 50 delegates, and Mississippi with 40. Both primaries will be held on Tuesday, March 13.

Mitt Romney is trying hard to prove he is a good ol' boy — but he has made his usual gaffes. This time Romney praised Randy Owen, lead singer of the band Alabama, who endorsed Romney. Romney said he would like to hear Owen sing “Sweet Home Alabama” — apparently not realizing that it is not a song by Owen. (The southern anthem was a hit for the group Lynyrd Skynyrd.) 

The conservative southerners of the Bible Belt must choose between Newt Gingrich, a Georgia boy who is a thrice-married Catholic, Romney, who is a Mormon and Rick Santorum, a crusading Catholic.

The Republican primaries are also going to the South Pacific for Hawaii and American Samoa.

Romney continued his little by little, persist until you drop campaign over the weekend, picking up a few more delegates from caucuses in Wyoming and the US Virgin Islands.

Romney wins Wyoming, Virgin Island caucuses 

Obama and Cameron to meet at White House

David Cameron, the British prime minister, will visit Washington for two days of talks with US President Barack Obama on March 13 and 14. They will discuss the upcoming NATO and G8 summits, and topics such as Afghanistan, the Middle East, Iran and global economic stability and growth.

American presidents and British prime ministers have often forged mutually beneficial "special relationships" such as those between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the unlikely duo of George W Bush and Tony Blair. Can Obama and Cameron strike up some chemistry that will help them both? 

Germany to elect president

Joachim Gauck is expected to be elected as Germany’s president on Sunday, March 17 by a specially convened federal assembly. The poll follows the resignation of Christian Wulff, who was accused of corruption. 

Chancellor Merkel chooses Gauck to be new German president

Green for a day 

It's not quite the same as Rio's Carnival or New Orleans' Mardis Gras but the Irish will celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Dublin and around the world on Saturday, March 17. Parades, speeches, beer-drinking and poetry-readings will mark the day. Anyone for some green beer? 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/opinion/columnists/120311/afghanistan-anger-syria-killings-sarkozy-campaigns