(2 of 2)
Far from war-ravaged Syria--where rebel fighters stepped up their offensive on Damascus while the regime of President Bashar Assad reportedly fired Scud missiles against rebel positions--members of the Syrian opposition held talks with Western diplomats at a golf resort outside the tourist hot spot of Marrakech, Morocco. The huddled conclave was boosted by President Barack Obama's Dec. 11 announcement of support for the new Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an umbrella group comprising exiled dissidents that had already won formal recognition from France, the U.K. and the Gulf states. The U.S. and its European partners will provide more humanitarian and logistical aid, but Washington still resists calls to supply more-powerful weaponry to the rebellion. Despite securing the imprimatur of world leaders, the SNC faces its biggest challenge in winning credibility at home. Rebel fighters have long expressed cynicism about the comfortable distance from the front lines of their leadership in exile, accusing them of being all talk and no action. A patchwork body of different factions, the SNC is still wrangling over who will run the country should Assad fall. "We are now discussing the idea of a government and the basis on which it should be established," SNC VP George Sabra tells TIME. The uncertainty is deepened by the growing presence of Islamist forces in the rebellion. The same week the U.S. recognized the SNC, Washington listed the Nusra Front, one of the most effective anti-Assad militias, as a terrorist group with al-Qaeda connections.
Size of the record settlement paid by British bank HSBC after U.S. regulators found that the bank had allowed Mexican drug cartels, among other criminal groups, to launder money in the U.S.
Road to Rome
4 | ITALY
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti rattled markets on Dec. 8 when he announced that he will step down as soon as the 2013 budget is passed. The former economist's resignation follows the decision of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party to withdraw its support for Monti's government. Elections are expected by April. Here's a guide to the possible runners and riders:
Monti, 68, was installed without an election in November 2011 and enjoyed some success. He has not confirmed that he intends to run.
Pier Luigi Bersani
The 61-year-old center-left candidate pledges to stick to Monti's reforms but hopes to soften their impact on the poor.
Former PM Berlusconi, 76, aims to seek a fourth term despite being sentenced in October to four years in jail for tax evasion.
Comedian turned political activist Grillo, 64, is the protest candidate, leading a party of young idealists with little political experience.