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NATO prepares missile defenses for Turkey

BRUSSELS — NATO’s plan to buttress Turkey against potential attack from Syria calls for deploying U.S., German and Dutch Patriot missile-defense batteries under the operational control of the alliance’s military command, Western officials said Monday.

The plan, which is expected to be endorsed by NATO’s foreign ministers when they meet in Brussels on Tuesday, would be the most direct action in the Syrian conflict yet by an alliance that has remained cautious about intervention there.

The move has been given added impetus by reports in recent days of increased activity at some of Syria’s chemical-weapons sites, officials said. For months, Turkey has expressed growing concerns about the potential of missile attacks from Syria as relations between the two countries have worsened, and last month it requested the deployment of Patriot batteries.

A senior NATO official said the political strategy was for the alliance to declare its support for Turkey’s request for help in strengthening its air defenses and to welcome the intention of the three allied nations that have Patriot missile batteries to deploy the systems in Turkey. It would then be up to the United States, Germany and the Netherlands to decide how many batteries to deploy and how long they should stay.

—Michael R. Gordon, The New York Times

New leader of center-left in

ROME — Pier Luigi Bersani punctuated his first day as the point man for Italy’s center-left parties by vowing that he would lead the coalition to victory in next year’s national elections.

“The next adventure is the government, a government of change,” Bersani said Monday, hours after winning hard-fought national primaries. He defeated Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, 24 years his junior, who had campaigned on a platform of change and generational renewal.

Bersani, 61, who has been the secretary of the Democratic Party since 2009, ran as the favorite, with nearly the full support of the party apparatus and its elected officials. He easily defeated Renzi, winning nearly 61 percent of the vote.

But Renzi’s message of change rang forcefully with a sizeable chunk of the center-left electorate, with over 1 million supporting him. He also attracted a considerable number of mostly young center-right voters whose frustrations with Italy’s influential and pervasive gerontocracy obliterated party lines.

—Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

Military commander details al-Qaida’s strength in Mali

WASHINGTON — Al-Qaida’s affiliate in North Africa is operating terrorist training camps in northern Mali, and providing arms, explosives and financing to an Islamic extremist group in northern Nigeria, the top U.S. military commander in Africa said Monday.

The group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, has used the momentum gained since seizing control of the northern part of the impoverished country in March to step up recruiting across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Europe, said Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the military’s Africa Command.

Ham’s assessment is the most detailed and sobering American military analysis so far of the consequences of the al-Qaida affiliate and associated extremist groups seizing the northern part of Mali to use as a safe haven.

“As each day goes by, al-Qaida and other organizations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali,” Ham said in remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that.”

—Eric Schmitt, The New York Times