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31 January, 2011


Egypt’s vice president to begin talks with opposition

­Egypt’s recently appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, announced that embattled president Hosni Mubarak has asked him to begin a dialogue with the opposition. "President Hosni Mubarak has tasked me with opening immediate talks with the political forces to begin a dialogue around all the issues concerning constitutional and legislative reforms," Suleiman said on Monday. Suleiman added that Mubarak has ordered him to investigate the results of last year’s parliamentary elections, which the opposition has alleged were fraudulent.


South Korea rejects North’s call for defense talks

­Seoul has reportedly rejected Pyongyang's proposal to move defense talks forward, South Korean news agencies report. North Korea had called for the talks with the South to be held on Tuesday – two weeks earlier than planned. Last week, Seoul agreed to take part in negotiations in a step towards easing tension on the peninsula. Relations between the two countries are at their lowest in decades following a skirmish between the neighbors and the South hosting war games near the maritime border.


Israeli towns hit by two Gaza rockets

­Two rockets were fired from Gaza and exploded in the Israeli towns of Netivot and Ofakim, Israeli military said Monday. The rocket which struck Netivot landed near a residential area. Four people have suffered from shock. A road and parked car have been damaged in the attack. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the incident.   The military said the range indicated the rockets were Grads.


Deputy Finance Minister’s theft case closed

­The Investigative committee has dismissed a case against former Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak in the absence of a crime being committed in the act. Storchak was arrested in 2007 along with his alleged accomplices under a suspicion of attempting to steal budget funds. He spent almost a year in prison, and then was released on his own recognizance, though not allowed to leave the country. The investigators considered that Storchak had planned to steal 43 million dollars from the state budget, however, later it was ascertained the money was prepared for paying back the Finance Ministry debt. Now Storchak has a right to claim, through the court, compensation for the time spent in prison.


New head appointed for 2014 Olympics building company

­Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has appointed a new head of the Olimpstroy corporation, a company responsible for all preparations for the Sochi Olympic games in 2014. The former president of the company, Taimuraz Bolloev, resigned earlier, giving the “state of health” as a reason. Earlier on Monday, some media sources reported that six corruption cases were brought against Olimpstroy in 2010, however, this information was later disclaimed by the Investigative committee. The committee’s representative said the media has misinterpreted all information and explained that the cases were not related to corruption, but rather were brought against people who got a job in the company with fake documents. The Olimpstroy corporation was created in 2007 to build all infrastructure needed for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. At the moment, the company employs 39,000 people.


African Union forms panel to mediate Ivory Coast crisis

­The African Union has formed a panel of six African presidents to mediate the ongoing Ivory Coast political crisis. The panel includes leader of Nigeria, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Tanzania. One month has been given to the panel to resolve the crisis that has kept the country’s economic and political life paralyzed for two months. The Ivory Coast’s incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo, refuses to cede power to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally-recognized winner of last year’s presidential elections.


Indonesian pop star jailed over sex video scandal

Indonesian pop star Nazril “Ariel” Irham was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on Monday due to his involvement in a sex tape scandal that sparked outrage in the predominantly Muslim nation. He will also have to pay a US$28,000 fine. The 29-year-old singer is accused of making amateur sex videos that made their way onto the Internet. Ariel could have faced a maximum 12-years in prison under the country’s strict anti-pornography laws. Conservative Islamic groups had sought a tougher punishment for the singer.


Rare river dolphins on verge of extinction in Pakistan

The remains of six rare Indus River dolphins washed up on the banks of the Indus River in Pakistan over the last month. Local wildfire authorities accused local fisherman on Monday, blaming their poison and nets for causing the death of the endangered mammals. The rare dolphins only inhabit the Indus River. According to a 2006 survey, the number of remaining dolphins are about 1,300. Increasingly, low water levels and water-borne pesticides pose a deadly threat to the unique mammal.


Opposition activists rally in central Moscow for freedom of speech

Opposition activists gathered in downtown Moscow on Monday to rally for freedom of speech. The protests, staged every month ending on a 31st day, have become something of a tradition on Triumfalnaya Square. According to different reports, the sanctioned meeting gathered from 500 to 700 activists and from 150 to 170 reporters. The meeting participants, including prominent human rights activists and opposition politicians, criticized the government and demanded freedom for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The police reportedly detained around 20 protesters who tried to protest outside the square, the approved site of the event. Among the detainees is the opposition leader and writer Eduard Limonov.


Belarus’ Lukashenko and top brass banned from EU

The EU Council has banned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and 158 of his top officials from EU entry, calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners.  It also ordered their bank accounts be frozen, if any are held in European banks. The black-list also includes Lukashenko’s two sons – Viktor and Dmitry. Only the foreign minister and deputy PM were not banned from entry. The EU has imposed the sanctions in response to the massive arrests of regime’s opponents that came after the internationally criticized December presidential elections, which gave Lukashenko his fourth term in office.


Thousands of Russians protest against education reform

­More than 8,000 Russians have signed an open letter asking for a reform that seeks to change the education system in high school to be stopped. Those who signed the petition were mainly appalled by the fact that students at high school will have only four mandatory subjects, while such subjects as Russian language, Russian literature, algebra, geometry, history, physics, chemistry and biology will be optional. However, a student will not be able to choose both Russian language and literature or chemistry and physics, as he or she can only choose one subject out of one field. The letter is addressed to President Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin and other high-ranking officials. The authors ask them to veto the reform and summon a conference of teachers, parents and students to discuss the future of country’s education.


EU freezes accounts of ex-Tunisian president

­The European Union has blocked the accounts of ex-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife. Such sanctions may also be implemented against some Ben Ali’s supporters. The interim government of Tunisia, which was especially insisting on the blocking of Ben Ali’s accounts, earlier began inspecting Ben Ali’s financial activities, with a view to detecting and returning all the money illegally received by the president. It also issued an international arrest warrant on January 26. President Ben Ali fled the country after December unrest in Tunisia when thousands of people took to the streets protesting against his regime.


Nigerien presidential elections kick off

Niger’s presidential and parliamentary elections started on Monday. The vote carries hopes of returning the country to the civilian government after last February’s military coup. The junta leader General Salou Djibo called the elections “a new start for Niger” and called on people to go to the polls. The vote is being observed by the European Union, the African Union and the regional Economic Community of West African States. Military coups have frequently taken place in Niger since it gained independence from France in 1960, as the army plays a key role in the country’s politics.


Russia can never leave Baikonur Cosmodrome – space chief

The construction of the Vostochny Spaceport in Russia's Far East Amur region will not make Russia abandon the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan, Federal Space Agency head Anatoly Perminov said Monday. "We will be unable to leave Baikonur until the end of days," he said. Russia currently uses two launch sites: the Baikonur Space Center in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan, which it has leased since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Plesetsk Space Center in northwest Russia. Construction of the Vostochny terminal will start next year, after the infrastructure works required for its development are completed. The new space launch facility is scheduled to start first operations in 2015. After it is implemented, Baikonur projects will gradually turn commercial, Perminov added.


Sixteen killed in firefight between Somali army and police

An exchange of fire between Somali army and police in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, has claimed 16 lives and wounded 30 people on Monday. Three of the victims were women. Police say the fighting started after police executed a plainclothes soldier they suspected of being an Islamist insurgent. The incident is an evidence of a political and social chaos in the country, torn apart by 20 years of civil war.


Russian opposition activist detained for rioting, attacking policeman

An activist of unregistered “the Other Russia” opposition organization has been detained in Moscow on suspicion of taking part in ethnic riots in downtown Moscow, the Investigative Committee reports. Surveillance cameras recorded Igor Berezyuk, 23, attack a policeman during the mass clashes of radical youth groups that hit Manege Square in December 2010. Berezyuk is one of the eleven members of the Other Russia detained by the police late on Sunday. Charges against him were announced as the Other Russia was preparing with other opposition parties for a sanctioned rally in the center of Moscow in support of their political freedoms.


Kazakhstan leader suggests early presidential elections

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, has suggested holding an early presidential election in the country. Earlier today, the country’s Constitutional Council declined to ratify a bill that would allow a referendum to extend Nazarbayev’s powers until 2020. Nazarbayev, who did not express any support for this initiative from the start, has suggested an early election instead. “I suggest holding an early presidential election, although this would reduce my present term of office by almost two years,” Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president for 20 years in a row, said in an all-nation address. The next planned election was scheduled for 2012.


Court issues arrest warrant for exiled Russian MP wanted for fraud

The Basmanny Court of Moscow has issued an arrest warrant for exiled MP Ashot Egiazaryan, wanted for fraud. Liberal-Democrat Egiazaryan, who currently resides in Los Angeles, has been under investigation since October, when he was charged of stealing 2 billion rubles (around $66 million) from his business partners while building a shopping center. His assets in Russia, both business and personal, have been frozen. Egiazaryan refuses to return to Russia, saying his rights would not be observed there.


Mubarak announces new government

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has announced a new cabinet Monday, which replaces the one dissolved as a concession to massive anti-government uprising that have swept entire Egypt. The most significant change in the government is a new interior minister. Habib el-Adly, who was condemned by protesters for the brutal measures applied to curb the unrest, was replaced by a retired police general, Mahmoud Wagdi. Longtime defense minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit retained their positions.


Russian Army freezing in Yudashkin’s designer uniforms

­The designer winter uniforms introduced in the Russian Army as part of the military reforms are not warm enough for the Russian winter, a high-ranking military official has said. According to Aleksandr Kanshin, deputy chairman of the Public Committee at the Defense Ministry, the uniforms are frequently cited as the cause of young conscripts’ colds. The uniforms, fashioned by famous Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin, are not warm enough to protect the servicemen when the temperature falls below -20 degrees Celsius, which is common in the Russian winter. The new army uniforms have been introduced in the course of transition to a new image of the armed forces, which began in 2008 and involves, among other initiatives, a massive rearmament.


Serbian police raid genocide suspect Mladic’s son’s apartment

Serbian security forces have searched a Belgrade apartment belonging to the son of alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic. The move is a part of an effort to arrest the former Bosnian Serb army commander wanted by the UN war crime tribunal for crimes committed by his troops during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. Mladic is suspected to be involved into the massive killings of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. Last year Serbia raised the reward for any information that can lead to his arrest to 10 million euros.


Myanmar’s parliament opens for first time in decades

Myanmar opened its first parliament in more than 20 years on Monday. The junta and its allies have more than 80 per cent of seats, which means the military still has almost full control over the country. The 440-seat lower house and 224-seat upper house opened simultaneously in Naypyitaw, the new capital of Myanmar. Media and foreign observers were barred from witnessing the parliament at work. Opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party boycotted last November’s polls, calling them unfair and undemocratic. The last legitimate parliament was dissolved in 1962 after the army came to power in a coup.


Kazakhstan leader suggests early presidential elections

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, has suggested holding an early presidential election in the country. Earlier today, the country’s Constitutional Council declined to ratify a bill that would allow a referendum to extend Nazarbayev’s powers until 2020. Nazarbayev, who did not express any support for this initiative from the start, has suggested an early election instead. “I suggest holding an early presidential election, although this would reduce my present term of office by almost two years,” Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s president for 20 years in a row, said in an all-nation address. The next planned election was scheduled for 2012.


Chirac to face trial “like any other citizen”

Former French President Jacques Chirac will attend his trial over corruption charges and wants to be treated like any other citizen, his wife Bernadette Chirac said to Europe-1 radio. She also denied rumors about Chirac suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and called it a lie. His trial is due to start March 7. The 78-year-old ex-president faces charges of corruption connected with a party financing scandal when Chirac was a mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995.


Thousands clash with police over land row in Bangladesh

Thousands of people clashed with police outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Monday protesting the government plan to build an airport that may take villagers’ lands. Police said the protesters set fire to a police station, smashed cars and blocked roads. Dozens of protesters were injured in the clashes as police fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells.


Emirates deny links to spy ring uncovered in Oman

Authorities in Oman say they have uncovered a spy ring working for the United Arab Emirates. The network has reportedly been spying on the country's government and military. Oman's state media said several alleged agents have been arrested. The United Arab Emirates, which is a close ally of the US, has denied all the accusations in an official statement on Monday.


Israel urges world to ease criticism of Mubarak’s regime

Israel has called the international community to ease its criticism of Egypt’s incumbent President Hosni Mubarak in order to preserve stability in the region, Israeli Haaretz reported Monday. Tel Aviv issued a directive to the key embassies in the US, China, Russia and a number of European countries pointing out the importance of Egypt’s stability. The diplomatic measure comes after several European countries have expressed criticism of Mubarak’s regime. The Israeli government is keeping a distance from the political crisis in Egypt, avoiding public comments on the issue.


Wife of Dagestani militant commander attempted suicide bombing in Moscow - FSB

Police have identified the female suicide bomber who failed to execute a terrorist act on December 31 in Moscow: it was the wife of a Dagestani militant commander, Ibrahimhalil Daudov, the Federal Security Service (FSB) reports Monday. The information has been obtained from the members of Daudov’s criminal group detained in Dagestan. On New Year’s Eve, a bomb exploded at a shooting club on the outskirts of Moscow, killing a woman. An investigation revealed that the woman was a suicide bomber who accidentally detonated her payload too early. The police are now probing the link between the December blast and the deadly explosion at Domodedovo Arport on January 24.


Over 99 per cent of South Sudanese vote for separation

Provisional results in a referendum on Southern Sudan's independence show 99 per cent of voters favor splitting from the North. However, some reports claim voter turnout exceeded 100 per cent in some areas. Despite the abnormalities, Sudan's Referendum Commission defended the outcome as a landslide victory. The final results are expected early next month in the poll, which is hoped to bring stability following nearly two million deaths in over 20 years of civil war.


N. Korea calls South for earlier defense talks

North Korea is calling for defense talks with the South to be held Tuesday, two weeks earlier than planned. Last week Seoul agreed to take part in negotiations in a step towards easing tension on the peninsula. Pyongyang wants preliminary meeting to prepare for higher-level defense talks. However, Seoul repeated that it wants the talks to take place February 11. Relations between the two countries are at their lowest for decades after North Korea’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island in November and the sinking of a warship last March.


Russia to spend $2 billion on Sochi Olympics security – paper

The safety of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 is going to cost Russia some $2 billion (57.8 million rubles), Vedomosti daily reports citing an unnamed source in the government. The budget, approved in 2010, is part of the Olympics-2014 security plan, commissioned by President Medvedev. In view of the recent bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, the issue of providing security at the major international event such as the Olympic Games is extremely pressing for Russia.


Russia to spend $2 billion on 2014 Olympics security

Russian government plans to spend about US$2 billion to provide security for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics that will take place in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, Russian Vedomosti newspaper reported Monday. The entire cost is to be covered by the state budget. The announcement comes after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed at the Davos Forum to ensure security for the Olympic Games, the World Cup and other sport events that are to be held in Russia. By comparison, Canada spent about US$900 million on security for the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games in 2010.


No Russians reported killed in Egyptian violence - embassy

­Egyptian troops have posted guards near the Russian embassy in Cairo, while Russian tourists keep arriving in the country for holidays. More violence is expected this week in Egypt, where protesters vowed to stay in the streets until they topple President Hosni Mubarak. During the six days of unrest more than 100 people have been killed in the riots. The Russian embassy says it has received no reports of Russians hurt in the clashes. There are currently around 40,000 Russian tourists at the Egyptian resorts of Sharm-el-Sheikh and Hurghada, who are not yet being evacuated. While some travelers have cancelled their trips to Egypt in the wake of the uprising, the Russian Tourism Ministry has not entirely closed this destination, and more tourists keep arriving in the country every day.


WikiLeaks keeps next batch of secret materials ready in case of shut-down - Assange

WikiLeaks has prepared a large party of classified documents that will be released if someone tries to shut WikiLeaks down, the website’s founder Julian Assange has warned in a TV interview. Assange said that a copy of materials prepared for publication was divided into a large number of fragments, which were then ciphered and sent to be stored with different people. In case of emergency, such as the deaths or imprisonment of a considerable part of the WikiLeaks team, these people will receive the key, allowing the materials to be deciphered and published.  Julian Assange is currently under house arrest in the UK, and may be extradited to Sweden, where he has been accused of sex crimes. The charges against Assange are widely seen as an attempt to stop WikiLeaks’ ongoing revelations.


Bombings target police in Pakistan, 5 dead, 10 injured

Two bombings targeted at Pakistani security forces claimed five lives and wounded at least ten people on Monday. In the deadliest attack a suicide bomber blew himself up near a vehicle carrying Rasheed Khan, the deputy superintendent of police in the city of Peshawar, killing him and three others and injuring seven people. Less than three hours later, a roadside bomb hit a police patrol car, killing one policeman and wounding three others. No groups has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks in the city located next to Pakistan’s tribal area, the stronghold of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.


Khmer Rouge senior members appear in court seeking release

Three of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime appeared in a Cambodian court on Monday. Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge top ideologist, Khieu Samphan, its head of state, and Ieng Thirith, the regime’s social affairs minister, attended a preliminary hearing at the UN-backed war crimes tribunal to request bail ahead of their trial. Earlier this month the court refused to drop indictments against them. The men face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the brutal regime, which claimed the lives of nearly two million Cambodians.


Russia asks Italy about reported detention of Chechen warlord’s brother

Russia has sent a request to Italy regarding the reported arrest of Ruslan Umarov, brother of Chechen militant commander Doku Umarov. The request follows reports in Italian media that Ruslan Umarov was seized on a train in northern Italy while traveling from France, and is now being held in custody by the immigration services. His brother Doku Umarov, who is on the International Most Wanted List and has links to Al-Qaeda, is the mastermind behind the Moscow Metro bombings and the Beslan school massacre.


Police detain organizers of Moscow New Year’s Eve blast

­Four people involved in the explosion that hit a shooting club in Moscow on December 31, 2010, have been detained in Dagestan, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee reports Monday. The explosion that destroyed a small house on the territory of a Moscow pistol club on December 31 was recognized by police as a failed attempt at a terrorist act. The woman who died in the blast was found to be linked to armed groups of militants in the North Caucasus, and the police had been searching for organizers of the blast ever since.


Kazakh court rejects Nazarbayev’s term extension

Kazakhstan’s constitutional court opposed a plan for referendum prolonging President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s term in office till 2020. Constitutional Council’s head Igor Rogov announced Monday that “the law adopted by the parliament does not correspond to the constitution,” referring to the parliament’s proposal to extend Nazarbayev’s mandate. However, he noted the president can express any objections, which means that the final decision rests with Nazarbayev. The plan to prolong the mandate till 2020 has sparked criticism from the US, which said that the move would represent a setback for democracy.


Mosque attack prevented in Michigan

Police have arrested a man who planned an attack on one of America’s largest mosques, Associated Press reported Monday. Authorities in Michigan said Roger Stockham, 63, who had explosives with him, was arrested outside of the Islamic Center of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn last Monday. The man possessed class-C fireworks, banned in the state of Michigan, police say. On Wednesday he was charged with making a false report or threat of terrorism and possessing explosives with unlawful intent. A public hearing on the case is set for February 4.


Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev barred from extending powers

The Constitutional Council of Kazakhstan has found unconstitutional the bill allowing to extend the presidential powers at a referendum. The bill was inspired by supporters of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has run the country since 1991, and who has announced his plans to run again in the next presidential elections of 2012. Nazarbayev said he was willing to serve his people, but nevertheless demanded that the Constitutional Council checked the proposed bill for consistency with the country’s constitution.


Medvedev appoints new transport security official following Domodedovo blast

Prompted by the recent terror act in a Moscow airport, President Medvedev has set up the post of deputy interior minister responsible for transport security. The position has been granted to Viktor Kiryanov, previously chief of Russia’s traffic police. Kiryanov’s duty is now to reorganize transport security throughout Russia. In a few weeks’ time he is due to report to Medvedev on what needs to be done in order to ensure efficient reform. The January 24 blast at Domodedovo Airport that killed 35 and injured more than 100 people raised doubts about the efficiency of Russia’s transport security and resulted in many top security officials losing their jobs.


American academics urge Obama to support Egyptian protesters

American political scientists, historians, and researchers related to Middle Eastern studies have addressed US President Obama, urging him to support the popular uprising in Egypt. In an open letter published Sunday, they called on Obama “to move beyond rhetoric and support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt.” Scholars noted that the US government “has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are trying to dismantle.” They underlined that, in order to stand with the Egyptian people, the US must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy.


Explosions at Venezuela arms factory leave one dead

A fire at an arms factory in the Venezuelan city of Maracay has set off a series of explosions that killed one person and injured three others. Authorities evacuated some 10,000 people within a six-kilometer (four mile) radius of the depot, officials told state television. Emergency crews are at the site working to put out a fire, which continued through Sunday. The cause of the incident is not yet clear.


Brother of Chechen militant leader arrested in Italy

­The brother of Doku Umarov, head of a militant group from Russia’s Chechen Republic, was arrested by Italian law enforcement officials while traveling on a train from France. Ruslan Umarov, 35, is said to have been heading to Italy to seek asylum. He is reportedly being held in custody by the immigration services. Doku Umarov is believed to be the mastermind behind Moscow’s metro bombings and the Beslan school massacre.


Russia prepares to evacuate its citizens from Egypt

­The Russian embassy in Cairo said Sunday it was ready to evacuate its citizens from embattled Egypt. “We are completely prepared for the evacuation, but are waiting to receive a go-ahead from Moscow,” said the head of the consular services. Women and children of government employees stationed in Egypt are to be evacuated first, followed by their spouses and tourists, who have remained in areas largely unaffected by the last six days of protests.


6 burned bodies found in northern Mexico

­Mexican authorities have discovered six burned bodies on a dirt road in the northern city of Monterrey, the Associated Press reports. The bodies had been burned so severely that police could not determine the cause of death or the victims’ genders. A spokeswoman for Nuevo Leon state said the murders are likely to involve drug cartels, which often light their victims on fire to prevent their identification.


35 die in religious clashes in Nigeria

­35 people died last week in clashes between Christians and Muslims in central Nigeria, Agence France Press reported, citing police. "Thirty-five people have been killed in sectarian violence in Tafawa Balewa on Thursday," police commissioner Abdulkadir Mohammed Indabawa told the news agency. Clashes broke out on Thursday after a skirmish between the representatives of the two religions and has left some 50 homes and four mosques destroyed.