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4 February, 2011


Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief detained in Egypt

Egyptian security forces arrested Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief along with another Al Jazeera journalist on Friday. The network’s offices were attacked by “gangs of thugs”, according to Al Jazeera’s site. The offices and the equipment inside was burned.

The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s website were also attacked, and 12 journalists were arrested. Al Jazeera’s broadcasting license was revoked earlier this week by the Egyptian government, which also demanded that the network immediately stop covering the events in the country. Experts believe that the government’s decision to clamp down on Al Jazeera was made because of the channel airing texts from different Arab countries with words of support for the protesters.


US citizen faces 20-year jail term in Cuba.

Cuban state media say prosecutors will seek a 20-year jail term for detained American contractor Alan Gross for “acts against the integrity and independence” of Cuba. Gross had been detained in December 2009 on suspicion of spying, however the US officials and his family say he was distributing satellite telephones to Cuban Jewish community. State-controlled website Cubandebate says a trial date will be set shortly and US diplomats along with Gross’ family will be able to attend.


Sarah Palin is trying to trademark her name

Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin filed paperwork with the US Patent and Trademark Office in November to register her name as a trademark. On her initial application, Palin listed usage of the trademark for her website featuring information about political issues, while also stating that she needs it for entertainment and educational purposes, including motivational speaking. The federal office is seeking more information and examples of usage. Palin’s attorney said Friday that they have until late spring to prove that information.


German allegedly kidnapped by the CIA sues Macedonia

­A German man allegedly abducted by the CIA has pressed official charges against Macedonia to demand compensation for his suffering. Khaled El-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin, blames Macedonia for sanctioning his kidnapping, which resulted in his allegedly being locked up in a secret prison in Afghanistan and tortured for more than four months, the Associated Press reported. El-Masri was allegedly confused with a man of the same name who belonged to Al Qaeda. Macedonian authorities deny any involvement in the alleged kidnapping. El-Masri has previously sought justice in court in both the US and Germany, but to no result.


Traveling Egyptians returning home with more than souvenirs

­Customs officers at Cairo International Airport are finding more and more arms and steel weaponry in the luggage of Egyptians flying into the country. Some passengers had luggage filled with boxes of stun guns or gas, the TASS news agency reported. People are concerned with personal security, as the police and intelligence officers left Egypt’s cities after the recent unrest began. Before the army took up positions around the country, Egypt went through a short period of criminal chaos. Locals had to set up vigilant groups and night watches to protect themselves against thieves, looters and escaped criminals.


German Catholics urge Church to change

­More than 140 Roman Catholic theologians in Germany have addressed the Vatican, urging it to start liberal reforms as the Catholic Church is struggling to overcome criticism following a wave of sex abuse scandals, Reuters reported Friday. The appeal calls for an end to priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, greater involvement of the faithful in the election of bishops, and the recognition of gay couples. Despite raising eyebrows at the Vatican, the proposals reflect liberal views among Germany’s Catholics.


About 5,000 injured in Egypt unrest – Health Minister

Around 5,000 people have been injured since the massive unrest in Egypt began, the country’s health minister, Ahmed Sameh Farid, told Al Arabiya TV on Friday. An in-depth statement about the casualties will be issued Saturday, Farid said. Thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets of major cities across the country since January 25 in a popular uprising aimed at the ouster of Egypt’s autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak.


Moscow launches Jewish culture classes in detention centers

Starting next week, inmates awaiting trial at Moscow’s pre-trial detention centers will be able to attend lessons in Jewish culture, the department for cooperation with law-enforcement agencies at the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities reports. The course will be taught by the department’s chief Aaron Gurevich and other workers of Russia’s rabbinate under the agreement for spiritual guidance, executed by the Federation of Jewish Communities and the Federal Penitentiary Service in 2010.


Cuba to free 2 prominent political prisoners

Cuban authorities have agreed to free two prominent political prisoners and to allow one of them to remain in the country, the Catholic Church said Friday. Angel Moya and Guido Sigler were among 75 political activists, writers and journalist who were arrested in 2003 raids, known as the “Black Spring.” Moya, who is a leader of the Movement for Cuba’s Democracy and Liberty, was allowed to stay on the island. Sigler will move to the United States. Last August, Cuban President Raul Castro promised to free the jailed dissidents. Most of them have been already released and have found asylum in Spain.


Radio tagging of Indian students by US investigators sparks outrage

More than 100 activists gathered in New Delhi to protest the radio tagging of Indian students caught in a university scam fraud in the US. Indians attending Tri-Valley University in California have been asked to wear electronic ankle tags so immigration authorities can keep track of them. The university was shut down last month and accused of being a front to help illegal immigrants enter the country. The Indian government has called the American actions "inhumane," and demanded the tags be removed.


­Russian bailiffs encouraged to find debtors through blogs and social networks

The Russian Federal Service of Court Bailiffs has recommended its employees use social networks, blogs and web search engines when they are looking for debtors. A new guide for bailiffs provides a list of websites that could be useful when searching for a person, including international resources like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Livejournal, and Russian websites such as Odnoklassniki, Vkontakte, Yandex, and others. The manual also reminds the bailiffs to observe legislation protecting people's privacy. Last autumn, a young Moscow woman won a case against the Ministry of Finances which used her photo to hook up with debtors online and set up real-life meetings with them.


German conservatives want to pull in migrant workers from EU

A member of the German conservative CDU party, Michael Fuchs, has proposed drawing migrant workers required for the German economy not from faraway countries, but from the EU, particularly from Spain and Portugal. The two counties are facing high unemployment rates among young people. If Germany does give jobs to such youngsters, it will solve its own problems, Fuchs said, calling it a sign of European solidarity. German conservatives have long been calling for the recruitment of migrants from Europe, pointing out that migrants from the Middle East are currently struggling to adjust to German society.


Quake hits India-Myanmar border

A powerful earthquake struck an area along India’s border with Myanmar on Friday. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. The 6.4-magnitude tremor was detected by the US Geological Survey near the Indian town of Imphal in the eastern state of Manipur in a scarcely populated area.


US military ready to assist in Egypt if needed – Army Chief

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday the US military is ready to help out in Egypt if needed. However, he noted that the US has not raised its alert status because of the unrest. Mullen reinforced President Obama’s call for “peaceful, nonviolent transition” and pointed out that the final decision should be taken by the Egyptian people and their government. The US spends about $1.3 billion a year on assistance to Egypt. Mullen said Congress should not move to hastily cancel the program and cautioned against doing anything until it is clear what is going on.


Al Jazeera’s Cairo office raided

The pan-Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera reported Friday that its Cairo office has been ransacked. The news network said unknown people broke into the office and destroyed equipment inside. It also said that the network’s website came under attack by hackers. Al Jazeera has been banned from broadcasting in Egypt and its journalists were stripped of their credentials last weekend. Despite the ban, Al Jazeera is keeping a close eye on the unrest in Egypt. Attacks on foreign journalists have intensified this week as President Hosni Mubarak rejects protesters’ demands to immediately step down after three decades in office.


­Russian Interior Minister slams his regional police for violating privacy during unauthorized data collection

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has ordered an investigation into the initiative that saw local police in the Moscow Region gather information about sexual orientation, political views and the religious beliefs of people living in neighborhoods under their jurisdiction. It was recently reported that neighborhood police officers in the Moscow Region started gathering full dossiers on residents in the area of their responsibility, and that these dossiers included such information as the person’s income, hobbies, sexual orientation, acquaintances and so on. The questionnaire alarmed not only the rights activists and the press, but also the Interior Ministry which slammed the initiative as intrusive and unlawful, and rejected the commissioning of such data collection.


France and UN warn of global food crisis and unrest

France and the UN food agency, the FAO, warned Friday about the possible global food crisis and unrest connected with it, and called for greater regulation of commodities markets. World food prices hit their highest level in January, the FAO said Thursday noting that the prices are expected to keep rising. The FAO Food Price Index reached 231 points last month – the highest level since records began in 1990.


Belarus softens charges against Russians arrested for anti-Lukashenko protests

Two Russian citizens detained in Minsk during protests against President Lukashenko now face charges of taking part in mass unrest, rather than organizing that unrest. If found guilty, Artem Breus and Ivan Gaponov could now be handed a prison term of three to five years, instead of the 15-year sentence they faced before. Still, Belarus’ law-enforcement agencies have not provided any sufficient proof of guilt for either of them. Breus and Gaponov were among hundreds of activists detained on December 19 for protesting against the election that reinstated Aleksandr Lukashenko as president. Russia has joined the EU and the US in condemning these arrests.


EU summit to discuss debt crisis, Egypt, energy security

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss the ongoing European debt crisis, the turmoil in Egypt and energy security. The 27 nations are hoping to agree on new ways of managing the economic situation, although no decisions will be taken until next month's meeting. A number of non-binding agreements, specifically in matters of energy, are expected to be made. The EU confirmed it is working closely with Egypt's vice president over the ongoing tension there.


Moscow launches Jewish culture classes in detention centers

Starting next week, inmates awaiting trial at Moscow’s pre-trial detention centers will be able to attend lessons in Jewish culture, the department for cooperation with law-enforcement agencies at the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities reports. The course will be taught by the department’s chief Aaron Gurevich and other workers of Russia’s rabbinate under the agreement for spiritual guidance, executed by the Federation of Jewish Communities and the Federal Penitentiary Service in 2010.


Somali man sentenced to 9 years for attack on Danish cartoonist

A Danish court has sentenced a Somali man, accused of the attempted murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, to nine years prison on Friday. Mohammed Gelle broke into his house armed with an axe and tried to kill him. However, the cartoonist hid in a panic room and was unharmed. Kurt Westergaard is the man behind the caricature of the Prophet Mohammed that caused violent protests and outrage among Muslims across the world. Danish Intelligence officials say the attacker has close ties with Al Qaeda in East Africa.


Massive blackout hits 8 Brazilian states

A Massive power outrage hit Brazil’s northeast early Friday leaving eight states without electricity. Officials say the cause of the power failure is as yet unknown. Some of the blackouts lasted only a few minutes, others a few hours, in some areas the power has not yet returned. In 2009, more than 60 million people were left without electricity in 18 states. The power outages spark questions about the energy infrastructure in the country that will host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.


­Sacked Moscow Mayor Luzhkov wants Latvian passport despite offensive comments

Ex-Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, unexpectedly fired by President Medvedev in September, has not abandoned the idea of gaining Latvian citizenship after being rejected for anti-Latvian statements made in the past. According to Luzhkov’s interview with a Latvian newspaper, Latvian authorities misunderstood his words: the insulting comments were not his personal opinion, but the reflection of the official position. Luzhkov, whose name is increasingly mentioned in the media in relation to corruption-related crimes, applied for a residence permit in Latvia, where he has significant investments and property, in late 2010.


Hundreds protest against government in Jordan

Hundreds of protesters marched in the center of Jordan’s capital, Amman, on Friday calling on the government of recently appointed Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit to step down. Islamist and leftist activists rallied outside the prime minister’s office chanting “down with the government.” Jordan’s protests have been mainly sparked by the rising prices.


­Mayor of Siberian town resigns after police catch him burning $500,000 bribe

The mayor of a city in Russia’s Siberia resigned after police reportedly caught him trying to destroy a 15 million ruble ($500,000) bribe from a local businessman. According to media reports, the businessman told police that he was about to pay Aleksandr Serov, the Mayor of Bratsk, 15 million in order to have him sign a lease agreement. After secretly watching the deal, the police followed the mayor to his apartment, but before they entered, he allegedly attempted to destroy the evidence, setting fire to some of the banknotes and throwing the rest out of the window. Meanwhile, the Communist Party, to which Serov belongs, claims the operation was a set-up and a provocation.


Ireland reveals identity of expelled Russian diplomat

Irish investigators have revealed the identity of a Russian diplomat expelled from the country after being accused of stealing the identities of Irish citizens to produce fake passports for a US-based spy ring uncovered last year, The Irish Times reported Friday. Aleksandr Smirnov served as a first secretary in the consular section of the Russian embassy in Dublin, the paper says. Smirnov was expelled from Ireland on Tuesday; however he is still believed to be in the country. Russia’s reaction to such moves is often the expulsion of a diplomat of the same rank. Last year Moscow expelled two Spanish representatives after Madrid ordered two Russian diplomats out of the country on suspicion of espionage.


­US missile defense plan in Europe was useless against Russian ICBMs - Wikileaks

The planned American missile defense shield in Europe that sparked a fierce dispute between Russia and the United States would in fact be useless against Russian long-range missiles, a cable released by WikiLeaks and published by Daily Telegraph has revealed. According to the leaked record of a US defense forces briefing in 2007, the radar system that the US planned to station in Eastern Europe in order to intercept missiles from North Korea and Iran was actually blind to long-range ICBMs, such as Russia’s Topol-M. Russia actively opposed having American radars so close to its borders, and the US eventually abolished the plan.


Moscow authorities approve “Day of Rage” opposition rally

The Moscow Mayor’s Office has for the first time sanctioned the “Day of Rage” opposition action in the center of the city, the action’s organizers report. The 300-strong anti-government rally has been set for February 12. The authorities of Moscow, where unsanctioned protests are prohibited, have not given the activists permission to hold the Day of Rage in a year, and several attempts to hold it without permission were broken up by police. Sergey Sobyanin, who replaced Yuri Luzhkov as Moscow Mayor last autumn, seems to take a more liberal stance towards the opposition than his predecessor; earlier this week, the opposition was able to stage another action, Strategy-31.


­Lukashenko preaches business initiative in Belarus amid US, EU sanctions

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has announced 2011 as the year of business initiative; the year of Belarus’ breakthrough to the level of Europe’s most progressive countries. According to the presidential press service, Lukashenko wants the year 2011 to give the country’s development a fresh boost. While the previous five years, he maintains, were dedicated to reviving the economic potential, this year should see a break-through on all business levels. The president’s announcement comes just as the EU and the US introduced new sanctions, including economic ones, against Belarus to protest against the lack of political freedom in the country.


Russians blame police, corruption, for Moscow airport bombing - poll

Russians blame poor work of the police and the intelligence agencies for the recent terrorist act in Moscow Domodedovo Airport, a poll cited by Vedomosti daily has revealed. According to the poll conducted by Levada Center for Public Opinion, 58 per cent of respondents share the viewpoint of President Medvedev, who has publicly slammed security agencies for being unable to prevent the bombing that claimed 36 lives. Thirty-three per cent of respondents also named corruption among government and law-enforcement officials as the reason for the attack. Meanwhile, security services say they are on the track of the organizers of the January 24 airport suicide bombing.


Ayatollah Khamenei says current uprisings remind of Iran’s Islamic revolution

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said that popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia are signs of “Islamic awareness” in the region. During Friday prayers, Ayatollah noted that people are witnessing reverberation from Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Since the beginning of the unrest in Egypt, Iran has drawn parallels with the Islamic revolution, which ousted a pro-Western leader and let hardline Islamists take over the country.


22,000 Pakistanis flee military operations near Afghan border

About 22,000 civilians have fled fierce fighting between government troops and militants in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghan border. The offensive, involving aerial bombing, artillery and ground troops, was launched January 27 in Mohmand. The region’s governor Roshan Khan Mehsud said about 100 militants had been killed so far. No casualties among civilians were reported. The refugees are in a government building, schools and three camps away from the fighting. The UN provides them with food, water and medical assistance, the governor said. The remote tribal regions bordering Afghanistan are considered a hotbed of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents.


Ankara rocked by second suspected gas explosion raising death toll to 17

Seventeen people have been killed and dozens injured after two explosions in the same industrial zone of Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. The first blast happened in the morning and collapsed two stories of a factory. The second blast, on Thursday evening, sparked a huge fire that engulfed several workshops and hampered rescuers. A Possible gas leak is believed to have triggered the explosions.


Syria prepares for “day of rage”

Opposition movements in Syria have called for a “day of rage” against the government. They have been inspired by the protests unfolding throughout the Middle East. The country shares many similarities with Tunisia and Egypt, including rising prices, unemployment and poverty. Analysts believe that any protests could unleash bloodshed and chaos due to the country's deep sectarian divisions.


­New Moscow authorities approve “Day of Rage” opposition rally

The Moscow Mayor’s Office has for the first time sanctioned the “Day of Rage” opposition action in the center of the city, the action’s organizers report. The 300-strong anti-government rally has been set for February 12. The authorities of Moscow, where unsanctioned protests are prohibited, have not given the activists permission to hold the Day of Rage in a year, and several attempts to hold it without permission were broken up by police. Sergey Sobyanin, who replaced Yuri Luzhkov as Moscow Mayor last autumn, seems to take a more liberal stance towards the opposition than his predecessor; earlier this week, the opposition was able to stage another action, Strategy-31.


Muslim Brotherhood to skip Egypt election

The Muslim Brotherhood Islamist organization will not take part in Egypt’s upcoming presidential election, Al Jazeera reports. Members of the organization are playing an active role in the ongoing popular uprising aimed at forcing President Mubarak to resign. Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman earlier announced that the Muslim Brotherhood was invited to join talks with the government. However, the activist underlined that they are not going to cooperate. Their primary target is to establish religious control over the political and social life in Egypt.


Australia warned about new severe storms

Residents of Australia’s Queensland state, who are still recovering after January’s devastating deluges, should prepare for more severe storms and floods in the wake of Cyclone Yasi, The Australian website reported Friday citing the Climate Institute. Climate researchers warn of intense torrential downpours caused by warmer temperatures, particularly in the state’s tropical north. "For Queensland, this is likely to spell storms and floods of increasing ferocity over a greater part of the state," researchers said. The Climate Institute’s chief called for urgent measures to reduce global warming which is blamed for storms in Queensland and bushfires in Victoria State.


Junta’s outgoing PM becomes president of Myanmar

Thein Sein, the outgoing Prime Minster of Myanmar, has been appointed the new president, ensuring that the military will still have almost total control over the country. Thein Sein, 65, was selected Friday by the recently assembled parliament from a pool of three vice presidents chosen on Thursday. The former prime minister won 408 votes out of 659. The selection of the government is labeled as a ‘transition to democracy,’ however, critics say it is an attempt to cement military rule. The Nobel Prize laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi boycotted the elections calling them unfair.


­Ukraine’s Yanukovich signs extension of power for himself and parliament

Viktor Yanukovich, the president of Ukraine, has signed amendments to the country’s constitution that will see his and the parliament’s authority extended to five years, from four. The bill had already been ratified by Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada. According to the bill, the next presidential election in Ukraine is now planned for March 2015, and the next parliamentary election for October 2012.


Kazakhstan to hold snap election on April 3

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev has fixed a date for early presidential election for April 3. Nazarbaev earlier called for the snap poll after the Constitutional Court rejected a petition drive for a referendum on keeping him in office for at least a decade more. The measure was signed Thursday allowing the election to be held two months before the original date. Nazarbaev has been ruling the country since 1991 and often faces accusations of corruption an undemocratic practices.


­Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev sets early election for April 3

Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, has set an early presidential election for April 3rd, 2011. The next election had been scheduled for 2012, but Nazarbayev proposed an early poll after the country’s Constitutional Council refused to uphold an amendment allowing him to extend his powers until 2020 at a referendum. The amendment, recently proposed by Nazarbayev’s supporters and upheld by five million signatures from the general public, was rejected by Nazarbayev himself, who turned it down and suggested an early election instead. Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and only president since 1991, can run for president an indefinite number of times.


Obama urges Yemeni president to start reforms

US President Barack Obama has called on Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to follow through on his pledge to reform his government, the White House said. Obama asked Saleh to restrain security forces from use of force against protesters. Thousands demonstrated in the capital of Yemen and other cities on Thursday in what protesters called a “day of rage”. Their aim is to oust their autocratic ruler, who has been in power for nearly 32 years. Trying to ease the tension, Saleh issued a statement this week saying that he would not seek reelection in 2013 and would not pass power to his son. Stability in Yemen is highly important for the US as the country helps fight Al-Qaeda militants in the Arabian Peninsula.


Guantanamo detainee dies while exercising

An Afghan man held without charge for eight years at GuantanamoBay has died in custody, reportedly while exercising. The military said his death resulted from natural causes, but it is still under investigation. The 48-year old was suspected by the US of being a recruitment officer for the Taliban. He is the seventh detainee to have died at Guantanamo since 2002.


Obama administration talks with Mubarak about immediate resignation

The possible immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and formation of an interim government could prepare Egypt for free and fair elections later this year, US officials said Thursday. They stressed that as the protests escalate and are expected to reach their peak this Friday, more violence may erupt unless the government takes steps to address the protesters’ main demand for Mubarak to step down. The Obama administration made it clear that the US is not seeking to impose any solutions on Egypt, but it came to the conclusion that if there is to be a peaceful resolution to this conflict, Mubarak has to go. The details of the diplomatic talks were first reported by The New York Times on condition of anonymity from the officials.


Las Vegas thief arrested by Nevada police

Nevada state police arrested a man suspected of an outrageous armed robbery in the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. On December 14 the casino lost $1.5 million worth of chips to the 29-year-old son of aLas Vegas Municipal Court judge. Police say that Antony M. Carleo had actually returned to the scene of crime several times before his arrest. Carleo’s father, George Assad, says he i heartbroken about the arrest, but stressed that people who break the law should be held responsible for their actions. Anthony Carleo has been identified by the police as the helmet-wearing bandit who waved a gun, grabbed high-value casino chips and made his escape on a motorcycle early on December 14.


Five years in prison for pointing lasers at airplanes

The US Senate is going to ban pointing handheld lasers at airplanes and thereby causing temporary blindness of pilots. According to aviation officials, this is a growing problem which could potentially lead to a crash. The number of incidents in which people pointed lasers at the cockpits of airplanes and helicopters reached nearly 3,000 in 2010 alone. Under the legislation approved by the Senate on Thursday, this activity will become a federal crime punishable by up to five years behind bars.

"This is a national security threat," said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller. "As the technology increases, it's going to blind pilots permanently. Maybe if they're accurate, they blind both the pilot and co-pilot.... There will be a future for terrorists in this business."


Amnesty International representatives detained in Cairo

According to information released by Amnesty International, two of the organization’s representatives have been detained by police in Cairo after the HishamMubarakLawCenter was taken over by military police on Thursday. Altogether 30 people were arrested during the raid by security forces. Amnesty International has no knowledge of their current whereabouts. "The Egyptian authorities appear to be attempting to suppress the wave of popular protest that has swept the country by targeting those reporting on it, including human rights activists, journalists and others," Claudio Cordone, senior director at Amnesty International, was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.