An original copy of the 1861 Emancipation Act signed on March 3 by Tsar Aleksander II will be exhibited in St. Petersburg Thursday to mark the 150th anniversary of the historic document. The exhibition will open in St. Petersburg State University and at 12:30 a.m. flowers will be laid before Aleksander II’s tomb. The main event of the day is an scholarly conference, “Great Reforms and the Modernization of Russia,” which will be held in Mariinsky Palace.
No prisoners managed to escape during an attempted jail break in Damanhour, roughly 80 miles northeast of Cairo, according to Egyptian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The prison is famous for holding two well-known Egyptian detainees, Tarek el-Zomor and his cousin Lieutenant Abboud el-Zomor, who are serving a life sentence for plotting the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. They were convicted in 1984, while the five prime suspects were captured and executed. However, the el-Zomor cousins were not among those who tried to escape on Wednesday, according to officials.
A man once listed as a top fugitive by the U.S. government has agreed to remain in jail while awaiting trial in Detroit on charges of human trafficking and other crimes, reports the AP. Veniamin Gonikman was silent in court Wednesday, and a not-guilty plea was entered by a judge. The 55-year-old waived his right to a detention hearing. Gonikman is accused of being a member of a violent ring that lured Eastern authorities say he's a naturalized U.S. citizen who was living in Ukraine with a fake Russian passport. He was kicked out of Ukraine in January and arrested on arrival in New York. Asked for comment, defense lawyer Walter Piszczatowski says ``don't believe everything'' in an indictment.
A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday announced rejection of any Israeli proposal for interim or partial solutions to the stalled peace process, China’s Xinhua news agency reported. The Palestinians are demanding “the end of the Israeli occupation in the areas that were occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and a fair solution to the issue of refugees,” the official said. This comes after the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated Tuesday he was studying a plan for a temporary settlement with the Palestinians, which involves the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders, while at the same time holding talks on the principles of final-status issues. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stopped in September 2010 after Israel resumed building settlements in the disputed West Bank.
Insurgents in northern Ivory Coast have claimed responsibility for water and electricity cuts for millions of people in the region who support the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara. New Forces spokesman Issia Doumbia says people are suffering without power and water amid growing political crisis. A statement Wednesday from the national electric company said armed men had cut the power on Monday. The electric company has been operating under the supervision of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who nationalized key state assets after the last election, which was won by Ouattara.
Recent reports indicate that fighting has resumed in South Sudan, leaving dozens dead over the weekend. Estimates of the dead vary substantially, from 40 to more than 100. Besides soldiers, civilians have been reportedly killed as well. The shootout comes in spite of a cease-fire treaty outlined January 5 and a referendum on South Sudanese independence. Only weeks earlier, similar violent battles led to some 240 being killed. The clashes have erupted between rebel militants who continue to oppose the South Sudanese regular forces and destabilize the situation in the region greatly.
Gun shots have been reported Wednesday at the EU second largest hub in Frankfurt. The shots were fired allegedly at a bus carrying US soldiers. Two people were killed and two others wounded, according to Frankfurt police. There was no immediate information on their identity or further casualties. The US Army Europe stated it had no immediate information on the incident but was looking into it.
Sergey Sobyanin, the new mayor of Moscow has been chosen to lead the Moscow branch of United Russia. On Wednesday, the pro-governmental party’s office in the capital voted to uphold the initiative of Prime Minister Putin, who put forward Sobyanin’s candidacy for the post in February. In nominating Sobyanin for the post, Putin said that when implementing his reforms, the mayor of Moscow could find the backing of Russia’s leading political party very useful.
A retired military officer from St. Petersburg has won his lawsuit against McDonald’s worth US $3,500 over a broken tooth. On Wednesday the court found the company guilty of negligence in allowing a stone to pass undetected into the man’s salad. While eating, the plaintiff broke his tooth. This event is unprecedented in the history of this fast food giant, as no other case has ever been lost by McDonalds to date. Now the company must pay compensation to the client and a fine to the state. The case comes amid the company’s statements of the upcoming expansion of McDonald’s in Russia, with 40 more restaurants to be opened in the country in 2011 and growing investment in the enterprise.
All youngsters in Russian schools and universities are coming under the watchful eye of the state. The Moscow Duma has approved an initiative to have all children and teenagers in Russian schools and universities checked for illegal drugs use. If ratified, the draft bill would require that during the annual medical examinations, all young Russians are to be tested for drug and alcohol abuse. The measure is aimed at stopping the spread of drug addiction among Russian youngsters, which President Medvedev has declared a priority for Russia in 2011. The draft bill, proposed by United Russia, will now be considered in the State Duma, the lower chamber of Russia’s Parliament. Meanwhile, it has been reported that some secondary schools in Moscow are introducing voluntary drug testing for their students this spring.
Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court at The Hague declared on Wednesday they will open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in Libya. This step is seen as an unprecedented quick reaction to the violence, with similar decisions usually taking months and even years to decide. Prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo appealed for video and photographs of the violence in Libya and stated the investigation has already been in touch with Libyan army officers. A preliminary probe was launched Monday after the UN Security Council ordered the Court to look into possible abuse in the unstable country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed Wednesday she has moved former minister of the interior Tomas de Maiziere to the Defense Ministry to substitute for the recently resigned Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s dismissal was caused by the revelation that he plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. The shift comes in light of the planned gradual pullback of German troops from Afghanistan. De Maiziere, 57, is said to be a trusted ally of Merkel, a friendship she says goes back two decades.
The former president of the Soviet Union has been awarded The Order of St. Andrew the First-Called on his eightieth birthday. “I have signed the decree to award you with our highest order - the Order of St. Andrew,” President Medvedev told Gorbachev at a meeting in the presidential residence near Moscow. “I think this is an adequate evaluation of the enormous work you did as head of state. I also see it as a symbol of respect for the state that you headed, the state that was our common homeland - the Soviet Union,” he added. Gorbachev celebrates his birthday on Wednesday. The Nobel Prize winner is being congratulated by Russian and international leaders, and public figures, including Vladimir Putin, George Bush, Sr., Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and others.
The NATO alliance has apologized for killing nine civilians during an air strike in the Kunar province of Afghanistan, which is considered a breeding ground for the insurgency. The young boys were killed accidentally, NATO officials say, caused by miscommunication in relaying information about the location of militants. General David Petraeus, the high-ranked alliance commander stated he would personally apologize to President Hamid Karzai.
The Russian government has imposed its version of ‘face control’ on a trendy Moscow nightclub trying to use Putin’s image to advertise an upcoming bash. According to Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, the prime minister’s image cannot be used to advertise the event, controversially named “Putin Party - I want the Prime Minister”. The party’s entrance ticket has been designed to look like a voting ballot, offering visitors to choose the ‘object of their desire’: Bruce Willis, David Beckham, Che Guevara or the Prime Minister. The event’s organizers apparently neglected to recognize that the use of Vladimir Putin’s image and name for commercial purposes requires legal copyright authorization.
Major credit banks in the US have informed the government’s regulators and their investors of possible losses in the multiple law suits they are involved in, RBK Daily reported on Wednesday. The cases are related to the possible illegal activities of America’s leading banks. Among the banks on the list of “most sued” are Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase. Goldman sees its possible losses totaling as much as US $3.4 billion, while JP Morgan estimates around US $4.5 billion. The release of such information comes amid the new regulations the US imposed on the banks after the recent financial downturn. According to the new rules, credit organizations have to enclose all prospective circumstances that may lead to financial losses, with payments on lost legal cases among the items on the list.
The President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed his position on possible US intervention in the Libyan crisis on Wednesday, warning Washington against active military operations similar to the Iraqi campaign. Ahmadinejad blames the US for the recent crises in the Maghreb countries, stating the western country has always backed Arab dictatorships. No one will believe Washington’s pledges to serve the people’s needs in the Arab countries, suggested the Iranian leader. The Arab people will “dig graves for Americans” if they intervene in an attempt to gain control over the area’s natural resources as they did in Iraq, warns Ahmadinejad.
The country’s leading political party, United Russia is seeking to re-elect St. Petersburg Mayor Valentina Matvienko, a local party leader stated. Matvienko, mayor since 2003, is set to see her second term expire in December 2011. However, according to the leader United Russia’s St. Petersburg branch, Vadim Tulpanov, she is likely to hold on to her position for yet another term. Matvienko has been losing popularity with city residents due to her alleged negligent attitude towards the city’s historic buildings. This winter she came under fire for failing to effectively clean up snow that engulfed and paralyzed the city. The mayors of St. Petersburg and Moscow are directly appointed by President Medvedev, who chooses the most fitting candidate from the ruling party’s shortlist.
The Parliament of the Russian Caucasian Karachaevo-Cherkessian Republic has been put on alert Wednesday, with all the MPs evacuated after an email was received by local security officials. The email warned of a bomb hidden in the republic’s Parliament building. The police were mobilized to investigate the situation, and all the members of the parliament were asked to leave the building to conduct a search. The investigation is currently underway, and the results of the search have not been announced yet. On Tuesday, the MPs unanimously approved the new head of the republic, President Medvedev’s candidate, Rashid Temrezov.
Taliban militants have claimed responsibility for the attack and death of a Pakistani minority minister earlier Wednesday, Reuters reports. Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead in a gun attack in the Pakistani city of Islamabad. Bhatti was the only Christian in the Cabinet and stood for initiatives to change the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law, which has reentered the spotlight after a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death. Earlier this year, another Pakistani official who sought changes to the same law and strongly opposed it was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.
Belarus MPs see no need for a visit by a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the country, where the organization’s office was recently shut down. “There is no use or necessity for such a visit,” parliamentary spokesman Viktor Guminsky asserted. At a winter OSCE session, Uta Zapf, head of the agency’s working group on Belarus, suggested that the group pay a visit to Belarus to evaluate the situation there following the re-election of President Lukashenko last December. The OSCE’s regular office in Minsk was ordered to shut down after voicing criticism about the elections. By the end of March, the OSCE mission must end its operations in Belarus.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Wednesday that Tokyo was concerned over Russia's plans to deploy missiles on the Lesser Kuril Islands. Russian media quoted a high-ranking representative of Russia's General Staff as saying that Moscow was planning to deploy Bastion missile systems with Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles on the the Kuril Islands, dubbed as the Northern Territories in Japan. “This is very regrettable,” Edano told journalists in Tokyo. He added that Japan was following closely the "trends of Russia's military activities in the Far East." Moscow’s move comes as part of the government’s plans to upgrade its armed forces in the country's Far East. The decision was taken after the long-standing territorial dispute between the countries escalated following a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to one of the islands.
The World Health Organization has published an official communiqué Wednesday with the latest updates on the number of victims in the unrest in Libya and situation in the country. More than 2,000 people have been declared dead as a result of the violent clashes between government forces and demonstrators. Some 120,000 refugees have fled to neighboring states, the WHO claims. The organization views the recent situation in Libya as a “large-scale humanitarian crisis” resulting from grave security conditions and constant armed clashes.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to meet with US Vice President Joseph Biden in Moscow on March 9, the Kremlin announced. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to meet with Biden on March 10. "We consider this visit a landmark event in preparation for the US president's upcoming visit to Russia, which is scheduled for this year," Presidential Aide Sergei Prikhodko told reporters on Tuesday. The date of the President Barack Obama’s visit to Russia has not yet been determined. During Biden’s visit, US officials hope to cover issues related to Russia's accession to the WTO, missile defense, disarmament, and work by the bilateral Medvedev-Obama commission, as well as the recent events unfolding in the Middle East.
The Egyptian Islamist party “the Muslim Brotherhood” has declared Wednesday they are not intending to dominate politics in the country and have no intentions of gaining control, according to the Almasryalyoum newspaper’s publication. The Muslim party officials claim they will not stand for the upcoming presidential elections, although they do not deny that some personal candidates from the party may stand for election based on their own personal initiative. The Brotherhood is also not aiming to gain the majority in the parliament as well, and highlighted the importance of involvement of all political forces in the ruling of the country, the reports say. The Muslim Brotherhood, created in 1928, used to be in the opposition to the ousted president Mubarak and after his resignation decided to form a political body which is now being developed. Group officials have consistently maintained the image of the Brotherhood as a non-radical organization.
Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov does not think Facebook and Twitter helped spark the recent revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. “I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, which claims it was all done by Twitter or Facebook,” Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio station. He agreed that social networks had helped gather people for demonstrations, but pointed out that the protests, especially in Libya, had been rather spontaneous. “The wrath had accumulated over the years, and then it burst out, like an abscess does,” Lavrov said. Social networks are thought to have played a major role in the recent uprisings in the Middle East and North African countries. Attempting to stifle mass protests, Cairo blocked nationwide public access to the internet for several days.
President Robert Mugabe's supporters are launching a petition against Western economic sanctions targeting Mugabe and his closest ministers. The supporters sang slogans and raised Mugabe's trademark clenched fist salute on Wednesday. No immediate reports of violence emerged. Mugabe, who is scheduled to address the rally, insists the sanctions have destroyed Zimbabwe's economy. However, the opposition blames the presidential land distribution program for crippling the country's agriculture industry. The sanctions include visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and his party leaders. Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe's independence 30 years ago.
Fijian bank notes and coins will no longer bear the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the Australian newspaper reported on Wednesday. Instead, the flora and fauna of the islands will appear, having already been selected for the purpose. The new design of the notes and coins will come into circulation in the summer of 2012, reports say. This reform comes as a symbolic step for Fiji, which declared itself a republic after a military coup in 1987. The country was excluded from the Commonwealth in the 1990s. The initiator of the reform is the current PM of Fiji, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who seized power in a 2006 coup.
St. Patrick's day parade lovers are going to turn green with envy as Moscow authorities have cancelled the annual St. Patrick’s parade, Bloomberg reports Wednesday citing the Irish Ambassador to Russia. The parade honoring Ireland’s patron saint, first held in Moscow in 1992, will be replaced by an indoor concert on Sunday, March 20, said Dublin’s envoy, Philip McDonagh. The measure is aimed at fighting Moscow’s traffic congestion, the ambassador explained. “This event, of which the city of Moscow is a joint patron, replaces the parade - an experiment we are trying this year in view of the cold weather and the priority that is being given at present to resolving Moscow’s traffic problems,” he said. Traffic jams are one of the main problems plaguing the city, which the new mayor Sergey Sobyanin is set on resolving.
On Wednesday Chinese officials released information on the country’s plans for space exploration in the coming decade, Xinhua news agency reports. First, the Chinese global navigation system composed of more than 30 satellites is expected to be in operation by 2020. By 2015 up to 14 satellites will be launched and the rest will be delivered into orbit by the end of the decade. Second, China’s lunar program has started its active phase, commencing with the development of a lunar probe. In 2013, the uniquely constructed probe is scheduled to be delivered to the surface of the Moon. The probe will be equipped with “legs” and wheels and will have a brand-new design. Also, China is elaborating on its Mars exploration project. The first probe is likely to be launched in 2013, reports say. All the launches will be carried out by China-made rockets and all the spare parts will be manufactured in the country as well, a spokesperson highlighted.
Thousands of people suffering from HIV organized a rally in New Delhi against a planned EU-India trade deal which is supposed to hike the prices on the basic HIV drugs that the HIV-infected use to survive. The protesters view the new free trade agreement between the EU and India as a cause for the possible increase in the prices of the lifesaving drugs, which would take them out of the reach of people living with HIV. The march went through the central streets of New Delhi and ended in a meeting near the Indian Parliament.
Russia’s resort city of Sochi will not only play host to the 2014 Olympics, as President Medvedev has invited NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to hold the Russia-NATO Council meeting there this summer. “At a meeting with the NATO secretary-general, I handed him an official letter confirming Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's invitation to meet with the participants in a Russia-NATO Council diplomatic summit in Sochi this summer,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said on Wednesday. The meeting, he said, could deal with the pressing issue of missile defense, which Russia and NATO have yet to resolve. “The Russian president will be enthusiastic about receiving the NATO secretary-general and the ambassadors from the alliance member states,” Rogozin pointed out.
The total number of dead in the cholera epidemic endangering Haiti since October of last year has reached 4,625. The outbreak of cholera has led to 245,000 infections, of whom 132,000 have been hospitalized. Although officials report a decline in the mortality rate now, the situation remains grave. As the source of the epidemic has not been found, the disaster cannot be localized. The epidemic is currently a growing threat to the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Russian authorities have backed businessman Viktor Bout’s appeal for better prison conditions as he sits in a New York detention center awaiting his trial date. According to Vice Consul, Aleksandr Otchainov, the consulate has forwarded a letter to prison authorities, requesting better food and softer detention conditions for Bout. The jailed businessman has recently complained that being a vegetarian, he is experiencing a severe vitamin deficiency from his meager prison diet, and fears he might contract scurvy. Prison officials have rejected his requests to see a doctor and blocked his attempts to obtain fruits and vegetables at his own cost. Bout also complained that he is kept in solitary confinement in a prison block for cut-throat criminals, where the use of the internet or telephone is prohibited, as are outdoor walks. The US accuses Bout of allegedly selling arms to terrorists and conspiring to kill Americans. He denies all charges against him.
Four police and two civilians were killed Tuesday when a helicopter delivering money to a bank was attacked in southern Colombia, Agence France-Presse reports Wednesday. Gunmen attacked the helicopter as it was landing on a football field in the city of Caloto. The entire machine crew was killed, as well as two residents who were passing by at the moment. The bandits managed to escape with the money, the amount of which has not been announced. No organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials relate it to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) guerillas who continue to jeopardize the country’s civil life. Clashes between the government and FARC gunmen are still common in some parts of the country.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the ex-president of the Soviet Union, and father of perestroika and glasnost, turns 80 on Wednesday. “I cannot even believe that I am 80,” Gorbachev exclaimed. The ex-leader of the USSR is in good physical shape and is perfectly sound. A world-known public figure, Gorbachev is being congratulated by Russian and foreign political and cultural elite, including George Bush, Sr. and Margaret Thatcher. According to news agencies, Gorbachev is going to celebrate his birthday bash in Moscow with a dinner for about 300 people. On the eve of his eightieth anniversary, Gorbachev announced the creation of an award named in his honor, entitled “The Man Who Changed the World”. The award will commemorate the achievements of those in the development of civilization, culture, social science and technology that have changed the world for the better, and will be awarded in London on March 30.
The first 50 electric taxis were put into operation in the Chinese capital on Wednesday. Special charging stations have been constructed for the cabs to refuel. A completely charged battery reportedly has enough energy for 140 kilometers of driving. The new taxi cabs are not only eco-friendly, but also economically efficient. Each vehicle will economize up to US $5,000 per year on fuel, experts claim. City authorities plan to put 5,000 new electric cabs and busses into operation by 2012 in Beijing, while by 2015 they are expecting to operate around half a million eco-friendly vehicles in total.
Mexican authorities have found a mass grave containing at least 17 bodies allegedly related to drug cartel wars which plagued the area, Agence France-Presse reports Wednesday. The grave was encountered in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, in the town of San Miguel Totolapan. Officials say more bodies may be found later as their investigation has not ceased. Three mass graves have been found in Mexico during the last year, each full of bodies dumped by drug cartels. More that 100 bodies have been unearthed as a result. As rival drug traffickers fight for control of smuggling routes to the US, mass graves as well as civilian victims have become common in the country. More than 34,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related violence since 2006.
Minister for Minority Affairs was shot dead in a gun attack in Pakistani Islamabad city on Wednesday. The police are investigating whether the only Christian minister in the Pakistani Cabinet was the intended target of the attack. Shahbaz Bhatti stood for initiatives to change the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law, which has reentered the spotlight after a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death. Earlier this year, another Pakistani official who sought changes to the same law and strongly opposed it was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.
Federal authorities in the US charged a former Goldman Sachs director with insider trading on Wednesday. The Securities and Exchange Commission declared that Rajat Gupta abused his position by passing along confidential information, including a five billion dollar deal, to a company he owned shares in. The regulators claim Gupta's illegal activity from late 2008 to early 2009 netted the company, Galleon Hedge funds, US $18 million. The case in which Gupta is involved concerns dozens of other high-ranking executives as well. The issue has become particularly uncomfortable for Goldman Sachs while such activities are being revealed at the trustworthy company.
Columbian naval forces confiscated $90 million worth of cocaine on the Pacific coast of the country, a navy spokesperson said on Wednesday. More than three tons of illegal cargo were discovered by the military in a rural area near the city of Cuerval in the southwest of the country. The drugs were packed in 139 bags and were ready for shipment to Mexico aboard a submarine that was confiscated in the same area last month.
During congressional hearings on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she is concerned about religious minorities and Asia and Africa.
“It is beyond doubt that Christians and other religious minorities lead a life under pressure in countries from North Africa to South Asia, they do not feel safe, and because of that many are forced to flee their homes to escape repression,” she said.
Clinton pointed out that the attacks are not connected to the current political situation across the Middle East, and that the problem should be getting more public attention. She said that the US needs to do more to protect the rights of religious minorities and hold accountable governments responsible for abuses.
The Republic of Cyprus is awaiting information from the British government about whether it is going to reposition Royal Air Force jetfighters to a military base in Akrotiri on the southern coast of the island. Earlier on Tuesday media speculated that movement of British Typhoon jets is likely if a decision is made to enforce a no-flight zone over Libya. Interfax quoted a spokesperson for the Cypriot government, Stephanos Stephanou, saying that Cyprus has contacted those responsible for such decisions and are awaiting information on the matter. However, he stated, “until now there has been no reaction [to our enquiry].”
The British government should stop “thinking about Libya’s oil with greed” said Saif al-Islam, a son of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, in an interview with Sky News on Tuesday. “We are not afraid that [the British military] will attack us,” he said. “There is no reason for them to use military forces against us.” He added that using any force against his father’s regime “is unacceptable.” He also denied reports that Libyan jetfighters attacked civilians and military installations in regions controlled by the opposition. Those attacks were one of the reasons British Prime Minister David Cameron proposed imposing a no-flight zone over the country. Saif al-Islam said that Cameron and other European leaders are set on regime change in the Arab world. According to him, the British prime minister “wants to be a hero and to take a place in history.”
According to Algeria’s minister for housing and urban development, Nureddin Mousa, the government has embarked on a program to create new jobs in the housing industry, significantly improving the social and living conditions of Algerian citizens. The approximately $50 billion that is being invested into construction offers a great opportunity for young people who want to learn a new profession or maybe start their own business, Mousa said.
He also praised the foreign companies working in the Algerian market, saying they educate young local specialists by sharing information and experience. The government’s pledge comes after a wave of protests rocked the country in January in response to rising food prices, a high unemployment rate and a shortage of housing.