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28 May, 2011


Three French nationals reportedly go missing in Yemen

­According to the French Foreign Ministry, three French citizens have gone missing in Yemen, all of them employees of humanitarian organizations, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. At the moment, French authorities are undertaking all possible measures to find the missing people and are trying to contact their relatives in France, officials announced. The three men were reported missing on Saturday afternoon when they failed to return to their residence in Seyun, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a Yemeni security official.


Ex-chief of Italy’s Central Bank gets 4 years in jail

Antonio Fazio, a former head of the Italian Central Bank, was sentenced to four years in jail after being found complicit in a 2005 takeover battle for control of Banca Antonveneta, according to Reuters. Saturday court’s ruling also orders Fazio to pay a roughly $2 million fine for his role in the takeover case, which pitted Dutch Bank ABN AMRO against Italy’s Banca Popolare Italiana. His defense team has already stated that the ruling is “unjust” and that he will appeal to a higher court. Fazio was forced to resign in December 2005. Former BPI Chief Executive Gianpiero Fiorani was sentenced on Saturday to 20 months in jail. Fazio also faces charges of favoring market-rigging in a separate case involving Unipol's 2005 attempt to buy Italian bank Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL). He also denies those charges.


Germany swamped again by anti-nuke protests

Thousands of people demonstrated across Germany on Saturday, demanding a speedy end to the use of atomic energy. Anti-nuclear activists protested in Berlin, Dresden, Munich, Hamburg, Gottingen and other cities to pursue demands for a swift exit from nuclear power. Japan's post-earthquake nuclear crisis has galvanized longstanding German opposition to nuclear power. It prompted the government to freeze plans to extend the life of German plants, order a shutdown of its seven oldest reactors and seek a quicker transition to renewable energy. Germany, Europe's biggest economy, stands alone among the world's major industrialized nations in its determination to overcome nuclear power and gradually replace it with renewable energy sources.


Non-fatal dual bomb attacks rock Afghanistan

A bomb exploded Saturday at a local governor’s compound in the Afghan province of Tahar, local TV reports. Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber targeted a NATO convoy in Kunar province.  The first blast was said to have targeted regional officials and a field commander of the Afghan army. Some were injured, reports say, though no information about casualties has been released so far. In another blast, a NATO convoy was attacked while parking near a provincial administrative building. An explosives-laden car ploughed through several armored vehicles and then exploded. Luckily, the troops were inside the building at the time. Several vehicles were seriously damaged, reports say.


Mladic talks Serbs out of bloodshed

The arrested Bosnian Serb commander Radko Mladic has called for peaceful demonstrations and asked his compatriots not to shed blood on his behalf. The Serbian population is preparing massive acts of protest for Sunday and, as previous marches ended with violently, police fear further unrest. Serbian radicals call the arrest of Mladic “a shame” and pledge to protest it by urging thousands of people to gather in front of the national parliament. Radko Mladic faces trial over war crimes allegedly committed during the 1992-1995 conflict.  He has been accused of being complicit in ethnic cleansing and terror against civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A Serbian court ruled Friday Mladic may be extradited to The Hague for international trial.


Thousands protest violent crackdown on opposition in Tbilisi

Several thousand people gathered in the Georgian capital on Saturday outside of the country’s parliament to protest the violence of the Saakashvilli government. Saturday’s gathering stems from Friday’s police crackdown on demonstrations which resulted in the killing of at least three protesters, injuring dozens more. Many were arrested overnight following the protests. People call the police response “a crime”, saying it was not appropriate to use violence against peaceful demonstrators. Friday’s protests were organized with the goal of ousting President Saakashvilli.


Mubarak and officials fined for millions over Internet blockade

An Egyptian court has ruled the country’s former president Hosni Mubarak is to pay some US $90 million in fines for banning social networks and blocking Internet broadcasting in the country, Reuters reports Saturday. The fine targets not only the ousted Mubarak, but also top officials from his government. This is the first ruling handed down in connection with a series of cases now being heard in Egypt against the toppled ruler.  Mubarak is yet to stand trial over the murder of protesters and may face the death penalty if convicted. The former leader currently resides at his resort residence in Sharm el-Sheikh.


Blasts heard in Tripoli as NATO continues air strikes

Explosions shook Tripoli on Saturday, as NATO fighter jets carried out further air strikes overnight and into the morning against targets in the Libyan capital. Columns of smoke were seen over the skyline of the city. Later on Saturday morning, more air strikes were carried out in Tripoli. NATO claims it has struck a command and control center where Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi sometimes stays, though it is claimed he was not a target and there is no way to know if he was there.


Dozens of gay activists detained on banned pride parade in Moscow

Despite all the official bans on gay pride parades in Moscow, activists from the movement attempted to carry out several minor demonstrations in the Russian capital on Saturday.  Many of them were later taken into custody. Police also detained counter-demonstrators after they initiated clashes with the marchers. The Gay Pride parade on May 28 was not authorized by the city government out of fears that it could cause unrest in the capital.  May 28 is the traditional holiday for Russia’s border guards who are infamous for their aggressive behavior. The Moscow officials also said they had received dozens of petitions from several religious and social organizations asking them not to permit the parade on the grounds that it contradicts traditional Russian morality.


Silencing Russian press might cost Lukashenko $ 3.5 billion

The desire of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko to limit the activities of the Russian mass media in the country might ruin the Russian commitment to back the crisis-hit nation with a US $3.5 billion aid package. The Kremlin position may be adjusted if such actions come into force, government officials stated Saturday. On Friday, Lukashenko claimed the press is both exaggerating and consequently escalating the scale of the crisis, with the Russian papers playing the most active role in the “hysteria”. The Russian Foreign Ministry has already expressed concerns of a possible deterioration in relations between the two neighbors. Minsk is struggling to cope with the economic downturn and may rely on foreign backing in order to survive the crisis.


Eight killed in Pakistani market blast

An explosion ripped through a market in Bajaur tribal region of northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing eight people, including two anti-Taliban tribal elders. Twelve others were reportedly injured. The origin of the blast could not immediately be ascertained. The injured were taken to hospitals in Khar, the main town in the region located 65 km from Pashat. Officials said three of the wounded were in serious condition. The Pashat market was closed following the attack. Security forces sealed off the site of the blast and launched a search operation. The Taliban allegedly claimed responsibility for the attack, according to unconfirmed reports.


Fukushima not ready for typhoon rains – operator

The crippled Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant is not fully prepared for heavy rain and strong winds which may be caused by a powerful typhoon moving Saturday toward  the disaster-hit areas of Japan’s Honshu Island, Kyodo news agency reports citing TEPCO. Heavy rain has been forecast for the areas from Sunday to Monday due to the season's second typhoon, Songda. Liquidators have been spreading anti-scattering agents around the troubled reactors of the plant’s buildings to prevent radioactively contaminated dust from being carried into the air and sea by rain and wind. But some of the reactor buildings have been left uncovered after they were damaged by hydrogen explosions following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The operation is due to be finished by mid-June. TEPCO reps have already apologized for possible air contamination and pledged to do their best to prevent it.


Honda loses control of customers’ data – 280,000 affected

The Japanese car giant has for the second time in six months experienced a data breach with more than 280,000 customers affected, the International Business Times reports Saturday. The breach involved the unauthorized access to information in its 2009 records, specifically the names, addresses, Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs), and in a small number of cases, Honda Financial Service’s (HFS) account numbers, the carmaker announced. However, the breach does not reportedly include any data that would typically be used for identity theft or fraud, such as birth dates, email addresses, telephone, credit card, bank account, driver's license or social insurance numbers. This is the second time in the past six month hackers have attacked Honda. An estimated 2.2 million customers in the US fell victim to a data base breach and were put on security alert by the carmaker.


Long-awaited relief – Egypt opens gates to Gaza

Four years on, Egypt has permanently opened the Gaza Strip's main gateway to the outside world. The first busload of passengers crossed into Egypt on Saturday morning at the Rafah terminal, where about 400 Gaza residents awaited. The move to lift most travel restrictions on Gaza residents brings long-awaited relief to the territory's Palestinian population and a significant achievement for its Hamas rulers, though it raises Israeli fears that it will be easier for militants to move in and out of Gaza. Egypt and Israel have maintained a blockade over Gaza since 2007 to weaken Hamas following its violent seizure of the territory. But after the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February, Egypt's new military rulers decided to ease the blockade. The measure also follows the reconciliation between the two Gaza factions – Fatah and Hamas.


Iran backs Assad in crackdown on opposition – newspaper

Iran is sending elite troops along with weapons, riot gear and surveillance tools to help the Syrian regime pressure the opposition, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reports Saturday. Iranian military advisors have been also brought to Syria's capital Damascus to teach security forces techniques that were used against the "Green Movement" in 2009, the paper says. Earlier in March, Turkey informed a UN Security Council panel that it had seized a cache of weapons Iran was attempting to export to Syria in breach of a UN arms embargo. The death toll from the clashes between government forces and protesters in Syria which have continued unabated since mid-March may top 1,000 people, Egyptian human rights watch reported this week.


N. Korea frees American after 6 months

North Korea has released an American citizen who was held for the past six months for an unspecified crime, according to Yonhap news agency on Saturday. The release of the Korean-American Jun Young-su, who was arrested in November and has since been held in custody for committing a "crime" against the North, came a day after Pyongyang said it decided to free him on "humanitarian grounds." Jun was the fifth American to be held by the communist state in the past three years. The US government had repeatedly called on the North to free Jun, who was allegedly accused of getting involved in unauthorized religious activities.


Express train derails in Japan, 39 hospitalized – local press

Thirty-nine people have been sent to hospital after one in a series of six passenger carriages derailed in northern Japan late on Friday, a local newspaper said on Saturday. En route from the town of Kushiro to Sapporo, the Super Ozora express was carrying 245 passengers when it was forced to brake suddenly in a tunnel after the second carriage derailed. A fire broke out in the tunnel, but the majority of the passengers managed to get out of the train and run outside. Some 39 people received inhalation burns and were rushed to hospital. All the victims are safe, according to Saturday updates, and the fire has been brought under control. The investigation into the causes of the crash is underway.


More than 34 million farmers without water in China

A drought which has persisted for several months along the Chinese Yangtze River has affected more than 34 million farmers as locals who have been left without water strive to overcome the disaster, according to Agence France-Presse. The losses to the agricultural and breeding industries have been severe, as people and their livestock have been seriously hit by a lack of drinking water, China’s Civil Affairs Ministry said in a statement Saturday. The drought came as rainfall in this crucial Chinese region is up to 60 per cent lower than average levels for the last 50 years. As the Three Gorges Dam has been set to cut back on its capacity in a relief measure, China may face a major summer electricity shortage of 30 gigawatts, officials fear.


Bout extradition violates US constitution – defense

The lawyers of Russian businessman Victor Bout have filed a petition to the New-York Federal Court late on Friday asking to close the hearings on this “politically motivated case”.  Bout’s defense believes the extradition and trial of the businessman were ordered by the White House and US Congress, demonstrating a clear violation of the principle of the division of powers – one of the cornerstones of the country’s constitution. The lawyers provided specific evidence of US officials’ involvement in the talks on Bout’s extradition to the US. They also refer to the fact that Bout aided the US mission in Iraq by organizing the cargo shipments for American troops.


US delegation evaluates food supply in North Korea

­A US delegation led by President Barack Obama’s special envoy finished a visit to North Korea to assess the present situation with the food supply in the country. State Department spokesman Marc Toner stated that while the fact-finding mission does not imply that the US is going to help North Korea with provisions, it does mark the first step in that direction.


UN welcomes arrest of Ratko Mladic

­The UN Security Council greeted the arrest of former Serbian commander Ratko Mladic as a clear example of Belgrade’s cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Security Council believes that the arrest and extradition of the former Bosnian Serb military leader will promote further European integration of the Western Balkan countries.


Berezovsky’s assets seized in Switzerland and France

­French and Swiss authorities seized bank accounts and yachts belonging to companies associated with fugitive Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, who is wanted in Moscow on fraud charges. The property was seized on Russia’s request. The value of assets frozen in Switzerland is 21 million Swiss francs, while two yachts seized in France are valued at $20 million. The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office also decided to transfer over $55.8 million to Russia’s largest public shipping companies, Sovcomflot and Novoship, to partially compensate for the damage caused by the theft of their property by their former executive, who is currently living in the UK.


Putin doubts the credibility of charges against Strauss-Kahn

­Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists he simply cannot believe all the allegations against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. “I cannot believe that it really is as it is presented, it just doesn't make sense,” Putin said in disbelief. Until recently the former IMF head was considered the leading contender to take on French President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s elections, but earlier this month Strauss-Kahn was arrested in the US for allegedly attempting to rape a hotel employee in New York.


Tripoli bombed for fourth straight night

­NATO carried out yet another airstrike on Muammar Gaddafi’s headquarters in the Bab al-Aziziyah complex on Saturday night. Damage and casualties from the bombardment remain unknown. NATO fighter planes also delivered strikes on infrastructure in the Libyan town of Gharyan.