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10 January, 2012


Merkel and Lagarde meet to find way out of eurozone crisis

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has held talks with the IMF head, Christine Lagarde, in Berlin to find a way to stem the eurozone’s debt crisis. They also discussed an upcoming mission to Athens by representatives from the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. "The chancellor and the IMF chief again declared their support for the goal to sustainably strengthen growth and employment in Europe," Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said. On Monday, the German leader met with President Nicolas Sarkozy and urged Greece to proceed with the promised structural changes or risk losing the next instalment of badly needed bailout money.


Indonesia lifts tsunami warning after 7.3 quake

­Indonesia has lifted the tsunami warning issued after a massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of northern Sumatra early on Wednesday. Local residents in Banda Aceh province have started to return to their homes after fleeing them in panic. Back in 2004, a massive earthquake off Sumatra triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, half of them in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh province.


Four hundred killed in last 10 days in Syria – UN

­A top UN official says some 400 people have been killed over the past 10 days in the ongoing violence in Syria, the Associated Press reports. The death toll comes despite the Arab League observer mission’s efforts to end the conflict that has claimed over 5,000 lives since March, according to earlier UN estimates. The latest figure was provided by UN political chief B. Lynn Pascoe in a closed-door report to the Security Council on Tuesday. US Ambassador Susan Rice noted that the rate was even higher than before the Arab League observers arrived and a clear indication the government of Bashar Assad was stepping up the violence rather than ending it as promised.


­Tsunami warning issued after 7.3 quake off Indonesia coast

A 7.3 magnitude-earthquake has hit western Indonesia, 420 kilometers off the coast. The quake, whose epicenter was 30 kilometers beneath the ocean floor, has prompted officials to issue a tsunami warning. Indonesia is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. A giant quake off the country on Dec. 26, 2004, triggered a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people, half of them in Indonesia’s Aceh province.


Russia censures Iran over uranium enrichment program

­The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has come out with a statement condemning Iran for ignoring UN Security Council resolution 1929 demanding the cessation of uranium enrichment activities at a facility near the city of Koms. The statement also calls on all sides to resume talks and says that mutual respect and negotiations were the only way to deal with the Iranian uranium enrichment program. The situation over Iran intensified at the end of last year, when the IAEA published its report that said that Iran had been working on nuclear weapons. This was followed by the EU announcing its plans to introduce an oil embargo against Iran. After Iran officially confirmed that it was opening an underground uranium enrichment facility, the EU rescheduled its meeting on the embargo. It was originally set to take place on January 30 but is now slated for January 23.


Nigeria hit by widespread anti-government protest

­Anti-government demonstrators have set up burning roadblocks to block highways linking the Nigerian mainland to islands off the south of the country, where the nation’s wealthy live. A nationwide strike aimed at forcing the government to reinstate fuel subsidies has entered its second day. Schools, shops and offices have shut down throughout the country as a result of the strike. The strike also closed the busy Apapa port, located in the nation’s economic capital of Lagos. Some of the demonstrations, like the one in the affluent Ikoyi neighborhood in Lagos, turned violent, with protesters hurling stones at police officers. Benin City, located in the south of the country, also saw its share of violence when an angry mob killed five people and wounded six others as they attacked the city’s central mosque, which they also tried to set ablaze. The Benin City attacks appeared to be reprisal attacks aimed at avenging the deaths of Christians in the north, who have recently been targeted by the Boko Haram Muslim sect. The demonstrations were originally in protest at the government’s decision to get rid of fuel subsidies but have now taken on a number of other causes such as fighting corruption and poverty


US rescues six Iranian sailors in Gulf

­The Pentagon says a US coastguard cutter has rescued six Iranian sailors stranded aboard a cargo dhow. The American cutter apparently picked up the Iranians in the northern Persian Gulf, where their ship was having engine problems. One of the Iranian sailors had suffered burns injuries. Pentagon press secretary George Little said it was not entirely clear how the coastguard would return the rescued sailors back to Iran. Last Thursday a US navy ship rescued 13 Iranian sailors who had reportedly been held captive aboard their own ship by pirates for over one month. They were given food and clothing and were allowed to leave, while 15 pirates were captured by US naval forces. Iran called the US-led operation a “welcome and humanitarian act.”


Death toll in Pakistan blast reaches 35

Pakistan’s deadliest explosion in months has left 35 people dead and wounded over 60. A car bomb was detonated remotely in a market in the border city of Jamrud, and witnesses said members of the anti-Taliban militia were the targets. Pakistan's remote and troubled north-west region is a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives and other Islamist militants opposed to the government. Insurgents largely based in the tribal border lands have carried out bomb and gun attacks killing nearly 5,000 people across Pakistan since July 2007.


Iran accused of ‘jamming’ Al-Jazeera

Tehran is jamming broadcasts by news channel Al-Jazeera, satellite operator Arabsat said in a statement on Tuesday. The operator claims Al-Jazeera is affected from two locations near Tehran and near the northwestern city of Maragheh. Arabsat viewers on Sunday received a new frequency due to “continued interference.” In January last year, Egypt’s Nilesat satellite operator suspended the carriage of Al-Jazeera. The channel also complained last February that Libya’s intelligence services jammed its broadcasts in the country.


Muslim group protests Rushdie’s India visit

Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, is going to visit India despite protests from a Muslim group in that country. The Darul Uloom seminary’s head Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani demanded on Tuesday that the government should bar Rushdie from attending the Jaipur Literary Festival due to begin on January 20. The seminary preaches an austere form of Islam. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie’s execution in 1988 for allegedly insulting of Islam. Rushdie has visited India several times recently. He is expected to talk at a session on “Inglish, Amlish, Hinglish: The Chutneyfication of English” at the Jaipur festival.


Russian warships leave Syrian territorial waters

A Russian naval task force has left the Syrian port of Tartus after a three-day visit, Russia’s Northern Fleet said on Tuesday. The task force, led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, called on the Syrian port on Sunday. The warships left Syrian territorial waters on Tuesday afternoon and continued on their route in accordance with their schedule, RIA Novosti said, citing the fleet’s statement. The Russian Defense Ministry repeatedly stated the purpose of the visit was to replenish water and food supplies during the warships’ long-term training mission in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The Soviet-era naval maintenance site near Tartus is Russia’s only military foothold in the Mediterranean.


US denies Iran's Hekmati was spying for CIA

Washington has rejected Iran’s claim that Amir Mirza Hekmati, an Iranian-American dual citizen, was spying for the Central Intelligence Agency. The former US Marine translator, 28, born in the United States to Iranian immigrant parents, was sentenced to death “for ties to the CIA” and for cooperating with a “hostile country,” according to Iran’s media. White House spokesman Jay Carney said if the reports of the sentencing were true, the Obama administration “strongly condemns” the verdict. He said Tehran has falsely accused people of being spies in the past. US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington had maintained from the beginning the charges against Hekmati were a fabrication, and had demanded his immediate release.


Arab League monitors attacked in Syria

Several Arab League observers in Syria were attacked and two monitors from Kuwait lightly injured on Monday, Kuwait’s KUNA news agency says. The observers were attacked in the northern city of Latakia, the report said on Tuesday, adding that the injured monitors are Kuwaiti army officers. They already returned to work at the Arab mission's headquarters in Damascus. The Arab League has condemned attacks on its observer mission. Syrian President Bashar Assad, in a televised address on Tuesday, criticized the Arab League, but said an Arab-sponsored solution to the crisis in his country is still a possibility.


Israel may criminalize comparison to Nazis

The Israeli parliament will vote on a draft bill that would make it a crime in the country to compare people to Nazis. The legislation has been approved by Cabinet ministers and submitted to deputies. If adopted, the law could impose penalties of up to six months in jail and a $25,000 fine for using the word “Nazi” or Holocaust symbols for purposes other than teaching, documentation or research, AP reports. Civil rights groups are criticizing the bill for infringing on freedom of expression. The legislation, however, was proposed in the wake of an ultra-Orthodox really, when young boys were dressed as Nazi concentration camp inmates. The demonstrators who defended their community from “incitement” called police officers “Nazis.”


French police find bodies of two Russian mountaineers on Mont Blanc

Two Russian mountaineers, Mikhail and Tatyana Zakharov, who went missing during an ascent of Mont Blanc, have been found dead, French police said on Tuesday. The couple was last seen on December 29, shortly before the ascent, RIA Novosti reports. French police said the couple’s tent was snowed under. The weather conditions were very bad, and police had warned the season was not favorable for the ascent. The Russians are said to be the only climbers who attempted the expedition.


Putin heads list of Russian politicians of 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has led the list as the most popular of Russian politicians in 2011, according to a poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center (VTsIOM). He was chosen as Politician of the Year by 38 per cent of 1,600 respondents in 46 regions. President Dmitry Medvedev was the second with 19 per cent, Itar-Tass reports. The head of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, garnered 8 per cent in the survey, while the leader of the Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov got 7 per cent. Fair Russia leader Sergey Mironov was named by 5 per cent of the respondents, and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov also by 5 per cent.


EU to discuss Iran oil embargo on January 23

The European Union countries have brought forward by one week a meeting of foreign ministers to decide on an oil embargo against Iran. They will meet on January 23, Reuters reports, citing diplomats. The decision was taken to avoid overshadowing a summit of EU leaders set for January 30. EU member states have to finalize details of the embargo on Iranian oil, the decision they have already agreed in principle. The EU is following the US sanctions announced late last year that aim to make it impossible for most countries’ refineries to buy Tehran’s crude.


N. Korea recalls calendars to mark Kim Jong-il’s death

Authorities in North Korea have launched a recall of 2012 calendars because they do not specify the date of Kim Jong-il’s death, according to South Korean media. The regional authorities reportedly ordered people to return calendars which had been already distributed. Government publishing houses have started to print new calendars. On Tuesday, the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party stated that an omnibus Kim Jong-il edition will be published for North Koreans “to obtain the revolutionary view on the world events.”


Indonesia buys Russian jet fighters in $500 mln contract

Indonesia has signed a $470 million contract with Russia to buy six Sukhoi Su-30MK2 jet fighters, the country’s media reported. Russian defense industry and diplomatic sources have confirmed the deal. But the Sukhoi aircraft maker and arms exporter Rosoboronexport declined to comment, RIA Novosti said on Tuesday. Deliveries will reportedly start after 2013. Indonesia’s Defense Ministry said another contract is now in progress. The country’s Air Force has six Sukhoi SU-27SKMs and four Sukhoi SU-30MK2s.


Assad blasts Arab League in speech

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said he will not step down because he has the people’s support and condemned the foreign conspiracy he says is behind the unrest in his country. In his first speech since he agreed to an Arab League peace plan, Assad said on Tuesday the Arab identity is an honor and is not granted by that organization. He said Syria would be freer in manifesting its Arab identity away from the Arab League and said the organization is no longer Arab but rather a “Foreign League.” Assad also stressed Damascus would not close the door in front of any Arab initiative as long as it respects Syria’s sovereignty. He added the West was not interested in Syria’s reforms and said there was no order given to any department to shoot at protesters.


Turkey opposes new Iran sanctions

Ankara is resisting new sanctions against Iran despite strong pressure from the US, local media say. Washington wants Turkey to join new US sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program. US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns pressed international sanctions on Iran during his visit to Ankara. Turkey insists it will support only UN-backed sanctions. Iranian envoy to Ankara Bahman Hosseinpour has said the US aims to harm relations between Turkey and Iran. He also urged the two countries to put “good words” into action.


Picasso painting stolen from Athens Gallery

Greek police say thieves have taken two oil paintings by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian in a pre-dawn heist at Greece’s biggest state art museum in Athens on Monday. “Woman's Head,” a 1939 oil on canvas, was given by Picasso to the Greek state in 1949. Also stolen were “Mill,” a 1905 oil painting by Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and a sketch of St Diego de Alcala by 16th-century Italian artist Guglielmo Caccia, police said. The thieves reportedly abandoned another work by Mondrian as they fled. Museum officials did not immediately gives estimates as to how much the works were worth.


Military pledges loyalty to Kim Jong-un as N. Korea pardons convicts

North Korea’s military has held a rally to pledge loyalty to the new leader Kim Jong-un, the government media said on Tuesday. The military reportedly vowed to become “rifles and bombs” to protect him. Meanwhile, North Korea announced special pardons for prisoners on Tuesday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of “the first and eternal” President Kim Il-sung and the 70th birthday of Kim Jong-il, who died on December 17. The birthday of Kim Il-sung is celebrated on February 16, and the birthday of Kim Jong-il on April 15. The amnesty was approved by the presidium of the parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly.


Afghan insurgents stage attack on government building

A group of insurgents tried to storm a government building in Sharan, the capital of Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The attackers set off a firefight that has killed at least four people, AP reports. According to police, two officers and two suicide bombers have been killed. Paktika is situated about 160 kilometers south of Kabul and borders Pakistan. The province is one of the main routes for Taliban fighters infiltrating into Afghanistan.


Bomb targets Pakistan’s tribal region

Several people have been killed after a bomb went off in the Jamrud area of the Khyber tribal region in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday. The blast in a market near a bus stop around 25 km west of Peshawar killed at least 15 people and wounded 25, Reuters reports. Meanwhile Al-Arabiya says, citing officials, that the toll has risen to 23 dead and more than 50 wounded. The blast has reportedly caused damage to a number of vehicles at the bus terminal.


Colombia’s FARC ‘ready’ for dialog with government

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has said it is ready for talks with the government. The guerilla group said in a statement it was interested in the hypothetical possibility of the negotiations, RIA Novosti reports on Tuesday. FARC says that the issues of privatization, state regulation, freedom of trade, looting of natural resources, market democracy and military doctrine could be discussed during the talks. FARC is designated as a terrorist organization by Colombia, the US and the EU. The Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group has been headed by new leader, Rodrigo Echeverry Londono, since last November.