Over 20,000 people have attended a civic memorial service in Christchurch, South Island, to commemorate the victims of the deadly earthquake that struck the island’s main city on February 22, 2011. Prime Minister John Key gave a reading as the national flag fluttered at half-mast, NZHerald.co.nz reports. As many as 185 people, including nationals of more than 20 countries, were killed in the natural disaster, which is considered the second-deadliest in the country’s history.
The judge has decided that the millionaire founder of the Megaupload website is not a sufficient flight risk to merit keeping in custody, NZHerald.co.nz reports. Kim Dotcom and three of his associates, who also appeared in court on Wednesday morning, are accused of Internet piracy. The FBI is seeking their extradition to the United States to face charges of conspiring to commit racketeering, conspiring to commit money laundering, copyright infringement, and aiding and abetting copyright infringement over the Internet through their website Megaupload.
Syrian human rights activists claim that at least 100 people have been killed by government forces during assaults on the restive city of Homs, as well as on villages and towns in Idlib province near Turkey, Reuters reports. Local Coordination Committees said that 10 children and three women were among those killed on Tuesday. According to UN estimates more than 5,400 have been killed in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad started in March 2011.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has said Cuban doctors have found another lesion in his pelvis, from where he had a large tumor removed last year. Now, Reuters reports on Tuesday, he will have to undergo another operation. The 57-year-old leader of the socialist state traveled to Havana for medical tests on Saturday. His sudden departure prompted speculation both among the opposition and supporters that Chavez was at death's door.
Protesters have thrown petrol bombs in the Afghan capital after reports that copies of the Quran were destroyed at a US airbase north of the city. The Muslim holy books are thought to have been burned along with rubbish from the site. Demonstrators are demanding that President Hamid Karzai take action. The US commander of international troops in the country has ordered an investigation, saying any disposal of Islamic religious materials was unintentional.
Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year reign in Yemen is set to end as voters head to the polls to endorse his US-backed deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, as president. Standing as the sole candidate, VP Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi hopes Tuesday’s referendum-like poll will end the political crisis, which has greatly intensified poverty and instability in Yemen. "Elections are the only exit route from the crisis which has buffeted Yemen for the past year," Hadi said after casting his vote, Reuters reports. However, the situation remains tense after five people were killed in attacks on polling stations in the country’s south amid calls by hardline secessionists to turn Tuesday’s poll into a day of “civil disobedience.” Hadi is now set to govern during a two-year interim which will be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections. He is faced with the daunting task of managing a geographically divided and economically ravaged nation where some 42 per cent of the population live on less than $2 a day.
Businessman and presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov has announced plans to create a new democratic party in Russia. The new structure will represent people who vote for him, Prokhorov wrote in his blog. He believes the party will have millions of members. Prokhorov will face Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and three other candidates in the presidential poll on March 4.
The European Union will likely adopt fresh sanctions against the Syrian government in the coming week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said. “We will adopt further sanctions in Europe, and not just in Europe,” Westerwelle told Reuters. Sanctions will be tightened in the next week, “because the violence is continuing,” the minister said. He did not name specific sanctions under consideration.
China and Turkey have signed a three-year currency swap deal worth $1.6 billion. The move will enable bilateral trade in local currencies. Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Abdullah Gul oversaw the signing ceremony, AP reports. The deal between the People’s Bank of China and Turkey’s Central Bank could be extended. Xi is expected to become president of China next year. His visit to Turkey comes at a time when the two countries are trying to help find a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, but have different approaches.
Yemenis were voting for the new president on Tuesday with Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi the only candidate. As clashes continued between security forces and separatists, four people including a child were killed in southern Yemen, AFP said. Separatists seized half of Aden’s polling stations to prevent voting. Ten of the city’s 20 polling booths were seized by gunmen from the Southern Movement, officials say. Militants stormed the booths and confiscated ballot boxes. More than 100,000 soldiers are deployed to guard polling stations.
Egypt will provide 22 megawatts of electricity to the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli blockade. The sole power plant on the Palestinian territory has shut down after running out of fuel, AFP reports. Egyptian electricity minister, Hassan Yunes, said that Cairo would begin boosting the Gaza Strip with electricity starting next week. The power plant in Gaza supplies around a third of electricity on the territory. Frequent outages cause daily blackouts.
Russia will realize all the measures mentioned earlier to oppose the European missile defense if it is not offered co-operation or the US does not drop its plans, President Dmitry Medvedev has said. Speaking in the Saratov Region on Tuesday, he said this was not a start of confrontation. “This only means that we cannot be indifferent to [the US and NATO] plans,” Medvedev said. He added that the European missile defense project threatens Russia’s strategic deterrent potential.
Rating agency Moody’s has warned it may cut the triple-A ratings of France, Britain and Austria. The agency also downgraded six other European nations including Italy, Spain and Portugal, Reuters said. Moody’s is worried about the European countries handling of the eurozone crisis and the amount of funds available to fight it. The weak economy could undermine the governments’ austerity measures, the agency warned. The outlooks for the ratings of France, Britain and Austria were changed to negative due to “specific credit pressures.”
The Israeli Justice Ministry has reached a deal to free a Palestinian hunger striker. Khader Adnan has been on hunger strike for two months. He has agreed to resume eating, and will be freed on April 17, the ministry said on Tuesday. He began his strike on December 18 to protest Israel’s policy of “administrative detention.” The practice allows Israel to hold suspected militants without charge for months. Adnan, a member of the Islamic Jihad militant group, also claimed to have been beaten during his captivity.
Beijing on Tuesday refused to commit to attend an international Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia. The group, backed by the EU, some Arab sates and the US, will meet on Friday. China is “researching the function, mechanism and other aspects of the meeting,” the Foreign Ministry said. Syria’s neighbor Lebanon will not attend the conference. Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour explained the move by the country’s disassociation policy. Earlier on Tuesday, Russia said it will boycott the meeting because it only supports the Syrian opposition.
Tokyo has reportedly reached an agreement with Washington over the size of cuts to crude imports from Iran. A formal deal is expected by the end of this month, Yomiuri newspaper said. The move will help Japan to avoid US sanctions, but it could also pose a risk to the country’s economy. Tokyo is moving forward toward mutual understanding with the US, Trade Minister Yukio Edano said, as cited by Reuters. “But it is not the case that we have reached a conclusion,” the minister stressed.
Tehran has warned it will take preemptive action against its enemies if there is a threat to its national interests. Mohammad Hejazi, the deputy head of the armed forces, told Fars news agency that Iran’s strategy is “to act without waiting” for enemy actions if the country’s national interests are endangered. International pressure is growing against Iran over its nuclear program. Tehran is facing the biggest threat from Israel, where some politicians call for strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
Seven people have been killed in heavy shelling in central Syria, opposition activists said on Tuesday. The day before, government sent reinforcements ahead of a possible ground assault. The intense shelling of the Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs could start of an offensive against rebels. Seven people including a child were killed in Baba Amr, said the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as cited by AP. The heavy shelling of the Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun reportedly lasted more than two hours.
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was detained and questioned on Tuesday as a suspect in prostitution ring case. The police in the northern French city of Lille are investigating a suspected hotel prostitution ring in France and neighboring Belgium. The case reportedly implicates police and some officials. Police have already questioned prostitutes who said they “had sex with Strauss-Kahn” during 2010 and 2011 in Paris and Washington, AP reports. Two men with alleged ties to Strauss-Kahn have been put under preliminary investigation on charges including organizing a prostitution ring.
The Triumph S-400 surface-to-air missile systems will enter service in the western military district in a month. The district’s commander, Arkady Bakhin, told reporters on Tuesday that the systems had been tested and delivered to the permanent positions. It was earlier reported that after tests S-400s would be deployed in Kaliningrad Region, the western Russian exclave.
Heavy summer rains and flooding rivers in Peru and Chile have ruined buildings and closed the border between the two countries. The disaster dislodged anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, floating some of them on to the Pan-American Highway in Chile near the border with Peru. Chilean authorities ordered the detonation of four mines as a precaution, Reuters reports. The mines were reportedly planted in the 1970s, when tensions ran high between the two countries.
US commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan General John R Allen has said the coalition will investigate alleged reports about “improper disposal” of copies of the Koran. “When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them," the commander said. Reports of the alleged Koran burning by coalition troops have led to protests outside the US air base at Bagram outside Kabul. Protesters claim they have seen pieces of a Koran that was burned inside the base, AP reports. Allen said that the materials recovered will be “properly handled by appropriate religious authorities.”
Two Iranian naval ships returned from Syria through the Suez Canal on Tuesday. The ships entered the canal from the Mediterranean Sea early in the morning, Suez Canal sources said. The Iranian ships then headed south towards the Red Sea, Reuters reports. They were expected to leave the canal on Tuesday afternoon. The ships had docked at the Syrian port of Tartous, a move seen as a show of support for the Syrian government.
At least 12 people have died and 17 have been injured after a blast at a steel plant in China’s northeast Liaoning province. The accident happened late Monday at a steel-casting workshop owned by Angang Heavy Machinery in the city of Anshan. The cause of the explosion is not clear. Rescuers are continuing search for the missing.
An upcoming meeting of the Friends of Syria Group “evokes more questions than gives clear answers,” the Russian Foreign Ministry has said. Russia has received an invitation to a conference due to take place in Tunisia on February 24. “We see no possibility for us to attend this meeting in Tunisia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said on Tuesday. He added that it was not clear who will attend the meeting and what its agenda is. It was also reported that some Syrian opposition groups had arrived in Tunisia, while government representatives were not invited. It seems that a certain international coalition is being created “to support one side against the other in the internal conflict,” Lukashevich warned.
Pyongyang’s top nuclear envoy arrived in Beijing on Tuesday. First Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan is due to meet US envoy Glyn Davies, AP reports. This will be the first nuclear talks of North Korea and the US since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December. The meeting in Beijing is expected to restart six-nation aid-for-disarmament negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. North Korea, which is now headed by Kim Jong-un, walked away from the talks in 2009.
Police in Bahrain used water cannons and tear gas Monday to disperse hundreds anti-government demonstrators after a protester’s funeral outside Manama, the capital city. "After the burial of Hussain al-Baqali in Jidhafs, groups of vandals rioted. Police legally dispersed them," the Interior Ministry said in its Twitter feed. Al-Baqali's family says he died of burns sustained during a previous demonstration, after he avoided checking into a state hospital due to fears of being arrested. The tiny island nation that hosts US Navy's 5th Fleet has seen massive pro-democracy protests against the ruling Sunni monarchy last year. The government imposed martial law and invited troops from other Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, to help crush the dissent.
Serbia has been hit with a deluge of ice sheets that destroyed hundreds of boats and many floating restaurants after the river Danube thawed much more rapidly than usual. Ice up to a half meter thick began to break up on Sunday, causing chaos on one of Europe's busiest waterways. Earlier, much of central and eastern Europe and the Balkans had been suffering from a severe cold snap that killed hundreds and saw temperatures plunge to as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
Twelve European leaders have called for an open-markets strategy to stimulate growth and help end Europe’s economic woes, the Associated Press reports. The group, which includes British PM David Cameron and Italian Premier Mario Monti, sent an open letter to EU leaders Herman van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday. It comes as eurozone finance ministers meet to discuss a 130-billion euro bailout for crisis-stricken Greece. The letter urged European nations to deregulate their service, research and energy sectors and forge trade ties with growing economies like China and Russia.
The Kansai Electric Power Company has shut down Reactor 3 at the Takahama nuclear power plant in Japan's Fukui Prefecture on Tuesday morning for regular inspections. It was the last operating nuclear reactor in the western part of the country, NHK World reports. The remaining two of Japan's fifty-four nuclear reactors are still running in the central prefecture of Niigata and in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido. However, both will be shut down by late April. The Japanese government has received preliminary test results from sixteen reactors, but has not made a final decision on whether to restart them. No local governments have agreed to re-launch their nuclear plants yet.