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24 February, 2012


Argentina train crash death toll rises to 51

The death toll in Argentina’s deadly train crash has risen to 51 after police identified another victim, the Telam news agency reports. The body of 20-year-old Lucas Menghini Rey was found between the third and fourth carriage of the wrecked train. The accident occurred on Wednesday when a packed train crashed in a busy station in Buenos Aires. More than 700 people were injured.


Germany withdraws some troops early amid protests in Afghanistan

­There are reports that demonstrators have torched 20 NATO trucks in eastern Afghanistan, following protests over the burning of copies of the Koran at a US base. Germany says it's withdrawing a contingent of troops early after two American soldiers were killed. Protests this week have claimed at least 23 lives and left dozens injured. President Obama has sent an apology to Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, saying the religious books were destroyed by mistake.


Dutch prince 'may not come out of coma'

­Prince Johan Friso of The Netherlands has sustained severe brain damage and may never regain consciousness, his doctors say. The prince was hit by an avalanche while skiing in Austria last week.


Explosions and gunfire rock Nigerian city

­Numerous explosions followed by gunfire have echoed through the city of Gombe, a state capital in north-east Nigeria, AP reports. The same city was previously targeted by a radical Islamist sect, Boko Haram. People fled the violence as gunfire rang out throughout the city. It is not yet clear what exactly happened as local authorities are saying only that the situation is “very bad.”


Greece launches debt swap with private sector

­Greece has launched a massive debt swap with private sector bond holders, Reuters news agency reports. The Finance Ministry issued an offer to banks and other investment funds calling on creditors to accept a 53.5 per cent loss on the face value of the bonds they hold in return for new bonds with longer maturities. “We are making a titanic effort to secure financial support for the country,” said Greek PM Lucas Papademos after the meeting where the measure was approved.


Red Cross evacuates wounded from Homs

­Red Cross and Arab Red Crescent workers have entered the city of Homs to evacuate the wounded, Al Arabia reports. Earlier it was reported that aid workers were negotiating with authorities and rebels to evacuate all those wounded including foreign journalists. Two French journalists, Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, have asked for help to leave the city after Bouvier was wounded in shelling on Wednesday.


Two journalists working for Iranian TV arrested in Libya

­Iran’s English-language news channel Press TV reports that two of its journalists, both of whom hold British citizenship, have been arrested in the Libyan city of Misrata, AFP reports. Reporter Nicholas Davies and his cameraman Gareth Montgomery-Johnson were detained by members of the Misrata Brigade and taken to a prison in Tripoli. The Misrata Brigade was one of many militias that actively fought against former leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. The British Foreign Office has confirmed that two British nationals have been detained. Press TV gave no reason why the two men were arrested, saying they hadn’t been in contact with the journalists since Tuesday. 


An-148 jet from Berlin lands safely in Russia after wheel scare

A Russian An-148 passenger jet landed safely in St. Petersburg on Friday after losing a wheel on take-off from Berlin. The regional jet from Russia’s Rossiya airline had to circle in the air to use up fuel before landing. There were reportedly 44 people on the plane, including 37 passengers. All of them are safe.


Russia urges mutual ceasefire in Syria’s Homs

Moscow insists on mutual immediate ceasefire to take those wounded from the Syrian city of Homs, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday. Spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said it was the priority to adopt urgent humanitarian measures in the areas of clashes. Russia has welcomed the UN decision to send Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Ann Amos to Syria. The ministry called on the Syrian government and armed groups to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian crisis, Itar-Tass reports. Russia wants the both sides to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amos.


Hezbollah chief links Israeli ‘psychological warfare’ to Koran burning in Afghanistan

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has said “the Israeli mentality” was behind various practices in the world, including “the burning of Korans.” He referred to the latest incident when US troops burnt copies of the Koran in Afghanistan. The Hezbollah head called on political forces to preserve security and political stability in Lebanon in the face of what he called US and Israeli projects “to spread chaos” in the region.


Pro-Syrian protesters try to storm Tunisia conference

Pro-Syrian demonstrators have tried to storm the hotel in Tunis where a “Friends of Syria” conference is being held over the crisis in Syria. The protest forced US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton to delay her appearance at the meeting, AP said. The protesters waved Syrian and Tunisian flags and carried signs criticizing the policies of Clinton and US President Barack Obama. Police stopped the crowd from entering the hotel by using truncheons and drove the protesters out.


Red Cross, France trying to evacuate wounded journalists from Syria’s Homs

France has reportedly urged Syria to allow evacuation of journalists who were wounded during fighting in the Syrian city of Homs. The Red Cross also said on Friday it was trying to reach the foreign journalists. French journalists Edith Bouvier and William Daniels have asked for help leaving the embattled city. Bouvier was wounded in shelling on Wednesday that killed American-born veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Thursday demanded that Syria provide a safe corridor to evacuate the reporters.


Clashes between rival tribes resume in southeast Libya

Dozens of people have been killed in clashes in the past two weeks in the city of Al Kufra, near Libya's borders with Chad and Sudan. The resumed fighting between two tribes has become a fresh challenge for Libya’s new leadership, Reuters reports. The clashes are continuing despite Libyan troops intervening in the conflict. “The Tibu looted some houses and stole cars,” Adelbari Idriss, a security official from the Zwai tribe, said. He added the army failed to stop the conflict. The leader of the Tibu fighters, Isa Abdel Majid, said Tibu living in the western suburbs of Al Kufra had come under attack.


Raul Castro meets with US senators

Senior US senators Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby have met with Cuban President Raul Castro, Cuban media say. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, met with the Cuban leader late Thursday, the state daily Granma said. The talks come during tensions over the continued detention of American subcontractor Alan Gross. He is serving a 15-year jail term on the island for spiriting in communications equipment while on a USAID-funded program, AP reports. This is the first such high-level meeting between Cuban and US politicians in nearly a year.


Netanyahu halts construction in East Jerusalem ahead of US visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered a halt to the construction of new homes in disputed East Jerusalem. The move may strengthen his position ahead of an upcoming visit to Washington. The PM ordered the housing ministry to freeze all bidding on new projects in East Jerusalem. This particularly concerns the settlements of Gilo and Pisgat Zeev. An Israeli committee approved construction of 500 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Shilo on Wednesday. It also legalized more than 200 built there without permission.


Serbia gets support for EU bid from 4 states

Germany, France, Italy and Austria have supported Serbia’s bid to become a member of the European Union. The issue will be discussed at next week’s summit. Austria, France and Italy issued a joint statement in favor of granting candidate status to Serbia. Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also praised Belgrade for its efforts to address issues with Kosovo. “The next step is the status of candidate of EU,” Westerwelle said.


Dutch Prince Friso ‘suffered brain damage’ – doctors

Dutch Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau suffered massive brain damage after being buried by an avalanche last week, Austrian doctors say. They claim he may never regain consciousness, AP reports. It took nearly 50 minutes to reanimate the prince, Doctor Wolfgang Koller said on Friday. The prince’s brain reportedly suffered “massive damage” in the avalanche in Lech on February 17. He will be moved later to a private clinic for further treatment.


Russia supports Annan’s appointment as envoy for Syria

Moscow has supported the appointment of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the UN and Arab League envoy for the crisis in Syria. Russia expects this authoritative politician will contribute to solving the pressing issues in Syria, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said on Friday. Russia is ready for close cooperation with the envoy in the search for mutually-acceptable solutions, he added.


Pakistani PM urges Afghan Taliban to enter direct peace talks

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani urged leaders of the Afghan Taliban movement to enter direct peace negotiations with the Kabul government. In a statement on Friday, Gilani called it his “sincere hope” that the Taliban and other groups respond to his appeal. Islamabad may be stepping up its support for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Reuters said. On February 12, Pakistan's PM said his country was not backing the Afghan Taliban. It is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide whether the militants should be part of any future government in Kabul, he stressed.


French ambassador returns to Syria

French ambassador to Syria Eric Chevallier has returned to Damascus. Paris recalled the envoy from Syria more than two weeks ago in response to the Syrian government’s crackdown on dissent. The embassy spokesman told AFP the ambassador returned to Damascus on Thursday night. It is not clear if the return could be related to efforts to evacuate wounded French reporter Edith Bouvier and the body of French photojournalist Remi Ochlik from Homs. Ochlik and veteran US war reporter Marie Colvin were killed on Wednesday.


Air attack targets militants in southern Somalia

An overnight air attack has killed at last four militants, reportedly including some foreigners, in southern Somalia, officials claim. The attack, in which other sources said six people were killed, happened in the Lower Shabelle region. The strike reportedly hit two vehicles in a convoy around 60 km south of the capital, Mogadishu. The Somali military said a Kenyan commander named Akram was among those killed. Al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab controls much of the region’s territory. Kenya’s military launched multiple airborne attacks in southern Somalia in October.


Yemeni president departs US

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has left the United States. He flew from Boston’s Logan International Airport to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday, Yemeni officials say. Saleh was in the United States for medical treatment. He had promised to return to Yemen after the presidential elections. Voters on Tuesday went to polls, with Vice-President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi the only name on the ballot. His inauguration on Monday will end Saleh’s 33-year rule. Saleh agreed to step down under a UN-backed deal in November last year.


Obama extends Libya sanctions by year

US President Barack Obama has extended the national emergency order allowing sanctions against Libya to remain in place. The situation in Libya continues to pose a threat to the national security and foreign policy of the US, Obama said in a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday. The sanctions will be extended by one year despite what the president called “positive developments in Libya.” Obama said he was concerned by ongoing threats posed to US interests by the family of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and members of his deposed regime.


Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for Iraq attacks

Iraq’s Al-Qaeda branch on Friday claimed responsibility for the latest wave of bombings and attacks across the country the day before. The Islamic State of Iraq said on a militant website it had targeted security forces and government officials. The organization described the attacks as “revenge for the elimination and torture campaigns that Sunni men and women face,” AFP reports. Officials say series of attacks in 12 cities across Iraq has killed 55 and wounded 225 people.


Proview sues Apple in US over iPad trademark

A company claiming ownership of the iPad trademark has sued Apple Inc. in the US. Proview Electronics Co. claims it owns the iPad name. It filed a lawsuit against Apple’s use of the trademark at the Santa Clara Superior Court in California. This week, a court in Shanghai rejected the case pending the resolution of a similar lawsuit in a higher court in China, AP said. Proview says the sale of the iPad China trademark to a company representing Apple in Taiwan in 2009 was invalid. The authorities of some Chinese cities earlier banned stores from selling iPads.


Former British businessman to be extradited to US over Iran sales

Retired British businessman Christopher Tappin is to be escorted to the US on Friday after losing a court battle. Tappin, 65, is accused of conspiring to sell components for Iranian missiles. In 2006, he allegedly offered to sell specialized batteries for Hawk missiles. Tappin denies the accusations, saying he was the victim of entrapment in a sting operation organized by US agents. Magistrates and the High Court backed his extradition. Tappin says he has been “let down” by British justice. His plea to the European Court of Human Rights was also rejected.


Militants attack police station in Pakistan

Militants armed with assault rifles and grenades have attacked a police station in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan, killing at least three policemen. Seven other policemen were wounded in the attack early Friday’s morning, police officer Sattar Khan said, as cited by AP. Peshawar is close to the border with Pakistan’s tribal region, where Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters operate. This type of attack on a police station in the heart of the city is considered rare.


Tunisia to propose peacekeeping force in Syria

­Tunisia will propose a political solution to the Syrian crisis involving a peacekeeping force, Tunisian presidential spokesman Adnan Mancer said on Thursday, the Associated Press reports. The Yemen-style plan suggests that President Assad steps down. It will be presented at the “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday. "Tunisia will propose a peacekeeping operation, to protect civilians,” Mancer said. Even though Russia and China will not join the conference he said there would be “an important role for Russia and China to convince the Syrian regime to leave power since it has lost all its legitimacy and a political and peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis is not possible with its presence." More than 70 countries have been invited to the conference which will start on Friday in the Tunisian capital, Tunis.


Gingrich slams Obama over apology for Koran burning

US presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has criticized President Barack Obama for issuing an apology to Afghan authorities over the burning of copies of the Koran at a military base. "It is an outrage that on the day an Afghan soldier murders two American troops, President Obama is the one apologizing," the Republican candidate said in his Twitter account on Thursday. The burned copies of Islam’s holy book were found in a garbage pit on a US air field. The incident sparked outrage and violent protests across Afghanistan which led to the deaths of 14 people, including two US soldiers. President Obama has sent an apology letter to the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai reading: “I convey my deep sympathies and ask you and the people to accept my deep apologies.”   Campaigning in Washington state, Gingrich said that it is Karzai who owes the US an apology for the shootings and that the Afghans “do not deserve the apology of the United States,” the Associated Press reports.