Nicolas Sarkozy plans to win back wavering French voters with some financial scare tactics. His presidential re-election manifesto warns that unless he is voted back in the country will end up like Greece or Spain. Sarkozy pledges cuts and $17 billion in tax hikes to put France back in surplus, a position it has not been in for 40 years. He has taken a narrow lead over his main rival in the polls, but victory is far from certain.
Taliban gunmen have killed 10 policemen in an attack on a remote checkpoint in western Afghanistan. The militants first strangled a guard before opening fire on security officers. Elsewhere, a suicide bomber has struck a bazaar in the north-east, killing two people and wounding 16 others. Violence appears to be increasing following the harsh Afghan winter, during which there is usually a reduction in fighting.
America’s smallest town of Buford, Wyoming, has been sold at an auction for $900,000, AP reports. An unidentified Vietnamese man who placed his winning bid on Thursday will now get a gas station and convenience store, a schoolhouse from 1905, a cabin, a garage, 10 acres of land and a three-bedroom home. The town has had only one inhabitant, Don Sammons, who now plans to retire from his unofficial title of “mayor” and write a book about his life in Buford.
Algeria's foreign minister Mourad Medelci says the country's consul and six of his employees have been kidnapped by unknown gunmen in the city of Gao in northern Mali. According to the official they were all taken to an unknown location. Earlier in the day there were reports in the Algerian media that the consulate had been attaked by Islamists. Mourad Medelci said that the government is working to release diplomats as soon as possible.
Pope Benedict on Thursday reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women priests. He also warned disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings would not be tolerated. In a sermon at a morning Mass on Holy Thursday, he responded specifically to a call to disobedience by a group of Austrian priests, Reuters reports. They openly challenged Church teaching on priestly celibacy and women's ordination. The Pope, the Vatican's former chief doctrinal enforcer, cited a major 1994 document by his predecessor John Paul II. It stated that the ban on female priests was part of the Church's “divine constitution.” In 1995, the Vatican's doctrinal department said male priesthood could not be changed.
The MNLA separatist rebel group fighting Mali's army says it is ending military operations on Thursday at midnight. The Tuareg rebels supported by Islamist militants seized the northern cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu in northern Mali last week. The MNLA intends to form a new state, Azawad, in the three regions on the edge of the Sahara. Rebels have advanced in the north as Malian government forces appear disorganized after a coup in the capital, Bamako.
The Syrian government has agreed to provide access to detention facilities throughout the country, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday. Jakob Kellenberger said in a statement that Syrian authorities had agreed on procedures for visits to places of detention, AFP reports. ICRC will visit people held in Aleppo Central Prison, the statement said. Kellenberger concluded a two-day visit to Damascus on Wednesday.
The UN Security Council agreed on Thursday to a statement calling upon Syria to comply with an April 10 deadline to halt fighting, Reuters reports. Syria should also withdraw its forces from cities. UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the council earlier this week that the Syrian government had accepted the deadline. He said rebel operations would be ended within 48 hours after the government stops fighting.
British broadcaster Sky News has said it authorized the hacking of emails belonging to Anne and John Darwin. The latter had tried to fake his own death in an elaborate insurance fraud. The news channel said in a statement on Thursday that “we do not take such decisions lightly or frequently.” Sky News insists its actions were “responsible journalism” in the public interest.
An advance UN team arrived in Damascus on Thursday for talks with the Syrian government on the deployment of troops to monitor a UN-backed ceasefire. The group is led by Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood. Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesman for UN and Arab League mediator Kofi Annan, told Reuters that the planning team of 10 was in Damascus. The advanced group flew into the Syrian capital from Geneva and New York. The 200-250 unarmed monitors will be deployed after the April 10 deadline for Damascus to withdraw its troops from cities.
Armed Islamists have occupied the Algerian consulate in Gao in north-eastern Mali, AFP said on Thursday, citing witnesses. Armed Islamists reportedly entered the consulate, arrested the diplomats and staff. They also replaced the Algerian flag with their own black flag with Arabic writing, witnesses say. Tuareg and Islamists linked to an Al-Qaeda splinter group seized the town of Gao on Saturday. The military junta in Bamako, which came to power in Mali two weeks ago, has accused the rebels in Gao of kidnapping and raping women.
Two high energy proton beams have crossed at the Large Hadron Collider, breaking the world record for energy production in such collisions, scientists at CERN1 said. The 8 TeV (teraelectronvolt) collisions have started the “end game” for the Hadron Collider’s hunt for the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle”. Scientists are hoping to get closer to understanding how the fundamental particles acquire their mass, CERN’s Research Director Sergio Bertolucci said. Director for Accelerators and Technology Steve Myers said that the experience of two years of running at 3.5 TeV per beam “gave us the confidence to increase the energy for this year without any significant risk to the machine.”
The UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan expects the Syrian government and the opposition to fully implement a truce by April 12. His spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that Damascus “will have completed its withdrawal from populated centers” on April 10. Then a 48-hour period will start during which all sides are expected to cease all forms of violence.
Fugitive Sunni Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi will stay in Saudi Arabia for the time being, according to Saudi officials. Al-Hashemi is accused in Iraq of running a death squad against the country’s officials. He arrived in the Sunni kingdom on Wednesday after a visit to Qatar. The vice-president promised to return to Kurdistan and accused Iraqi Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of discriminating against the nation's once-powerful Sunni minority.
Greece has announced that another 20.27 billion euro ($26.7 billion) in government bonds will be exchanged next week. The landmark bond swap has already erased nearly a third of the country’s debt. The first phase of the swap, involving bonds issued under Greek law, was completed on March 12, AFP said. It has canceled more than 94.8 billion euro in near- and mid-term debt.
Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, the head of the Saudi Olympic Committee has ruled out sending female athletes from the kingdom to the London Olympics this summer. But Saudi women taking part on their own initiative are free to take part in the Games, the country’s media quoted the prince as saying. In this case, the kingdom's Olympic authority would “only help in ensuring that their participation does not violate the Islamic Sharia law,” AFP reports.
Iraq has approved a request from Kuwait's Jazeera Airways to operate services to Baghdad and Najaf. Direct flights between the neighbors were halted more than 20 years ago. Baghdad agreed to the request by the Kuwaiti airline, AFP quoted Nasser Hussein Bandar, the head of Iraq's civil aviation authority, as saying. Karim al-Nuri, an adviser to Iraq's transport minister, confirmed that a deal had been approved. Jazeera Airways will carry out four flights a week to Baghdad and four more to the central Iraq city Najaf.
One man was killed and two others seriously wounded after a gunman opened fire outside a hospital in Berlin on Thursday, police said. A young man of 22, of immigrant origin, was killed in the attack on a group of youths, AFP reports. The incident took place in the Neukoelln district of the German capital. The area has a large community of Turkish immigrants and their descendants.
Seven people have been killed by suspected members of Nigerian militant group Boko Haram in a market in Maiduguri, Nigerian police said on Thursday. Seven traders were shot dead by gunmen suspected to be members of the sect on Wednesday, Reuters quoted Borno police spokesman Samuel Tizhe as saying. Boko Haram has carried out most of its attacks around its home town of Maiduguri, the capital of remote Borno state. On Sunday, sect members assassinated in Maiduguri Borno government chairman, Wanangu Kachuwa.
Vietnamese prosecutors have accused 18 members of a “reactionary” group of plotting to overthrow the communist government, the country’s media said on Thursday. Police said they arrested the leader and 17 other members of a little known group in February. The group was initially investigated for “abusing freedom and democratic rights,” AFP reports. But official newspapers later said group leader Phan Van Thu and the others had admitted to plotting to “overthrow the regime.”
The work on the constitution will continue despite protests of liberals and Christians about the Islamist domination of the panel. “This is a committee that was formed and elected to work,” said Saad el-Katatni, the head of the panel and a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood that dominates the parliament. “We will continue our path,” AP quoted him as saying. Members of minority groups, who walked out of the panel insist that the constitutional committee is not representative and its composition should be redrawn.
An explosion on one of the two pipelines bringing crude from Kirkuk in Iraq to Turkey caused a large fire on Thursday, a Turkish energy official said. The oil flows were shut. The pipeline connects Kirkuk with the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. There were also three near simultaneous blasts along the pipeline in the Idil area of Turkey's Sirnak province, Reuters quotes a Turkish security official as saying. Kurdish militants are active in the area.
Gunmen armed with assault rifles have attacked an outpost of a government-sponsored militia force in western Afghanistan, killing eight people, officials said on Thursday. The attack happened late Wednesday in Khaki Safed district, Farah province police Chief Shamsul Rahman Zahid, as cited by AP. Two other police were taken captive.
A new species of bipedal dinosaur named Yutyrannus has been discovered after three fossils were found in north-eastern China. It appears to be a relative of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex, but most strikingly it was found to be covered with downy feathers. Feathered dinosaurs are not unique, as all birds originated from dinosaurs. However, this finding appears to be the one of the largest feathered animals to have ever lived on Earth. The meat-eating dinosaur lived some 125 million years ago – long before T. rex roamed what is now western North America. The weight of an adult animal is estimated to have been around 1,400 kilograms.
The US has announced it will ease sanctions against Myanmar by loosening financial and travel restrictions on the state. EU leaders say they may take similar steps in response to the country’s democratic reforms. This comes just days after Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won the majority of contested seats in a landmark parliamentary by-election.
Struggling Internet giant Yahoo is to lay off 2,000 employees, or 14 per cent of its workforce, in an effort to reduce its expenditure. The biggest payroll purge in Yahoo’s history will help the company save about $375 million. The lay-offs “are an important next step toward a bold, new Yahoo - smaller, nimbler, more profitable and better equipped to innovate as fast as our customers and our industry require,” the company’s new CEO, Scott Thompson, said in a statement.