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5 December, 2012


Four dead as ship sinks in North Sea

­Four people have died and seven are still missing after a cargo ship collided with another vessel in the North Sea. Thirteen crew members were saved from the raft boats of the Baltic Ace as it sank. The cargo carrier was transporting cars from Belgium to Finland when it collided with a container ship. All passengers are safe onboard the second ship, which remains afloat. The cause of the accident is being investigated, but difficult weather conditions are complicating the search mission.


Syrian Orthodox leader dies from stroke

­Syria-based Orthodox leader Patriarch Ignatius IV has died from a stroke in Lebanon, aged 92. The spiritual leader's remains will be transfered from Beirut to Syria for burial. Born in the Syrian town of Maharda, in 1979 he was ordained to head the Greek Orthodox Church of the Antioch. Among his many life achievements, the patriarch founded University of Balamand in Lebanon.


Explosion in Kenya wounds eight

­At least eight people have been injured following a blast next to a military base in Nairobi. Three are in critical condition, according to the Kenyan Red Cross. The explosion occurred in a Somali neighborhood known as Little Mogadishu. Authorities are investigating possible Somali al-Shabab militant involvement in the attack, as Kenyan troops moved into Somalia in late 2011.


Rescue operation underway in North Sea to save sinking ship

­A cargo ship with an estimated 23 crew members is sinking in the North Sea after a collision, media reports say. A rescue operation is underway to save members of the Baltic Ace vessel, with teams dispatched about 80 kilometers off the coast of the southern Netherlands. The carrier is believed to have been transporting cars to Finland when it allegedly collided with a container ship near Rotterdam.


Russian state TV presenter killed in North Caucasus

­Kazbek Gekkiev of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic was killed in Nalchik, the provincial capital, on Wednesday night. The popular presenter was shot down following an evening broadcast by two men with automatic rifles, a police source said. Two other presenters working in the North Caucasus republic have reportedly received threats. Police are investigating the case.


EU summons Israeli ambassador over settlement expansion plan

The European Union has summoned Israel’s ambassador over a recently-announced plan to build three thousand new housing units on disputed land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. An EU spokesperson said the union’s response would depend on how the settlement construction would threaten the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. On Wednesday, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP the settlement expansion plan would be viewed as an “Israeli decision to end the peace process and the two-state solution.”


Al-Shabab militants kill 12 soldiers in Somalia – official

Militants have attacked an army post in northeastern Somalia, killing 12 soldiers, an official said. The incident Tuesday evening in the Galgala Mountains in the semiautonomous Puntland region was one of the deadliest attacks in recent months by Al-Shabab militants. Attackers from the Al-Qaeda-linked group also blew up a roadside bomb, the AP quoted a Puntland official as saying. Al-Shabab militants are attempting to consolidate their forces in Galgala after recently being pushed out of their key strongholds in southern and central Somalia by African Union forces.


Tehran clouded by 'dangerous' air pollution

Iranian Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi urged residents of Tehran on Wednesday to leave the city, if possible, to escape a stagnant stew of air pollution. The smog reached "dangerous" levels, and a 15 percent increase in hospital admissions was recorded in recent days, AFP reported. Schools, universities and government offices were reportedly closed in Tehran on Tuesday and Wednesday. About 40 industrial enterprises including cement and tar production units were also temporarily shut, Deputy Head of Iran's Environment Protection Organization Ali-Mohammad Shaeri said. The pollution is blamed mainly on the city's traffic.


Congo M23 rebels call for talks in Uganda

Congo’s M23 rebels said the group will soon go to Uganda for talks with the government after retreating from the eastern provincial capital of Goma. The group has asked for negotiations with Congolese President Joseph Kabila's government, the AP quoted Bertrand Bisimwa, the spokesperson for M23’s political branch as saying on Wednesday. Bisimwa added, however, that the government did not appear willing to negotiate. M23, which is composed of deserters from the Congolese army, accused Kabila's government of failing to honor the terms of a 2009 peace deal that brought them into the national army. Uganda has been mediating talks on the crisis in eastern Congo.


Israeli military unveils plans for new West Bank settlement

An Israeli military planning committee has unveiled plans for a controversial new West Bank settlement outside Jerusalem. After plans to develop an area known as ‘E1’ were formally presented at a Wednesday meeting, a 60-day period for public objections will follow, the AP said. If adopted, the project will begin constructing 3,000 new homes in a strategic corridor near Jerusalem. The construction itself would take years to finish, however. Israel had frozen E-1 construction plans over pressure from the US. The project was revived last week after the UN General Assembly accepted Palestine as a non-member observer state.


17 miners in China killed by coal and gas explosion

An accident at a coal mine in southwest China killed 17 miners on Wednesday, state media reported. Coal and gas exploded in a mine shaft in Fuyuan county in Yunnan province on Wednesday afternoon, Xinhua news agency said. Another 49 miners underground at the time escaped unharmed. Three days after a separate coal mine flooded in northeastern Heilongjiang province, 11 miners were still missing.


EU imposes $1.9bn fine on screen producers for price fixing

On Wednesday, the EU imposed its biggest ever cartel fine of almost 1.47 billion euro ($1.96 billion) on seven companies for the price fixing of television and computer monitor tubes. An EU commission charged the companies with artificially setting prices, sharing markets and restricting their output for a decade until 2006, all at the expense of the consumer, the AP reported. Tubes were an essential part of TV screens and computer monitors before they were replaced by flatscreens. Philips and LG Electronics were fined a combined $1.3 billion, and Panasonic was punished with a $205 million fine. Other companies fined were Samsung SDI, Technicolor, MTPD and Toshiba. Chunghwa of Taiwan escaped fines as it was the first to reveal the cartel to the EU.


UN chief blames developed nations for global warming

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday that developed nations are to blame for climate change. Speaking on the sidelines of international climate talks in Qatar, he said it was “only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility” in fighting the gradual warming of the planet. Last year, world governments agreed that a global climate pact should be adopted in 2015 and enter force five years later. “This deadline must be met,” the AP quoted Ban as saying. The Doha meeting hopes to produce a plan to ensure that the treaty is ready by 2015.


13 Kurds dead, 5 captured in major operation against militants in Turkey

­A joint operation in Turkey of up to 1,000 law enforcement officials, including commandos and special operations units, against militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) resulted in the deaths of 13 Kurds, and the capture of another five. The large-scale air-supported operation in the Amanos Mountains in the southern Osmaniye province began on December 3. Turkish law enforcement has killed or captured 716 PKK militants so far in 2012. The bloody Kurdish struggle for an independent state has continued since it began in 1984, and has already claimed over 40,000 lives on both sides.


2 police killed in Nigeria attacks

Two police officers were shot dead and a bomb exploded near a police station in the Nigerian city of Kano, officials said on Wednesday. The attackers also threw homemade bombs at a bus in a spate of attacks that began in the city on Tuesday, AFP reported. The bus exploded, injuring the driver and one other person in the vehicle, Lieutenant Iweha Ikedichi said. The gunmen then shot and killed two police officers directing traffic at a roundabout later Tuesday near the scene of the bus attack, he added. At least three people were also wounded in the incidents.


African forces may intervene in northern Mali in early 2013 – Ivory Coast

UN-mandated African forces could intervene in northern Mali early next year, the Ivory Coast's president has said. Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the West African bloc ECOWAS, called such an operation “urgent” in preventing the western African region from becoming a hotbed of terrorism, the AP said. The planned intervention would deploy 3,300 African troops in the region. Ouattara urged the UN on Wednesday to pass a resolution this month approving the operation. Meanwhile, regional politicians will attempt to broker a political solution between the Islamist extremists and Tuareg rebels vying for control of northern Mali.


Russian Black Sea Fleet cancels anti-pirate mission in Indian Ocean

A unit of ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will return to its homeport of Sevastopol later in December, as its planned voyage to the Indian Ocean through the Suez Canal for an anti-pirate mission has been cancelled, a source in the Russian General Staff told Interfax on Wednesday. The passage through the Suez Canal was scheduled for November 27 as part of a joint mission with Pacific Fleet ships. However, the unit received orders to stay in the eastern Mediterranean in case Russian citizens needed to be evacuated from the Israel-Gaza conflict. Landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov docked at a Russian naval logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus for one day to replenish their supplies at the end of November. The call lasted several hours, and the ships’ crews did not go ashore.


Iran rights lawyer Sotoudeh ends hunger strike

Jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has reportedly ended her hunger strike in Tehran's Evin prison after 49 days. Sotoudeh, 47, ended her protest Tuesday after two lawmakers took steps to have authorities lift restrictions and harassment directed at her family, a website close to ex-premier Mir-Hossein Mousavi said. The internationally recognized lawyer has been detained since August 2010 on charges of ‘conspiring against state security.’ She is serving an 11-year prison sentence for defending political prisoners and aiding the human rights work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, AFP said. This year, Sotoudeh won the European Parliament's Sakharov rights prize. She began her hunger strike in protest against the conditions of her imprisonment and the harassment of her relatives by officials.


Germany preparing new ban on far-right party

The interior ministers of Germany’s 16 states are expected to recommend Wednesday the pursuit of a new ban on the National Democratic Party, the country’s only major far-right party. A previous attempt in 2003 to ban the party failed after Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court revealed that paid government informants within the party were partially responsible for the evidence being used. Now, officials say almost all of their evidence is in the public record, including details from the NPD's own literature and documented criminal activities, the AP said. The party has been accused of promoting a racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic agenda.


Greece most corrupt in EU – transparency watchdog

Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, released Wednesday, showed that the nations hardest-hit by the eurozone crisis (Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece) are also among the EU’s most corrupt. With 0 as ‘highly corrupt’ and 100 as ‘very clean,’ Greece scored 36, Italy 42, Portugal 63 and Spain 65, the AP reported. Denmark and Finland tied with New Zealand at the top of the list with scores of 90. Germany scored 79, the UK 74 and the US 73. Two-thirds of the 176 countries ranked scored below 50. The watchdog labeled Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan – all of which scored eight – as the most corrupt nations in the world.


Shanghai Cooperation Organization to create Development Bank

Heads of member-states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council agreed at a meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Wednesday to set up the SCO Development Bank. The institution will allow members to finance future joint projects. The SCO, which comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, will later determine the specifics of the bank’s work. When the idea was discussed a year ago, Tajikistan suggested that such a bank should not only finance large infrastructure projects, but also support weaker regional economies.


Canada continues Palestinian aid despite opposition to new UN status

Canada will continue to provide millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, officials said. Canada's current five-year, $300-million commitment in funding for security and aid is important and will be maintained, the AP quoted Foreign Ministry spokesperson Rick Roth as saying. The move comes as Canada assesses its relationship with the Palestinian Authority after the UN General Assembly recognized the Palestinians as a non-member observer state. Canada, an ally of Israel, opposed the Palestinians' successful effort last week to win their upgraded status. Ottawa will "review the path forward" once the projects are completed, Roth said.


3 Pakistani soldiers killed in suicide bombing

Two suicide bombers rammed a truck filled with explosives into the gate of an army camp in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, killing three soldiers, intelligence officials said. The Wednesday attack in Wana, the main town of the South Waziristan tribal region, also wounded eight soldiers, the AP said. Attacks continue to occur in South Waziristan despite the army claiming progress in fighting militants in a region considered the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban.


India suspended from Olympics over corruption

­The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suspended India from the Olympics over alleged elections violations. The decision is a result of the Indian Olympic Association’s noncompliance with IOC election legislation, and because appointed officials were previously charged with corruption. While suspended, India will not receive IOC funding and its officials are banned from attending Olympic meetings and events. India’s athletes will also be banned from competing under their country’s flag in the Olympics. However, some of them may be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag.


Senate orders report on military options in Syria

­The US Senate has voted 92-6 to require President Obama to review and report on the possibility of US involvement in Syria. The purpose of the legislation is “to advance the goals of President Obama of stopping the killing of civilians in Syria and creating conditions for a transition to a democratic, pluralistic, political system in Syria.” The resolution gives Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 90 days to provide a classified report on at least three options: deploying Patriot missiles in neighboring countries, imposing a no-fly zone in Syria and conducting airstrikes on Syrian military assets.


Israel keeping an eye on Syria's chemical weapons - Netanyahu

­Tel Aviv is closely monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday. Speaking at the National Public Diplomacy Forum, the PM said that his government is in agreement with American officials regarding these weapons, and that they must "not be used and must not reach terrorist elements." Damascus has officially stated that it would not use chemical weapons against its own people “regardless of the developments.”


US to place Syrian rebel group on terrorist list - report

­Washington is moving closer to declaring the Al-Nusra Front, a Syrian rebel cell, onto a list of international terrorist groups, McClatchy Newspapers has learned. The State Department originally planned to declare the Nusra Front a terrorist organization this week, but the announcement was postponed as officials “discussed how to get the maximum impact from the designation,” the report says. Al-Nusra, which is alleged to have ties to al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the 2012 Aleppo bombings, the January 2012 Midan bombing, the March 2012 Damascus bombings and the murder of journalist Mohammed Saeed. The group maintains that their aim is to overthrow the Syrian government. The State Department move, if successful, would bolster the legitimacy of the newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.


Senate passes $631-billion Pentagon budget

The US Senate has approved a $631 billion defense bill. With a 98-0 vote, the legislation allocates funds for weapons, aircraft and ships as well as a 1.7 per cent pay raise for military personnel. The bill gives $526 billion for the base defense budget, $17 billion for defense programs in the Energy Department and about $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The bill must be reconciled with a version passed earlier this year in the House before moving to President Obama's approval. The White House  “strongly objects” to a section of the bill that places restrictions on the use of funds to transfer detainees held at the US Naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to foreign countries.