Scotland would need to reapply for membership in the European Union if it secedes from Britain, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Citing a 2004 European Commission statement, Barroso said secession would invalidate EU membership, arguing that a newly independent Scotland would "become a third country with respect to the Union." Edinburgh wants to become fully independent by 2016, if a 2014 sucession referendum is successful. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom since 1706.
The US has extended waivers granted to nine major Asian consumers of Iranian oil. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the waivers will apply to China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan. This means that financial institutions based in those states will not be hit with penalties under US law. The US sanctions target foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank by barring them from opening or maintaining operations in the United States.
The US Supreme Court will examine gay marriage for the first time, by ruling on a Californian Proposition 8 ballot banning the practice and a federal law defining marriage as solely an opposite-sex union. The court has aslo announced to review the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that treats legally married gay couples differently than heterosexual couples. The judges are to decide by June if Congress can deprive legally married homosexual couples of federal benefits .
Mo Yan, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, says censorship is as necessary as airport security checks. Yan has been criticized by human rights activists for being a member of China’s Communist Party and his refusal to speak out against his country's government. He has also refused to join an appeal for the release of jailed Liu Xiaobo, a fellow Chinese writer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Previous Nobel winners have spoken out against the jury’s choice this year. Herta Mueller, the 2009 Nobel literature laureate, called the choice of Mo a “catastrophe.”
The Czech Republic's lower house of parliament has approved legislation to legalize marijuana for medical treatment, although the bill still needs to be approved by the upper house. Politicians agreed that marijuana would be imported and later grown locally by registered firms. Patients would then need a prescription to get the drug at pharmacies. Medical marijuana is used relieve chronic pain in a number of European countries and some parts of the United States.
Swedish police have launched an investigation into an artist who says he used paint mixed from the ashes of Holocaust victims in a watercolor. Carl Michael von Hausswolff It was exhibited in a gallery in the southern Swedish town of Lund. A member of the public filed a complaint with police on December 5th for “disturbing the peace of the dead” and labeled the work a “desecration of human remains.”
Jacintha Saldanha, a staff member of the hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was treated, has been found dead in a suspected suicide this Friday, British media reported. The woman fell for Australian Radio DJs’ hoax call earlier this week, putting them through to Kate Middleton’s private nurse. Two pranksters from Sydney’s 2Day FM pretended to be Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles to reveal the details of the Duchess’s medical condition. The two later boasted the prank’s success on Twitter, media said. British police are investigating Saldanha’s “unexplained death.”
The suicide bomber who attacked Afghanistan’s spy chief detonated a bomb hidden in his underwear, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said on Friday. Asadullah Khalid was targeted on Thursday by a bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy in a spy agency guesthouse in Kabul. Khalid was wounded in the attack and is now in a stable condition. The organizers of the suicide attack “skillfully placed the explosives in the underpants” of the bomber, AFP said, citing the intelligence agency’s statement. The trick “runs against all Islamic and Afghani principles,” the report said. The Taliban described the attacker as “hero mujahid Hafiz Mohammad.” The incident is believed to be the first time in Afghanistan that a suicide bomber has employed an underwear bomb.
The Dutch government has approved a NATO request to send two batteries of Patriot missile defense systems to Turkey, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said Friday. The minister added that 130 Dutch troops will also be deployed to operate the Patriot systems. The Cabinet decision has yet to be approved by parliament, where Prime Minister Mark Rutte's two-party coalition has a comfortable majority. Germany agreed the previous day to send two Patriot batteries and troops to Turkey's southern border with Syria, at NATO's request. The Patriot systems are intended to prevent cross-border attacks against Turkey.
Austria’s OMV, central Europe’s biggest energy firm, is in talks with Germany’s RWE Dea about buying the company’s 16.7% stake in the Nabucco gas pipeline project. The pipeline is intended to transport gas from the Caspian Sea region to central Europe. Both companies confirmed Friday that they have entered negotiations. OMV owns another 16 percent of the Nabucco project, the other shareholders being Hungary's MOL, Turkey's Botas, Bulgaria's BEH and Romania's Transgazm. RWE earlier decided to leave the project. OMV’s chief executive officer Gerhard Roiss said that the shareholders of Nabucco “at the end will be the ones who have the gas.”
The lower house of the Czech parliament has approved legislation making it legal to use marijuana for medical purposes. The marijuana would be imported and later grown by registered firms licensed for such activity, which is currently illegal, the AP said. Patients will need a prescription from a doctor to get the drug at pharmacies. The bill still needs to be approved by parliament's upper house.
Greece's economy shrank by 6.9 percent in the third quarter of the year, compared to the same period in 2011, the national statistics agency said on Friday. Based on new data, the decrease was less than the 7.2 percent drop estimated in November, the AP said. Meanwhile, Greece’s debt management agency said it will seek to raise 3.75 billion euro ($4.9 billion) in treasury bills next week. On Friday, the agency said it would auction 2.1 billion euro in one-month bills and 1.2 billion euro in six-month bills.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal has arrived in the Gaza Strip for his first-ever visit to mark the 25th anniversary of the group’s founding. Meshaal crossed the Egyptian border on Friday and then kissed the ground, the AP reported. He was greeted by Hamas officials, as well as representatives of the rival Fatah party. Meshaal, who had left the West Bank as a child and currently leads his Islamist movement from Qatar, recently led a Hamas delegation that accepted a truce to stop last month's eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza.
The Nevsky District Court in St. Petersburg sentenced nationalist Vyacheslav Datsik to five years in a penal colony for assault on Friday. The court also closed the criminal case opened against him for trying to set fire to a church, Interfax reported. The freestyle kickboxer nicknamed ‘Red Tarzan’ had been arrested in St. Petersburg, but later escaped treatment in a psychiatric hospital and fled to Norway. On Friday, the court determined that since he was extradited from Norway, he could only be tried for the crimes for which he was deported.
Standard & Poor's lowered Ukraine's long-term sovereign credit rating on Friday from 'BB-' to 'B,’ with a negative outlook. The Ukrainian government may face higher borrowing costs and more difficulty securing financing, the agency said. The National Bank of Ukraine also must repay $3.5 billion in government guaranteed debt to the IMF in 2013. The agency said it could revise the outlook to stable if the government secures enough funding to meet its external debt obligations in a timely manner. This week, Moody’s cut Ukraine’s rating one step to B3, six levels below investment grade.
On Friday, Beijing blasted a US statement accusing China of responding to Tibetans’ self-immolations by restricting their freedoms. US Undersecretary of State and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero on Wednesday urged China to address its Tibet policies. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei denied the accusations on Friday, saying that Washington should stop using Tibet as an excuse to meddle in China's internal affairs. “Tibetan people's rights to participate in political affairs, use the Tibetan language, maintain their traditional culture and religious freedom have all been duly protected,” the AP quoted Hong as saying. Activists report that since 2009, at least 86 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule.
India's parliament has approved plans to open up the country's retail sector to multinational corporations. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government won the vote in the upper house of parliament on Friday, two days after the lower house approved the plan, the AP reported. In September, the Cabinet decided for the first time to allow foreign companies to own stakes in supermarkets and other big retailers as high as 51 percent.
Four suspected Irish Republican Army members have been detained after a bomb was discovered in their car in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Police intercepted an apparent bomb in transit hours ahead of a planned Friday visit to Belfast by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Witnesses said a police vehicle rammed the IRA suspects' car, disabling it, the AP reported. Three men were arrested in the car and a fourth was detained nearby. Several IRA splinter groups have remained active since 2005, when most of the group’s members renounced violence and disarmed.
Germany's central bank on Friday cut its 2013 growth forecast to 0.4 percent from 1.6 percent. The Bundesbank also lowered its forecast for 2012 growth to 0.7 percent, from the 1 percent it predicted in June, the AP said. The government is predicting 0.8 percent growth this year and 1 percent growth in 2012. Bundesbank’s forecast comes a day after the European Central Bank cut its 2013 growth forecast for the eurozone from a 0.5 percent rise to a 0.3 percent decline.
The death toll in the Philippines from Typhoon Bopha has surpassed 500, with more than 400 people missing, officials said on Friday. More than 310,000 people have lost their homes since the storm struck on Tuesday, and are relying on food and emergency supplies from government agencies and aid groups. President Benigno Aquino III visited New Bataan town on Friday, the epicenter of the disaster, the AP reported. “I want to know how this tragedy happened and how to prevent a repeat,” Aquino said.
The Bangladeshi garment factory where 112 people were killed in a blaze last month had lost its fire safety certification in June, AP quoted a fire official as saying. Factory owner Delwar Hossain also said that he was only authorized to build a three-story facility. Hossain illegally expanded the business to eight stories, and was adding a ninth at the time of the inferno. Despite these violations, the facility was still producing clothes for Western companies when the fire broke out on November 24. Bangladeshi government auditors have previously complained that politically connected owners prevent them from shutting down dangerous factories.
A US Marine has pleaded guilty to accepting $150,000 in bribes from contractors while stationed in Iraq, federal prosecutors in San Diego said. SSgt. Gilbert Mendez, 36, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to defraud the US, the AP quoted the US attorney's office as saying. Prosecutors accused Mendez of abusing his position when he worked in Iraq as a contracting officer at Camp Fallujah in 2006 and 2007. They alleged that he accepted bribes from three foreign-owned companies that subsequently received contracts worth millions of dollars.
The half-million Palestinian refugees living in Syria should not become involved in the country's ongoing conflict, and that neutrality should be respected, UN Relief and Works Agency chief Filippo Grandi told AFP. “About 80 percent of Palestinians in Syria need help,” the official said. “The humanitarian crisis is already here and needs are escalating.”
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, who has been in exile from the Palestinian territories for 45 years, is set to visit the Gaza Strip on Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of his group’s founding. This will be Meshaal’s first-ever visit to Gaza, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007. Over the course of the two-day trip Meshaal will meet with members of different Palestinian movements and Gaza residents, and also with the families of militants killed by Israel. His visit to Gaza comes shortly after the ceasefire last month that ended days of violence between the Hamas–ruled region and Israel.
Indonesian Youth and Sports Minister Andi Alfian Mallarangeng resigned after becoming the country's first active cabinet member to be named as a suspect in a corruption case. Mallarangeng said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono accepted his resignation earlier Friday, the AP reported. Commenting on Indonesia’s second high-profile corruption case this week, the former minister expressed hopes he would be acquitted in court. Mallarangeng is suspected of mismanaging the construction of a $122-million sports complex in the West Java town of Bogor. The case comes after Maj. Gen. Djoko Susilo was detained Tuesday as the main suspect in a high-profile graft case involving the procurement of driving simulators.
Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, 35, has pleaded guilty to plotting a machine gun and grenade attack on a Seattle military complex. Abdul-Latif agreed Thursday to a prison sentence between 17 and 19 years, the AP quoted the US attorney's office in Seattle as saying. He reportedly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder US officers and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. Abdul-Latif, who was arrested on June 22, 2011, is scheduled to be sentenced in March. The co-defendant, Walli Mujahidh, 33, pleaded guilty in the same case in December 2011.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to arrive in Belfast on Friday as part of a four-day trip to Europe. Her trip comes amid rising tensions over the decision to stop flying the Union flag at Belfast City Hall. Clinton will meet with Northern Ireland’s first minister and deputy first minister to discuss the Irish peace process and economic cooperation. The visit to Northern Ireland will be her second as Secretary of State, following her first trip in 2009.
About 420 kilograms of narcotics, including heroin and opium, was seized by Afghan and Tajik special police as they completed a six day operation, the Afghan Deputy Interior Minister has told the press. Two kidnapped Tajik women were also freed in the operation. Thirteen Aghan nationals have been arrested for drug trafficking.
The man who running a website offering to link women up with men who will pay their tuition fees in exchange for sex is a highly-paid IT consultant who has a Ministry of Defense top security clearance, the Independent has revealed. The publication has learned that Mark Lancaster of the SponsorAScholar.co.uk website worked on an overhaul of the British armed forces' IT network. It is also alleged that Lancaster had access to computer systems used by the UK forces in Iraq. The website apparently operates in a British legal grey zone, allowing clients and sex workers to be brought together, as long as the intermediary can plausibly deny involvement in sex-for-money deals.