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11 December, 2012


Chavez undergoes cancer surgery

­Cuban doctors have begun an operation on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his government announced on Tuesday. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, reading a government statement on Venezuelan television, said the surgery is under way and Chavez has “absolute confidence he will overcome the obstacles that have emerged in the path of life.” Chavez said Saturday that "some malignant cells" had returned to an area from which tumors had earlier been removed. This will be Chavez’s third operation, after first undergoing surgery in June 2011 for a type of pelvic cancer. Chavez last visited Cuba on November 27 for hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Calling the relapse a "new battle," Chavez designated Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his political successor should anything go wrong.


Egypt’s Key group of judges has refuses to oversee vote

­90% of Egypt's main association of judges, have refused to oversee Saturday's nationwide referendum on a controversial new constitution,  announced Ahmed el-Zind, the chairman of the Judges Club. The opposition will try to prevent the constitutional vote that the Egyptian president has kept on December 15. The judges' decision has sparked discussion on the legality of the constitutional drafting process, but is unlikely to stop the referendum from taking place.


UK turns less religious, more diverse - census

Census figures released on Tuesday show Britain to be more ethnically diverse and less religious than a decade ago. In the 2011 census published Tueday, 86 percent of residents in England and Wales identified themselves as white, down from 91.3 percent in 2001. In London 45.8 percent of residents classified themselves as “white British.” Fifty-nine percent of residents said they were Christians, compared to 72 percent in 2001. The figures are based on data from 26 million households.


France asks European Parliament to lift Le Pen immunity

French authorities have sent a request to the European Parliament to lift the immunity of far-right leader Marine le Pen. They wish to prosecute her for comparing Islamic prayers to the Nazi occupation. The request was related to an ongoing judicial probe into Le Pen’s remarks, which were made during a speech to Front National party supporters in December 2010. As a member of the European Parliament, Le Pen possesses immunity from criminal and civil liability for opinions expressed as part of duties, unless the chamber votes to lift the immunity.


IMF postpones $4.8 billion loan to Egypt

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has postponed a $4.8 billion loan to Egypt, following a decision by President Mohamed Morsi not to increase taxes. Prime Minister Hesham Qandil said on television on Tuesday that a “social dialogue” meeting will take place next week to explain the government’s tax project. A preliminary agreement on the loan was reached during a visit by an IMF team to Cairo last month, and the IMF board was expected to meet to discuss approving the loan on December 19. The IMF earlier warned that Egypt must implement agreed measures for the loan to go through.


Ukraine presses Damascus to help free journalist kidnapped in Syria

Ukrainian authorities want Damascus to work more actively to help free journalist Anhar Kochneva, who disappeared in Syria in October. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Dikusarov said on Tuesday that Kiev expects “concrete results” in attempts to release her. Kochneva, a Ukrainian citizen, has collaborated with several Russian news outlets. She is known for supporting the Syrian leader Bashar Assad and criticizing opposition forces.


Bangladeshi protesters clash with police during general strike

Protesters threw homemade bombs and police fired tear gas to disperse crowds as opposition activists enforced a daylong general strike in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Tuesday. There were no reports on the number of injured in the clashes. A coalition of 18 opposition parties demanded that a caretaker government be restored before the next national elections set for 2014. Coalition representatives also want their leaders facing charges of crimes against humanity to be freed from jail. Schools and businesses remained closed in Dhaka and other major cities on Tuesday. Transportation was largely disrupted across the country.


Greece raises $5.7 bln in short-term debt

Greece raised 4.4 billion euro ($5.7 billion) Tuesday in two short-term debt auctions. Greece's debt management agency raised 2.76 billion euro in one-month Treasury bills and 1.62 billion euro in six-month T-bills. The funds are needed to plug gaps as the country awaits a long-delayed rescue loan payment. The deadline is also expiring for banks, hedge funds and other private investors to decide whether they will sell their Greek government bonds back at a steep discount on their face value. The deal could allow the smooth disbursement on Thursday of a long-delayed international bailout payment.


Tehran denies assistance to N.Korea with planned rocket launch

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called recent media reports suggesting that Iranian experts allegedly assisted North Korea with its planned rocket launch baseless. “They are trying to create a phobia of Iran and to negatively impact Iran's relations with different countries in the region,” spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday. A South Korean newspaper said recently that Tehran and Pyongyang were cooperating on the project, but Mehmanparast said this claim “is not true at all.”


Baby among 7 dead in Thailand shootings

An 11-month-old baby was among seven people killed by suspected Islamist separatists on Tuesday, police in Thailand said. Five people were killed and another four wounded in a drive-by shooting at a tea shop in Narathiwat province's Ra-ngae district, according to local police chief Col. Jiradej Prasawang. The dead included 11-month-old Efahni Samoh. A 10-month-old infant, Muhammad Yaena was also among those wounded. The shop may have been targeted by the gunmen, armed with assault rifles, because the owner is a village official. In a separate incident, five attackers shot dead a principal and a teacher at a school in neighboring Pattani province's Mayo district. The Islamic insurgency in southern Thailand has killed thousands of people.


Syria chemical threat has slowed - Panetta

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that Damascus seems to have slowed preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons against rebel targets. Washington announced last week there was evidence the Syrian authorities had begun preparing chemical weapons for possible use in bombs. “At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off,” Panetta told reporters. “We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way.” Syria earlier said it would not use chemical weapons against its own people.


Notre-Dame de Paris prepares to celebrate 850th birthday

The famous French cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris, is celebrating its 850th birthday. The cardinal-archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois, is expected to kick-off of the Notre-Dame’s 850th anniversary on December 12. With its first stone laid back in 1163, the cathedral now attracts some 14 million visitors a year, and expects up to 20 million pilgrims and tourists during the year-long celebration. Several projects are in progress, including the improvement of the lighting inside and a new set of church bells.


Gunmen kill intelligence official in southern Yemen

Gunmen on motorbikes reportedly killed a high-ranking Yemeni intelligence official in the southeastern province of Hadramout early Tuesday. Colonel Ahmed Baramda, assistant director of the country’s Intelligence Bureau, was shot dead near his home in Mukalla city by masked gunmen, Xinhua quoted a local police officer as saying. Security sources believe that Al-Qaeda militants, active in the province, could have been behind the attack.


Bahrain reduces sentence for activist Rajab

A Bahrain appeals court has reduced the prison sentence of prominent human rights activist Nabeel Rajab from three years to two. His attorney, Mohammed al-Jishi, said the court dropped the charge of insulting police. Bahraini and international rights groups have been demanding the release of Rajab. Rajab, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was convicted on allegations of encouraging illegal protests. He is among dozens of high-profile prisoners arrested during a 22-month uprising by the country’s Shia majority.


Three plane hijackers sentenced to death in China – reports

A court in China's Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang sentenced three men to death on Tuesday after ruling that they were guilty of attempting to hijack an aircraft. A fourth man received a life sentence, Xinhua news agency said. Earlier reports said six members of China's Uighur minority had tried to seize a plane after taking off from Hotan in the far-western region in June. The plane returned safely to the airport in Hotan after the hijacking was thwarted by passengers and crew.


Israeli security forces raid offices of West Bank NGOs

Israeli forces reportedly raided the offices of three Palestinian non-governmental organizations overnight. “The Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights office was raided,” the Addameer group said. Computers and other material were confiscated, and the office was destroyed, the group continued, as cited by AFP. The raids also targeted the Ramallah offices of the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees and the Palestinian NGO Network. Israeli forces regularly carry out raids in Ramallah, although the West Bank city is nominally under full Palestinian control.


Mandela has lung infection – S. African officials

South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela is suffering from a recurring lung infection, the president’s office said Tuesday. Mandela, 94, has been hospitalized since Saturday to undergo medical tests at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa's capital, Pretoria. The tests showed that Mandela is suffering from a lung infection, AP quoted presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj as saying. “Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment and he is responding to the treatment,” Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his clan name. The presidency’s statement was intended to end speculation about what caused the hospitalization.


UN says more than 500,000 Syrian refugees registered in neighboring states

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday that 509,559 Syrians are either already registered (425,160) or in the process of being registered in countries neighboring Syria. The figure includes those registered in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa. Nearly 135,000 Syrian refugees are currently housed in refugee camps in Turkey, officials in Ankara say. Some 70,000 are not living in refugee camps.


Parent company of Sydney radio station behind hoax to donate profits to charity

Sydney 2Day FM is resuming advertising and will donate all the profits from the rest of this year to charity. The station’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo said commercials on the station will air again on Thursday, and a minimum donation of Aus$500,000 (US$523,600) will be made to a fund that will directly benefit the family of Jacintha Saldahna. The UK nurse died days after falling victim to a prank phone call to a hospital where Duchess Kate was staying.


Berlusconi says Monti's government pursues 'German-centric' policy

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has accused the current government of dragging Italy into recession by following a 'German-centric' policy. Mario Monti's government has followed policies which Europe has tried to impose on other states and it has created a crisis, Berlusconi told his Canale 5 television station. The current situation is “much worse than where we were when we were in government,” the former PM said. He also hinted at the possibility of creating a new center-right grouping in Italy.


UN seeks $65 million to provide aid to Philippines after Typhoon Bopha

The UN and its humanitarian partners have appealed to the international community for $65 million to provide immediate lifesaving aid and support to the millions in the Philippines affected by Typhoon Bopha. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the funds would be used for the Action Plan for Recovery to provide emergency shelter, water and sanitation, food and livelihoods for survivors. Some 480,000 people are seriously affected in the worst hit areas, OCHA said. The death toll from the strongest typhoon so far this year has climbed above 700, with hundreds more missing.


Signs N.Korea dismantling rocket detected – reports

North Korea may be disassembling a long-range rocket, a senior military source in Seoul said Tuesday. The previous day, Pyongyang announced it would extend its 13-day launch window due to technical problems. The latest satellite image shows scientists and workers have begun taking apart the three-stage rocket from the launch pad at the Dongchang-ri site in the country's northwest, Yonhap news agency reported. “It seems that the North's trying to fix technical problems,” sources say.


Mali PM resigns after arrest

Mali's Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra resigned early Tuesday. He addressed the nation on television hours after soldiers loyal to Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who led a recent coup, arrested him. Diarra was getting ready to leave the country for Paris, AP reports. It's unclear if the trip to France was planned, or if Diarra was attempting to evade capture. Separately, the UN Security Council will soon discuss a resolution that would authorize the deployment of an African-led force to oust militants who seized Mali's northern region.


HSBC to pay $1.9 bln to settle money-laundering probe

The British banking giant HSBC will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe in the US. “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes,” Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said in a statement, referring to a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice. The probe of the bank has focused on the transfer of billions of dollars on behalf of nations which are under international sanctions. It also concerned the transfer of money through the US financial system from Mexican drug cartels. Under the agreement, the bank will plead guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act and the Trading With the Enemy Act.


Anti-Morsi protesters attacked in Cairo

­At least nine people have reportedly been hurt after unknown attackers fired on protesters camped out in Cairo's Tahrir Square. “There has been an attack on Tahrir – birdshot and molotovs reported,” Cairo-based journalist Bel Trew tweeted. It comes as Egypt gears up for another day of protests by the opposition and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi. The unrest was sparked after he granted himself sweeping powers and put a new constitution to the vote.