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18 December, 2012


Ontario teachers walk out of classrooms in record breaking numbers

­More than twenty thousand teachers abandoned their classrooms to march in Ontario’s biggest labour strike. The "Super Tuesday" strike involved eight school districts which left over 400,000 students without instructors. The protest was an attempt by the unions to force collective bargaining on the authorities. Earlier this year, the provincial assembly adopted Bill 115, which allows the Ontario government to impose a contract if none has been negotiated by December 31. More strikes are expected through Thursday.


National Rifle Association promises “meaningful contributions” after Newtown shootings

­The US National Rifle Association is to hold a major news conference on Friday following the massacre of 26 people, mostly children, in Newtown. In its first statement since the tragedy, the powerful gun lobby promises to make “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again,” as its members were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders”. The statement comes after days of silence by the NRA and after increased pressure from the public and lawmakers to pursue harsher gun control policies.


Six Chinese officials fired following elementary school stabbing

­Two school principals, two local police officers, one safety official and one county education official have been fired in China’s Henan province after a man burst into an elementary school last Friday stabbing 23 students with a knife, Xinhua reports. The perpetrator of the attack, Min Yongjun, was arrested for attacking the children and jeopardizing public security. According to the authorities Min was strongly affected by “doomsday rumours,” that according to the Mayan calendar will bring the end of the world this Friday.


Standard & Poor’s agency upgrades Greece’s credit rating

­Standard & Poor's agency has raised Greece's sovereign credit rating by 6 notches to B-minus, which pulls the country out of default, but still keeps its devalued bonds at junk status. This is the highest grade the agency has given Greece since June 2011, and reflects the intent of the other 16 members of the Eurozone to keep Greece inside the currency union. The agency gives the country a stable outlook, suggesting it won’t make another change to its credit rating in the near future.


Nelson Mandela still in hospital, there is ‘no crisis’

­The former South African President 94-year-old Nelson Mandela remains in the hospital, but doctors say there is “no crisis”. Mandela’s spokesperson said the ex-President was “looking much better”. Mandela underwent surgery to remove a gallstone at a private clinic in Pretoria. He was hospitalized from his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape Province on December 8, suffering from a lung infection.


Parts for Patriot missile installation start arriving in Turkey

­Parts for the Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries Istanbul requested from NATO have reportedly started to arrive in Turkey. They’ve been accompanied by 39 German staff, who will maintain the system. On December 4 NATO foreign ministers agreed to deploy German and Dutch batteries of Patriot missiles on the Turkish-Syrian border.


4 EU states to condemn new Israeli settlement plan

Four EU states are preparing a statement condemning Israel’s latest settlement plans in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a European diplomat said Tuesday. The E4 group, which includes Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, believes Israel’s activities could threaten a future two-state peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. On Monday, Israel announced it was pushing forward with plans to build 1,500 apartments in east Jerusalem.


Turkish FM urges Iran to pressure Syria to end violence

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged Iran on Tuesday to "send a clear message" to the Syrian government to stop its violence against its own people. “Instead of criticizing the [Patriot] system, Iran should say stop to the Syrian regime,” Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara. He added that Syria “has been continuously oppressing its own people and provoking Turkey through border violations,” AFP reported.


Egypt to probe alleged voting violations

Egypt's Justice Ministry will assign judges to probe allegations of voting violations during the first round of the referendum on a new draft constitution. The inquiry will include charges that some polling stations were supervised by court employees, not judges, a ministry spokesperson said Tuesday. Many judges refused to supervise the voting in protest over actions by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Egyptian rights groups have called for the first round of voting to be repeated. Official preliminary results showed that 56 percent of voters supported the draft in Saturday's round.


Bulgaria did not seek US military presence – defense minister

Bulgarian Defense Minister Anyu Angelov has denied reports that his country asked Washington to deploy and station US troops in Bulgaria. The two nations held talks earlier this month over increasing the frequency of joint exercises and the intensive use of joint bases and military facilities, Itar-Tass quoted the minister as saying. He added that 29 maneuvers will be held on Bulgarian territory in 2013. The US and Bulgaria agreed in 2006 to jointly use three military bases and a depot.


Iraqi president in ‘stable condition’ after health emergency

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is in “stable” condition after he was admitted to a Baghdad hospital following a “health emergency,” his office said on Tuesday. The emergency was “due to hardening of the arteries,” AFP quoted the statement as saying. An earlier statement said that Talabani was taken to a Baghdad hospital on Monday night for “fatigue and tiredness.” Iraqi state television reported that Talabani had suffered a stroke.


UAE arrests 7 online activists – reports

Seven online activists have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Emirates Center for Human Rights. Three UAE nationals were detained in Saudi Arabia on Monday and then handed over to UAE authorities, the BBC said, citing the UK-based group. Four other activists were detained last week over a Twitter account critical of the government, the group said.


FM Lavrov opposes ban on US citizens adopting Russian children

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has criticized plans by State Duma deputies to ban Americans from adopting Russian children. “This is wrong. I am certain that finally the State Duma will make a balanced decision,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying on Tuesday. The proposed adoption ban came after US President Barack Obama signed into law last week a bill imposing sanctions on Russian officials alleged to be connected to human rights abuses. The State Duma plans to blacklist Americans believed to have violated the human rights of Russians.


Chinese police detain more than 500 over doomsday rumors

More than 500 people from a fringe religious group have been detained in China for spreading rumors about the supposed impending end of the world. Police arrested more than 400 members of the sect in western China's Qinghai province, state media reported Tuesday. Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in arrests across eight provinces and regions in China. The Qinghai provincial government said that local police are waging a “severe crackdown” on a group described as a cult with “strong political penchants.”


Toyota fined $17mln in US for delayed safety reports

The US government has fined Toyota Motor Corp. a record $17.4 million for failing to quickly report problems to federal regulators and for delaying a safety recall. The fine imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the maximum allowed by law, the fourth such fine levied against Toyota in the past two years and the largest single fine ever assessed against a car company over safety defects. In June, about 154,000 of the 2010 Lexus Rx 350s and RX 450h models were recalled because the driver's-side floor mats can trap the gas pedal and cause the vehicles to speed up without warning.


Queen Elizabeth II attends UK Cabinet meeting

Queen Elizabeth II attended a UK Cabinet meeting for the first time on Tuesday as an observer, taking a seat between Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague. The visit is believed to be the first time a sitting British monarch has attended a Cabinet meeting in at least 100 years. The queen performs some formal duties related to government as head of state, but is expected to remain neutral on political matters.


S. Africa's Zuma wins ANC leadership vote

South African President Jacob Zuma has won a Tuesday election to remain the head of the governing African National Congress (ANC) political party. The ANC's Mangaung conference is being held in the city of Bloemfontein. Zuma, 70, faced a challenge from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe as around 4,000 delegates voted early morning. The ANC head is also likely to be the next president of the nation of 50 million people.


Iraqi President Talabani suffers stroke – official

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has suffered a stroke, a spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister said on Tuesday. The president's medical team is still trying to stabilize his condition, Ali al-Moussawi told the AP. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited the hospital in Baghdad where the president is being treated. Doctors have not decided whether Talabani will continue to be treated in Baghdad or flown to another country for treatment.


Indonesia blames Sukhoi jet crash on pilot error

Indonesian investigators revealed Tuesday that a pilot error caused the crash of a Sukhoi Superjet 100 in May, when it descended to low altitudes and crashed into a volcano. The flight of post-Soviet Russia's first passenger plane, led by a veteran pilot, hoped to showcase the new aircraft to buyers in Indonesia. The jet slammed into the 2,200-meter-high dormant Mount Salak volcano, killing all 45 on board. The Indonesian National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) ruled out technical failures, finding that the aircraft's terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) had sent multiple alerts to the pilot, who allegedly switched off the device before the crash, AFP said. “The crash could have been avoided if a recovery action was carried out within 24 seconds from the first warning,” KNKT chief Tatang Kurniadi said.


4 female polio workers killed in Pakistan gun attack

Gunmen have killed four women working on a government polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, officials said. The gunmen also wounded on Tuesday two men who were with the women, said Sagher Ahmed, health minister for nearby Sindh province. The shootings took place in an area of Karachi populated by ethnic Pashtuns. The Taliban, a Pashtun movement, has spoken out against polio vaccinations in recent months. It claimed the health workers are acting as spies for the US, and that the vaccine is harmful.


Resignation of Israeli FM Lieberman takes effect

The resignation of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went into effect on Tuesday. He was charged with fraud and breach of trust last week, and announced his resignation on Friday. It took effect at 0800 GMT, with his duties now transferred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, AFP reported. Netanyahu already holds portfolios for economic strategy, pensioner affairs and health. Lieberman has pledged to clear his name, and will retain his seat in parliament. The ex-FM will still stand in snap elections on January 22. His nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party is currently running on a joint ticket with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud.


Regulators fine Morgan Stanley $5mln over Facebook IPO

Morgan Stanley, the lead underwriter for Facebook's troubled public stock offering, will pay $5 million to Massachusetts securities regulators. The firm was accused of disclosing Facebook’s revenue shortfall only to certain analysts, and not the general public. Those numbers were reportedly lower than what many analysts had expected, causing them to revise their annual revenue estimates down about 3 percent below the $5 billion that Facebook had earlier forecast for 2012, Massachusetts officials said. The renewed estimates were available to investment banks, but not individual investors.


NASA crashes two spacecraft into moon

Two NASA spacecraft were deliberately crashed into a mountain near the Moon's north pole on Monday, ending a mission to study the lunar interior. The vessels, named Ebb and Flow, were reportedly commanded to fire their engines and burn their remaining fuel. NASA said it dedicated the impact site to the memory of mission team member Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died earlier this year. Ebb and Flow’s mission focused on measuring the Moon's gravity field. These efforts produced the most detailed gravity maps of the solar system ever, the AP said. The crash comes on the same month as the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.


Russia’s Baltic Fleet ships replace Black Sea Fleet unit in Mediterranean Sea

Five ships and support vessels from Russia's Baltic Fleet will replace Black Sea Fleet ships currently operating in the Mediterranean Sea. The Baltic Fleet unit includes the escort vessel Yaroslav Mudry, the large assault ships Kaliningrad and Aleksandr Shabalin, the rescue towboat SB-921 and the tanker Lena. The ships have left the fleet's main base and are now heading to the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson told Interfax.


10 wounded in grenade attack at Pakistani army recruiting center

Two men on a motorcycle threw hand grenades at the main gate of an army recruiting center in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, wounding 10 people, police said. The attack took place in the garrison town of Risalpur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal region. The wounded included civilians and security personnel. The attackers reportedly fled the scene.


Court denies Apple request to ban Samsung phones

Apple’s legal request to ban US sales of Samsung smartphone models that illegally used Apple technology was denied by a federal judge on Monday. The decision is part of several weeks of rulings raised in the case after the jury found that Samsung unfairly used critical features of the iPhone and iPad in its devices. Apple estimated it incurred damages of $1.05 billion. The two companies are involved in more than 50 lawsuits in countries around the world, with billions of dollars in damages claimed between them.


S. African police arrest 4 over ‘terror plot’

Four South African white men face treason and terrorism charges over a plot that included plans to attack the ongoing African National Congress (ANC) political party convention, police said on Tuesday. The men were arrested in different locations in South Africa on Sunday, Brig. Billy Jones told the AP. Police described the men as having right-wing political beliefs. The ANC is currently holding its ‘Mangaung’ convention to choose the party's leadership.


UN allows blacklisted Taliban to travel for peace talks

The UN Security Council has renewed its sanctions against the Afghan Taliban, but those on its blacklist will be allowed to travel outside of Afghanistan for peace talks. The resolution adopted on Monday invited the Afghan government to submit the names of listed individuals who will “participate in meetings in support of peace and reconciliation,” AFP said. The current sanctions list includes 132 individuals and four entities. Diplomats believe the travel exemptions would help promote reconciliation in Afghanistan after foreign troops withdraw in 2014.


1.5 tons of cocaine destined for US seized by Colombian police

A truck container with 1.5 tons of cocaine, worth an estimated $5 million, was seized by police in Cartagena, Columbia, as it was set to be shipped to Honduras and then the US, local media reported Monday. The truck’s driver was arrested while delivering the container to the city’s maritime terminal. He will be charged with drug trafficking and possession of narcotics. Police will also investigate employees at the marine terminal for possible links to the incident.


Obama and Boehner move closer to fiscal cliff deal

­President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have once again exchanged ideas in an effort to avoid America’s looming fiscal cliff. The White House has also dropped the idea of raising tax rates on incomes above $250,000 and will now focus on those earning $400,000 or more. Obama’s new vision of a ten-year deficit reduction package is to be focused on increased revenue, as opposed to cuts in government spending. Obama has proposed a revenue figure of $1.2 trillion, as opposed to his last $1.4 trillion proposal. Boehner's in turn calls for $1 trillion in tax revenue, which is to be derived from raising rates and limiting deductions that the rich can take.


Mexico to see new drug battling force

­Mexico is to establish a new law enforcement unit to battle crime and drug trade in the country, the country’s President has announced. The gendarmerie will be modeled after Spain's Guardia Civil and will include 10,000 agents. Currently Mexico has a patchwork of city and state police, along with some national police. According to the country’s president, he Mexican army is to remain involved in security operations until the new national police force is fully trained.


Hacker gets 10 years in prison for exposing celebrities

­A hacker who exposed the private lives of Hollywood’s most famous has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.  A federal judge sentenced Christopher Chaney after he broke into the personal online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted their nude pictures online. Prosecutors said that Chaney has also targeted two women he knew, sending nude pictures of one former co-worker to her father.


N. Korean satellite appears to tumble in orbit- report

­A North Korean satellite that reached orbit last week appears to be broken, the New York Times reports. “It’s spinning or tumbling, and we haven’t picked up any transmissions,” Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer told the publication. “Those two things are most consistent with the satellite being entirely inactive at this point.” Pyongyang has not reported any malfunctioning of the unit. The launch was hailed to demonstrate “indomitable spirit and massive national capabilities.”


Most senior US senator dies age 88

­Washington’s most senior senator has died from respiratory complications in a military hospital age of 88. Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a Democrat, was a World War II veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient. Serving as a politician from 1962, Inouye was the first Japanese-American in Congress and has most recently chaired the powerful appropriations committee. Inouye will be remembered for his efforts to secure the rights and benefits of veterans, as well as his endeavors in alternative-energy initiatives.