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17 January, 2013


Iran nuclear discussions are fruitless-report

­Discussions between the UN nuclear watchdog and Tehran have ended with no agreement, a diplomatic source told AFP on Thursday. Another source has stated that the parties have not been able to work out their differences. The IAEA wants Iran to address what it believes is evidence of military efforts to develop a nuclear weapon that the county carried out before 2003 and possibly until now. Iran denies the accusation saying that UN conclusions are based on forged documents, material that it has not even been allowed to see.


Cameron cancels his speech on Europe

­British Prime Minister David Cameron has postponed his long anticipated speech on Europe because of the on-going hostage drama in Algeria. Cameron was scheduled to speak in the Netherlands on Friday, outlining the government’s plan to renegotiate the terms of Britain's European Union membership. The address will take place at a later date. One British man was killed when Islamist gunmen stormed the gas plant near In Amenas, Algeria on Wednesday. Several more have been taken hostage. 


South Sudan army withdraws from Sudanese border

­South Sudan has ordered the withdrawal of its army from the border with Sudan to setup a buffer zone along the territories disputed by the two countries, the South Sudanese government said in a statement on Thursday. “By withdrawing its forces... the government of South Sudan is clearly demonstrating its full compliance with the signed security agreements and full commitment to their implementation,” the statement said. To ease the tension between the two neighboring countries, Sudan is also expected to withdraw its troops, it added. Moving the armies away from the border is part of the two-state agreement of oil exports renewal, which was mediated by the African Union last September. Border clashes nearly caused a major conflict between the two African neighbors last April, less than a year after South Sudan declared independence in July 2011.


European companies ask Gazprom to lower gas prices

­French company GDF Suez, Austria’s Econgas and Germany’s Wingas and Wintershall Erdgas Handelshaus (WIEH) have sent notifications to Gazprom, requesting it to reconsider gas prices set for 2013, Gazprom’s Sergey Chelpanov told Interfax. The clients have the right to re-negotiate the contract in 2013 and they were expected to do so, although at the moment the outcome of the negotiations is unclear, he added. Gazprom already lowered prices by about 10 percent for a number of European companies, including some of those listed above, in 2012. Several European countries sued the Russian giant last year, claiming that Gazprom was setting prices too high.


Gaddafi’s son Saif makes first appearance in Libyan court

The Libyan public prosecutor's office said Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam appeared in a court on Thursday for the first time since his capture more than a year ago. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the court hearing was related to a meeting Saif al-Islam had with his ICC-appointed lawyer last June, Reuters said. The lawyer, Australian national Melinda Taylor, was arrested and held for three weeks on accusations of handing her client documents that Libya claimed could endanger national security. “Investigations for trying him for war crimes are over and he will be put on trial for that at a later time,” said Taha Baara, spokesperson for the prosecutor.


FBI director visits Libya over Benghazi investigation

The head of the FBI is visiting Tripoli for talks on the investigation into last year's killing of the US ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libyan officials said. FBI director Robert Mueller reportedly arrived Thursday, and will meet with senior Libyan officials. The US earlier complained about poor cooperation between the region’s governments in the case.


Tehran, 6 powers to hold nuclear talks by end of January – reports

Iran and six world powers will resume talks on Tehran’s nuclear program on January 28 and 29, ISNA news agency reported. The date may change, and location has not yet been determined. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that there was an understanding among the parties involved that the meeting should take place this month, but the venue is unclear, and this may postpone the next round of the negotiations. UN nuclear inspectors were in Iran for a second day of talks on Thursday in an attempt to gain access to suspected Iranian nuclear sites.


Iran, Syria ink $1bn electricity credit deal

Iran and Syria have signed a $1 billion credit facility agreement, accompanied by the signing of seven contracts on energy transmission and electrical equipment. The agreement between the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Export Development Bank of Iran was signed during Syrian Prime Minister Wael Halqi's visit to Tehran Wednesday. Tehran will fund the construction of the facility, and around $500 million of the Iranian loan would be dedicated to the electricity sector, SANA news agency said. The contracts include a 50-million-euro deal to build a 650-megawatt power plant on Syria's coast.


Iranian ship flees Sri Lankan waters after detention

An Iranian-flagged cargo ship has fled Sri Lankan waters after weeks of detention. The MV Amina was seized in December, when DVB Bank obtained an order from the Colombo High Court to hold the vessel after the owners defaulted on a payment. Last week, the Sri Lankan navy fired warning shots to prevent the MV Amina from leaving, but the vessel made its way through rough seas and left the country's waters late Wednesday, Reuters reported. The vessel is managed by Tehran-based Rahbaran Omid Darya Ship Management, considered by the West to be a front for Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL). However, IRISL said the ship was owned by a private company.


Iraq mulls BP proposal to work on Kirkuk oil field

The Iraqi government is considering a proposal for UK oil giant BP to begin work on a major oil field in territory contested by Baghdad and the Kurds. The plan could help boost output at the Kirkuk oil field, where production has been declining, Abdul-Madhi al-Ameedi, the head of the Oil Ministry's petroleum contracts and licensing division, told the AP. The BP offer has been sent to the Cabinet, but no deal has been approved yet. Baghdad requested the proposal for developing the Kirkuk oil field, BP spokesperson Toby Odone said.


IOC strips Armstrong of bronze Olympic medal – reports

The IOC has reportedly stripped Lance Armstrong of his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics because of his involvement in doping. The IOC sent a letter to Armstrong on Wednesday night asking him to return the medal, the AP said, citing officials familiar with the decision. The IOC was earlier notified by cycling's governing body that Armstrong had not appealed the decision to disqualify him. Cycling body UCI stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and all results since 1998, and he was given 21 days to appeal.


Jordan may close border if Syrian govt falls

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said Thursday the kingdom will close its border with Syria if President Bashar Assad’s regime falls, in the hopes of stemming violence and a mass exodus of refugees. The premier warned that his country could dispatch special forces to “secure safe havens for the Syrians inside their country,” instead of taking in another surge of refugees. Jordan is currently housing 285,000 Syrian refugees, and is strapped for resources to deal with further migration.


Pakistan sets up committee to hold talks with cleric Qadri

The Pakistani government formed a four-member committee on Thursday to hold talks with cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. The move came shortly after the cleric announced a new deadline for his demand that the government resign and dissolve the legislature. The committee includes Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah and three party leaders. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf asked the committee to hold talks with Qadri, who has been camping near parliament since Tuesday alongside thousands of supporters. Opposition parties led by the PML-N yesterday said they would oppose any unconstitutional or unlawful move to derail the government.


IMF approves 3.24bn-euro bailout tranche for Greece

The International Monetary Fund’s board of member-states has supported a 3.24-billion-euro ($4.31-billion) disbursement to Greece. The funds were frozen for several months amid pressure on Athens to live up to its fiscal obligations. Greece is expected to receive 28 billion euro from the IMF over four years. The country has made progress with economic reforms, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said. Lagarde also called on Greece to enact privatization plans and further reduce barriers to competition.


India gang-rape case sent to fast-track court

An Indian magistrate on Thursday ordered the trial of five men accused in the fatal gang-rape of a young woman to be shifted to a special fast-track court in New Delhi. Magistrate Namrita Aggarwal also set a hearing for Monday. The case of a sixth suspect, who claims to be a juvenile, will be handled separately. A lawyer for one of the defendants said he would petition the Supreme Court to have the rape trial moved out of New Delhi. The government set up five fast-track courts in the capital to deal swiftly with crimes against women after the brutal rape of a 23-year-old student last month.


EU states agree on military training mission to Mali

EU governments reportedly agreed on Thursday to go ahead with a plan to send military personnel to train Malian government forces. Ambassadors from the EU's 27 member-states approved the training mission, Reuters quoted a diplomat as saying. The mission will comprise about 200 military trainers and some security personnel. The decision was made shortly before an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss a hostage crisis in the Sahara.


UN peacekeepers free German, Austrian hostages in DR Congo

A German and an Austrian man taken hostage on January 5 by rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have been freed by UN peacekeepers, the Austrian foreign ministry said Thursday. The two tourists were seized by armed members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group after crossing over from Uganda into the Rutshuru area by jeep. The German managed to alert the German embassy, and UN peacekeepers secured their release, AFP said. The rebels kept $4,000 in cash belonging to the men, as well their credit cards, documents, laptops and the vehicle.


Japanese PM talks security, economy in Thailand

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday in a bid to consolidate business and security ties between the two nations. The trip is the first visit by a Japanese prime minister to Thailand in 11 years. Abe’s trip also comes amid Tokyo’s territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Parts of the South China Sea have also been claimed by four Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, which Abe visited on Wednesday.


European Aviation Safety Agency orders grounding of Boeing 787 Dreamliners

The European Aviation Safety Agency has ordered Boeing 787 Dreamliner planes to be grounded after a recent series of technical failures. Earlier, Japanese authorities and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also ordered a temporary grounding of all Dreamliner jets. India and Chile also joined the halt.


15 killed in Iraq car bombings

Two car bombs have killed at least 11 Shia pilgrims north of Baghdad, an Iraqi provincial health official said, bringing the death toll in a series of attacks Thursday to 15. The explosions struck Thursday morning near Dujail, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad. More than 60 people were wounded in the attacks. Earlier in the day, another car bomb killed four Shiite pilgrims as they were heading to shrines in southern Iraq.


Somalian al-Shabaab militants claim French hostage executed

Somalian rebel group al-Shabaab claimed on Thursday it had executed a French agent whom France’s armed forces had tried to rescue over the weekend. Denis Allex, held hostage since 2009, was killed at 16:30 GMT on Wednesday, Reuters reported, quoting a statement on al-Shabaab’s Twitter account. France earlier said it believed Allex was killed in Saturday's failed rescue operation.


Train catches fire at London’s Victoria station

London's Victoria train station was briefly evacuated when a fire started under a train as it was pulling up to a platform, British transport police said. No casualties were reported, and the station was reopened. The train was a Gatwick Express service arriving from Gatwick International Airport.


Russia dismisses Aleppo terror accusations against Syrian govt

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed claims that bomb attacks on Aleppo University were staged by pro-government Syrian forces. Speaking in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Thursday, he called such allegations “sacrilege to the utmost degree,” Interfax reported. The bombings were described as a terrorist attack by the leaders of many states and the UN, Lavrov added.


African Union troops mistakenly killed 7 civilians - Somali official

African Union (AU) troops mistakenly opened fire on a religious school while pursuing militants, killing five children and two adults, a Somali official said. The five children were all younger than 10 years old, MP Dahir Amin Jesow said Wednesday after visiting the scene of the incident in Leggo village. The attack took place 120 kilometers west of the Somali capital Mogadishu on Tuesday morning, he said. AU soldiers were reportedly attacked by militants earlier. The African Union Mission for Somalia is investigating the incident.


Moscow blasts US court ruling on Schneerson Library

Moscow will retaliate if Russian government property is seized by the US as part of the enforcement of a court ruling on the Schneerson Library, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. The collection of books, manuscripts and other religious documents was gathered by the Chabad Lubawitch Hasidic movement, and is being stored in Russia. The US court ruled that Russia should pay a fine of $50,000 per day until the collection is returned to Chabad in America. “This ruling is exterritorial in nature, goes against international law and is legally null and void,” the ministry’s statement said, adding that fining a sovereign state was an “unprecedented step fraught with most serious consequences.” According to Russian law, the collection is part of the nation’s heritage and cannot be removed from the country.


Israeli police clear West Bank area of protest tents

Israeli authorities have cleared all Palestinian protest tents from an area in the occupied West Bank earmarked for Jewish settlements, according to police. "There were no disturbances," police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said. Activists were evicted from the area earlier this week. The Israeli government defended the move, claiming the encampments could become a magnet for violent protests.


Pakistani anti-corruption chief refuses court order to arrest PM Ashraf

Fasih Bokhari, the chief of Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog, refused an order by the country's top court to arrest the prime minister in a graft case on Thursday. Bokhari, who heads the National Accountability Bureau, told the Supreme Court that the initial investigation into the case was flawed. More time is needed to determine whether Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf should be arrested, he added. Ashraf has denied allegations that he received kickbacks during his time as minister of water and power. The chief justice demanded on Tuesday that the premier be detained over the accusations.


Indian, Pakistani commanders agree to de-escalate Kashmir border tensions

The Indian army has reached an “understanding” with Pakistan to “de-escalate” military tensions in the disputed Kashmir border region, media reports said. Indian Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia and his Pakistani counterpart, Maj. Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, held a 10-minute telephone conversation on Wednesday, after which they reached an agreement, Indian army spokesperson Jagdeep Dahiya told AFP. The Pakistani commander reportedly said they were given strict instructions not to violate the cease-fire. Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, speaking in New York on Wednesday, called for talks with her Indian counterpart to defuse tensions along the two countries' de facto border in Kashmir.


US Navy minesweeper runs aground near Philippines

US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground in the Sulu Sea near the Philippines, becoming stuck on the Tubbataha Reef at 2:25am local time, the Navy said. There were no injuries or fuel leaks reported from the vessel. The ship, carrying a crew of 80, was en route to its next port of call when the incident took place. The cause of the grounding is under investigation as the crew attempts to extract the ship.


Hillary Clinton to testify on Benghazi to Senate panel on January 23

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, January 23, to testify on the investigation into the deadly September 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the Senate panel has announced. Her appearance will clear the way for the confirmation hearing for Senator John Kerry on Thursday, January 24, who will succeed Clinton as secretary of state.


Israeli judge temporarily holts evictions from West Bank

­The state of Israel has been ordered by the High Court of Justice to abstain from evicting Palestinians from the West Bank in an area which the army uses as a firing zone. The judge issued a temporary injunction allowing 60 days to respond to a petition of July 2012 in which eight villages have been cleansed. The area is known to the IDF as Firing Zone 918. A petition against the decision was lodged by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, on behalf of 108 Palestinian residents.


Ahmadinejad calls on lawmakers to cut dependency on oil for income

Iran must break its oil dependence and look for new ways to generate revenue, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told assembled politicians. Ahmadinejad said Western sanctions were being used to target the weak points in Iran's economy to pressure the country over its nuclear program. The president also said that government subsidies for the energy sector must be cut.


Five dead at restaurant shooting in Kenya

At least five people have been killed by militants in a restaurant in Kenya. Officials say three others were wounded by a gunmen suspected to belong to Somalia's al-Qaida-linked rebels. The dead in the Dune restaurant in Garissa town include a senior prison warden. Kenya has endured a series of explosive attacks since it sent troops to Somalia to fight the al-Shabab rebels.