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18 January, 2013


Canada puts Norwegian maple leaf on banknotes

­Canada’s new banknotes feature a Norwegian maple leaf instead of a native one, botanists have declared. The three notes feature a leaf that has a more pointed outline and has more sections than Canada’s own sugar maple leaf. The Bank of Canada says the "stylised" leaf was designed with the help of a botanist and, moreover, the Norwegian tree is almost native to Canada.


Egyptian police teargas protesters demanding justice over rape of 6yo girl

­Police in Egypt have used tear gas to quell Muslim protesters demanding the investigation of a Christian who allegedly sexually assaulted a six year old girl. Police resorted to force as a crowd threw stones at a local church. Four Christian owned shops were also set on fire after villagers of Marashda in Qena province accused one of the store owners of assaulting the girl. Relations between Coptic Christian and Muslim community have deteriorated following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak and the weakening of security across the country.


House Republicans will vote on debt ceiling if budget is agreed

­Republicans have agreed to vote on raising the debt ceiling for three months, with the condition that both the Senate and Congress adopt the budget by April 15. The vote is to take place next week. Congress needs to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling by early March at the latest; otherwise the US will not be able to meet its obligations to creditors. If they fail to agree to make the necessary changes the government will run out of money.


Police detain two for questioning in killing of Kurdish activists – report

French police have detained two people for questioning about the killing of three female Kurdish activists, according to Al Arabiya English. The women were shot dead in Paris on January 10. One of the women, Sakine Casiz, was co-founder of the PPK separatist movement.


29 children die in US winter flu outbreak

A bout of winter influenza in the US has left 29 children dead, said a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The investigation also noted that high influenza activity had been registered in forty-eight states. Roughly 100 children die every winter of a flu-related illness in the US.


Chinese newspaper’s chief editor sacked following anti-propaganda mass strike

­Chinese weekly newspaper the Southern Weekend has replaced Editor-In-Chief Huang Can and issued an apology to its readers following a strike by the paper’s journalists. Popular deputy Editor Wang Genghui took over Huang’s position, the Australian newspaper said. A mass strike for press freedom took place in China after a piece critical of the government was replaced with an editorial that highlighted the Communist Party's achievements in the past few years. Huang was suspected of approving the decision, despite knowing that the paper's original editorial had been replaced with the propaganda piece.


Pakistan to release all Afghan Taliban prisoners

Pakistan plans to release all Afghan Taliban prisoners, an official said on Friday. “The remaining detainees… will be released subsequently,” Reuters quoted Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani as saying. The group's former second-in-command Mullah Baradar could be among those freed, as “the aim is to release all,” Jilani said.


Pope's former butler to work in Vatican hospital – reports

Former papal butler Paolo Gabriele, who was jailed for leaking secret papers, has been offered a job at a Vatican hospital in Rome, religious media sources said. Gabriele served less than three months of an 18-month prison sentence for stealing secret papal memos before being pardoned by Pope Benedict XVI in December. Gabriele was banished from the Vatican, but is now being offered a job at the Vatican's ‘Bambino Gesu’ hospital in Rome, AFP said. It is not clear what his role there would be.


Gunmen attack Lebanese minister’s convoy

Gunmen reportedly ambushed the convoy of a Lebanese government minister in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday, wounding at least three people. Minister of Sports and Youth Faisal Karami appeared to be unhurt, Reuters said, citing medics. One of the convoy's patrol cars was set ablaze following a grenade attack on Azmi Street. The attack coincided with a weekly protest demanding the release of several Islamists detained in Lebanese prisons. Tripoli is a stronghold for Sunni Islamists in northern Lebanon.


European Commission warns Swiss on tax practices

Switzerland has six months to improve its tax practices or it will be put on the European Commission’s blacklist, European Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Algirdas Semeta said. The Commission had demanded that Switzerland agree to an automatic exchange of information, similar to the FATCA law it has signed with the US. If no measures are taken by July, EU countries will be able to impose defensive sanctions against Swiss banks, Semeta told Le Temps. Switzerland has so far opposed such an agreement with the EU.


Bank of Italy slashes economic forecast

The Bank of Italy slashed its forecast for the country's economy on Friday. The central bank now expects the gross domestic product to slump by 1 percent this year rather than the 0.2 percent contraction it forecast in July, Reuters reported. The recession that started in the first quarter of 2011 will extend well into 2013, the bank said. The economy is believed to have contracted by 2.1 percent in 2012, and only a modest and uncertain revival is forecast for the second half of this year, and growth of just 0.7 percent in 2014.


Myanmar's Suu Kyi defends donations from businessmen close to former junta

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday defended her party's controversial decision to accept donations for its education fund from businessmen close to the former junta. “Let them donate if they donate for good things,” Suu Kyi, a lower house lawmaker, told AFP. The donors at a party fundraising concert in December for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) included Air Bagan and Asia Green Development Bank. Both are owned by prominent tycoon Tay Za, once described by the US Treasury as “a notorious regime henchman and arms dealer.”


Zimbabwe reaches consensus on constitution after 2-year delay

­The political leaders of Zimbabwe have finally reached a consensus after more than two years of argument over the ways in which limits should be imposed on President Robert Mugabe’s powers. Although details have not yet been released, a ‘draft’ has been finalized, which will then be debated in the Harare parliament for approximately a month of sittings. The Crisis Coalition suggested that a referendum on the document could be held as early as April, providing there are no further obstacles.


Nigeria makes first troop deployment in Mali

About 100 Nigerian soldiers left for Mali Thursday from Kaduna airport, the first contingent of the 1,200 troops to take part in the international operation. Speaking at the departure, Nigerian Lt. Gen. Onyeabo Azubike Ihejerika said that Malian Islamist rebels had trained Nigerian Boko Haram terrorists. Boko Haram Islamist extremists have been blamed for attacks that killed more than 780 people in Nigeria last year.


Russian Navy starts dock trial of Vladimir Monomakh missile submarine

Russian submarine-builder Sevmash has begun moored tests of the third Borey-class (Project 955) ballistic missile submarine Vladimir Monomakh. “The fourth-generation missile submarine Vladimir Monomakh has been submerged in the water and started moored tests,” the shipyard said on Friday. Vladimir Monomakh will be the third and last Project 955 boat, armed with 16 Bulava ballistic missiles. The fourth and subsequent boats will be Project 955A vessels with 20 missiles, RIA Novosti said. The fourth boat, Knyaz Vladimir, is under construction.


Most of crew debark US Navy ship stuck on reef in Philippines

Most crewmembers of a US Navy minesweeper struck a coral reef in the Philippines left the ship Friday for safety reasons. The UUS Navy’s 7th Fleet said 72 of the 79 crewmembers of the USS Guardian were transferred to a military support vessel by small boat after initial efforts to free the vessel failed. The ship ran aground Thursday while in transit through the Tubbataha National Marine Park, a coral sanctuary in the Sulu Sea, 640 kilometers southwest of Manila. No injuries or oil leaks were reported. Philippines authorities are evaluating the damage done to the protected coral reef, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


UN expects 400,000 refugees to flee Mali in coming months

Up to 700,000 people are expected to be displaced by the violence in Mali, the UN refugee agency said on Friday. Some 400,000 may also flee to neighboring countries in the coming months, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned. Some 147,000 Malians have already fled to countries including Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Algeria since the crisis began last year, Reuters quoted UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming as saying. That number includes the 2,744 who have fled since French air strikes began a week ago. Aid groups said they could not reach Konna, a key Malian town not far from the capital Bamako, where Islamist militants and French forces battled for a week.


Pakistani officer probing PM corruption case found dead

A Pakistani officer investigating a graft case against Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was found dead in Islamabad Friday. The body of Kamran Faisal was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his room; police said it was likely an act of suicide. The Supreme Court earlier ordered the arrest of the premier in connection with an old corruption case. Ashraf has denied the charges. Faisal and another investigating officer of the National Accountability Bureau, Asghar Ali, reportedly played a key role in the graft probe. They were removed from the investigation weeks ago by bureau chair Fasih Bokhari, who also refused this week to detain the PM.


Sydney temperature hits all-time record high

On Friday, temperatures in Sydney, Australia, hit their highest levels since records began 150 years ago. The temperature smashed the previous hottest temperature, peaking at 45.8 degrees Celsius (114.4 Fahrenheit) in Australia's biggest city, AFP reported. The old record of 45.3 Celsius was set in January 1939. Record highs were also recorded in coastal regions. Australia's all-time record high temperature of 50.7 degrees Celsius was recorded in January 1960 at Oodnadatta in South Australia state.


Gunmen kill Somali radio journalist

An editor of Somalia’s Shabelle radio station said that two unknown gunmen have shot Abdihared Osman Aden, a producer at the station. Aden was killed in the capital Mogadishu, Shabelle editor Mohamed Bashir Hashi said Friday. Eighteen journalists were killed in the country last year. The National Union of Somali Journalists said in November that journalists across the country regularly face harassment, blackmail and arbitrary police detention.


IAEA fails to reach deal with Tehran over nuclear inspections

UN inspectors have failed to reach a deal with Iran on access to sites suspected of prohibited nuclear activities. A further round of talks was scheduled for February 12 in Tehran, Reuters quoted Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as saying Friday. The team of IAEA inspectors was not granted access to the Parchin military site. “Differences remain so we could not finalize the structured approach to resolve the outstanding issues,” Nackaerts said.


Iraqi Kurdistan rejects BP Kirkuk deal

Iraqi Kurdistan has rejected an initial deal between Baghdad and oil giant BP to develop an oilfield in the disputed city of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), led by ethnic Kurds, also defended its oil policy with foreign companies, saying its crude oil trade with Turkey is constitutional, Reuters said. KRG and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad are locked in a dispute over control of oil revenues. The Iraqi Ministry of Oil announced on Thursday a preliminary agreement with BP to revive the giant northern Kirkuk oil field.


Vietnam urges Laos to halt construction of hydropower dam

Vietnam has urged Laos to halt construction of a $3.5-billion hydropower dam pending further review, environmental activists said on Friday. The Xayaburi Dam in northern Laos threatens the livelihoods of tens of millions who depend on the river's resources, activists said. During a meeting of the Mekong River Commission this week, Cambodia, also downriver from the dam, accused Laos of failing to consult other nations about the project, Reuters said. In November, Cambodia approved its own hydroelectric dams, and one of the projects could reduce the fish catch, campaigners warned.


11 dead, 18,000 homeless in severe Indonesia floods

Severe floods have killed at least 11 people in Jakarta and inundated parts of the Indonesian capital. More than 18,000 people were left homeless after unusually heavy monsoon rains led to flooding, Reuters reported. Large areas of the city remained without electricity after state utility PLN cut power. The floodwaters eased on Friday, but authorities warned that the Jakarta’s nearly 10 million residents could soon see more rain.


Athens metro workers on strike against austerity measures

Athens metro workers plan to walk off the job on Friday, following a Thursday strike protesting salary cuts. The metro workers are protesting their inclusion in a unified pay structure for civil servants, and their union has threatened further strike actions. Greek doctors, including those from the private sector, also participated in Thursday’s 24-hour strike. Salaried doctors’ incomes were cut by 40 to 50 percent as part of the Greek government’s austerity policies.


Bolshoi Ballet artistic director Filin suffers acid attack

Sergey Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic airector, has suffered severe burns to his face in an acid attack in Moscow, the theater’s spokesperson said on Friday. A masked assailant threw concentrated acid into his face as Filin, 43, was approaching his home at around midnight on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported. Filin sustained third-degree burns to his face and eyes, and is being treated at a burn center at a hospital in Moscow. He may not recover for at least six months, spokesperson Yekaterina Novikova said. Filin was appointed artistic director in March 2011 amid fierce rivalry for the position. The attack reportedly came after months of intimidation, during which he received threatening phone calls.


Further traces of horsemeat found in Irish burgers, production stopped

­The Republic of Ireland’s second-largest producer of beef patties has suspended operations following the discovery of traces of horsemeat. Food quality officials found nine of 13 tested burgers tested positive for horse DNA. The Irish Agriculture Department has traced the source of the DNA to one imported ingredient from Europe. The supplier involved, Silvercrest Foods, has announced that it will temporarily halt production as a result of the discovery.


Russian ex-defense minister faces criminal probe – report

­Former Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov may face criminal charges for abuse of power, according to Kommersant business daily. The investigation is connected to an alleged incident in 2011 where servicemen’s labor was illegally used for construction work at a private resort owned by Serdyukov’s brother-in-law.


S. Korea stops nuclear reactor due to glitch

­A nuclear reactor in South Korea has been shut down due to a technical glitch, the latest in a series of troubling incidents involving the country's atomic power stations. The Uljin-1 reactor, located 330 km away from the capital, Seoul, was halted due to a concern with the block’s energy system, the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) said in a statement. No radioactive leak was detected and the plant is in stable condition. This is the second time in less than six months that a South Korean reactor has stopped functioning due to problems. The country has has 23 nuclear reactors.


Former Greek FM faces tax evasion probe

The former Greek Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou is to face a parliamentary inquiry into accusations he tampered with the Lagarde list, which revealed the country’s rich and powerful tax evaders. The ex-minister is accused of removing the names of three of his relatives from the list of 2,000 Greeks with substantial deposits with HSBC bank in Switzerland. He has also been accused of not making the necessary inquiries and investigations into the accounts.


Eight dead including children in Mexican plane crash

­At least eight people, including three children, have died after a small plane crashed immediately after takeoff in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The Cessna-made small aircraft dropped to the ground and exploded at Angel Albino Corzo Airport. The plane’s destination was Oaxaca city, capital of the neighboring state of Oaxaca. The airport has suspended its operations as a cloud of smoke following the crash made take off and landing dangerous. Authorities are investigating the cause of the crash.


Washington recognizes Somalia for the first time in 20 years

­Washington has formally recognized the Somali government for the first time in two decades. The recognition took place on Thursday as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud at the State Department. Hassan is Somali’s first permanent president since 1991 and faces the daunting task of rebuilding a nation destroyed by conflict and Islamist insurgencies.