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24 January, 2013


Yemen confirms Al-Qaeda's regional No. 2 killed

­Yemen's Supreme National Security Council said Thursday that Saudi national Said Al-Shihri had been killed in a November 2012 counter-terrorism operation in the country's Saada province. Though Al-Shahri's death was first reported on Tuesday, he was often the subject of assassination rumors, and his death went unconfirmed until Thursday. After his 2007 release from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp he disappeared, later surfacing as a top official within Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the faction the US calls the most active in the group's global operation.


Libya denies alleged imminent threat in Benghazi

­A representative from Libya’s Ministry of Interior of Libya has said talk of an alleged imminent terrorism threat in Benghazi is baseless. Germany, Britain and the Netherlands urged their citizens in Benghazi to leave the area. The high level of threat was connected with the French military operation in the Republic of Mali and follows the deaths of dozens of foreigners taken hostage by Islamist extremists in Algeria, according to Britain's Foreign Office. The warnings also come a day after US Secretary of State Clinton testified about the September terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including their ambassador to Libya.


American Mumbai bomber sentenced to 35 years

­A US citizen was sentenced Thursday to 35 years in prison for the role he played in the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. According to the US court, David Coleman Headley undertook meticulous scouting missions ahead of the assault by 10 gunmen on the famous Taj Mahal hotel in what has been dubbed India’s 9/11. The attack was mounted by Pakistani based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, or Army of the Pure. Indian officials have accused Pakistani intelligence of helping to carry out the bombing, an allegation Pakistan denies. The attack highlighted the longstanding tension between India and Pakistan, who have fought three major wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.


Sri Lanka to ban women from being maids following beheading in Saudi Arabia

Sri Lanka announced Thursday that all women under 25 would be banned from traveling abroad to work low-skilled jobs following the beheading of a young nanny in Saudi Arabia. The nanny was only 17-years-old when she was charged with the 2005 smothering of a 4-month old infant in her care. Her execution elicited international condemnation. Colombo added that eventually, all women would be prohibited from traveling abroad to work menial jobs. Nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans currently work abroad, and the $6 billion they send home annually is a primary source of foreign exchange for the country.


Netherlands follows UK in urging citizens to leave Benghazi

The Dutch Foreign Ministry has upgraded its travel warning for the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, saying they have “reason to believe there is a serious threat coming up” against Westerners. The ministry did not elaborate on what the threat might be. The Netherlands has asked some half a dozen citizens currently residing in the city to leave immediately. Earlier in the day the British Foreign Office had urged its citizens to leave the city over a “specific and imminent threat.”


Twitter must identify racist tweet authors – French court

­A French court ruled Thursday that Twitter must help police to identify the authors of racist or anti-Semitic tweets. The ruling follows a legal complaint lodged last October by France’s Union of Jewish Students that racist tweets had breached French law.  The union had been pressing Twitter to exercise greater control of what was allowed on the site after a string of anti-Semitic tweets, although Twitter later removed the offensive messages. Last October Twitter suspended the accounts of a neo-Nazi group in Germany following a request from the German government.


Revolts in Libya, Syria exacted tragic toll in Algeria – Putin

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that revolts in Syria and Libya had unleashed instability in the Middle East and Africa. Upheaval in Libya, accompanied by the uncontrolled spread of weapons, contributed to the deterioration of the situation in Mali, he said while accepting credentials from new ambassadors. “The tragic consequences of these events led to a terrorist attack in Algeria which took the lives of civilians, including foreigners,” he said, as cited by Itar-Tass. Russia calls for settling the existing problems “by political and diplomatic means based on full respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity and equality of all states,” the president said.


Islamists, critics of govt win quarter of seats in Jordan parliament

Islamists and other government critics won around a quarter of the seats in Jordan’s parliament, initial results showed Thursday. Loyalists of King Abdullah II will remain in control of the new legislature, claiming a majority of the 150 seats in Wednesday’s parliamentary election. Islamist and other opposition figures won at least 37 seats. The Independent Electoral Commission said 18 opposition Islamists will become MPs. They took part in the election as independents. The Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the polls.


Azeri police break up protesters demanding local head's resignation

Azeri police used teargas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding a local leader’s resignation on Thursday. Angry crowds also torched cars and a hotel during a night of rioting, Reuters reported. The rioting allegedly began after a hotel owner drove his car into an electricity pole and got into a fight with another driver. Dozens of people were then sucked into the brawl, and about 3,000 went to the driver's hotel, set fire to it and torched cars in the courtyard. They also moved to the home of regional Governor Nizami Alekperov's son, setting ablaze a car and two motorcycles there. Protesters and police were injured and reinforcements were brought in from outside the town to help restore order, police said.


World Bank approves $500mn loan for Tunisia

The World Bank has approved a US$500 million loan to Tunisia to support its 2013 budget and help its economy, Riadh Bettaib, minister of investment and international cooperation, said. The new loan follows another of the same amount last November. The loans are meant to support economic recovery by providing funds to improve the business and financial sectors and reform social services, Reuters reported. Increasing numbers of Tunisians are staging street protests to demand jobs and economic development two years after the first Arab Spring uprising that ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.


Abbas to invite Israeli lawmakers to talk peace – official

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will invite Israeli lawmakers to the West Bank for talks as Israel is forming a new government after the elections, a senior Palestinian official said. Abbas will invite all Israeli parties, “particularly the new ones,” for dialogue on future accords, Abed Rabbo said. The Palestinians are trying to capitalize on the unexpected strength of moderates in Israel's incoming parliament. It is not clear when the invitations will go out. Rabbo said the Palestinians have not dropped their demand that Israel halt all settlement construction before they return to talks.


UK urges nationals to leave Libya's Benghazi due to ‘imminent’ threat

Britain on Thursday urged British nationals to evacuate from the Libyan city of Benghazi due to a threat. “We are now aware of a specific and imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi,” the Foreign Office said in a statement. It urged “any British nationals who remain there against our advice to leave immediately.”


Egyptian police teargas Cairo protesters

Riot police in Cairo fired teargas during clashes with dozens of protesters who were trying to tear down a cement wall built to prevent demonstrators from reaching parliament and the cabinet building, according to witnesses. The clashes came Thursday on eve of the second anniversary of Egypt's January 25 uprising, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Opposition groups called on Egyptians to mark Friday's anniversary with mass demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in front of the presidential palace. Many secular and liberal Egyptians accuse the ruling Muslim Brotherhood of trying to monopolize power.


UK fines Sony over PlayStation cyber attack

British regulators have fined Sony 250,000 pounds (US$396,100) for failing to prevent a 2011 cyber attack on its PlayStation Network. The attack put millions of users' personal information at risk. Security measures in place at the time “were simply not good enough,” Britain's Information Commissioner's Office said Thursday. The attack could have been prevented if software had been up to date, while passwords were also not secure, the regulators added.


Some Jordan Islamists win seats in parliament as independents

About three dozen Islamists and government critics who ran as independents have won seats in Jordan's newly-empowered parliament despite a boycott by the Muslim Brotherhood. Initial results show that at least eight well-known independent Islamists won seats. They are not members of the Brotherhood, which boycotted the polls in protest against an election law. About a dozen leftists affiliated with pan-Arab nationalist groups also won seats. Some businessmen and professionals from various fields elected to the parliament are considered critics of the government.


Kuwait invasion fund pays out another $1.3bn

The UN panel that settles claims for damages from victims of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait has paid out another US$1.3 billion. This brings the total so far to $40.1 billion. The identities of the claimants were not disclosed. The UN Compensation Commission said Thursday the money goes toward settling two claims for damages to Kuwait's oil fields, as well as production and sales losses. The Geneva-based commission was established by the UN Security Council in 1991. It is funded by a 5 per cent tax on the export of Iraqi oil and has approved $52.4 billion in total compensation to more than 100 governments and international organizations. Payments are made every three months.


Kadyrov says 11 gunmen killed in Chechen mountains

Eleven gunmen have been killed during a special operation in the mountainous area of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Chechnya, its head Ramzan Kadyrov said Thursday. Among those killed are brothers Muslim and Khusein Gagaev, known as commanders of illegal armed groups, Kadyrov told reporters. Two gunbattles between law enforcement agencies and gunmen took place in the villages Elistanzhi and Khatuni in mountainous area of the republic’s Vedensky District.


Taiwan, Japan vessels in water cannon duel over Taiwanese activists’ boat

A boat with Taiwanese activists headed for disputed Japanese-controlled islands turned back Thursday after the two sides’ coastguard vessels dueled with water cannon. The boat, carrying seven people including four Taiwanese activists, abandoned a plan to land on the East China Sea islands. It had been blocked by Japanese coastguard vessels as it sailed within 17 nautical miles of its intended destination, AFP reported. “We fired water cannon at each other,” Taiwanese coastguard spokesman Shih Yi-che said. Japan’s coastguard said in a statement that its patrol boat “carried out restrictions on the vessel such as blocking its path and discharging water.”


Spain unemployment rate over 26%

Spain's unemployment rate surged to 26.02 per cent in the final quarter of 2012, the National Statistics Institute said Thursday. This is the highest level in the nation's modern history. The jobless rate was up from 25.02 per cent in the previous quarter. The number of unemployed climbed by 187,300 people to 5.97 million, AFP said.


Japan to ditch ambitious target for emissions cut

Tokyo is likely to abandon a pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by a quarter, the top government spokesman said Thursday. The government is “moving in that direction in principle,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. “It is a tremendous target and would be impossible to achieve,” the official added. Then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made the pledge in 2009, following a victory by the Democratic Party of Japan. The pledge was lauded by environmentalists as one of the most ambitious of any industrialized country.


Pakistan holds 700 over terror links without charges

Pakistan on Thursday disclosed for the first time that security agencies are holding at least 700 people indefinitely without trial in connection with the ‘War on Terror’. Attorney General Irfan Qadir told the Supreme Court the suspects were arrested in the semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt, where the fighting against Islamist militants has been continuing for around a decade, AFP reported. None of the suspects could be freed until the end of operations in the tribal belt, Qadir said. It is not clear how long they have been in custody. Pakistan's top court is investigating the fate of seven suspects who have been held without trial since 2007. A judge ordered their release in May 2010.


Mexico frees Frenchwoman after 7 years’ jail in kidnapping case

A Frenchwoman who had spent seven years in prison in Mexico on kidnapping charges was flying back to Paris on Thursday after Mexico's Supreme Court ordered her freed. The court said there had been flaws in her trial. Florence Cassez, 38, was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to a 60-year prison term for helping her Mexican then-boyfriend run a kidnapping gang. The family and supporters said she was innocent, while relatives of kidnap victims and activists in Mexico angrily opposed the Wednesday decision to free her. The case had strained relations between France and Mexico.


US Navy minesweeper taking on water on Philippines reef

A US Navy minesweeper that ran aground on a Philippines reef is damaged and taking on water, a Navy official said Thursday. The USS Guardian will have to be lifted off the rocks in an operation that could last another week or two. Before the ship can be removed from the Tubbataha Reef, about 56,000 liters of fuel will be siphoned off to avoid spills, said Rear Adm. Thomas Carney, commander of the Navy's Logistics Group in the Western Pacific. The ship, which is based in Japan, crashed into the reef on January 17 while on its way to Indonesia. After the ship is removed, the damage to the reef will be assessed as Manila said it would fine the US Navy.


Russian may face 95 years in prison for creating Gozy virus

US Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York has announced an indictment charging three men who have allegedly developed the Gozy virus and used it to steal personal bank account data. Nikita Kuzmin, 25, a Russian who is the alleged creator of the virus, was arrested in the US in November 2010 and pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the investigation the next year. He could face up to 95 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Latvian Deniss Calovskis, 27, and Romanian Mihai Paunescu, 28, were arrested in late 2012, and face extradition to the US. The Gozy virus has reportedly infected more than a million computers around the world, and targeted more than 40,000 computers, including some at NASA.


Former Egyptian presidential candidate calls on protesters to push for elections

Ex-presidential runner Ahmed Shafiq encouraged Egyptian demonstrators to demand early presidential elections. Shafiq, who won about 48 per cent of the Egyptian vote back in the June elections, claimed that the ballots were rigged. He served under the former ousted President Hosni Mubarak as aviation minister.


Indiana Facebook ban for sex offenders encroaches on freedom of speech

A blanket ban on Facebook and other social networking sites for known sex offenders has been overturned in an Indiana court. The 7th US Circuit of Appeals said that the court was justified for trying to protect children, but the ban encroached upon freedom of speech and was as such unconstitutional. US District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, who approved the ban in June, said social networking sites create a "virtual playground for sexual predators to lurk."


Former Hussein deputy to ask Pope for call for expedited execution

­Tariq Aziz, who served as Saddam Hussein's deputy premier and was a close friend of the Iraqi leader, is now on death row in a western Baghdad prison. Ill and suffering from depression, the Catholic Aziz's lawyer says he plans to ask the Pope to call for his execution in order to expedite the process. Though he does not claim to be facing mistreatment in prison, Aziz is reported to simply want an end to his "misery."  Aziz was sentenced to death after being convicted of "deliberate murder and crimes against humanity" in October 2010. The Vatican has previously called on Baghdad to give Aziz, who suffers from diabetes, heart problems and ulcers, clemency.


Allen up for top NATO spot after being cleared in investigation

­White House officials said General John R. Allen would be nominated as the top NATO commander Wednesday after an investigation into his relationship with a Florida socialite cleared him of wrongdoing. Washington had put the nomination on hold since the discovery of emails between Allen and the woman in the course of the investigation that caused CIA director David Petraeus to resign. “The DoD’s investigator general’s investigation of that matter is now complete and we welcome its findings,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. Allen is currently the top US commander in Afghanistan, and the Department of Defense is reported to have a successor for him lined up to start work in a matter of weeks if necessary.