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25 January, 2013


Woman killed in Moscow as Europe’s tallest apartment building catches fire

­Moscow’s 45-storey Triumph-Palace, Europe’s tallest apartment building, caught fire on Friday evening. One woman was killed in the 15th floor blaze, which took about an hour to extinguish. Rescue crews at the scene also evacuated 12 people.  It is the second Moscow skyscraper to catch fire on Friday, the first being in Moscow-city, the capital's business hub.


British spy plane joins Mali operation

A Royal Air Force surveillance aircraft has been deployed to aid the French military mission in Mali, the UK Ministry of Defense said. The Sentinel comes in addition to two C17 transport aircraft which have already been sent to the region at the behest of Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron has maintained that the UK will not dispatch ground troops to the West African state.


Dreamliner Battery fire may have been caused by short circuit – NTSB

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators say the damaged battery showed signs of short-circuiting and a chemical chain reaction known as thermal runaway. Investigators added that it was not yet clear what had caused the chain reaction. There have been various fire incidents involving batteries on Dreamliners. The Federal Aviation Authority grounded all 787 Dreamliners in the US on January 16th with authorities in Europe and elsewhere quickly following suit. The NTSB added that all Dreamliners would be grounded for months “not weeks”.


French-led Mali troops retake northern Islamist Hombori town

French-led Malian soldiers have recaptured the northern town of Hombori which leads to the Islamist stronghold of Gao. Malian and French soldiers entered Hombori, and there are no longer any Islamists on the ground, AFP said, citing local witnesses. The town is about 920km north of the capital, Bamako, and some 200km west of Gao. Hombori had for more than nine months been under the control of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. Two Frenchmen were kidnapped in Hombori in November last year and are still in captivity.


Australia joins European states in Benghazi threat alert

Australia’s department of foreign affairs warned Friday it was aware of a “specific, imminent threat to Westerners in Benghazi.” It also urged all Australians in Benghazi to leave immediately, joining Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, which also earlier issued threat alerts. “There is a risk of retaliatory attacks against Western targets in Libya following the French intervention in the conflict in Mali in January 2013,” AFP said, quoting the department’s statement. A similar British warning Thursday sparked an angry response from Libya’s government. It insisted there was “no new intelligence” to justify such concerns in the eastern city.


Armstrong panel considers amnesty for witnesses

The first public hearing into the Lance Armstrong doping conspiracy started Friday, with a three-person panel complaining about the lack of disclosure of documents by the sport's governing body. The independent panel was set up by the Union Cycliste Internationale, UCI, to investigate accusations that its leaders covered up suspicious doping tests given by Armstrong. But Ian Mill, representing the UCI, said the "process has been derailed" because the panel is demanding a truth-and-reconciliation process and amnesty to encourage witnesses to come forward with doping information without fear of retribution. The panel may not hold its first full hearing until later in 2013.


UN urges Syria's neighbors to keep borders open to refugees

The UN on Friday urged states neighboring Syria to keep open their borders to civilians fleeing the conflict. More than 30,000 Syrians have arrived in Jordan's main Zaatri camp this year, including 4,400 on Thursday and another 2,000 overnight, Reuters reported. Jordan’s officials said this week the country would keep its borders open but wanted other countries to help them. The Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warns that a further 30,000 Syrians could be preparing to head to Jordan. Across the region, 678,540 Syrian refugees had registered or were being processed as of Tuesday.


Mittal workers clash with Belgian police at PM's quarters

Belgian police fired water cannon and pepper spray Friday at ArcelorMittal steelworkers protesting outside Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo's official residence. Several hundred workers are angered by the steel giant's decision to close a string of Belgian plants and make 1,300 workers redundant. They hurled firecrackers, rocks and bottles at officers, AFP reported. Federal and regional politicians were meeting with unions seeking solutions to save jobs. Union representative Egedio di Pansilo called for the facilities to be nationalized.


Somalia’s al Shabaab says enemies closed its Twitter account

Al Shabaab has said its enemies had closed the Somali militant group’s Twitter account. It has thousands of followers, but was offline on Friday, Reuters reported. On Wednesday, the Al-Qaeda-linked rebels used the social media site to threaten to kill several Kenyan hostages and on January 17 announced the execution of a captive French agent. Al Shabaab wants to impose their strict version of sharia law across Somalia.


Seoul detains Korean American for $1bn transfer fraud in Iranian money

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office has detained and charged a Korean American with the illegal transfer of 1.09 trillion won (US$1.02 billion) in Iranian money frozen in South Korea under international sanctions. A 73-year-old man, identified by his family name, Chung, was suspected of making fraudulent transfers in 2011 from the Iranian central bank's won-denominated account at a South Korean bank by using fake invoices for payment, Reuters reported. It was not clear whether this was an attempt to break sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear program, or just a very large criminal scam.


Davos protesters attack Credit Suisse branch, Glencore CEO's house

An organization protesting against the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos has claimed responsibility for explosions that broke a window at a Zurich branch of Credit Suisse. The group also blew up the postbox of the boss of commodity trader Glencore, police said on Friday. Credit Suisse confirmed that a security window of its branch in the upmarket residential area of Hottingen had been shattered, Reuters reported. A Glencore spokesperson also confirmed that an incident took place on the property of CEO Ivan Glasenberg. No one was injured in either attack. The group said it had targeted Credit Suisse and Glasenberg due to their connections to the WEF.


Nigeria sectarian clashes kill at least 9

At least nine people have been killed in sectarian clashes in central Nigeria, the military said on Friday. Fighting broke out between the Muslim Fulani and mainly Christian Tarok groups, who often compete for fertile pastures in the Wadata region of Plateau state. “Nine people were killed in a clash between the Fulani and the Tarok people,” military spokesman Ibrahim Mustapha told Reuters. Local residents claim more people were killed. In early 2010, around 400 people were killed in a week of sectarian and ethnic bloodshed in Plateau. Unrest usually breaks out in the region over land and power between local people and migrants.


Islamists in Mali blow up strategic bridge leading to Niger

Islamist militants have exploded a strategic bridge near the Niger border on the road to Gao, sources said Friday. The town is in northern Mali, occupied by extremists. “The Islamists dynamited the Tassiga Bridge,” AFP said, citing witnesses. They say “no one can pass to Niger or come to Gao.” A security source from neighboring Niger confirmed the bridge's destruction.


More than 70% of French polled say Islam is ‘intolerant’ religion

A poll conducted by Ipsos for Le Mond newspaper has shown that 74% of the French surveyed believe that Islam is an ‘intolerant’ religion and is incompatible with the values of French society. The survey ‘France 2013: New Contradictions’ also said that eight out of 10 French people think that the Muslim religion seeks ‘to impose its way of life on others’. Among those polled, 24 per cent described the Catholic faith as the most tolerant, about 13 per cent said Judaism and 7 per cent Islam.


Iraqi police clash with Sunni protesters, injure 9

Thousands of Sunni activists, protesting against Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, clashed with police, injuring nine in the western province of Anbar. Officers began firing rounds into the air after protesters pelted them with stones. Demonstrators also reportedly tried to block a main highway.


India says 35-year jail term mild for Mumbai plotter

India's foreign minister said Friday that the US planner of the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks should have got a harsher sentence than 35 years in prison. David Headley, 52, admitted to scouting targets for the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people died and cooperated with US authorities to avoid the death penalty during his sentencing in Chicago on Thursday. “If we had tried him, we would have sought much more,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said. US prosecutors agreed not to extradite Headley in exchange for his cooperation after his 2009 arrest in Chicago. Last November, India executed 25-year-old Pakistani-born Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from the Mumbai rampage.


IMF chief Lagarde denies wrongdoing in Tapie compensation probe

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde denied any wrongdoing on Friday in her handling of a 2008 compensation payment to a businessman supporter of France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy. Police are investigating claims that when she was finance minister under Sarkozy, Lagarde acted illegally in approving the 285 million euro (US$381 million) arbitration payout to Bernard Tapie. Tapie's home was raided on Thursday, along with that of France Telecom chief executive Stephane Richard, Lagarde's former chief of staff, Reuters said. The arbitration was “the best solution at the time,” Lagarde told France 2 television. “I believe I made the right choice. There is nothing new in the case.”


Syria calls on citizens who fled country to return home

Syria's government has called on hundreds of thousands of citizens who fled the country during the civil war to come home. The government will help citizens return, whether they left “legally or illegally,” state-run SANA news agency said late Thursday. Syrian opposition figures who want to take part in reconciliation talks will also be allowed back, the statement said. More than half a million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries during the 22-month civil war, including opposition activists and army defectors.


Ukraine, Shell ink $10bn shale gas agreement

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser have signed a shale gas production sharing agreement. The deal was signed on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday. Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavitsky put the value of the deal at US$10 billion. According to some estimates, the eastern Donetsk location may hold 3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas - enough to last the nation of 46 million people 70 years at current consumption rates, AFP reported. Ukraine, alongside France and Poland, may hold some of Europe's largest shale rock deposits.


Afghan suicide bomber misses NATO convoy, kills 5 civilians

A suicide car bomber killed five civilians and wounded another 25 Friday in a botched attempt to hit a convoy of NATO supply trucks in eastern Afghanistan. The bomber missed the convoy, which suffered no damage, Gen. Faziluddin Ayar said. The attack took place in the Tagab district of the Kapisa province. According to the Ministry of Interior, the bomber rammed into a residential home, killing those inside. Four of the dead were from the same family. The Taliban claimed responsibility in a text message sent to media outlets.


Austrian police arrest 10 suspected neo-Nazi gang members

Police in Austria have arrested 10 suspected members of a neo-Nazi crime gang accused of arson attacks, weapons and drugs dealing, illegal prostitution and assault. The gang maintained a reign of terror for years over red light districts in Upper Austria, costing businesses at least 3.5 million euro (US$4.6 million), police said Thursday. Some leaders of the gang, which called itself “Objekt 21,” were known to police as neo-Nazis, Reuters reported. The gang is also suspected of the kidnapping and abuse of a brothel manager and an arson attack on a sauna club in Vienna.


Greek police break up Athens subway workers’ sit-in

Greek riot police dispersed striking staff, storming a subway train depot in Athens early on Friday. The workers defied a government order to return to work for a ninth consecutive day. Police forced their way through a metal gate shortly after 4am (02:00 GMT) and detained at least 10 workers, Reuters said, citing police officials. One woman was reportedly taken to hospital with light injuries. The subway workers staged a week-long walkout to oppose being included in a unified wage scheme for public sector workers that would slash their salaries.