The Director of the US Secret Service will retire this month, according to a spokesperson for the agency which provides personal protection for the President and VIP officials. Mark Sullivan has been with the agency for 30 years and in charge since 2006. Last year the image of the Secret Service was severely tarnished when the President’s protection detail became embroiled in a scandal involving prostitutes in Colombia.
Hillary Clinton has stepped down as the US Secretary of State. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who resigned his seat after his confirmation earlier this week, has been sworn in a private ceremony. Kerry officially begins his duties Monday. Clinton in her farewell address to employees said she was looking forward to the next chapter in her life. There is a widespread speculation that she will be a candidate in the presidential elections in 2016.
At least six people have been killed in Pakistan by mortar shells fired from the neighboring Afghanistan, local media reports. It is unclear who fired around 30 shells which landed in the Angoor Ada area of South Waziristan, Pakistan's tribal region. Official sources have not revealed the identity of the victims.
Internet giant Google has agreed to set up a fund worth up to 60-million euros to facilitate adjustment to digital technology by the old media. After two months of mediation with French news sites, the agreement signed with François Hollande will help French media develop online projects. Previously, Paris threatened to introduce legislation if Google did not reach a settlement after France announced plans to charge Google for linking to French news content.
Armenian presidential candidate, Paruyr Hayrikyan, has appealed to the country’s Constitutional Court to postpone presidential election for two weeks. He made his intentions known while giving an interview to national TV from his hospital bed. Hayrikyan was wounded in an assassination attempt on January 31. According to Armenia’s Constitution, if a presidential candidate faces insurmountable obstacles, the presidential election will be postponed for a two week period. If obstacles recognized as insurmountable remain, voting will take place on the 40th day after the two week period expires.
An Alaska Airlines en route to Seattle from Los Angeles was forced to make an emergency landing in Portland on Thursday night after the pilot lost consciousness, an airline spokesman said. The co-pilot landed the Boeing 737-700, which had 116 passengers and five crewmembers on board, without incident. The pilot regained consciousness while on the flight and left the cockpit to receive treatment from a doctor who was on board. There is no immediate word on his condition.
As suicide bomber killed 22 people on Friday, revised from 19 dead in earlier reports, including two police officers, at a market outside two mosques in the town of Hangu in Pakistan’s unstable northwest region, officials said. A further 48 people were wounded in the attack, which targeted both Shi’ite and Sunni mosques. District police chief Muhammad Saeed said the attack was aimed at Shi’ites and that the Sunni Muslims were unintended victims. Hangu is part of Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan and has been torn apart by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’ite tribes whose mosques and homes are often next door to each other.
At least five people, believed to be Lebanese soldiers, have been killed in clashes on the Syria-Lebanon border. The soldiers were killed in a firefight with militants who are thought to belong to the Free Syrian Army. The shooting erupted in the Beqaa town of Aarsal. Several residents near the scene said a firefight broke out between gunmen and the army. A Lebanese army spokesperson confirmed a security incident had occurred near the border, but did not give any further details, AFP reported.
Greek dock workers extended their 48-hour strike for a further two days on Friday, leaving ferries tied up in port over the weekend. The strike comes a day after hospital doctors and public transport workers in Athens walked off the job for 24 hours. The Greek islands have been without ferry service since Thursday. Unions have said the latest wave of austerity measures tied to bailout funds will lead to a further 25 percent income cut for many workers. The main unions have also announced a nationwide general strike for February 20.
Tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims rallied against Shiite Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki after Friday prayers. Unrest erupted in late December over reported abuses and discrimination against the Sunni minority population. Maliki earlier appointed a senior Shiite figure to negotiate with demonstrators about their demands, such as an amnesty law and the easing of a campaign against former members of the outlawed Baath party, Reuters said. Sunni unrest continues in Iraq as Baghdad is at loggerheads with the autonomous Kurdistan region over oil and land rights.
Russian aviation watchdog Rosaviatsia plans to suspend the license of the Red Wings airline following a plane crash on December 29, RIA Novosti said Friday, citing industry sources. A Tu-204 passenger plane crashed after its reverse thrust system failed to activate properly when it overshot a runway at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, killing five people and injuring three. The license could be suspended starting February 4. Rosaviatsia, which has the authority to withdraw air worthiness certificates, has not commented on the reports.
Moscow has dismissed reports that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would meet on Saturday with a Syrian opposition leader and senior US and UN officials. “As it stands today, there is no such meeting mentioned in the program of the Russian Foreign Minister,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter. Syrian National Coalition sources said earlier that its president, Moaz al-Khatib, will meet with Lavrov, US Vice President Joe Biden and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the sidelines of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Munich, Germany, on Saturday.
The political leader of the Tibetan exiles accused China on Friday of holding “sham” trials in which eight Tibetans were convicted of inciting others to set themselves on fire. Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said the convictions reported Thursday by Chinese media were unfortunate, because "repression is the cause" of the self-immolations. About 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule, with more than 80 of them dying from their burns, overseas Tibetan rights groups said.
Israeli warplanes have flown over southern Lebanon, a Lebanese security official said. The flights were seen heading from southern Lebanon toward the eastern Bekaa Valley that borders Syria, the AP reported. Israel has not commented on the action. Friday's flights came two days after officials said that Israel launched an airstrike inside Syria targeting a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah. The Syrian military has denied the existence of a weapons convoy, and said the Israeli jets bombed a scientific research center.
One of the two jailed members of notorious punk band Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, has been taken to hospital for examination upon a request by her lawyer, a spokesperson for the Russian prison service said. She did not comment on the details of the tests, calling it “confidential information.” Meanwhile, her lawyer says Tolokonnikova is being examined for persistent headaches. In August, three Pussy Riot members were each sentenced to two years in prison for staging a controversial ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral. Tolokonnikova is serving her term at a prison camp in Central Russia’s Mordovia region.
French President Francois Hollande will visit Mali on Saturday, his office said in a statement on Friday. He will be accompanied by the French ministers of defense, foreign affairs and development, the office said. Media reports earlier said that Hollande was expected to travel to Mali on Friday night. France has sent troops to the former West African colony as part of an effort to stop an advance by Islamist rebels.
A suicide bombing at a crowded market outside a mosque in Pakistan’s restive northwestern town of Hangu on Friday killed 19 Muslims, most of whom were Sunni, and wounded 45 others. “Most of the dead were coming out of a mosque in the marketplace after Friday prayers when the bomb went off,” Reuters quoted senior police officer Imtiaz Shah as saying. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Hangu, part of Pakistan's border region with Afghanistan, is a few kilometers from Parachinar, which has a significant Shiite population.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday he saw no role for the Western defense alliance in Mali. “NATO as such is not engaged in the Mali operation and I don't see a role for NATO as such in Mali,” AFP quoted Rasmussen as saying during a visit to Lithuania's capital Vilnius. The UN Security Council has decided that there should be an African-led stabilization force, he added. Rasmussen also commended NATO member-state France “for having taken swift and also effective action” in Mali, and individual NATO allies for supporting Paris in its mission.
China's Geely Automobile Holdings has bought Manganese Bronze, the maker of London's iconic black taxi, for 11 million pounds ($17.5 million). The deal was signed with firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was appointed administrator of the British business last October, Reuters reported. Geely, which was the company's biggest single creditor, said Friday it would continue to assemble the TX4 model at Manganese Bronze's plant in Coventry.
A four-way meeting between senior officials from the US, Russia, the UN and the Syrian opposition is scheduled to take place in Munich on Saturday. Political transition in Syria will be discussed, Reuters said. Syrian National Coalition President Moaz al-Khatib will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Vice President Joe Biden and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syrian Coalition officials said on Friday. The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the Conference of Security and Cooperation in Europe. Al-Khatib reportedly survived a leadership challenge after he said that he was ready to talk with Syrian officials without President Bashar Assad stepping down first.
Exxon Mobil and officials from Iraqi Kurdistan have visited an oil exploration block caught in a dispute between Baghdad's central government and the autonomous Kurdish region. The officials discussed building a camp there as Exxon weighs whether to stay or pull out of its huge West Qurna oilfield in southern Iraq or maintain its fields in Kurdistan, Reuters reported. Iraqi and Kurdish officials both want Exxon to side with them. Local Kurdish mayor Avesta Sheikh Mohammed said the Kurdistan regional government “has all the right to sign oil deals to develop energy resources.”
Bangladesh has dropped plans to seek World Bank funding for a planned bridge over the Padma River. The bank earlier withheld assistance until Bangladesh completed an investigation into allegations of high-level corruption among officials involved in the project. Last year, the World Bank cancelled $1.2 billion in credit for the 6.2-kilometer bridge, Reuters reported. The bridge was supposed to be the country's longest water crossing.
The Australian government has pledged to stop coal port or shipping developments that would cause damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Canberra responded to a Friday deadline amid UN warnings that the reef's conservation status could be downgraded, Reuters reported. UNESCO warned last June that the World Heritage Site could be listed as “in danger” if there was no evidence of progress by February 1 on protecting the reef. The threats also include climate change and the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. “The Great Barrier Reef is an iconic Australian environmental asset, the government is absolutely committed to the protection of the reef and our oceans,” Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said.
A bridge collapsed in central China on Friday, killing at least 26 people, media reports said. The incident happened after a truck carrying fireworks exploded as it crossed an expressway bridge in the province of Henan, causing sections of the span to collapse and sending other vehicles plunging to the ground. An 80-meter-long section of the bridge collapsed and six vehicles were retrieved from the debris, Xinhua news agency reported. The bridge was on the G30 expressway, the longest road in China, which stretches for nearly 4,400 kilometers from China's west to the eastern Yellow Sea.