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4 February, 2013


Panetta to testify to the Senate on Benghazi attack

­Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday regarding the September 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack resulted in the deaths of four Americans, and has been a source of pressure from the Republican Party on the Obama administration regarding security. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified on the matter in January. It could be Panetta's last time to give testimony before the Senate, as he will soon leave his post.


Ankara bombing: Turkey knew terrorist attack was being planned

­Turkish authorities knew in advance about the attack on the US Embassy in Ankara, but didn’t have enough information to prevent it, President Abdullah Gul said Monday. The security and intelligence organizations warned everyone and were on alert. The suicide bomber, Ecevit Sanli, who was a member of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, struck the US Embassy on Friday, killing himself and a security guard and seriously injuring a former Turkish TV journalist. The attack was proclaimed as a protest against US policy in the Middle East.


Culture minister of Egypt resigns to protest police violence

­Egypt’s culture minister, Mohammed Saber Arab, has resigned in protest at police abuse of protesters. In one notorious incident, police were filmed dragging and beating a naked activist during a rally against President Mohamed Morsi. The recent upsurge in unrest in Egypt comes on the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution that ousted Mubarak. Dozens have been killed and hundreds injured in eight days of violence.


Greek finance minister receives bullet and death threat

­A bullet in the mail and a death threat were sent to Greece’s finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, by a little-known group called “Cretan Revolution”. It warned the minister against any efforts to foreclose homes and evict homeowners, a police source said.  The finance minister has angered many Greeks by imposing austerity measures that were demanded by the EU and IMF as the price for bailout aid.


Egyptian activist dies after police torture – lawyer

­An Egyptian activist, Mohammed al-Guindi, 28, who slipped into a coma after days spent in police custody died on Monday. Guindi was taken to hospital unconscious and with internal bleeding, according to the health ministry. Guindi’s lawyers accuse police of torturing the activist throughout the detainment period. His death has triggered popular fury and renewed calls for police reform. The man was arrested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the 28-th of January. He was there as part of the protest movement against the Islamic Brotherhood government of President Morsi.


Belgium serial child killer appeals for earlier prison release

­Marc Dutroux, 56, Belgium pedophile serial child killer, appeared in court on Monday, seeking to be released and serve his sentence at home under the supervision of an electronic tag. Marc Dutroux was sentenced in June 2004 to life imprisonment for the kidnap and rape of six girls and the murder of four of those victims. His appeal for release comes three months before he will have completed 16 years in prison as his trial took place seven years after his arrest.


Iranian foreign minister 'optimistic' US changing stance on Tehran

"I feel this new [US] administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous and traditional approach vis-a-vis my country," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told a foreign policy thinktank in Berlin. The minister added that Iran was ready to resume talks on its disputed nuclear program with the US and five other world powers in Kazakhstan on February 25, and insisted that the Islamic Republic had never pulled back from the negotiations. Earlier, US Vice President Joe Biden said at the Munich conference that Washington was ready to hold talks with Iran on its nuclear program "with positive consideration."


S. Sudan fails to withdraw troops from Sudanese border

South Sudan is not withdrawing troops from the border with Sudan to set up a buffer zone as it pledged to do last month, the South Sudanese army said on Monday. The move is seen as a setback to efforts to resume oil exports, as the buffer zone is a pre-condition for Sudan to allow the exports. South Sudanese military spokesperson Philip Aguer told Reuters on Monday that the army had not begun to pull out from the border: “There are no orders to withdraw and I don't think there will be any unless there is an agreement from both governments.” The two states came close to war last April in the worst border clashes since South Sudan seceded in 2011.


Over 20 Asian workers die in UAE bus crash

­At least 22 Asian workers were killed and 24 were injured in a road accident Monday morning in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, Gulf News daily reported. A concrete truck slammed into a bus delivering the laborers to a work area. All of the wounded, who suffered moderate to severe injuries, were taken hospitals in Al Ain and Tawam. Most of the 55 workers on the bus were Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani, Gulf News reported.


Syria does not need Iranian fighters – Tehran

The Syrian government has no need of foreign fighters to quell the ongoing uprising, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Monday. “The army of Syria is big enough, they do not need fighters from outside,” Reuters quoted Salehi as saying in Berlin. He said that Tehran is giving the Syrian government “economic support,” and is sending gasoline and wheat. “We are trying to send electricity to them through Iraq, we have not been successful,” the minister said.


Russia to host 2014 G8 summit in Sochi

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree establishing Sochi as the location of the 2014 G8 summit. The announcement was published by the Kremlin press service on Monday. In 2014, Moscow will preside over the G8. Russia will also host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.


Russia to lift embargo on imports of Georgian wine, mineral water

Moscow agreed in principle on Monday to lift an embargo on imports of wine and mineral water from Georgia. “We have agreed to revive our commercial relations,” Reuters quoted Levan Davitashvili, the head of the Georgian National Wine Agency, as saying following talks with Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's consumer protection service chief. The trade of water and wine could resume in months. The imports were banned seven years ago as political tension mounted between the two states.


Syrian opposition leader urges Assad to respond to dialogue call

Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib has urged President Bashar Assad to take a clear stance on his initiative for dialogue, adding that it was aimed at ending bloodshed and "helping the regime leave peacefully.” Speaking after a meeting with Russian and US officials in Germany, the leader told Al-Jazeera that major powers have no vision for a solution to the war in Syria. According to UN figures, more than 60,000 people have been killed since the Syrian crisis began nearly two years ago.


Trial of key new TB vaccine fails

A study of the first new tuberculosis vaccine in 90 years showed it offered no added benefit over the current vaccine in protecting babies from TB infections. The failure was not an entirely unexpected outcome, Reuters reported on Monday, citing researchers. The vaccine, known as MVA85A, is the most advanced of more than a dozen TB vaccines now undergoing clinical trials.


Death toll from Iraq suicide bombing reaches 19

The death toll from a suicide bomb attack on a government-backed militia north of Baghdad has risen to 19, Iraqi police and hospital sources said on Monday. More than 40 were wounded in the attack, Reuters reported. The bomber detonated his explosives among Sahwa Sunni tribal fighters in Taji, 20 kilometers north of Baghdad.


Ahmadinejad 'ready to be first Iranian sent to space'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that he was “ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists.” He made the statement while attending an exhibition of space achievements in Tehran, Mehr news agency reported. Iran's capability to send living things into space is the “result of Iranian efforts and the dedication of thousands of Iranian scientists,” the president said. Tehran announced last week that it had successfully launched a monkey into space and retrieved it alive.


Pakistan’s Malala ‘getting better, day by day’ after Taliban shooting

Malala Yousefzai, a Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban, made her first video statement on Monday, saying she is recovering. She spoke clearly but with a slight stiffness in her upper lip, the AP reported. Malala, 15, said she was “getting better, day by day.” The video statement was published hours after Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital said they had successfully operated to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing.


Lebanon issues arrest warrants for Syrian officials in ex-minister case

A Lebanese military tribunal issued arrest warrants on Monday against two Syrian officials over their alleged involvement in the case of former Minister Michel Samaha. First Military Investigation Judge Riyad Abu Ghida issued the warrants for Syrian security chief Ali Mamlouk and a colonel identified by his first name, Adana, the National News Agency said. Samaha was arrested in August and charged with plotting to assassinate Lebanese leaders, and of transporting explosives from Syria into Lebanon to carry out attacks in the country's north. Similar charges were leveled against Mamlouk and Adana.


Islamist leaders arrested in northern Mali – reports

The number-three leader of the armed Islamist group that until last week controlled Timbuktu in northern Mali was reportedly arrested near the Algerian border. Mohamed Moussa Ag Mouhamed, one of the leaders of Ansar Dine ('Defenders of the Faith'), a supporter of strict sharia law, was arrested by an armed group, according to a Malian security source. Another leader, identified as Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, a member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Movement for Unification and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), was also reportedly detained in the same region. Akhmed was accused of taking part in the kidnapping of a French hostage in November. Seven French hostages are believed to be held in the area.


Japanese gov't approves $7.5 bln more in TEPCO compensation

Fukushima nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) received approval on Monday to tap the Japanese government for $7.5 billion more in funds to compensate those harmed by the nuclear disaster. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had approved TEPCO's request to increase the compensation by 697 billion yen ($7.5 billion), or 22 percent, to 3.24 trillion yen, Reuters said, citing a TEPCO statement. The increase was requested because of changes to the requirements for receiving compensation. The funds do not include the cost of decommissioning the four damaged reactor buildings inside the Fukushima Daiichi plant.


S. Korea, US start 3-day naval drills

South Korean and US troops began naval drills Monday amid signs that North Korea may soon conduct its third nuclear test. The three-day war games off the Korean Peninsula's east coast involve live-fire exercises, naval maneuvers and submarine detection drills. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the maneuvers are part of regular joint military training. North Korean state media described the drills as planning for a pre-emptive attack on the country.


Iraq suicide bomber kills four, injures 21

­A suicide bomber has attacked members of an Iraqi-government-backed Sunni militia group, killing four and wounding a further 21, Iraqi police and health officials said. The incident happened just north of Baghdad while the militia group was collecting salaries. The attack followed a series of suicide bombings in Iraq over the past few weeks, with the most recent occurring on Sunday. A suicide bomber drove a car-bomb into a police compound, which a group of gunmen then besieged, resulting in the deaths of at least 33 people in Kirkuk, northern Iraq. The subsequent gun battle between militants and officers injured a further 70 people.


Missing French-owned oil tanker ‘likely hijacked’ off Ivory Coast

A French-owned oil tanker and its 17 crewmembers that disappeared off the Ivory Coast on Sunday was likely hijacked, the international piracy watchdog said Monday. The head of the piracy-reporting center declined to comment on the hijacking in detail, but added that pirates are operating in the area because neighboring Benin and Nigeria have increased patrols in the Gulf of Guinea. The Gulf region includes the waters off Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and has witnessed 62 armed attacks in 2012, cementing its reputation as a new piracy hotspot.


France renews Mali strikes to cut off militant supplies – FM

France has conducted new airstrikes targeting the fuel depots and bases of Islamist extremists in northern Mali, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday. The strikes occurred in the Kidal region overnight, near the border with Algeria, Fabius told France-Inter radio. The French military are trying to cut off supplies to radical fighters: “They cannot stay there a long time unless they have new supplies,” he said. The French intervened in Mali on January 11 to stop the advance of the militants.


25 Hamas members arrested in West Bank

Twenty-five members of Hamas have been arrested in a night raid in the West Bank, the Israeli army said. Three parliamentarians are reportedly among those detained, a Hamas source said. The Islamist movement claimed that only 20 of its members were detained, including three MPs: Hatem Kafisha and Mohammad Al-Tal, allegedly arrested in Hebron, and Ahmad Atoun in Ramallah. Hamas has 74 seats in the 132-member Palestinian Authority Legislative Council, based in Ramallah.


4 utility guards killed in Kirkuk ambush

Four people were killed Monday night in Kirkuk, Iraq. The men were sitting in a caravan, guarding their neighborhood’s electricity generator, when a gunman opened fire, killing them on site. The attack took place hours after an assault on a police station in Kirkuk, which claimed 30 lives. The city is located in a stretch of disputed territory claimed by the Iraqi government and the country's autonomous northern Kurdish region.


Vietnam sentences man to life in prison in subversion case

A court in Vietnam has sentenced a man to life in prison and given jail terms of up to 17 years to other defendants convicted of subversive activities, state TV said on Monday. The People's Court of Phu Yen province gave a life sentence to Phan Van Thu, the head of a group that wanted to “establish a new government in Vietnam,” the report said. Others in the case were given jail terms of between 12 and 17 years, Reuters said. Thu and others were also accused of printing a number of anti-government documents until they were arrested in February 2012.


UN warns Australia's Papua New Guinea refugee camp ‘inadequate’

A UN report on Monday criticized Australia's immigration camp on Papua New Guinea, warning that asylum-seekers were being arbitrarily detained. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for no more children to be sent to the camp on the remote Manus Island, AFP said. The facility was established as part of Australia's plan to ship refugees offshore to deter more from coming. The UNHCR warned of “very significant inadequacies in the legal and operational framework governing the transfer, treatment and processing” of asylum-seekers. There are “no legal frameworks for the processing of refugee claims,” UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle said. The Australian government said it was committed to working with the UNHCR.


Death toll from Mexico oil firm explosion now at 36

The death toll from a massive explosion at state-run oil firm Pemex in Mexico City has reached 36. Three more bodies were recovered from the rubble, and one person is still reported missing. The Thursday afternoon explosion, which also injured more than 100 people, occurred in the basement of an administrative building next to the firm’s main tower, causing devastating damage to its lower floors. It is unclear whether the blast was a deliberate act or a result of negligence. The incident took place as Congress was discussing plans to privatize Mexico’s energy sector.


21 killed in clash between Philippines militant groups

At least 21 combatants were killed in the southern Philippines after Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants clashed with a larger rebel group they had long coexisted with, police said Monday. The Moro National Liberation Front, which has an autonomy agreement with the Philippines government, battled Abu Sayyaf gunmen on Sunday after the Abu Sayyaf refused to free several foreign hostages it has held for months, only releasing two Filipino hostages who were found by police Saturday. Eight Moro rebels and at least 13 Abu Sayyaf militants were killed in the clashes in the mountainous jungles of Patikul town in Sulu province. It was the first major confrontation between the two insurgent groups.


8 dead, 27 injured in California tour bus crash

Eight people were killed and a further 27 were injured when a tour bus smashed into a truck near Yucaipa, California, east of Los Angeles. Witnesses reported that after the collision, which happened at around 6:30pm on Sunday, the bus rolled down an embankment. Reports initially indicated that up to 10 people could have been killed, but this figure was later reduced. The site of the incident, Highway 38, was closed in both directions as emergency crews tended to victims of the crash.


Baltimore defeat San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl

Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, 34-31. There was a flash of hope for the 49ers, who appeared revitalised after a power outage in the stadium stopped play for half an hour. But despite the West Coast team coming back strongly to make it a thrilling finale, Baltimore held on to claim the trophy at the Superdome in New Orleans. The Raven’s Jacoby Jones set a Superbowl record with a 109 yard kick-off return for touch down. Not long after, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick scored from 15 yards out, setting a new Super Bowl record for the longest touchdown run by a quarterback.


Obama supports lifting gay ban in Boy Scouts

President Obama says that Boy Scouts of America should respect the rights of the LGBT community and lift the ban on gay and lesbian participation in the organization. The comments were made in a pre-superbowl interview to CBS. On January 28, the youth group with 2.6 million boys in its membership announced it was rethinking its longstanding ban on "open or avowed homosexuals". The scout’s national board of directors is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the topic.


Police investigate possible cyber attack on Israeli cellular networks

Israeli security officials are investigating a possible hacker attack after Israel’s Pelephone network dropped service. Most of the company’s three million customers on Sunday night, had problems sending and receiving calls and text messages. Security officials are checking the cause of the malfunction and assessing the potential cyber threat. Pelephone says 90 percent of its network was up and running 4 and-a-half hours after the problems started. Customers from other cellular providers - Orange, Hot Mobile and Rami Levi – also complained of communication difficulties.