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6 February, 2013


US sanctions Iranian media over alleged censorship

­Washington said Wednesday that it has imposed new sanctions on Iran, this time on state media in retaliation for what it views as censorship of the country's opposition. The move comes as part of a broader campaign to cripple Iran economically over its nuclear program, which some in the US and elsewhere claim includes weapons development. The Department of the Treasury placed the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, its director Ezzatollah Zarghami and others on a list that will effectively block them from the US financial system. "We will also target those in Iran who are responsible for human right abuses, especially those who deny the Iranian people their basic freedoms of expression, assembly and speech," said a statement from David Cohen, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury.


Syrian opposition demands release of all women prisoners

­The head of the Syrian opposition coalition has urged the Assad government to release all female prisoners by Sunday, BBC Arabic reports. Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, warned that otherwise he would regard his offer for dialogue as rejected by President Bashar Assad. "Women must be released by the coming Sunday," he said. "If any woman stays in prison, I consider the regime not responding."  Earlier, citing the dire situation in Syria, the country's opposition leader offered to enter in dialogue with the government, saying he was ready to meet with Assad’s deputy.


France wants UN peacekeepers in Mali by April

­France has called on UN peacekeeping forces to take over from 4,000 French ground troops in Mali by April, the French Foreign Minister said on Wednesday. The withdrawal of French forces, which are battling Al-Qaeda linked militants, will take ‘several weeks’ and is planned to start in March, the French envoy to the UN said. The deployment of UN forces will need to be approved by the Malian government. France insists on the presence of human rights observers in the areas, which were liberated by Franco-Malian forces.


US imposes more sanctions on Iran’s oil sector

­Iran faces new sanction from Washington after US Treasury accusations that Tehran “continues to fail to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program”. The US Treasury said it was tightening up the list of countries that are allowed to continue buying Iranian oil without violating the US sanctions regime. The original ban has significantly impacted the Iranian economy, which is heavily reliant on the oil industry. US Treasury official David Cohen stressed that the US “will impose tighter sanctions and intensify the economic pressure against the Iranian regime”.


Hezbollah denies accusations in 2012 Bulgaria bus bombing

­The Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah on Wednesday denied the accusations of Bulgaria that it organized a deadly bus bombing in 2012, which killed six people. Bulgaria reported Tuesday that two suspects allegedly involved in the bus bombing were the members of Hezbollah. The report was greeted warmly by Israel, which straight away blamed Hezbollah and Iran for the blast. The statement prompted Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu to renew the call for EU nations to ban the organization as a terror group claiming it had built a ‘worldwide terrorist’ network and planned attacks in dozens of countries.


Indian students clash with police over hardliner PM candidate

­Indian protesters have clashed with police outside the University of Delhi, as Narenda Modi, a right-wing Hindu nationalist, presented a speech to students on Wednesday. Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state, who is set to run for prime minister this year, was met by left-wing students, shouting ‘Modi go back’. Police broke up the crowd of protesters with wooden batons. Modi is a controversial figure both within India and internationally. His administration received heated criticism surrounding the 2002 Gujarat violence, which saw deadly violence erupt in the region between Hindus and Muslims.


Germany to punish bankers for risky trading

Germany plans to punish bankers who take excessive risks and require some banks to separate their retail activities from riskier proprietary trading. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Wednesday the proposed measures were part of an effort to draw lessons from the 2008 financial crisis. “Whoever has a chance to profit also has to bear the risk,” he said. The new German banking rules, drawn up in coordination with France, would punish bankers and insurance executives found culpable for a financial institution's collapse, or who failed to take measures to prevent it.


Vatican sex crimes prosecutor pushes for transparency on sex abuses

The Vatican’s new sex crimes prosecutor has insisted on the need for transparency about the church’s failures to protect children from sex abuse by priests. Rev. Robert Oliver quoted Pope Benedict XVI in saying the church must recognize the “grave errors in judgment that were often committed by the church’s leadership.” He added that bishops must follow civil laws and report abusive priests to police, where such laws require it. The comments come just days after thousands of pages of personnel files of abusive priests were released by a Los Angeles court.


Moscow expects Iran nuclear talks to bring 'serious progress'

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has said he hoped to see the upcoming round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers to “result in - if not an outright breakthrough - then serious progress.” So far, “we have not advanced past the stage at which we found ourselves in June” in Moscow, he told RIA Novosti on Wednesday. The sides “have lost a lot of time,” Russia's top nuclear negotiator said. The next round is scheduled for February 26 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Tehran has not promised to scale back its nuclear enrichment program during the previous meetings, saying it is pursuing peaceful purposes.


Merkel asks president to set September 22 as election date

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has asked the German president to set September 22 as the date of the next federal election, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday. Merkel hopes to secure a third term in power. The president formally sets the date for the election. President Joachim Gauck is expected to agree with the government’s timing.


Royal Bank of Scotland to pay $615mn in Libor rigging probe

UK's Royal Bank of Scotland will pay US$615 million to US and British authorities to settle allegations that it manipulated key interest rate benchmarks including the London interbank offered rate (Libor). John Hourican, head of RBS's investment bank has agreed to leave following the misconduct of staff in that business, Reuters reported, citing the bank’s statement on Wednesday. Part state-owned RBS is the third bank to be punished after investigations into rate-fixing. Switzerland's UBS agreed to pay $1.5 billion to settle charges, and Barclays paid approximately $450 million.


Argentina to prosecute Falkland energy firms – FM

Argentina’s government will continue legal action against energy firms working on the disputed British-controlled Falkland Islands, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Wednesday. “We will continue to seek legal action against [these[ hydrocarbon companies,” he said, as cited by Reuters. “They are stealing the natural resources of Argentina,” the minister added.


Militants kill 4 policemen in Iraq attacks

Gunmen opened automatic fire on police checkpoints in central and northern Iraq early on Wednesday, killing four officers and wounding five, officials said. Militants in two cars sprayed policemen with machinegun fire in the town of Musayyib, about 60km south of Baghdad. Two officers were killed and four were wounded there, police said. In the other attack, militants exchanged fire with police at a checkpoint in the city of Mosul, 360km northwest of Baghdad, killing two policemen and wounding one.


German education minister refuses to resign over plagiarism

Germany's Education Minister Annette Schavan says she will not resign after a university stripped her of her doctorate because of plagiarism. Opposition politicians say Schavan must step down, but she vowed to take legal action against the decision of Dusseldorf's Heinrich Heine University. It voted Tuesday to remove Schavan's doctorate after a thorough review of her 1980 thesis. The review was undertaken after plagiarism allegations raised by an anonymous blogger. Schavan is the second minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet to lose a doctorate because of plagiarism. Former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was accused of copying large parts of his thesis and resigned in 2011.


Those responsible for Bulgaria attack ‘will pay the price’ - Israeli PM

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed justice for the victims of the attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. His office said Wednesday that the head of Israel's counterterrorism bureau told the victims' families in Netanyahu’s name that “Israel will do everything so that those responsible for the crime will pay the price.” The office did not elaborate, but the promise came a day after a Bulgarian probe found that Hezbollah was behind the 2012 bombing. Five Israelis and the Bulgarian driver were killed in the attack.


French tanker hijacked off Ivory Coast freed

A French-owned freighter hijacked by suspected Nigerian pirates off Ivory Coast at the weekend has been released, and its crew is safe, the vessel's owner said on Wednesday. SEA-Tankers, which owns the Luxembourg-flagged vessel Gascogne, lost contact with the ship on Sunday morning. All 17 seafarers are safe, Reuters reported, citing the statement. The company said two seafarers were “injured during the incident but are being taken care off.”


Suicide bomber attacks Syrian intelligence compound

A car bomb exploded in a military intelligence compound in the eastern Syrian town of Palmyra on Wednesday, opposition activists said. A bomb destroyed part of the back wall of the compound near Roman-era ruins and then a suicide car bomber drove through, exploding the car and destroying parts of the facility, Reuters reported. It was not immediately clear how many casualties were caused by the attack and clashes which followed.


Greek ferries sail as govt forces strikers back to work

Ferries were sailing to Greek islands for the first time in a week after the government implemented a rarely-used civil mobilization order, forcing striking seamen back to work. The coalition government last used the measure to end an eight-day Metro workers' strike. Six days of a strike by the seamen against austerity measures had left dozens of islands without any means of resupply. Two main unions declared a regional strike in the greater Athens area for the day in solidarity with the seamen.


Tunisian opposition leader Belaid assassinated

Tunisian left-leaning politician and one of the leaders of the Popular Front coalition, Chokri Belaid, was shot dead Wednesday morning, media reports say. One of the bullets reportedly struck his neck and the other his head before he was transported to Ennasr clinic in Tunis. The motives behind his assassination were not immediately clear. Belaid was the secretary-general of the Democratic Patriotic party (Watad).


Ahmadinejad says Iran offers Egypt ‘big credit line’

Iran has offered to lend money to cash-strapped Egypt despite being under international economic sanctions itself. “I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Egyptian daily al-Ahram in an interview published on Wednesday. He did not say if there had been any response. The president said the Iranian economy had been affected by sanctions but it is a "great economy," Reuters reported. The two countries do not have diplomatic relations. Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Cairo on Tuesday, became the first Iranian leader to visit Egypt in 34 years.


Heavy rain kills 34 in Pakistan

At least 34 people have been killed in Pakistan after three days of torrential rain, officials said Wednesday. The worst-hit region was Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the northwest, where 25 people were killed and 57 injured, AFP reported. Eight people were killed in the central province of Punjab. Three soldiers were reported missing after they were hit by a snow avalanche in the northwestern district of Lower Dir.


Syrian opposition plans to open offices in New York, Washington

Syrian opposition's coalition is reportedly planning to open offices soon in New York and Washington. Najib Ghadbian, an associate professor of political science and Middle East studies at the University of Arkansas, will head both offices of the National Alliance, the AP said, citing UN diplomats. Ghadbian who was born in a Damascus suburb in 1962, holds a doctorate from the City University of New York. He is a founding member of the Democratic Network in the Arab World. The new offices are likely to raise the coalition's profile in the US.


Israel deploys third Iron Dome missile system to north – reports

Israel has deployed a third Iron Dome missile defense battery to the north of the country, local media say. The deployment comes after Defense Minister Ehud Barak implied Israel was responsible for a January 30 airstrike inside Syria that was immediately attributed to Israel, AFP said. Last month, media reported the deployment of two Iron Dome batteries to the country's north. The move was described as a precaution against possible attacks from Syria or Lebanon.


Iran frees Ahmadinejad ally after brief detention

A former Iranian prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, was freed on Wednesday, two days after he was arrested without explanation. He was detained shortly after his political ally, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, publicly accused Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani’s family of attempting to use its prominence for financial gain, Reuters said. The timing of Mortazavi’s arrest suggested it was linked to the accusations of corruption and was also seen as another indication that Ahmadinejad has lost favor with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mortazavi was suspended from his judicial post in 2010 over the torture deaths of three protesters in custody after the 2009 presidential elections.


Australia top court clears Google in deceptive ad case

Australia's High Court on Wednesday overturned a ruling against Google Inc. that had found the company guilty of breaching trade law. A lower Federal Court ruled in April that Google had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct with four ads on its Google Australia website. The advertisers used the names of competitors as keywords to trigger their own ads appearing. The Federal Court ruled this was likely to mislead people searching for information about those competitors, but Google argued that it was not responsible for the ads’ content. The High Court sided with Google. The case against the company was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.


Famous Danish critic of Islam attacked by gunman

­Lars Hedegaard, a prominent Danish critic of Islam, was shot at outside his home in Copenhagen, but managed to evade the bullet and escape after a fight. Hedegaard is an author, historian and journalist who alleges that press freedom is under attack by Islam. He heads two groups that advocate the view – the Free Press Society and the International Free Press Society. A police statement describes the attacker as a  man between 20-25 years of age. Denmark’s PM condemned the assault, saying "it is even worse if the attack is rooted in an attempt to prevent Lars Hedegaard using his freedom of expression."


Democratic congressmen to introduce marijuana decriminalization bills next week

­If two bills set for proposal in the House of Representatives next week are approved, marijuana would be decriminalized, regulated and taxed like beer or wine. Colorado Democrat Jared Polis will suggest Tuesday that marijuana dealers should carry permits and answer to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Currently, the Drug Enforcement Administration has jurisdiction over marijuana-related crimes. Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer will suggest a federal tax on marijuana growers and sellers at 50 per cent of the plant's sale price. The bills are unlikely to pass, as the House is controlled by a conservative Republican majority.