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8 February, 2013


South Africans rally for teenager who was gang-raped, left to die

­Hundreds of people gathered in a southern South African town Friday chanting "enough is enough" at the site where a 17-year-old local girl was mutilated and left to die after being gang-raped. Demonstrators marched in a procession to the site in Bredasdorp, 130 km east of Cape Town, where Anene Booysen was killed, and laid flowers and lit candles at a memorial. Booysen died in hospital on February 1 after being found, still alive, by security guards only a short distance from her house. Her stomach had been cut open down to her genitals. South Africa, which a UN human rights official recently said faces a "pandemic of sexual violence," has the highest number of reported rapes every year of any Interpol member country, with more than 64,500 reported in 2011-2012.


Kerry calls on Iran to 'talk substance' at late February nuclear talks

­International governments could respond positively if Iran openly addresses questions about its nuclear program at talks on February 26, said new US Secretary of State John Kerry. "The international community is ready to respond if Iran comes prepared to talk real substance and to address the concerns, which could not be more clear, about their nuclear program," Kerry told the press at a news conference with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.


Gunmen blow up vital Yemen oil pipeline

Gunmen in Yemen reportedly blew up a key oil pipeline in the country’s eastern Marib province – an Al-Qaeda stronghold – security officials and witnesses told AFP. Witnesses saw smoke billowing from the 200 mile-long pipeline that carries around 180,000 barrels per day, over half the country’s daily output. The army later fired artillery at the scene of the attack, and warplanes were seen flying overhead. No casualties have been reported. In December the government launched an offensive against tribesman suspected of sabotaging the pipeline in order to win concessions from the government.


France paid $17 million in ransoms to Mali Islamists - ex-US ambassador

­In recent years France and other European countries have channeled millions of dollars in ransom payments to Al Qaeda-linked militants, according to a former US ambassador to Mali. The militants are thought to be from the same groups now fighting French troops in the troubled North African state.  In an interview aired on a French channel on Friday, Vicki Huddleston, who served as ambassador from 2002-2005, said that France had paid $17 million to free French hostages seized from a uranium mine in its former colony Niger in 2010. She added that at least $89 million could have been paid out through intermediaries by European countries between 2004 -2011. North Africa's AQIM military organization has been active in northern Mali since 2003. The militants have kidnapped dozens of hostages for ransom over the last 10 years.


Pakistan’s Malala Yousufzai discharged from UK hospital

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai has been discharged from a British hospital. She has been receiving treatment there for nearly four months after being shot in the head by the Taliban. Malala, 15, underwent skull reconstruction and cochlear implant surgery to restore her hearing last weekend. Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital said Friday that Malala has been released after "making good recovery" from her surgery. She will now continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in Birmingham and visit the hospital occasionally. Malala was shot on October 9 by the Taliban, angered at her struggle for girls' access to education.


Ukrainian MPs block rostrum since February 5

The talks of leaders of parliamentary factions in the Ukrainian parliament failed again on Friday as deputies were unable to start work for the whole week. Members of the opposition factions have been blocking the rostrum and presidium of the parliament since February 5. They are demanding that all deputies vote individually and should not vote as proxies for their colleagues. Members of the UDAR parliamentary faction said they will stay on duty in the sitting hall of the Verkhovnaya Rada on Saturday and Sunday.


Two held in Armenia over attack on presidential hopeful

Armenia's National Security Agency has arrested two suspects in the shooting of a presidential candidate. Paruyr Hayrikyan, one of eight candidates in the February 18 election, was shot and wounded near his home in Yerevan a week ago. The agency said investigators are still looking into motives behind the shooting. Hayrikyan initially said he would seek a 15-day delay of the election, as permitted under the election rules, but later announced he would not contest the date of the vote. However, his election headquarters said on Friday he will ask the constitutional court to put off the election.


Bangladesh demonstrators demand ban on Islamic party

Tens of thousands rallied Friday in the capital Dhaka and other cities to demand a ban on Bangladesh's largest Islamic party and the execution of its leaders. They are on trial for war crimes, and protests started Tuesday when Abdul Quader Molla, a senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was sentenced to life imprisonment for mass murder during the 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Sirajul Islam, police chief for the Shahbagh region of central Dhaka, told AFP that "more than 100,000 people" had joined the rally in the capital.


Berlin’s 63rd International Film Festival kicks off

The 63rd Berlin International Film Festival has opened with the premiere of martial arts epic The Grandmaster by Wong Kar-wai. The movie is playing outside of the competition because the director also heads this year’s jury. It will have to choose from 19 movies competing for prizes, including the Steven Soderbergh thriller Side Effects, Gus Van Sant’s film Promised Land, and Closed Curtain by Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who was barred from leaving Iran to attend the festival. French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann will be honored for his life’s work. During the opening ceremony late on Thursday, a topless demonstrator from the feminist group Femen threw herself on to the red carpet before she was carried away by security.


Ten killed in blast near Pakistan mosque

A bomb blast killed 10 people and injured 18 in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, government officials said. “Most of the dead and injured were returning from Friday prayers at a mosque,” Reuters quoted  Mehmood Aslam, the top government official in the area, as saying. The blast took place near a shop in Kalaya, the capital of the semi-autonomous Orakzai region in the ethnic Pashtun belt along the Afghan border. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. The military earlier said the area was under control.


Russian ex-spy service officer Kvachkov jailed to 13 years for coup plot

The Moscow City Court on Friday found former military intelligence officer Vladimir Kvachkov guilty of masterminding an armed coup and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. Prosecutors had demanded 14 years in a high security prison for the retired colonel from the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU), the Russian Armed Forces' spy service. Kvachkov denies any wrongdoing. His defense claimed the charges against him were groundless, RIA Novosti said. Prosecutors said Kvachkov’s public militia group, the People's Liberation Front of Russia, plotted to seize weapons from several military units and organize an armed march on Moscow for the forceful overthrow of power. He commanded a Special Forces unit in Afghanistan in 1983 and was later awarded the Order of the Red Star and the Order of Courage.


Experts declare Russian lawyer who killed 6 in Moscow 'sane'

Dmitry Vinogradov, a lawyer of a pharmaceutical company who killed six of his colleagues and is widely referred as ‘the Russian Breivik’, was declared sane by experts. During the shooting, he suffered from a mental disorder over the end of a romantic relationship, and this limited his ability to assess his actions, experts believe. Nevertheless, “this fact does not rule out the sanity of the accused,” the commission said, as cited by RIA Novosti. Vinogradov, 30, who posted a hate manifesto on his social network page before the crime, has been charged under several articles of the Criminal Code.


Bulgaria bomb attack ‘has nothing to do with Iran’ – envoy

Iran played no part in the bombing of a bus last year that killed Israeli tourists, its ambassador to Bulgaria said Friday. Bulgaria earlier accused the Iranian-backed Hezbollah of carrying out the July attack. The attack “has nothing to do with Iran,” Gholamreza Bageri said. “We are against any form of terrorism and strongly condemn such actions,” Reuters quoted him as saying. The Lebanese Shiite Islamist militia also dismissed the charge as part of a smear campaign by its arch foe Israel.


Russia sells weapons to Mali authorities – official

Moscow is supplying small arms to Mali, director of the Federal Agency for Military-Technical Cooperation Aleksandr Fomin said Friday. “We are supplying assault rifles and grenade launchers,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying. There were reports earlier that Russia could provide transport services to Mali, but the Foreign Ministry said only private companies could provide these during the military operation.


Tunisia cancels all flights as general strike continues

All flights to and from Tunisia have been canceled due to the general strike called for the funeral of assassinated opposition leader Chokri Belaid. “All the departures and all the arrivals have been canceled for the whole of Friday,” the airport's information service told AFP. The cancellations included both domestic and international flights. “Because of the strike, the planes cannot be serviced” by people on the ground, the source added.


Gunmen kill 2 Nigeria polio vaccination workers

Gunmen shot dead two health workers who were administering polio vaccinations in Nigeria's largest northern city Kano on Friday. “Two are dead and one sustained injuries after being shot by unknown gunmen,” Reuters quoted police spokesman Magaji Musa as saying. Kano is Nigeria's second-largest city. It has been regularly targeted by Boko Haram, an Islamist sect condemning the use of Western medicine.


Russian migration service head blasts Human Rights Watch’s Sochi Olympics report

The director of the Russian Federal Migration Service Konstantin Romodanovsky denied as ‘unfair’ a report prepared by Human Rights Watch on the conditions of labor migrants working on construction sites for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. There could be single instances, but there have not been mass failure to pay wages to construction workers, he said. The report alleged that migrant workers are exploited on key Olympic sites, and some said employers cheated workers out of wages, required them to work 12-hour shifts, and confiscated passports and work permits. Romodanovsky earlier said that 58,000 workers on construction sites are Russian citizens and 16,000 are foreigners.


Tunisians go on general strike after murder of politician

Tunis was reportedly at a near standstill Friday as a general strike in protest at the murder of a leftist politician took effect. The strike was called by the 500,000-strong General Union of Tunisian Workers to coincide with the funeral of Chokri Belaid, a critic of the ruling Ennahda party, who was shot dead outside his home Wednesday by a gunman, AFP said. The assassination of the opposition leader sparked two days of clashes across the country between police and opposition supporters.


Yemen asks UNSC to investigate seized ship carrying arms

Yemen has asked the UN Security Council to probe a ship that the country’s authorities said they seized with a cargo of Iranian-made missiles, rockets and other weapons. Security Council members are discussing Yemen's request, said Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen. Yemen's Defense Ministry said Wednesday that an Iranian ship was seized last month carrying Katyusha rockets, surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The cargo included material for bombs and suicide belts, explosives and large amounts of ammunition.


At least 26 killed in Iraq blasts

Car bombs in Baghdad and central Iraq, including two explosions at a popular bird market, killed 26 people and wounded dozens on Friday, officials said. Twin blasts struck just after 9am (06:00 GMT) at the market in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Kadhimiyah, an Interior Ministry official said. At least 13 people were killed and 30 others wounded in the explosions at the bird market. A further 13 people were killed in two car bomb explosions at a vegetable market in the Shiite city of Hilla, 100 km south of Baghdad, Reuters said.


Seoul sentences pro-N. Korea activist for Pyongyang trip

A court in Seoul has sentenced a pro-North Korea activist to four years in prison for breaking South Korean law by visiting Pyongyang illegally. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced No Su-hui on Friday for traveling to North Korea from China last year to honor Kim Jong-il, 100 days after the North Korean leader's death. Visiting North Korea without government approval is punishable by up to 10 years in prison under South Korean law. The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.


EU leaders close in on new long-term budget

European Union leaders agreed the framework for a new long-term budget on Friday, laying the ground for 960 billion euro of spending over the seven-year period. “We feel pretty confident that we have the framework for a deal,” Reuters quoted an EU official as saying. The deal is expected to be completely finalized later on Friday. Around 12 billion euro would be cut from the last proposal, made at a summit in November. The deal strikes a balance between the demands of northern European countries, including Britain and the Netherlands that wanted a belt-tightening EU budget, and countries in the south and east. They insisted on sustained spending on farming subsidies and much-needed infrastructure.


China detains 70 in Tibet over self-immolations

China's government has said it has detained 70 people in ethnic Tibetan areas as it steps up a crackdown on self-immolations protesting communist rule. The detentions occurred in an ethnic Tibetan area of Qinghai province, which abuts Tibet, Xinhua said late Thursday. It added that 12 of those detained were formally arrested. Despite harsh measures, the pace of self-immolations accelerated in November last year. Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009.


Ferry with 100 aboard capsizes in central Bangladesh

A ferry with about 100 people aboard capsized in a river in central Bangladesh, no immediate reports of casualties were available, police said. More than 40 people have been rescued by local villagers, while some were able to swim to shore, Bangladesh TV-station Channel-I reported. The accident occurred on the River Meghna in the Munshiganj district when the ferry collided with a boat.


Thousands of flights canceled due to severe weather in East Coast

­About 4,000 international and domestic flights have been canceled at East Coast airports due to massive snowfalls. The snowstorm called Nemo is expected to affect the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Illinois. The Weather Service has issued an official blizzard warning for New York City.


Controversial Saudi scholar claims al-Qaeda and Bin Laden victims of a smear campaign

A prominent Saudi Islamic scholar and professor at King Saud University has shocked the public when he openly claimed that al-Qaeda  “does not tolerate bloodshed” and that it is in fact the victim in a smear campaign against its ideology. He went on to say that the late Osama bin Laden was just as much a victim of character assassination. These views were expressed to Al Jazeera earlier this week in a conversation about the French intervention in Mali. The cleric, Mohammad al-Arafi, is widely known among the Arabic-speaking public for making heated statements of the sort. Others include that daughters should not sit alone with their fathers for fear of tempting him into sexual lust. The cleric has previously had to retract many of his statements on social networks when they were met with public outrage.