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13 February, 2013

23:33

Chavez is undergoing 'alternative treatments' - VP

­The Venezuelan leader is undergoing “alternative treatments” after having his forth cancer related surgery in Cuba, the country’s vice president announced on Wednesday. Nicolas Maduro did not provide any further details on the procedures Chavez is receiving. Opposition in the country has called on the government to provide more transparency into the health status of Chavez. The government says Chavez is in a “new phase” of his recuperation. It has not given details of this new phase. The 58-year-old leader hasn't made a public appearance since his  surgery in Havana on December 11.

22:47

Seven Colombian soldiers killed in clashes with Farc rebels

­The latest clashes between Colombia’s separatist group, FARC and the government forces resulted in the casualties of at least seven government soldiers. At least five others were injured in clashes in the southern province of Caqueta.The army statement said there had been "an indeterminate" number of dead on the FARC side. The fighting comes amid peace talks between the two sides to try to end the decades-long conflict.

21:08

Collapsed roof in Finnish equestrian school kills one, injures 4

­At least one person has died and four others injured after a roof collapsed at a horse training school in the Finish town of Laukaa. The incident occurred at 17:00 local time, during a busy time at the center. One girl was killed, while others, three girls and one adult, have been taken to hospital. One of them has been discharged. Authorities believe heavy snow on top of the structure caused the roof to collapse.

18:01

Egypt floods tunnels on border with Gaza to stop illegal arms trade

­Egyptian forces have flooded tunnels located under the border with the Gaza Strip, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said Wednesday.  These tunnels are of vital importance for Gaza residents , because about 30 percent of food, clothes, autos and consumer electronics get to the country via these tunnels. However, the region also gets unlicensed arms and explosives through them. The tunnels are controlled by the Hamas group which controls the trade flow.

15:06

Kuwait acquits 5 Twitter users of insulting emir

Kuwait's lower court acquitted five opposition activists on Wednesday of charges of insulting the emir on their Twitter accounts. One of the five, Rashed al-Enezi, was last month sentenced to two years in jail in a different case, but for similar charges. The appeals court on Wednesday started hearing his challenge, and refused a plea by lawyers to suspend the jail term until it had ruled on his case. A third court rejected on Wednesday an appeal to free stateless activist Abdulhakeem al-Fadhli, AFP said. Over the past five weeks, Kuwaiti courts have sentenced four Twitter users and three former opposition MPs to jail for insulting the emir.

14:51

Victims sue BBC over Savile sex abuse scandal

Dozens of victims of alleged sexual abuse by late British television star Jimmy Savile have reportedly sued the BBC. A police report showed last month that Savile sexually assaulted hundreds of people, mainly children, at BBC premises and hospitals over six decades. Alan Collins, a lawyer representing the group, said 31 victims had lodged their claims seeking compensation with the British High Court against the BBC, as well as Savile's estate, Reuters reported. The number of claimants could grow. “They were forced into this position as a result of all the publicity,” Collins said, adding that the people will hopefully get “some semblance of justice.”

14:27

Turkey amends law to boost freedom of expression

Turkey has drafted changes to its penal code, narrowing the definition of terrorist propaganda in a step to boost freedom of expression in line with EU demands. The bill was presented to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and is likely to be sent to parliament this month. It may lead to the release of defendants accused of links to Kurdish rebels. “Regulations have been prepared which rescue this country from such trouble… opening the way for freedom of expression and thought in Turkey,” Reuters quoted Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin as saying on Wednesday. The reform is in line with European Court of Human Rights criteria, under which only a direct incitement to violence constitutes a crime.

13:42

Maldivian ex-president takes refuge in Indian embassy over arrest threat

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male on Wednesday. The move followed an attempt by police to arrest him. Nasheed, Maldives' first democratically elected leader, was overthrown in a coup last February. Riot police barricaded the street outside the high commission after Nasheed's arrival at noon, and supporters then began to gather in protest against his possible arrest, Reuters reported. A court ordered police to arrest Nasheed after he missed a February 10 court appearance. He had been accused of illegally detaining a judge during the last days of his rule.

13:04

UK summons N. Korean ambassador over nuclear test

Britain’s Foreign Office has summoned the North Korean ambassador over Pyongyang's nuclear tests. Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire warned ambassador Hyon Hak Bong that North Korea faces "increasing isolation and further action" unless it engages with the international community. "I call on the North Korean regime to act in the best interests of its people and to choose the path they really want,” Swire said after the meeting, adding that amid reports of “widespread hardship and human rights abuses, the priority must be the health and welfare of North Korean people.”

12:37

Vatican conclave to decide next pope will start after March 15

The conclave to decide the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will start as early as March 15, the Vatican said on Wednesday. Cardinals will gather to elect a new pope between 15 and 20 days from when the papal seat is vacated on February 28, Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi said. Pope Benedict announced on Monday he is stepping down, in the first papal abdication in centuries.

12:15

EU, US to pursue talks on transatlantic trade deal

The European Union and the United States have agreed to pursue talks on a transatlantic free trade deal. The EU said Wednesday that such an agreement would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated, and is expected to add 0.5 percent to the EU's economic output. “It will not be easy,” EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, adding that the deal would be "win-win" situation. EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said that initial talks could start by summer.

11:47

Russian experts to continue examining Arafat’s remains

More time is needed to examine the remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA) Vladimir Uiba said Wednesday. The examination is ongoing, he told reporters. Meanwhile, Russian experts are handing over parts of the examination results to the Russian Foreign Ministry, he added. Russian, Swiss and French experts had earlier received samples of the late leader’s remains after rumors of his poisoning resurfaced.

11:41

Iran installing new generation of uranium enrichment machines at Natanz

Iran started installing a new generation of uranium enrichment machines at its Natanz nuclear site last month, the Iranian atomic energy organization chief said Wednesday. “From last month the installation of the new generation of these machines started in the Shahid Ahmadi Roshan complex (Natanz),” Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency. The UN nuclear watchdog said that Iran had announced plans to install and operate advanced uranium enrichment machines in what would be a technological leap.

11:14

Sanctions cost Tehran $40bn in 2012 – IEA

Western sanctions against Iran succeeded in slashing Iran's oil export revenue by $40 billion in 2012, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday. Iranian oil output fell to 2.65 million barrels per day in January, down from 3.7 million bpd in late 2011 before the sanctions took effect, the oil monitoring and policy agency said. Iranian crude oil production continued “to edge lower in January and may fall further in coming months,” the IEA said in its monthly report on the world oil market. The latest sanctions “effectively bar Iran from repatriating earnings from its oil exports, depriving Tehran of much needed hard currency,” the agency said.

10:59

British patient contracts SARS-like virus in UK

A British patient has been diagnosed with a SARS-like virus believed to have been contracted from a family member. It is the 11th such confirmed case worldwide. The patient was a relative of a person who had recently traveled to the Middle East and Pakistan, and contracted novel coronavirus, Britain's Health Protection Agency said on Wednesday. The person was placed in intensive care in hospital in Birmingham. The HPA said that despite the apparent person-to-person transmission in this case, “the risk of infection in most circumstances is still considered to be very low.”

10:45

UK police arrest 6 journalists in new phone hacking probe

British police arrested six current or former journalists on Wednesday in a new probe into alleged phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's now-closed News of the World tabloid. Scotland Yard said detectives had identified a “further suspected conspiracy” by staff at the paper in 2005 and 2006, AFP reported. The case was separate to the alleged hacking prove, under which a number of people have been charged.

10:32

Pope says resignation is for ‘good of Church’

Pope Benedict XVI has said he is confident his decision to step down will not hurt the Catholic Church. In his first public comments since the announcement, he said on Wednesday that he took the decision “in full freedom for the good of the Church after praying for a long time and examining by conscience before God.” The pope looked and sounded healthy, and was interrupted by applause several times during his weekly general audience, Reuters reported. He said he "felt almost physically" the affection and kindness he had received since he announced his decision to resign on February 28.

09:46

Qatar hands Syria embassy building to opposition

Qatar has turned over the Syrian embassy building in Doha to the National Coalition, Syria's main opposition group. The decision was made after the appointment of Nizar al-Haraki as “ambassador to Doha for the National Coalition,” AFP said Wednesday, citing the organization’s statement. It added that “Qatar has acted faster than the Friends of Syria.” The Syrian opposition coalition, formed in the Qatari capital on November 11, said it plans to raise “the flag of the revolution” above the embassy.

09:37

Tibetan protester sets himself ablaze in Nepal’s capital

An unidentified 21-year-old Tibetan man dressed in monk attire was the latest protester to set himself on fire in protest of Chinese rule in Tibet. Rhe man entered a Katmandu café and asked to use the bathroom, witnesses reported. Soaked in gasoline, he exited the café, burst into flames, delivered an anti-Chinese tirade and then collapsed. Local police report the flames were extinguished and the man has been rushed to the hospital, where he is in critical condition. The self-immolation took place in Nepal’s Boudhanath district, where many Buddhists are celebrating Losar, the Tibetan New Year Festival. Over 100 Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypeople have set themselves on fire since 2009, demanding more religious autonomy from China and the Dalai Lama’s release from exile in India.

08:56

India deploys troops in Assam after deadly violence

India deployed about 500 soldiers and imposed a curfew on Wednesday in the northeastern state of Assam, as the death toll from electoral violence climbed to 20. Most of the deaths were the result of police fire, AFP reported. Police officers have been trying to halt attacks by machete-wielding tribesmen opposed to local elections. “Eight people were killed in overnight clashes, taking the total number of people who have died so far to 20,” Bhupen Bora, an Assam state home ministry official said in the state's main city Guwahati. The Rabha and Hasong tribal villagers, who have demanded local autonomy and reject government rule, are protesting at the polls where village council elections were held on Tuesday.

08:19

Vatican says pope had pacemaker

The Vatican has acknowledged for the first time that Pope Benedict XVI has had a pacemaker for years. Benedict had the pacemaker installed “a long time” before he became pope in 2005, the AP quoted Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi as saying. Italian daily Il Sole 24 reported the pope had a pacemaker procedure less than three months ago in a Rome hospital, and did not miss any public appearances. Lombardi called the recent medical procedure “routine.” Benedict will become the first pope to step down in nearly six centuries.

07:41

Bahrain Air grounded due to debts

Debt-burdened carrier Bahrain Air has said it will shut down operations and sell its assets. All Bahrain Air flights were canceled Wednesday after the late-night announcement. The five-year-old carrier, a rival to state-owned Gulf Air, blames the government for restricting its activities while demanding debt payment. An uprising by majority Shiites that began two years ago brought a sharp economic slump, though the kingdom's Sunni rulers claim growth is returning.

06:43

Afghanistan to fill ‘vacuum’ after withdrawal of 34,000 US troops – official

The Afghan Defense Ministry has welcomed US President Barack Obama's decision to bring home half of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan over the next 12 months. Afghan troops will fill the "vacuum" caused by the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops, Defense Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Zahir Azimi said on Wednesday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office earlier said he and Obama had discussed strengthening and equipping the Afghan forces. A pending security agreement will determine whether the US soldiers will remain after most foreign troops leave at the end of 2014.

06:30

Japan ‘shocked’ at IOC decision to drop wrestling

­Japan has expressed disappointment and shock after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that wrestling will be dropped from the 2020 Games, with politicians, activists, Olympians and local media speaking out, Japan Daily Press reported. Japan Wrestling Federation chair Tomiaki Fukuda told TV Asahi that he was frustrated by the decision: "I am really shocked. I have no idea why they decided this.” Japan is a strong performer in wrestling, and the removal of the sport will deprive the country of several of its usual medals. The decision to drop wrestling was made by 15 members of the IOC, and still needs to be ratified by all members.

00:45

Militant attack on Thai army base leaves 17 extremists dead - army report

­At least seventeen militants have been killed after a group of some 100 fully-armed extremist stormed a military base in Southern Thailand, the army has said. The attackers were met by 60 marines who repelled the attack. No military casualties were reported.

00:19

At least three tourists killed in US Guam resort stabbing

At least three people have been killed and eleven others injured after a man drove his car into a convenience store at a resort in the US Pacific territory of  Guam, before then going on a stabbing spree, police said. Emergency officials say a total of 14 people were taken to Guam Memorial Hospital. The incident occurred on Monday night at a shopping area at the Outrigger Resort. The police have a suspect in custody. Law enforcement is continuing the investigation.