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18 February, 2013


Tunisian PM fails to form technocratic cabinet amid political crisis

­Tunisian PM Hamadi Jebali has announced his failure to gain support for a technocratic government to deal with the political crisis gripping the country. The head of the PM’s Ennahda party said Monday that the only way out of the crisis would be to form a joint government of technocrats and politicians. This just after negotiations almost broke down on Sunday, as the secular Congress for the Republic (CPR) party threatened to withdraw its ministers over their dissatisfaction with how the ruling moderate-Islamist Ennahda handled the political situation. Although Tunisia had become the poster child for the Arab Spring for its low casualties in the turmoil of 2011, the February 6 assassination of a prominent leftist politician has again sparked anti-government riots, plunging the country into further unrest.


Woman sets herself on fire in Spanish bank

­Local officials have confirmed the incident, in which a woman set herself on fire after dousing herself with a flammable liquid in an Almassora Caixa bank branch in the eastern Spanish province of Castellón. The police and rescuers managed to put out the flames within minutes and save the woman, though one of the police officers was injured in the process. Upon being rescued the woman reportedly cried “Look what you’ve done, you’ve ripped me of everything,” which led local media to suggest the 47-year-old had debt in the bank she was unable to pay. A helicopter transferred the woman to a hospital, where she’s now being treated for 48 percent body burns.


Armenian President Sargsyan re-elected in the first round

­The current President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan has won the presidential election in the first round with 58 percent of votes in his favor, according to exit-polls. The turnout was   estimated at over 1.5 million people , or just over 80  percent of the total electorate.  According to  law, the candidate who receives 50 percent of votes even in the first round wins the election.


Islamist adviser to Morsi quits

­Bassam Zarka, an ultra-conservative Islamist adviser to Egypt's president Morsi, resigned in solidarity with an Al-Nour party colleague who was fired on allegations of abuse of office. The party has been critical of Morsi's and the Muslim Brotherhood’s decisions and accused the president of failing to establish dialogue with the opposition prolonging the political unrest. The  Al-Nour party represents the second largest bloc in Egypt's parliament.


13 wounded in S. Africa mine unrest

­13 people including 4 guards were hurt in gun and machete attacks at an Anglo-American Platinum mine in South Africa. The mine guards used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. The incident took place after 1,000 people besieged a union office.The clashes  at the Siphumelele mine in Rustenburg happened over a dispute  between representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers and supporters of a more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, police said.


EU renews arms embargo on Syria for another three months

­The EU extended sanctions against Syria and renewed  the arms embargo for another three months, making amendments to provide  more non-lethal support and technical assistance to protect civilians,  EU foreign ministers announced after today’s meeting. The current sanctions include an  arms embargo, a ban on importing Syrian oil, and measures against various individuals and companies. Weeks before Britain suggested easing the embargo to help rebels fighting president Assad’s government, although a number of  EU foreign ministers were against it.


EU approves new sanctions on N. Korea

­The European Union has agreed to expand sanctions against North Korea in response to its third nuclear test, EU diplomats said. Measures restricting trading in bonds, gold, precious metals and diamonds were added to the previous sanctions introduced last December. The new sanctions also ban the trade of technology that could be used in ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean banks will be restricted from opening new branches in the EU, and vice-versa. North Korea was widely condemned last week after carrying out its third nuclear test.


Arсtic must be protected from exploitation – UN

­The Arctic region must be protected, as “the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil fuel resources that fueled the melt in the first place,” UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner said during the opening of environmental talks in Nairobi. Satellite images have showed the Arctic sea at its lowest recorded levels, and it could see an ice-free summer by 2030 to 2040, scientists say.  As ice melts, more shipping routes are opened up, allowing for further oil and gas exploration, which could threaten the region’s fragile ecosystem and wildlife.


Indian PM pushes parliament for new anti-rape law

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed hope on Monday that parliament would enact tough anti-rape laws following the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi. “It is our hope that parliament will urgently pass the necessary legislation to enact a comprehensive law in this regard,” he said, adding that “incidents of violence and sexual offences against women are on the increase.” Two weeks ago, the government passed temporary measures to toughen punishments for rapists. The minimum sentences for gang-rape and rape of a minor will be doubled to 20 years, and can be extended to life without parole, AFP said. Parliament’s budgetary session opens Thursday.


Posthumous trial of Magnitsky to start on March 4 – court

The trial of Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitsky, who died in prison three years ago, will begin next month, a Russian court ruled on Monday. Prosecutors have accused Magnitsky, a former Hermitage Capital lawyer, of tax evasion. Magnitsky’s colleagues said he was jailed after he claimed that officials colluded with organized crime to claim a $230-million tax rebate. He died in pre-trial detention in 2009 after being denied medical treatment. In Russia, posthumous trials are allowed in order to acquit the deceased. Magnitsky’s relatives said they will boycott the proceedings.


Software lab head Kaspersky sues son’s kidnappers

Kaspersky Lab head Yevgeny Kaspersky has demanded that the kidnappers of his son pay 3 million euro in restitution. The sum is equal to what the kidnappers demanded as a ransom, Kaspersky said, adding that he became estranged from his son after the kidnapping. “In fact, I have lost the son,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying. Ivan Kaspersky, 20, was abducted in April 2011 and freed five days later by police and security services officers. Five suspects, who demanded a ransom of 3 million euro ($4.3 million), were detained. Special services officer Capt. Aleksey Ustimchuk, accused of orchestrating the kidnapping, was tried separately and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.


3-year-old Russian child adopted by US citizens ‘killed in Texas’ – ombudsman

A 3-year-old Russian child named Maksim “was killed by his adoptive US mother in Texas,” Russian children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said Monday. Astakhov wrote on Twitter that the alleged killing took place at the end of January. “The Russian Embassy has learned this despite [that] the US State Department has failed to react to this,” Astakhov said, adding that the boy died as he was waiting for an ambulance called by his mother, and that Maksim suffered numerous injuries, according to an autopsy. Investigators believe the mother had beaten the child, the ombudsman said, adding that she had reportedly given the child strong psychotropic medicine. Another of her children was taken from her as the investigation continues. Late last year, the Russian parliament banned US citizens from adopting Russian children.


‘Pro-govt forces will win Syrian conflict’ – Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad said he is confident his troops will win the ongoing conflict in Syria. Pro-Damascus Lebanese newspaper As-Safir published his comments, saying that Assad had met with unidentified Lebanese politicians in Damascus. “We are sure we will win, we are reassured by the political and military developments,” AFP quoted Assad as saying. “We still have a lot to do politically and in the battle against extremist terrorist groups,” he said, adding, “We are convinced that the future is ours…  Syria has the willpower to defeat the conspiracy.”


N. Korean nuke test ‘lesson on Iran’ – Israeli PM Netanyahu

North Korea's recent nuclear test shows that “sanctions alone will not stop” Iran's atomic program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. The Western sanctions against Tehran "have to be coupled with a robust, credible, military threat,” he told a gathering of international Jewish leaders on Monday. “If they are not, then there is no chance to stop them,” he said. Iran will top Netanyahu’s agenda when President Barack Obama visits Israel next month.


Al-Qaeda-linked Nigerian group claims kidnapping of 7 foreigners

An Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group claimed responsibility on Monday for the kidnapping of seven foreigners during a night raid in a remote northern Nigerian town over the weekend. The seven detained “include Lebanese and their European counterparts working with Setraco,” Reuters quoted the Ansaru group as saying in a statement. Gunmen stormed the housing compound of Lebanese construction firm Setraco in Jamaare, Bauchi state, late on Saturday, killing a security guard and abducting a Brit, an Italian, a Greek and four Lebanese workers. Ansaru has kidnapped other foreigners in Nigeria in the past.


Indonesia floods, landslides kill 17

­Floods and landslides hit the northern part of Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island on Sunday, killing 17 people including 4 children, AFP reported, citing local officials. Some 5,000 houses were submerged in the floodwaters, which had receded by Monday. Environmentalists said that Indonesia has become increasingly prone to flooding due to excessive logging, and a failure to reforest land. January flooding in the capital Jakarta left 32 people dead.


Germany, Sweden oppose UK’s plan to lift EU embargo on arms for Syrian rebels

European states have reportedly split over military support for Syrian rebels. Britain, backed by other EU states, is fighting to lift an EU arms embargo barring the supply of weapons to Syrian rebel forces. France has reportedly backed down, leaving Britain facing opposition from Germany, Sweden and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, a British baroness, AFP said. The internal row remains unresolved despite weeks of talks, as EU foreign ministers decided on the issue on Monday. The EU's sanctions against Syria, including the arms ban, expire at the end of the month. Any deal to renew the package requires a unanimous vote.


Belarus jails warrant officer for 2 years over Swedish teddy bear flight

The Belarusian border guard who missed an unauthorized ‘teddy bear flight’ by Swedish pilots has been sentenced to two years in a high-security penal camp, media reports said. The warrant officer was found guilty because he did not report the border crossing to his commanders. Swedish citizens flew from Lithuania and bombed Minsk and Ivianets with teddy bears on July 4 last year. On July 31, President Aleksandr Lukashenko fired the head of the State Border Control Committee Igor Rachkovski and air force commander Major-General Dmitry Pakhmelkin.


Top Egyptian court rejects election law

Egypt’s Constitutional Court rejected five articles of a draft election law on Monday. It also sent the text back to the country's temporary legislature for redrafting, as the ruling may delay a parliamentary poll due in April. “The court has returned the draft parliamentary electoral law to the Shura Council after making five observations on five articles which it found unconstitutional,” Reuters said, citing a court statement. Previously, President Mohamed Morsi was expected to announce the electoral law by February 25 and set a date two months later for voting.


Chinese ships enter waters near disputed islands

Chinese ships entered waters around disputed islands Monday, the Japanese coastguard said. Three state-run Maritime Surveillance vessels were seen in the territorial seas of the Japanese-owned Senkaku Islands for three to five hours, AFP said, citing a coastguard statement. The ships left the 12-nautical-mile zone by about 0500 GMT. Shinsuke Sugiyama, head of Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, is expected to meet on Tuesday for talks with Wu Dawei, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs.


BBC journalists strike over job cuts

BBC journalists went on a 24-hour strike on Monday to protest looming staff reductions. Workers staged pickets outside the BBC offices, and some programs were cancelled. Around 2,000 jobs are at risk in the BBC’s cost-cutting program, according to the National Union of Journalists. The corporation’s budget comes mainly from a tax on households with color TVs, amounting to 145.50 pounds ($228) a year. The British government froze that tax in 2010, forcing the BBC to cut jobs.


Israel arrested 'Prisoner X' for exposing Mossad plans to Australia – report

Alleged Mossad agent Ben Zygier, who committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010, was arrested by Israel for relaying intelligence information to domestic Australian spy agency ASIO, Australian TV channel ABC said Monday. The channel reported that Zygier gave ASIO detailed information about various Mossad plans, including a major operation in Italy. The Israeli parliament said on Sunday its Foreign Affairs and Defense Subcommittee for Intelligence would hold an “intensive examination” of the circumstances surrounding Zygier’s prison suicide.


Some Syrian leaders responsible for war crimes – UN

The UN has identified Syrians in "leadership positions" who may be responsible for war crimes, and the units accused of perpetrating them, UN investigators said on Monday. Both government forces and armed rebels have committed war crimes, the investigators’ latest 131-page report said. The document covers the six months leading up to mid-January 2013, and is based on 445 interviews with victims and witnesses conducted abroad, Reuters said. The independent team, led by Brazil’s Paulo Pinheiro, called on the UN Security Council to "act urgently to ensure accountability" for these grave violations. The International Criminal Court is the “appropriate institution for the fight against impunity in Syria,” the report said.


5 killed in militant attack on office in northwest Pakistan

Militants wearing suicide vests and disguised as police officers attacked the office of a senior political leader in northwestern Pakistan on Monday. Five people were killed in the attack in Peshawar, officials said. The militants’ target was the office of the top political official for the Khyber tribal area. The militants were disguised in the same type of uniform worn by the tribal police who protect the compound.


Iraq’s Al-Qaeda wing claims Baghdad car bomb attacks

Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi wing claimed responsibility on Monday for car bomb blasts that killed 28 people in Shiite Muslim districts in Baghdad. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and other Islamist groups said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government discriminates against the country's Sunni minority. “We say to the Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere: The situation in which you are living today is exactly what the mujahideen warned you of years ago,” Reuters quoted the group as saying in a statement. At least eight car bombs exploded in Baghdad's busy commercial streets on Sunday.


Chavez announces return to Venezuela on Twitter

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wrote on his Twitter account on Monday about his return to the country: “We are back home in Venezuela. Thank God! Thank you dear people! Here we will continue the treatment.” It was his first tweet for more than three months, after undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba. “Thank you to Fidel, Raul and all of Cuba! Thank you to Venezuela for so much love!” Chavez added.


Russia to send 2 planes with 44 tons of humanitarian aid to Syria

The Russian Emergency Ministry will send two planes carrying 44 tons of humanitarian aid to Syria. The Ilyushin Il-62 and Il-76 jets will carry 11 tons and 33.5 tons of humanitarian aid respectively, the ministry said on Monday. The departure date for the mission has not yet been determined. The planes will also transport a group of Russian citizens from Syria to Moscow. On January 23, a group of 77 permanent residents of Syria, including 27 children, were transported to Moscow through Beirut, Lebanon.


Sri Lankan navy rescues 32 Myanmar nationals at sea

A group of 32 Myanmar nationals whose wooden vessel began sinking during a journey to Australia has been rescued by Sri Lanka's navy. The people were rescued about 250 nautical miles off the island nation's eastern coast on Saturday. The 31 men and one boy had been at sea for 21 days without food, and are being treated for acute dehydration. The survivors said the ship set out with 130 passengers, 98 of whom died in transit. The ship’s passengers were reportedly planning to go to Australia after their attempt to enter Malaysia failed.


Suicide bombers suspected in 2 blasts at Pakistani govt compound

Two explosions and gunfire were heard outside the office of top political official Muttahirzeb Khan in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday. Officials suspect that two suicide bombers entered the compound during a meeting of tribal and government officials. After gunfire erupted, two large explosions rattled the compound, Reuters reported. On Saturday, 85 people, most of them Shiites, were killed in an attack in the southwestern city of Quetta.


British PM David Cameron in India for goodwill visit

­British Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting India in a bid to open new markets for his country. More than 100 business, culture and education representatives are traveling with him – the PM’s largest delegation ever, British media said. "I'm in no doubt that India is going to be one of the great success stories of this century – a rising power in the world. And I want Britain to be one of your partners as you grow and succeed," Cameron told the Hindustan Times. The PM’s visit takes place amid a graft scandal in which Giuseppe Orsi, the ex-boss of Italian defense firm Finmeccanica, was caught bribing Indian politicians to land a $750-million contact for Augusta Westland helicopters. India eventually canceled the deal.


New Zealand to keep small military team in Afghanistan after withdrawal

New Zealand will maintain a small military team in Afghanistan to help coalition forces after it withdraws from the country in April. The group of 27 personnel will undertake planning and intelligence duties in Kabul. New Zealand remains committed to international efforts to improve the security of Afghanistan, Prime Minister John Key said Monday. Most of those 27 will operate under an initial one-year commitment through April 2014. New Zealand is withdrawing from the country in April 2013, five months earlier than previously planned. About 145 soldiers have been stationed in Afghanistan’s central Bamiyan province since 2003.


Dagestani police officer kills 3, claiming self-defense

­A police officer in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala has shot dead three men in a restaurant in what he claimed was self-defense, the Dagestani police public relations office reported. “The officer made a warning shot into the air first. This apparently did not stop the attackers so he had to use force. Investigation is verifying evidences,” police officials said.  Earlier, police reported that an unknown assailant stormed into the restaurant, killed three men and then disappeared.


Cuba, Venezuela congratulate Ecuadorean President Correa on re-election

­The governments of Cuba and Venezuela have sent official congratulations to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who according to exit polls has won re-election with 61 percent of the vote. Cuban head of state Raoul Castro called Correa’s win a “resounding triumph” of the revolutionary course taken by the Ecuadorean president. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Haitian President Michel Martelly have also sent congratulations to Correa.


Armenian presidential election begins

­Armenian voters are heading to the polls to vote for a new president. More than 2.5 million people are expected to vote by the time polls close at 8:00pm local time. Current head of state Serzh Sargsyan is among the seven electoral contenders vying for the majority needed to win. Armenians can only vote inside the country, as there are no polling stations outside the borders, but diplomatic workers abroad can vote electronically. The Armenian presidential elections take place every five years, and presidents are limited to two terms in office.


At least ten dead in Indonesian landslides

­At least ten people have been killed in floods and landslides cause by torrential rain in Indonesia, according to officials. Nine bodies were pulled from the wreckage of homes and another from water. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed in the flooding. About 1,200 people are taking refuge in  temporary shelters. Rescue efforts are ongoing. Seasonal rainfalls in the country cause numerous landslides and flash floods each year.