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7 January, 2014


Netherlands and Cuba begin political dialogue

The Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans and his Cuban counterpart concluded a high-level visit in Havana by signing an agreement on Tuesday to begin a political dialogue, going against the EU’s current stance on Cuba. Timmermans expressed his desire for the EU to change its policy towards relations with the island nation, which currently limits high-level interactions. "Havana through the centuries has been a meeting point between Europe and the Americas and I believe it still has an important role to play in this regard,” he said. One of the topics discussed between Timmermans and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez included Cuba's attempts to "bring an end to the last violent conflict in the region;" in reference to hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.


1,500 Syrian refugees accepted into Britain

Britain has taken in 1,500 Syrian asylum seekers since January 2013, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated on Tuesday. “Of course we should do that. We have accepted hundreds of asylum seekers who have sought and been provided with refuge in this country under our international obligations,” stated Clegg. Overall, Britain has granted some 2,000 Syrians asylum since March 2011 when the violence started in Syria. If asylum seekers arrive in the UK, having made their own way to the country it’s treated on a case-by-case basis, rather than the UK offering aid through a resettlement program, according to a Home Office spokeswoman, reported AFP. UK Independence Party leader, Nigel Farage has been openly critical of the UK government for its apparent refusal to resettle Syrian refugees, while Amnesty International has also slammed the ‘truly pitiful’ response to the situation in the country.


UAE to free US man jailed over video mockumentary

An American who was imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates after participating in the creation of a video mocking Dubai youth will be freed, according to a family spokesperson. Shezanne Cassimwill be flown back to the US on Thursday. He had been sentenced to a year in prison in December, along with a fine of approximately $2,700 after being accused of defaming the UAE's image abroad along with five other foreigners.


Condition of children hurt in Volgograd blasts improves

There has been an improvement in the condition of children hurt in the Volgograd terrorist attacks and moved to Moscow for treatment, health minister, Veronika Skvortsova, said. A three-and-a-half month old girl, Vika Tolkunova, has come out of coma and is now able to breath with minimal assistance, while a nine-year-old girl, Olya, is recovering well. A 16-year-old boy also reports improvements, Skvortsova told RIA-Novosti. Thirty-four people were killed and over 70 others injured in two suicide blasts which rocked Russia’s southern city of Volgograd on December 29 and 30.


Iraqi violence surge has Syrian links – Russia

The Russian foreign ministry has expressed confidence that the current surge of violence in Iraq has religious roots, and is intrinsically linked with the developments in neighboring Syria, where civil war between the government and Islamist rebels has been raging for nearly three years. “Terrorists from Al Qaeda and other groups linked with it, who are active in Iraq and Syria, know no boundaries, they bring death and suffering to peaceful populations,” the ministry said in a statement. Russia condemned The ministry also condemned terrorism in all its manifestations and expressed support for the country’s counter-extremism measures as Iraqi government troops push Islamists from the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Stability in the region may only be reached “through the soonest political settlement of the Syrian crisis, through reaching national accord in Iraq in the interests of all political forces and ethnic and religious groups,” the statement concluded.


US Senate votes to advance jobless aid program

The US senate has voted 60-37 to extend unemployment insurance benefits. The $6.4 billion plan cleared the hurdle on Tuesday morning with the exact number of votes required for the bill to avoid a filibuster. Senate Democrats only had the support of four Republicans on Monday, but seemingly managed to gain the support of a further member of the party. The bill is a Democrat priority and will extend long-term unemployment benefits to some 1.3 million Americans who lost them following the Christmas period.


25 militants killed in Iraq missile strike

Twenty-five Iraqi militants have been killed in a missile assault in Ramadi, central Iraq. Forces conducted “missile strikes, resulting in the killing of 25,” according to defense ministry spokesman, Staff Lieutenant General Mohammed al-Askari, who spoke to AFP.


China suspends 14-year video game console ban

China has suspended its 14-year ban on the sale of video game consoles inside the country, allowing ‘foreign-invested enterprises’ consoles produced by Sony Corp, Microsoft Corp and Nintendo Co Ltd to enter the Chinese market. The ban, introduced in 2000, has left PC games with nearly two-thirds of the market. China is the third largest video game market in the world and revenues grew by over a third in 2012 to nearly $14 billion last year. Initially, the mental health of youth was cited as the reasoning behind the ban.


South Sudan peace talks underway in Ethiopia

South Sudan’s government delegation and rebels have started face-to-face talks in neighboring Ethiopia, aimed at ending the bloodshed that erupted in mid-December and quickly spread to different areas of the world’s newest country, the two sides said on Tuesday, according to Reuters. The tribal and political unrest that has lasted for three weeks so far has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people and displaced more than 200,000 people, with the UN peacekeeping force in the country now doubled.


Attacks in Iraq kill 4 as fight against Al-Qaeda-linked group continues

Authorities say attacks in Iraq have killed at least four people as government troops continue to battle Al-Qaida-linked militants in western Anbar province. A suicide bomber crashed his explosives-laden truck into a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing two people and wounding 55, according to Maj. Raid Emad Rasheed, AP quoted. In a separate incident, a roadside bomb hit an army patrol on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding another, police said. Another bomb struck a patrol of Sunni militiamen in a different part of Baghdad, killing one and wounding four. A medical official confirmed the figures. The comments were given anonymously.


Spanish Princess Infanta Cristina suspect in fraud case

The youngest daughter of King Juan Carlos has been summoned to appear in court over accusations of fraud and money-laundering. Infanta Cristina, 48, is married to Iñaki Urdangarín, who was accused in November 2011 of misappropriating public funds through the Instituto Nóos, a nonprofit organization Urdangarín headed. The princess has been named an official suspect and is scheduled to appear in court on 8 March. It is thought to be the first time a direct relative of the king will appear in court accused of misdeeds.


​Turkey fires 350 police officers amid political crisis

Some 350 Turkish police officers have been sacked or reassigned overnight in Ankara in a massive shakeup of the police force, local media report. 250 of the vacant positions were filled with new officers, most of them from outside the Turkish capital. The move comes in the midst of an ongoing political crisis in Turkey, which was triggered in mid-December by arrests of businessmen close to the government, including relatives of some ministers, on allegations of corruption.

The shakeup comes a day after PM Tayyip Erdogan suggested the retrial of hundreds of army officers convicted of plotting a coup against his government. Erdogan cracked down on the military with the help of the Hizmet movement of the US-based Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, which has strong ties in the police and the judiciary. Now Erdogan’s followers accuse Gulen of using the same leverage against his government.


Guinea-Bissau detains Senegal fishermen in Russian trawler row

Guinea-Bissau has detained several fishing boats from Senegal in response to the detention of the Russian trawler, Oleg Naidenov, with a mixed Russian-Guinean-Bissau crew, reports Itar-Tass. Guinea-Bissau is hoping to put pressure on its northern neighbor to make it release the 23 sailors. Senegal detained the Russian ship on accusations of illegal fishing, but an inspection sent on board failed to find any violations. Russian diplomats are working to defuse the situation, which, according to the owner of the ship, arose from backstabbing competition for fishing resources in Western Africa.


‘Jihad Jane’ sentenced to 10 years for plot to kill Swedish cartoonist

Colleen R. LaRose, who is perhaps better known as “Jihad Jane,” was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison for her involvement in a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who drew a picture of the prophet Muhammad atop the body of a dog. Using “Jihad Jane” as a screen name, LaRose travelled to Europe in order to murder Vilks but returned to her Pennsylvania home when her co-conspirators failed to meet with her. LaRose stands at 4-feet-9-inches and told the court Monday she was inspired to join the Islamic holy war upon seeing images of Palestinians “screaming and crying.” She explained she no longer desires to be a jihadist and was in a “trance” when she went to Europe in 2008.


​Federal judge rules Chicago’s prohibition on gun sales is unconstitutional

Chicago’s law prohibiting gun sales was deemed unconstitutional Monday by a federal judge. “Chicago’s ordinance goes too far in outright banning legal buyers and legal dealers from engaging in lawful acquisitions and lawful sales of firearms,” US District Judge Edmond E. Chang wrote. He delayed the ruling to allow the city to either appeal the decision or to begin preparing new guidelines on sales “short of a complete ban.” The law was adopted in 2010 after the US Supreme Court struck down the city’s ban on gun possession. The ordinance allowed the transfer of firearms only through inheritance.