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23 April, 2014


NASA astronauts take brief spacewalk to replace dead computer

Two NASA astronauts have taken a short spacewalk outside the International Space Station to replace a failed computer that serves as a backup to critical control systems,including the outpost's solar panel wings. Flight engineers Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson had been expected to float outside for 2-1/2-hours, but managed to replace the failed computer which failed on April 11 and get back into the station with an hour to spare, Reuters reports. Replacing the computer — which is about the size of a small microwave oven — involved just three bolts, hardly anything for a spacewalking chore. The new one tested fine. “Nice and clean. Great job,” Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen from NASA's Mission Control radioed to the astronauts as they prepared to close the hatch.


Israeli air-strike on Gaza injures 12, including children

Israel has launched an air strike on Gaza, wounding 12 civilians, reports Reuters, citing medical officials and local media. Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said children between the ages of five and 12 were among the wounded. The Israeli military said that it carried out a "counter-terrorism operation" in the northern Gaza Strip. They added that “a hit was not identified,” suggesting that the militant being targeted by the strike may have eluded it. Israeli media reported that a militant riding on a motorcycle was the target but that he escaped. The strike followed shortly after the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by president Mahmoud Abbas, signed a unity pact with Hamas Islamist movement controlling Gaza.


Southwest Russian bank hostage taker arrested, defense claims ‘illegally’

A court in the southwestern Russian city of Belgorod has ordered the man who on Monday took hostages in a bank to be arrested and taken into custody for two months while an investigation into the incident is ongoing. The prosecution demanded that Aleksandr Vdovin was taken into custody for fear he might “disrupt the investigation, destroy the evidence or continue criminal activity.” Vdovin’s defense had asked for him to be released on 600,000 rubles ($16,800) bail and now says that it “holds the decision of the court as unlawful,” because it “did not consider” the alternative to the prosecutor’s request, Interfax reports. Vdovin took to a branch of the Zapadny bank in Belgorod with a Saiga hunting rifle after the bank’s license was revoked by Russia’s Central Bank and it refused to give back Vdovin’s alleged savings of 23 million rubles ($645,000). Media allegations also said that at least some of the sum was not Vdovin’s own and his move was a desperate act to protect his family. The hostage taker released all the people unharmed, and the defense has noted that during negotiations Vdovin “repeatedly stressed that he does not wish anybody harm and is not going to shoot at anyone.”


UK jets scrambled to see off two ‘Russian bombers’ near Scotland

The UK on Wednesday scrambled several Typhoon fighter jets to see off two “unidentified aircraft flying near the north of Scotland,” a UK Defense Ministry spokeswoman told Reuters. The agency said Britain’s Royal Air Force later identified the aircraft as Russian Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers, commonly known by their NATO reporting name “Bear.” The planes “were flying in international airspace at all times, they didn’t go into UK sovereign airspace,” the spokeswoman said, adding that there had been eight similar incidents in 2013. Local media reports claimed that two Russian bombers turned away and flew towards Scandinavia after being contacted by the British jets.


Israel cancels talks after Hamas, PLO announce reconciliation

Israel has canceled planned session of peace talks with the Palestinians after a unity deal was signed in Gaza between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's PLO, Reuters reported, citing a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office. No further details have been provided. Hamas and the PLO agreed to form a unity government within five weeks and hold national elections a half-year after a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament.


More than 50 people killed in Congo train crash – reports

More than 50 people were killed in a train crash in Democratic Republic of Congo's Katanga province, Reuters reported. Dikanga Kazadi, Katanga's interior minister, gave a provisional toll of 56 dead and 69 injured. The accident on Tuesday involved a goods train that was also carrying passengers near Likasi, a mining town between Lubumbashi and Kolwezi in the copper and cobalt-rich southeast.


4 wounded as Israel strikes target Gaza - medics

Israel launched an air strike on Wednesday on the northern Gaza Strip, wounding four people, Reuters reported, citing medical officials in the Hamas-ruled territory. There was no immediate word on the identities of those wounded in the air strike. The Israeli military has not immediately commented on the attack, which came two days after militants in the Palestinian enclave launched rockets into southern Israel.


Syria accuses UN, envoy Brahimi of obstructing Geneva-2 peace process

The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused the UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of obstructing the Geneva-2 peace process aimed at ending the country's three-year conflict, AFP reported. “The UN and its envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are responsible for obstructing the Geneva-2 talks,” state television quoted a ministry official as saying. The official said Brahimi had taken sides and was no longer an honest mediator.


Hamas, PLO announce reconciliation agreement

The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed Wednesday to implement a unity pact, Reuters reported. The move envisions forming a unity government within five weeks, both sides announced in a joint news conference. National elections will be held six months after a vote of confidence by the Palestinian parliament.


State Duma committee orders Zhirinovsky to apologize to Russian journalists for insults, threats

The ethics committee of the Russian parliament’s lower house, the State Duma, has ordered nationalist LDPR party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky to publicly apologize to parliamentary journalists who he insulted and threatened, ITAR-TASS reported. The decision came after an incident Friday when he insulted a pregnant journalist and other reporters, and told aides to “rape” her, before a plenary session in the Duma.


Australia investigating ‘unidentified material’ washed ashore as MH370 search continues

The Australian agency coordinating the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has said unidentified material has washed ashore in Western Australia. Experts are investigating whether it is related to the missing plane, the Voice of America radio reported. The Joint Agency Coordination Center said photographs of the material are being examined “to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370.”


EU urges Russia, Ukraine tripartite gas talks

EU Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger offered Moscow and Kiev to hold a first tripartite meeting with the European Union on gas issue. Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak and Ukrainian Minister of Energy and Coalmining Yuri Prodan could participate in the meeting, ITAR-TASS reported on Wednesday.


Malaysia cabinet approves intl investigation into missing flight

Malaysia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday the appointment of an international team to investigate the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Reuters reported. The main purpose of such team is “to evaluate, investigate and determine the actual cause of the accident so similar accidents could be avoided in the future,” the country’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. The government has had talks with Malaysian state oil firm Petronas and other entities to expand the deep-sea search for the missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean.


Beijing probes reports of Chinese chlorine used in Syria gas attack

China is investigating reports that a chlorine canister bearing the name of the country’s biggest arms maker was used in a gas attack in Syria this month, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. Opposition activists in the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita in the central province of Hama uploaded video of people choking and being fed oxygen following what they said were bombs dropped from helicopters on April 11 and 12, Reuters said. A partially exploded canister was shown with the chemical symbol for chlorine along with the name of Chinese arms manufacturer Norinco. The authenticity of the videos was not verified, and Norinco, known as China North Industries Group Corporation, has not commented on the reports.


1 person shot dead during fresh violent protests in Rio

One person was shot dead as violent protests erupted Tuesday near Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach after a 25-year-old dancer was killed allegedly by police, AFP said. Angry demonstrators from a slum set ablaze barricades of tires, forcing two main roads closed as they hurled bottles to protest the death of the dancer, who was reportedly killed after police mistook him for a drug trafficker. A 27-year-old man described as mentally disabled was killed after being shot in the head during the protests, city hall officials said. It was not immediately clear who fired the shot. The protests came two months before the World Cup in Brazil.


Saudi Arabia reports 11 new MERS infections

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday announced 11 new cases of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), including a 13-year-old child, AFP reported. The new cases bring to 272 the total number of the infections, including 81 deaths, registered across the kingdom. The country is worst hit by MERS, which was first detected in eastern Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Most of the latest cases are in Riyadh and the commercial hub Jeddah, with one case in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.


Bomb kills senior Egyptian police officer

A senior Egyptian police officer was killed when a bomb exploded under his car outside his home near Cairo on Wednesday, Reuters reported, citing state television and a security source. Brigadier-General Ahmed Zaki was killed in the explosion in 6th of October City, 32km from the capital, according to state-run Nile news TV.


Philippines protesters clash with police over Obama visit

Philippine police clashed Wednesday with more than 100 left-wing activists who rallied at the US Embassy in Manila. They oppose a visit by President Barack Obama and a looming pact that will increase the American military presence in the Philippines, AP reported. Riot police blocked the activists near the heavily fortified embassy compound but the protesters slipped past them, sparking a brief scuffle. Officers sprayed the protesters with water from a fire truck to push them away but no arrests were made. Some of the activists carried paper US flags with the message: “Obama, not welcome.”