UN calls on Tel Aviv to cancel plans to build thousands of houses on disputed lands
The United Nations has called on Israel to cancel plans to build thousands of new houses on the disputed territories in east Jerusalem, warning it could be "an almost fatal blow" to peace hopes. Israel has pushed through plans for 5,158 new settler homes so far. Tel Aviv announced the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, since the Palestinians won a UN vote on November 29 to secure non-member state recognition.
Israel approves Givat Hamatos settlement in east Jerusalem
The Jerusalem Planning Committee has approved 2,612 housing units in the Givat Hamatos settlement on Jerusalem's southern rim, an Israeli municipal official said Wednesday. City Councilor Pepe Alalu, who voted against the project, said construction could begin in a year. The area, inhabited by a few dozen Jewish and Palestinian families, would be the first new settlement to be built in east Jerusalem since 1997. Critics claim that Givat Hamatos, along with other settlements planned for an area known as E-1, could hinder access to east Jerusalem from the West Bank. Israel’s new building plans have drawn worldwide rebuke.
4 people killed in pyrotechnics fire in Saratov, Russia
Four people have died and three were injured in a fire at a pyrotechnics shop in the Russian city of Saratov on the Volga River, the Emergency Situations Ministry said on Wednesday. The blaze erupted in the fireworks section of a two-story building, Itar-Tass reported. The 60-square-meter blaze was put out in two hours, and no fireworks explosions were reported afterwards.
Duma approves amendments banning US adoptions of Russian children
The State Duma on Wednesday passed the ‘anti-Magnitsky law’ in a second reading and backed controversial amendments that ban US citizens from adopting Russian children. The legislation also bans the work of organizations selecting children for adoption by US citizens, and terminates an agreement with the US to cooperate on adoptions of children. The Duma also backed an amendment suspending operations by ‘political NGOs’ that receive money or property from US citizens free of charge or carry out domestic activities “posing a threat to Russia's interests,” Interfax said.
Death toll in Iran mine collapse rises to 8
The number of dead in a coal mine collapse in Iran has risen to eight, IRNA news agency said on Wednesday. Four casualties were reported earlier. Five bodies were removed from the site Tuesday night, and three more bodies were recovered on Wednesday. A mine tunnel collapsed in Iran’s central region of Tabas on Tuesday, causing a gas explosion.
Soyuz spaceship flying new crew to ISS
The Russian Soyuz TMA-07 spaceship, carrying three astronauts on board, is continuing its autonomous flight to the International Space Station (ISS) after its launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1212 GMT Wednesday. Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, NASA's Tom Marshburn and the Canadian Space Agency's Chris Hadfield have embarked on a two-day journey, and are set to dock with the ISS on December 21 and join the three astronauts already aboard.
CSTO suspends Uzbekistan's membership
The leaders of the member-states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have suspended Uzbekistan's membership, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said on Wednesday. The decision was taken at a meeting of the CSTO collective security council in Moscow. “We agreed that there will be no easy terms when entering the Organization any more, including for this state,” Lukashenko said. The CSTO is composed of former Soviet republics Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
UK to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan to 5,200 by end of 2013 – Cameron
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that Britain will reduce the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 5,200 by the end of 2013. There will be two “fairly even withdrawal steps” of troops from between now and the end of 2014, he said. No “exact decisions” have been taken yet for troop levels after 2014. The PM said earlier in the day that Britain “will not be leaving Afghanistan,” adding that London has pledged to help Afghans.
Gunmen kidnap 5 Indian sailors off coast of Nigeria
Gunmen stormed a tanker ship off the coast of Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta, ransacking the vessel and kidnapping five Indian sailors, a shipping company said Wednesday. The attackers targeted the SP Brussels tanker as it sat about 64 kilometers off the coast of Nigeria's Niger Delta Monday, Medallion Marine said in a statement. Those remaining onboard sailed the vessel safely to port in Lagos. Nigerian navy officials have not commented on the attack.
VP Biden to oversee policy changes to tackle US gun violence
President Barack Obama is tasking Vice President Joe Biden with spearheading an effort to curb US gun violence. The administration-wide push to tighten gun restrictions comes in the wake of the shooting massacre at a Connecticut elementary school. The attack has prompted several congressional gun rights supporters to consider new legislation to control firearms. Biden has been a longtime advocate for gun control.
Medvedev urges United Russia to draft plan supporting orphans
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that United Russia should develop a party program to support orphans. Speaking at an expanded session of the party’s Supreme and General Councils on Wednesday, he said that “foreign adoptions are the result of the lack of attention given to orphans by the state and society… the consequence of our indifference.” Medvedev urged that Russians are capable of coping with the problem themselves. The parliament soon plans to ban US citizens from adopting Russian children.
27 killed in northern Nigeria truck crash
Nigerian police have reported Wednesday that 27 people riding atop a truck carrying livestock were killed when it tipped over and crashed in the country’s northwest. The crash happened Monday when the truck, heading to Nigeria’s Delta state, took a corner too fast on a major road in Sokoto state, local police spokesperson Sani Salisu said. Some of those riding atop the truck survived the crash.
Turkey blasts Israel settlement plans
The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned on Wednesday plans by Israeli authorities to expand settlements in the Palestinian territories. The ministry’s statement accused Israel of policies that undermine the foundations of peace in the region, despite warnings by the international community. Policies to change the cultural and religious identity of the Palestinian territories will not yield results, the ministry said, calling on other states to oppose Israel’s plans.
French court upholds Strauss-Kahn pimping charges
A French court ruled on Wednesday to uphold the aggravated pimping charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his lawyers said. The defense team plans to appeal this decision. The ruling means the continuation of a judicial investigation into allegations that Strauss-Kahn and associates arranged sex parties with prostitutes, AFP reported. The case concerns a suspected luxury prostitution ring in northern France.
$152 bln illegally siphoned out of Russia over decade – report
Russia was among five biggest exporters of illicit financial flows over the last decade, according to a report by Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based research and advocacy organization. About $152 billion was transferred out of Russia between 2001 and 2010, the study said. The four other nations are China at $2.74 trillion, Mexico at $476 billion, Malaysia at $285 billion and Saudi Arabia at $210 billion.
2 killed in new attacks on polio workers in Pakistan
Gunmen in Pakistan staged more attacks Wednesday on UN-backed polio vaccination teams, reportedly killing at least two workers. A vaccination campaign supervisor and her driver were killed in Charsadda, officials said. Another polio worker in Peshawar was wounded in the head and is in critical condition, senior health official Janbaz Afridi said. Wednesday's attacks also took place in the city of Nowshera. The previous day, five female polio workers were killed in southern and northwestern Pakistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the Tuesday attacks.
UBS to pay $1.5bln to settle interest rate case
Swiss banking giant UBS AG announced Wednesday it admitted to fraud and has agreed to pay about $1.5 billion to US, British and Swiss authorities. UBS is one of several banks under investigation over allegations of manipulating the benchmark London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) interest rate. UBS revealed that some of its employees tried to rig the LIBOR in several currencies. The bank’s Japanese unit, where much of this manipulation took place, entered a plea to one count of wire fraud in its proposed agreement with the US Justice Department.
Vietnam bans blogger from traveling to US
Vietnamese authorities have prevented blogger Huynh Trong Hieu from flying to the US to pick up a human rights award on behalf of his father and sister, Huynh said Wednesday. Police detained the blogger at Ho Chi Minh City Airport on Sunday night, questioned him for two hours and confiscated his passport, which had a valid American visa, the AP said. He was later released. Hieu was flying to the US to receive the Hellman-Hammett award from Human Rights Watch on behalf of his father Huynh Ngoc Tuan and sister Huynh Thuc Vy, both prominent bloggers, as they are not allowed to leave the country.
Mexico launches new security force
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced the creation of a 10,000-member security force to tackle crime and violence in the country’s troubled regions. The new gendarmerie is expected to fulfill basic law enforcement duties, while the federal police will focus on investigations. The military will continue to patrol the streets until the new force is in place. President Peña Nieto, who took office on December 1, pledged during his election campaign to create the new force. Former President Felipe Calderon’s war against drug-trafficking organizations has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
UK sets guidelines for social media prosecution
UK government prosecutors published new guidelines on Wednesday that could make it harder to bring legal cases against people who send offensive messages on Twitter and Facebook. “These interim guidelines are intended to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to uphold the criminal law,” said Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions. The guidelines come amid increasing criminal prosecutions against people who post online messages deemed indecent or menacing.
Nine dead and over three thousand homeless in Sri Lanka landslides
Nine people have died and over 3,000 have been displaced in landslides and floods in Sri Lanka after two days of bad weather, officials have announced. Those left homeless have taken shelter in temples and schools. The extreme weather conditions also gave rise to the unique phenomenon of fish falling from the sky in the town of Matara. Authorities believe a mini-tornado was responsible for sucking the fish out of the sea before depositing them on the ground.
Washington slams Israel for pursuing new settlement construction
The US State Department has accused Israel of engaging in a “provocative action" with their continued building of settlements at a time of fragile peace with Palestine. The Department’s spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also accused Tel Aviv of hypocrisy, as Israel's leaders “continually say that they support a path towards a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.” The statement brings Washington's opposition to Israeli settlements to a new level.
Ireland to legalize some abortions following woman’s death
Ireland is set to legalize abortions in a move that defies the Catholic Churches’ grip on ethical values in the country. The operations will be allowed when a mother's life is at risk or if she is deemed to be suicidal. The country’s cabinet made the decision after massive public pressure following the death of a pregnant woman in October who died after her abortion requests were refused as she was suffering a miscarriage.
Ontario teachers walk out of classrooms in record breaking numbers
More than twenty thousand teachers abandoned their classrooms to march in Ontario’s biggest labour strike. The "Super Tuesday" strike involved eight school districts which left over 400,000 students without instructors. The protest was an attempt by the unions to force collective bargaining on the authorities. Earlier this year, the provincial assembly adopted Bill 115, which allows the Ontario government to impose a contract if none has been negotiated by December 31. More strikes are expected through Thursday.
National Rifle Association promises “meaningful contributions” after Newtown shootings
The US National Rifle Association is to hold a major news conference on Friday following the massacre of 26 people, mostly children, in Newtown. In its first statement since the tragedy, the powerful gun lobby promises to make “meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again,” as its members were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders”. The statement comes after days of silence by the NRA and after increased pressure from the public and lawmakers to pursue harsher gun control policies.
Six Chinese officials fired following elementary school stabbing
Two school principals, two local police officers, one safety official and one county education official have been fired in China’s Henan province after a man burst into an elementary school last Friday stabbing 23 students with a knife, Xinhua reports. The perpetrator of the attack, Min Yongjun, was arrested for attacking the children and jeopardizing public security. According to the authorities Min was strongly affected by “doomsday rumours,” that according to the Mayan calendar will bring the end of the world this Friday.
Standard & Poor’s agency upgrades Greece’s credit rating
Standard & Poor's agency has raised Greece's sovereign credit rating by 6 notches to B-minus, which pulls the country out of default, but still keeps its devalued bonds at junk status. This is the highest grade the agency has given Greece since June 2011, and reflects the intent of the other 16 members of the Eurozone to keep Greece inside the currency union. The agency gives the country a stable outlook, suggesting it won’t make another change to its credit rating in the near future.