Friday, December 31, 2010

MALE, Maldives - A special Christmas promotion aimed at foreigners at a Maldivian restaurant got the restaurant owners into deep trouble.
Islam is the official religion in Maldives and constitutionally, there is only place for Sunni Muslims; practice of other religions is prohibited. Display of other religious symbols attracts police action. In this case, the restaurant was decorated for Christmas with items related to the celebration.
  • This led to protests from religious groups such as the Adhaalath Party and the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, which led to the arrest of one restaurant employee, the independent Maldivian newspaper Minivan News reported.
  • “Some people gathered and protested against the decorations, because it was like celebrating Christmas,” police spokesman Ahmed Shiyam told AFP. Mr. Shiyam added one restaurant employee was taken in for questioning on Tuesday and later released. The offending streamers were quickly removed.
  • The restaurant, Jade Bistro, located in front of the busy main street of Male, Boduthakurufaanu Magu, just fronting jetty Number 8, is popular for its selection of food from abroad and free wi-fi and, hence, like everything in Maldives, a trifle expensive. Jade is open throughout even during the afternoon prayers, says a review at a travel website, IgoUgo.
  • Management at the Jade Bistro cafe have apologised to Maldivians that may have been offended by a “festive” lunch promotion offered over the Christmas period.
Readers’ comments in the Minivan News website ranged from anger to ridicule of its politicians and a few even asked if the Islamic parties would stop such celebrations in the many resort islands. There was also a dash of humour in one: “I do not see what is offensive about food, unless it is cooked very badly!.”
Source: Agency
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Police officers stand guard as a van carrying men charged with conspiracy to cause explosions in the UK arrives at Westminster Magistrates Court
LONDON, U.K - Nine men will appear in a London court Monday charged with plotting one or more bomb attacks in Britain, a week after police arrested them in a series of pre-dawn raids across England and Wales.
They have been charged with plotting an explosion -- or explosions -- "of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property" between October 1 and November 20 this year, said police.
  • The men were also charged with involvement in the preparation of an attack by having downloaded and researched methods and materials, and scouted potential targets, said the police statement. The suspects had also tested incendiary materials, said police.
  • Sue Hemming, of the counter-terrorism division of Britain's prosecution service, confirmed the charges in a statement.
  • The nine would be charged with "conspiracy to cause explosions" and preparing "acts of terrorism" with the intention of either committing the acts themselves or helping others to do so. Lawyers from her division had been working closely with the police from an early stage, she added.
  • On December 20, police arrested a dozen suspects in England and Wales, aged between 17 and 28, detaining them "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism in the UK."
  • The arrests were made in the Welsh capital Cardiff; in the central English town of Stoke-on-Trent, in Britain's second city Birmingham in the English West Midlands, and in London.
  • Hemming said prosecutors had decided to file the charges after having reviewed evidence provided by the West Midlands counter terrorism unit. A bombing in Stockholm earlier this month has heightened concerns in Britain because the man thought to have been the bomber was based there.
  • The man blew up himself and his car in a busy district of the Swedish capital.
Britain is on high alert after having upgraded its perceived terror threat level earlier this year to "severe." This is the second highest on a five-level grading, indicating that a terrorist attack is "highly likely," according to the Home Office, Britain's interior ministry.
The threat level was hiked in January after a six-month spell at "substantial" -- the only time it has dipped below the two highest levels since it was set up in 2006, following the London bombings in July 2005.
Those attacks on three Underground trains and a bus killed 52 people, plus the four suicide bombers, who were all British nationals.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Australia’s worst flood in decades is affecting more residents across the region with Queensland state declaring on Wednesday that two new disaster areas and at least two other towns are also preparing to evacuate.
Evacuations are underway in the inland town of Emerald, west of Rockhampton, and in the coastal city of Bundaberg, according to reports. River levels continue to rise in many locations as the deluge that’s hit southern and central Queensland makes its way towards the sea.
  • Bureau of Meteorology has warned that downstream communities, particularly Bundaberg and Rockhampton, face days of uncertainty.
  • Authorities said about 200 homes are at risk of inundation in Bundaberg, where 18 properties have been flooded so far. Many residents have already left low lying areas as the city braces for the highest flood peak in 50 years. Residents are also being evacuated from low-lying parts of Emerald after the Department of Community Safety said flood levels would equal or exceed those seen in 2008.
  • The January 2008 floods saw 2700 people evacuated and left a damage bill of more than USD 50 million.
The Nogoa River, which flows through Emerald, is at major flood levels and is expected to peak on Friday about 0.3 metres higher than the 2008 flood, which reached 15.36 metres.
Source: The Agencies
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
KOTA KINABALU, East Malaysia - Seaweed farm manager Tsen Vui Chung, 42, and supervisor, Lai Wing Chau, 33, were finally reunited with their family members after 10 months and 12 days in captivity, at KKIA's Terminal Two arrival hall in Tanjung Aru on Friday.
Family members could not hide their happiness and rushed to meet them as they walked into the arrival hall soon as the Cebu Pacific plane ferrying them from Manila touched down at about 5.50pm.
  • Tsen's wife, Chua Mui Ling, 41, together with their children Tsen Hien June, 11, and Tsen Joe Yi, 13, rushed out to hug him while Lai, a bachelor, was greeted by his happy parents and other family members. Tsen's son, Hien June was clinging to him the whole time they sat for the Press conference.
  • The duo were abducted by a group of gunmen at the seaweed farm in Sebangkat Island off Semporna on Feb. 8 this year and their release was secured on Dec. 21.
  • According to Tsen, they were bound by the gunmen before being taken to an island believed to be in the Southern Philippines as the journey took almost 10 hours.
  • On arriving, he said they were at a loss because the abductors did not tell them what they wanted and only asked for their family handphone numbers. To a question, he said the abductors spoke in Malay.
  • He confirmed reports that the kidnapers had to mobilise them from one place to another to evade detection. "We shifted from one place to another at least about 100 times," said Tsen.
  • Asked if the abductors had ever mentioned about a ransom for their release, he said they had no idea about it.
It was reported that police commandos who have been searching for the captives, recovered the two near Bongao town in the southernmost island province of Tawi-Tawi. The gunmen abandoned the duo after they were surrounded by government forces before escaping.
Source: Sabah daily Express
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Monday, December 27, 2010

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - Foreign intervention to oust Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo could ignite a civil war, a spokesman for the president has warned. West African leaders have warned of military action if Mr Gbagbo refuses to hand power to rival Alassane Ouattara.
But Ahoua Don Mello said such a move could spark an "interior war" due to foreign workers living in the country, AFP reports.
  • Mr Gbagbo has refused to step aside following November's disputed election.
  • Ivory Coast was "a country of immigration" from around the region, Mr Mello said. "All these countries have citizens in Ivory Coast, and they know if they attack Ivory Coast from the exterior it would become an interior civil war," he said.
  • "Is Burkina Faso ready to welcome three million Burkinabe migrants back in their country of origin?" Mr Mello asked.
  • Millions of West African immigrants from poorer neighbouring states work in Ivory Coast's relatively prosperous cocoa-led economy.
  • On Friday, regional West African grouping Ecowas warned that unless Mr Gbagbo conceded power it would use "legitimate force" to remove him.
  • Three West African presidents - from Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde - are due to travel to the country on Tuesday to personally urge Mr Gbagbo to quit, Benin's foreign minister said.
  • The BBC's John James, in Abidjan, says that after calls from the US and French presidents, this personal visit will represent the final notice for Mr Gbagbo, whose hold on power is diminishing by the day.
  • Some 14,000 people have already fled to neighbouring Liberia following November's disputed election results, and the UN says it is prepared for a total of 30,000 refugees in the region. The UN has said at least 173 people have died in violence already.
  • Most of those fleeing are supporters of Mr Ouattara, who is recognised internationally as the new president. He and his cabinet are based at a hotel in Abidjan under the protection of UN troops.
Mr Gbagbo has rejected widespread calls to step down, citing vote rigging in northern areas. He has demanded that UN and French troops leave the country and a close ally has even warned that they could be treated as rebels if they did not obey the instruction.
The UN, which has 10,000 peacekeepers in the country, rejected the call.
The election was meant to unite the country after a civil war in 2002 split the world's largest cocoa producer in two, with the predominantly Muslim North supporting Mr Ouattara and the mainly Christian south backing Mr Gbagbo.
Source: BBC
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Injured victims of suicide bombing are treated at Lady Reading hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan
KHAR, Pakistan - More than 80 were killed including six policemen and more than 100 wounded in a suicide bombing. A suicide bomber wearing a burqa, who some officials said was a woman. Authorities say it may be the first suicide attack by a female in Pakistan.
The blast occurred in Khar, the main town of lawless Bajaur tribal district, once a stronghold of Taliban militants who have carried out several bombings and suicide attacks in the area.
The bomber, dressed in the head-to-toe burqa robes that women commonly wear Pakistan and Afghanistan, was challenged by police at a check point, officials said.
She then charged toward a group of 300 people lined up outside the food aid distribution center in the town of Khar, tossing two hand grenades before blowing herself up, officials said. The crowd was made up of people who have fled conflicts elsewhere in the area.
The attack in Khar, the main city in the Bajur region of Pakistan's northwest, came a day after 150 militants waged pitched gun battles against five security posts in the adjourning Mohmand tribal region to the south.
Tribal police officials Mubashir Khan and Munasib Khan also said the attacker was a woman, who resisted being searched and hurled a hand grenade at security guards at the checkpoint before triggering her bomb.
Source: AP
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Fresh attacks against Christians marred Christmas Day on Saturday as church leaders condemned religious persecution and called for peace and reconciliation.
As Christian leaders highlighted the plight of believers facing the threat of attacks around the world, a bomb in a church during Christmas mass in the southern Philippines wounded six people, including the priest.
  • Military officials would not immediately name any suspects in the blast on Jolo island, but the island is a known bastion of the Al Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf group. "The explosion occurred at around 7:15 in the morning while the mass was going on. Six people were slightly wounded in the explosion," military spokesman Lieutenant Randolph Cabangbang said.
  • In the northern Nigerian city of Kano on Friday, gunmen attacked a church during Christmas Eve services but were fought off by soldiers, a military spokesman said. No one was hurt in the incident, but in the central Nigerian city of Jos the same day, an explosion killed at least eight people and wounded another eight, police said.
  • Gregory Yenlong, the information commissioner of Plateau State, of which Jos is the capital, said there had been rumours of attacks aimed at disrupting Christmas celebrations in recent days. There was no immediate indication however that the two incidents were linked and police in Jos cautioned that the cause of the explosion had not yet been established.
  • The latest violence came as a self-proclaimed jihadist said in an audiotaped threat that countries celebrating Christmas would be targeted for attacks, the Site monitoring group said on Friday.
  • The recording, directed to "the unbeliever and Christian countries celebrating Christmas," bore the voice of a member of the Shumukh Al Islam forum, said the US-based monitor.
  • The latest incidents came as pilgrims flocked to a sun-kissed Bethlehem on Christmas to celebrate in the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The West Bank town was bedecked with Christmas lights and inflatable Santas at every corner.
  • In his midnight mass at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, the Middle East's senior Catholic bishop, offered a message of solidarity to Iraqi Christians.
  • "We recall the tragedy that struck the Christian community in Iraq. Such fanatic actions are universally condemned by Christians and Muslims," he said.
  • Iraqi Christians have been the target of repeated bloody attacks, including a raid on a Baghdad church that killed 44 worshippers and two priests on October 31.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for God to punish the world's "oppressors" and bring about "true brotherhood" between peoples in his traditional Christmas message in Saint Peter's basilica.
"Lord make your promise come finally true. Break the rods of the oppressors. Burn the tramping boots. Let the time of the garments rolled in blood come to an end," Benedict said at the Christmas Eve mass in the basilica.
This year the pope was kept further away from attendees at the mass during his procession to the altar and more security guards were drafted in.
Source: Reuters
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

LOS ANGELES, U.S - California has been battered by storms for the past week and Los Angeles has been flooded by 7.67inches of rain since Thursday last week – when the average rainfall for December is 1.91.West leaving motorists stranded in their cars and forcing hundreds to flee their homes.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced a state of emergency for the worst hit areas and rescuers have been battling to clear flooded roads before more predicted storms threaten to hit a state where shirt sleeves weather is taken for granted in December.
The storms have also hit Arizona, where a holiday home collapsed into the mud after a river burst its banks.
Meteorologist Brian Edwards, of AccuWeather, said: “This has been an unbelievably wet week. ”
Source: The Agencies
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Friday, December 24, 2010

The U.S. embassy in Wellington used “outright bullying” in complaining when the ruling Labour Party held a fundraising screening of Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11, former prime minister Helen Clark(right photo) said on Friday.
Commenting on a July 2004 embassy cable to Washington, released by WikiLeaks, Ms. Clark told the New Zealand Herald: “This comes down to, really, outright bullying. It’s pretty crazy. I just find it unprofessional.” Fahrenheit 9/11 was critical of the response of the US government and particularly President George W Bush to the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, and the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • One cable from former embassy deputy chief of mission David Burnett claimed that objections to Wellington member of Parliament and cabinet minister Marian Hobbs (right photo) planning to host a screening averted a “potential fiasco.” “It is apparent to us that neither the minister nor anyone else in the Labour government seems to have thought there was anything wrong with a senior minister hosting such an event,” Burnett wrote.
  • “Ambassador will use a scheduled meeting with the prime minister to tell Ms. Clark of the near instantaneous press queries for (U.S. government) comment in this matter and remind her that we would really rather not get dragged into internal political issues, such as ministerial fundraising events for Ms. Clark’s Labour Party.” The cable said that complaints to Ms. Clark’s office produced a response that Hobbs would attend the event but not host it.
  • Earlier, Phil Goff, foreign minister at the time and Ms. Clark’s successor as leader of the Labour Party, accused US Ambassador Charles Swindells of feeding incorrect information to Washington because he was a Republican Party donor and did not understand diplomacy.
In cables released by WikiLeaks, Swindells accused the Ms. Clark government of over-reacting when two Israeli secret agents were arrested for trying to get New Zealand passports fraudulently, saying New Zealand wanted to boost trade with Arab countries.
Two other agents were involved, and Ms. Clark said at the time there was no doubt they were Mossad operatives. She suspended high-level diplomatic relations for more than a year until Israel apologized in 2005.
  • In the cables, Swindells said New Zealand had “little to lose” by acting against Israel and saw the “flap” as “an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community and, by doing so, perhaps help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.” A furious Goff said that Swindells let his background as a financier influence how he saw foreign affairs.
  • “It’s the norm for the Americans to appoint ambassadors that aren’t professionals,” Goff said.
  • “Charles, I think, really suffered from a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of how countries work and what they do.” Ms. Clark and Goff have angrily condemned suggestions in other cables that the Labour government in power from 1999-2008 sent Army engineers to Iraq so that the giant dairy co-operative Fonterra, which is the country’s biggest exporter, would profit from UN oil-for-food contracts.
They were supported Friday by former Defence Force chief Sir Bruce Ferguson, who said the embassy staff member who linked New Zealand’s humanitarian mission to Iraq to deals for Fonterra “was probably smoking dope.”
sSource: Flash News
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

PYONGYANG, North Korea - North Korea threatened today to use nuclear weapons in a "holy war" against its neighbour after South Korean tanks, jets and artillery carried out one of the largest-ever live-fire exercises close to the border.
The exercises at Pocheon, just south of the Demilitarised Zone, were the third such show of force this week by South Korea amid the worst tensions since the 1950-53 war on the peninsula.
  • Multiple rocket-launchers, dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops joined the exercises which the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, insisted were necessary for self-defence, after two deadly attacks this year. Two civilians and two marines were killed last month by a North Korean barrage of Yeongpyeong island after a live-fire exercise in disputed territory. In March, 46 sailors died when the South Korean ship Cheonan was sunk, apparently by an enemy torpedo.
  • "We had believed patience would ensure peace on this land, but that was not the case," Lee told troops today. He earlier warned that he was ready to order a "merciless counterattack" if further provoked.
  • North Korea's armed forces minister, Kim Yong-chun, also lifted the pitch of the sabre-rattling. "To counter the enemy's intentional drive to push the situation to the brink of war, our revolutionary forces are making preparations to begin a holy war at any moment necessary based on nuclear deterrent," the official Korean Central News Agency, quoted him telling a rally in Pyongyang.
  • Bellicosity and brinkmanship are nothing new on the divided peninsula and there are doubts that North Korea is capable of an accurate nuclear strike, but the situation is less predictable than usual due to the transition of power in Pyongyang from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un. Even with conventional artillery, the two densely populated nations are capable of devastating one another.
  • Experts believe the restraint shown this week by North Korea may not last if military exercises continue near the border.
  • "The situation is still a tinderbox. There's still enormous tension, enormous mistrust and I believe diplomacy is what is needed to get us out of this tinderbox," said the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who has just returned from an unofficial mission to Pyongyang. He described the tensions as "the worst I have ever seen on the peninsula."
Russia has proposed sending a special UN envoy to the region and China has expressed support for a fresh round of six-party denuclearisation talks. But Japan and the US have backed the robust stance taken by Seoul, saying North Korea has not yet done enough to deserve new negotiations.
Source: Guardian
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysian Prime Minister has expressed regret over allegations of 1Malaysia being a copy of a concept adopted by another country. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said 1Malaysia was Malaysia's own creation.
"There is nowhere in the world that has 1Malaysia, People's First, Performance Now. We move forward based on reality not based on dreams or try to trade on something that is unrealistic. It is easy to make a political promise," he said after officiating Cuepacs' 25th convention Tuesday.
Najib said the government was a responsible government, which formulated policies based on realities. On bonuses for civil servants, Najib said any payments would depend on the country's economic situation.
"The government must be realistic and not spend more than it earns. We cannot borrow to pay civil servant salaries or else we will end up being ruled by the IMF (International Monetary Fund). What is the use of being independent when our sovereignty is ruled by an international body like IMF?" he said.
Source: Agencies
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MOSCOW, Russia - Over the past few years Russia has been striding back onto the world stage. Yet in step with that growing international self-confidence has been the shadow of racial intolerance within its borders.
So-called hate crimes are on the rise, with dozens killed in racially motivated attacks so far this year.
Russia's political leaders have been promising to confront xenophobia, but those living with the fear of attack say words are yet to turn into widespread action in battling the problem. With tens of thousands of Neo Nazi Russians, racist attacks are among the highest in the world.
Now the death of a football fan has sparked the biggest single flare-up of racist violence in Russia for 20 years. Youths chanting racist slogans began rioting and attacking ethnic minorities last weekend.

They were angry at the way police handled the death of a Muscovite football fan who was killed in a fight with migrants from the North Caucasus in early December.

  • Thousands of security forces are back on the streets in Moscow, fearing more clashes between hardline nationalist groups and non-slavic minorites.
  • So why have racist attacks gone unchecked for so long? What is fuelling the anger? And who are the parties involved?
Source: Al Jazeera
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cabinet minister Cable told undercover reporters that he had "declared war" on media magnate Murdoch
LONDON, UK - Vince Cable, the British business minister, has been stripped of power over the media sector after he wassecretly taped "declaring war" on Rupert Murdoch(right photo), the chief executive of News Corp, the global mega multimedia organisation.
Cable, 67, is one of the best known members of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the Conservative-led government which took office in May, the country's first coalition government since World War Two.
  • David Cameron(right photo), the prime minister, regarded Cable's comments as "unacceptable and inappropriate", his office said in a statement which reprimanded Cable and curtailed his influence.
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, led by Jeremy Hunt, a Conservative, will take charge of media regulation including News Corp's bid to take full control of pay TV operator BSkyB. Hunt has in the past praised Murdoch's role in developing Britain's television news market.
  • News Corp wants to buy the 61 per cent of BSkyB it does not already own for $12.2 bn to consolidate the business it helped build.
  • The European Commission on Tuesday granted unconditional approval for the bid, putting the ball back in Britain's court.
  • Political analysts said the removal of Cable from the equation would reduce the chances of it being blocked.
  • "The coalition needs a Vince Cable, first of all to keep the Lib Dems on board, he's the man who can communicate with them far more than (party leader) Nick Clegg," Steven Fielding, director of Nottingham University's Centre for British Politics, said.
  • Opposition Labour called Cable a "lame duck" and his diminished role could limit his ability to rein in on bank bonuses, an issue on which he has been outspoken.
  • In comments originally made to two undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph newspaper and obtained by the BBC, Cable (right photo)said: "I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win". Talking about the bid, Cable said: "I have blocked it using the powers that I have got and they are legal powers that I have got," according to the recording.
  • Murdoch, an Australian-born US citizen, is one of the best known media figures in Britain. He was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative prime minister in the 1980s, and broke the power of the unions in the print industry.
  • News Corp, which owns British newspapers The Sun, News of the World, Times and Sunday Times, condemned Cable's comments.
  • "News Corporation is shocked and dismayed at the reports of Mr Cable's comments. They raise serious questions about fairness and due process," it said in a statement. Cable apologised for his comments.
  • "I fully accept the decision of the prime minister and deputy prime minister. I deeply regret the comments I made and apologise for the embarrassment that I have caused the government," he said in a statement.
The British communications regulator Ofcom is examining the BSkyB deal to see if it would give News Corp too much control of the media in Britain, with the focus on content types, audiences, media platforms, control of media enterprises and future developments in the media landscape.
Analysts said a more dispassionate approach would reduce the chances of the bid being blocked.
Source: Agencies
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