An Iranian naval vessel fires a missile during exercises in the Strait of Hormuz.
TEHRAN, Iran - The spokesman for Iran's naval drills Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi says the Iranian Navy will test-fire various missiles in the final phase of Velayat 90 maneuvers. Mousavi, the Deputy Commander of Iran's Navy, added on Sunday that although the missiles were initially scheduled to be test fired in the power phase of the drill the schedule has changed. The Iranian commander had announced to reporters on Saturday that the Navy would fire various long and short-range surface-to-sea, surface-to-surface, and surface-to-air missiles on the first day of the power phase.
Iran's Navy launched the massive 10-day Velayat 90 naval drill on December 24, over an area covering from the east of the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.
The tactical phase of the maneuvers commenced on Tuesday, after the first stage of the exercise ended successfully, and continued until Friday night.
On Friday, naval forces performed special heliborne operations, conducted free-fall parachute jumps from SH helicopters, and fired shoulder-launched missiles at mock enemy positions.
The power phase of the operations started on Saturday and test-firing various missiles was part of the original timetable. Iran says that the drills are defensive in nature and intended to convey a message of peace and friendship to the countries in the region.
NEW YORK, U.S.A. - Drawing more than one million visitors in person and one billion viewers on TV, New York City’s Times Square ball drop is one of the most watched events in the world. But many cities across the United States prefer to put their own spin on the now traditional event. From pinecones to pineapples, these regions lower their own oversized symbols as the last seconds of the old year tick away.
Pinecone Drop, Flagstaff, Arizona Arizona is more likely to be associated with cactus than pinecones, but Flagstaff, in the northern part of the state, has the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the continental United States. The 5ft-by-7ft gold and silver aluminium pinecone has dropped from the 112-year-old Weatherford Hotel since 1999. Great Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop, Eastport, Maine The only place in America where the New Year is rung in twice in one night, the easternmost city in the United States drops a 4ft-wide maple leaf at 11 pm to celebrate the New Year in neighbouring New Brunswick, Canada, and drops an 8ft-long sardine at midnight to ring in their own New Year, commemorating Eastport’s longstanding sardine canning industry.
Moon Pie Drop, Mobile, Alabama Though moon pies are made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mobile has had a love affair with the marshmallow-filled treats since they were first thrown in Mardi Gras celebrations in 1956. The 12ft-tall moon pie replica has only been dropping on New Year’s Eve since 2008, but the event already has its very own commemorative song. Walleye Drop, Lake Clinton, Ohio A 20ft, 600-pound walleye fish has made an appearance in this Lake Erie town since 1996. Residents hold an entire outdoor celebration (where the temperatures can often be well below freezing) with walleye chowder, sandwiches and even walleye-flavoured popcorn.
Pineapple Drop, Honolulu, Hawaii The last time zone in the US to leave the old year behind, Hawaii sends it off in style by lowering a 200-pound papier-mâché pineapple from the 10-storey Kahala Resort in Oahu. The event can be seen from the beach or the hotel.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysian airport authorities have gone on “red alert” against drug trafficking following a surge this year in arrests and drug seizures, a senior customs official said Thursday. Customs officers have begun this week screening all inbound passengers to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and an adjacent budget carrier terminal, said M Govinden, customs director-in-charge at KLIA. He said 195 kilogrammes of drugs were seized and 33 people arrested at the two terminals so far this year, despite Malaysia’s tough anti-drug laws which include a mandatory death sentence for traffickers.
Govinden added that drug seizures were at their highest level in a decade.
“The smuggling of drugs through airports is becoming very serious. Last week alone three arrests were made. More would have come in and slipped through the net (without the higher security),” he told AFP.
Smugglers have traditionally arrived from Africa and the Middle East but were expanding their originating points to include places like Bangladesh and the Philippines, he said.
A Malaysian man arriving from Manila on Tuesday — traditionally not a major source of trafficked drugs to Malaysia — was arrested with three kilogrammes of amphetamines hidden in his luggage, Govinden said.
He added that customs inspectors were now on “red alert” with all incoming flights considered “high risk”. Govinden did not say how long the heightened security level would last.
Malaysia has seen a string of recent drug-trafficking busts involving foreigners from countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere in Asia. In October, a Malaysian court sentenced a Japanese women to death for smuggling methamphetamines into the country in what officials said was the first such case involving a citizen of Japan.
VICTORIA, Vancouver, Canada - A Vancouver woman who claims her life would be in danger if she returned to her native Mexico with her two-week-old baby has been ordered to leave Canada. Ericka Gonzalez has lived in Vancouver for three years, during which time she met and married man from Iran in 2009 and had his child earlier this month.
But her husband was deported back to Iran just a week before her daughter was born, and Canadian Immigration authorities have ordered Gonzalez to leave this country by the end of February.
Gonzalez, 36, fled from Mexico City in March 2008 after working there as an addictions counsellor. One of her clients was part of a drug gang and Gonzalez said sensitive information she learned while she counselled him had made her a target for homicide.
"I'm afraid that they do something to kill me, do something to my family,” Gonzalez said. “Especially now that I have a baby, I'm worried they do something to my baby."
Gonzalez said she fled Mexico, fearing for her life, received a Canadian work permit and started working as a counsellor at two clinics in Vancouver.
She and her husband had applied for refugee status in Canada, but both their applications and subsequent appeals were denied on the basis that their claims of threats in their native countries were not credible.
"I am not satisfied that the applicants would suffer unusual and undeserved or disproportionate hardship if they were to apply for permanent residence [from] outside Canada," a senior immigration officer wrote in a decision after considering an appeal in October.
"They just separate our family, my daughter doesn't have father now," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez's daughter Parmys is a Canadian citizen.
The Canada Border Services Agency, which supervises deportation, declined a request for an interview. But the agency did say in an email to CBC News that, “where children are involved, the best interests of the child(ren) are taken into account when persons are facing removal from Canada. Our officers carry out their obligations of the Convention of the Rights of the Child whenever they make decisions involving children. "The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly.”
MANILA, Philippines - Thousands of Filipinos were affected by floodwaters as heavy rains brought by two low-pressure areas over Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon caused massive flooding. Heavy rains, which started to pour in on December 25 affected nine regions--from the Davao region all the way to Cagayan Valley in northeastern Philippines. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said that the low pressure areas located northwest of Butuan city and southeast of Zamboanga City caused heavy rainfall that triggered the occurrence of flooding in nine regions.
Heavy flooding had been reported in Eastern Visayas region's Leyte province and Cebu while flashfloods occurred in Bukidnon provinces' Valencia City and Davao del Norte. Floodwaters were up to waist deep in most affected areas while in some, residents had to climb to the safety of their roofs.
Some of the residents had been marooned on their rooftops as floodwaters rose Tuesday evening. Mayor Jose Catarata had to request the military to pluck the trapped residents and bring them to safer areas.
n Capiz, and Negros Occidental, flooding had affected 1,099 families.
Four people, all surnamed Alejo, died from drowning In northeastern Philippines' Isabela. Their bodies had been recovered in several locations in the town of San Mateo.
In the village of San Isidro in the two not Tabogon in Cebu, two persons drowned to death while two infants aged were reported missing in Surigao City in the South.
"A total of 10,592 families or 53,433 people were affected in 240 villages," the NDRRMC said.
The agency said a total 17,330 people were evacuated to 53 evacuation centres as a result of the flooding. The heavy rains that affected most parts of the Philippines came more than a week after Typhoon Washi (known as Sendong in the Philippines) caused massive flooding in Mindanao's Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City.
More than a thousand people were killed from the calamity prompting the government and international community to mount a massive humanitarian effort. Washi had affected 113,411 families or more than 700,000 people. The death toll from the typhoon had been placed at this time at 1,249 with 84 missing. The cost of damage to property from the typhoon is estimated to exceed P1.2 billion.
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel - Several thousand Israelis have demonstrated in the town of Beit Shemesh against the behaviour of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who want to enforce segregation between men and women. The town has been at the centre of controversy in Israel since some ultra-Orthodox men harassed and spat at an eight-year-old girl on her way to school, accusing her of failing to dress modestly. The Israeli president has said a minority in Israel is acting outrageously and violating national solidarity.
OTTAWA, Canada - According to reports, Canada is secretly transporting large amounts of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium to the United States. A confidential federal document made public on Tuesday says at least one payload of used, US-origin highly enriched uranium fuel has already been transferred stateside under a new accord between Canada and the US. The Canadian stockpile, which is quietly shipped from Chalk River in the province of Ontario, contains hundreds of kilograms of bomb-grade uranium, enough to make several Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.
This is while the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the country's atomic watchdog, seeks to keep the issue secret by refusing to set up public hearings about it or disclose which communities lie along the transit route.
The transportation of atomic material originates from the highly publicized deal signed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama in 2010. The deal was signed amid fears that terrorists may get access to weapons-grade uranium. The development has aroused a great controversy inside Canada, hampering the shipment of 16 generators from the North American country through the St. Lawrence River onto the European countries.
KOTA KINABALU, Sabah, Malaysia - Malaysian wildlife authorities say the capture of a young Borneo Sumatran rhino gives them a last chance to save the highly endangered species from extinction. The female rhino, aged between 10 and 12, was caught on December 18 and is being kept in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah on the Malaysian area of Borneo island. It is hoped it will breed with a lone captive male.
"All of us in Sabah are relieved that we have been able to capture this rhino after almost a year-and-a-half," Borneo Rhino Alliance director Junaidi Payne said.
The female rhino, which has been named Puntung, was caught in a joint operation by the Borneo Rhino Alliance and the Sabah Wildlife Department.
"This is now the very last chance to save this species, one of the most ancient forms of mammal," Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said in a statement.
Puntung had been specifically targeted since early 2010 as the mate for a 20-year-old male rhino named Tam, who was rescued from an oil palm plantation in August 2008.
"It is an ideal age for breeding. Puntung and Tam are being kept in adjacent paddocks. They can see each other and there is some communication," Mr Payne said.
Previous attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to breed Borneo Sumatran rhinos failed, but Mr Payne is "cautiously optimistic" the latest captive breeding program will succeed. The critically endangered Sumatran rhino is a mostly solitary animal except for courtship and rearing young. Mr Payne says the main threat to the survival of species "is there are so few and they do not mate in the wild".
The breeding program is important because it is estimated only between 30 and 50 of the Borneo sub-species of the Sumatran rhinos are known to remain in the wild in Borneo.
It is distinguished from other Sumatran rhinos by its relatively small size, small teeth and distinctively shaped head.
Mr Payne attributes the sharp decline in the population to previously being hunted for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
ABUJA, Nigeria - Terror attacks across Nigeria by a radical Muslim sect killed at least 40 people, with the majority dying on the steps of a Catholic church after celebrating Christmas Mass. Authorities on Sunday acknowledged they could not bring enough emergency medical personnel to care for the wounded outside St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla near Nigeria’s capital. Elsewhere, a bomb exploded amid gunfire in the central Nigeria city of Jos and a suicide car bomber attacked the military in the nation’s northeast as part of an apparently coordinated assault by the sect known as Boko Haram.
The Christmas Day violence, denounced by world leaders and the Vatican, shows the threat of the widening insurrection posed by Boko Haram against Nigeria’s weak central government. Despite a recent paramilitary crackdown against the sect, it appears that Nigeria remains unable to stop the threat.
The first explosion on Sunday struck St. Theresa Catholic Church just after 8 a.m. The attack killed 35 people and wounded another 52, said Slaku Luguard, a coordinator with Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency.
Though billions of dollars of oil money flow into the nation’s budget yearly, Luguard’s agency could only send text messages to journalists asking for their help in getting more ambulances.
Those wounded filled the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, with television images showing them crying in pools of their own blood. Corpses lined an open-air morgue.
The bombing and the delayed response drew anger from those gathering around the church after the blast. The crowd initially blocked emergency workers from the blast site, only allowing them in after soldiers arrived. In Jos, a second explosion struck near the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church. Gunmen later opened fire on police guarding the area, killing one officer. Two other locally made explosives were found in a nearby building and disarmed.
By noon Sunday, explosions echoed through the streets of Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state. The most serious attack on Sunday came when a suicide bomber detonated a car loaded with explosives at the state headquarters of Nigeria’s secret police, the State Security Service.
The bomber killed three people in the blast, though the senior military commander apparently targeted survived the attack, the State Security Service said in a statement.
After the bombings, a Boko Haram spokesman using the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa claimed responsibility for the attacks in an interview with The Daily Trust, the newspaper of record across Nigeria’s Muslim north. The sect has used the newspaper to communicate with public before.
Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. The group, whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 504 killings this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. This Christmas attack comes a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombings in Jos claimed by the militants left at least 32 dead and 74 wounded. The group also claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital Abuja that killed 24 people and wounded 116 others.
HAVANA, Cuba - At least 38 migrants from Haiti have been found dead after their boat sank just off the eastern tip of Cuba, officials in Havana say. Another 87 people from the boat were rescued, Cuban TV reported quoting civil defense officials. It said the boat was spotted only 100m off shore. A search for more possible survivors is now under way. Fatal incidents involving migrants from Haiti - the Western hemisphere's poorest nation - are not uncommon.
In 2009, US Coast Guard officials called off their search for about 70 migrants from Haiti whose boat capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands.
In May 2007, at least 61 Haitian migrants died when a boat carrying 150 people sank off the Turks and Caicos, a British territory.
MOSCOW, Russia - Tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied in the Russian capital yesterday in another massive protest against election fraud, signalling growing outrage with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule. The demonstration in Moscow was as big as a protest two weeks ago — the largest show of discontent the nation has seen since the 1991 Soviet collapse — although rallies in other cities in the far east and Siberia earlier yesterday drew much smaller crowds.
Rally participants gathered on a broad avenue about 2.5km from the Kremlin on a snowy day. A stage at one side of the 700-metre avenue featured placards reading ‘Russia Will be Free' and ‘This Election is a Farce'.
Recent protests in Moscow and other cities have dented Putin's authority as he seeks to reclaim the presidency in next March's vote. The Kremlin has responded by promising a set of political reforms that would liberalise election rules.
But protest leaders say they will continue pushing for a rerun of the December 4 parliamentary election and punishment for officials accused of fraud. They say maintaining momentum is key to forcing the government to accept their demands.
"We want to back those who are fighting for our rights," said 16-year-old Darya Andryukhina, who said she also attended the previous rally.
"People have come here because they want respect," said Tamara Voronina, 54, who said she was proud of her three sons who have also joined the protest.
The protests have reflected a growing public frustration with Putin, who ruled Russia as president in 2000-2008, and has remained the nation's No 1 leader after moving into the premier's seat due to a constitutional term limit. Putin(left photo) has accused the US of fomenting the protests in order to weaken Russia and said, sarcastically, that he thought the white ribbons many protesters wear as an emblem were condoms.In a response to Putin's blustery rhetoric, one protester yesterday held a picture montage of Putin with his head wrapped in a condom like a grandmother's headscarf.
DARWIN, Australia - Four people convicted in the beating death of a woman during what they said was an exorcism ritual on a remote Australian island were sentenced on Friday to several years in jail. Sarah Bara was beaten to death with sticks last year on Groote Eylandt off the northern Australian coast. Last month, Glenys Wurrawilya, Susie Wurrawilya, Paul Wurramara and Roderick Mamarika pleaded guilty to negligent manslaughter over the beating, which several children witnessed.
Some of the accused had originally claimed that they beat Bara as part of an exorcism intended to cleanse her of the devil.
But on Friday, Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Peter Barr(right photo) said the accused attacked Bara simply to cause her pain and humiliation.
"I am not satisfied that any of the accused thought she had the devil in her," he said.
On the day she was killed, Bara had been asked to find a bag containing medication for Susie Wurrawilya.
When she couldn't find it, both Glenys and Susie Wurrawilya began to hit her. Bara was then forced to sit on the ground while a circle of fire was lit around her and was again struck with sticks. An autopsy found she had been hit with extreme force more than two dozen times.
Mamarika and Wurramara did not participate in the beating, but watched and did nothing to stop it, Barr said. The four received sentences ranging from five years to seven-and-a-half years in jail. Groote Eylandt, home to an Aboriginal and mining community of around 1,500, is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the northern Australia mainland.
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Friday it has enough funds to cover the repatriation of Filipinos from volatile Syria, including the cost of airfare and visa fees, following its decision to raise the crisis alert to Level 4 in that Middle East country. Meanwhile, the Senate foreign relations committee appealed to Filipinos in Syria to heed the government’s call for mandatory repatriation. In an interview, DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said emergency funds and assistance to Nationals Funds will be utilized in repatriation efforts.
Under crisis alert Level 4, mandatory repatriation at Philippine government's expense will be implemented.
Hernandez said as of December 16, 383 Filipinos have already been repatriated from Syria. However, 5,000 Filipinos, both documented and undocumented, still remain in Syria.
"Mandatory repatriation would allow us to tell our people to leave now," said Hernandez.
The Senate foreign relations committee chaired by Sen. Loren Legarda called on the DFA to determine how government may effectively cover undocumented Filipino workers under its crisis management and security arrangements.
“While the DFA and the Philippine Embassy in Damascus have already laid out their plans for there repatriation and other necessary assistance to Filipinos in Syria, the bigger challenge rests on convincing our countrymen to take advantage of the government’s offer to repatriate them,” Legarda said.
Legarda recalled that the Philippine government had earlier made offers of repatriation to the Filipinos in Syria.
Since August, the government has offered repatriation assistance to Filipinos in Syria but as of December 16, only 383 of the estimated 17,000 Filipinos have agreed to be repatriated, she said. “The decision by an overwhelming majority to risk their lives, not withstanding the clear and present danger to their safety, stresses the need for government to create jobs in our country that can feed families and educate children,” Legarda said.