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Russia suspends operations at consulate in Aleppo, Syria
MOSCOW, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Russia said it had suspended operations at its consulate in Aleppo after two explosions rocked a university in Syria's second-biggest city.
"The activity of the consulate of the Russian Federation in Aleppo ... has been temporarily suspended," the Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement.
It said anyone with consular issues to resolve was welcome to contact the consular section of the Russian embassy in the capital, Damascus.
At least 52 people were killed and dozens wounded in two explosions that rocked the University of Aleppo on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Russia has blocked three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or pushing him from power, and says his exit must not be a precondition for a peace deal.
Russia has said that, if necessary, it will evacuate its citizens from Syria, where more than 60,000 people have been killed in a conflict that began with a government crackdown on protests in March 2011 but has escalated into civil war.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Chile’s emblematic student leader, Camila Vallejo, will run as a candidate in Chile’s parliamentary elections this November, Spanish news agency EFE reports.
Chile’s Communist Party (Partido Comunista) made the surprise announcement on Sunday, indicating that Vallejo will run as a candidate for the district La Florida.
Vallejo served as president of the University of Chile Student Federation. She became an iconic leader of a series of student protests beginning in 2011 that called for access to better public education and an end to for-profit education in Chile.
Read more from EFE (Spanish). Photo credit: REUTERS/Tomas Bravo
Death toll from Aleppo university explosions rises to 52 -group
BEIRUT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - At least 52 people were killed and dozens wounded on Tuesday in two explosions that rocked the university in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Two explosions hit the university during the day while students were sitting exams. The cause of the explosions was not clear but the government and opposition activists blamed each other.
The Observatory said in a statement that its death toll was based on reports from doctors and students.
(Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Children warm themselves around burning garbage in Aleppo January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman
Turkish warplanes strike PKK targets in N. Iraq - media
ISTANBUL, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Turkish warplanes have attacked militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in northern Iraq in the first such attacks since details emerged of talks between the state and the rebels' jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, media reports said.
Broadcaster CNN Turk said several jets attacked PKK forces in areas of northern Iraq on Sunday in the first operation in 12 days and struck again on Monday evening. It did not identify a source for the report, which could not immediately be confirmed.
Tens of thousands gather in Pakistani capital calling for an end to corruption. Julie Noce reports.
EU to speed up help for Mali government -Ashton
STRASBOURG, France, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The European Union will speed up and adapt plans for a military training mission in Mali to help the government combat Islamist rebels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Ashton said security threats stemming from upheaval in Mali extended to Europe, and EU governments planned to adopt measures to help the country.
"Colleagues have put together a package of measures that will provide immediate and longer-term help to the Malian government and people," Ashton said in a speech.
She did not give details of the measures. EU foreign ministers are expected to meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss how to help Mali.
(Reporting by Claire Davenport)
At times it seems that Europe, both in its national leaders and in the little-known men who are presidents of one EU institution or another, chooses obscurity deliberately.
Searching for a charismatic leader in the grey halls of Europe, by John Lloyd
Russia opposes Syria crisis war crimes court referral
MOSCOW, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Permanent U.N. Security Council member Russia said it opposed an effort by dozens of countries to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling the initiative "ill-timed and counterproductive".
More than 50 countries asked the Security Council on Monday to refer the conflict in Syria to the court, which prosecutes people for genocide and war crimes, in a letter saying the move would "send a clear signal to the Syrian authorities".
Russia, which like China and the United States is not an ICC member, said the referral would not help end the civil war.
"We believe this initiative is ill-timed and counterproductive to resolving the main task at this moment: an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Both Syria's government and those fighting it have been accused of committing atrocities in the 21-month-old conflict, in which 60,000 people have been killed, but the United Nations says the government and its allies have been more culpable.
Russia has used its veto power to block three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Syria's President Bashar al-Assad or pushing him from power. It says his exit must not be a precondition for a peace deal.
Syria, a major Russian weapons customer, is not a party to the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC, so the only way the court can investigate the situation is if it receives a referral from the Security Council.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Louise Ireland and Thomas Grove)
France will leave Mali when it is stable, safe - Hollande
DUBAI, Jan 15 (Reuters) - France will end its intervention in Mali and pull its forces out once the West African country has returned to being stable and safe with a solid political system, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.
"We have one goal. To ensure that when we leave, when we end our intervention, Mali is safe, has legitimate authorities, an electoral process and there are no more terrorists threatening its territory," Hollande told a news conference during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
Nigeria's oil thieves: A passenger speedboat churns up water as an illegal oil refinery burns in the background following a military chase in a windy creek near river Nun in Nigeria's oil state of Bayelsa, December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye See the full gallery here.
Indian PM responds to killings on January 8
NEW DELHI, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday there could be no "business as usual" with Pakistan after a clash last week along the line dividing the arch-rivals in Kashmir in which two Indian soldiers were killed and their bodies mutilated.
Explosion at Syria's Aleppo university kills 15
BEIRUT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - At least 15 people were killed and dozens wounded in two explosions that rocked the University of Aleppo in Syria's second largest city on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
State television described the explosion at the university which lies in the government-controlled area, as a "terrorist attack".
Rebels have used car bombs and suicide attacks in fighting government forces and attacking government-controlled areas.
(Reporting by Mariam Karouny; Editing by Alison Williams)
An unexpected snow storm in eastern Japan halts public transportation and causes hundreds of road accidents. Sarah Sheffer reports.
Hundreds hospitalized in Japan after sudden snow.
Exclusive: Brazil wants Venezuela election if Chavez dies - sources
SAO PAULO/BRASILIA Jan 14 (Reuters) - Brazil is urging Venezuela's government to hold elections as quickly as possible if President Hugo Chavez dies, senior officials told Reuters on Monday, a major intervention by Latin America's regional powerhouse that could help ensure a smoother leadership transition in Caracas.
Obama meets new Saudi interior minister at White House
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama met Saudi Arabia's new interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, on Monday to discuss security and regional issues, the White House said.
Prince Mohammed, appointed in November after the death of his father, veteran Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, is best known as Saudi Arabia's long-time security chief and has garnered the praise of Western governments for his role in the campaign against al Qaeda.
Suspected Islamists kill 2 Nigeria police at checkpoint
KANO, Nigeria, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Two Nigerian policeman were killed on Monday at a checkpoint in northern Kano state by suspected militants from the Islamist sect Boko Haram, the government said.
After a surge in violence around the turn of the year, there have been fewer attacks by the Islamist militants, although they remain the biggest security threat to Africa's top oil producer.
French soldiers perform emergency first aid training in a hangar at the Malian army air base in Bamako, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
French soldiers test equipment at the Malian air base in Bamako January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
France to add Mali troops, speeding up Africa input
PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - France plans to increase its troops in Mali to 2,500 in the days ahead and is working to speed up the deployment of West African troops for a campaign against Islamist rebels, the government said on Monday.
A defence ministry spokesman told Reuters troops would be sent to bolster the 600 already deployed.
Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counter-offensive in Mali on Monday after four days of French air strikes on their northern strongholds, seizing the central town of Diabaly and promising to drag France into a brutal Afghanistan-style war.
EU foreign ministers to hold special meeting on Mali
BRUSSELS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels this week to discuss the crisis in Mali, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday.
Discussions will focus on speeding up preparations for an EU training mission to help the Malian forces and other "direct support" for the Bamako government, Ashton said.
"I have convened an extraordinary Foreign Affairs Council this week to take stock of possible EU actions in support of Mali (government) ... to help it cope with the current situation," she said in a statement.
An EU diplomat said the meeting was likely to take place on Thursday.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Adrian Croft)
A French military armoured personnel carrier is loaded onto a Royal Air Force C-17 aircraft at Evreux in northern France, January 14, 2013. Britain is lending logistical support to France as it sends troops and military equipment to Mali. REUTERS/Andrew Winning
As for France's President Hollande, dispatching troops to Mali has helped "[shoot] down the idea that he is a spineless, indecisive president":
A survey published on Monday of 1,021 people in France by pollster Ifop found 63 percent backed Hollande's decision to take military action against Islamist rebels in Mali, responding within 24 hours to the Malian government's appeal for help.
Read more here.
EU to discuss Mali at special meeting this week -France
PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The European Union will discuss the crisis in Mali at a special foreign affairs meeting this week, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday.
"We will take decisions allowing the acceleration of the deployment of the European advice and training mission for the Mali army," Fabius told a news conference, and added that France would do everything to ensure African troops were deployed quickly.
(Reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Catherine Bremer)
A Rafale fighter prepares for takeoff from the Saint Dizier airbase in central France before being deployed in Mali, in this picture provided by the French Military Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) and taken on January 13, 2013. REUTERS/SGC/Laure-Anne Maucorps/ECPAD/Handout. Check out more photos here.
UPDATED: Mali Islamists counter attack, promise France long war
By Bate Felix and Alexandria Sage
BAMAKO/PARIS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counteroffensive in Mali on Monday after four days of French air strikes on their northern strongholds, seizing the central town of Diabaly and promising to drag France into a brutal Afghanistan-style war.
France, which has poured hundreds of troops into the capital Bamako in recent days, carried out more air raids on Monday in the vast desert area seized last year by an Islamist alliance grouping al Qaeda's north African wing AQIM alongside Mali's home-grown MUJWA and Ansar Dine militant groups.
Jan 14 - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly meet in Paris as French military operations continue in Mali. Travis Brecher reports.
Jan 14 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels launched a counter-offensive on Monday in central Mali after four days of air strikes by French warplanes on their strongholds in the desert north.
Here is a look at the main armed rebel groups in Mali:
AQIM - Born out of the Algerian Salafist movement, GSPC, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) arrived on the public stage in January 2007. It rose to prominence partly by attacking Algerian government forces but mainly through its involvement in kidnapping Westerners across the Sahel zone including Mali, Niger and Mauritania. It has also links to trans-Sahara smuggling - a trade that includes drugs, guns and people - topping up the tens of millions of dollars raised from ransom-taking. In July 2012, the head of U.S. Africa Command described AQIM as al-Qaeda's "wealthiest affiliate". Its objectives include ridding North Africa of Western influence, overthrowing apostate "unbeliever" governments. Its leaders are Algerian militant Abdelmalek Droukdel and Salah Gasmi. Gasmi, the group's number two, was arrested in northern Algeria last month. It has traditionally operated in Mali through two wings, or katibas. France has advised its 6,000 citizens in Mali to leave as AQIM has in turn promised revenge for the French military intervention in Mali.
ANSAR AL DINE - Ansar Dine, which experts say has links to local al Qaeda factions, is a Tuareg-led Islamist group. Its name means "Defenders of the Faith" and it follows the puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism. Ansar Dine's leader, renegade Tuareg chieftain Iyad Ag Ghali, is linked to AQIM through a cousin who is a local commander and the group has received financing from AQIM, diplomats said. Ansar Dine and other Islamists gained the upper hand in Mali last year when they hijacked a rebellion launched by the secular MNLA Tuareg rebel group that fought for independence in 2012. Ansar Dine's turbaned fighters, who operate under the black Islamist flag, initially gained a reputation in the north for keeping order after outbreaks of looting. However they started enforcing sharia, earning hostility from locals who have a long history of practising a more liberal, tolerant style of Islam. The group has said that Timbuktu's famed shrines are un-Islamic and idolatrous. Much of the area's religious heritage has now been destroyed.
MUJWA - The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) is seen an AQIM splinter group that formed in late 2011. The faction retains links to AQIM but has focussed on broadening its base from the domination of AQIM's Algerian-dominated leadership. Its stronghold has been in Gao, the biggest town in Mali's north, and it has drawn recruits from a range of ethnic groups in Mali and elsewhere in the region. Last month the United States designated the group and Hamad Al Khairy and Ahmad Al Tilemsi, two of the organisation's leaders, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. MUJWA has also been behind attacks and hostage taking in the region.
Syria war envelops region in "staggering" crisis -aid agency
By Oliver Holmes
BEIRUT, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Syria's civil war is unleashing a "staggering humanitarian crisis" on the Middle East as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee violence including gang rape, an international aid agency said on Monday.
Opposition activists said an air strike on rebel-held territory southwest of Damascus killed 20 people, including women and children, adding to the more than 60,000 people estimated to have been killed in the 21-month-old conflict.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a meeting on the situation in Mali, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Girls walk to class at a secondary school in the Malian capital Bamako, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
Swiss hold Mubarak millions as Egypt remains volatile
ZURICH, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Switzerland has said it will delay the return of millions of dollars of assets linked to deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak while it evaluates the institutions requesting the money.
Swiss authorities have frozen about $700 million in assets connected to Mubarak and his entourage. Since Mubarak was toppled in February 2011, Egypt's new rulers have made three formal requests to Switzerland for judicial assistance to recover the money.
Pakistan Shi'ites to bury bomb victims after meeting PM
QUETTA, Pakistan, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims began burying their dead in a mass grave Monday amid tears and pictures of the fallen, ending a three-day protest over one of the worst sectarian attacks in the country's history.
Thousands of people from Shi'ite Hazara community had been holding vigil next to the bodies of the 96 people killed in Thursday's bombings to demand better protection from a rising tide of sectarian attacks.
Egypt sees talks with IMF "back on track very soon"
CAIRO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said on Sunday that talks with the International Monetary Fund on a crucial $4.8 billion loan would be back on track "very soon".
"Because of the domestic situation we had to postpone that, so we are doing a quick evaluation. We are going to be back on track very soon," he told a business forum in Cairo.
"We invited another mission of the IMF to again realign the programme so we can move forward with our national reform programme to handle the budget deficit, to handle the fiscal problems so we can move forward with growth."
(Reporting by Edmund Blair; Writing by Maria Golovnina)
Egyptian court accepts Mubarak appeal, orders retrial
CAIRO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Egypt's Appeals Court accepted an appeal by ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister on Sunday, allowing him to be retried over the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising.
Mubarak and former interior minister Habib al-Adli were sentenced to life in prison in June last year in a court ruling that saw them responsible for the deaths of protesters killed by security forces trying to quell the uprising.
"The court has ruled to accept the appeal filed by the defendants ... and orders a retrial," Judge Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman said.
Roadside bomb kills 14 Pakistani soldiers in North Wazirisitan
MIRANSHAH, Pakistan Jan 13 (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed 14 Pakistani soldiers in the northern border region of North Waziristan on Sunday, a day after the Pakistani Taliban leader circulated a leaflet calling for attacks on the military to cease in the area.
Intelligence officials said the explosion occurred on a road about 50 km (30 miles) south of the provincial capital of Miranshah. Twenty-one soldiers were wounded in the attack.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
EU says Egypt to receive $6.5 bln in grants and loans
CAIRO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, visiting Cairo, said on Sunday the European Union and other financial institutions had offered Egypt over 5 billion euros to support Egypt's democratic transition.
"The European Union and associated financial institutions have offered an amount of more than 5 billion euros, or more than $6.5 bln, in grants, concessional loans and loans for a period of 2012 and 2013 to support Egypt's democratic transition," Rompuy told reporters.
France says struck Mali rebel positions around Gao
PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - French forces struck Islamist rebel positions around the northern Malian town of Gao on Sunday using four Rafale fighter jets deployed from France, the French defence ministry said, confirming earlier reports from residents.
The strikes hit rebel training camps, logistics depots and infrastructure, the ministry said in a statement.
Russia tells Syrian opposition to seek dialogue with Damascus
MOSCOW, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition should propose its own ideas for dialogue with Damascus in response to those aired by President Bashar al-Assad in a speech a week ago, Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Sunday.
"President Assad came out with initiatives aimed at inviting all opposition members to dialogue. Yes, these initiatives probably do not go far enough. Probably they will not seem serious to some, but they are proposals," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart in the Ukrainian city of Chernovtsy.
"If I were in the opposition's shoes, I would come up with my ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue."
Pakistan Shi'ites stop Quetta protest after PM sacks minister by Gul Yousufzai
QUETTA, Pakistan Jan 14 (Reuters) - Shi'ite Muslims protesting over one of Pakistan's deadliest sectarian attacks called off their three-day-old sit-in early on Monday after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf visited them and agreed to some of their demands.
Ashraf told leaders from the Shi'ite Hazara community that the federal government had sacked the chief minister of Balochistan province, one of the protesters' main demands.
Italian consul in Benghazi shot at in car but unhurt
An Italian consul came under fire in his car in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Saturday but was unhurt, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
"He is completely unharmed," said the spokesman.
A security source in Libya who declined to be named told Reuters: "They shot at his car, but the car was armored. He is fine, there are no injuries."
The consul, Guido de Sanctis, is based in Benghazi.
Security for Westerners in Libya's second city has been an acute concern since the U.S. ambassador was killed along with three other U.S. embassy staff in an assault on the U.S. consulate in the city on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian in Tripoli and Catherine Hornby in Rome; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Amateur video purports to show Syrian military forces carrying out air assaults on Damascus and al Rastan in Homs province. Deborah Gembara reports.
ASTANA Syria's warring sides met for talks in Kazakhstan's capital on Monday, flanked by intermediary nations seeking to engineer steps towards a goal other negotiations have failed to reach: an end to the six-year-old conflict.