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BREAKING: Algerian hostage takers demand safe passage out of besieged base with captives - Algerian security source
Firebrand cleric raises fear of "soft coup" in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD - To Pakistan's ruling party, a firebrand cleric camped outside parliament with thousands of protesters is looking more and more like the harbinger of their worst fear: a plan by the military to engineer a "soft coup".
In their eyes, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri seems like the perfect candidate for such a mission. A practiced orator who has electrified crowds with his anti-corruption rhetoric, the doctor of Islamic law leapt into action to back the last power grab by the army in 1999.
The aim this time, some politicians suspect, is to use Qadri to bring down the current administration and provide a pretext for the army to hand pick a caretaker cabinet.
Onlookers watch as thousands walk behind the vehicles carrying the coffins of the three Kurdish activists shot in Paris, during a funeral ceremony in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, January 17, 2013. The bodies of the activists, including that of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) co-founder Sakine Cansiz, arrived by plane on Wednesday evening in Diyarbakir. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
A man carries his son across a flooded area at the business district in Jakarta January 17, 2013. Heavy monsoon rains triggered severe flooding in large swathes of the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Thursday, with many government offices and businesses forced to closed because staff could not get to work. Weather officials warned the rains could get worse over the next few days and media reports said that thousands of people in Jakarta and its satellite cities had been forced to leave their homes because of the torrential downpours this week. REUTERS/Supri
30 Algerian workers escape desert gas facility
ALGIERS-Thirty Algerian workers have managed to escape from the desert gas facility where dozens of hostages are being held hostage by an al Qaeda-affiliated group, Algeria's official APS news agency said on Thursday.
It did not say how they eluded their captors.
In Athens, Dina Kyriakidou interviewed Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
"What scares me is the big pressure from society, media and parliamentary deputies from all parties to ease the [austerity] programme. We must resist ... it's too early to declare victory," he said from his office on Syntagma square overlooking parliament.
Read the full story here.
South Korean artillery soldiers stand guard during a cold weather training in Yeoncheon, about 62 km (39 miles) north of Seoul, January 17, 2013. The military drill was held jointly with the artillery of the U.S. Second Infantry Division. REUTERS/Lim Byung-sik/Yonhap
CEO of #French catering company that provides for #Algeria gas facility where hostages held says enough supplies to last a month.by John Irish via twitter 1/17/2013 9:34:26 AM
Beijing's toxic smog was years in the making, had many sources
BEIJING, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Chinese leaders dazzled the world by clearing the skies as if by edict before the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. Fast forward to January 2013, and the government seems powerless against those same skies, tarnished by an opaque, toxic cloud that has smothered the city for nearly a week.
The number-two leader in the country's Communist Party hierarchy, Li Keqiang, appealed this week for Beijing's 20 million residents to show patience during what he said would be a "long-term" clean-up.
Lower-level officials took emergency steps to cut traffic and factory emissions to clear the worst outbreak of smog on record, but the moves are likely to bring only temporary relief from a chronic problem that has been years in the making.
Why have conditions deteriorated so drastically?
A Free Syrian Army fighter walks between buildings damaged during fight in Haresta neighborhood of Damascus, January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
US says has no reason to believe Syria used chemical weapons
WASHINGTON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The United States has no reason to believe Syria has used chemical weapons during its 22-month conflict with rebels seeking to end the Assad family's rule, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
Asked if the United States had any reason to believe that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government had used chemical weapons against his own people, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters: "No."
Foreign Policy magazine reported on its website on Tuesday that a previously secret U.S. diplomatic cable from the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, had concluded that Assad's government had likely used chemical weapons.
U.S. to formally recognize Somali government Thursday-official
WASHINGTON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The United States will on Thursday officially recognize the Somali government in Mogadishu, ending a hiatus of more than 20 years and opening the door to increased U.S. and international economic help for the violence-plagued African nation, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce the shift during a meeting with visiting Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, whose election last year marked the first vote of its kind since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told reporters.
“When the secretary meets with Hassan Sheikh tomorrow, she will exchange diplomatic notes with him and recognize the Somali government in Mogadishu for the first time in 20 years,” Carson told a news briefing.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Sandra Maler)
Malian soldiers stand guard as Mali's President Dioncounda Traore speaks to French troops at an air base in Bamako, Mali, January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
French helicopters arrive at an air base in Bamako, Mali, January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
U.N. nuclear agency: Iran talks to continue on Thursday
VIENNA, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it would continue its talks with Iran for a second day on Thursday, hoping to reach a deal enabling it to resume a long-stalled investigation into suspected atom bomb research.
"The talks will continue on Thursday," Gill Tudor, spokeswoman of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Wednesday, confirming an earlier report by Iranian media. (Full Story)
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
BP says Algerian field shut after attack
LONDON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Oil major BP said on Wednesday it believed the In Amenas gas field in Algeria was currently shut following an attack by Islamist militants.
The company said the field had been producing around 9 billion cubic metres of gas a year (160,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day), or over a tenth of the country's overall gas output. It also normally extracts some 60,000 barrels per day of condensate.
BP has a working interest of 46 percent in the In Amenas joint venture with Statoil and Algeria's state oil firm Sonatrach as partners.
(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Anthony Barker)
A Public Relations staff of JGC Corp answers reporters' questions regarding Japanese nationals who were kidnapped in Algeria, at its headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo in this photo taken by Kyodo January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo
Reuters: U.S. State Department says information indicates U.S. citizens among hostages in raid on Algeria gas plant
State Department: No evidence to corroborate information that chemical weapons used against citizens in Syriaby Matthew Keys via twitter 1/16/2013 6:14:19 PM
Thirteen Norwegians held in Algeria attack - PM
OSLO, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Thirteen Norwegian employees of Norwegian energy firm Statoil are involved in a hostage situation in Algeria after Islamist militants attacked a gas plant partially operated by the firm, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.
The 13 employees are believed to be held inside the natural gas facility, Stoltenberg told a news conference on Wednesday.
"We’ve asked the Algerian authorities to put the life and health of the hostages above all," Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told the same news conference.
(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Terje Solsvik; Editing by Alison Williams)
France's Hollande says he is talking to Algeria about attack
PARIS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday he was liaising with the Algerian government over an attack on a gas facility in Algeria by Islamist militants who said they had taken up to 41 foreigners hostage.
"As I am speaking to you, a hostage-taking is under way in Algeria at an energy facility, with a number of people taken hostage whose exact details we don't know, not even for the French nationals who may be involved," Hollande said in a speech to lawmakers.
"I am in permanent contact with the Algerian authorities who are doing, and will do, their duty. We are also in contact with the heads of state of the countries concerned."
(Reporting by Julien Ponthus; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
UN chief condemns Aleppo attack, says targeting civilians a war crime
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned on Wednesday an attack at Aleppo University in Syria that killed scores of students and warned that the deliberate targeting of civilians was a war crime.
"Such heinous attacks are unacceptable and must stop immediately. All combating parties in Syria must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law," Ban said in a statement. "Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian targets constitutes a war crime."
Two explosions at Aleppo's university on Tuesday killed at least 87 people, many of them students attending exams. The cause of the explosions was not clear but the Syrian government and opposition activists blamed each other.
According to the United Nations, more than 60,000 people have been killed during a 22-month-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which began with peaceful protests but turned violent after Assad's forces tried to crush the demonstrations.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen)
Malian President Dioncounda Traore speaks to the media at an air base in Bamako, Mali January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
War crimes prosecutor to investigate Mali conflict
AMSTERDAM, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Wednesday she had launched a formal investigation into suspected war crimes in Mali, following rebels' seizure of large tracts of the west African state.
"Since the beginning of the armed conflict in January 2012, the people of Northern Mali have been living in profound turmoil," Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
"At each stage during the conflict, different armed groups have caused havoc and human suffering through a range of alleged acts of extreme violence. I have determined that some of these deeds of brutality and destruction may constitute war crimes."
(Reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Qaeda-linked groups says holding 41, including Americans, in Algeria
NOUAKCHOTT, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Al Qaeda-linked Islamists claimed to have seized 41 hostages, including seven Americans, in a raid on a gas field plant in southern Algeria, two Mauritania-based news agencies reported.
The Islamists said that the attacks were in retaliation for Algeria allowing France to use its air space to carry out bombing raids in Mali, according to ANI and Sahara Media, the agencies who said they had spoken to the Islamists.
(Reporting by Laurent Prieur and John Irish; Writing by David Lewis; editing by Daniel Flynn)
Reuters: Al Qaeda-linked group claims to have seized 41 hostages, including 7 Americans, in raid on Algerian gas plant, according to Mauritanian media
UPDATE: Russian court rejects Pussy Riot protester's bid for release
MOSCOW, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Jailed Pussy Riot punk band member Maria Alyokhina lost an appeal to a Russian court on Wednesday to be freed from prison and defer her sentence to care for her five-year-old son.
Alyokhina, 24, is serving a two-year sentence for a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.
She had asked the court to free her from the jail in the Ural Mountains to serve her sentence when her son was older.
"The court has ruled against granting the request," state-run RIA news agency the judge as saying. It said the court found that Alyokhina's family situation had been properly taken into account during her trial, which ended in August.
Alyokhina and two band mates were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for their "punk prayer", which was criticised by Putin and cast by the Russian Orthodox Church as part of a concerted attack on the country's main faith.
The refusal to let Alyokhina be with her child is likely to stoke further ire from liberals incensed by a law he signed in December barring Americans from adopting Russian children, which critics say has made vulnerable orphans pawns to politics.
The United States and Europe have called the two-year Pussy Riot sentences excessive and Putin's opponents say they are part of a series of measures to punish dissent since he returned to the presidency last may after four years as prime minister.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alison Williams)
Hannah Armstrong on the challenges in Mali:
The French, by all accounts here, saved Mali from an existential threat and the region from the nightmare of seeing a terrorist stronghold expand.Read more at the New York Times Latitude blog.
Yet the hasty, ad hoc French deployment brings dangers of its own. One consequence is that it legitimizes the putschist regime that toppled a twice-elected president last March. Other governments, in particular Washington, had been reluctant to intervene in Mali, largely because of objections to the continued hold on power of Capt. Aya Sanogo, the leader of last year’s coup. The French’s push forward not only validates his presence; it enhances his powers.
A French elite Special Operations soldier drives through the town of Markala, about 275 km (171 miles) from the capital Bamako, January 15, 2013, to meet Malian soldiers and organize a counter-attack in the jihadist-held town of Diabaly. REUTERS/Francois Rihouay
Briton killed in Algerian attack - APS news agency - RTRS
ALGIERS, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A British national was killed in an attack on an Algerian gas facility in the region of In Amenas on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to two people, the official APS news agency said, quoting a statement released by the interior minister.
The statement also said that "gas processing has also been stopped because of the terrorist attack."
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi)
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross for The Globe and Mail: The war's in Mali, but the danger is international:
Since France began aerial bombardment of Islamist rebels in Mali last week, the larger worry has shifted from within the beleaguered country’s borders to the wider world. There are concerns not only about Operation Serval, as this military intervention is known, causing belligerents or other kinds of chaos to cross neighboring states’ borders, but also fears of international retaliation – perhaps in the form of a terrorist attack, or an assault on foreign diplomatic targets.
Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina looks out of a glass-walled cage during a court hearing in Moscow, August 17, 2012. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Russian court rejects Pussy Riot protester's bid for release
MOSCOW, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A Russian court on Wednesday rejected a plea to release Pussy Riot punk band member Maria Alyokhina from prison where she is serving a two-year sentence for protesting in a Moscow cathedral, RIA news agency reported.
"The court has ruled against granting the request," state-run RIA quoted the judge as saying. Alyokhina, 24, had asked to be freed to be with her five-year-old son and serve the remainder of the sentence when he is older.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Louise Ireland)
A damaged car is surrounded by debris from a crashed helicopter in Vauxhall, London January 16, 2013. A helicopter crashed into a crane on top of one of Europe's tallest residential blocks in central London on Wednesday, killing two people as it burst into flames and threw plumes of smoke into the foggy air. REUTERS/Olivia Harris
Full Story | Photos
A bird flies through the mists near the damaged crane on the St George's Tower at Vauxhall in London January 16, 2013. A helicopter crashed into a crane on top of one of Europe's tallest residential blocks in central London on Wednesday, killing two people as it burst into flames and threw plumes of smoke into the foggy air. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez. Read the full story here.
Activists react as mock coffins burn outside the Kenyan parliament during a protest dubbed "State Burial-Ballot Revolution", a demonstration against legislators' plan to receive higher bonuses, in the capital Nairobi January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
Syrian opposition bemoans "loose" pledges of world support
The deputy head of Syria's main opposition coalition criticized major Western and Arab states on Wednesday for not making good on promises to help it isolate President Bashar al-Assad after granting the bloc formal recognition.
The United States, France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf Arab states embraced the coalition formed in November after U.S. pressure for the creation of a bloc more representative of the opposition's diversity, including rebel forces inside Syria.
World powers wanted the new coalition to coordinate efforts to topple Assad after the lackluster performance of a previous opposition body criticized as being under Islamist domination.
But coalition vice-president George Sabra said international pledges of support had proven largely cosmetic and "loose", allowing the now 22-month-old conflict to rage on inconclusively and thrust the death toll past 60,000, by a U.N. count.
Car bomb kills policeman in Benghazi as Libya violence escalates
A car bomb killed a police officer in Benghazi early on Wednesday, a police source said, the second attack on the eastern city's security forces in two days.
Like much of the country, Benghazi - cradle of the popular revolt that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi more than a year ago - is awash with weapons. Libya's government has struggled to control rival armed factions there ever since the uprising.
Children sit beside a victim, whom tribesmen said was killed after security forces arresting them during a protest in front of government offices in northwestern Pakistan city of Peshawar January 16, 2013. Tribesmen from northwestern Pakistan dumped 15 blood-drenched bodies in front of government offices on Wednesday, protesting what they said were extra-judicial killings by security forces in the latest challenge to the beleaguered government's authority.
In case you missed it, Foreign Policy reported yesterday that "a secret State Department cable has concluded that the Syrian military likely used chemical weapons against its own people in a deadly attack last month." Read the full story here.
The State Department has played down the report, Reuters' Arshad Mohammed writes.
WFP says has green light to boost food delivery in Syria
GENEVA - The World Food Programme (WFP) has received permission from the Syrian government to use dozens of additional local aid agencies to try to reach the 2.5 million people deemed hungry in the war-torn country, its chief said on Wednesday.
The United Nations food agency has only been able to reach a maximum of 1.5 million people within Syria each month due to fighting and a lack of local partners capable of delivering aid.
"What we did not have in the past was permission from the government to formally develop relationships with additional NGO (non-governmental organization) partners. We have now been given that authority from the government," WFP executive-director Ertharin Cousin told a news briefing in Geneva.
A goldsmith works on gold ornaments at a workshop in Kolkata January 16, 2013. India's passion for gold is putting such a strain on state finances that the government may slap higher import taxes on the precious metal, but demand buoyed by heady inflation and meagre savings will blunt the impact of any rise in duties. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
BAGHDAD Islamic State launched a major counter-attack on the city of Kirkuk on Friday as Iraqi and Kurdish forces pursued operations to seize territory around Mosul in preparation for an offensive on the jihadists' last major stronghold in Iraq. | Video