• U.S. warns citizens against threats to residences in Pakistan
By Wang Yu
The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan has warned American nationals against the possible threats to their residences in the country. “The embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers,”the embassy said on Saturday of December 20.
The alert was issued days after a group of the Taliban militants massacred nearly 150 children and staff members of an army school in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The security forces have stepped up operations against the militants across the country following the brutal attack on the school.
Pakistan also resumed executions in terrorism-related cases after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday ended a four-year unofficial moratorium on death penalty. “U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future,”the U.S. Embassy said in a statement. “Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan government response may raise the possibility for future threats,” it said.
The U.S. Embassy also urged U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. “Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/ or restaurants off limits to official personnel,”it said. The statement has also been posted online.
• DPRK rejects U.S. accusation over Sony hack, proposes joint probe
By Lu Rui
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Saturday of December 20 rejected the U.S. accusation that Pyongyang was behind a recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures and proposed conducting a joint investigation with the United States.
The attack has prompted the U.S.-based Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) to cancel the Christmas Day release of its comedy movie entitled “The Interview,” which depicts an assassination attempt on DPRK leader Kim Jong Un.
During the year-end news conference on Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama called the SPE’s decision to cancel the movie release “a mistake,” saying his government will “respond proportionally” to the cyber attack, for which he pointed the finger at the DPRK.
Early Friday, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) claimed its investigation found what it called “enough information” to conclude that the DPRK was “responsible for” the attack, including linking the so-called data deletion malware used in this attack to “other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed.”
“There were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,” it said in a statement.
But the DPRK rejected the accusation by saying “clear evidence is needed to charge a sovereign state with a crime.”
“Reference to the past cyber attacks quite irrelevant with the DPRK and a string of presumptive assertions such as ‘similarity’ and ‘repetition’ can convince no one,” a DPRK foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by the official KCNA news agency as saying.
The spokesman said in a statement that the DPRK will target its retaliation at only those responsible for anti-DPRK acts and their bases, but will not get involved in terrorist attacks on innocent audience in theaters.
“The army of the DPRK has the will and ability to do so,” said the statement.
“We propose the U.S. side conducting a joint investigation into the case given that Washington is slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumor,” it said, adding that “we have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case.”
It also warned the United States of serious consequences should it reject the proposal and insist on taking responsive measures.
• Raul Castro confirms to participate in Summit of Americas
Cuban leader Raul Castro confirmed here on Saturday of December 20 his participation in the seventh Summit of the Americas, scheduled for April 10-11, 2015, in Panama.
“I confirm that I will participate to express our positions with sincerity and respect for the heads of state and government, without exception,” said the Cuban leader in his speech closing the fourth Ordinary Session of the eighth Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power (unicameral parliament).
Castro thanked the invitation of the Panamanian leader Juan Carlos Varela and stressed that Cuba’s participation in that summit is the result of a solid and unanimous consent of Latin America and the Caribbean, a region living in new times and united, in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).
The Cuban leader highlighted the permanent claim and support of all countries of the area for eliminating those old and hateful sanctions on Cuba, established in 1962 by the American Organization of States (OAS).
The Summits of the Americas originated in 1994 in Miami, launched by the then U.S. President William Clinton and organized by the OAS, a continental body from which Cuba was suspended in 1962, due to U.S.pressures against the young revolution headed then by Fidel Castro.
The OAS serves as technical secretariat of the Summits of the Americas, although the preparation of the event is done always by the host country.
The OAS annulled the suspension in 2009; but Havana has not negotiated its return to the Pan American mechanism.
In 2012, Cuba said it would attend the Summits of the Americas if being invited, but had no any intention to return to the OAS.
“We reiterate that Cuba will not return to the OAS, and it is not interested in having any relationship with that organization which has served for purposes of domination, occupation and aggression,” said then Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had said that if being invited, Cuba would attend the meeting “from its positions of truthfulness and respect, and its traditional foreign policy principles.”
This will be the first time when the socialist island participates in the summit, which is held months after Havana and Washington are taking the first steps to restore their diplomatic relations broken since January 1961.
The Sixth Summit of the Americas was held in April 2012 in the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias, concluding with the regional demand of ending the U.S. economic blockade imposed on the island in 1962, and claim for finishing the Cuban exclusion from these continental meetings.
• Britain sends more military personnel to help tackle Ebola in Sierra Leone
By Zhang Jianhua
Britain on Saturday of December 20 sent its first batch of army reserves to Sierra Leone to help tackle the Ebola outbreak, the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) said.
The reserve personnel and 100 regulars from Britain’s three services departed from Royal Air Force (RAF) Brize Norton base alongside members of the Canadian military.
The personnel will operate a facility reserved to treat healthcare workers with Ebola in Sierra Leone, according to the MoD.
“We are fully committed to providing our reserve forces with the best training and support, fully integrating them with their regular counterparts,” British Minister for Reserves Julian Brazier said.
The deployment of the personnel followed the completion of a nine-day, mission-specific training last week.
The number of British military personnel in Sierra Leone has kept steady at around 800, with logisticians, planners and engineers overseeing the final stages of construction on British facilities across Sierra Leone, the MoD said.
The facilities were designed to provide the infrastructure for a total of 700 beds.
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
• Tourists via cruise ships to Brunei increase, statistic shows
By Zheng Jie
The increased in tourist population visiting the country via cruise ships have created a so much gain for local freight services, tour companies and related establishments nationwide, News website, BruDirect.com, reported here on Saturday of December 20.
The statistics in 2013 revealed that 25 ships with 26,865 passengers and 16,351 crews docked at Muara port compared to 19 ships with 19,913 passengers and 7,989 crews in 2012.
The Ports Department of Ministry of Communications lauded the services of the cruise lines in choosing Muara port as their ports of call. The department will continue working closely with the Brunei Tourism board to conduct joint marketing and promotions to attract more tourists.
It will also continue negotiating with cruise owners and shipping agents to urge more cruise vessels to make frequent calls at Muara port without losing sight on the importance of maritime safety and security.
• Two car bombs hit southern Swedish city
By Fu Yiming
Two car bombs rocked Sweden’s third largest city Malmo on Saturday of December 20, with no casualties reported, according to local media reports.
Swedish television SVT said quoted police source as saying, the explosions, one at the foot of a building and the other at a nearby parking lot, happened early on Saturday morning and left no one dead or injured.
The explosions shattered dozens of windows in the neighborhood dominated by immigrants.
It was unclear who was behind the explosions and no arrests were made so far.
The explosions were the latest in a series that have rocked the southern Sweden city in recent months. Earlier, local court house, police and prosecution offices were targeted.
• Masked gunmen raid luxury department store in Berlin
By Feng Yujing
Four masked men raided Berlin’s luxury department store KaDeWe on Saturday morning of December 20, causing no casualties, German media reported.
According to initial information from a police spokesperson, there were no casualties in the raid, and the robbers fled in a car, Focus Online reported.
A separate German news media organization, Tagesspiegel, reported that the masked and armed men stormed the department store around 10:30 a.m. (0930 GMT), citing the local fire brigade as saying that 11 people have been injured by irritant gas.
The robbers reportedly might have made a number of shots with gas guns and police have currently blocked off the department store.