AirAsia confirms flight QZ8501 lost contact

 

 

 

JAKARTA | 2014-12-28 13:21:01

AirAsia plane with 155 on board

loses contact in Indonesia

 

By Wang Bo

 

An AirAsia jetliner lost contact with ground control on Sunday of December 28 after takeoff from Indonesia on the way to Singapore, and authorities had launched a search and rescue operation.

The QZ8501 flight lost communication 42 minutes after taking off at 5:35 a.m. in Surabaya airport, staff at Indonesia’s National rescue agency told Xinhua in a phone interview. The plane is scheduled to land in Singapore at 8:30 a.m. local time.

A total of 155 people are onboard the plane, including 149 Indonesians,three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one British and one Malaysian, local media quoted Indonesian Transportation Ministry as saying.

However, other media reports put the number of people onboard at 161.

The missing plane was an Airbus A320-200, aviation officials said.

Indonesian military is deploying forces to search for the plane, after alleged report of plane crashing in the sea between Java and Kalimantan, military sources said.

Meanwhile, AirAsia said in a statement that the search and rescue operations were in progress and promised to “keep all parties informed as more information becomes available.”     ( *Source:  Xinhua )

 

 

 

 

 

 

KUALA LUMPUR | 2014-12-28 12:02:12

 

AirAsia confirms

flight QZ8501 lost contact

 

By Zhao Bochao

 

AirAsia said on Sunday of December 28 in a statement that it confirmed flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore had lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24 this morning.

It said that there was no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board. The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC, it added.

It said that search and rescue operations were in progress at this time, and the airline was cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service.

AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Center for the family or friends of those who may have been on board the plane. The number is: +622129850801    ( *Source:  Xinhua )

 

 

 

 

KUALA LUMPUR |  2014-12-28 11:54:11

 AirAsia confirms flight QZ8501 lost contact

By Zhao Bochao

AirAsia said Sunday in a statement that it confirmed flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore had lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24 this morning.     ( *Source:  Xinhua )

 

 

 

 

Twin tragedies of MH370, MH17 deeply impact on Malaysia, world

 

 

 

KUALA LUMPUR

Twin tragedies of MH370, MH17

deeply impact on Malaysia, world

 

By Zhao Bochao

 

2014, as Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak put it, has been “a tragic year” for Malaysia with the great pain infected by the twin tragedies of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flights MH370 and MH17.

Despite the unprecedented efforts by 26 countries in search of the aircraft, MH370 is still unaccounted for since its mysterious disappearance on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Just four months later, another MAS flight MH17, was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, claiming the lives of all the 298 passengers on board.

With the whereabouts of MH370 remain unknown and the criminals behind the downing of MH17 still at large, the two disasters left Malaysians not only astonished, deeply suspicious and utterly sad, its effect also spilled over into the world’s political, economic and aviation spheres.

 

GlOBAL SOLIDARITY

 

The two unexpected disasters saw the world come together in an unprecedented act of global solidarity when 26 countries all over the world involved themselves in the search and rescue operations for the missing MH370 airplane and dealing with the aftermath of the MH17 crash.

As 154 people of the 239 passengers and crew on board MH370 were Chinese, there were concerns that the tragedy might cast a cloud over the friendly relations between China and Malaysia. However, as a judgment by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in an interview with Xinhua went, China-Malaysia ties have not been affected by the incident.

In fact, China and Malaysia have cooperated closely in handling the emergency. Official data showed China deployed 19 ships, eight helicopters and five fixed-wing planes to aid in the search.

The year 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Malaysia. During his visit to China, Prmie Minister Najib expressed his gratitude for China’s help in the MH370 incident and vowed to keep on with search and rescue operations.

As search areas mvoed moved from the Gulf of Thailand to the North Indian Ocean and then to the South Indian Ocean over the past several months, big and small countries have pooled their resources in the mission, which was branded by the Wall Street Journal as one of the largest search efforts in recent years.

Meanwhile, as Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama put it, the MH17 crash also witnessed the cooperation between Malaysia, Russia, the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine and attracted the attention of the United States. Thanks to the unremitting efforts from related parties, most of the passengers’bodies have been recovered from the crash site and the aircraft’s black box recorder has been handed over to the investigation team.

According to the preliminary report delivered by the Dutch Safety Board, MH17 blew up in the air due to structural damage caused by “a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside” and no evidence has indicated that a technical fault or human errors may have led to the crash.

 

ECONOMY SHOCKED

 

The two MAS disasters dealt a hard blow to the loss-making national carrier, which posted net losses of 576.11 million ringgit (about 181 million U.S. dollars) in the third quarter ended on Sept. 30, 2014, compared to net losses of 375.44 million ringgit (about 115 million dollars) made a year ago.

In the first nine months of 2014, MAS suffered net losses of 1. 324 billion ringgit (409 million dollars), widening from the net losses of 827 million ringgit (265 million dollars) in the same period of 2013.

As an aviation analyst at Maybank has said, no airline has gone through two tragedies of this magnitude in a span of four months in the history of aviation, which inevitably impacted its bookings. Facing the critical situation, Khazanah Nasional Bhd, MAS’largest shareholder, unveiled a 12-point recovery plan for the airline on Aug. 29, including the creation of a new company to take over its operation and the slash of its workforce.

Khazanah said on Dec. 5 that it appointed Christoph R. Mueller, the current CEO of Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus, as CEO- designate of MAS NewCo, effective on Jan. 1, 2015. The airline also entered a new phase after being delisted from Malaysia’s stock exchange on Dec. 15, completing its privatization process. Under the plan, a comprehensive overhaul of the company will enable MAS to achieve sustainable profitability within three years of delisting by the end of 2017.

The tragedies also took a toll on Malaysia’s tourism industry, with the country’s worldwide image tarnished by the incident.

Official figures showed that Malaysia drew 25 million visitors in 2013, which brought in 20 billion dollars in receipts. Among the visitors, nearly 2 million were Chinese, accounting for 7 percent of the total. Malaysia has targeted 28 million visitors in 2014 as the government marked the year as”Visit Malaysia Year” for international promotions.

However, as two-thirds of the passengers on MH370 were Chinese, the arrivals of Chinese tourists to Malaysia dipped 20 percent in April. Worse still, the kidnappings and violent activities on the coast of Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah, committed by bandits from the nearby Philippines, further prompted many Chinese tourists to shun the South East Asian country.

Statistics show that 997,370 tourists from Chinese mainland and 168,962 from China’s Taiwan visited the country between January and July this year, representing a 11.8- percent and a 2.9-percent drop, respectively.

Although the incidents have had a bearing on Malaysia’s tourism industry in the short term, a recovery is believed to emerge in the long run because the country’s renowned rainforests and beaches and unique multi-culturalism will help maintain its reputation as one of the world’s most attractive holiday destinations.

 

PRECAUTIONS REVIEWED

 

The two tragedies of MAS also prompted people to review aviation precautions, though flight is commonly known as the safest way to travel. Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai has asked the member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to adopt mandatory procedures and protocols to improve the safety and security standards of the international civil aviation.

Among the recommendations he made to the ICAO Council regarding flight risk issues associated with MH370 and MH17 were implementing real-time aircraft tracking, using longer lasting batteries in the black boxes and mandatory sharing information between ICAO, its member states and the airline industry.

Najib called on countries at the UN meeting to unite behind the new standards on aircraft tracking and overflying conflict zones, hoping they would change the global aviation system for the better.

Some aviation experts also called for increased sharing of information between airlines on the threats to airspace, as well as heightened attention to the threats of surface-to-air missiles.

 

 

 

 

Obama: cyber attack on Sony not “act of war”

 

 

 

WASHINGTON 

 Obama vows again to close Guantanamo prison

By Lin Zhifei

U.S. President Barrack Obama vowed on Sunday of December 21 that he will do everything possible to close the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it,” Obama said in an interview taped Friday and aired on a CNN’s Sunday program.

“It is something that continues to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world, the fact that these folks are being held,” said Obama, adding that it “is contrary to our values.”

Obama’s statement came after his administration announced Saturday that four Afghans held at the Guantanamo prison had been sent home, in its latest efforts to close the infamous military prison.

The four men, identified as Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir, were unanimously approved for transfer after a review of their cases, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The review, part of an executive order signed by Obama in January 2009, examined a number of factors, including the security issue.

The repatriation of the four Afghans brings down to 132 the detention population at the secret Guantanamo prison, which was established by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to house terror suspects detained overseas.

Obama promised to close the widely condemned prison when he took office about six years ago.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON 

 Obama: cyber attack on Sony not “act of war”

By Lin Zhifei

President Barack Obama said on Sunday of December 21 that he regards the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) as an “act of cyber vandalism” rather than an “act of war,” while reiterating the U.S. will respond proportionately.

“No, I don’t think it was an act of war. I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately,” Obama told CNN’s Candy Crowley, anchor of the Sunday program “State of the Union,” in an interview taped on Friday of December 19.

Obama stood by his criticism of the U.S.-based SPE in its decision to cancel the scheduled Dec. 25 release of its comedy movie “The Interview,” which depicts an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ( DPRK).

Sony took the step after hackers hacked into its computer system and released some of the stolen data late November. The hackers threatened to disclose more Sony data if it goes ahead with the movie’s release, while warning movie-goers to stay away from theaters if they were to screen the movie.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) claimed Friday that investigators had found what it called “enough information” to conclude that the DPRK was “responsible for” the attack.

Speaking at his end-of-the-year news conference Friday, Obama said Sony made a mistake by canceling the release of the movie. He said he wished the company had contacted him directly before taking the action, while vowing to “respond proportionally” to the cyber attack.

The DPRK on Saturday rejected the U.S. accusation that Pyongyang was behind the cyber attack on Sony and proposed conducting a joint investigation with the United States.

“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,” said the official DPRK news agency, KCNA, quoting a DPRK foreign ministry spokesman.

The spokesman also 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.

It also warned the U.S. of “serious consequences” should it reject the proposal for a joint investigation and insist on taking responsive measures.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON 

 One more police officer killed in U.S.

By Lin Zhifei

Local authorities in the U.S. state of Florida on Sunday of December 21 confirmed one police officer was shot and killed in Tarpon Springs of the state after responding to an emergency call early in the morning.

The officer, identified as 45-year-old Charles Kondek, was gunned down shortly after 2 a.m., local time, when he was responding to a call for service, the Pinellas County Police Department said in a statement.

Kondek, a 17-year veteran officer, died from wounds at a local hospital. He had served in the Police Department of New York City (NYPD) for more than five years before moving to Tarpon Springs.

The suspect, 23-year-old Marco Antonio Parilla, who fled the scene in a vehicle before crashing into a pole and another vehicle, was detained by the police on charges including first-degree murder, said local sources.

Sunday’s shooting came after two NYPD officers were shot and killed in Brooklyn of New York Saturday afternoon by a black gunman, who alleged to seek revenge for the recent police killings of two unarmed black people in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. The motivation of the latest shooting remained unknown pending further investigation.

 

 

 

CAIRO 

 Egypt’s intelligence chief replaced

By Marwa Yahya

Egypt’s intelligence chief Gen. Mohammed Farid el-Tohamy was removed from his post on Sunday of December 21, official news agency MENA reported.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued a presidential decree to retire Tohamy, in his 60s, and ordered to grant him a first class republic medal in appreciation for his efforts along his long career path.

Served as the head of the Administrative Control Authority, Tohamy was appointed chief of general intelligence agency immediately after Sisi, then chief of the military, led the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The reasons for Tohamy’s leaving were not clear, but some independent websites said it’s for health reasons.

MENA added that Khaled Fawzy, who headed the national security agency, was appointed Tohamy’s successor.

 

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD

 Pakistan hangs 4 militants involved in attacking former president

By Wang Yu

Four militants involved in attacking former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf were executed in the country’s east Faisalabad city on Sunday of December 21, local media reported.

The militants, whose death penalties were signed by the country ‘s Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, were hanged to death in a prison in Faisalabad, a main city in the country’s east Punjab province.

Musharraf, the then president, narrowly escaped when two suicide car bombers rammed their vehicle into his motorcade on Dec. 25, 2003, in Rawalpindi.

Fifteen people including soldiers were killed in the attack which was the second attempt on Musharraf’s life that month.

Following the attack several militants including the four hanged Sunday were arrested.

The four militants were sentenced to death earlier by the military court, however, the government was keeping a moratorium on death penalty since 2008, due to which their execution could not take place earlier.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday announced the lifting of the 2008 moratorium on executions in Pakistan.

The decision came in the wake of a Taliban attack on an army school which killed 132 schoolchildren and nine staff members.

As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved implementation of the executions in terrorism-related cases, the federal government has reportedly asked all provincial governments to collect details of all convicts on death row.

Officials say that security has also been tightened for jails across Pakistan in view of the possible hanging of the convicted militants.

 

 

 

TIKRIT, Iraq 

 IS militants recapture oil refinery town of Iraq’s Baiji

A militant group of the Islamic State (IS) recaptured the oil refinery town of Baiji which has been freed recently by the Iraqi security forces, a source from the northern central province of Salahudin said on Sunday of December 21.

On late Saturday afternoon, dozens of IS militants carried out a massive attacks on several points of the main road that bisected the town of Baiji, some 200 km north of Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and seized government and security compounds, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

The extremist

militants also surrounded the oil refinery in north of the town, where some of the withdrawing troops and their allied Shiite and Sunni tribal militiamen resorted after the attacks, while other forces and militiamen withdrew to the villages of al-Mazraa and al-Malha in south, the source said.

On Sunday morning, the IS militants fired dozens of mortar rounds on the oil refinery and started to fortify their positions in the town and booby trapped many buildings in center of the town, the source added.

According to the source, at least three army brigades, including an armored one, arrived on Saturday night to an air base on Saturday, 30 km south of Baiji, apparently preparing for a counter attack in the coming hours or days.

The provincial Governor Raed al-Jubouri issued a statement urging Baghdad government to “immediately intervene to save Baiji and the forces who are in an unenviable situation because the weapons and equipment of the militant are more sophisticated than the troops.”

Iraqi security forces fought a series of battles about three weeks ago, freeing the town of Baiji and breaking the siege of the adjacent oil refinery after driving out the IS militants, but sporadic skirmishes occurred later on.

Salahudin, a predominantly Sunni province with its capital of Tikrit, some 170 km north of Baghdad, is the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein. The seizure of Salahudin province was part of the June 10 drastic security deterioration in the country, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and Sunni militants who took control of the country’s northern city of Mosul and the later swathes of territories in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.

 

 

 

BUCHAREST 

 Iohannis sworn in as Romania’s new president

By Chen Jin and Lin Huifen

Klaus Iohannis was sworn in as Romania’s new president on Sunday of December 21 in front of the country’s bicameral parliament.

“Today I stand here before you aware of the importance of this moment for the future of Romania. I am honored by the confidence that Romanian citizens have given me. I’ll be the president of all Romanians,” Iohannis said after the ceremony.

Under him, Romania will have “a different state of mind and a different social climate, where people will enjoy peace and stability,” Iohannis said.

The 55-year-old ex-mayor ran for presidency under the banner of the center-right Christian Liberal Alliance and won 54.43 percent of the votes in the presidential runoff on Nov. 16, defeating his center-left rival, Social Democratic leader and incumbent Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

After taking his oath, Iohannis will go to the Cotroceni Presidential Palace, where he will take over from the outgoing leader Traian Basescu, who has completed two tenures as the head of state, starting from 2004.

According to the country’s constitution, the presidential election is held every five years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms allowed.

 

 

 

NEW DELHI 

 Aggressive crimes on rise in Indian capital

By Wu Qiang

Aggressive crimes were on the rise in both number and degree of violence in 2014 in the Indian capital where communal violence, crimes against women, assaults on policemen and terrorism posed as prior threats, said Press Trust of India on Sunday of December 21.

The news agency quoted police as saying the number of serious crimes in Delhi this year could double that of 2013, without providing specific figures.

Delhi Police made several arrests of key members of banned terrorist group Indian Mujahideen this year including its chief Tehseen Akhtar, who the anti-terror unit of Delhi Police, Special Cell, nabbed from India-Nepal border on March 25.

Women security has remained the Achilles’ heel of Delhi police. A 27-year-old financial executive was allegedly raped by a Uber cab driver inside his taxi on Dec. 5 in Delhi, reminiscent of a horrifying gang rape two years ago in south Delhi, in which a woman was killed in a moving bus by six rapists.

The mysterious death in a luxury hotel of the wife of a local politician remained unsolved. Sunanda Pushkar, wife of former Union minister Shashi Tharoor who was found dead at a 5-star hotel on Jan. 17, led to many conspiracy theories worth a dozen thrillers.

The year saw several communal flare ups in the national capital, including the Diwali festival of light night riot in East Delhi’s Trilokpuri area between low caste Hindus and Muslims, which left at least 70 injured including 56 police personnel. Consequently, police started to use drones to patrol the streets of the riot-hit zone.

This passing year also saw a steep rise in the cases of attacks on policemen, with more than 300 such cases reported and seven policemen killed till Dec. 15, compared with two policemen killed in 2013.

 

 

 

PARIS

 Man runs over 11 pedestrians in Dijon, France

By Xing Jianqiao

A man ran over, yelling “Allahou Akbar”, a dozen of pedestrians Sunday evening in Dijon, local media reported, with 11 hurt, including two seriously wounded.

The incident took place on Sunday evening of December 21 in Dijon where four pedestrians were knocked by a car near Place Wilson before seven others were hit a few minutes later in nearby blocks, reported French newspaper Le Figaro.

According to the police source, the driver was yelling “Allahou Akbar” while driving and “in the name of the children in Palestinian” at his arrest.

But the police also said the driver, born in 1974, who has the profile of a mentally disordered man, would be sent to a psychiatric hospital. An investigation will be started to find out his motivations.

Meanwhile on Saturday night, a 20-year-old man was shot dead after attacking three police officers with a knife, shouting “Allahou Akbar”, at the police station in Joue-les-Tours. The anti-terrorism section of the Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating the case.

 

 

 

TRIPOLI

 Gunmen snatch 5 mln USD in bank robbery in Libya’s Tripoli

By Mahmoud Darwesh

A Bank in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Sunday of December 21 was robbed by gunmen, stealing seven million Libyan Dinars (five million U.S. dollars), according to a bank official.

The official told Xinhua that a number of gunmen came in two cars and attacked the bank, located in downtown Tripoli, stealing seven million Libyan Dinars before leaving.

“The attack was sudden and fast. The gunmen, who were carrying many weapons, surrounded the main gate of the bank and threatened to kill staff if they follow them.” The official added.

Libya has suffered continuing lawlessness since the 2011 civil war. The largest armed bank robbery in Libya is in the city of Sirte last year, when a group of gunmen attacked a vehicle of the Libyan central bank carrying money to Sirte branch.

The money stolen was about 50 million Libyan Dinars (35.7 million dollars) along with foreign currencies.

 

 

 

PRAGUE 

 One killed, another wounded in Czech shooting incident

By Tomas Kesner

One person died and another was wounded in a shooting incident in Czech city Vysoke Myto after midnight of Saturday on December 21.

Police spokeswoman Jitka Vavrinova said on Sunday that the shooting happened in front of one of the entertainment venues in the city. The dead and the wounded were members of the bouncers working for one of the local discotheque, said local media.

Vavrinova said that one man died on the spot, the second was taken to the hospital with serious injuries.

Police detained two persons at the spot and seized the firearm. The pistol were sent to experts for further detection. The two detained men had not been charged with anything, said Vavrinova, but she refused to disclose further information about the case.

Mayor of Vysoke Myto Francis Jirasky said that one municipal policeman allegedly shot.

He said that there was a tussle in front of the local disco or restaurant in Brewer Street. The municipal policeman was involved in it and allegedly shot.

The policeman was not on duty at that time. He has the license for a private firearm and took that pistol with him. According to Jirasky, nobody remembers a similar incident had happened in the city. He said that the policeman had no problem in the past, he did not understand how this could happen.

According to local media, three men demanded entry to the discotheque without paying admission, the tussle occurred after the bouncers of the discotheque refused them.

Investigators determined preliminarily the case as murder and attempted murder for two times for the shooter has threatened another man with pistol.

 

 

 

COLOMBO 

 Floods from torrential rains displace 40,000 in Sri Lanka

By Uditha

More than 40,000 people have been displaced in the north central and east regions of Sri Lanka as torrential rains made dams overflow and hampered transport, an official said on Sunday of December 21.

The eastern town of Batticaloa is the worst hit with an estimated 30,000 people displaced from their homes, an official said.

Thousands more had to be evacuated by the army and navy officials, including from tourist hot spots such as Anuradhapura where ancient ruins are a popular attraction.

The towns of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the north central province are also home to some of Sri Lanka’s largest rice cultivation with hundreds of dams scattered around the region to provide water in the usually arid region.

Lashed by heavy showers for days as many as 29 of the big dams and 83 of the medium ones have reached spill level, forcing sluice gates to be opened, threatening people living downriver.

“The safety of pilgrims and foreign visitors is being given priority. They have been evacuated from hotels near major tanks while pilgrims were removed from the sacred city,” Anuradhapura District Secretary Mahinda Seneviratne told reporters.

Severe rain is expected to continue during the Christmas week, dampening relief efforts.

Met Department Forecaster Jeewan Karunaratne said a disturbance in the upper atmosphere had activated the northeast monsoon.

“We are expecting heavy rains in the coming weeks as atmospheric disturbances are occurring in a wave pattern,” he said. Landslide warnings have also been issued to four districts in central Sri Lanka.

The floods have also hampered road and railway transport services. Saturday’s trains carrying mail from Colombo to the east and north were canceled after tracks were submerged at several locations, local media reported.

 

 

 

 

U.S. warns citizens against threats to residences in Pakistan

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD

•  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.

 

 

 

PYONGYANG 

 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.

 

 

 

HAVANA 

 Raul Castro confirms to participate in Summit of Americas

By Yamiro

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.

 

 

 

LONDON

 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.

 

 

 

STOCKHOLM 

 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.

 

 

 

BERLIN 

 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.

 

 

 

 

Raul Castro says Cuba, U.S. have agreed to restore diplomatic relations

 

 

 

HAVANA

  Raul Castro says Cuba, U.S. have agreed to restore diplomatic relations

By Liu Bin

Cuban leader Raul Castro confirmed here Wednesday in a special TV appearance that his government and the Obama Administration of the United States had agreed to reestablish the diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In a historic TV broadcast timed to coincide with a similar address delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. , Castro insisted differences between the United States and Cuba should be resolved through “negotiation,” stressing Cuba will defend its main principles.

“We have agreed to restore diplomatic ties, though that doesn’t mean the main issue, which is the economic, trade and financial blockade, which causes major damage and must cease, has been resolved,” said Castro.

Castro also said that he and President Obama had a phone conversation Tuesday, discussing and addressing measures aiming to normalize the bilateral ties, and the proposals fully conform with the international law, the human rights and the Charter of the United Nations.

The Cuban leader called for an end to the economic, financial and trade blockade imposed by Washington against Havana since 1962, one year after the ties between the United States and Cuba severed, urging President Obama to exercise his executive power to change U. S. embargo resolutions against Cuba.

Castro voiced Cuba’s willingness to cooperate with the U.S. in all of the international forums.

While urging Obama to remove all the obstacles that restrict the normal links between the two nations, Castro asked Obama to recognize that there are “differences” in both countries by ” concepts of democracy, human rights and government.”

“We must learn the art of living together in a civilized way with our own differences,” said Castro.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON

 Cuba releases U.S. prisoner: report

By Zhou Erjie

Cuba has released Alan Gross, an American subcontractor whom it held for five years, U.S. media reported on Wednesday.

“Mr. Gross was released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the United States,” USA Today quoted an administration official as saying, adding that Gross has departed Cuba on a U.S. government plane bound for the United States.

Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to ABC News.

 

 

 

HAVANA

 Cuba sets new policies for wages paid by foreign investors

By Kong Xiaohan

Cuba’s government has approved new wage guidelines for nationals working for foreign firms in the country, state daily Granma reported Tuesday.

The new rules, covering wages and social security payments, were published in a government gazette.

Cuba’s state-run employment agencies will be responsible for negotiating wages on behalf of workers and paying their salaries, as well as hiring, training and protecting workers’ rights.

According to government statistics, Granma said, the average salary in Cuba in 2013 was 471 pesos, around 19 U.S. dollars, so wages cannot be any lower than that, including for those who have been earning Cuba’s minimum salary of 225 pesos.

The rise in wages is expected to help spur productivity, especially in industry.

More than 40,000 Cubans are expected to benefit from the higher wages as employees of joint-venture companies or wholly foreign-owned firms.

Cuba’s new Foreign Investment Law took effect in June and the country is preparing for an influx of foreign capital and businesses.

The country hopes to attract at least 2 billion dollars a year in fresh capital to revitalize the economy and push its economic growth to over 5 percent.

 

 

 

DAMASCUS

 Coalition airstrikes kill 13 IS fighters in Syria’s border town

By Hummam Sheikh Ali

U.S.-led anti-terror coalition launched multiple airstrikes on Wednesday, and killed 13 Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria’s eastern city of Bukamal on the borders with Iraq, the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV reported.

The attack came as the Syrian troops were also marching against the IS in southern Deir al-Zour near the main military airbase, the main lifeline of the government troops in that oil-rich province.

The TV report said the Syrian troops captured the town of Dughaim near the Deir al-Zour airbase on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, the oppositional Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the local al-Shuaitat tribesmen in Deir al-Zour found a mass graveyard containing tens of bodies of their fellows executed by the IS fighters.

The IS had stormed the areas of the Shuaitat tribe and committed massacres against its people for refusing to surrender.

The terrorist group has captured large chunks of Deir al-Zour over the past months, stripping the government troops of almost all of the oil and gas plants in that key province.

The crisis has become even more complicated when some radical groups are seeking to cash in on the chaotic situation in order to achieve territorial gains.

Over 190,000 Syrians were killed so far, while millions of others sought refuge in neighboring countries.

 

 

 

PYONGYANG

 Memorial ceremony held in DPRK to remember late leader Kim Jong Il

By Lu Rui

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a memorial ceremony Wednesday at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to mark the third anniversary of the demise of the country’s late leader Kim Jong Il, amid a solemn and memorial atmosphere in the capital city of Pyongyang.

Taking part in the memorial ceremony were the DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong Un and senior officials including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Choe Ryong Hae, secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, and Hwang Pyong So, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army.

After all attendants paid silent tribute, Kim Yong Nam delivered a memorial address, reviewing extraordinary exploits achieved by Kim Jong Il and called on all to advance toward the final victory of Juche revolution under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.

“He (Kim Jong Il) laid powerful political, military and economic foundations for the rosy future of Songun Korea for all eternity,” he said.

Choe Ryong Hae, Hwang Pyong So and Jon Yong Nam, chairman of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, also addressed the ceremony.

On the same day, Kim Jong Un, together with his wife Ri Sol Ju, paid homage to the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il placed in the hall of the palace.

At noon, ships and vehicles sounded sirens and all people stood in three-minute silence across the country on Wednesday. National flags were lowered to half-mast as a mark of condolences.

 

 

 

ROME

 Italy’s president “strongly irritated” by Indian rejection of marines’ travel appeals

By Alessandra Cardone

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was “strongly annoyed” that India’s Supreme Court has rejected travel appeals by two Italian marines held in India on murder charges, a presidential statement said on Tuesday.

India’s top court turned down the travel applications of two navy officers, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, who were arrested in 2012 under suspicion of killing two Indian fishermen.

“The President of the Republic was strongly irritated by the news coming from New Delhi and regarding the latest negative developments in the case of the two marines,” Napolitano’s statement said.

“The president will remain in close contact with the government, and follow with great attention the guidelines that will be determined by Parliament,” it added.

In September, Latorre was allowed to return to Italy for medical treatment after a stroke. His request for extending his stay for another two months to receive a heart surgery was denied by the supreme court.

The Court also rejected Girone’s permission to travel back home for Christmas holidays. Both navy officers are currently on bail pending trial, with Girone being hosted in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

Latorre and Girone were arrested in February 2012, after being accused of killing two fishermen during an international anti-piracy mission off the Kerala coast.

The two marines were guarding an Italian oil cargo and opened fire on a fishing boat approaching the ship. They alleged they had mistaken the boat for a pirate vessel and admitted opening fire, but denied killing the fishermen.

Italian authorities also maintained that New Delhi has no jurisdiction over Italian soldiers officially deployed abroad, and called for the settlement of the dispute by international arbitration.

India said the incident occurred in its waters and firstly invoked the domestic anti-terrorism and anti-piracy law to prosecute the marines, yet ruling out the possibility of a death penalty.

The case resulted in a two-year long bitter dispute between Rome and New Delhi, which usually share good ties.

 

 

 

ROME

 Italy says ready to recall ambassador to India over marine court issue

By Wang Xingqiao

Italy announced on Wednesday it was ready to recall its ambassador to India, a day after the Indian Supreme Court rejected travel appeals by two Italian marines held in New Delhi on murder charges.

“The Italian government is ready to take all necessary steps with regard to the marines detained in India, up to the recall of our ambassador in New Delhi for consultations,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a hearing before the joint parliamentary commission for Foreign Affairs and Defence.

According to Gentiloni, “fundamental principles of international sovereignty” would be at stake in the case and Italy would be obliged to react to India’s latest decision.

“We are disappointed and angered by the Indian Supreme Court’s decision. Our demands were humanitarian, and we were expecting a different result,” Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti also declared to the same commission on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, India’s top court turned down the travel applications of the two navy officers, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, who were arrested in 2012 under suspicion of killing two Indian fishermen during an international anti-piracy mission off the Kerala coast.

Latorre had been allowed to return to Italy in September for medical treatment after a stroke. His plea for extending his stay for another two months to receive a heart surgery and complete his rehabilitation was denied.

The Indian Court also rejected Girone’s request to travel back home for Christmas holidays. Both navy officers are currently on bail pending trial, with Girone being hosted in the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

At the hearing on Wednesday, Italy’s defence minister stressed Latorre’s recovery was a priority for the government and nothing would be done to jeopardize his situation.

“I am perfectly aware of Latorre’s health and there are no conditions for him to leave Italy. This is not an act of defiance or a will to fight, but the calm and firm acknowledgment of a situation,” Pinotti said.

The defence minister added the two marines were on duty as Italian state officers when they were arrested, and Italy has a responsibility over them.

“It would also be in the interest of India, which has many troops involved in international missions, to recognize and support the immunity of our marines before the Indian court,” she added.

Italian president Giorgio Napolitano had already expressed his “strong annoyance” at the Supreme Court’s decision, in a statement released late on Tuesday.

Latorre and Girone were arrested in February 2012 after being accused of killing two Indian fishermen. They were guarding an Italian oil cargo, and opened fire on a fishing boat approaching the ship.

The marines alleged they had mistaken the boat for a pirate vessel and admitted opening fire, but denied killing the fishermen. Italian authorities also maintained New Delhi has no jurisdiction over Italian soldiers officially deployed abroad.

India said the incident occurred in its waters and firstly invoked the anti-terrorism and anti-piracy law to prosecute the marines, yet ruling out the possibility of a death penalty. It later dropped the terrorism charges.

The latest development in the case brought about a reaction from the European Union (EU). “The decision to deny the pleas (of Latorre and Girone)… is disappointing, as a long awaited mutually agreed solution has not yet proved possible,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Tuesday night.

“The issue has the potential to impact the overall European Union-India relations and also a bearing on the global fight against piracy, to which the EU is strongly committed,” the statement said.

 

 

 

HELSINKI

 Lorry drivers protest convoy blocks traffic in Helsinki

By Elina Xu

Finnish lorry drivers staged a demonstration in the capital Helsinki on Wednesday, blocking the traffic in the city center, reported Finnish national broadcaster YLE.

The lorry drivers protested against an influx of cheap labor, which has lowered the wages in the Finnish market. They called for an investigation to determine if all of the transport drivers in Finland are operating legally.

A motorcade including about 50 trucks departed from the Vuosaari harbor in eastern Helsinki at 11 am, driving slowly to the city centre. The trucks arrived at the Parliament House at around 1 pm.

The demonstration caused severe traffic congestion in downtown Helsinki around the midday.

Fortunately, it was not at rush hours, said local police, the lorry drivers’ protest passed off peacefully, and now the situation has returned to normal.

Using foreign-owned transport services for commercial and industrial transport forces wages in Finland to drop, according to the Finnish Transport and Logistics association, supervision of illegal transport and heavy loads needs to be increased in Finland.

 

 

 

ROME

 Ebola leaves 1 mln people facing hunger in 3 African countries: FAO, WFP

By Wang Xingqiao

The number of people facing food insecurity due to the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could top 1 million by March 2015 unless access to food is drastically improved and measures are put in place to safeguard crop and livestock production, two UN agencies warned in reports released on Wednesday.

The disease’ impact is potentially devastating in the three countries already coping with chronic food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) said in the reports.

Border closures, quarantines, hunting bans and other restrictions are seriously hindering people’s access to food, threatening their livelihoods, disrupting food markets and processing chains, and exacerbating shortages stemming from crop losses in areas with the highest Ebola infection rates, the Rome-based UN agencies said.

In December 2014, half a million people are estimated to be severely food insecure in the three worst hit Western African countries. The loss of productivity and household income due to Ebola-related deaths and illness as well as people staying away from work, for fear of contagion, is compounding an economic slowdown in the three countries.

The situation comes at a time when more food needs to be imported by all three countries, but revenues derived from export commodities are affected.

In their reports, FAO and WFP explained how the outbreak of Ebola has caused a significant shock to the food and agriculture sectors in the affected countries.

While estimated crop losses appear relatively modest at national level, sharp disparities in production have emerged between areas with high infection rates and other regions in the three worst-hit countries.

In particular, labor shortages have marred farming operations such as planting and weeding while movement restrictions and fear of the disease have disrupted agricultural market chains, according to the reports.

“The outbreak has revealed the vulnerability of current food production systems and value chains in the worst Ebola-affected countries,” said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa Bukar Tijani.

“FAO and partners need to act urgently to overcome the agriculture and market disruptions and their immediate impact on livelihoods which could result in a food security crisis. With timely support, we can prevent the outbreak from having a severe and long-lasting impact on rural communities,” he added.

 

 

 

BERLIN

 Amazon staff in Germany to prolong strike

By Feng Yujing

The strike at online retailer Amazon’s warehouses in many German cities will extend to Saturday, trade union Ver.di announced on Wednesday.

According to Ver.di, more than 2,600 employees of online retailer Amazon in Germany went on strike on Wednesday.

About 1,000 of them went to a central strike rally in Germany’s western city of Koblenz.

“We need a living wage, and unlimited, decent working conditions,” said ver.di union’s federal executive Stefanie Nutzenberger. He added the strikers’ courage and determination would bring Amazon to the negotiating table.

Workers in online retailer Amazon’s warehouses in Germany started a three-day strike on Monday, which coincided with Christmas shopping season in Germany.

However, Amazon, which employed more than 9,000 full-time workers in Germany, insisted that the strike would not disturb its business and customers could expect punctual deliveries.

 

 

 

MOSCOW

 Russia begins mobilizing leftover reserves to save ruble

By Igor and Peng Tianxiao

The Russian Finance Ministry has begun selling its leftover currency reserves on the market, the ministry’s press office said Wednesday.

The amount that can be sold on the market is almost 7 billion U.S. dollars, which “involves funds on the federal budget’s single account in Russian Federal Treasury,” according to the ministry.

The move is part of the government’s new measures taken on Tuesday to stabilize domestic foreign currency market and prop up the ruble.

After a government meeting on financial and economic situation, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Tuesday that the government has worked out measures to stabilize the currency market.

Earlier in the day, Vladimir Chistyukhin, deputy chief of the Russian Central Bank, said that the bank has no evidence of deliberate manipulation in financial market.

“We’ve got the tools to affect players…But there must be the confirmed signs of manipulation (for using them),” Interfax news agency quoted Chistyukhin as saying.

At the moment, the bank cannot prove there are deliberate speculators “attacking” the currency exchange markets, he said, adding that the bank is carefully investigating all the cases of manipulation on the financial market, including the foreign exchange one.

Chistyukhin also assured that the suspension of currency trade would never be an option even under those difficult circumstances.

Ulyukayev on Tuesday urged the bank to take measures aimed at increasing foreign currency liquidity supply on the domestic market in order to ensure “greater balance between demand and supply on the domestic foreign currency market.”

Ruble has lost nearly 50 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar and euro since March, despite several currency interventions of the Central Bank.

 

 

 

MOSCOW

 Russia takes special measures amid ruble nosedive

By Peng Tianxiao and Igor

Russian authorities have taken currency measures to stop the national currency’s free fall against the backdrop that the ruble plunged to new lows on Tuesday, with the euro once hitting 100 rubles and the U.S. dollar 80 rubles in Moscow trade.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier convened an extraordinary meeting to discuss response measures in the current financial and economic situation in the country.

According to Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, a list of measures were outlined at the meeting, including moves to increase foreign currency liquidity supply on the domestic market.

Current concern is mainly to ensure “greater balance between demand and supply on the domestic foreign currency market,” Ulyukayev said, while the focus of refinance would be changed from the ruble to foreign exchange by increasing foreign exchange offers and decreasing foreign exchange demand via free ruble assets.

Although the Russian Central Bank had made several currency interventions, it was the first time the Russian government urged taking currency measures.

Earlier in the day, Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina said the bank was not going to forcefully restrict operations on the currency market despite the troubled situation, but would steadily target inflation and sustain overall financial stability.

A free-floating ruble and a high key interest rate are among these measures, as they render currency speculations more risky, she specified.

The bank on early Tuesday morning announced raising its key interest rate to 17 percent, a dramatic move after it raised the rate to 10.5 percent only days ago.

“I would like to emphasize once again that the hike in our key rates are oriented first of all on lowering inflation and inflationary expectations. This will indirectly influence the currency market, but this may not be immediate,” according to Nabiullina.

She reiterated that the ruble is currently undervalued and that over time it will return to a more normal value.

Some experts believed that the Russian government made a right decision to raise the interest rate, as the foreign exchange market has undergone violent and irrational fluctuations for weeks, and a higher interest rate could help restore the stability of the foreign exchange market.

The market’s abnormal conditions urgently need the central bank to take some special measures, analysts said.

Former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin also approved the move, saying on Twitter that the Russian government now should adopt measures to help win back the trust of investors.

Nevertheless, some believed the latest move had failed to quell market jitters.

“The markets saw the latest moves taken by the bank as not decisive as they should be in the given circumstances,” Maxim Osadchy, head of analysis at Moscow-based Corporate Finance Bank told Xinhua.

The financial authorities still have tools to tame the out-of-control panic, said Osadchy, suggesting the key interest rate should be increased “not by percents but in times.”

Although the ruble exchange market is complicated by a range of international and domestic factors, like oil price or Russia’s commodities-reliant economy, some analysts believed that the central bank should first and foremost concentrate on limiting the liquidity of the ruble as soon as possible.

 

 

 

MOSCOW

 Apple hikes prices again in Russia amid ruble slump

By Liu Hongxia

Apple fans and iPhone touts have to pay much more for the newest smartphones in Russia since Wednesday, as the dealer again hiked its prices amid the ruble’s slump.

An iPhone 6 Plus with 16 GB storage costs 67,990 rubles (some 1, 100 U.S. dollars) on Wednesday, 21,000 rubles higher than that on Tuesday. For an iPhone 6 Plus with 64 GB storage, customers have to pay 75,990 rubles (1,200 dollars), a 23,000 rubles increase within a day.

Prices for other items, such as iPad mini and iPad Air 2, have also been lifted.

Earlier Wednesday, Apple’s salesclerks in one of Moscow’s Atrium shopping malls told Xinhua reporters they “don’t have ( iPhone) 64 GB in stock today. All sold.”

The ruble plummeted to historic lows Tuesday, with the euro briefly hitting 100 rubles and the dollar 80 rubles in Moscow trade. The Apple suspended its Russian website soon afterwards, as it did in late November, when the company raised an average of some 10,000 rubles for the newest iPhones.

So far, the website is still not available as the staff are ” updating our Apple Store.” No statements have yet been issued over the prices hike.

Russia’s ruble has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the dollar and the euro since the start of the year, due to combined factors of falling oil prices and increasing Western sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

 

 

 

BERLIN

 German gov’t approves highway toll on foreigners from 2016

By Tang Zhiqiang

German federal government on Wednesday approved a draft law to charge car drivers for using its highways, in a bid to collect funds from foreign drivers for renovating its aging infrastructure.

According to the law, all drivers using German highways, including its currently free autobahn, would be levied toll from 2016. Drivers with German registered cars, however, would be compensated by a deduction in their vehicle taxes with the same amount of the toll they paid.

Currently, only heavy trucks are charged for using German roads.

German Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt said the plan aimed at modernizing transportation infrastructure and transforming the maintenance from tax-financing to users-financing.

He expected around 3.7 billion euros (about 4.6 billion U.S. dollars) to be collected per year, among them around 700 million euros from foreign car owners. Deducting system costs and tax offset, a net income of 500 million euros could be raised a year.

The plan draw criticism from the European Union which accused it of discriminating foreign drivers.

Dobrindt, however, insisted that the plan was “fair” and “make sense”, and compiled with EU laws.

 

 

 

AMMAN

 Jordan denies signing gas import deal with Israel

Jordan’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Mohammad Hamed said Wednesday Jordan did not sign a deal with Israel to import natural gas.

In a statement on Wednesday, the minister said several media reports indicated that Jordan signed the agreement, which in inaccurate.

“When the deal is signed, it will be announced,” said the minister.

He added that importing natural gas is one of the strategic options for Jordan to meet rising demand on electricity.

There were several protests in Jordan over the last few weeks calling on the government not to sign the deal with Israel.

In September, Hamed said Jordan’s National Electric Power Company will sign an agreement in November with Noble Energy to buy gas from Israeli fields.

The signing of the deal was delayed, according to the minister.

The Jordanian company signed a letter of intent with the American company to buy Israeli gas, according to Hamed.

Under the agreement, the U.S. company is to provide the Jordanian power company with 300 million cubic feet of gas per day for a period of 15 years, with a total volume of 15 billion U.S. dollars.

Gas supply will commence before the end of 2017, Hamed said, adding that the supply will help reduce the losses of the power company, expected to reach 1.9 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2014.

Jordan imports annually approximately 97 percent of its energy needs.

 

 

 

BUCHAREST

 Romania discovers biggest oil gas deposit in 30 years

By Chen Jin and Lin Huifen

Romania discovered a new deposit of crude oil and natural gas, which may be the biggest discovery of its kind in the past 30 years in the south, a Romanian oil company announced Wednesday.

According to OMV Petrom, a subsidiary of the Austrian group OMV, the deposit was discovered at a depth of 2,500 meters in the south of Buzau County.

The estimates obtained from the production tests indicate a potential production per well of 1,200-2,100 boe per day.

The discovery has been made under the onshore exploration partnership signed in 2010 by OMV Petrom and Hunt Oil Company of Romania, the company said, adding that the exploration investment led to this discovery amounts to 5 million euros (6.25 million U.S. dollars).

OMV Petrom is the largest producer of oil and gas in southeastern Europe, with an annual production of crude oil and natural gas of 66 million boe.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON

 US will bid for 2024 Olympics

By Peng Zhuo

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) announced on Tuesday it will bid for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics but decided not to choose a city until next month.

Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C had all made presentations to the USOC Board in Redwood City, California, and USOC chairman Larry Probst said they had decided not to announce a decision until at least next month to give themselves more time.

“We are going to take our time and pick the city we think has the best chance of winning the competition from other cities around the world,” he said.

Probst admitted that they would pick a “single city”, ruling out a joint bid from Los Angeles and San Francisco, an idea that had gained momentum since the adoption by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week of Agenda 2020, which allows cities to put in joint bids.

America has not hosted the Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. New York City and Chicago bid unsuccessfully for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, events awarded to London and Rio de Janeiro respectively.

Rome is the only city to have officially declared so far it will bid for the 2024 Olympics but Germany is expected to put forward either Berlin or Hamburg.

The deadline for confirming bids is September 15 next year but a special invitation phase for the 2024 Olympic bid process will start on January 15, with the IOC keen to provide more consultation with cities in order to generate more popular support.

 

 

 

LAUSANNE, Switzerland

 IOC President welcomes U.S. to bid for 2024 Olympics

By Chen Hongyi

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Wednesday welcomed the United States to bid for the 2024 Olympics.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Olympic Committee board voted in favor of a bid.However, they have to choose one city out of four to put forward, namely Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.

Bach said that no matter which city was chosen, it would be a very strong contender.

The latest Summer Olympics held in the United States was in 1996 in Atlanta. In the bids for 2012 and 2016 Games, New York and Chicago failed respectively.

 

 

 

LONDON

 Church of England announces first female bishop

By Xia Xiao

The first female bishop in the Church of England was announced Wednesday, ending the history that only male could be the bishop of church.

Downing Street announced on Wednesday that Revd Libby Lane will be the new Bishop of Stockport, while her duty will serve as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Chester.

Church of England said she will be consecrated as the 8th Bishop of Stockport at a ceremony at York Minster on January 26.

“I am grateful for, though somewhat daunted by, the confidence placed in me by the Diocese of Chester. This is unexpected and very exciting,” Revd Libby Lane said at Stockport town hall after the nomination, which was also approved by the Queen.

“On this historic day as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be Bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all I am thankful to God,” she added.

Libby Lane was ordained as a priest in 1994 and has served a number of parish and chaplaincy roles in the North of England in the Dioceses of Blackburn, York and Chester. For the past 8 years she has served as Vicar of St. Peter’s Hale and St. Elizabeth’s Ashley.

 

 

 

HANOI

 Vietnam suspends fruit imports from Australia over fruit fly concerns

By Anh

Vietnam has decided to suspend imports of fruits from Australia for concerns over fruit fly, according to the Department of Plant Protection under Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on Wednesday.

Nguyen Xuan Hong, director of the department, said imports of all 38 kinds of Australian fruits will be suspended from Jan. 1, 2015 to prevent fruit fly infestation as Australia is facing outbreaks of fruit fly which attack and damage fruits and vegetables.

Vietnam has sent an announcement to the Australian side in accordance with international regulations, said Hong.

He said quarantine work will be strengthened for fruit shipments on the way to Vietnam.

The imports will be resumed when no fruit fly outbreak is reported in Australia and if the country’s fruits meet quarantine requirements of Vietnam, reported the website of the Vietnamese government on Wednesday.

According to statistics by the Department of Plant Protection, in the first 10 months of 2014, Vietnam imported some 2,000 tons of fruits from Australia, mainly apples, pears, grapes and cherries.

 

 

 

ABUJA

 Nigeria targets 3.5 mln farm jobs in 2015

By Olatunji Saliu

Nigeria is set to generate 3.5 million farm jobs in 2015, a proof that the ongoing transformation agenda in the agricultural sector of the economy could yield more fruitful results, president of the West African country Goodluck Jonathan said Wednesday.

Noting so far 3 million jobs have been created in the sector, the Nigerian leader said agriculture will help the country cushion the effect of the fall in global crude oil price.

“The decline in the price of crude oil did not take us by surprise. For the past three years, we had been engaged on a carefully designed and implemented agricultural transformation agenda,” said Jonathan while launching the Youth Employment in Agriculture Program at the Nigerian capital Abuja.

He said the country saw production of 21 million metric tons of food in the past three years, and this have created a buffer and mitigated the impact of the devaluation on food prices.

According to the president, the gap between the farmers and government has been substantially bridged, as farmers across the country are being touched by the new drive for food production.

“Our food import bill declined from 1.1 trillion naira (5.9 billion U.S. dollars) in 2009 to 624 billion naira by December of 2013, and continues to decline. Our electronic wallet system, which allows us to reach farmers with subsidized seeds and fertilizers via mobile phones, has become the backbone of a more modern agricultural sector,” the Nigerian president said, adding more than 14 million farmers had received their subsidized farm inputs through the e-wallet system.

He said more than 5.6 billion dollars of new private sector investments have come into the agricultural sector, an indication that local and foreign businesses see the African nation’s agricultural sector as very viable for investments.

According to him, agriculture has become the new wealth sector for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, which also expects an injection of 100 million dollars toward providing affordable long term financing for agribusiness.

The 100 million dollars will be deployed by the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria initiative, aimed at providing affordable long term financing to support the development of small and medium scale agribusinesses, Jonathan added.

 

 

 

NAIROBI

 Kenyan girls camp in schools to avoid cut, marriage

By Deng Yaomin

Jane Riwoi, a girl at a local primary school in Kapenguria town in West Pokot County, northwest Kenya, is not spending the December holiday with her parents.

Riwoi is still in school after she got wind that her parents planned to circumcise and marries her off.

“I fear going home because my parents intended to marry me off to an elderly man in the neighboring village,” Riwoi told Xinhua at school.

“I better stray in school and miss the celebration than married off before I complete my education,” says Riwoi who aspires to become a nurse.

Riwoi is among over 500 girls camping in local school after they declined to proceed to their homes after schools closed down for the December holiday. “These girls refused to go home for the holiday because they feared the cut and early marriage, and we are supporting them to cope here,” said Teresa Lukichu, a local nominated leader.

Many pastoralists in the county planned to secretly have their daughters face the cut before marrying them off to acquire wealth.

Lukichu told Xinhua she and other right activists planned to take the girls to a tour to Kitale and Eldoret towns to ensure they are comfortable.

The fight against female genital mutilation by the government and organizations among the Pokot pastoralists is being frustrated by lack of support from the local community who are deeply indebted in culture.

A leading NGO involved in curbing the vice accused the reluctance by the community to allow the implementation of anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) law.

Kepsteno Rotwoo Tipin, a local organization championing for girl child rights, said time has come for the community to quit primitive cultures undermining child development such as FGM and early marriages.

The organization’s coordinator Moses Lokeres said offenders of the illegal cut walk scot-free from courts, and courts are unable to prosecute those found committing the outdated cultural practice because of lack of witnesses.

“Last year, together with the help from tribal chiefs we managed to arrest parents who had subjected her daughters to the cut, but the court was unable to jail them because no resident was willing to testify,” he said.

Lokeres said for the past four years, the organization has been operational and they have managed to rescue over 1,000 girls from the cut. “Out of the 1000 girls we rescued, six were subjected to the cut during child birth.”

David Mutuku, Assistant Commissioner in Pokot Central, said local government is alert, and no girl will be subjected to the cut during the December holiday.

He said chiefs from worst hit areas have been trained by officials on how to effectively implement law, hence reducing the cases which currently stand at 43 percent.

“Chiefs have been trained to be alert and arrest those found engaging in the vice,” Mutuku said.

The official asked parents in the region to reduce the pride price for their daughters since it’s one of the major contributing factor for the outdated rite.

“Heavy pride price for girls who have been cut has forced parents to subject the girls to the knife secretly so that they earn more cows during wedding ceremonies,” he said.

 

 

 

 

One in five people in EU use cloud services

 

 

 

TRIPOLI

 Tripoli-based govt releases four detained foreign crew

By Mahmoud Darwesh

Libya’s tripoli-based government released four foreign crew members who had been detained after flying into the North African country from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) without permission, officials said on Tuesday of December 16.

Seven crew members of the plane which was leased from UAE and reportedly carried humanitarian aids to southern Libya, was detained on Nov. 14 for bringing in “suspicious cargo”, the state news agency said.

Mohamed Al-Ghirani, foreign minister of Islamist-backed government which controls the capital Tripoli, said at a press conference that four out of seven detained crew members of an Airbus 300 airplane were released based on a decision by the Attorney General, and the remaining three crew members are still under the general prosecutor’s investigation.

The seven crew members include two Russians, two Ukrainians, a Tajikistani, and a Kazakhstani. The nationalities of the released were not revealed at the press conference.

Libya is now juggling two rival parliaments and governments amid a frayed political process after the 2011 turmoil which toppled its former leader Muammar Gaddafi. The division has hampered the flow of food and medical aid to the country’s south.

The Tripoli-based government accuses the UAE and Egypt of aiding the east militarily, allegations the two deny.

Under Libya’s transitional plan, the parliament elected in June has already replaced the former General National Congress (GNC). However, the rival Libya Dawn alliance backed the GNC to resume power and form its own government in Tripoli on Sept. 6 against the new secular one.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON

 Curiosity detects methane, other organic molecules on Mars: NASA

By Lin Xiaochun

U.S. space agency NASA said Tuesday its Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, a potential sign of life, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, a member of the Curiosity rover science team, said in a NASA statement. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars ( SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere.

During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars.

NASA said these Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.

Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, but they can also exist without the presence of life.

That meant Curiosity’s new findings are not enough to reveal if Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars, NASA said.

“We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?”

Researchers also reported that Curiosity’s taste of Martian water, bound into lakebed minerals in the Cumberland rock more than three billion years ago, indicates the planet lost much of its water before that lakebed formed and continued to lose large amounts after.

The results of the Curiosity rover which has been exploring the Red Planet since it landed in 2012 were discussed Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco.

The methane results are described in a paper published online in the U.S. journal Science while a report on organics detection in the Cumberland rock is pending publication.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON

 E-cigarettes surpass tobacco cigarettes among U.S. teens: study

By Lin Xiaochun

More U.S. teens are now using e- cigarettes than traditional tobacco ones or any other tobacco product, according a national study released on Tuesday of December 16 by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The results are part of the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey, which studied 40,000 to 50,000 students in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades throughout the United States to track trends in substance use in American teens. Use of e-cigarettes has been measured for the first time in the study, now in its 40th year.

“As one of the newest smoking-type products in recent years, e- cigarettes have made rapid inroads into the lives of American adolescents,” said University of Michigan Professor Richard Miech, a senior investigator of the study. “Part of the reason for the popularity of e-cigarettes is the perception among teens that they do not harm health.”

The survey found that 9 percent of the 8th-graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, while only 4 percent reported using a tobacco cigarette.

In the 10th grade, 16 percent reported using an e-cigarette and 9 percent reported using a tobacco cigarette. Among the 12th- graders, 17 percent reported e-cigarette use and 14 percent reported use of a tobacco cigarette.

On the other hand, only 15 percent of the 8th-graders said there is a great risk of harm with regular use of e-cigarettes, compared with 62 percent of the 8th-graders who said there is a great risk by smoking one or more packs of tobacco cigarettes a day.

The study did not determine whether youth who use e-cigarettes exclusively were more likely to later go on to become tobacco cigarette smokers, which is of substantial concern to the public health community.

But it did found cigarette smoking reached historical lows among teens in 2014 in all three grades. For the three grades combined, 28 percent reported any smoking in the prior month in 1998, the recent peak year, but that rate was down to 8 percent this year.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices with a heating element, which produce an aerosol of nicotine and other chemicals. The liquid that is vaporized in e-cigarettes comes in hundreds of flavors, including bubble gum and milk chocolate cream to attract younger teens.

In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed rules that could eventually ban the sale of e-cigarettes to individuals under the age of 18.

“We are concerned about the levels of e-cigarette use among teens that we are seeing,” said University of Michigan Professor Lloyd Johnston, the study’s principal investigator. “It would be a tragedy if this product undid some of the great progress made to date in reducing cigarette smoking by teens.”

 

 

 

LONDON

 Britain pledges more support for children affected by Ebola

By Xia Xiao

Britain has pledged a 2.5 million pounds (3.93 million U.S. dollars) fund to help children affected by Ebola.

The Department for International Development of the United Kingdom said the fund will go to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

The announcement followed a trip by department secretary Justine Greening to Sierra Leone.

“Ebola not only takes people’s lives, it leaves children without families and survivors facing rejection from their communities. Our work will ensure these people are not left behind once Ebola is defeated,” said Justine Greening.

The funds will be used to set up six care centers to provide temporary protection, care and support for children who have been quarantined, orphaned or out of touch with their families. The fund will also help them reunite with their families or find new homes.

The department said children who have been stigmatized or rejected by families and communities because of Ebola will be provided with psycho-social and mental health services through the new funds.

Additionally, the funds will also be used to educate people about the disease and support vulnerable groups, including pregnant women and the disabled, women and girls, in their own communities.

More than 7,000 children have been affected by the Ebola outbreak, statistics from the government of Sierra Leone show.

 

 

 

SOFIA

 Share of most innovative companies in Bulgaria doubles in five years: report

By Marian Draganov

The share of the most innovative companies in Bulgaria has doubled in the last five years, according to the 10th issue of the annual report Innovation.bg that was presented on Tuesday of December 16.

The report, issued by Applied Research and Communications Fund, said the share of the companies making simultaneously product, process, organization and marketing innovations, rose from 6.3 percent in 2009 to 14.7 percent in 2014.

Meanwhile, the companies making simultaneously product and process innovations increased from 10 percent to 19 percent, and those making at least one of the two — product or process innovations — rose from 35 percent to 50 percent, the report said.

In 2014, the most product innovations were made by companies in the information sector, 71 percent, and manufacturing industry – 53 percent.

Similarly, these sectors were leaders in organization and marketing innovations, with 65 percent and 61 percent respectively, while most process innovations were made in the manufacturing industry, 54 percent, and mining industry, 33 percent, the report said.

Bulgarian companies competing on the European and international markets were much more innovative than those which opted for national and local markets, it added.

According to the report, the funds requested for innovations ranged from 1,000 BGN (some 641 U.S. dollars) to 500 million BGN (320.5 million dollars), and the average amount indicated by the enterprises as necessary for implementation of their innovation projects was 4.7 million BGN (3.01 million dollars) in 2014.

The report also said that 60 percent of the companies, which introduced a new product in the preceding year, plan to work on a new product in the following one.

At the same time, 17 percent of the companies which did not introduce a new product in the preceding year, intend to start work on the implementation of new or highly advanced products.

“Moreover, nine percent of the companies which did not make any innovation in the preceding year, plan to work on a new product, and 16 percent consider whether to do it,” the report said.

 

 

 

BRUSSELS

 One in five people in EU use cloud services

By Shuai Rong

One in five individuals aged between 16 to 74 used Internet storage space for saving files in the European Union (EU) in 2014, the EU’s statistical office said in a press release on Tuesday of December 16.

Cloud services, a relatively new form of web service using cloud technology and developed in recent years, offer opportunities for storing and sharing large files or using software on a server run over the Internet, Eurostat said.

The largest proportion of individuals using the cloud was found amongst young people and only a minority of users of cloud services used paid-for services, it said.

The main reasons for using cloud services were described as using files from several devices or locations, easily sharing files with other persons and getting protection against data loss.

 

 

 

PARIS

 Rio 2016 Olympics to feature 13 morning session athletics finals

By Peng Zhuo

A total of 13 finals will take place in morning sessions at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced on Monday of December 15.

Among the morning session finals are all five road events – the men’s and women’s marathons, the men’s 50 kilometers race walk and the men’s and women’s 20km race walk events, although both 20km race walks are scheduled to take place in the early afternoon.

The other morning session finals are the women’s 10,000 meters, the men’s and women’s discus, the men’s triple jump, the men’s and women’s 3,000m steeplechase, the men’s 400m hurdles and the women’s hammer.

The decision, approved during an IAAF Council meeting in Monte Carlo last month, means the Olympic Games will feature finals during the morning sessions of the athletics program since Seoul 1988.

“Staging finals in the morning was done at the request of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee and the Olympic Broadcasting Service, supported by the International Olympic Committee,” said IAAF competitions director Paul Hardy.

“Having finals in the morning will also ensure that we receive maximum visibility for athletics at the Olympic Games across all time zones.”

The athletics showpiece event, the men’s 100m final, is scheduled for the evening session on Sunday August 14, with the women’s version taking place the evening before.

The 10 days of athletics competition at Rio 2016 due to be staged from August 12 through to the last day of the Games on August 21.

 

 

 

TIRANA

 Albania, Brazil to lift visas for citizens

By Ymerali

The Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Tuesday of December 16 that visa regime between Albania and Brazil has been lifted even for the ordinary passports of Albanian and Brazilian citizens.

According to Albanian Daily News, the citizens of both countries have the opportunity to move freely from November 27, 2014.

“Albanian citizens may enter and stay in the Federative Republic of Brazil for short-term reasons, up to 90 days in 180 days, calculated from the first entry,” said the Albanian Foreign Ministry.

 

 

 

BERLIN

 Playing music promotes educational achievement of young people: study

By Feng Yujing

A German study has showed playing music can promote young people’s educational achievement.

Young people who had music lessons at an early age have better grades than others, according to the research, which is based on the data of a long-term study carried out by the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin.

Young people who had music lessons are also more conscientious, open-minded and ambitious than their peers, according to the study, which was recently published online in the prestigious journal “Economics of Education Review”.

According to SOEP director Juergen Schupp, young people, especially those from less educated families, benefit from music lessons.

Researchers called for more government support for music classes outside school in which the young people may participate regardless of social status of their parents.

 

 

 

LONDON

 Lifestyle linked to changes in brain ageing: study

By Liu Shilei

Making basic lifestyle changes could help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to new analysis by a British health charity the Age UK.

The review of academic studies and data reveals that about 76 percent of cognitive decline – changes in thinking skills with age including memory loss and speed of thinking – is accounted for by lifestyle and other environmental factors including level of education.

The analysis suggests that there are 5 “simple and effective” steps people can take to maintain brain health and reduce their risk of developing dementia.

The lifestyle factors could decrease the risk of developing dementia, which included regular physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation. In addition, preventing and treating diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity were also found to reduce the risk of dementia.

One large UK study carried out over 30 years found that men aged between 45 and 59 who followed 4-5 of the identified lifestyle factors were found to have a 36 percent lower risk of developing cognitive decline and a 36 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.

The Age UK hopes the new evidence will spur people to make changes which will help them reduce the risk of developing dementia.

“While there’s still no cure or way to reverse dementia, this evidence shows that there are simple and effective ways to reduce our risk of developing it to begin with.” Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK said: “The sooner we start, the better our chance of having a healthy later life.”

 

 

 

 

Death toll of Pakistan’s Peshawar school attack rises to 126

 

 

A Pakistani soldier stands guard outside a hospital in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar,

on December 16, 2014.   Photo by Umar Qayyum

 

Volunteers gather around bodies of students at a hospital in northwest Pakistan’s

Peshawar, on December 16, 2014.  Photo by Umar Qayyum

Pakistani army soldiers take part in an operation against militants near the attack

site in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar on December 16, 2014.  Photo by Ahmad Sidique

Pakistani families mourn over the death of their children outside a hospital in northwest

Pakistan’s Peshawar, on December 16, 2014.   Photo by Umar Qayyum

 

 

 

ISLAMABAD

Death toll of Pakistan’s Peshawar school attack

rises to 126

 

By Zhang Qi

 

The death toll of a terror attack on a school in Peshawar of Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has risen to 126, said a spokesperson of the provincial chief minister on Tuesday afternoon of December 16.

The spokesperson said that 122 others were injured in the attack and the vast majority of the killed and injured are students aged below 18.

Earlier the chief minister of the province, Pervez Khattak, told media that the killed include two teachers and a security guard.

In addition, an unknown number of students and staff of the school are still being held hostage by the attackers, said local media, adding that this has created a problem for the rescue operation as the security forces have to save as many lives as possible during the operation.

So far four militants have been killed in the exchange of firing with the security forces who have rounded them up inside the school shortly after the attack was reported, said army sources, adding that the remaining militants have been cornered in the fourth block of the school.

Three blocks of the school have been cleared, said the sources, adding that a large contingent of security forces have been called in to fight against the attackers who are armed with heavy weapons and suicide jackets.

Helicopters and tanks have also been employed in the operation, the sources said.

The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have flown to Peshawar to direct the rescue operation. Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif have also cut short a visit to the country’s southwestern province of Balochistan and headed for Peshawar.

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain have issued a statement strongly condemning the attack and said that such attacks cannot deter the resolve and morale of the Pakistani nation to fight against terrorism.

The attack reportedly took place at about 10:30 a.m. local time when a group of eight to 10 Taliban militants wearing army uniforms launched the attack at the army-run public school in the downtown area of Peshawar. The school offers education mainly to children aged nine to 16 from the army families.

 

 

Pakistani army soldiers take part in an operation against militants near the attack

site in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar on December 16, 2014.   Photo by Ahmad Sidique

 

 

 

 

323 films eligible to compete Oscar Best Picture

 

 

 

KHARTOUM

 Khartoum asks UNSC to reconsider decision referring Sudan to ICC

By Shao Jie

Sudan demanded on Saturday of December 13 the UN Security Council (UNSC) reconsider its decision to refer Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The country also urged the UNSC to recognize Khartoum’s great efforts to reach peace agreements with Darfur rebel movements.

“Reconsidering the referring decision is demanded to support the peace and development efforts which started to fruit in Darfur,” said the Sudanese Foreign Ministry in a statement.

The statement said that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Sudan as it is not a party to the ICC Statute, noting that the UNSC decision clearly contradicts the provisions of Vienna convention on the Law of Treaties for 1969.

The statement also said the decision of ICC prosecutor to arrest a sitting head of state contradicts the rules of the international law and precedents of the International Court of Justice relating to immunity of heads of state.

It added that the report of the ICC prosecutor provided nothing new to convince the international community to support the court’s targeting and selective orientations.

Meanwhile, the ministry said circulation of fabricated news on mass rape cases at Tabit village in North Darfur State by the Dutch-based Radio Dabanga were unconcealed attempts and undeclared coordination to provide a new material for the report of the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to keep the issue before the UNSC.

The ministry regretted what it said drift of some UNSC members behind false news by Radio Dabanga, noting that the council was supposed to criticize that radio, particularly after the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) issued a report refuting mass rape cases in Tabit village.

The statement reiterated Sudan’s commitment to continue endeavors with partners of peace and development to achieve sustainable peace, stability and development in Darfur and all parts of Sudan through serious national dialogue with the political parties in the country.

On Friday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UNSC that she was discontinuing her investigations in Darfur because of a lack of initiative by the council.

In her report to the council, she pointed to fresh allegations of a mass rape of 200 women in Tabit, located in North Darfur, saying that those allegations “have fuelled concerns regarding the overall security situation in the region and the general safety of women and girls in the area.”

In 2009, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.

However, Khartoum then rejected the ICC decision and refused to hand over any Sudanese official to be tried at the ICC.

 

 

 

LIMA

 UN climate talks extended into overtime in Lima

By Liang Junqian

The annual UN global climate change talks has been extended into overtime as negotiators from over 190 countries are straining every nerve to bridge their differences and reach a consensus early on Saturday morning of December 13 local time.

Participants at the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change here have struggled to break a deadlock between the developed and developing countries over the past two weeks, aimed at working out a draft for a new international climate deal ahead of key talks in Paris in 2015.

At the opening ceremony on Dec. 1, Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who presided over the talks as COP20/CMP10 president, had urged participants to work in a creative way to reach global consensus in the following 12 days.

Now, he was frustrated by the divisions between rich and poor. “We don’ t want to leave Lima with empty hands. We are in a time in which we should take decisions,” said Pulgar-Vidal.

The talks had been scheduled to end at 6:00 p.m. (2300 GMT) Friday, but ran into the small hours of Saturday.

 

 

 

UNITED NATIONS

 UN urges swift, transparent probe into death of Palestinian minister

By Pei Lei

The UN Security Council on Friday called for a swift and transparent investigation into the death of Palestinian Minister of Settlement Ziad Abu Ein.

In a statement issued here to the press on Friday night of December 12, the Council members expressed their sorrow at the death of Abu Ein, which occurred after a demonstration near Ramallah led to clashes with Israeli security forces on Wednesday.

The Council members expressed their condolences to the family of Abu Ein, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National Authority, and encouraged the parties to “ensure that a swift and transparent investigation is undertaken.”

Taking note of the Israeli government’s willingness to conduct a joint investigation into the incident, the 15-nation Security Council called on all sides to “exercise maximum restraint and to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation.”

 

 

 

LONDON

 Britain to send troops to Iraq to train local forces against IS

By Xia Xiao

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told The Telegraph that hundreds of British troops will be sent to Iraq next year to help train local forces to fight against Islamic State (IS).

According to reports from The Telegraph on Saturday, Fallon said in an interview that “very low hundreds” of British troops will be deployed to Iraq to training Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight against IS militants in January.

The report said a small “force protection” deployment of combat-ready soldier will also be sent to those areas to protect those military training teams.

The secretary revealed the teams will be located at four centers in Iraq, including one in the Kurdish region and three others nearer to Baghdad.

Details of the new deployment haven’t been disclosed yet. The Telegraph said there are 50 British troops inside Iraq training local forces currently.

The report said the “the new mission represents the first significant deployment of ground force since the last British troops withdrew from Iraq three years ago,” and “marks a new stage in Britain’s involvement in the fight against jihadists in Iraq and Syria.”

“Our role now, apart from the air strikes, is increasingly going to be on training,” said the secretary, adding the training would include dealing with car and truck bombs, roadside devices and basic infantry skills, which British troops have learnt from the experiences in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

LOS ANGELES

 323 films eligible to compete Oscar Best Picture

By Xue Ying

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced on Friday of December 12 that a total of 323 feature films are eligible for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture.

To be eligible for the 87th Academy Awards, films must open in a commercial movie theater in Los Angeles County by midnight Dec. 31 and have a minimum run of at least seven consecutive days. They also must have a running time of more than 40 minutes and be shown on 35mm or 70mm film, or in a qualifying digital format.

Meanwhile, the Academy also announced that 79 tunes are vying for the Oscar for best original song. The five ultimate nominees will be chosen by the Academy’s Music Branch.

Oscar nominations will be announced on Jan. 15 and the Oscars awards will be presented on Feb. 22.

 

 

 

YANGON

 National Sports Festival attracts over 1800 athletes in Myanmar

The 4th National Sports Festival attracted more than 1800 athletes from different regions and states in Myanmar by 2015 aimed at nurturing new generation which is important for nation sports, sports circles said on Saturday of December 13.

The Festival is scheduled to take place from Jan. 1 to 24 in different stadiums in Nay Pyi Taw.

Of the 34 sport events, 7 sports will be held for disabled athletes at the festival.

Sport events such as badminton, basketball, boxing, cane ball, cycling, football, golf, Judo, swimming, table tennis and weightlifting are included in the event.

The third National Sports Festival was held in 1997.

 

 

 

VANCOUVER

 Canadian Navy bans drinking on ships

By Jiang Yaping

Canadian navy sailors are banned from drinking aboard ships, in the wake of an incident caused by drinking-related misconduct, navy commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman announced on Friday of December 12.

Norman said the ban was effective on the issuance of the order unless the vessel is tied up or an exception has been made for a special occasion such as Christmas.

The order was made following an incident in July in which the HMCS (His Majesty’s Canadian Ship) Whitehorse abandoned an exercise and returned to port after three allegations of drunken misconduct.

Norman said the policy change was not about alcohol. “This is about the conduct of our people and unfortunately alcohol does contribute to misconduct and has done in the past. And we just want to try and regulate that as best we can going forward,” he said in a statement.

The order will forbid the longstanding practice of easy and cheap access to beer and wine aboard navy vessels.

Before the just-issued order, navy sailors were allowed to drink while at sea, provided they were not on duty in less than six hours.

 

 

 

JAKARTA

 19 killed in Indonesia’s landslides

Two more bodies were found on Saturday evening of December 13 by rescuers, bringing the death toll to 19 in Indonesia’s landslide.

The landslide which occurred Friday night in Banjarnegara district of Central Java, also buried dozens of houses and wounded 18 others. Among the injured, seven were seriously hurt, Muhammad Kosasih, an official from the national disaster management agency told Xinhua by phone.

Rescue efforts to search for the 71 missing people have been halted since Saturday afternoon due to rain, and the rescue operation would be resumed on Sunday morning, he said.

 

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

 3 teenagers wounded in U.S. school shooting

By Xu Yong

Two boys and a girl were shot on Friday of December 12 outside a high school in Portland in the northwestern U.S. state of Oregon.

The teenagers, believed to be students at the Rosemary Anderson High School, were breathing, conscious and talking as they were sent to hospital, local media reports quoted police Sgt. Pete Simpson as saying.

The three ran inside a school building and sought help there after being shot around 12:15 p.m. (2015 GMT).

The shooter fled the scene and a manhunt was under way.

One of the boys wounded was identified by a family member as 17-year-old Labraye Franklin.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent agents to the scene.

Meanwhile, Portland Police Department’s gang task force was investigating the possibility that the incident was gang-related, Simpson said.

The Rosemary Anderson High School, an alternative school serving at-risk kids, including those from homeless families, has about 190 students.

On June 10, at Reynolds High School, another school in Portland, a freshman shot dead one student and injured a teacher before killing himself.

 

 

 

 

DPRK denies responsibility for Sony cyber attack

 

 

 

PYONGYANG

 DPRK denies responsibility for Sony cyber attack

By Lu Rui

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Sunday denied the hacking into film producer Sony Pictures, which will release a comedy about an assassination plan of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un this month, the official news agency KCNA reported.

“We do not know where in America the Sony Pictures is situated and for what wrongdoings it became the target of the attack, nor we feel the need to know about it,” said a spokesman for the Policy Department of the National Defense Commission.

But the spokesman also said that the hacking, which was not at all linked to Pyongyang, might be “a righteous deed of the supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK,” because the movie abets terrorism and hurts the dignity of the country’s supreme leadership.

He called the hackers who had attacked Sony Pictures “champions of peace.”

The statement given by the unnamed spokesman denounced the United States for setting Pyongyang as a target of the investigation and South Korea for groundlessly linking the cyber attack with the DPRK.

The Sony Pictures Entertainment was reportedly cyber attacked last week, leading to leakage of huge amounts of data and damage of the underlying system of the corporate. Major U.S. investigation bodies including the FBI have been engaged in the investigation of the attack.

In June, the DPRK blasted the Hollywood comedy entitled “The Interview,” which depicts an assassination attempt on its top leader Kim Jong Un, warning if the U.S. administration connived at and patronized the screening of the film, it would invite a strong and merciless countermeasure.

 

 

 

ALGIERS

 Energy summit kicks off in Algeria as oil prices dive

By Aeje

The ninth North Africa Oil and Gas Summit kicked off on Sunday of December 7 in the Algerian capital Algiers, as the global market is marked by acute fall in oil prices.

As many as 450 guests representing top decision makers and managers of prominent energy companies in North Africa, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia are taking part in the three-day event.

The participants will discuss opportunities for investment, the latest technologies and strategies to support their projects and the future of the petroleum industry.

A range of international energy firms, including Repsol, Shell, Sam Leon, and Halliburton, will share their expertise in North Africa’s complex oil and gas market.

In November, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to maintain oil output at the current level, which pushed oil prices to dive around 70 U.S. dollars per barrel, hitting a four-year low.

 

 

 

NEW DELHI

 Woman allegedly raped by cab driver in Indian capital

By Wu Qiang

A 25-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a cab driver when she was returning home in the Indian capital last Friday, reminiscent of a gang rape of a woman on a moving bus in south Delhi two years ago, local media reported on Sunday of December 7.

The incident took place Friday night after the woman boarded a cab from Vasant Vihar area in south Delhi, said Indo-Asian News Service.

“While on my way home, I fell asleep on the back seat of the cab. A few minutes later, I realized that the car was stopped at a secluded place and the driver was molesting me,” the woman said in her complaint to police.

The cab driver, identified as 44-year-old Gaurav, slapped her several times when she objected to his molestation attempt. The driver later dropped the woman near her home in north Delhi and threatened her with dire consequences if she approached the police, said police.

Police said a case has been registered against the driver who is on the run.

A 23-year-old women was gang raped on a bus in south Delhi in December 2012. She later died of internal injuries.

The case triggered widespread protests against violence on women in India.

Women are frequently harassed in public places in India and crimes against women are reported in the country on a daily basis.

 

 

 

 

NASA’s new Orion spacecraft splashes down after first test flight

 

 

 

WASHINGTON

 NASA’s new Orion spacecraft splashes down after first test flight

By Lin Xiaochun

NASA’s new human spacecraft, Orion, designed to carry astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars, splashed into the Pacific Ocean on Friday of December 5, wrapping up its first test flight that lasted about four and a half hours.

“We have splashed down! Splashdown confirmed,” a NASA TV commentator said after the capsule splashed into water at 11:29 a. m. EST (1629 GMT), about 600 miles (966 kilometers) off the coast of Baja California.

A U.S. Navy helicopter is flying out to Orion and the recovery process is under way, NASA said.

No astronauts were aboard on this mission, which was designed to test systems critical to crew safety and provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design.