Five European tourists killed in attack in Ethiopia - The Guardian

Written By Ivan Kolev on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 | 6:28 PM

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Danakil depression, Ethiopia

The foreigners who normally venture into the Afar region are researchers, aid workers and adventure tourists visiting geographical wonders such as the Danakil depression. Photograph: Alamy

Gunmen in northern Ethiopia have attacked a group of European tourists, killing five, injuring two and kidnapping four people, according to a government official.

Bereket Simon, the Ethiopian communications minister, said the attackers struck before dawn on Tuesday.

The dead were two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian; two Germans and two Ethiopians were kidnapped, and an Italian and a Hungarian were wounded in the attack.

Simon blamed rebels trained and armed by neighbouring Eritrea, which remains a bitter foe. "The attack occurred at 5am on Tuesday, in which Eritrean-trained groups also kidnapped four," Bereket told Reuters. "Two of them are foreigners; one is a driver and the other a policeman."

Eritrea dismissed the allegation as an "absolute lie".

The tourists were visiting the volcanic Afar region, which is one of the hottest places in the world and a known haunt of rebels and bandits from Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Simon said the attack occurred 12 to 15 miles from the Eritrean border. A German media report said the group of tourists had been close to the Erta Ale volcano, one of Ethiopia's most active.

Afar, in Ethiopia

The Afar region is a known haunt of bandits from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Photograph: Reuters

Ethiopian state television reported that there were eight tourists in the targeted group, but Simon suggested the party was bigger.

An Austrian foreign ministry spokesman, Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal, said two groups totalling as many as 22 people may have been attacked, though he said the numbers were unconfirmed.

Girma Asmerom, Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union (AU), said Ethiopia's allegations were "fabricated" and the attack was an internal Ethiopian matter. "This is pathetic, an absolute lie," he told Reuters. "Eritrea has nothing to do with any of these movements."

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 but the two countries soon became embroiled in border disputes.

The east African countries fought a war from 1998 to 2000, which claimed the lives of about 80,000 people.

Tension grew last year when a UN report revealed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an AU summit in Ethiopia in January.

"It has become a trend for Ethiopia to fabricate sensational news against Eritrea whenever the summit is nearing," Girma said.

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month.

In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.

Foreigners who venture into Afar usually include researchers, aid workers and adventure tourists visiting geographical wonders such as the Danakil depression and ancient salt mines.

Launsky-Tiefenthal said an Austrian foreign ministry travel warning had been in effect for the region since 2007 "because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups ... in some cases politically motivated, in others criminally motivated".

He added: "The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area. No telephone lines; satellite phones barely work."

He likened Afar to "the surface of Mars".

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Iran says negotiations under way to hold new nuclear talks - Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) - Negotiations are under way to hold new talks between Western powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program and the most likely venue is Istanbul, but there is no date set, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday.


"Negotiations are going on about venue and date. We would like to have these negotiations," Salehi told reporters during a visit to Turkey. "Most probably, I am not sure yet, the venue will be Istanbul. The day is not yet settled, but it be soon."


Salehi also said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was in touch with the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who heads the so-called P5+1 delegation, and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to try to arrange a date and venue.


Istanbul was the venue of the last talks which ended in stalemate. Iran has since come under much tougher sanctions from the West which accuses it of seeking nuclear weapons capability.


(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia)


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Search suspended after stricken Italian cruise ship moves - CNN

Giglio, Italy (CNN) -- With bitterly cold temperatures and frigid waters, the chances of finding more survivors appeared to dim early Wednesday as about two dozen people remain missing from the doomed Italian cruise ship.

At least 11 people have died since the Costa Concordia ran aground and capsized last week off a Tuscan island.

Rescue crews suspended operations Wednesday morning as the ship began to move, the Italian Coast Guard said. The search for survivors has been halted and restarted several times since the ship rolled onto its side Friday night.

Experts say chances of finding survivors are slim.

"I think you have to look at several issues. One of is just the hypothermia. If a compartment is flooded, even if there was air, at this point, most of them would have succumbed to the hypothermic problem of the water temperature," said Butch Hendrick, president of the diving safety company Lifeguard Systems.

When asked if rescuers would find any survivors, Hendrick said "I'm sorry to say this, but I don't... I don't believe there are. I'm sorry."

Questions remain over what happened in the waters around the island of Giglio, and especially the actions of Capt. Francesco Schettino.

Schettino was arrested after leaving the ship while dozens were still aboard, panicked and fighting for lifeboats.

"I am absolutely shocked. Shocked at his behavior," said Passenger Alex Beach of New Mexico, who escaped the crippled cruise ship with her husband. "As a passenger that was relying on him and the rest of his upper officers to steer this ship, it's quite alarming."

The shipping industry newspaper Lloyd's List reported that Friday was not the first time the Costa Concordia steamed extremely close to shore near Giglio.

Satellite tracking data obtained by the paper shows that the ship passed within 230 meters of the coast of the island at least once before -- even closer than the location where the Costa Concordia hit the rocks this weekend.

The pass happened on August 14, 2011, Lloyd's list reported.

Schettino is under house arrest at his family home near Naples, his lawyer Bruno Leporatti said early Wednesday.

The captain may face charges including manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning a ship when passengers were still on board, chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio has said.

In transcripts of conversations between Schettino and the Italian coast guard, published by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the captain gives conflicting accounts of what happened when the ship hit rocks Friday night just off Italy's western coast, leading to what passengers described as a chaotic and surreal scene as they rushed to evacuate.

At first, Schettino tells an official he had abandoned the vessel, according to the transcripts, which prosecutors say match those used in their investigation.

But as the official questions his decision, Schettino appears to reverse course and say he had not abandoned ship but was "catapulted into the water" after the ship ran into a rock, began taking on water and started listing.

In a later conversation, an Italian coast guard official demands Schettino return to his ship, the transcripts show.

"You get on board! This is an order!" the coast guard official instructed Schettino.

"You have declared 'Abandon ship.' Now I'm in charge. You get on board -- is that clear?" the port official said.

Christened: 2006

Concordia: Italian for "concord" or "harmony."

Weight: 114,000 gross tonnage

Length: 951 feet (290m)

Max speed: 23 knots

Accommodation: 1,500 cabins

Facilities: Wellness center, five restaurants, 13 bars, four pools, giant movie screen.

Rescuers found five bodies Tuesday but it was unclear how many people are missing. There were roughly 4,200 people on the Costa Concordia when it ran aground -- about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members, the vast majority of whom made it off the ship safely.

Before the discovery of the five bodies Tuesday, authorities had said 29 people were missing; 14 Germans, six Italians, four French citizens, two Americans, and one each from Hungary, India and Peru. There was some confusion Tuesday on the number of missing Germans, according to the German Foreign Ministry.

One person on the list of missing was found dead Monday, but authorities have not specified the nationality.

A friend of two missing Americans, Gerald and Barbara Ann Heil of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, said their family is "holding up very well" despite the agonizing wait for word from Italy, where the retired couple had gone for "their trip of a lifetime" after raising four children and working in their community for years.

St. Pius X Catholic Church will hold a Wednesday evening prayer service for the couple, according to CNN affiliate KARE. The Heils were on a 16-day vacation to Italy, with a planned visit to the Vatican.

Divers are searching the skyscraper-sized ship, working underwater in pitch darkness. Italy's Coast Guard said it has located a second "black box," or data recorder, from the ship. Operations are under way to retrieve the recorder, said Coast Guard Warrant Petty Officer Massimo Macaroni.

Information from the device, along with another that has been recovered and is being analyzed by prosecutors, will provide authorities with "a complete picture of how the disaster unfolded," Macaroni said.

 

Map shows location of disaster

Map shows location of disaster

Map shows location of disaster

The Costa Concordia, owned by Genoa-based Costa Cruises, ran aground on a sand bank off the island of Giglio on Friday, January 13.

The Costa Concordia, owned by Genoa-based Costa Cruises, ran aground on a sand bank off the island of Giglio on Friday, January 13.

Firemen search for missing people in and around the partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship on Monday, January 16.

Firemen search for missing people in and around the partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship on Monday, January 16.

Firemen work on the Costa Concordia cruise ship on Monday. The captain may have made "significant" errors that led to wreck, the cruise line said late Sunday.

Firemen work on the Costa Concordia cruise ship on Monday. The captain may have made "significant" errors that led to wreck, the cruise line said late Sunday.

Military rescuers patrol next to the listing Costa Concordia on Sunday January 15. A spiraling water slide can be seen on the deck.

Military rescuers patrol next to the listing Costa Concordia on Sunday January 15. A spiraling water slide can be seen on the deck.

Boats patrol near the Costa Concordia on Sunday. Divers searched for people who were still missing after Friday's accident.

Boats patrol near the Costa Concordia on Sunday. Divers searched for people who were still missing after Friday's accident.cnnArticleGallery.

Rescuers search the Costa Concordia on Sunday.

Rescuers search the Costa Concordia on Sunday.

Emergency services work from the island of Giglio on Sunday, near where the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground.

Emergency services work from the island of Giglio on Sunday, near where the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground.

The ship has a breach on the hull about 90 meters (300 feet) long, according to Officer Emilio Del Santo of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno.

The ship has a breach on the hull about 90 meters (300 feet) long, according to Officer Emilio Del Santo of the Coastal Authorities of Livorno.

On Saturday, January 14, crowds prepare to leave the island of Giglio, where passengers were staying after the ship ran aground.

On Saturday, January 14, crowds prepare to leave the island of Giglio, where passengers were staying after the ship ran aground.

The Concordia, built in 2006, was on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Cagliari and Palermo, Italy; Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Marseille, France.

The Concordia, built in 2006, was on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome with stops in Savona, Cagliari and Palermo, Italy; Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Marseille, France.

Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano, Italy, on Saturday after being evacuated from the ship.

Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano, Italy, on Saturday after being evacuated from the ship.

Costa says the emergency operation continues and that it is helping passengers and crew return home.

Costa says the emergency operation continues and that it is helping passengers and crew return home.

Italian police assist in the rescue after the cruise ship ran aground near the Italian island of Giglio.

Italian police assist in the rescue after the cruise ship ran aground near the Italian island of Giglio.

The huge ship, which which is now lying on its side in shallow water, was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground at about dinner time.

The huge ship, which which is now lying on its side in shallow water, was carrying about 3,200 passengers and 1,000 crew members when it ran aground at about dinner time.

Passengers arrive on land after they were rescued. There was chaos as passengers scrambled to get off the ship.

Passengers arrive on land after they were rescued. There was chaos as passengers scrambled to get off the ship. Evacuation efforts started promptly but were made "extremely difficult" by the position of the listing ship.

Evacuation efforts started promptly but were made "extremely difficult" by the position of the listing ship.The Costa Concordia cruise ship is pictured in March 2009 in Civitavecchia, Rome's tourist port.

The Costa Concordia cruise ship is pictured in March 2009 in Civitavecchia, Rome's tourist port.Photos: Cruise ship runs aground off Italy

Those who made it off the vessel described the panic that ensued after the ship's collision with the rocks.

Lauren Moore of Bowling Green, Kentucky, said many lifeboats were full when she and others reached the upper deck

"People were crying. People were hysterical," Moore said. "People were screaming at each other."

Beach said she was fortunate to get into a lifeboat with her husband.

"I certainly saw chaos and there was a lot of screaming and pushing and yelling, and it became a situation of every man for themselves. And everyone was trying to get in lifeboats and there was just not enough for the passengers that were on the boat," Beach said.

Italian prosecutors have ruled out a technical error as the cause of the incident, saying the captain was on the bridge at the time and had made a "grave error."

Prosecutors are considering whether others may share responsibility for the crash with the captain.

Schettino had never been involved in an accident before, said Costa chairman Pier Luigi Foschi.

Foschi placed blame for the wreck squarely on the captain, saying he deviated from frequently traveled routes.

"The captain decided to change the route and he went into water that he did not know in advance," Foschi said.

Foschi said passengers would get "material compensation for their loss," but declined to go into details.

CNN's Livia Borghese, Hada Messia, Dan Rivers, Mary Snow, Christopher Cottrell, Diana Magnay and Richard Allen Greene; and journalist Barbie Nadeau contributed to this report.

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Suu Kyi registers for seat in Myanmar's Parliament - The Associated Press

Suu Kyi registers for seat in Myanmar's ParliamentBy AYE AYE WIN, Associated Press – 1 hour ago 


THANLYIN, Myanmar (AP) — Ecstatic cheers of "Long Live Aung San Suu Kyi!" echoed through the streets of this impoverished Yangon suburb Wednesday as she registered for elections, a sign of how vastly Myanmar has changed since the junta gave up power after decades of iron-fisted rule.


Throngs of flag-waving supporters crowded the local election office to shout support and glimpse the 66-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who became Myanmar's most recognizable face during years of house arrest under authoritarian rule.


The scene would have been unthinkable while the junta still ruled. It despised Suu Kyi because of her popularity and any public support for her was swiftly and firmly halted.


The freedom allowed to Suu Kyi's supporters is another sign that the country's elected but military-backed government is keeping promises for democratic reforms — a key condition of the West before lifting sanctions.


Since taking office in March, the government has released hundreds of prominent political prisoners, signed cease-fires with ethnic rebels, increased press freedoms and opened a dialogue with Suu Kyi herself.


Even if her political party wins all 48 seats to be contested in by-elections April 1, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house of Parliament is heavily weighted with military appointees and allies of the former junta.


But a victory would be historic. It would give the longtime political prisoner a voice in Parliament for the first time after decades as the country's opposition leader.


Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon where villagers' livelihoods were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Many in the crowds that greeted her at the Election Commission office in Thanlyin wore Suu Kyi T-shirts.


Suu Kyi paraphernalia has proliferated in recent months with vendors hawking photographs, key chains and calendars with her image, seen as another testament to the country's breakneck pace of change.


The Election Commission must still accept Suu Kyi's candidacy, a ruling expected to come next month. Her party has so far chosen 44 candidates to contest the 48 seats vacated by lawmakers who became Cabinet ministers.


Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but was denied power by the military junta. Myanmar's next elections didn't come for 20 years, but Suu Kyi was under house arrest and her party boycotted due to what they called unfair and undemocratic rules.


Reforms since that election in 2010 have drawn Suu Kyi and her party back into mainstream politics and won international praise and measured diplomatic support.


The United States is upgrading diplomatic relations and sending an ambassador to Myanmar for the first time in two decades.


The severe international sanctions that restrict Myanmar's trade and the travel and financial transactions of the former junta's inner circle mostly remain, as countries monitor how the April vote is conducted and weigh other considerations.



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Syria monitors' report awaited at UN Security Council - BBC News

Arab League observers take photos of an anti-government march in the province of Idlib

The Arab League monitors' mission has been criticized as ineffective For the UN Security Council, much is at stake when it comes to the Arab League's monitors in Syria.

There are two broad but opposing positions in the Council. Both have tied their policies to the fate of the mission, which was given a month to observe Syria's compliance with an Arab peace plan, and is expected to report back this week.

In essence, the divide is over whether the Security Council should get involved in the Syrian crisis.

On one side are Western nations (in particular Britain, France, the United States and Germany) which see the conflict as appalling government repression of peaceful protesters. They seek a strong condemnation of Damascus and punitive action such as sanctions or an arms embargo.

On the other side are states led by Russia, which is intent on protecting its considerable strategic interests with a long-time Arab ally.

But it also believes that any Council intervention would have a hidden and counter-productive agenda of ousting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and fears a scenario where the UN backs one side in a civil war, as it claims happened in Libya.

Russia is supported by countries such as China, India and South Africa, which worry that any outside intervention would make a bad situation worse. They want the UN to stick to calls for political dialogue and prefer to leave the mediation in Arab hands.

Russian resistance

Hence the importance of how the Arab League judges its mission, and what it decides to do next.

Continue reading the main story
We might have a chance of avoiding a Russian veto only if we get a public and official request for action from the Arab League”

End Quote Gerard Araud French ambassador to the UN It might bow to growing criticism that its monitors are failing to stem the violence in Syria and refer the matter to the Security Council. Council members give considerable weight to regional requests, and Western powers believe such a clear signal could break Russian resistance to UN action.

"We might have a chance of avoiding a Russian veto only if we get a public and official request for action from the Arab League," says French Ambassador Gerard Araud. "That is certainly a necessary condition, although I don't know if it is a sufficient one."

But the Arab League could also decide to continue and bolster its mission, strengthening the hand of Russia, which has argued that the monitors are helping to stabilise the situation.

"We think they've established a foothold there," says Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. "They're in a better position than initially to have a restraining influence, so we hope they will continue beyond (one month) and as long as it takes for the political crisis to be brought to a halt."

Arab divisions

It is not only the Security Council that is divided: members of the Arab League are also far apart.

Qatar is leading the drive against Syria, with quiet support from Gulf states. Others like Algeria, Iraq and, according to a Western diplomat, even Egypt may oppose any referral to the Council.

Arab differences mirror the UN debate over the need for outside intervention and the desirability of regime change, even though they couch their concerns in the language of human rights.

Analysts say the Sunni Muslim Gulf states see the end of the Assad regime as an opportunity to weaken Syria's Shia Muslim ally Iran, which they perceive as a growing regional threat.

Other Arab governments see the end of the regime ushering in a sectarian and civil war that could suck in players from Israel to Iran. For them, supporting the Arab mission is a way of avoiding any international action that could contribute to the break-up of Syria: not necessarily through a Libya-like Nato operation but through punishing sanctions, no-fly or buffer zones, or the creation of safe havens for the opposition.

'Fuzzy outcome'

For these states, the emergence of an armed resistance in Syria is every bit as alarming as the government's repression.

A member of the Free Syrian Army in the Idlib province of Syria, close to Turkey

Some Arab countries say the monitors are having trouble with the armed resistance

"The feeling is that the Syrian government is in the process of making more of an effort, but the Arab League is especially having problems with the armed opposition and is not managing to penetrate neighbourhoods that are today belonging to the opposition," Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told journalists at the UN recently.

Given these divisions, the Arab League foreign ministers may be unable to come to a definitive conclusion about their monitoring mission when they meet at the weekend.

"The most likely (scenario) is a fuzzy outcome," says one Western diplomat, "but then we would have to take stock of our options: we are not planning to let this drop."

Indeed, the West cannot afford to let Syria drop.

Some of the ideas floating around here include requesting a special envoy of the Secretary General for Syria, or bringing the Qatari prime minister and Arab League secretary general to New York to brief the Security Council.

But that would be no substitute for the strong resolution condemning and perhaps sanctioning the Syrian government that Western states believe is long overdue.

Yet the bottom line remains that the strength of any Council action will depend on the strength of an Arab League mandate. And without a clear Arab referral to the UN, Western nations will likely face a Russian veto for anything other than the weakest of resolutions.

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US calls on S. Africans to prevent Sudan crisis - CBS News

(AP)  PRETORIA, South Africa — A top U.S. envoy on Wednesday urged South Africa to use its influence to help prevent a humanitarian disaster in a violence-wracked region along the border between Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan.

Princeton Lyman, the special U.S. envoy on Sudan, said civilians caught up in fighting in Sudan's Blue Nile and South Kordofan states are running out of food and medicine. He said South Africa should pressure Sudan to allow in international humanitarian agencies.


"The prospect of hundreds of thousands of people dying with no access to food or medicine is something we can't accept," Lyman said in a speech Wednesday in South Africa's capital. "We can prevent it. There's time to do it."


Charles Nqakula, South Africa's special envoy on Sudan, told reporters later his country had received several requests similar to Lyman's, including from South Sudan, and would act to ensure "that that crisis is averted."


He did not elaborate.


U.S. diplomacy is limited. While Lyman can talk with lower-level officials, he does not meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir because the president has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in Sudan's Darfur region.


South Africa, current chair of the U.N. Security Council, has long been a mediator in Sudan. A former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, chairs a special African Union committee on Sudan. Sudan's ambassador to South Africa, Ali Yousif Alsharif, said Wednesday his government might yield if Mbeki were to call for international aid groups to be able to work freely in Blue Nile and South Kordofan.


But Alsharif, who appeared alongside Lyman at a forum organized by South Africa's foreign affairs department, added: "There is no famine in these areas. There is fighting, but it is caused by the attacks by neighboring South Sudan."


Jago Arop Yor, a South Sudanese diplomat who also took part in Wednesday's forum, denied her government was behind the violence. She blamed the fighting on Khartoum, saying it was trying to discourage others in Sudan from following South Sudan's path to independence.


Fighting between the Sudanese army and rebels who want to topple the Khartoum government started last year in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, and has raised concern about a larger north-south war erupting again. Groups in both states, which border South Sudan, sided with the south during a lengthy civil war but remain part of the north.


South Sudan has faced a host of problems since gaining independence in July. Some 80,000 people fleeing the fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan have sought refuge in impoverished and underdeveloped South Sudan. South Sudan's Jonglei state has seen deadly ethnic violence. And tensions have risen between Sudan and South Sudan over sharing oil.


Speaking to reporters after his speech, U.S. envoy Lyman said the bitter oil dispute and the Blue Nile and South Kordofan fighting were especially worrying. The fighting, he said, already has led to cross-border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan.


"I don't think either country wants to go back to war," Lyman said, but added that disputes could easily spill over into conflict.


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Russia: Western sanctions against Iran stifling

MOSCOW –  Russia's foreign minister has strongly criticized Western sanctions against Iran, saying they are "stifling" the Iranian economy and hurting the population.


Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that the European Union's sanctions could stymie efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear standoff through talks.


Lavrov said at a news conference that the EU's sanctions against Tehran were aimed at hurtuing the Iranian economy and provoking public discontent.


Moscow, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant, backed some of the previous U.N. sanctions against Iran, but in recent months has firmly rejected imposing any new sanctions and called for dialogue.


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Israeli official says they are nowhere near deciding to attack Iran's nuke program

JERUSALEM –  Israel's defense minister says his country is "very far off" from deciding on whether to launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear program.


Ehud Barak did not specify when such a decision might be made, in his interview Wednesday with Army Radio.


He also denied Israeli media speculation that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, would use his visit here on Thursday to pressure Israel not to attack.


Barak said the U.S. respects Israel's freedom of action and that the Israeli government doesn't "have the luxury" to "roll over responsibility" for Israel's fate to the U.S.


Israel considers Iran its most fearsome enemy and does not believe Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is designed to produce energy, not bombs. 


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British Airways flight mistakenly tells passengers plane will crash



LONDON –  Passengers flying over the Atlantic were terrified when it was announced twice that their plane could be about to crash.

British Airways (BA) Flight 206 was at 35,000 feet, halfway from Miami to London's Heathrow Airport, when the taped message was played by accident.

Screams rang out as it was repeated straightaway.

An Edinburgh man said, "It was about 3:00am. An alarm sounded, and we were told we were about to land in the sea. I thought we were going to die. My wife was crying, and passengers were screaming. Then they played an announcement telling us to just ignore the warnings."

Another passenger said, "When we landed, they were handing out letters apologizing, but it was the worst experience of my life. I don't think BA should get away with this."

A BA spokesman said of the scare en route to Heathrow on Friday, "The cabin crew canceled the announcement immediately and sought to reassure customers that the flight was operating normally. We apologize to customers for causing them undue concern."

In August 2010, a message announcing, "We may shortly need to make an emergency landing on water," was played by mistake on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong.

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Transcript: Cruise captain and Italian coast guard official



Here is a translation of the transcript of the conversation between Capt. Francesco Schettino, commander of the grounded Costa Concordia, and Capt. Gregorio De Falco of the Italian coast guard in Livorno.

In the conversation, De Falco repeatedly orders Schettino to return to the ship to oversee the evacuation, while Schettino resists, making excuses that it's dark and that the ship is listing.

The audio was first made available on the website of Corriere della Sera, and the Italian coast guard confirmed its authenticity Tuesday to The Associated Press.

___

—De Falco: "This is De Falco speaking from Livorno. Am I speaking with the commander?"

—Schettino: "Yes. Good evening, Cmdr. De Falco."

—De Falco: "Please tell me your name."

—Schettino: "I'm Cmdr. Schettino, commander."

—De Falco: "Schettino? Listen Schettino. There are people trapped on board. Now you go with your boat under the prow on the starboard side. There is a pilot ladder. You will climb that ladder and go on board. You go on board and then you will tell me how many people there are. Is that clear? I'm recording this conversation, Cmdr. Schettino..."

—Schettino: "Commander, let me tell you one thing..."

—De Falco: "Speak up! Put your hand in front of the microphone and speak more loudly, is that clear?"

—Schettino: "In this moment, the boat is tipping..."

—De Falco: "I understand that, listen, there are people that are coming down the pilot ladder of the prow. You go up that pilot ladder, get on that ship and tell me how many people are still on board. And what they need. Is that clear? You need to tell me if there are children, women or people in need of assistance. And tell me the exact number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Listen Schettino, that you saved yourself from the sea, but I am going to... I'm going to make sure you get in trouble. ...I am going to make you pay for this. Go on board, (expletive)!"

—Schettino: "Commander, please..."

—De Falco: "No, please. You now get up and go on board. They are telling me that on board there are still..."

—Schettino: "I am here with the rescue boats, I am here, I am not going anywhere, I am here..."

—De Falco: "What are you doing, commander?"

—Schettino: "I am here to coordinate the rescue..."

—De Falco: "What are you coordinating there? Go on board! Coordinate the rescue from aboard the ship. Are you refusing?"

—Schettino: "No, I am not refusing."

—De Falco: "Are you refusing to go aboard commander? Can you tell me the reason why you are not going?"

—Schettino: "I am not going because the other lifeboat is stopped."

—De Falco: "You go aboard. It is an order. Don't make any more excuses. You have declared 'abandon ship.' Now I am in charge. You go on board! Is that clear? Do you hear me? Go, and call me when you are aboard. My air rescue crew is there."

—Schettino: "Where are your rescuers?"

—De Falco: "My air rescue is on the prow. Go. There are already bodies, Schettino."

—Schettino: "How many bodies are there?"

—De Falco: "I don't know. I have heard of one. You are the one who has to tell me how many there are. Christ."

—Schettino: "But do you realize it is dark and here we can't see anything..."

—De Falco: "And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Get on that prow of the boat using the pilot ladder and tell me what can be done, how many people there are and what their needs are. Now!"

—Schettino: "...I am with my second in command."

—De Falco: "So both of you go up then ... You and your second go on board now. Is that clear?"

—Schettino: "Commander, I want to go on board, but it is simply that the other boat here ... there are other rescuers. It has stopped and is waiting..."

—De Falco: "It has been an hour that you have been telling me the same thing. Now, go on board. Go on board! And then tell me immediately how many people there are there."

—Schettino: "OK, commander"

—De Falco: "Go, immediately!"

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Suspected mastermind behind Nigeria church bombings escapes in shootout

ABUJA, Nigeria –  The suspected mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in Nigeria escaped custody after being arrested in the country's capital, police acknowledged Tuesday -- an embarrassment for a nation struggling to contain increasingly bloody sectarian attacks by a radical Islamist sect.

Authorities said Kabiru Sokoto planned the bombing that killed 38 people at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside Nigeria's capital Abuja. But his arrest at the mansion of a state governor in Abuja, and subsequent escape, raised more questions about the government's ability to stop the radical sect, known as Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for the church attack.

Federal police spokesman Olusola Amore said in statement that a local commissioner ordered Sokoto transferred to another police station in Abaji, just outside of Abuja and that the policemen escorting him were attacked by suspected sect gang members who freed him.

Commanders have suspended the local police commissioner and are investigating his actions, as well as those of the officers guarding Sokoto, Amore said.

Amore did not say whether there were injuries suffered in the attack. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

The statement did not address Sokoto's arrest occurring at the official compound of the Borno state governor in Abuja as widely reported in the media. Borno state, in Nigeria's arid and dusty northeast, is Boko Haram's spiritual home.

The Christmas Day bombing targeted target worshippers at a Catholic church as they were leaving Mass, witnesses said. It was one of several attacks that day that killed at least 42 people, drawing worldwide criticism and new attention to Boko Haram.

The sect has carried out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law across Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is responsible for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count.

So far this year, the group, that has warned it will kill Christians living in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, has been blamed for at least 74 killings. That has further inflamed religious and ethnic tensions in Nigeria, which has seen ethnic violence kill thousands in recent years.

Boko Haram also claimed responsibility an August suicide car bombing that targeted the U.N. headquarters in the capital, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100.

In a video released last week, Imam Abubakar Shekau a Boko Haram leader, said the government could not handle attacks by the group.

Though President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, has declared emergency rule in some regions, the sect is blamed for almost daily attacks.

Jonathan has said he believes the sect has infiltrated security agencies and government offices in the country, though he has offered no evidence to back up the claim.

On Tuesday, authorities blamed Boko Haram gunmen for killing seven people in three separate attacks. Gunmen shot dead two soldiers distributing food to other service members, Borno state police commissioner Simeone Midenda said.

Two others were killed Monday when gunmen invaded their homes, military field operation officer Col. Victor Ebhaleme said. In Damaturu in nearby Yobe state, gunmen from the sect shot and killed three more people from Chad on Monday, Yobe state police chief Tanko Lawan said.


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Syria 'absolutely rejects' calls for Arab troops

BEIRUT -- Syria "absolutely rejects" any plans to send Arab troops into the country, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, even as the death toll mounts from the 10-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Assad has insisted there be no foreign intervention in Syria. He agreed under heavy regional pressure to admit some Arab League observers, but their effectiveness has been limited.

Activists said at least 18 people died Tuesday, and six Syrian soldiers were killed late Monday near Damascus. The revolt has turned increasingly militarized in recent months, with a growing risk of civil war. The U.N. says about 400 people have been killed in the last three weeks, on top of an earlier estimate of more than 5,000 dead since March.

Syrian activists said most of Tuesday's dead were shot by security forces or pro-regime gunmen.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Attacks also were reported for a fifth day in the Damascus suburb of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon.

The government rejection of armed intervention followed a remark from the leader of Qatar,Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who was quoted Sunday as saying Arab troops should be sent to Syria to stop the deadly violence -- the first statements by an Arab leader calling for the deployment of troops inside Syria.

Qatar, which once had close relations with Damascus, has been a harsh critic of the crackdown. Since the wave of Arab uprisings began more than a year ago, Qatar has taken an aggressive role, raising its influence in the region.

"The Syrian people reject any foreign intervention in its affairs, under any title, and would confront any attempt to infringe upon Syria's sovereignty and the integrity of its territories," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The government says terrorists are behind the uprising, not reform-seekers, and that armed gangs are acting out a foreign conspiracy to destabilize the country. The regime says 2,000 members of the security forces have been killed.

Syria agreed last month to an Arab League plan that calls for a halt to the crackdown, the withdrawal of heavy weaponry like tanks from cities, the release of all political prisoners, and allowing foreign journalists and human rights workers in.

About 150 Arab League observers are working in Syria to verify whether the government is abiding by its agreement, and the League said Tuesday another 10 will head into Syria shortly.

So far they appear to have made little impact, and the conflict has reached a bloody stalemate, with both sides refusing to back down.

On Tuesday, the Dutch foreign minister called on Assad's opponents to form a "united, representative and inclusive" opposition to the regime, an indication that the fragmentation of the opposition movements is itself an issue.

Uri Rosenthal also said he would keep pressing for further European Union sanctions and a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. He spoke after meeting Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group for the opposition.

Ghalioun's visit came a day after Russia circulated a revised Security Council resolution on the violence in Syria. Western diplomats said the draft fell short of their demand for strong condemnation of Assad's crackdown.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 18 people were killed in Syria on Tuesday, most of them shot dead by troops or pro-government gunmen. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 24 people were killed, 17 of them in the restive central province of Homs.

It was impossible to resolve the discrepancy or to independently verify the death toll. Syria has banned most foreign corespondents and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to get independent confirmation of the events on the ground.

The state-run news agency, SANA, reported violence targeting security forces and civilians Tuesday, saying a roadside bomb went off near a minibus in the northwestern province of Idlib, killing four and wounding five.

A video posted online by activists showed a minibus with its roof blown out and blood stains on the seats. The narrator blamed security forces for the attack.

Earlier in the day, SANA said that an "armed terrorist group" launched rocket-propelled grenades at an army checkpoint late Monday, killing an officer and five army personnel about six miles southwest of Damascus.


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Israel: Nuclear Iran could deter military action

JERUSALEM -- A nuclear Iran could make it tougher for Israel to act against enemies closer to home, a senior Israeli military official said Tuesday, suggesting that regional fallout would be broad should Tehran achieve bomb making capabilities.


Military planning division chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said if Tehran attains atomic weapons, that could constrain Israel from striking Iranian-backed Islamist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, Hezbollah and Hamas.


"If we are forced to do things in Gaza or in Lebanon, under the Iranian nuclear umbrella it might be different," Eshel said at a briefing in Jerusalem.


He warned that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off an atomic arms race in the region, leading to "a global nuclear jungle."


Israel has been warning the world for years that Iran must not be allowed to develop the technology needed to build a bomb. It worries that a nuclear-armed Iran could threaten Israel's survival and has hinted it could strike Iran militarily if international sanctions do not halt nuclear development.


Iran claims its nuclear program is for energy production, not bomb making, and shows no sign of abandoning it.


Israel itself is assumed to have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons, and unlike Iran, it has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


Based on photographs and material smuggled out of Israel's main nuclear reactor in the mid 1980s, experts concluded that Israel had several hundred nuclear warheads.


Israel has a policy of "ambiguity" concerning nuclear weapons. It refuses to confirm or deny their existence and insists it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.


Eshel spoke to reporters at a time of rising global tensions around Iran's nuclear aspirations. Last week, an Iranian nuclear scientist died in a car bomb assassination in Tehran, the fourth attack on a member of Iran's nuclear team. Iran blamed the killing on Israel, which had no comment, and on the U.S., which denied involvement.


Iran has also threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for one sixth of the world's oil, should international sanctions block Iranian petroleum exports.


Eshel also said Israel is worried that Syria's "huge stockpile of chemical weapons" could reach militant groups like Hezbollah if the regime of President Bashar Assad falls. He predicted that would happen soon.


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Indonesia tries to deter train 'surfers' -- again

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia has gone to imaginative extremes to try to stop commuters from illegally riding the roofs of trains -- hosing down the scofflaws with red paint, threatening them with dogs and appealing for help from religious leaders.

Now the authorities have an intimidating and possibly even deadly new tactic: Suspending rows of grapefruit-sized concrete balls to rake over the top of trains as they pull out of stations, or when they go through rail crossings.

Authorities hope the balls -- which could deliver serious blows to the head -- will be enough to deter defiant roof riders.

"We've tried just about everything, even putting rolls of barbed wire on the roof, but nothing seems to work," said Mateta Rizahulhaq, a spokesman for the state-owned railway company PT Kereta Api. "Maybe this will do it."

Trains that crisscross Indonesia on poorly maintained tracks left behind by Dutch colonizers six decades ago usually are packed with passengers, especially during the rush hour.

Hundreds seeking to escape the overcrowded carriages clamor to the top. Some ride high to avoid paying for a ticket. Others do so because -- despite the dangers, with dozens killed or injured every year -- "rail surfing" is fun.

The first dozen or so balls were installed Tuesday hundreds of yards from the entrance of a train station just outside the capital, Jakarta. Painted silver, the balls hung by chains from what looked like the frame of a giant soccer goal.

But there was a glitch: the chains were too short, leaving a gap of about 16 inches between the balls and the roofs of the passing train carriages. Rizahulhaq said adjustments would be made.

If successful, the project will be expanded, with balls also set up near railway crossings.

Asked about worries that the balls could hurt or even kill those who defy the roof-riding ban, he insisted that wasn't really his problem.

"They don't have to sit on top," he said. "And we've already told them, if the train is full, go to the office. We will be happy to reimburse their tickets."

The commuters, known as "Atappers" or "Roofers," meanwhile are hardcore in their determination to stay on top.

"I was really scared when I first heard about these balls," said Mulyanto, a 27-year-old shopkeeper, who rides between his hometown of Bogor and Jakarta almost every day for work.

"It sounds like it could be really dangerous."

"But I don't think it'll last long," he said. "They've tried everything to keep us from riding ... in the end we always win."

"We like it up there, it's windy, really nice."

Many of the roof riders -- and regular passengers -- say the main problem lies with Indonesia's dilapidated railway system. There are not enough trains to meet demand, they say. And there are constant delays in service.

"People have jobs! They can't be late," said Parto, a trader at the Jakarta stock exchange, who can usually be found sitting inside. "If the train is late, they'll do whatever they have to."

Several years ago, paint guns were set up to spray those riding on the top of carriages so authorities could identify and round up the guilty travelers. But roof riders destroyed the equipment soon after. The exhortations of clerics didn't work. Neither did the dogs.

At one point, police decided to do the expected: arrest the culprits. But their officers were pelted with rocks and they gave up.


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China says government to be more open but strict control over web will remain

BEIJING –  China will be more open about the often secretive workings of the government and ruling Communist Party in the coming year, although strict controls over the Internet would remain in place, a senior propaganda official said Wednesday.


Officials will expand the use of government spokespeople, boost the overseas reach of state media, and further promote the use of microblogs to interact with the public, Wang Chen told reporters.


"In this new year, we will adopt an even more open attitude and even more forceful policies," Wang said.


Chinese government departments have traditionally been tightlipped, a result of authoritarian one-party rule in which officials had little accountability to the public and policies were drafted in high-level meetings without input from ordinary citizens.


However, amid rising incomes and increased demand for transparency and efficiency, departments over the past decade have appointed spokesmen to deal with media and the general public, and released an increasing flow of information.


Wang said news and information about government's day-to-day activities as well as emergency responses would be expanded and systematized. Spokesmen would receive intensified training with an emphasis on obtaining first-hand information rather than simply passing on information from other departments, he said.


Much of that public interaction has been driven by the Internet, and government departments at all levels now have not only websites but also Twitter-like microblogs on which to post breaking news. China has more people online than any other country -- 513 million -- nearly 360 million of whom primarily access the web over their cell phones and almost half of whom use microblogs.


The explosive growth of such services has underscored government efforts to rigorously police the Internet for content promoting fraud, gambling, pornography or content considered politically sensitive information.


China also blocks major social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter out of fear they could be used to spread subversive content, or to organize public demonstrations such as those that spread last spring across the Arab world.


Webmasters, pro-democracy activists, and journalists who have posted sensitive information on the Internet have been harassed, detained, and in some cases imprisoned.


Wang said the government would compel those opening new microblog accounts in Beijing and other major cities to use their real names and other information. The requirement would later be expanded to cover those with existing accounts, he said.


Free speech advocates have called that an attempt to further curtail online discussions. Wang said it was necessary to prevent fraud, identity theft and the spread of rumors or other "harmful information."


"Our only purpose is to ensure the rapid, healthy expansion of the Chinese Internet," he said.


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Book quotes Kim Jong Il's son as saying he fears North Korea near collapse

TOKYO –  A new book claims that the eldest son of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il believes the impoverished regime is in danger of collapse and that his young half-brother, chosen to lead after Kim's death, is merely a figurehead.

The book by Tokyo-based journalist Yoji Gomi went on sale Wednesday. He says it is based primarily on email exchanges he had with Kim Jong Nam over many years.

The book drew immediate attention as a rare view into the family that has led the secretive country for decades -- though Kim Jong Nam is thought to be estranged from his family and the workings of government. Since Kim Jong Il's death Dec. 17, North Korea has been led by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

"Jong Un will just be a figurehead," the book quotes Kim Jong Nam as saying. It claims he said the collapse of North Korea's economy is likely unless it initiates reforms, which could also bring it down.

"Without reforms and libereralization, the collapse of the economy is within sight," he quoted Kim as saying. "But reforms and opening up could also invite dangers for the regime."

Gomi, a Tokyo Shimbun journalist who had assignments in Seoul and Beijing, claims he exchanged 150 emails and has spent a total of seven hours interviewing Kim Jong Nam, who was seen as a possible successor until he fell out of favor with Kim Jong Il in 2001.

Gomi says he met Kim Jong Nam in person in 2004, in Beijing, and twice last year. Gomi was not immediately available for comment on the book.

Not long after Kim Jong Il's funeral, Jong Nam suggested in an interview with a Japanese TV network that he opposes a hereditary transfer of power to his young half-brother, who is believed to be in his late 20s.

That was a rare public sign of discord in the tightly choreographed succession process, but analysts said Jong Nam spends so much time outside his native land that his opinion carries little weight.

Kim Jong Nam, who did not attend the funeral, made similar comments in his communications with Gomi, the book claims.

"As a matter of common sense, a transfer to the third generation is unacceptable," Kim Jong Nam was quoted as saying in an email dated this month. "The power elite that have ruled the country will continue to be in control."

He added: "I have my doubts about whether a person with only two years of grooming as a leader can govern."

Party and military officials have moved quickly to install Kim Jong Un as "supreme leader" of the people, party and military.

But the new ruler's youth and quick ascension to power have raised questions in foreign capitals about how ready he is to inherit rule over this nation of 24 million with a nuclear program as well as chronic trouble feeding all its people.

A senior North Korean party official, however, told the AP in a recent interview that Kim Jong Un was ready to lead and had spent years working closely with his late father and helped him make key policy decisions on economic and military affairs.

Kim Jong Nam is widely believed to have dropped out of the succession race after embarrassing the government in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. He said he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Jong Nam, the oldest of three brothers thought to be in the running, is the closest thing the country has to an international playboy and is the only one who speaks to the foreign media. He travels freely and spends much of his time in China or the country's special autonomous region of Macau -- the center of Asian gambling with its Las Vegas-style casinos.

Experts said he will most likely continue living abroad.

Kim Jong Il is known to have three sons -- one from his second wife and two from his third.

Kim often derided the middle son, Jong Chol, as "girlish," a former Kim Jong Il chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, said in a 2003 memoir.


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Boston, Belfast spar over fate of secret IRA tapes


DUBLIN -- A trans-Atlantic legal showdown could determine whether Gerry Adams, the Irish republican chieftain long at the center of Belfast war and peace, faces trial over his IRA past.
Police probing the Irish Republican Army's 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10 want to seize taped interviews with IRA members that Boston College hoped to keep locked up for posterity.

Researchers fighting the handover in court next week warn that disclosure could trigger attacks against IRA veterans involved in the secrecy-shrouded project and undermine Northern Ireland's peace.

The case of Jean McConville, a 37-year-old widow, commands special attention among Northern Ireland's nearly 3,300 unsolved killings because of allegations that Adams, the conflict's leading guerrilla turned peacemaker, commanded the IRA unit responsible for ordering her execution and secret burial.
Adams denies this.

But the researchers who collected the interviews say they include multiple IRA colleagues of Adams from 1972 -- testimony that, if made public, could fuel a victims' civil lawsuit against the Sinn Fein party leader.

"Imagine if these interviews are delivered to the police and their contents come out in court.

There'll be a hue and cry for Gerry Adams' political scalp," said Ed Moloney, a former Belfast journalist who directed Boston College's oral history project on Northern Ireland.

Moloney and the former IRA member who collected the interviews, Anthony McIntyre, go to court next Tuesday in Boston seeking to persuade Judge William Young to let Boston College keep the audiotapes out of the hands of Belfast police.

Moloney said the material was explosive enough to damage Northern Ireland's unity government, in which Sinn Fein represents the Irish Catholic minority. Their surprisingly stable coalition with the British Protestant majority is the central achievement of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday peace accord.

McIntyre won the IRA veterans' confidence by promising their confessions would remain confidential, beyond the reach of British law and order, as long as they lived. IRA members normally never talk openly about the underground group -- partly because the IRA reserves the right to kill such people as traitors.

But posthumous testimony isn't admissible as evidence.

Young last month ruled that the interviews of one living IRA veteran, convicted car bomber Dolours Price, should be surrendered because she discusses her role in the McConville killing. The judge also ruled he would personally review interviews involving 24 other Irish republicans, and more than 100 transcripts, to determine if others should be sent to Belfast police for the same reason.

To the fury of Moloney and McIntyre, Boston College accepted Young's judgment. They say university officials should have appealed or risked a contempt order by destroying the whole archive.

"If they weren't prepared to fight to the bitter end like us, then why did Boston College get involved in this kind of project at all?" Moloney said.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn insisted Young's judgment was the best they could expect, given that some tapes include confessions of involvement in crimes.

"We would never want anyone to think that Boston College was obstructing a murder investigation," he said.

A Boston appeals court has blocked any handover of IRA material to British authorities pending the resolution of two Moloney-McIntyre lawsuits.

McIntyre said his family home could be bombed, or he could be run over in the street, if his work ends up inspiring criminal prosecutions against those he interviewed or a civil lawsuit against Adams.

"I'm already being labeled a tout, an informer. That's a death sentence in Irish republican circles," said McIntyre, a Belfast native who spent 17 years in prison for killing a Protestant militant in a 1976 drive-by shooting. Today he lives in Ireland with his American wife, 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.

"Of course I'm concerned what might happen to me," said McIntyre, who is barred from traveling to the United States because of his murder conviction. "But I'm much more concerned about the safety of my wife, my children, and the people I interviewed."

He, Moloney and Boston College officials all say they felt ambushed when the U.S. attorney's office, acting on behalf of the British government and Northern Ireland police, last year filed subpoenas seeking all audiotapes in which IRA members discuss McConville's disappearance.

Dunn said the researchers and key university staff a decade ago naively presumed that the risk of any British legal action was low, given that the Good Friday accord emphasized the need to draw a line under a conflict that had left 3,700 dead in the previous three decades.

That did little to mute cries for justice for Northern Ireland's victims. The police there in 2005 formed a special "cold cases" unit, called the Historical Enquiries Team, that promised to re-examine all unsolved political killings since 1969. The Boston College archive represents a potential gold mine for its work.

Boston College has already handed over the tapes and transcripts of IRA member Brendan Hughes, a one-time Adams confidante who died in 2008. Moloney made Hughes' posthumous testimony the foundation for his 2010 book "Voices From the Grave."

Hughes told McIntyre he oversaw McConville's "arrest" for allegedly being a British Army spy.

He said Adams commanded a unit called "The Unknowns" responsible for making McConville and several other West Belfast civilians disappear.

"There was only one man who gave the order for that woman to be executed," Hughes said.

"That man is now the head of Sinn Fein. I did not give the order to execute that woman. He did."

The U.S. attorney's office in Boston so far has received 13 interviews involving Price, who reportedly drove McConville from Belfast to the Irish border for her execution, but has yet to hand them to the British.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John McNeil said American authorities must provide relevant IRA testimony to British authorities as part of Anglo-American treaty commitments to aid each others' criminal investigations.

"The UK is investigating serious crimes: murder, kidnapping. The court has already found that it's a bona fide investigation and that there's no other source for this material," McNeil said.

Adams' spokesman, Richard McAuley, said Adams has nothing to hide.

"As to the specific allegations against Gerry, he's consistently denied them," McAuley said. "The truth is nobody knows what's on the tapes. We only know the innuendo and insinuation."

McConville's eldest daughter Helen McKendry, who since 1994 has campaigned for the IRA to admit the truth of her mother's execution, said she has no doubt Adams is responsible.

"Gerry Adams has come to my home and claimed he's got nothing to do with my mother's murder. But he couldn't look me in the eye and he couldn't say her name. He's a liar," she said.

McKendry was 15 in 1972 when several IRA members came to their Catholic west Belfast home to abduct her mother. The 10 children never saw her again, were told she'd abandoned them and were scattered into different foster homes.

The IRA didn't admit it killed McConville until 1998. Five years later, a dog walker on a Republic of Ireland beach 80 miles south of Belfast spotted McConville's skeletal remains protruding from a sandy bluff. Forensics officers found she'd been shot once in the back of the head, with the .22-caliber bullet still lodged in an eye socket.

"I really hope people in Boston back us up on this," McKendry said. "Murder is murder. Release the tapes."


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Election of the president - BBC News

German social democrat Martin Schulz was elected as the new President of the European Parliament on 17 January 2012.

He replaced outgoing president Jerzy Buzek, during the parliament's mid-term elections.

Mr Schulz received 387 votes in the secret ballot, taking him over the 336 votes needed to secure an absolute majority.

His two competitors - British Conservative Nirj Deva and British Liberal Democrat Diana Wallis - received 142 and 141 votes respectively.

Mr Schulz - formerly the head of the parliament's social democrat group - was the frontrunner to win the election, following a deal struck after the 2009 election between the S&D and the EPP groups.

However following criticism of the deal, Mr Deva and Ms Wallis announced their intention to stand to force and election.

Giving his acceptance speech to MEPs, Mr Schulz told MEPs: "Those who have voted for me can take pride in having done so. Those who didn't vote for me will be pleasantly surprised."

He promised to defend the rights of all MEPs and called for the parliament to have a stronger voice in the EU legislative process, saying "we are paying the price for a lack of parliamentary legitimacy".

He noted that his grandfather had fought in World War I, and his father had been involved in World War II, adding: "We have overcome war and hunger. We have proscribed racism and xenophobia. We live in a free and open Europe."

Mr Schulz's speech was followed by tributes from leaders of all the parliament's political groups.

The majority welcomed Mr Schulz's election, with liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt calling for "a president who will fight in favour of European federalism", and green group leader Rebecca Harms describing him as a "fantastic parliamentarian".

However Ukip MEP Nigel Farage was less effusive in his praise.

"Mr Schulz is snarling, angry, intolerant of people with an alternative point of view, anti-British to his fingertips," he claimed, warning of "two and half years of political fanaticism" from the new president.

The president oversees plenary sessions of the European Parliament and rules on points of order. The post holder also represents the assembly to heads of state and government.

Useful links:

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.


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Iraq demands former UK soldier return piece of Saddam Hussein's buttock

More than five years after Saddam Hussein was executed, Iraq still wants a piece of its former president: his buttock, currently being held by an ex-UK soldier.


Nigel Ely, 52, grabbed a 2-pound piece of Hussein’s bronze statue – that made up part of his rear-end -- when it was pulled down by Iraqis in 2003, the Sun reports.


Ely claims he is the legal owner of the buttock since he has turned it into a work of art. But the Iraqi government is demanding that he returns it or face possible theft charges, as it views the piece of scrap metal as a “cultural antiquity,” the Sun reports.


Ely attempted to auction off the buttock last year to raise money for injured troops through military charities, but was unsuccessful.


"When I got it, it was just a piece of scrap metal,” he told the Sun.


British police are investigating ownership of the buttock.


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Ethiopia official says foreign tourists killed in attack

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia –  Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian and Italian nationals are among the foreign tourists attacked by gunmen in the country's north, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.


Bereket Simon, the country's communications minister, said officials could not yet say with certainty which among them were killed and which were injured. Bereket said rebels trained and armed by the tiny nation of Eritrea shot five tourists dead and wounded two during an attack Monday.


Bereket also said a "few" tourists are missing. It was not immediately clear if that meant they had been kidnapped. Ethiopian state television reported on Tuesday that there had been eight tourists in the targeted group, but Bereket suggested Wednesday that the group was larger.


Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal said late Tuesday that two groups totaling as many as 22 people may have been attacked, though he said the numbers were not confirmed. He said that unconfirmed reports said that some tourists were killed, others wounded and some taken hostage.


The tourists were visiting the volcanic region in Ethiopia's northern Afar region when "some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government attacked them," Bereket said. He said the attack occurred 12 to 15 miles from the Eritrean border.


Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union Girma Asmerom said Ethiopia's allegations are "fabricated" and an "absolute lie" and that the attack is an internal Ethiopian matter.


Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, which claimed the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose last year when a U.N. report revealed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia in January.


Launsky-Tiefenthal said there was an Austrian Foreign Ministry travel warning in effect for the region since 2007 "because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups ... in some case politically motivated in others criminally motivated."


"The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area, no telephone lines, satellite phones barely work," he said, describing the remote area as akin to "the surface of Mars."


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Italian cruise captain committed 'mortal sin' by disembarking early, American Maritime Officers Union official says

The captain of a capsized cruise ship made repeated excuses as an Italian coast guard official repeatedly ordered him to get back on the vessel potentially still packed with thousands of frightened passengers and crew, a recording released Tuesday reveals.

Capt. Francesco Schettino can be heard on the recorded telephone conversation with Italian Coast Guard Capt. Gregorio De Falco telling the official that he does not want to return to the ship despite ongoing evacuations after it struck a rock late Friday and capsized.

"Tell me if there are children, women and what kind of help they need," De Falco said. "And you tell me the number of each of these categories. Is that clear? Look, Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the sea, but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this."

"Captain, please," Schettino replied.

"There is no please about it," De Falco said. "Go back on board. Assure me you are going back on board!"

Schettino replied: "I am in the life boat, under the ship, I haven't gone anywhere, I'm here."

Schettino later agrees to reboard, but it is unclear if he did. 

Read the Transcript: Cruise Captain and Italian Coast Guard Official

His attorney says Schettino "saved hundreds if not thousands of lives" when he maneuvered the ship close to shore after crashing into reefs. He has been placed under house arrest, the Associated Press reports.

Schettino had been jailed for investigation of manslaughter, abandoning ship and causing a shipwreck. He could face up to 12 years in prison on the abandoning ship charge alone.

The 52-year-old Schettino, described by the Italian media as a genial, tanned ship's officer, has worked for 11 years for the ship's owner and was made captain in 2006. He hails from Meta di Sorrento, in the Naples area, which produces many of Italy's ferry and cruise boat captains. He attended the Nino Bixio merchant marine school near Sorrento.

Schettino committed a "mortal sin" when he disembarked the vessel prior its complete evacuation, the vice president of American Maritime Officers Union told FoxNews.com.

Michael Murphy, national vice president of government relations for the largest union of merchant marines officers in the United States, said Schettino should never have fled the Costa Concordia after it capsized.

"I consider that to be a mortal sin," Murphy said. "He's responsible, that's his ship. He's responsible for the ship and all that's in it. As far as I'm concerned, I have sympathy for him running aground -- that's heart-wrenching -- but leaving his ship and his crew and his passengers, is unforgivable."

Murphy -- who has 45 years of nautical experience, including 23 years with the U.S. Navy and 16 years as captain in the private sector -- said he would have stayed aboard until the last passenger was rescued.

"I would have stayed and I can probably speak for all the American colleagues that I know of," he said. "It's sort of the American ethos, I guess. You don't leave that ship until you've got the people off. That's the type of leadership you expect from the captain."

Murphy continued: "I sound like I'm coming down hard on him because I am. I don't sanction what the captain did there."

The death toll from the tragedy nearly doubled to 11 on Tuesday when divers extracted the bodies of four men and one woman from the ship's wreckage. The victims were in their 50s or 60s and each wore the orange vest that passengers use, indicating they were apparently passengers and not crew members, said a Coast Guard spokesman, Cmdr. Filippo Marini. Their nationalities were not immediately determined.

Prior to that grim finding, the coast guard had raised the number of missing to 25 passengers and four crew members. Italian officials gave the breakdown as 14 Germans, six Italians, four French, two Americans, one Hungarian, one Indian and one Peruvian. But there was still confusion over the numbers, with the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin listing 12 Germans as confirmed missing.

The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,200 people when it hit a reef off the Tuscan island of Giglio after Schettino made an unauthorized deviation from the cruise ship's programmed course, apparently as a favor to his chief waiter, who hailed from the island.

Passengers described the evacuation as chaotic.

Steve and Kathy Ledtke, who live in Fort Gratiot, Michigan, said they were sitting down to a late dinner Friday when they realized something had gone wrong. Kathy Ledtke told WDIV-TV that it seemed no one was in charge.

"It was complete chaos and it was every man for himself," Kathy Ledtke said. "Nobody knew where to go."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Mubarak trial encapsulates divisions in Egypt

CAIRO –  Hosni Mubarak, on trial for his life, is ferried to court by helicopter from a presidential hospital suite. His sons and co-defendants swagger in wearing designer track suits and no handcuffs. His security chief is treated with near reverence by police in the courtroom.

For activists in Egypt, the scenes only deepen their feeling that the authoritarian system the ousted president oversaw remains largely in place, almost a year since the 18-day uprising that toppled him.

When Mubarak's trial began five months ago, many hoped it would bring not only punishment but a clear sense of victory for a movement that aimed to wipe the slate clean and start again.

Instead, it has boiled down to a bare-knuckled showdown between supporters and foes of the "revolution," reflecting the tensions that have been gripping the country.

Those divisions were clear in court Tuesday as Mubarak's defense began its arguments. His chief lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, went for maximum effect with flowery language depicting him as an unjustly maligned victim who tried to improve Egypt during 29 years in power.

"This man before you, who is 83, has been fatigued and burdened by ailments and mauled by the malice of cunning people," el-Deeb said.

"He is looking to your justice to save him from the oppression that surrounds him from every direction, after his reputation and history have been targeted by tongues and pens."

The courtroom erupted when he said that Mubarak in fact supported the revolution. El-Deeb quoted from a letter he said Mubarak wrote to his lifetime friend Ahmed Shafiq -- who was prime minister at the time of the uprising -- saying that protesters were exercising their right to stage peaceful protests but were infiltrated by criminals and Islamists who destroyed public property and challenged the regime's "legitimacy."

"Lies, lies!" and "Execution for Mubarak!" screamed the lawyers representing the families of protesters killed by police during the revolution.

They rushed at el-Deeb and nearly set upon him, but court police quickly moved to keep them back.

Mubarak, who has worn an unwaveringly grim expression ever since the trial began on Aug. 3, looked content as el-Deeb praised him. For the first time in the trial, he sat in a wheelchair in the courtroom cage where the defendants are kept, rather than lying on a hospital gurney as he has in previous sessions.

Mubarak, his former security chief Habib el-Adly and four top security officers are charged with complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters and could face the death penalty if convicted. Mubarak's sons Alaa and Gamal, along with their father, are charged with corruption in the same trial, a crime that would carry a prison sentence.

But the near-melee over el-Deeb's speech gave a peek into the issue running under the surface of the trial: what the revolution has really meant for Egypt.

That issue has polarized Egyptian politics since Mubarak's Feb. 11 ouster and the takeover of the reins of power by army generals widely believed to be beholden to him, led by his loyal defense minister of 20 years, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi.

Many of the activists who engineered the anti-Mubarak protests see the generals as just an extension of their former patron's regime with no interest in bringing significant change. Notably, the military only ordered the arrest of the former president and his two sons after mass protests demanding that they be brought to justice.

Activists also charge that the generals have methodically tried to divert attention away from the revolution's main goals -- freedom, democracy and social justice -- and instead decreed a cumbersome transition, allowing Islamist parties to dominate the political landscape and missing what they see as a historic chance to become a truly democratic state.

At the same time, the generals have gone to great lengths to discredit protest leaders and capitalize on Egyptians' longing for stability by demonizing the revolutionaries as foreign agents and troublemakers while projecting an image of themselves as the nation's true patriots.

Activists, lawyers for the victims and some in the public see the soft treatment for the defendants as evidence that those in power still grant Mubarak and those around him the aura of prestige.

Police assigned to courthouse security have been captured on camera offering their former boss el-Adly a salute as he arrived for one of the early hearings. Those images caused an uproar, but el-Adly, who as interior minister commanded the intensely hated police force, continues to walk from the armored police vehicle that brings him from jail to the courtroom without escort or handcuffs. Dark sunglasses, a navy blue baseball cap and a matching prison uniform have become the iconic look of a man whose name once struck fear in the hearts of the regime's foes.

Similarly, Mubarak's sons parade boldly into the courthouse, with Alaa carrying a purple chair that he sits on when inside the defendants' cage. Both Alaa and Gamal, who barely a year ago was thought to be Egypt's second most powerful man after his father, wear immaculate white track suits with matching sneakers.

Two other security commanders face dereliction of duty charges in relation to the crackdown on protesters in the trial. A friend of the Mubarak family, Hussein Salem, who has fled the country, is also a defendant in the corruption component of the trial.

Activists grumble that the treatment contrasts with the use of deadly force by troops in recent months against peaceful protesters demanding that the generals step down immediately -- as well as the use of cursory military tribunals to prosecute at least 12,000 civilians, including protesters, since the generals took over. Those rounded up over the months from Tahrir Square complained of being beaten, hit by clubs or shocked by stun guns while in police custody.

Late Tuesday, witnesses said thugs attacked them in the square, burning tents, apparently trying to clear it out ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary of the beginning of the uprising. No casualties were reported.

The prosecution last week gave a startlingly harsh and dramatic denunciation of Mubarak in its courtroom summations, calling him a tyrant who maneuvered to get his son Gamal to succeed him.

Tuesday's hearing was the first of five set aside by Judge Ahmed Rifaat to hear the defense argue its case. El-Deeb, who over the years built a reputation as a suave and expensive celebrity lawyer, sharply criticized the prosecution's comments, saying it used phrases that "for no reason insulted Mubarak."

"Mubarak is neither a tyrant nor a bloodthirsty man. He respects the judiciary and its decisions, a clean man who could say no wrong," he said.

"Mubarak has seriously and faithfully worked to the best of his abilities and energy for Egypt and its people, lived a life burdened by his nation's problems," he said. "For that, he is worthy of justice and no one should discredit his efforts, question his loyalty or history."

The victims' lawyers were again enraged when Salwah al-Soubi, a member of the defense team, chanted "Mubarak, we love you!" in addressing the ousted leader in the defendants' cage.

"Sit down and shut up!" shouted some of the lawyers for the victims.

Outside the trial venue, some 300 hundred Mubarak supporters chanted slogans in support of the former president. They came close to fighting with about 100 relatives of the victims, but riot police intervened and separated the two camps.


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Myanmar's Suu Kyi registers as candidate for parliament seat - CNN

 Aung San Suu Kyi registers to run as a candidate in upcoming by-elections on the outskirts of Yangon on January 18, 2012.

Aung San Suu Kyi registers to run as a candidate in upcoming by-elections on the outskirts of Yangon on January 18, 2012.Suu Kyi will contest for a seat in Kawhmu Western governments have applauded the effortThe regime has pledged to pursue a peace deal

Thanlyin, Myanmar (CNN) -- Myanmar democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi registered Wednesday to run for a parliamentary seat in the military-run country.

Suu Kyi will contest for a seat in Kawhmu, where supporters clapped and gave her flowers after she turned in her paperwork for the April election.

The move by the Nobel Peace Prize winner comes after the regime pledged to pursue a peace deal with an ethnic rebel group and pardoned hundreds of political prisoners as part of national reconciliation.

Western governments have applauded the effort, with the United States sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the country last month -- the first top U.S. diplomat in the nation in more than five decades.

And this month, Suu Kyi met with William Hague, the first British foreign secretary to visit Myanmar in more than 50 years.

Myanmar has been ruled by a military junta since 1962, but the generals are loosening their grip on the country after coming under criticism for their human rights record.

Suu Kyi was under house arrest in 1990 when her party, the National League for Democracy, won the election by a landslide, but the military junta rejected the results.

She was released in November 2010 after spending most of the past 20 years under house arrest or in prison. Her release came days after the nation's first election in two decades.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has said it will have a roster of 23 candidates in this year's election.

Forty-eight seats are up for grabs in the April 1 election.

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Falklands criticized over refusal to let ship dock

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina –  The Falkland Islands came under further criticism Tuesday for refusing to allow a cruise ship with an outbreak of stomach flu to dock, as passengers complained about their missed travel plans and an expert called the decision an overreaction.

Tourists on the Star Princess told The Associated Press they were forced to cancel long-planned trips when officials in the disputed British territory off Argentina refused them entry Saturday, saying an outbreak could strain the archipelago's medical resources.

About 74 passengers and crew among the more than 3,500 people on board were reported ill with norovirus, 20 of them with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

Briton John Sturgeon and his wife had been looking forward to the visit as one of the highlights of the South American cruise, saying they wanted to see the islands to remember the upcoming 30th anniversary of Argentina's invasion of the colony. Argentina and Britain continue to be in a diplomatic row over the islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas.

"I had already booked a tour with someone in the Falklands," he said as the couple disembarked for a stop in Buenos Aires. Sturgeon said the ship's captain considered the refusal to allow them to dock "very unreasonable and unprecedented."

There were also several hundred Argentines among the passengers, who had paid thousands of dollars for the cruise in order to visit the graves of their fathers. A cemetery on the island is filled with the tombs of Argentine draftees killed in the ill-fated 1982 war.

Argentine passenger Liliana Rodriguez said some of the passengers had been planning to pay respects to loved ones buried on the island.

"There was a young guy who brought a shield for the tomb of his father there," Rodriguez said. "There was all of these people and so many more, because we didn't get the chance to have contact with everyone because there were at least 300 Argentines."

The Falklands has defended its decision as being made "in the wider interests of the public and tourism industry," according to a statement from the island's chief medical officer. "An outbreak in the Falkland Islands would put enormous pressure on our limited medical resources and jeopardize other scheduled cruise visits," the statement said.

Norovirus is highly contagious and spreads through the stool or vomit of infected people. The virus can linger on surfaces like door handles, carpets and tabletops. It can also spread when people share the food, drinks or eating utensils of an infected person.

But Norman Noah, an infectious diseases expert at London's School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described the Falklands' decision as "over the top."

He has previously investigated norovirus outbreaks and said the illness normally passes within a couple of days and is unlikely to overwhelm hospitals.

Princess Cruises has called the decision "totally unwarranted."

The virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. About 1 in 5 of norovirus outbreaks reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention occurred on cruise ships or in vacation settings. The CDC has documented about a dozen outbreaks a year on cruise ships worldwide.

The U.S. CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program never advises that ships cannot dock, though they might issue a "no sail order" in the case of repeated or large outbreaks with little controls in place. That doesn't seem to be the case with the Star Princess, which according to CDC records, hasn't had a norovirus outbreak since 2003.

Even if the ship had been allowed to dock in the Falklands, experts weren't sure the infected passengers would have spread the virus very far.

According to guidance from Britain's Health Protection Agency, any passengers on board a ship who have norovirus should be isolated in their own cabin until at least 24 hours after their symptoms have passed. There are more stringent recommendations for sick crew members.

The agency does not advise that ships with infected patients be prevented from docking, but says certain measures should be in place when the ship arrives into port, like thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the vessel before it sails on.

"If you're suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, you probably won't be sightseeing," Noah said. "Chances are you'll be staying in your cabin by yourself."


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