Japan, Vietnam Aim to Deepen Security Cooperation

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 1:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Japan and Vietnam have agreed to deepen security cooperation in hopes of strengthening an alliance that shares concerns about China's territorial assertiveness in regional waters.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for greater economic collaboration with Vietnam, following talks Wednesday with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi.

Mr. Abe said the two countries share similar challenges.

Mr. Dung said Vietnam and Japan want all regional disputes to be resolved through “peaceful negotiations based on international law.”

Japan is mired in a territorial dispute with China about ownership of islands in the East China Sea called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The dispute has strained relations between the two countries.

Vietnam and the Philippines are key parties to a separate controversy about access to resources in the South China Sea, a region also claimed by China.

Mr. Abe's stop in Hanoi marked the first leg of his three-nation visit to Southeast Asia this week. He will also go to Thailand and Indonesia. The trip is seen as a regional diplomatic push amid tense relations with China and an effort to expand trading markets.

This is Mr. Abe's first overseas trip since he was elected last month as prime minister.

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Egypt: Morsi Remarks on Jews Taken Out of Context

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 12:25 pm (UTC-5)
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A spokesman for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi says comments the Islamist leader made on Jews nearly three years ago and repudiated by the White House as “deeply offensive” were taken out of context.

Yasser Ali said Mr. Morsi told a visiting U.S. Senate delegation led by Republican John McCain Wednesday that the broadcast comments were taken from an address “on the Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

He said Egypt's president told the group a distinction must be drawn between Judaism and its adherents and criticism of those who practice violence against the Palestinians. Mr. Morsi also stressed his respect for the freedom of religion and religious practice.

A day earlier, the Obama administration said the Egyptian leader should repudiate remarks he made in 2010 calling on Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists.

The comments – made when Mr. Morsi led the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – were revived when they were aired on an Egyptian TV show this month.

In one of the videos, Mr. Morsi said Egyptian children must feed on that hatred as a form of worshipping God.

In a separate 2010 interview, he described Zionists as “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians; these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that kind of rhetoric has been used in the Middle East for far too long, and President Morsi should firmly repudiate his past comments.

Since he took office in June of 2012, Nuland said President Morsi has reaffirmed his commitment to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel “in word and deed.”

“He has been willing to work with us and with Israel on shared objectives, including the cease-fire in Gaza. He has been committed to our bilateral relationship,” Nuland added. “That is the basis on which we are continuing to work together going forward.”

Militants Seize Foreign Hostages In Algeria

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 12:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Islamist militants in Algeria say they have taken up to 41 foreigners hostage, including seven Americans, in an attack on a natural gas field.

The militants tell regional media the raid early Wednesday was in retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali.

The attackers reportedly have killed two people, including a British national, and wounded at least six others.

The gas field is partly operated by British energy company BP, which confirmed via Twitter that a “serious security incident” was in progress at its Ain Amenas gas facility.

The British Foreign Office said British nationals are “caught up” in the incident, while U.S. defense officials say they are in contact with military forces in the region.

After the facility's seizure, Algerian forces surrounded the kidnappers. Negotiations for the release of the hostages, who also include Norweigian and Japanese nationals, are ongoing.

BP operates the facility along with the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company. A Japanese company provides services.

French military forces entered Mali on Friday to help drive back Islamist militants pushing south, in the direction of the capital.

The Islamist groups that control northern Mali include al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and two others believed to have links to al-Qaida.

Algeria had long warned against military intervention against the rebels in northern Mali, fearing the violence could spill over its own long and porous border.

Russian Court Rejects Pussy Riot Member Appeal

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
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A Russian court has rejected a request to release an imprisoned member of the Pussy Riot band.

Maria Alyokhina asked the court on Wednesday to defer her two-year sentence until her young son turns 14.

Judges rejected the petition, saying the child's age was already taken into account during the sentencing.

Alyokhina was convicted last year, along with two other bandmates, on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred after a performance on the altar of a prominent church criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

2 Killed in Flooding in Indonesia

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 11:35 am (UTC-5)
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Indonesian officials say at least two people have been killed in floods that have driven thousands of people from their homes in the capital, Jakarta.

A disaster management official told the French news agency that days of torrential rain have caused rivers to overflow and have triggered floods up to three meters.

Seasonal downpours cause dozens of landslides and flash floods each year in Indonesia, a vast chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains.

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Study: Black Carbon Second Only to CO2 in Warming Planet

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 11:25 am (UTC-5)
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A four-year international study has found the soot produced by diesel engines and wood-burning stoves is the second-greatest human contributor to climate change. That assessment of its effect, by a multinational team of 31 experts, is nearly twice what the United Nations estimated five years ago.

Known as black carbon, soot now ranks ahead of methane gas, behind carbon dioxide as a cause of atmospheric warming, especially over the Arctic.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which can endure in the atmosphere for centuries, black carbon only lasts for a few days. The new study, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, suggests that focusing on its sources could be an efficient approach to curbing global warming.

The authors say the polluting effect from diesel engines and possibly residential biofuels is strong enough that eliminating all emissions from these sources would actually produce a cooling effect.

The tiny particles are also a major component of urban air pollution, associated with respiratory illnesses. Recognizing that, last month, the United States tightened limits on soot pollution from power plants, diesel engines and burning wood.

New Somali President Visits US

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is on a trip to the United States, seeking support as his country tries to bounce back from 20 years of conflict.

The trip marks the president's first U.S. tour since he was elected in September.

Mr. Mohamud is expected to seek American assistance on security, humanitarian, and development matters.

He briefed U.S. Congress members on developments in Somalia on Tuesday, and plans to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday.

During his tour, he is also expected to conduct an exclusive interview with VOA and meet with representatives of Somali immigrant communities in the Washington area and in Minnesota.

The visit comes at a time when Somalia's political progress has inspired confidence in the international community. In August, the country's new parliament was sworn into office, a significant achievement in ending an eight-year political transition.

Until formation of the new government, Somalia went more than two decades without a stable central authority.

Security remains one of the biggest challenges for Somalia.

However, the situation has greatly improved since African Union, Ethiopian and Somali government troops drove al-Shabab militants out of their main strongholds across southern and central Somalia.

Bodies of Slain Kurdish Activists Sent to Turkey

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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The bodies of three Kurdish activists killed last week in France have been flown to Turkey for burial.

The bodies of the slain women were expected to arrive Wednesday in the mainly-Kurdish southeast province of Diyarbakir with a ceremony to be held Thursday.

The three women, Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez, were found shot to death January 10 at the Kurdish Information Center in Paris. Cansiz was a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, an outlawed group that took up arms for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkey.

Turkey has suggested that the killings are linked to the ongoing negotiations between the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, while Kurdish activists say that it might be the work of Turkish extremists.

Islamist Militants Seize Hostages at Algerian Gas Field

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Islamist militants with reported links to al-Qaida have attacked a natural gas production facility operated by the British oil company BP in southern Algeria, kidnapping at least seven foreigners, including Japanese, British and Norwegian nationals.

Algeria's state-run news agency said one person was killed and seven others wounded in Wednesday's attack on the field at In Amenas.

The foreigners were taken from the facility in the morning. Algerian forces later surrounded the kidnappers and negotiations for the release of the hostages are ongoing.

The French news agency reported that one of the attackers contacted by telephone said the group were al-Qaida loyalists who had crossed the border from northern Mali.

BP operates the facility along with the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company. A Japanese company provides services.

The attack in Algeria comes as French troops are attempting to take back northern Mali from Islamist militants. Groups that have seized control of northern Mali include some with close ties to al-Qaida and that already hold seven French nationals and four Algerian diplomats.

Algeria had long warned against military intervention against the rebels in northern Mali, fearing the violence could spill over its own long and porous border.

Obama to Unveil Plan to Curb Gun Violence

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 9:00 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama will announce Wednesday what the White House describes as “concrete proposals” aimed at curbing gun violence in the United States.

The plan will likely propose bans on assault-style weapons, stricter background checks for gun sales and more efforts to boost mental health services.

The plan is based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden. He was appointed to study the issue and has met with various groups since last month's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 young children and six adults dead.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says Mr. Obama's plan will include measures that require Congressional approval, and actions the president can take on his own, through executive order.

Mr. Obama will unveil his initiative one day after New York state became the first in the United States to impose tougher gun-control measures in the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law Tuesday, a short time after it won final approval in the legislature.

The bill expands the state's ban on assault-style weapons and requires background checks for anyone seeking to buy ammunition. It also puts limits on ammunition capacity and includes provisions intended to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

The National Rifle Association, the largest gun-rights lobbying group in the United States, says it supports keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But it issued a statement saying “gun-control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime.”