US in ‘Intense Deliberations’ over Expanding N.Korean Sanctions

Posted January 16th, 2013 at 12:30 am (UTC-5)
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A senior U.S. diplomat says Washington is pushing hard for tough international sanctions against North Korea following its successful long-range rocket launch last month.

Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters in Seoul that he anticipates formal steps by the United Nations Security Council in the immediate future.

“We are in the midst of really rather intense deliberations in New York in the Security Council led by our Ambassador Rice. We are in very close consultation with the South Korean government about those deliberations. I think we have their understanding about the way forward and I think you will see more developments in the days ahead.”

Campbell, the top U.S. envoy to Asia, also warned North Korea against taking any more “provocative” steps, amid speculation that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct a nuclear test.

“We are very clear in our position that provocative steps are to be discouraged. We are closely working with the key players, including South Korea, at the U.N. with respect to our diplomacy after the missile test late last year.”

Recent satellite images show increased activity at a North Korea nuclear test site, raising fears it may follow up its December rocket launch with a nuclear test, as it did in 2006 and 2009.

The Security Council condemned the rocket launch as a violation of existing sanctions barring North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests.

But the United States and its allies have not yet been able to succeed in tightening the international sanctions, in part because of opposition from Pyongyang's main ally, China.

Cambell's trip does not include a visit to China and he did not discuss Beijing's involvement in the discussions.

He is set to meet later Wednesday with South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye before traveling to Japan.

Boeing 787 Makes Forced Landing in Japan

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 8:55 pm (UTC-5)
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A Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” has been forced to make an emergency landing in western Japan. National broadcaster NHK said smoke appeared in the jet liner's cabin.

Television footage showed emergency chutes deployed from the plane at the airport in Takamatsu, on Japan's fourth largest island of Shikoku.

Wednesday's incident is the latest in a series of blows to the Dreamliner's reputation.

The plane operated by the All Nippon Airways was en route to Tokyo's Haneda airport from Yamaguchi Ube airport in Western Japan. The cause of the emergency landing is under investigation.

An airline official said all the passengers and crew members were safely evacuated from the aircraft. It was not immediately clear how many were on board.

Problems plaguing Boeing's new 787 have triggered U.S. investigators to launch a top-priority safety review.

The plane encountered various mechanical breakdowns last month, including several electrical problems. Then last week there were problems with three different “Dreamliners” that had brake and battery issues, and a fuel leak on a runway.

The aircraft carries up to 290 passengers and is the first major airliner to be built mostly from composite materials rather than metal. It consumes 20 percent less fuel than similarly sized planes.

Despite the mishaps, U.S.-based Boeing has said it has “extreme confidence” in the aircraft.

Kenyan Authorities Seize 2 Tons of Ivory

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 7:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Kenyan authorities have seized two tons of ivory at the port of Mombasa worth more than $1 million.

Officials say the illegal shipment was in a container bound for Indonesia with documents identifying it as “decorative stones.”

The officials tell Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper that the agent who cleared the shipment for export has been suspended while the investigation continues.

They say about 250 elephants were slaughtered to make up the shipment.

Elephant and rhinoceros poaching is a major problem in Kenya. Ivory is in great demand in Asia, where it is used in ornaments and is also believed to have some medicinal purposes. A global ban on the ivory trade went into effect in 1989.

US Rebukes Egypt’s President on Remarks About Israel

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 7:20 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States has called on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to repudiate offensive anti-Semitic remarks he made before he was elected.

According to a television clip released last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute, in 2010 Mr. Morsi referred to Israeli people as “occupiers of Palestine” and as “bloodsuckers and war mongers, and descendants of pigs and apes.” He made other disparaging remarks and called on Egyptians to teach their children to hate Jews.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Victoria Nuland, told reporters Tuesday that Washington condemns the comments made by President Morsi.

“The language that we've seen is deeply offensive. We completely reject these statements as we do any language that espouses religious hatred.”

Nuland said the United States wants President Morsi to make absolutely clear to his people and to the international community that he respects people of all faiths. She stressed that this kind of rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic Egypt.

Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, came to power last year as Egypt's first democratically elected president. But Nuland said that since taking office in June, he has reaffirmed his commitment to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

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Obama to Present Gun Violence Measures Wednesday

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday will announce what the White House describes as “concrete proposals” aimed at curbing gun violence in the United States.

The White House said Tuesday Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be joined by children who wrote to the president to voice their concerns about the issue and school safety after last month's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 young children and six adults dead.

The plan is based on recommendations from the vice president, who was appointed to study the issue and meet with various groups on all sides of the issue.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters the package will include legislative and executive measures. He said several of the main components will require congressional approval. President Obama has acknowledged a tough fight in the deeply divided Congress over the issue of guns. But Monday he said lawmakers will have to “examine their own conscience” and “we're going to have to come up with answers that set politics aside.”

Some House Democrats say Vice President Biden has identified 19 potential actions President Obama could take without legislation.

The four million-member National Rifle Association has said it will fight any legislation to limit access to guns and ammunition.

Mr. Obama's proposals are expected to include recommendations to address violence in entertainment and video games.

Madagascar President Drops Out of May Election

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 5:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina, who seized power in a coup in 2009, says he will not be a candidate in May's presidential election.

The president said in a televised speech Tuesday that he is sacrificing himself for the sake of the island's 20 million citizens.

Mr. Rajoelina joins the man he overthrew, Marc Ravalomanana, in heeding appeals from the European Union and other African leaders not to try to hold on to power.

Mr. Ravalomanana is in exile in South Africa. He has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the deaths of anti-government protesters at the hands of Madagascar troops.

Mr. Rajoelina, with the backing of the the army, toppled Mr. Ravalomanana in 2009, accusing him of autocratic rule. The coup led to international sanctions on Madagascar, a poor nation that relies heavily on foreign investment and tourist dollars.

Survey: 1 in 3 US Adults Has Self-Diagnosed Online

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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If you have ever turned to the Internet to find out what is wrong with you when experiencing a pain or other health issue, you are not alone.

The Pew Research Center says 35 percent of U.S. adults have gone online to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.

The survey finds 46 percent of online diagnosers say the information they found on the Web led them to think they needed a doctor. Thirty-eight percent say it was something they could treat at home. More who chose to see a doctor had their diagnosis confirmed, 41 percent, than not, 18 percent.

The survey found women are more likely than men to use the Internet to self-diagnose. Other groups with a higher likelihood of being online diagnosers include younger people, white adults, those in households earning $75,000 or more, and those with a college degree.

The study was designed to measure scope and not to determine whether the Internet has had a good or bad influence on health care.

The survey, part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, involved more than 3,000 adults living in the United States. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

UN Nuclear Experts to Again Visit Tehran

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 12:25 pm (UTC-5)
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United Nations nuclear watchdog experts will visit Tehran Wednesday with hopes of furthering their investigation into Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency said they hope to address what the IAEA calls “overall, credible” evidence of nuclear weapons research work.

The IAEA and the West are concerned Iran is in stages of possibly developing a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear ambitions are peaceful.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Tuesday that a religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader banning nuclear weapons is binding for the Iranian government.

IAEA representatives have been blocked by the Iranian government from visiting key nuclear sites. The IAEA and Tehran continue to negotiate over possible access.

The visit comes as international diplomats are again setting the stage for separate negotiations with Tehran over curbs to its nuclear ambitions.

With Israel threatening military action against Iran, Iranian diplomats and the so-called P5+1 contact group – the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany – are expected to try to open talks in the coming weeks after a seven-month hiatus.

The last time Iran's nuclear negotiators met with their foreign counterparts, in Moscow in June, the talks did not go well. Both sides wanted their maximum demands met, and offered little in return.

US Customs Officials Seize Shipment of Human Heads at Chicago Airport

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 12:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Customs officials at O'Hare International Airport in the U.S. city of Chicago are holding a shipment of 18 human heads reportedly bound for a U.S. research facility.

The local medical examiner's office says the heads, sent from Rome, were properly preserved, packaged and tagged as human specimens. There is no suspicion of foul play.

The Chicago Tribune newspaper cites a spokesman for the medical examiner's office as saying authorities held up the shipment because the final destination was not clearly indicated on the accompanying paperwork.

U.S. Customs officials discovered the heads on Monday. They were delivered to the medical examiner's office for inspection and storage while officials investigated.

Russia Grants $1 Billion Loan to Bangladesh for Weapons

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Russia has granted a $1 billion loan to Bangladesh for the purchase of Russian-made weapons.

The deal was signed Tuesday in Moscow during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and visiting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Details on the possible weapons purchases were not released, but reports say the new agreement could include orders for air defense systems, helicopters and weapons for ground forces.

In addition, Russia will provide a separate $500 million loan to Bangladesh for the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant in Ruppur, located 200 kilometers from the capital, Dhaka.

Russia has also agreed to provide financial support after the first stage of construction is complete.

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