US Customs Officials Seize Shipment of Human Heads at Chicago Airport

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 11:55 am (UTC-5)
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Customs officials at O'Hare International Airport in the U.S. city of Chicago have held up a shipment of 18 human heads reportedly bound for a U.S. research facility.

The local medical examiner's office says the heads 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.

France Tightens Domestic Security after Mali Operation

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 10:25 am (UTC-5)
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France has increased its domestic security, due to concern about possible threats following the launch of French military action against al-Qaida linked rebels in Mali.

In an interview with the French television network BHM, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said the threat from terrorists angry over the intervention is not new, but is “serious” and “permanent”.

“We are intensifying checks at airports, train stations, there is vigilance and mobilization. For example, 700 soldiers have been mobilized in the Paris area. So again, (there must be) vigilance, and (we must) never fall into routine or habit.”

Valls says France is also monitoring individuals who want to go Syria, Afghanistan and the Sahel.

France launched a military operation last week to help the Mali government fight Islamist insurgents.

Suicide Bomber Kills Iraqi Sunni MP

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 10:20 am (UTC-5)
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A suicide bomber has killed an influential Sunni lawmaker and one of his bodyguards in Iraq's western Anbar province, where thousands have been holding daily protests against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Ifan Saadoun al-Essawi died Tuesday when his attacker, posing as a construction worker, approached the lawmaker at a project site and blew himself up in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

Al-Essawi, a member of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, was one of the key founders of a group of Sunni tribal militias who joined forces with the U.S. military to fight al-Qaida in 2006.

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No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombing, which comes amid rising anti-government protests, mostly by Sunnis, that have rocked Iraq since December.

Many protesters are calling for Mr. Maliki to step down. They also want the release of detainees they say are being held without trial – and the suspension of an anti-terrorism law they say targets Sunnis unfairly.

German Economy Contracted in Late 2012

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 9:50 am (UTC-5)
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Germany has Europe's most robust economy, but now even its economic fortunes are shrinking in the face of the eurozone recession.

Berlin said Tuesday that its economy contracted one-half of one percent in the last three months of 2012, its biggest downturn in nearly three years. Germany said that cut its economic growth for last year to seven-tenths of a percent.

It expects growth to diminish further — to four-tenths of a percent — in 2013, down from an earlier projection of a one percent advance.

The economy in the 17-nation eurozone contracted in the April-to-September period last year and forecasters say that likely continued in the waning months of 2012. Sharp economic decline in some euro nations — such as in Greece, Spain and Italy — has often been somewhat offset by Germany's powerhouse economy.

But in the fourth quarter last year, German exports, imports and investment slowed, as did consumer spending.

Platinum Producer to Cut 14,000 Jobs in South Africa

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 8:40 am (UTC-5)
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Mining giant Anglo American Platinum has announced plans to close four mine shafts in South Africa and cut up to 14,000 jobs.

The vast majority of the job cuts would be in the city of Rustenburg, where at least 46 people were killed in mine-related unrest last year.

In a statement Tuesday, the company, also known as Amplats, indicated the cuts are a result of slowing demand for platinum and said the operation of “unprofitable shafts” is not sustainable.

Amplats said it lost money in 2012 after posting profits the previous year.

The company said it would try to create jobs in other sectors to try to make up for the cuts.

According to the French News Agency, National Union of Mineworkers spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said the union was “shocked” by Amplats' proposed cuts and said the reductions would be a “disaster for the economy.”

Amplats and other mining firms were hit by a wave of strikes last year after police fired on striking workers at the Lonmin platinum mine near Rustenberg last August, killing 34 people. The incident was the single deadliest police-related incident in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Suicide Bomber Kills Iraqi Sunni MP

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 7:55 am (UTC-5)
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Iraqi officials say a Sunni lawmaker has been killed in a suicide bombing in western Anbar province.

Ifan al-Issawi died Tuesday when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the restive city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

The attack comes amid rising anti-government protests, mostly by Sunnis, that have rocked Iraq since December.

Many Sunnis are calling for Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down. They also want the release of detainees they say are being held without trial – and the suspension of an anti-terrorism law they say targets Sunnis unfairly.

Mr. Maliki's Shi'ite supporters have also taken to the streets in what is becoming escalating sectarian strife.

The protests began in Sunni-dominated Anbar after the army arrested the bodyguards of Sunni Finance Minister Rafa al-Issawi.

He is the most high profile Sunni Cabinet member since Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi was dismissed from office, accused of running death squads. A death warrant has been issued against Hashemi in absentia. He says the charges are trumped up for political reasons.

Provincial elections are set to take place in April and analysts expect the unrest to continue until then.

China to Survey Disputed Islands

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 7:00 am (UTC-5)
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China says it plans to conduct a geographical survey of a group of islands at the center of a heated territorial dispute with Japan.

The official Xinhua news agency says the survey of the Diaoyu Islands, known as Senkaku in Japan, is part of a wider plan to map China's territorial claims.

It gave no further details, but said the mapping program aims to safeguard Beijing's “maritime rights and interests.”

China and Japan have long disputed ownership of the uninhabited islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potential energy deposits.

Tensions increased last year after the Japanese government purchased some of the islands from their private Japanese landowner, prompting days of widespread anti-Japan protests in China.

Both countries have recently sent planes to patrol the area, intensifying fears of a possible clash between the two Asian powers. China has also sent regular patrol boats to the islands, which are administered by Japan.

Egypt Train Derailment Kills 19, Injures 107

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 6:45 am (UTC-5)
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A train carrying military recruits has derailed near the Egyptian capital, killing 19 people and injuring 107 others.

Officials say two train cars went off the tracks early Tuesday in the Badrasheen neighborhood of Giza.

The accident comes less than two weeks after a new transportation minister was named to improve the safety of the Egyptian rail system, which has a poor safety record due to a lack of maintenance and poor management.

About 50 people died in November when a train slammed into a school bus in central Egypt.

China: Factory Fire Burns Unnoticed for Hours Because of Smog

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 3:45 am (UTC-5)
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A factory fire in eastern China raged out of control unnoticed for hours Monday, after local residents were unable to distinguish the smoke from the dense smog that has filled the region.

The official Xinhua news agency says the furniture factory in Zheijiang province burned for nearly three hours before residents noticed the blaze. It took 10 hours to extinguish the flames, which destroyed a large amount of furniture.

Much of China's east coast has experienced its worst air pollution in recent memory over the past several days. In Beijing, a thick blanket of brown smog reduced visibility to just 200 meters, with the tops of many of the city's massive skyscrapers disappearing in the haze.

At its worst, official air quality readings in the capital reached nearly 40 times the World Health Organization's safe limit. Many hospitals were filled with patients complaining of heart or respiratory sicknesses.

The crisis has prompted an unprecedented amount of criticism of the government in China's state-controlled media, many of which published front-page commentaries on the issue. Government officials traditionally have downplayed the severity of the problem.

Facing increasing public outrage, China has taken steps in recent years to become more transparent about air pollution levels. It now publishes hourly updates online for more than 70 cities.

Conditions on Tuesday had improved slightly in the capital, as a cold front moved into the area. But officials warn that heavy smog will persist through Wednesday.

Business as Usual for China’s Forced Labor Camps: State Media

Posted January 15th, 2013 at 1:30 am (UTC-5)
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Local officials in charge of China's controversial forced labor camps say they are operating as usual and have not received any word from Beijing about a possible end to the system.

The state-run Global Times Tuesday said officials in at least six regions across China have received no information about proposed changes to the so-called “re-education through labor” system.

Last week, state media quoted Politburo member Meng Jianzhu as saying China will stop using the decades-old labor camp system later this year. Those reports were later removed without explanation. Officials later said the system will be “reformed.”

Beijing for years has discussed possible changes to the system, which has long been criticized by rights groups that say it does not meet international standards.

Chinese authorities use the labor camps to detain prostitutes, drug addicts and other petty criminals for up to four years without putting them on trial in the country's overloaded courts.

Opponents of the system say Beijing also uses it to silence government critics and dissidents, and they claim torture and other abuses are common in the camps.

Rights groups have welcomed talk of scrapping the system. But many are worried it will be replaced by a similar detention system that will not allow people to defend themselves.

The Global Times, which often reflects official opinion, quoted legal experts as saying the “re-education through labor” system most likely will be replaced by a “rectification through education” system.

The report said four cities in China have begun “undertaking pilot schemes” for the new rectification program. It said the program would “entitle offenders to defend themselves with the help of lawyers at courts and appeal their sentences.”

The paper also quoted a lawyer and National People's Congress official as saying offenders would be allowed to stay at home and receive education from “community organizations” rather than serving terms at re-education facilities.

Any significant reforms to the system could be viewed as a possible indication of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping's desire to carry out moderate political and legal reform.

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