Weekend News Digest is an Open Thread
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1 Iraq bomber targeting Shiites kills 40
By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer
37 minutes ago
|BAGHDAD – A suicide bomber struck Shiite pilgrims as they were resting Sunday during a days-long walk to a Shiite shrine, killing at least 40 people and wounding 60.
The attack in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, was the second of the day against pilgrims traveling to the holy city of Karbala. The pilgrimage marks Arbaeen, the 40th day following the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of two revered Shiite figures buried there.
The suicide bomber detonated at a tent where pilgrims stop to eat and drink, police said.
2 Turkish helicopter down in Iraq
By SELCAN HACAOGLU, Associated Press Writer
2 hours, 21 minutes ago
|CUKURCA, Turkey – A Turkish helicopter went down in Iraq and eight soldiers were killed during a cross-border ground operation that has drawn criticism from the Iraqi government, Turkey’s military said Sunday.
Kurdish rebels said they shot down a Turkish military helicopter near the Turkish-Iraqi border.
Turkey’s military said the helicopter went down “close to our border” and technicians were inspecting the wreck to determine the cause of the crash. It was not clear if the reported troop casualties were on board the helicopter. Their deaths bring the Turkish toll since the start of the incursion Thursday to 15, according to statements on the military’s Web site.
3 Baghdad urges talks as Turkey, PKK clash in N.Iraq
By Shamal Aqrawi, Reuters
2 hours, 3 minutes ago
|ZAKHU, Iraq (Reuters) – Turkish troops engaged Kurdish PKK rebels in close combat on Sunday that left scores dead in a major ground offensive into northern Iraq.
Iraq’s government said NATO member Turkey should withdraw its troops as soon as possible and urged Ankara to sit down with Baghdad for talks to resolve the crisis over the PKK.
Ankara launched the cross-border attack on Thursday after months of aerial bombardment of suspected PKK targets in the remote, mountainous region. It accuses rebels of using northern Iraq as a base to stage deadly attacks inside Turkey.
4 Afghan woman and child killed in U.S.-led operation
Sun Feb 24, 8:26 AM ET
|KABUL (Reuters) – An Afghan woman and child were killed during a U.S.-led operation against Taliban fighters in the southern Helmand province, the U.S. military said on Sunday.
A number of insurgents were also killed in the operation in Kajaki district of the province on Saturday, it said in a statement.
“A search of the site after the exchange revealed a dead female and child in one of the rooms the assailants used to engage coalition forces,” it added blaming the Taliban for placing women and children in “harm’s way.”
5 Communist wins Cyprus presidential vote
by Charlie Charalambous, AFP
50 minutes ago
|NICOSIA (AFP) – Communist party leader Demetris Christofias won the presidential election in Cyprus on Sunday and immediately pledged to work to reunify the island after 34 years of division.
Greek Cypriot parliament speaker Christofias, 61, garnered 53.36 percent of the vote against 46.64 percent for conservative former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides, according to final results of an election billed by the local media as one of the most crucial in the history of Cyprus.
“Tomorrow is a new day and there will be many difficulties before us, we need to gather our strength to achieve the reunification of our homeland,” said Christofias, who is due to be sworn in on Friday.
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6 Saudis arrested for flirting with women
Sat Feb 23, 5:00 PM ET
|RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia began interrogating 57 men Saturday who were arrested after allegedly flirting with women in front of a shopping mall in the holy city of Mecca, a local newspaper reported.
The country’s religious police arrested the men Thursday night, alleging behavior that included dancing to pop music blaring from their cars and wearing improper clothing, according to the Okaz newspaper, which is deemed close to the government.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice runs the religious police, who are charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic lifestyle.
7 Florida zoo takes in expunged exotics
By RASHA MADKOUR, Associated Press Writer
Sat Feb 23, 8:03 PM ET
|MIAMI – With alternately tearful goodbyes and barely contained impatience, more than 100 South Floridians surrendered their exotic animals Saturday at a zoo event designed to give owners an alternative to simply turning them loose.
The canopied plastic tables at the Miami MetroZoo became exhibits of their own as passers-by hoisted children and snapped pictures of the snakes, scorpions and turtles being handed over in laundry baskets, food storage containers and pillow cases.
Of the more than 150 pets handed over on “Exotic Pet Amnesty Day” by people who could no longer care for the beasts, all but six found new homes.
8 Iran says work plan closed, U.S. intelligence fake
2 hours, 51 minutes ago
|VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it had cleared up all past outstanding issues over its nuclear program with the United Nations nuclear watchdog and accused the United States of providing intelligence that was fake.
“The work plan is finished,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Reuters, referring to a pact between Tehran and the IAEA to answer outstanding questions about its nuclear activities one by one.
In its latest report published on Friday, the IAEA said Iran had responded to questions and clarified issues raised in the context of the work plan struck in August, with the exception of alleged studies into the possible deionization of nuclear materials.
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9 `Graceful exit’ urged for Musharraf
51 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON – Three senators who met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after opposition parties won a governing majority last week urged a “graceful exit” from power for the close Bush terror-fighting ally.
“Were I their political adviser, that’s what I would advise,” Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday. He did not favor an attempt by that new coalition to impeach Musharraf; the parties have enough seats to govern, but not enough to impeach the president.
“I firmly believe if they do not focus on old grudges – and there’s plenty in Pakistan – and give him a graceful way to move,” then it could happen, said Biden, D-Del.
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10 Pakistani Taliban ready for dialogue
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
2 hours, 33 minutes ago
|ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani Taliban fighters battling government forces in the northwest said Sunday they are ready for dialogue with the winners of last week’s election, and called on the new leadership to abandon President Pervez Musharraf’s war on terror.
The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, which will lead the new government, called for an end to military operations against insurgents in another restive area – the southwestern province of Baluchistan where the Afghan government believes the leadership of the Afghan Taliban may be hiding.
U.S. officials are concerned about the future of Pakistan’s role in the war on terror since anti-Musharraf parties trounced the ruling party in Feb. 18 parliamentary elections.
11 Satellite strike struck diplomacy, too
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
25 minutes ago
|In last week’s space spectacular, a U.S. missile did more than turn a dead satellite into bits of space scrap. It also blew another hole in hopes that the world’s nations could forge a treaty making outer space a weapons-free realm, analysts say.
Wednesday’s orbiter shootdown by a U.S. Navy missile came just eight days after Russia and China, at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, submitted a draft treaty to ban weapons from space.
The U.S. action, ostensibly to eliminate a threat from a falling spy satellite, showed the world that the hundreds of communications, weather, reconnaissance and other satellites circling far overhead are vulnerable – as did a similar Chinese shootdown a year earlier.
12 Serbia back on Kosovo offensive, with Russian help
By Douglas Hamilton, Reuters
2 hours, 19 minutes ago
|BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia was back on the offensive over Kosovo’s independence on Sunday, blaming the United States for crisis in the Balkans while its ally Russia accused the Americans of destroying “world order.”
Three days after young rioters in Belgrade embarrassed the country by attacking Western embassies and looting shops, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said it is Washington that is threatening peace and stability.
In a strongly worded statement from Moscow, Russia also accused Washington of trampling on international law.
13 State vote seen boosting tensions in Merkel govt
By Noah Barkin and Sylvia Westall, Reuters
34 minutes ago
|BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives retained power in a regional election in Hamburg on Sunday which also dealt a blow to the Social Democrats (SPD) and could heighten tensions in Berlin’s “grand coalition.”
Preliminary results showed Christian Democrat (CDU) Premier Ole von Beust, who has ruled the northern port city since 2001, with 43 percent of the vote, down from 47 percent four years ago, but a stronger result than polls had indicated.
He looks sure to lose his absolute majority in the state parliament and will now look to forge a coalition with either the Greens or possibly the SPD, which scored 34 percent.
14 Iran warns West of reprisals over sanctions
by Aresu Eqbali, AFP
46 minutes ago
|TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran warned the West on Sunday it would hit back with reprisals to any new UN Security Council sanctions over its contested nuclear programme, as world powers stepped up efforts to punish Tehran.
Britain, France and the United States are pushing for a new sanctions resolution in the coming week after the UN atomic watchdog said it could still not confirm if the Iranian atomic drive was peaceful.
“Some Western countries want to follow the wrong path and we suggest they take heed from their past experiences,” Javad Vaeedi, a top national security official, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency.
15 Enough With the New Countries
By JEFFREY KLUGER, Time Magazine
2 hours, 52 minutes ago
|So let me get this straight: Serbia and Montenegro were all that remained of Yugoslovia after Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina seceded during the Balkan Wars of the ’90s. Then Montenegro declared independence in 2006. Kosovo seceded from Serbia last Sunday, and now the northern region of Kosovo wants to secede and rejoin Serbia. I don’t have a dog in this latest fight – or even understand it much – but if someone wants to quit the firm, it seems to me you ought to let him go. The tension arises, of course, because the want-away usually wants to take a pile of the firm’s assets along with them. And you do have to question where this will end. Will some family named Knezevic decide it’s time to secede from northern Kosovo? Will Bob, the Kenezvics’ 17-year-old son who doesn’t really talk to anyone at holiday dinners anymore, decide he wants to secede from the family? At some point you hit what scientists call the terminal unit – the smallest reducible component of any system – and this feels like it may be it.|
Selfish Sanctimonious Villager Idiot, Whiny Ass Titty Baby, Maroon.
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16 Congress to examine housing proposals
By MARCY GORDON, AP Business Writer
52 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON – Congress is set to examine another round of possible repairs for consumers and investors threatened by widening cracks in the housing market.
Proposals include easing bankruptcy rules, shielding banks from lawsuits and providing government assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure.
Lawmakers also plan this week to question several high-profile mortgage and banking executives about industrywide losses and lavish executive-compensation packages.
17 Bernanke to tell Congress has eyes on growth risks
By Mark Felsenthal, Reuters
20 minutes ago
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Housing’s in the tank, banks are scared to lend, but oil is at $100 a barrel and inflation is threatening to pick up — what’s a central banker to do?
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will deploy his most reassuring bedside manner in congressional testimony on Wednesday and Thursday to explain how the U.S. central bank, which has already cut interest rates 2-1/4 percentage points since mid-September, can trim them further to prevent recession without letting inflation get out of hand.
“Near-term, the economy remains extremely vulnerable to further contraction because business sentiment has deteriorated further and the aggressive Fed easing to date has been partially offset by tighter financial conditions,” Deutsche Bank economists wrote in a note to clients. “This means the Fed is going to have to cut rates further, which is the message Mr. Bernanke will deliver.”
18 UBS denies report Ospel set to leave after one year
Sun Feb 24, 5:39 AM ET
|ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s UBS (UBSN.VX) on Sunday denied a newspaper report that its Chairman Marcel Ospel would definitely leave after another year at the helm, but reiterated that his future after this period was undecided.
On Thursday, UBS proposed re-electing Ospel despite his presiding over $18 billion in subprime writedowns, but said it would reduce his term of office to one year.
UBS spokesman Christoph Meier said Ospel had agreed to stand for re-election for another year and said: “beyond that he has no further plans,” repeating an earlier statement.
19 Seldom-read home loan docs must change: experts
By Diane Bartz, Reuters
Sun Feb 24, 10:09 AM ET
|WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The papers that U.S. borrowers sign when buying a house are piled so high that few people read them all, and even fewer absorb the information.
While no one blames the subprime crisis on complex documentation, some people now losing their homes as adjustable rate mortgages rise might not be in such dire straits if they had fully understood their loan, experts say.
These critics of the current documents say it is time to require home mortgage lenders to prepare a short, plain-English summary of each loan so consumers actually know what they are signing. Many in the housing industry agree.
20 Tax experts say German push on Lichtenstein omits own failings
by William Ickes, AFP
Sat Feb 23, 10:54 PM ET
|FRANKFURT (AFP) – A landmark German assault on tax dodgers who allegedly stash cash in Liechtenstein overlooks domestic failings and practices by neighbors like Luxembourg and Switzerland, tax experts say.
The finance ministry threatened last week to tax all financial transfers to Liechtenstein unless the Alpine nation relaxed its banking secrecy codes and helped track Germans targeted in a massive tax fraud probe.
But a foreign lawyer who works in Germany called the threat “ridiculous” and noted that nothing could prevent a tax-free transfer to a third country from ending up in Vaduz.
21 Jailed VW man hints ex-boss knew of slush fund uses: report
Sat Feb 23, 4:33 PM ET
|BERLIN (AFP) – Jailed former Volkswagen works committee chief Klaus Volkert has suggested that ex-VW boss Ferdinand Piech knew about a multi-million slush fund for union leaders, a German magazine said Saturday.
In Der Spiegel’s Monday edition Volkert, sentenced Friday to two years and nine months for his role in a 2005 corruption scandal that hit Europe’s biggest carmaker, indicates Piech was aware funds were used to pay for the services of prostitutes and exotic trips.
Volkert was sentenced for incitement to commit a crime and abetting fraud.
22 Wall Street financial incentives must change
William Cohan, Financial Times
31 minutes ago
|One hates to prejudge, but it seems highly unlikely that Stan O’Neal and Chuck Prince will share the real reason for the financial crisis when the former Wall Street chief executives testify on Thursday before US Congressman Henry Waxman and his committee on oversight. Both men were deposed last autumn, from Merrill Lynch and Citigroup (NYSE:C) respectively, in the wake of billions of dollars in losses while they were in control. Nevertheless, they still leftwith tens of millions of dollars in compensation.
“I request that you be prepared to provide your perspective on this reported pay package,” Mr Waxman wrote to Mr O’Neal, “how it aligns with the interests of Merrill Lynch shareholders and whether this level of compensation is justified in light of your company’s recent performance and its role in the national mortgage crisis.” A similar letter went to Mr Prince.
The truth is that Mr O’Neal’s $161m and Mr Prince’s $42m exit packages are in no way justified by their performance either as executives or as fiduciaries for their shareholders. These vast overpayments – contractual though they may be in part – for mediocre performance are the latest examples of how irretrievably broken Wall Street’s compensation system is.
23 Britain can no longer depend on being cool
By Wolfgang Münchau, Financial Times
43 minutes ago
|Axel Leijonhufvud, the Swedish-born economist, once made an insightful observation about inflation targeting. It worked better in practice than it did in theory, he said. I feel the same about the UK economy. Given what we have long known – about the country’s relatively low productivity growth rate and the erosion of its scientific and engineering excellence – the British economy should clearly not have performed quite as well as it did for the past 15 years. Economic theory would suggest that this was not possible.
In the next few years, I expect the UK economic miracle to be exposed for what it was: an overlong joyride on the back of an overlong asset price bubble. The UK economy is about to undergo a downturn at least as large as that of the US – maybe even worse, because of an even more inflated housing market and because the financial sector constitutes a larger share of gross domestic product.
According to my calculations, UK residential property prices are about 30 per cent above their trend in real terms. If the trend has not changed in the past few years, that would suggest that inflation-adjusted prices could fall by up to 40 per cent from peak to trough.
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24 Biodiversity ‘doomsday vault’ comes to life in Arctic
by Pierre-Henry Deshayes, AFP
1 hour, 35 minutes ago
|LONGYEARBYEN, Norway (AFP) – Aimed at providing mankind with a Noah’s Ark of food in the event of a global catastrophe, an Arctic “doomsday vault” filled with samples of the world’s most important seeds will be inaugurated here Tuesday.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Nobel Peace Prize winning environmentalist Wangari Matai will be among the personalities present at the inauguration of the vault, which has been carved into the permafrost of a remote Arctic mountain, just some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the North Pole.
The vault, made up of three spacious cold chambers each measuring 27 x 10 metres (89 x 33 feet), create a long trident-shaped tunnel bored into the sandstone and limestone.
25 How it happened: The catastrophic flood that cooled the Earth
1 hour, 50 minutes ago
|PARIS (AFP) – Canadian geologists say they can shed light on how a vast lake, trapped under the ice sheet that once smothered much of North America, drained into the sea, an event that cooled Earth’s climate for hundreds of years.
During the last ice age, the Laurentide Ice Sheet once covered most of Canada and parts of the northern United States with a frozen crust that in some places was three kilometres (two miles) thick.
As the temperature gradually rose some 10,000 years ago, the ice receded, gouging out the hollows that would be called the Great Lakes.