S. Korea conducts live-fire exercise despite warnings from North
In possible breakthrough, U.S. troubleshooter says he wins nuclear concessions from Pyongyang
msnbc.com news services
YEONPYEONG ISLAND, South Korea – South Korea fired artillery in a 90-minute drill from a front-line island Monday and launched fighter jets to deter attacks after North Korea warned of catastrophic retaliation for the maneuvers.
But amid the tension there was also a report of a potential diplomatic breakthrough, with U.S. troubleshooter Bill Richardson winning concessions from the North on the return of nuclear inspectors, according to CNN.
There was no sign of any North Korean military response during the drill, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.
Sofia Coppola’s showbiz story that’s intimate, not personal
The filmmaker says her new movie revolves around family ties in Hollywood but not her family ties in Hollywood.
By Chris Lee, Los Angeles Times
December 20, 2010
To hear Sofia Coppola explain it, the genesis for her drama “Somewhere” – an episodic tone poem about celebrity and fatherhood in modern Hollywood that reaches theaters Wednesday – can be pin-pointed to a personal place: the intersection of intimately observed family experiences and tabloid fabulism.
Early reviewers have had a field day reading levels of cinema-as-confessional into “Somewhere,” which won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice International Film Festival this year. Specifically, the writer-director’s relationship with her dad, “Godfather” auteur Francis Ford Coppola, has been widely presumed to provide the basis for “Somewhere’s” plot-propelling father-daughter characters’ frisson. But the younger Coppola blanches at that idea.
Assange is a ‘hi-tech terrorist’, says Biden
By David Usborne, US Editor Monday, 20 December 2010
The US Vice-President, Joe Biden, yesterday likened Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is currently under house arrest in a private mansion in Suffolk, to a “hi-tech terrorist” and confirmed that the administration is searching for ways to take legal action against him.
The remarks of Mr Biden made during an interview with NBC News were the most bluntly spoken yet from such a senior-ranking American official. They went beyond the more measured complaints of President Barack Obama, who has said that the release by WikiLeaks of secret American cables is “deplorable”.
Obama reaches out to liberal groups to shore up Democratic base after tax deal
By Peter Wallsten
Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, December 20, 2010; 12:15 AM
In the wake of President Obama’s tax-cut deal with Republicans, the White House is moving quickly to mend its strained relationship with the Democratic base, reassuring liberal groups, black leaders and labor union officials who opposed the tax compromise that Obama has not abandoned them.
On Friday morning, hours before the president signed into law the $858 billion package extending George W. Bush-era tax cuts as well as jobless benefits, White House aides e-mailed leaders of the black community to hail the compromise as a “major victory for African Americans.”
Friday afternoon, Obama hosted a group of union presidents in the Roosevelt Room for what participants described as a cordial meeting in which the two sides agreed to look beyond their differences.
Clashes in Belarus after thousands turn out in protest at alleged vote-rigging
Opposition candidate beaten and detained as riots follow claim that ‘dictator’ Lukashenko won 79% of vote
Miriam Elder in Moscow The Guardian, Monday 20 December 2010
Riot police beat back thousands of opposition supporters who tried to storm the main government building in Belarus last night in protest at what they claim was large-scale vote rigging in yesterday’s presidential election.
As protests in Minsk against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko turned violent, the opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev, 64, was reported to have been taken to hospital unconscious. Andrei Sannikov, another opposition candidate, was beaten and detained.
White Christmas snow brings Britain to a standstill
The second of two large dumps of snow to smother the country in two weeks came this weekend, along with temperatures so low that forecasters predict Britain is likely to experience its coldest December since 1910.
By Ben Quinn, Correspondent
Christmas cheer was in short supply at Britain’s largest airport Sunday, where thousands of passengers had huddled overnight after snow and ice brought Heathrow to a virtual standstill.
In fact, Grinch-like angst was the overarching theme at airports and travel hubs up and down a country that is re-examining its right to call itself a “first world” nation.
The second of two large dumps of snow to smother the country in two weeks came this weekend, along with temperatures so low that forecasters predict Britain is likely to experience its coldest December since 1910. And more snow is on the way late Sunday and Monday, with between four to eight inches expected.
Secret plan to help Iraqi germ warfare expert
Philip Dorling and Richard Baker
December 20, 2010
THE United States secretly pressured Australia to place one of Saddam Hussein’s top biological weapons scientists at Victoria University in Melbourne.
But the federal government rejected a request in March 2008 to accept Ali al-Za’ag, a microbiologist and genetic engineer, under a US State Department program to provide jobs for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction experts.
HRW urges US to link aid to Israeli settlements
In a 166-page report, the group called on the international community to penalise Israel for “discrimination” in the West Bank, comparing the services enjoyed by Jewish settlers with those of neighbouring Palestinian villages.
“Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits,” HRW representative Carroll Bogert said.
“While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp — not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes.”
South Korea to begin exercises near border with North
The South Korean military says it will begin live-firing exercises on an island close to the border with North Korea in the coming hours, but so far heavy fog has delayed them.
The BBC 20 December 2010
The move comes despite repeated threats of retaliation from Pyongyang.
Four people were killed when the North shelled the island during an earlier drill last month.
The UN Security Council has been discussing the situation in New York, but has failed to reach any agreement.
Speaking to reporters after more than eight hours of discussions, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on South Korea to cancel its plans.
“It’s better to refrain from doing this exercise at this point in time,” he said.
‘Good neighbours better than distant kin’
By: Maqbool Malik | Published: December 20, 2010
ISLAMABAD – Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has urged the international community to respect Pakistan’s efforts as it had rendered invaluable sacrifices in the war against terror.
“We should not link terrorism to any specific religion or nation, and avoid pursuing double standard while dealing with the issue. We should rather focus on the root causes of terrorism and ways to eliminate them,” he said while addressing a joint session of the Parliament.
Services chiefs, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, provincial governors and chief ministers, ambassadors of the foreign missions in Pakistan and other senior Chinese and Pakistani officials also attended the historic address.
The tragedy of Algeria’s ‘disappeared’
The Algerian government is trumpeting the revolution that put an end to French colonial rule half a century ago. But what followed left its own deep scars, writes Robert Fisk in Algiers
Monday, 20 December 2010
They are all over the wall of Naseera Dutour’s office, in their hundreds, in their thousands. There are cemeteries of them, bearded, clean shaven, the youth and the elderly of Algeria, veiled women, a smiling girl with a ribbon in her hair, in colour for the most part; the bloodbath of the 1990s was a post-technicolor age so the blood came bright red and soaked right through the great revolution that finally conquered French colonial power.
If you pay peanuts, you get Zimbabwe’s shell of a health system
Celia Dugger December 20, 2010
CHIDAMOYO, Zimbabwe: People lined up on the verandah of the American mission hospital from miles around to barter for doctor visits and medicines, clutching scrawny chickens, squirming goats and buckets of maize. But mostly, they arrived with sacks of peanuts on their heads.
The hospital’s cavernous chapel is now filled with what looks like a giant sand dune of unshelled nuts. The hospital makes them into peanut butter that is mixed into patients’ breakfast porridge, spread on teatime snacks and melted into vegetables at dinnertime. ”We literally are providing medical services for peanuts,” said Kathy McCarty, a nurse from California who has run the rural hospital since 1981.
Panic, anger as Cuba plans to lay off 1 of every 10 workers
By Juan O. Tamayo | Miami Herald
Cuba’s draconian plan to lay off 10 percent of its workforce is running into a slew of problems – not the least of which are the growing fights over who will wind up on the street.
Cuban and foreign economists say it’s too much, too fast.
Radical leftists are branding Raúl Castro as a capitalist exploiter of workers and – in an odd alignment with Cuban dissidents – are urging workers to fight the job cuts.
One well-known historian and Communist Party member has warned of social chaos, maybe even a mass exodus, and cautioned that the layoffs may be unconstitutional.