U.S. GONE, BAGHDAD ERUPTS – AGAIN
And once again the violence appears driven by sectarian differences. A wave of explosions struck two Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad and then pilgrims in the South Thursday, killing at least 57 people and intensifying fears that insurgents are stepping up attacks after the U.S. troop withdrawal that was completed last month. A suicide bomber targeting Shiite pilgrims in southern Iraq killed 30 people, just hours after a wave of bombings hit Shiite areas in Baghdad and killed 27 others, officials said. The coordinated attacks targeting Shiites bore the hallmarks of Sunni insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and added to a deepening sectarian crisis in Iraq that exploded just as soon as the last Americans troops left in mid-December. No immediate claim of responsibility. The wave of attacks began early in the morning when explosions struck two Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 27 people. A few hours later, a suicide attack hit Shiite pilgrims heading to the holy Shiite city of Karbala. The explosions took place near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad. The new violence will only exacerbate the country’s political crisis pitting politicians from the Shiite majority who dominate the government against the Sunni minority which reigned supreme under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Fears have already been running high that the sectarian tensions could re-ignite Shiite-Sunni warfare that just a few years ago pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. “People have real fears that the cycle of violence might be revived in this country,” said Tariq Annad, a 52-year-old government employee who lives nearby told the AP.
U.K. RIGHT-TO-DIE RECOMMENDATIONS
An independent panel of experts in the U.K. says there is a strong case for changing British law to help terminally ill people die. In a report Thursday, the Commission for Assisted Dying described the legal status of assisted suicide in Britain as “inadequate and incoherent.” It is illegal to help a terminally ill person commit suicide, but prosecutions are rare. In 2009, the government’s top prosecutor said most people who help terminally ill friends and family members die were unlikely to be charged. The Commission said it would be possible to legally allow assisted suicide for terminally ill people under strict criteria: those who were at least 18 years old and who were making a voluntary choice free from coercion or mental health problems. The experts called for additional safeguards should assisted suicide be legalized, including requiring patients to be seen by at least two doctors. The system would not let doctors administer a lethal dose but would give such medication to the patient to take when he or she chooses after the other criteria has been met. “The Commission is not recommending that any form of euthanasia should be permitted,” the report said. Critics, however, say the commission was biased, and the British Medical Association refused to participate in the report. The commission is supported by Dignity in Dying and other advocates who favor changing the law. One anti-abortion group labeled the report “a renewed attack” on disabled and elderly people. “This is part of a thoroughly nasty strategy to convince the public that many disabled people want to die,” Paul Tully of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said in a statement.
U.K. ROYAL MYSTERY
Still no conclusive DNA findings from the Sandringham search — nor any other clues or leads. Police still saying there may be news later today.
MUBARAK TO HANG?
The chief prosecutor in the trial of the former Egyptian president said Wednesday that Mubarak and his seven co-defendants were the “actual instigators” behind the deaths of almost 850 protesters — and called formally for his death by hanging. In Egypt, incitement to murder is a capital offense. The prosecution also said Mubarak had done nothing to stop the killings. “He (Mubarak) fully knew what was happening but he did nothing,” said prosecutor Mustafa Suleiman. The trial resumes today, the prosecution is expected to present videos and testimony by police officers. The prosecution also said their investigation has been hindered by the Interior Ministry and General Intelligence Service which have not cooperated.
SYRIA OBSERVERS: MISTAKES WERE MADE
The Qatari PM who heads the Arab League task force on Syria admitted Wednesday that mistakes have been made but didn’t detail them. “This is the first experience for us. I said we have to evaluate what sorts of mistakes” have been made, said Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani. “There is no doubt for me. I can see there are mistakes, but we went there not to stop the killing but to monitor.”
IRAN – REPORT FROM THE GULF
A good dispatch from the NYTimes’ CJ Chivers aboard the aircraft carrier the Iranians have been talking about. He reports business as usual
IRAN COZIES UP TO TALIBAN
As Washington restarts efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, Iran moves closer to Kabul - worried that U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014. While the cultural ties aren’t new – the Washington Post reports that Iran is moving with increased vigor. (Recalls Iran’s strategy in Iraq to help keep Americans out after 2011.)
SAUDI MAN PUTS SON UP FOR SALE – ON FACEBOOK
A Saudi man reportedly put his son up for sale on Facebook. The asking price? $20 million. Qatar’s Al-Sharq (Arabic) newspaper reported Wednesday that Saud bin Nahr al Shahry, 35, fell on hard times after his business was closed down by Saudi authorities.He opted to sell the boy, whose age was not given but who looked quite young in this photo, to save his wife and daughter from inevitable poverty, he said.Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product was $622 billion in 2010, according to the CIA World Factbook. It possesses roughly 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves. But as one Egyptian blogger who posted the story on Twitter said: “not all Saudis bleed oil.”
ISRAELI WALL DIVIDES MONKS AND NUNS
As Israel continues to build the wall between Israel and the West Bank, Haaretz reports that a new section may soon divide the monks and nuns living side by side in a monastery. The monks don’t care so much since they produce wine and ending up on the Israeli side is good for business. But the nuns, who teach Palestinian children, say they have to say in the WB so the kids can get to school. It has caused a rift between the monks and nuns who have just gotten a demolition order.
THE GLOBAL “ONE PERCENT”
Some great stats on the global one percenters compiled by HuffPost – notably from a new book by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic. According to Milanovic’s book The Haves and the Have-Nots (released Dec 28) about half of the world’s richest one percent live in the United States, about 29 million of them, to be exact. What puts you in the 1%? An individual with an after-tax salary of just $34,000 per year ranks among the richest one percent in the world. A family of four, Milanovic says, would have to make $136,000 in order to qualify. To put things in perspective, the “true global middle class,” as defined by the world’s median income, live on just $1,225 per year, according to the report. According to Milanovic, the other half of the global one percent live in Germany, the rest of Europe, Latin America, and a “few Asian countries.”
US AND SOUTH KOREA DISCUSS LEADERSHIP CHANGE IN NORTH KOREA
A senior U.S. diplomat says Washington is committed to strong ties with Seoul as the allies face a leadership transition in North Korea after Kim Jong Il’s death. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell made the comments Thursday after meetings with South Korean officials in Seoul. Campbell says Washington is determined to be tightly aligned with Seoul as Kim Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Un takes power in North Korea.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI WILL RUN IN UPCOMING ELECTION
Opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi says Myanmar’s government has approved her National League for Democracy to run in upcoming by-elections. Suu Kyi said in an interview at her residence Thursday that the party had been accepted earlier in the day.
FIRST MYANMAR GIRL BAND
Still in Myanmar, and speaking of firsts – the New York Times reports that Myanmar’s first girl band, “Me N Ma Girls” are pushing the limits of artistic acceptability in the socially conservative country. A great piece on Myanmar’s next generation living dual lives as a new government promises democratic reforms. Their debut album drops later this month.
MEN & WOMEN — MORE DIFFERENT THAN YOU THINK?
From Simon MCGREGOR-WOOD: Men and women have such different personalities they really could be from Mars and Venus, research has shown. A new psychological study of more than 10,000 people revealed “striking” gender differences, especially in areas such as sensitivity and dominance. The findings suggest previous studies have “consistently underestimated” the way personality divides men and women, say the authors. The new study, published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, used a fresh approach to assess male and female personality differences which is said to be more accurate. The test included 15 personality scales including traits such as warmth, sensitivity and perfectionism. While previous studies tended to look at one trait at a time, the new research also compared “multiple trait” personality profiles. When this was done, large differences became apparent. Women had significantly higher scores for sensitivity, warmth and apprehension, while emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance were all rated higher in men. The researchers, led by Dr Marco Del Giudice from the University of Turin in Italy, wrote: “The results were striking: the effect size for global sex differences in personality was… an extremely large effect by any psychological standard. “These effect sizes firmly place personality in the same category of other psychological constructs showing large, robust sex differences, such as aggression and vocational interests.” Focusing on sensitivity, the scientists pointed out that this was “not a marginal aspect of personality”. They added: “Sensitivity differentiates people who are sensitive, aesthetic, sentimental, intuitive and tender-minded from those who are utilitarian, objective, unsentimental and tough-minded.”
DRIVING WITH A COLD WORSE THAN DRUNK DRIVING?
As Molly HUNTER writes, You now have a scientific excuse to call in sick to work: the Telegraph reports that according to a small study, driving with a bad cold is just as dangerous as drunk-driving. The study finds that sick drivers have slower reactions than those who have downed four double whiskies.
OLYMPIC TICKETS OVERSOLD
The Telegraph reports that around 200 people who thought their only experience of the London 2012 Olympic Games would be minor heats of synchronized swimming have received an unexpected upgrade to the men’s 100m final following an embarrassing ticketing mistake.
MOST DANGEROUS ROAD IN THE WORLD
The Daily Mail has a shocking video capturing the moment a bus plunges off a cliff on the “world’s most dangerous road.” The footage shows the driver creeping past the cliff’s edge on a treacherous stretch while a crowd tries to help guide his way. The 38-mile pass from La Paz to Coroico, Bolivia’s Amazon region, claims an estimated 200 to 300 lives a year.
YEAR OF THE DRAGON – TOO FEROCIOUS?
China’s People’s Daily reports that a stamp designed for China’s Year of the Dragon is raising criticism for being too ferocious. The stamp depicts a teeth-baring dragon, and its designer says the image was intended to reflect China’s rising power. Chinese writer Zhang Yihe wrote on her Sina Weibo microblog that she was “scared to death” when she first saw the creature with scales and claws.
$736,000 FOR A TUNA
From Akiko FUJITA: This tuna is worth savoring: It cost nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. A bluefin tuna caught off northeastern Japan fetched a record 56.49 million yen, or about $736,000, Thursday in the first auction of the year at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. The price for the 593-pound tuna beat last year’s record of 32.49 million yen. That’s a staggering $1,238 per pound.
The BBC reports that a British tech firm has designed a wireless system that fits on the head of a search-and-rescue dog allowing you to communicate in real time video with your human rescuers. When the dog dives down into the rubble, a human voice will ask if you are OK and talk you through the rescue.
LANDSLIDE KILLS 25 IN PHILIPPINE MINE – OVER 100 BELIEVED BURIED
A landslide tore through a small-scale gold mining site in the southern Philippines on today, killing at least 25 people and burying dozens more, months after government officials warned miners that the mountain above them was guaranteed to crumble.
KATE FOLLOWS IN DIANA’S FOOTSTEPS
As Nick WATT reports, St. James’s Palace said Thursday that the Duchess of Cambridge has accepted honorary positions with charities that deal with a range of issues, including tackling drug addiction and helping young people. Kate Middleton has become a patron of Action on Addiction and the National Portrait Gallery. She has also become a royal patron of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices and The Art Room, and a volunteer with the Scout Association.
CHINESE BILLIONAIRE POISONED — BY CAT MEAT?
Karson YIU files this bizarre story from Beijing. A Chinese billionaire’s love for cat meat may have cost him his life. Chinese police are investigating whether local billionaire tycoon Long Liyuan was killed by a poison-spiked batch of cat stew in the southern province of Guangdong. The 49 year old Long died suddenly on Dec. 23 of cardiac arrest after diving into a dish of cat meat stew, a local delicacy. Long was having a business lunch with two other men at the time who also became ill but survived. The tycoon apparently had a soft spot for domestic cat meat and often went to the same restaurant to enjoy the dish. He reportedly ate more of the cat than the other two men and then felt sick and dizzy afterwards before he died in the hospital. Long’s family believed this was no accident. A relative told the local newspaper Xin Kuai Bao, “He went several times to eat cat meat in the past. On each occasion, the cat was freshly killed before being put in the pot. He never had any food poisoning problems before. It must have been murder.” One of the men who survived told the local media that they had eaten at the restaurant before and this time the cat meat tasted different, it was “more bitter” than usual.