EUROPE'S DEADLY FREEZE
Take a look at these numbers: Poland - minus 22 degrees; Ukraine - minus 28; Romania - Minus 30; Britain - colder than the South Pole; Death toll so far Europe wide - 71. The brutal freeze has caused power outages and traffic chaos and shut down schools. Ukraine alone is reporting 43 deaths and 720 others treated for hypothermia. 18 towns in Bulgaria, including the capital Sofia, recorded their coldest temperature since records started 100 years ago - and the Danube River has begun to freeze over, threatening shipping on one of Europe's major waterways. Shipping has already been stopped on the Oder River in eastern Germany, due to ice floes. Poland and the Czech Republic have seen massive snowfalls over the last few days, disrupting rail services and cutting off hundreds of small villages. It's even snowing in Istanbul. Meteorologists say the freeze is due to a high pressure system from Siberia. "These kind of weather conditions occur every 20 to 30 years, last time in 1986 and 1956," Jurik Müller of the German Meteorological Service.
IN JAPAN, IT'S THE SNOW THAT'S DEADLY
Akiko FUJITA reports heavy snowfall has crippled much of western Japan, and killed more than 50 people so far. Some cities/towns are reporting nearly 10 feet on the ground. This latest snow began about a week ago - and is the worst in 5 years. More snow is expected in the next 24 hours.
-RUSSIA WARNS AGAINST PRESSING 'TOO HARD'…Russia continues to assert itself on the Syria crisis - warning Arab leaders against crossing a "red line," saying it wasn't the job of the United Nations to dictate who stays in power and who goes. Luis MARTINEZ reports Arab League leaders, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European foreign ministers are calling for the Security Council and Russia to adopt the Arab-European plan that would have Assad delegate his authority to a deputy who would start talks with the opposition within two months. Clinton said those who do not stand with the people of Syria are "complicit" in Assad's regime's crackdown. Russia of course holds crucial veto on the council.
-OBSERVERS THOUGHT MISSION WAS "FOR PLEASURE"…Foreign Policy reports that according to an internal document, the head of the Arab League monitoring mission says the monitors weren't prepared for the job. "Regrettably, some observers thought that their visit to Syria was for pleasure…In some instances, experts who were nominated were not qualified for the job, did not have prior experience, and were not able to shoulder the responsibility."
-ASSAD VISITS WOUNDED…As Alex MARQUARDT notes, President Assad visited ailing troops in hospitals as activists reported at least 20 people killed today.
NATO MEMO: PAKISTAN HELPING THE TALIBAN
From Nick SCHIFRIN in Islamabad: Two NATO officials in Kabul confirm that a document based on thousands of interviews with Taliban detainees in Afghanistan says Pakistan maintains control over parts of the Afghan Taliban - and contacts with senior Taliban leaders. What's different about this document is that it is not analysis - it is a report of what Taliban detainees actually say. We know the ISI maintains relationships with the senior leadership of the Taliban. And today, the US is hoping those relationships are as good as the Afghans claim they are. Why? Because we need the Pakistanis' help to bring everyone to the table - and try and finally end this war. For its part, a senior Pakistani military official has texted Islamabad-based reporters, dismissing the report as "not worth commenting [on]."
MAN DRESSED AS AFGHAN SOLDIER KILLS NATO SOLDIER
A NATO soldier was killed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan when a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform turned his gun on him. It has been an ongoing problem and the coalition has worked with the Afghan government to eliminate contraband uniforms in Kabul market places.
CASTRO TO CONVERT DURING POPE'S VISIT?
Phoebe NATANSON notes a La Repubblica report in which Fidel Castro's daughter Alina is quoted as saying "During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn't surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits." The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope's Cuba trip: "Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God."
EUROPEAN STOCKS RISE ON CHINESE MANUFACTURING
Bloomberg reports that European stocks' advance today - extending a great start to 2012 - is due largely to an increase in Chinese manufacturing. That news offset Greece's struggle to reach an agreement with creditors.
EUROZONE UNEMPLOYMENT HITS RECORD
The BBC reports that unemployment in the eurozone hit a record high at the end of last year, the Eurostat agency has said. The jobless rate in the 17 countries that use the single currency was 10.4% in December. Some 16.5 million people were out of work in the eurozone in December, up 751,000 on the year before.
CRUISE DISASTER: AMERICAN FAMILY PLANS MEMORIAL
In a statement released on their website the family of missing Minnesota couple, Gerald and Barbara Heil, announced plans to hold a memorial service in the coming weeks to celebrate their lives. This comes as rescuers prepare to officially call the end of the search today for missing passengers aboard the sunken Costa Concordia. A total of 15 people remain missing after the cruise ship's collision off the coast of Tuscany with about 4,200 people aboard.
ANOTHER SHIPWRECK, ANOTHER SEARCH FOR MISSING
An official says a team of divers will search the wreck of a freighter ship that sank off Turkey's Black Sea coast for its eight missing crewmen. The ship, Vera, with 10 Ukrainian and one Georgian crew, was sailing to Turkey's Aliaga port from Russia when it sank off the coast of Eregli in stormy waters Tuesday. The ship's second and third captains and its cook, a woman, were rescued.
ULTIMATE SLIGHT: EX-CEO STRIPPED OF KNIGHTHOOD
The former Royal Bank of Scotland chief - who infuriated the British public by leading the bank to near-collapse and then walking away with a fat pension - was stripped of his knighthood Tuesday, a rare punishment that puts him in the company of criminals and dictators. Queen Elizabeth II "canceled and annulled" Fred Goodwin's knighthood for the key role he played in the failure of RBS, a financial disaster that helped trigger the recession in Britain and forced taxpayers to bail out the bank, the Cabinet Office said. Knighthoods are rarely revoked, but the government said Goodwin "had brought the honors system into disrepute" and that the "scale and severity" of the impact of his actions made it an exceptional case. Goodwin, 53, joins a group that includes the British spy Anthony Blunt, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
ARGENTINA CALLS PRINCE WILLIAM THE FALKLANDS "CONQUISTADOR"
Argentina said again it doesn't seek another war over the Falkland Islands, and accused Britain of militarizing their sovereignty dispute by announcing the dispatch of a warship to the islands along with Prince William "in the uniform of a conquistador." The assignment of Prince William, a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, for a six-week military mission in the Falklands in February and March has been a sore point for Argentina. It has sought to reclaim the South Atlantic archipelago that it calls the Malvinas Islands ever since Britain seized the islands some 180 years ago. Both countries have engaged in a war of words in recent weeks ahead of the 30th anniversary of Argentina's failed attempt to take the islands back.
CHINESE TRAVELERS FLOCKING TO U.S.
The Chinese are coming. And the U.S. travel industry couldn't be happier. USA Today reports that travelers from mainland China's wealthy and rising middle classes are traversing the globe, destination: USA. In the first 10 months of 2011, visits from mainland Chinese rose 36% year-over-year to 940,000, according to the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
A Chinese village that kicked out its Communist Party bosses and faced down a police siege held its first free elections in decades to replace the deposed officials on Wednesday.
JAPAN COLLEGE OFFERS COURSE IN "NINJA SKILLS"
Akiko FUJITA reports a college in southeastern Japan is introducing a class in "ninja skills" - the first of its kind, taught by a man claiming to be the "last ninja." Jinichi Kawakami says "ninjutsu" or ninja skills have long been misunderstood. As for the burning question, on how this new college course will be taught…he says "No, we won't be wearing black outfits and using swords. At least, not all the time." The course is scheduled to begin in April.
SCIENTISTS REACH ANTARCTIC LAKE - UNSEEN IN 20 MILLION YEARS
Fascinating story from the Washington Post: After drilling for two decades through more than two miles of Antarctic ice, Russian scientists are on the verge of entering a vast, dark lake that hasn't been touched by light for more than 20 million years. Scientists are hugely excited about what life forms may be found there but are equally worried about contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, and the potentially explosive "de-gassing" of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen. To prevent a sudden release of gas, the Russian team will not push the drill far into the lake but just deep enough for a limited amount of water - or the slushy ice on the lake's surface - to flow up the borehole, where it will then freeze. Reaching Lake Vostok would represent the first direct contact with what scientists now know is a web of more than 200 subglacial lakes in Antarctica - some of which existed when the continent was connected to Australia and was much warmer.
BREAK A LEG!
We never expect actors to take those words of encouragement literally. But, the Telegraph reports that one young actress physically breaks her leg on stage at the famous Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
From Molly HUNTER: The BBC reports that workers at London's new Olympic Park have posed for a photograph resembling the George Seurat's famous painting: Bathers at Asnieres. It's a fun juxtaposition.
NORTH KOREA HAS A FLICKR PAGE
Mike NOBLE spied this one - adding: And they apparently just released dozens of photos of Kim Jong Il's funeral.
THE DJOKOVIC SHIRT LADY SAGA
From Joe SIMONETTI: A mother of three has dismissed claims she snatched Novak Djokovic's shirt from a teenage girl after he threw it into the crowd following his Australian Open victory. Yael Rothschild said the shirt was never intended to go to 14-year-old fan Melissa Cook, who yesterday appealed for the shirt, saying Djokovic meant to throw it to her. Melissa claimed a woman sitting a few seats from her had snatched it, an allegation Ms Rothschild denied. "Such is life. I am not sure how you can snatch out of the hand of someone sitting three seats away from you with a barrier between the seating," she said. Ms. Rothschild has no plans to give Melissa the sweaty shirt.