THOUSANDS TRAPPED AS EUROPEAN FREEZE CONTINUES
Around 11,500 Serbians are trapped in remote villages by heavy snow, as Authorities tell Dragana Jovanovic that food supplies and medicine are being delivered by choppers or sledges in Serbia, and about 70 people have so far been evacuated. Weather conditions are not expected to improve for a couple of weeks, with more snow and blizzards on their way in the coming days. Meanwhile the death toll from Eastern Europe's weeklong deep freeze has risen to 114. Twenty more deaths from the cold were reported in Ukraine, with nine more in Poland and one more each in Serbia and the Czech Republic. Officials said most of victims were homeless. In Italy, more than 600 passengers were trapped on an unheated train in the Apennines overnight, when the brakes and electrical cables froze. Heavy snow across central and northern Italy has caused widespread disruption. Weather experts say is its coldest week in the country for 27 years. The coldest temperatures have been recorded in Russia and Kazakhstan.
AFGHAN WAR - THE PLAN
The NATO Secretary General is echoing Secretary of Defense Panetta's comments this morning, saying: "We expect the last provinces to be handed over to Afghan security by mid-2013…From that time the role of our troops will gradually change from combat to support." As Nick SCHIFRIN points out this isn't as earth-shattering as it sounds. SCHIFRIN writes that "transition" takes 18 months - so in order to finish transition, and hand over the whole country to the Afghans by the end of 2014, provinces and districts need to start that process in the summer of 2013. This is in-line with the previous timeline. But, as SCHIFRIN notes, the language being used is new. Also noteworthy: this new 2013 goalpost is not what the military in Kabul wants. The military wants 68,000 troops through 2013, fighting combat missions.
TALIBAN - IN THEIR OWN WORDS
The NYTimes reports: More Taliban insurgents are being killed or captured than ever before, yet when the captives are interrogated by the American military, they remain convinced that they are winning the war. That is because the Taliban believe that their own hearts-and-minds campaign is winning over Afghans - or so they tell their interrogators - and even converting a growing number of Afghan government officials and soldiers. Those are among some of the findings of a NATO report, "State of the Taliban 2012," based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 Taliban and other captives that portrays a Taliban insurgency that is far from vanquished or demoralized even as the United States and its allies enter what they hope will be the final phase of the war.
NO-FLY LIST DOUBLES
The AP is exclusively reporting that the no-fly list jumped from about 10,000 known or suspected terrorists one year ago to about 21,000 currently. Most people on the list are from other countries; about 500 are Americans.
EGYPT MOURNS, TURN ON RULING MILITARY:
Egyptians have turned angrily on ruling generals after fans and security officials were stabbed, crushed and suffocated in the country's worst football violence. There will be funerals today and a march in Cairo, and as Alex MARQUARDT notes, watch for violence. "People are angry at the regime more than anything else…People are really angry, you could see the rage in their eyes," an Al Ahly supporter told the BBC. MARQUARDT adds that many accuse the military of allowing a lack of security, prompting the violence and justifying the heavy crackdown. Meanwhile, some reports suggest that it wasn't just Masry fans attacking but "infiltrators" and "thugs."
PAPUA NEW GUINEA FERRY SINKS, SUCCESSFUL RESCUE OPERATION UNDERWAY
Rescuers plucked more than 240 people from the sea off Papua New Guinea on Thursday after a ferry sank, leaving more than 100 missing and many feared dead. An airplane from Australia, three helicopters and eight ships were scouring the search area after the MV Rabaul Queen went down while traveling from Kimbe on the island of New Britain to coastal town of Lae on the main island, Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.
HACKERGATE WIDENS TO TIMES OF LONDON
The hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch's British newspapers took a new turn on Thursday when a lawmaker said police investigations had spread to the flagship Times of London. The revelation came a day after lawyers said an e-mail referring to "a nightmare scenario" of legal repercussions from widespread phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid was deleted from James Murdoch's computer less than two weeks before the police opened investigations.
ISRAEL MUST "DISRUPT IRAN'S BOMB PLANS"
The debate continues, and the Guardian reports that Israel must exploit its offensive capabilities in the battle against its enemies and "adapt our patterns of operations" to contend with new challenges, the country's military chief of staff said. Benny Gantz, Israel's most senior military officer, said there was no doubt that Iran was striving for a nuclear bomb, and this was a problem for the whole world and the Middle East region.
IRANIANS FEEL THE SANCTIONS BITE
BBC Persian reports that Iranians are starting to feel the pinch of sanctions. Unemployment is soaring in Iran, especially among the younger generation. The official rate is 14% - more than 25 million people. But, unofficially, it is much higher.
MEXICO'S WAR (1)
A missionary couple with ties to Utah has been killed in Mexico during an apparent home invasion. John and Wanda Casias were missionaries serving in Santiago … three hours from the Texas border where they also had ties. Noah Bond has more.
MEXICO'S WAR (2)
Every police officer in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez has been ordered to leave home and stay in a hotel after the killing of five officers by a local drug cartel. A local drug cartel threatened a week ago to kill one policeman a day unless Police Chief Julian Leyzaola resigns. The mayor of Juarez says the attacks carried out since then are a response to police action against drug cartels in the city across from El Paso, Texas. The mayor says there is no way Leyzaola is stepping down. Juarez police spokesman Adrian Sanchez says officers have been ordered to stay away from their houses because all the attacks happened as officers were going to and from their homes.
PHILIPPINES ELIMINATES MOST WANTED AL QAEDA MEMBERS
The Philippine military said it killed three most-wanted leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah at dawn Thursday in one of the most significant successes against militants on their southern island stronghold.
PALESTINIANS HURL SLIPPERS AT UN CHIEF
Relatives of Palestinians held in Israeli jails have hurled slippers at an armored vehicle carrying visiting U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon into the Gaza Strip. Many were holding signs reading: "Ban Ki-moon, enough bias to Israel."
BIRD FLU DEATH
A Vietnamese official on Thursday confirmed the country's second human death from bird flu in less than a month, after it went nearly two years with no reported fatalities. Test results confirm that a 26-year-old woman died of the disease Jan. 28 after being hospitalized in southern Soc Trang province, said Truong Hoai Phong, director of the provincial health department. The woman had recently given birth in another hospital, but her infant son tested negative for the H5N1 strain of bird flu, Phong said.
GLOBAL HEALTH: 4 MILLION KIDS HAVE WORMS
The state of Delhi is set to de-worm a whopping 4 million children on Feb. 21, in a bid to fight a pervasive health problem that causes childhood malnutrition, anemia, retarded mental development, slowed physical growth and reduced academic performance, according to the Hindustan Times.
FACEBOOK TO RE-FRIEND CHINA?
As Karson YIU points out, Facebook has been blocked in the China since 2009 but if Facebook IPO filing papers were any indications, the social network has not given up hope on entering the Chinese market. Analyst, however, say its chances of re-entering the market of half a billion Internet users are very slim.
FALCONERS TRAINING EAGLES
Villagers in one of China's last living ancient falconry tribes have been gathering to train eagles, every first month of the lunar year in Jiagou Village in northeast Jilin Province.
CRUISE DISASTER: MOLDOVAN WOMAN LOVES THE CAPTAIN
Phoebe Natanson reports that the Moldovan woman who was on the bridge of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia has reportedly told Italian prosecutors that she is in love with the captain. Domnica Cemortan was questioned by the prosecutor in Grosseto yesterday, and according to La Stampa and La Repubblica she admitted to having been on deck when the ship struck the rocks (contrary to what the captain has said) and said "Yes, it's true: I am in love with Captain Schettino." Italian prosecutors had planned to summon Ms Cemortan for questioning but she returned from Moldova of her own accord and met investigators with a lawyer. She is considered a witness, not a suspect.