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World News



Facebook to be charged as US man who admitted murder

Saturday, August 17, 2013

MIAMI, Florida: A Florida man who allegedly gunned down his wife and then posted a picture of her dead body on Facebook was charged with murder on Friday.

Derek Medina, 31, was ordered to be held in jail without bail following the macabre slaying of wife Jennifer Alfonso on Thursday.

First degree murder is punishable by death in Florida. Medina must appear before another judge in 21 days’ time.

Medina appeared in court via closed circuit television from the psychiatric ward of Miami-Dade County jail where he is being held.

He appeared wearing a black protective vest commonly used for psychiatric patients or detainees who have been placed under suicide watch.

An arrest affidavit revealed Medina confessed to having shot his wife after an argument about her leaving him unfolded at their home on Thursday.

The incident attracted media attention after Medina uploaded a gruesome picture of his slain wife's blood-soaked body on Facebook, under the caption "RIP Jennifer Alfonso."

The photo remained online for several hours before being taken down.

"I'm going to prison or death sentence for killing my wife love you guys miss you guys take care Facebook people you will see me in the news," Medina wrote on the site.

"My wife was punching me and I am not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did I hope u understand me."

The affidavit was consistent with the events described by Medina on Facebook, noting that he told police that "he committed a murder by shooting his wife."

Police then visited the couple's home and discovered the victim's body on the kitchen floor. She had suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

According to the affidavit, Medina said the eventual victim "began punching him several times with a closed fist," which led him to arm himself with a gun.

When he confronted her she armed herself with a knife.

The document said Medina had recounted how he had disarmed his wife but she "began punching him again, at which point he discharged his firearm multiple times into the victim."

- AFP/fl

Panda cub, mother reunited at Taiwan zoo

TAIPEI - Taiwan's first newborn panda was reunited on Tuesday with its mother for the first time since it was taken away after birth, in a heartwarming reunion that saw the giant panda licking and cuddling her baby inside a cage.

Zookeepers in Taipei had to separate tiny Yuan Zai from its mother, Yuan Yuan, last month, to be raised in an incubator as the cub needed care and round-the-clock monitoring after it was slightly injured while being bred a few days after birth.

The female cub was put inside Yuan Yuan's enclosure Tuesday where the mother gently picked her up, embraced and breastfed her in an heartwarming scene that immediately made waves in the local and international media.

The mother and daughter later fell asleep together following the reunion that lasted several hours.

The zoo said it was still evaluating when the 39-day-old cub can be formally reunited with her mother.

The cub, the first panda born in Taiwan, was delivered on July 7 following a series of artificial insemination sessions after her parents -- Yuan Yuan and her partner Tuan Tuan -- failed to conceive naturally.

The birth of Yuan Zai, which means child of Yuan Yuan, has sparked great joy in Taiwan with local media carrying daily reports and photos on her growth. The public will have to wait for another two months to see her.

The Taipei zoo has kicked off a naming campaign for the cub, with the public voting on what to name her and the final result expected to be announced on October 26.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan were given to Taiwan by China in December 2008 and have become both star attractions at Taipei Zoo as well as a symbol of the fast improving ties between Taiwan and its former bitter rival China.

Taiwan will be allowed to keep the cub as the panda couple were a gift from China rather than a loan, Taipei officials have said.

Fewer than 1,600 pandas remain in the wild, mainly in Sichuan province, with a further 300 in captivity around the world.

- AFP/de

China zoo that disguised dog as lion reportedly closes

BEIJING: A Chinese zoo ridiculed for disguising a dog as a lion has shut down temporarily for "rectification", media reported Friday.

The zoo's supposed "African lion" was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute -- a Tibetan Mastiff -- started barking, the state-run Beijing Youth Daily had reported earlier.

The zoo, in central China's Henan province, has "altered several misnamed animal signs," the Beijing Times reported, adding that zoo officials have issued a public apology and "closed for rectification".

Three other species housed incorrectly in the zoo reportedly included two coypu rodents in a snake's cage, a white fox in a leopard's den, and another dog in a wolf pen.

A photograph of a dog sitting in a cage in front of a sign reading "African lion" drew ridicule on Chinese social media services, with one user saying: "They should at least use a husky to pretend to be a wolf".

The Tibetan Mastiff is a large and hairy dog breed.

Authorities in the park in the city of Luohe, where the zoo was located, said that the facility had been contracted out to a private zookeeper since 1998.

- AFP/xq

Chinese zoo under fire for disguising hairy dog such lion

BEIJING: A Chinese zoo's supposed "African lion" was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute started barking.

The zoo in the People's Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made -- but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled "African lion" was barking.

The beast was in fact a Tibetan mastiff -- a large and long-haired breed of dog.

"The zoo is absolutely cheating us," the paper quoted Liu, who was charged 15 yuan ($2.45) for the ticket, as saying. "They are trying to disguise the dogs as lions."

Three other species housed incorrectly included two coypu rodents in a snake's cage, a white fox in a leopard's den, and another dog in a wolf pen.

The chief of the park's animal department, Liu Suya, told the paper that while it does have a lion, it had been taken to a breeding facility and the dog -- which belonged to an employee -- had been temporarily housed in the zoo over safety concerns.

Users of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo service mocked the zoo.

"This is not funny at all. It's sad for both the zoo and the animals," said one.

"They should at least use a husky to pretend to be a wolf," said another.

- AFP/nd

Venezuela recalls ambassador to Egypt

CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled his ambassador to Cairo on Friday and called for Egypt's ousted president Mohammed Morsi to be reinstated.

He also urged the restoration of constitutional order in Egypt, where more than 600 people have been killed in protests since Wednesday.

The Venezuelan president accused the United States and Israel of being behind Morsi's July dismissal as well as revolts in other countries such as Syria.

The Venezuelan government has maintained close relations with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Iran. It was also a close partner of Moamer Kadhafi who was killed in a popular revolt in 2011.
On Friday, Uruguay also condemned the violence in Egypt and called on the warring parties to overcome their differences through dialogue and mediation.

Morsi was ousted from the presidency on July 3 amid a wave of popular protests.

Clashes between supporters of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and security forces and backers of Egypt's interim authorities turned deadly earlier this week.

At least 70 people died Friday after police authorized the use of live ammunition.

- AFP/fl

EU Divided in fresh talks on blacklisting Hezbollah

BRUSSELS, Brussels Capital Region: European Union nations are divided going into fresh talks this week on whether to add the military wing of Hezbollah to its list of terrorist groups, diplomatic sources said Monday.

EU ambassadors are set to discuss the issue on Thursday after counter-terrorist experts from the bloc's 28 member states twice failed last month to reach a unanimous decision to blacklist the powerful Lebanese Shiite group.

Unanimity is required to add the Shiite militia to the dozen people and score of groups currently on the EU international terrorist list and subject to an asset freeze -- including Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas and Colombia's FARC guerrillas.

EU diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity said Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Malta and Slovakia had not signed on so far to a push led by Britain, France and the Netherlands to blacklist the group.

A diplomat from a country supporting the move said a "consensus is clearly building" given that "the evidence that it committed terrorism on EU soil is strong".

But others were not so sure. One EU source said the new Czech foreign minister had offered no indication so far of Prague changing its mind, and a diplomat said Austria was still mulling the issue.

Concerns over Hezbollah have mounted in Europe since an attack last year on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria which Sofia blamed on Hezbollah.

In March, a Cyprus court sentenced a Hezbollah member to four years behind bars for planning attacks there.

Hezbollah's growing involvement in the Syrian conflict in recent months has further worried EU nations.

Should ambassadors fail again to reach agreement this week, the matter could go to foreign ministers who gather on Monday in Brussels.

EU counter-terror specialists first met on the issue on June 4 but failed to reach unanimity after several countries objected that this could destabilise politically fragile Lebanon, where Hezbollah is in government.

Hezbollah has been on a US terror blacklist since 1995.

Britain and the Netherlands are the only EU nations to have placed Hezbollah on their own lists of terrorist groups.

- AFP/fl 

Beirut car bomb kills 18 in Hezbollah stronghold

LEBANON : A huge car bomb blast killed at least 18 people Thursday in a densely populated Beirut bastion of Lebanon's Shiite group Hezbollah, a military backer of Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

A previously unknown group believed to be a Syrian rebel cell said it carried out the attack which rocked the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital.

The Lebanese Red Cross said at least 18 people were killed and 245 others wounded in the attack in an area between the Bir al-Abed and Rweiss neighbourhoods of southern Beirut.

The bombing, reminiscent of the frequent attacks during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, sent a plume of black smoke into the Mediterranean sky, caused heavy damage to buildings and set several cars ablaze.

The blast came a day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said his militant group was taking steps to ensure the security of the southern suburbs, after a July 9 car bomb in Bir al-Abed left dozens wounded.

A witness told a Lebanese television channel that he saw a van drive past three times before its driver found a parking spot where he set off the blast. The explosion had the impact of an "earthquake", said another witness.

An AFP photographer saw vehicles on fire, scorched bodies and the entrance halls to two buildings in flames. Firemen used ladders to help residents escape their homes.

Hezbollah security forces were deployed in large numbers around the scene.

"Terrorism has struck the southern suburbs again," said Hezbollah's Al-Manar television, adding that the group was "paying the price for its position".

Hezbollah is a key supporter of Assad and has this year sent fighters across the border to bolster government forces, which have been battling a deadly anti-regime revolt since March 2011.

The movement has become a hated foe of Syria's rebels, most of who are Sunnis, while Assad is a member of the Alawite offshoot of Shia Islam.

Shortly after news of the attack broke, an online video surfaced showing three masked men, two of them holding rifles, in front of a white flag inscribed with the Islamic profession of faith.


Washington Post says website hacked by Syrian group

US: The Washington Post said Thursday its website was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army, becoming the latest media organization victimized by the group that backs strongman Bashar al-Assad.

A note to readers said the Post website "was hacked today, with readers on certain stories being redirected to the site of the Syrian Electronic Army."

The Post said it was "working to resolve the issue." The hacker group has been linked to attacks on the websites or Twitter feeds of numerous media organizations including Agence France-Presse, The Financial Times, the Associated Press and the satirical news site The Onion. Earlier this week, the hackers hit the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the New York Post.

The group has claimed the news media has been biased in its coverage of the deadly conflict in Syria. The cyber attack stemmed from a news recommendation widget, or software add-on, called Outbrain, which affected some services of CNN and Time magazine in addition to The Post, according to E Hacking News. E Hacking News said it spoke to one of the hackers and displayed screen shots illustrating the takeover.



UN: The Argentine President of the UN Security Council urged all parties in the crisis in Egypt to exercise "maximum restraint" Thursday, following an emergency meeting in New York.

Argentine Ambassador Maria Cristina Perceval said that the Council's 15 member states had regretted the loss of life in Cairo, called for an end to the violence and spoke of the need to advance "national reconciliation." The meeting was requested by France, Britain and Australia a day after nearly 600 people were killed when security forces moved to clear camps of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

France and Britain are permanent members of the Security Council and Australia is one of the 15 countries currently represented. Argentina currently presides over the Council.

Perceval said its members shared "a common desire" to stop the unrest.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the crackdown while UN rights chief Navi Pillay has urged a wide-ranging probe.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama on Thursday canceled exercises with Egypt's military to protest the killing of hundreds of demonstrators but stopped short of suspending $1.3 billion in annual aid.

Obama urged Egypt's army-installed authorities to lift a state of emergency and allow peaceful dissent, saying he "strongly" condemned the crackdown on protesters.

"While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back," Obama told reporters during his vacation on the tony island of Martha's Vineyard.

Bystanders, firefighters and workers stand by the Giza Governorate headquarters after it was -according to Egyptian State TV- torched by Islamists on August 15 in Cairo, Egypt. Private Egyptian television CBC showed footage of the headquarters in flames as men tried to douse the fire. AFP
Obama said the United States had informed Egypt it was calling off the Bright Star exercise, which has been scheduled every two years since 1981.

In 2009, more than 1,300 US troops took part in Bright Star, in which Germany, Kuwait and Pakistan also participated.

But the exercises were also canceled in 2011 as Egypt was in the throes of the revolt that overthrew longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak, a close US ally.

Egypt has been in turmoil ever since, with the army on July 3 ousting the country's first democratically elected President, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

More than 500 people have died since Wednesday when Egyptian security forces, defying appeals for restraint by the United States and other powers, crushed pro-Morsi demonstrations.

The United States has carefully avoided calling Morsi's ouster a coup, a designation that would require the United States to cut assistance.

Obama said that Morsi was "not inclusive" and that "perhaps even a majority" of Egyptians opposed the Muslim Brotherhood leader.

"While we do not believe that force is the way to resolve political differences, after the military's intervention several weeks ago, there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path," Obama said.

Instead, Obama said, Egypt has taken "a more dangerous path." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has spoken more than 15 times to Egypt's military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since early July to counsel restraint, called him again Thursday to voice concern about the violence.

But Hagel also said that the Pentagon "will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt." Obama administration officials said they were reviewing US assistance to Egypt but made no announcements. Egypt has been one of the biggest recipients of US largesse since it signed a peace treaty with close ally Israel in 1979.

Obama has faced growing pressure to cut aid, with both The New York Times and The Washington Post running editorials sharply critical of his stance.

The Washington Post wrote that the Obama administration was "complicit" in the crackdown as it had shown to Egypt's rulers "that its warnings were not credible." Secretary of State John Kerry earlier praised the army and said it was "restoring democracy" by ousting the elected president, although he later backtracked on his remarks.

Senator Rand Paul, a member of the rival Republican Party who is critical of foreign aid, urged an immediate termination of assistance. He charged that Egyptian forces were using US military vehicles to quell dissent.

"While President Obama 'condemns the violence in Egypt,' his administration continues to send billions of taxpayer dollars to help pay for it," Paul said in a statement.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a frequent critic of military abuses overseas, also said that, as per US law, aid to Egypt "should cease until they restore democracy." But a bid by Paul to end military aid to Egypt was easily defeated in the Senate on July 31, with much of his own party agreeing with Obama on Egypt.

Meanwhile, Oil prices eased on profit-taking in Asia on Friday but remain supported by concerns about turmoil in Egypt after a crackdown on protesters killed nearly 600 people nationwide, analysts said.

Investors are closely watching whether the latest unrest in Egypt will escalate and affect stability in the oil-rich and politically volatile Middle East region. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in September, was down 12 cents at $107.21 a barrel in mid-morning trade.


NSA committed 'thousands' of security breaches

US: The National Security Agency (NSA) has breached privacy rules or acted outside its authority several thousand times since being granted sweeping new powers five years ago, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The paper said on its website the breaches had been revealed after analysis of an internal audit and other top secret documents, the details of which were made available to the Post by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

One of the documents cited by the Post showed that the NSA instructed staff to alter reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, replacing specific details with generic language, the report said.

The paper said on one occasion the NSA concealed the unintended surveillance of American individuals.

It cited an instance in 2008 when a "large number" of calls from Washington were monitored after a programming error mixed up the area code for the US capital -- 202 -- with the international dialing code for Egypt -- 20.

The blunder was not revealed to the NSA's oversight staff, the Post report said.

The Post said that the NSA audit, dated May 2012, had numbered 2,776 incidents in the previous 12 months of "unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications."

Most of the cases were unintended while many involved failures of due diligence or violated normal operating procedure.

"We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line," a senior NSA official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Post in response to the report. President Barack Obama's administration has been forced onto the defensive since Snowden's initial revelations detailing the extent of the NSA's surveillance capabilities first emerged.

Obama last week pledged to overhaul US surveillance, promising greater oversight and transparency and insisting he had no interest in snooping on ordinary citizens.

The controversy has grown since Snowden, a former US government contractor who fled to Russia, revealed the sweeping aspects of US surveillance on citizens' Internet searches and telephone records.


White House goes green with solar panels

Tourists stand outside the White House on August 15 in Washington, DC, where solar panels are being installed, making good a promise made by the Obama administration nearly three years ago. AFP
US: The White House is going green. Solar panels are being installed on parts of the residence, a US official said Thursday -- making good on a pledge that dates back to 2010.

With President Barack Obama and his family vacationing in Martha's Vineyard for a week, workers equipped with cranes have been buzzing around the home in downtown Washington.

"The White House has begun installing American-made solar panels on the First Family's residence as a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building," the official said.

The work will include the installation of new thermostats and variable-speed fans, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The project will help demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades," the official said.

The work makes good on a promise made by the Obama administration nearly three years ago. In October 2010, then Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that solar panels would be installed at the White House, in a bid to encourage Americans to adopt the green power generation technology.

Former president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat like Obama, had solar panels installed during his presidency in the late 1970s, during the oil crisis. But his successor Ronald Reagan had them removed. Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made green energy a priority for his administration, but his efforts have been thwarted by Congress.

He has since used his executive powers to bring in tougher vehicle fuel efficiency standards. In June, he unveiled a new proposal to combat climate change.


Bodies found in Indian submarine, survivors ‘unlikely’

INDIA: India's Navy on Friday retrieved three badly burned bodies from a submarine that exploded in a Mumbai dockyard and said it was unlikely any of the other 15 missing crewmen would be found alive. The diesel-powered INS Sindhurakshak sank in a military dockyard early Wednesday, dealing a setback to India's naval ambitions just days after it unveiled its first domestically made aircraft carrier. Navy divers managed to enter the vessel, whose forward section was totally destroyed in the fire, but their progress was hampered by extreme heat, poor visibility and mangled hatches.

The first bodies were retrieved from a compartment behind the tower Friday and have been sent for DNA testing because severe burns prevented their identification, a navy statement said. The state of the bodies and conditions within the submarine “leads to the firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely”, the statement said.

It also suggested some bodies might never be found because of the fierce temperatures generated in the fire during which some of the weapons on board -- cruise missiles and torpedoes -- ignited. The families of the 18 men on board at the time of the explosion, whose names have been released, have gathered in Mumbai. The 16-year-old submarine, whose name means “Protector of the Seas” in Hindi, returned from Russia in April where it underwent a two-year overhaul of its communication, weapons and propulsion systems.


Powerful quake jolts major New Zealand cities

Motorists face gridlock on Wellington roads as people flee the city after a 6.5 earthquake hit central New Zealand on August 16. The powerful earthquake rattled major cities across New Zealand, terrifying residents and causing the capital Wellington to shake “like jelly”, but authorities reported no major damage. AFP
NEW ZEALAND: A powerful earthquake rattled major cities across New Zealand on Friday, sending terrified office workers fleeing as central Wellington shook "like jelly", but authorities reported no major damage.

The 6.5-magnitude quake struck at 2:31 pm (0231 GMT) near an area where a series of quakes hit last month, the US Geological Survey said. It was felt from Christchurch in the South Island to Auckland in the North Island.

The USGS, which initially measured the quake at 6.8 magnitude, said it was centred five kilometres (three miles) east of the town of Seddon at a relatively shallow depth of 9.9 kilometres.

A cluster of major aftershocks measuring up to 5.9 followed but no tsunami alert was issued.

The tremors caused violent jolts in Wellington, where office workers dived under their desks for cover as buildings swayed and police had to rescue a number of people trapped in lifts.

"Lots of aftershocks. 'Beehive' wobbling around like a jelly, but all OK," Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said on Twitter, referring to New Zealand's distinctive parliament building in the capital.

Local resident Juli Ryan tweeted: "That was pretty wild, I was sitting in my parked car watching buildings shake like leaves." Other witnesses said the powerful shaking felt like a jackhammer and left them struggling to stay on their feet.

"I feel a bit queasy, it was swaying so much. I waited about ten seconds and got under my table, then we decided to get out," Sam Stanley, who works in the New Zealand stock exchange building, told Fairfax Media.

Workers poured into the streets as aftershocks continued to rock high-rise blocks through the afternoon, with businesses telling staff to leave early and get out of the downtown area, causing gridlock in the capital.

Trains were also out of action due to potential danger from buckled rails, leaving masses of commuters struggling to get home.

There were power cuts to areas of the South Island, where a rockfall closed the major highway.

Police said there was some damage to buildings in the area, with pictures on news websites showing a farmhouse in the area shifted on its foundations with a collapsed chimney.

But authorities said while there were a few unspecified incidents involving broken glass, no major injuries or significant damage were reported anywhere in the country.

Another 6.5 tremor hit on July 21 and there have been hundreds of aftershocks since then, with residents fearing a repeat of a devastating quake that hit Christchurch in February 2011, killing 185 people.


Wax-figure of martial art icon Bruce Lee at the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney

Children pose for photographs next to a wax-figure of martial art icon Bruce Lee at the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney on August 13. The event was organised by Madame Tussauds Sydney as this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Lee’s death. AFP

Pakistan police shoot gunman after televised standoff

PAKISTAN: Pakistani police snipers shot and seriously wounded a gunman who was tackled live on television by a politician during a dramatic standoff close to Islamabad's high-security political quarter.

The man, who was with his wife and children as he issued demands for the imposition of Islamic law, was said by doctors to be fighting for his life after the five-hour incident which shut down part of the city late Thursday. Identified by Pakistani media as Mohammad Sikandar, the man touted two semi-automatic guns as he smoked cigarettes while giving interviews to TV stations over his mobile phone.

"Muslims are being subjected to cruelties everywhere in the world," Sikandar, wearing black, told Dunya News as his children sat in the back of the Toyota Corolla and his wife stood calmly nearby. At one point she handed a note to a plain-clothed police negotiator.

The standoff began around 5:30 pm (1230 GMT) when police flagged down the car for a traffic violation in the central Jinnah Avenue neighbourhood -- less than a kilometre from the presidency and parliament buildings.

Sikandar then started firing into the air, forcing markets and shops in the area to close. Crowds of onlookers gathered at a distance, as TV anchors broadcasting the incident live on air queried how police checkpoints had failed to stop an armed man from driving into the sensitive area.

The standoff ended at 11:00 pm after Zamurd Khan, a leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party who was acting as a negotiator, jumped on the gunman and tried to disarm him.

Sikandar broke free and fired at Khan, who was not injured. Police and paramilitary commandos then shot the gunman as he tried to flee, hauling him away as blood poured from his wounds. The children were unharmed.

Television footage showed the young boy trying to rush over to his father after he was shot, but Khan held him back.


Putin younger than his age - Kremlin doctor

Thursday, August 8, 2013

RUSSIA: President Vladimir Putin's love of sports means that, from a medical point of view, he is "much younger than his age," the Kremlin's chief doctor, Sergei Mironov, said in an interview published Monday.

"He is a very sporty person. Not everyone at such a mature age starts to play hockey.

He swims a lot. For him, swimming is one of his priorities and how he recovers his health and adapts to stressful situations," Mironov told the upcoming issue of Itogi magazine, a copy of which was obtained in advance of publication by RIA Novosti.

Putin, who will turn 61 in October, has striven to cultivate an action man image during his time in office. His love of sports and outdoor activities contrasts sharply with his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whose obvious physical decline when president was a source of embarrassment for many Russians.

Mironov also said that Putin spends more hours in the air than most pilots because of his busy schedule, and that the president is skeptical about taking medicine, preferring traditional remedies including tea with honey, massages and visits to the banya, a Russian form of sauna.

"From a medical point of view, Putin is significantly younger than his age," said Mironov. "His sporty way of life facilitates his great capacity for work."

Russian officials are traditionally reluctant to discuss the health of the country's leaders.

Yeltsin's health problems were repeatedly downplayed during the 1990s, and officials around the dying Brezhnev in the 1980s denied to the world that he was seriously ill.

Mironov warned that medical confidentiality restricted what facts could be released to the public.

"I don't see the necessity of keeping information about the health of the head of state secret, but there are medical ethics," he said.


Six months on, hunger strike roils Guantanamo

US: Guantanamo detainees are marking six months of an unprecedented hunger strike that has trained attention on the more than 150 men held at the US military prison without charge or trial.

The strike began on February 6 as a spontaneous reaction to a cell sweep in which guards allegedly mishandled copies of the Koran, but soon grew into a mass protest against the legal limbo within the walls of the War on Terror prison.

The strike helped push US President Barack Obama in May to renew his four-year-old vow to shut down the controversial facility in Cuba.

But many of the legal and political obstacles to closing the facility remain, meaning that dozens of detainees who have been force-fed through nasal tubes are no nearer to returning home.

As the majority of the 166 prisoners endured the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan beneath a scorching Caribbean sun, just 57 remained on hunger strike, down from an all-time high of 108 in June.

"The hunger strike is unprecedented in its length and its magnitude," said Captain Robert Durand, a prison spokesman.

"What they want is not to be detained... That is different from previous hunger strikes. In 2005 and 2006, they were talking about the conditions of detention." The prison counts as being on hunger strike those who have skipped nine consecutive meals.

Durand argues that the number of strikers has dwindled as detainees have come to believe their aims are being met.

"They've heard the president speak, they've heard their attorneys talk, they've seen the naming of the new ambassador to start the diplomatic process," he said.

"We think they feel they have achieved their aims." David Remes, a defense lawyer who represents 15 detainees, points to a number of factors behind the decline in strike participants.

"I assume that many men just could not continue to endure the physical or mental hardship," he said.

"But I also suspect many men feel they made their point. The strike refocused national attention on Guantanamo and spurred President Obama into action," he added.


Kremlin ‘disappointed’ by Obama decision

RUSSIA : Russia is “disappointed” by US President Barack Obama's decision to cancel a planned visit to Moscow in early September for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

“We are disappointed,” Putin's top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters, adding it was clear to Moscow that the decision was linked to the fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden who was granted asylum in Russia last week. “It is clear that the decision is linked to the situation over the employee of the American special services Snowden which was absolutely not created by us,” he said.

Ushakov said the situation showed that the United States was still not ready for relations “on an equal basis” with Russia but said the invitation for Obama to visit still stood.

“This problem emphasises that the United States, as before, is not ready to build relations on an equal basis,” said Ushakov, accusing the United States of thwarting the signing of a bilateral extradition agreement.

“We are ready to work further with the American partners on all key questions on the bilateral and multilateral agenda,” he added.

Obama is still set to visit Russia for the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg but he had been scheduled to hold a meeting with Putin in Moscow ahead of that event.


Desmond Tutu's home burgled

SOUTH AFRICA: Burglars have broken into the Cape Town home of South African peace icon Desmond Tutu, a spokesman said Thursday.

The break-in occurred overnight Tuesday-Wednesday as the archbishop emeritus and his wife Leah were at home sleeping.

"We can confirm that there was a break-in at the house," said Benny Gool, a spokesman for the 81-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.

"The police are now investigating the case." Police confirmed a burglary had taken place at a house on Tutu's street in the Milnerton area of the city, but refused to confirm the names of the victims. "The suspect or suspects fled with small household items and are yet to be arrested," said Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut. Burglaries, or so-called home invasions, are common in South Africa and are frequently accompanied by violence.

Those who can afford it live behind high walls, electrified fences and with panic buttons that rapidly summon heavily armed private security guards.


India tables flagship food subsidy plan in Parliament

INDIA: India's ruling Congress party introduced into Parliament Wednesdsay its flagship subsidised food bill for the poor that it sees as key to winning a third term in office.

The populist programme -- which the government says will add Rs.230 billion ($3.8 billion) per year to the country's existing 900-billion-rupee food subsidy bill -- is being introduced with an eye on elections due by May of next year.

The measure has been pushed strongly by the head of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, who has insisted on honouring a 2009 election pledge despite concerns about the impact on government finances and food prices.

The bill is expected to be debated next week.

But opposition outrage over the government's muted response to an attack overnight Monday along India's border with Pakistan in which five Indian soldiers died and other political rows has raised speculation that the food bill could die on the order paper.

"Border security is more important than food security," Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told parliament.

The controversy over the attack, among the deadliest on Indian soldiers in Kashmir since a 2003 truce was signed, paralysed proceedings in parliament Wednesday.

The government had hoped to win passage of the bill earlier but parliament has been regularly disrupted throughout Congress's second term in office by protests over alleged government graft and other scandals.

Despite two decades of strong economic growth, India still struggles to feed its population adequately, with a major survey last year showing that more than 40 percent of children under five were underweight.

Critics of the food programme say that India can ill-afford such a costly subsidy burden at a time of slowing economic growth and when credit ratings agencies are eyeing the country's large deficit.

Opposition lawmakers had criticised the government for issuing an executive order last month to put the measure into effect.

But the government withdrew the ordinance before tabling the bill in Parliament. AFP 

Hackers plant false Gorbachev death rumour

RUSSIA: The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was forced to deny rumours of his death after hackers planted a false report on Twitter accounts of a state news agency.

"I'm alive and well," Gorbachev late Wednesday told the website of Novaya Gazeta newspaper, using a blanked-out Russian expletive to describe his ill-wishers who he said were "hoping in vain". His indignant response came after two Twitter accounts of the RIA Novosti state news agency posted news of the death of the first and only president of the USSR to sign off on a bloodless breakup of its empire in 1991. RIA Novosti said that the Twitter accounts of its press centre and its German language news service were hacked into and that the false reports were online for only five minutes before the agency removed them.

The message, published in a screenshot on the website of Kommersant daily, was hardly convincing. It said that "Mikhail Gorbachev has died in the Shoko cafe in Yekaterinburg."

It added that Gorbachev died as he was talking to a maverick politician, Yevgeny Roizman, who is standing for mayor of the Siberian city, suggesting a political motive for the message.

RIA Novosti said it would ask the FSB security service and prosecutors to investigate the hacker attack. Gorbachev said in his statement on the website of Novaya Gazeta, which he co-owns, that he suspected the hackers were "carrying out the orders of some authorities."

He said he had asked the newspaper to investigate who was circulating the rumours.


Indonesian Muslims attend morning Eid al-Fitr prayers at the historic Sunda Kelapa Port

Indonesian Muslims attend morning Eid al-Fitr prayers at the historic Sunda Kelapa Port in Jakarta on August 8. Tens of millions of Muslims in Indonesia celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday on August 8 following the end of Ramadan. AFP 

'Australian men don't tell' says Assange

AUSTRALIA: Julian Assange says he will not publicly address Swedish sex allegations before his bid for office in Australia because "Australian men don't like to talk about their private lives".

Assange, standing for election to the upper house in September 7 national polls, also said Australian men did not bad-mouth their lovers, when asked whether he would explain himself to voters on the sex crime claims that have seen him holed up in London's Ecuadoran embassy for more than a year.

"Unfortunately, to a degree, I am an Australian and therefore Australian men don't like talking about their private lives," the former computer hacker said in an online election forum published by Fairfax Media on Thursday.

"They don't like saying bad things about their lovers. I'm not going to do that." Assange has been living inside Ecuador's embassy since June 2012 as he fights extradition from Britain to Sweden, where authorities want to question him over alleged sex crimes. The activist has voiced fears that he will be sent on to the United States to be tried over huge leaks of sensitive diplomatic correspondence and material on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

He told the Fairfax forum, conducted Wednesday, he had "nothing to hide" on the Sweden allegations and there was "extensive information about the case" available at the site

"I have not been charged. It's an extraordinary situation that someone could be detained for three years without charge. That's part of the abuses in this case," he said. Assange acknowledged that he is not a typical politician, with questions over whether he will even be able to assume his Senate seat if he wins given his status in the embassy, but said he still felt that he could connect with voters.


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