Taxi driver knocks down armed robbers on motorbike

The bravery of a taxi driver on Saturday morning led to the arrest of two armed robbers who were escaping from a robbery scene.

The robbers were said to have attacked their victim, a lady around the Lands Commission area of Cantonments in Accra and shot her.

The Good Samaritan taxi driver managed to knock down the robbers' motorbike as they tried to get away and they ended up in a gutter with broken legs but still shooting from their seated position.

An eyewitness said it took a military man, driving by, to jump out of his car with a gun to stop the robbers.

The entire incident was said to have happened at the prime residential area around 8am on Saturday.

The lady who was said to have survived but sustained leg wounds was recovering at the 37 Military Hospital.

The police later arrived at the scene to arrest the suspects.

Watch the video below.

Source: Graphic.com.gh

The bravery of a taxi driver on Saturday morning led to the arrest of two armed robbers who were escaping from a robbery scene.

The robbers were said to have attacked their victim, a lady around the Lands Commission area of Cantonments in Accra and shot her.

The Good Samaritan taxi driver managed to knock down the robbers' motorbike as they tried to get away and they ended up in a gutter with broken legs but still shooting from their seated position.

An eyewitness said it took a military man, driving by, to jump out of his car with a gun to stop the robbers.

The entire incident was said to have happened at the prime residential area around 8am on Saturday.

The lady who was said to have survived but sustained leg wounds was recovering at the 37 Military Hospital.

The police later arrived at the scene to arrest the suspects.

- See more at: http://graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/55997-taxi-driver-knocks-down-armed-robbers-on-motorbike-video.html#sthash.7sfroDLx.1qVlTSEM.dpuf
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Two Argentina fugitives escape manhunt

A huge manhunt in Argentina netted only one of three fugitives convicted of a triple murder, officials said hours after claiming all had been caught.

The three broke out of a maximum-security prison almost two weeks ago.

President Mauricio Macri's office initially said they are been captured north-west of Buenos Aires, but police later said that two remained at large.

The latest twist is a major embarrassment to the new president, correspondents say.

The police manhunt - shown on live television - has gripped the country.

Police say the man they captured, Martin Lanetta, was caught after the car the men were travelling in rolled over in the chase in Santa Fe province, about 500km (300 miles) from the capital.

The other two escaped on foot.

Victor Shellac and brothers Christian and Martin Lanatta were serving life in prison for kidnapping and murdering three men allegedly connected to an drug trafficking ring.

President Macri - a conservative who replaced Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner after elections in December - had accused the previous administration of not doing enough to crack down on drug crime.

Last month the men escaped from one of the country's most secure prisons using a fake gun to threaten one of the guards.

Martin Lanatta, had leapt into the political limelight last year when he accused the presidential chief of staff, Anibal Fernandez, of complicity in the killings.

Mr Fernandez denied the accusation but it damaged his campaign last October to become the new governor of Buenos Aires province.

The candidate who won, María Eugenia Vidal, dismissed the intrigue and said the jail-break had been an inside job.

She sacked the head of the prison service.

Source: bbc.com

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US lottery fever as Powerball jackpot reaches $900m

The largest jackpot in American history is on offer to US lottery players, with a payout of about $900m (£620m) possible after Saturday night's draw.

Lottery fever in the US had resulted in long queues outside lottery-ticket vendors, driving up the jackpot value.

The rise means that an individual could take home about $558m (£384m) if they choose a lump-sum prize.

The winning numbers for the jackpot are 32, 16, 19, 57 and 34, and the Powerball number is 13.

The lottery is known as Powerball and is played in 44 of 50 states and three American territories. It takes place each Wednesday and Saturday at 22:59 PM (03:59 GMT).

Lottery officials quoted in US media say the odds of winning are one in 292 million.

If there is no winner, the prize will be rolled over to Wednesday when the jackpot could reach $1.3bn.

Source: bbc.com

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'El Chapo': Mexico signals extradition to US

The Mexican attorney general's office says it will begin the process of extraditing recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the US.

It said the move was in line with US extradition requests from 2014.

On Friday Guzman was detained and sent back to the maximum-security prison he escaped from six months ago.

Guzman, who was one of the world's most wanted drug traffickers, escaped from there in July through a tunnel dug in the showers.

That was his second escape - he was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and escaped from Puente Grande jail in 2001, reportedly in a laundry basket after bribing officials.

He was on the run for 13 years before being held again in 2014. Previous requests from the US have been turned down.

Late on Saturday, Rolling Stone magazine published an article by US actor Sean Penn based on a meeting he had with Guzman at his secret hideout before his capture.

The two men discuss various topics, including drug trafficking. Guzman is quoted as saying: "If there was no consumption, there would be no sales.''

Katy Watson, BBC news, Mexico City

The extradition of "El Chapo" to the US is by no means a foregone conclusion. The two countries have an extradition treaty but there are many steps that need to be taken and officials that need to approve the request.

Many people believe that he should face justice in Mexico first. But the case goes beyond sovereignty and national pride.

Those CCTV images of Guzman slipping down from his prison-cell shower into a mile-long tunnel last year still haunt authorities. He has escaped not just once but twice from high-security prisons and there is concern his influence and financial clout could allow him to do it again.

With the headaches that Guzman has given President Pena Nieto, whose reputation was severely bruised by the escape, perhaps extradition is the safer bet.

Who is 'El Chapo' Guzman?

No detail was given about the time frame for an extradition but experts say the process could take months, the BBC's Katy Watson in Mexico City reports.

The attorney general's office said that lawyers for Guzman would have three days to file objections and 20 more days to prove them, though that timeframe could be extended, AFP news agency reports.

A journalist enters a manhole of the sewer system through which drug kingpin Joaquin

Journalists went to see the manhole through which Guzman tried to escape during the operation on Friday

In a statement welcoming Guzman's recapture, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Guzman had caused "significant violence, suffering and corruption on multiple continents".

The US filed requests in 2014 for his extradition so he could face charges of smuggling vast amounts of drugs into the country.

Guzman, who was named Public Enemy Number One by the Chicago Crime Commission in 2013, has been indicted by at least seven US federal district courts.

Guzman was arrested on Friday in the north-western city of Los Mochis in his home state of Sinaloa - which he had come to dominate through his drugs cartel.

During the raid, he managed to flee through a drain but was later caught by marines in a shootout.

Five suspects were killed in the operation and one marine wounded.

Source: bbc.com

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Philadelphia police officer ambushed 'in the name of Islam'

A man who shot and wounded a policeman at point blank range as he sat in his patrol car was inspired by Islamic State militants, police said.

Edward Archer, using a stolen gun, fired at least 11 shots at Jesse Hartnett in Philadelphia.

Despite being shot, Mr Hartnett left his vehicle and was able to return fire, striking the gunman three times.

Mr Archer was arrested within minutes and later confessed to police he did it for Islam, officers told reporters.

"He has confessed to committing this cowardly act in the name of Islam," Police Commissioner Richard Ross said, because he believes "police defend laws that are contrary to Islam".

The 30-year-old from Yeadon, Pennsylvania, told police he pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

But there is no evidence that he was working with anyone else, Mr Ross said.

Edward Archer

Archer was shot several times

Philadelphia court records show he was convicted of assault in March and was set to begin a prison term. He had also been convicted of forging documents in a nearby suburb.

Mr Archer's mother, Valerie Holliday, said he is mentally ill and had suffered multiple head injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

"He's been acting kind of strange lately. He's been talking to himself . . . laughing and mumbling," she told the newspaper.

"He's been hearing voices in his head. We asked him to get medical help."

Ms Holliday also told the Inquirer that he had been a devout Muslim "for a long time".

After the shoot-out, Mr Hartnett screamed into his radio: "I'm shot, I'm bleeding heavily." He has serious injuries and requires surgery.

"His will to live undoubtedly saved his life," Mr Ross said. "This could have easily been a police funeral."

Mr Ross said Mr Archer's gun was a police firearm that was stolen in 2013.

The shooting happened on the day two men who came to the US as refugees were charged with supporting terrorism - in Texas and California.

A month ago, attacks in San Bernardino, California, left 14 people dead, carried out by a couple inspired by Islamic State.

Source: bbc.com

 

 

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'El Chapo' recaptured after jail break

Mexico's authorities have recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, six months after he escaped from a maximum-security jail.

In a post on Twitter, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said: "Mission accomplished: We got him."

Guzman, one of the world's most-wanted drug lords, smuggled cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines to the US through the Sinaloa cartel he led.

He escaped from jail through a 1.5km (1 mile) tunnel dug in the showers.

President Pena Nieto described Guzman's arrest as a "victory against impunity" and said it showed Mexicans could have confidence in the state's ability to guarantee law and order.

"There is no group that it is impossible to confront," he said.

Guzman was apprehended following a shoot-out with Mexican marines in Los Mochis, a coastal city in his home state of Sinaloa, in north-west Mexico, the president said.

Five people are thought to have been killed in the raid, which involved the army and navy as well as police.

Katy Watson, BBC Mexico and Central America reporter

The capture of El Chapo will be a big boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration.

The escape last July of Mexico's most-wanted criminal was politically embarrassing. It made the government look stupid at best and institutionally corrupt at worst - many people doubted El Chapo's escape could have happened without inside help.

It was made worse too by the fact that the president had previously said that if he escaped again it would be unforgivable.

Mr Pena Nieto has called the arrest "mission accomplished" - hopefully it is third-time lucky for the government with El Chapo remaining behind bars and the president's legacy not being that of allowing a violent criminal to escape.

The US congratulated the Mexican government but did not indicate whether prosecutors would seek Guzman's extradition.

In a statement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Guzman had caused "significant violence, suffering and corruption on multiple continents".

Guzman's July escape was his second - he was first arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and escaped from Puente Grande jail in 2001, reportedly in a laundry basket after bribing officials.

He was on the run for 13 years before being held again in 2014.

CCTV footage of his 11 July escape showed Guzman pacing his cell several times before heading into the shower area and disappearing at the maximum-security Altiplano jail.

A huge manhunt followed, with flights suspended at the nearby airports. The US government had offered a $5m (£3.2m) reward for information leading to his capture.

Authorities located him several days ago based on reports that he was in the Los Mochis area.

In October, Mexican officials said they had "broken up" and arrested the group responsible for helping him escape.

Guzman's wealth is estimated at $1bn.

Despite being the leader of one of the world's most powerful and violent drug cartels, Guzman was seen by some in Sinaloa - where there are few job opportunities - as a modern-day Robin Hood figure who could offer more security to people than the government.

Following his escape, shopkeepers began selling souvenirs such as baseball caps branded with "El Chapo" (Guzman's nickname, meaning "Shorty").

Source: bbc.com

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Paris attacks suspect's 'bomb factory' found in Brussels

Belgian prosecutors believe they may have found a bomb factory also used as a hideout by one of the jihadists after the Paris attacks.

Police found traces of explosives, three handmade belts and a fingerprint of fugitive Salah Abdeslam.

The apartment in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels had been rented in a false name that might have been used by a person already in custody.

Islamic State (IS) suicide attackers killed 130 people in the attacks.

Traces of the explosive TATP (acetone peroxide) and the belts, which could have been used to transport explosives, were found in the raid on 10 December in Rue Berge, the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said.

The prosecutor's office told the BBC that Abdeslam's fingerprint was not dated, and it would be very hard to determine the date.

Who were the Paris attackers?

Paris attacks: The investigation so far

Paris attacks: Who were the victims?

Paris attacks: What happened on the night

Prosecutors believe that the Schaerbeek flat was used only by the Belgium-based attackers who went to the apartment, got the explosive belts, and then went to Paris.

However, they believe that Abdeslam, 26, did go back to the flat in Schaerbeek because he probably thought it would be the only place where he could be safe after the attacks.

Their theory is that somebody drove him there, and dropped him not far from that Schaerbeek address, right after the Paris attacks.

French police pulled over the VW Golf car he was travelling in with two others near Belgium, but then let the group continue their journey.

Abdeslam is believed to have rented a VW Polo car in Belgium, which was later found near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris where 89 people were killed. But he also rented a Renault Clio and reserved two hotel rooms outside Paris before the attacks.

His precise role in the attacks themselves is unclear. Although his brother Brahim blew himself up, Salah Abdeslam is thought to have played a logistical role.

The Paris attacks are believed to have been at least partly planned in Brussels. Belgian police have arrested 10 people in the investigation, including one who rented the apartment in Schaerbeek. The district is central, just north of the EU institutions.

Among the 10 held are Mohammed Amri et Hamza Attou, suspected of having brought Salah Abdeslam back to Brussels from Paris.

Immediately after the attacks, the police focused their searches on Molenbeek, in western Brussels, where some of the attackers were known to have lived.

The suspected ringleader was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national. He and his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen died in a fierce gun battle five days after the attacks, when police raided a flat in Paris where they were hiding, heavily armed.

The search for Abdeslam

  • Hours after the 13 November attacks, Salah Abdeslam's VW Golf car was pulled over by French police on the A2 motorway near the Belgian border, but was released after checks
  • It is unclear whether police had linked a VW Polo found at the Bataclan venue to him by this time
  • Police issued an arrest warrant on 15 November
  • Unconfirmed reports said he was spotted by police in the Belgian city of Liege, heading towards Germany, on 15 November but escaped in a black BMW
  • A raid on a suspected hideout in Molenbeek, Brussels, later that day was delayed because of a ban on night-time searches
  • Friends told media the suspect was hiding in Brussels and desperately trying to get to Syria
  • Undated fingerprint from Abdeslam found in a flat in Rue Berge, in the central Brussels neighbourhood of Schaerbeek, on 10 December
  • Police believe Belgian attackers picked up explosives belts from Schaerbeek flat before Paris attacks and Abdeslam returned there afterwards

Map of Paris showing site of attacks and other related locations

Source: bbc.com

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Libya truck bomb targets police recruits in Zliten

At least 47 people have been killed by a truck bomb targeting a police training centre in the western Libyan city of Zliten, reports say.

Media in Libya said the attack struck the al-Jahfal training camp.

The camp was a military base during the rule of ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In a separate attack, a suicide bomber killed six people at the entrance to Ras Lanuf, a major oil port in northern Libya.

One of those killed was a 16-month-old baby, according to Osama al-Hodeiri, a spokesman for the security forces that guard the oil facilities.

"A driver in a Toyota Land Cruiser blew himself up at a checkpoint at the entrance to the town of Ras Lanuf," he said, adding that three guards had also been killed.

Libya has been hit by instability since Gaddafi's overthrow and killing in 2011, and there is concern the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is gaining a foothold there.

The country has been run by two governments - only one of which is recognised by the international community.

A spokesman for the ministry of health of the rival government based in the capital, Tripoli, told the BBC that 47 people were killed and more than 100 people were injured in the first attack, which was reportedly heard 60km (40 miles) away in Misrata.

Other news agencies have put the death toll at 50.


Analysis: Rana Jawad, BBC News

This is one of the deadliest bomb attacks in Libya and comes at a time when hospitals across the country are suffering from severe shortages in medical supplies.

The explosion was similar in size and impact to the multiple bombings in the eastern town of al-Qubbah that targeted a petrol station in February last year.

That incident was claimed by the so-called Islamic State group, just a few months after it established a foothold in the country.

The latest explosion has not been officially claimed by any group yet, but it comes against the backdrop of intensified attacks this week carried out by IS militants near Libya's eastern oil ports.

If nothing else, the latest bombing is an indication of how the political and military chaos is degrading the institutional capabilities in the country.

Devastating attacks of this kind are on the rise, as the ability to prevent them and deal with the aftermath is at an all-time low.


It was reported that a water truck rigged with explosives was used in the bombing.

State of emergency

The ministry of health declared a state of emergency and called on all hospitals in Tripoli, 160km (100 miles) to the west of Zliten, and Misrata to the east, to take in casualties.

An injured man receives treatment inside a hospital in Misurata, Libya January 7, 2016

Residents in Zliten told the BBC that dozens of people were transferred to Tripoli, as the hospital in Zliten struggled to cope with the number of people injured.

Urgent calls for blood donations were made to Zliten residents, the Lana news agency reports.

The UN Special Representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, said that the blast was a suicide attack.

Libyan media said hundreds of recruits were outside performing morning exercises when the centre was targeted.

In December, the country's rival politicians signed a UN-brokered deal to form a unity government, but that has not yet been implemented.

Source: bbc.com

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Texas fires trooper charged in Sandra Bland death after being charged with perjury

HEMPSTEAD, Texas –  A Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland after a contentious traffic stop last summer was fired Wednesday after being charged with perjury for allegedly lying about his confrontation with the black woman who died three days later in jail.

Trooper Brian Encinia claimed in an affidavit that Bland was "combative and uncooperative" after he pulled her over and ordered her out of her car. The grand jury identified that affidavit in charging Encinia with perjury, special prosecutor Shawn McDonald said Wednesday night.

Hours after his indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would "begin termination proceedings" against Encinia.

Bland's arrest and death — which authorities ruled a suicide — provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters linked Bland to other black suspects who were killed in confrontations with police or died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Video of the stop shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, "I will light you up!" She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he's about to break her wrists and complains that he knocked her head into the ground.

Encinia's affidavit stated he "removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation," but grand jurors "found that statement to be false," said McDonald, one of five special prosecutors appointed to investigate.

She was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck. Authorities have ruled she committed suicide, and the grand jury has already declined to charge any sheriff's officials or jailers in her death.

The perjury charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced.

About two dozen protesters attended Wednesday's news conference where the indictment was announced. One protester's sign read, "Legalize black skin."

 

Source: foxnews.com

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Nigeria court in Kano sentences cleric to death for blasphemy

An Islamic court has sentenced a Nigerian cleric to death by hanging for insulting the Prophet Muhammad in the northern city of Kano.

Abdulazeez Dauda, popularly known as Abdul Inyass, was convicted after a trial held in secret to avoid protests.

Five of his followers were also sentenced to death last year.

These are the first death sentences for blasphemy handed down by a Nigerian Sharia court; those delivered for other offences have not been carried out.

Mr Inyass is a preacher at a local faction of the Tijaniya sect, founded in Senegal by Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, which has a large following across West Africa.

He was reported to have said that "Niasse was bigger than Prophet Muhammad" during a lecture at an event in May, leading to violent protests in the city.

Nigeria map

The BBC's Yusuf Ibrahim Yakasai in Kano says he then fled to the capital, Abuja, and nine of his followers were arrested for their alleged part in organising the event.

When they were arraigned in court, there were further clashes and the courthouse was set on fire, he says.

Analysis: Muhammad Kabir Muhammad, BBC Hausa, Abuja

Anyone who is not satisfied with the judgement of a Sharia court can appeal to the Sharia Court of Appeal in the state within three months. From there the case can be taken to the federal Court of Appeal, which is secular and, finally, to the Supreme Court.

There are judges of the Court of Appeal who are learned in Islamic law and who would be convened by the court's president to hear the case.

The Sharia courts only try Muslims. If a case involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, the non-Muslim will be given the option of choosing where he/she wants the case to be tried. The Sharia court can only hear the case if the non-Muslim gives written consent.

Amina Lawal, who was found guilty of adultery in 2002 and sentenced to death by stoning, was acquitted by a Sharia Court of Appeal.

Four of the followers were acquitted and the five sentenced to death are appealing against their conviction at the state's high court.

Kano has a predominately Muslim population and Islamic courts operate alongside secular courts.

Mr Inyass, whose five-month trial was held in secret for security reasons, will also be able to appeal against the verdict at the high court.

Several states in northern Nigeria introduced Sharia after the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Tijaniya at a glance

Members of the Tijaniyya Brotherhood receive blessing from a descendant (R) of Sheikh Sidi Ahmed al-Tijani who lived during the eighteenth century as they take part in a remembrance for him on May 14, 2014 in the Moroccan city of Fes.

The Sufi sect of Tijaniya was founded in Algeria in 1784 by Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tijani.

It spread all over the world, with large following in North and West Africa. It also has followers in South Africa, Indonesia and other parts of the world.

There are other Sufi sects in Islam but Tijaniya is the largest.

They have three main daily practices: Asking the forgiveness of God; sending prayers to the Prophet Muhammad and affirming the Oneness of Allah.

Senegalese-born Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse was credited with reviving the sect in the 20th Century. People travel from across the continent to visit his shrine.

They have several factions including the Haqiqa (Realist) group, whose members were convicted of blasphemy in Kano.

Source: bbc.com

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Cologne sex attacks: Germany's De Maiziere criticises police

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has strongly criticised police handling of gang attacks on women and girls in Cologne on New Year's Eve.

"The police shouldn't work like this," he said, as it emerged that three suspects had been identified.

More than 100 victims have complained of being sexually assaulted or robbed by gangs of up to 30 men, reportedly of Arab or North African appearance.

Officials say the violence should not cast suspicion against all refugees.

A crowd of about 1,000 men had gathered in the square outside Cologne station during New Year's Eve, letting off fireworks. Many were drunk and aggressive.

Police eventually evacuated the area because of the risk of injury from the fireworks.

But gangs of youths soon returned and carried out dozens of attacks over a number of hours with little apparent response from the local authorities until well after midnight.

What went wrong?

Cologne mayor's 'code of conduct' attacked

Two women in Cologne have told police they were raped and many were groped, including a volunteer policewoman. Justice Minister Heiko Maas said the attacks appeared to have been co-ordinated and spoke of "a new scale of organised crime".

Women were also targeted in Hamburg and Stuttgart. More than 30 complaints have been filed by women saying they were indecently assaulted or robbed on Hamburg's Reeperbahn.

Police in Stuttgart say several women were attacked at Schlossplatz in the city centre.

A policewoman holds a young man on 31 December at Cologne station

Hundreds of people protested near Cologne station on Tuesday night, angered by the brazen attacks and by the slow response of political leaders.

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage over the "disgusting attacks" and the interior minister was asked about the police response on national TV.

Mr de Maiziere criticised police for allowing the attackers to return. The square was evacuated, he said, "and then later these events take place and they wait for complaints. The police shouldn't work like this".

The widespread identification of the attackers as North African or Arab in appearance has also caused considerable alarm because of the influx of more than a million migrants and refugees in the past year. Many of the incomers have fled the conflict in Syria.


Cologne's night of violence

One man described how his partner and 15-year-old daughter were surrounded by a crowd outside the station and he was unable to help.

"The attackers grabbed her and my partner's breasts and groped them between their legs."

A woman, named Busra, told German television the ordeal was "truly terrible".

"They felt like they were in power and that they could do anything with the women who were out in the street partying. They touched us everywhere," she said.

Another woman was robbed of her mobile phone at the station entrance after midnight and went to police to report it. "There were lots of girls, all crying uncontrollably."

And a British woman visiting Cologne said fireworks had been thrown at her group by men who spoke neither German nor English. "They were trying to hug us, kiss us. One man stole my friend's bag," she told the BBC.

"I've been in scary and even life-threatening situations and I've never experienced anything like that."


The "anti-Islamisation" Pegida movement and the right-wing AfD said the attacks were a consequence of large-scale migration. AfD leader Frauke Petry asked if, after the attacks, Germany was now sufficiently "diverse and cosmopolitan".

Mr de Maiziere emphasised there should not be any general suspicion towards refugees, at least "at this stage of the investigation".

"But if North Africans were the perpetrators, for which there is some indication, there should not be a taboo and people should not gloss over it."

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker had earlier said it was "completely improper" to link the attackers "who appeared to come from North Africa" with refugees.

But she was herself mocked for urging young women and girls to adopt a code of conduct that meant keeping an "arm's length" distance from strangers and sticking with a group of people.

'New dimension'

North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister Ralf Jaeger told journalists on Wednesday that three suspects had been identified, although no arrests had been made.

He warned that anti-immigrant groups were trying to use the attacks to stir up hatred against refugees.

Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers has rejected criticism of his force, describing what happened as "a completely new dimension of crime".

But police union chief Rainer Wendt said a lack of resources meant that the Cologne force had been unable to clear the square properly.

Mr Wendt was critical of the Berlin government, arguing that federal officers who had the task of policing the station itself had been deployed in recent months to strengthen border security in Bavaria.

Cologne authorities are particularly concerned that the attacks may hit the city's reputation ahead of its February carnival, when hundreds of thousands of revellers are expected on the streets.

Source: bbc.com

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North Korea nuclear test: UN vows new measures

The UN Security Council says it will begin work immediately on new measures against North Korea, after Pyongyang said it had tested a hydrogen bomb.

The council condemned the test, saying "a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist".

This is the North's fourth nuclear test since 2006, but if confirmed would be the first of an H-bomb.

However, the US has joined nuclear experts in questioning whether the blast was large enough for such a test.

US White House spokesman Josh Earnest said "initial analysis was not consistent with North Korea's claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test".

He added: "Nothing that happened overnight has changed our view of North Korea's nuclear capabilities."

The Security Council held an emergency session on Wednesday. It was called by the US, Japan and South Korea.

Uruguay's UN Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, current president of the council, said: "The members... recalled that they have previously expressed their determination to take further significant measures in the event of another [North Korea] nuclear test.

"In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, [they] will begin to work immediately on such measures in a new Security Council resolution."

Mr Earnest said North Korea's isolation had "deepened as they have sought to engage in increasingly provocative acts".

Japan's ambassador to the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, called for a swift and robust new UN resolution.

He said: "The authority and credibility of the Security Council will be put in question if it does not take these measures."

However, he and other members have not spelled out what they will be or when the resolution could be adopted.

Russia's UN ambassador said it would be going "too far" to say Moscow supported further sanctions.

North Korea's tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 triggered UN sanctions, with 20 entities and 12 individuals on a UN blacklist.

'Bang would have been bigger'

If an H-bomb test were confirmed, it would mark a major upgrade in North Korea's nuclear capabilities.

Hydrogen bombs are more powerful and technologically advanced than atomic weapons, using fusion - the merging of atoms - to unleash massive amounts of energy.

Atomic bombs, like the kind that devastated two Japanese cities in World War Two, use fission, or the splitting of atoms.

Bruce Bennett, an analyst with the Rand Corporation, was among those casting doubts on Pyongyang's test: "The bang they should have gotten would have been 10 times greater than what they're claiming."

A South Korean politician, Lee Cheol-woo, said he was briefed by the country's intelligence agency that the blast "probably falls short" of a hydrogen detonation.

North Korea's 'spectacular' rhetoric, by the BBC's Steve Evans

The rhetoric from the North Korean media was spectacular, announcing the country had carried out a "world startling event" - the underground test of a hydrogen bomb.

"People of the DPRK are making a giant stride, performing eye-catching miracles and exploits day by day," state media said.

That North Korea is still living with its predictable 1950s post-Korean War world view, where the US is the prime aggressor, was made clear too.

"The US is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring even a nuclear disaster to the DPRK."

But despite the rhetoric, outside experts are sceptical about how much of a giant stride had been made.

What is not in doubt is the determination of Pyongyang to go down the nuclear path despite widespread condemnation the last time it tested a device.

North Korea's dramatic rhetoric


Suspicions that North Korea had carried out a nuclear test were raised when an earthquake was registered near the Punggye-ri nuclear site in North Korea at 10:00 Pyongyang time (01:30 GMT), with the tremors rattling Chinese border cities.

Hours later, in a surprise announcement, a newsreader on North Korean state TV said: "The republic's first hydrogen bomb test has been successfully performed at 10:00 am on January 6, 2016."

A note signed by North Korea leader Kim Jong-un authorising the test said 2016 should begin with the "stirring explosive sound" of a hydrogen bomb.

China and Japan are reported to have been trying to detect radiation.

Can North Korea now launch a nuclear missile?

Despite North Korea's claims, experts are sceptical that North Korea can make a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile.

What do we know about the latest test?

Observers agree a nuclear explosion of some kind took place and it seems to have been a bit bigger than the last test in 2013, but not nearly big enough to be a full thermonuclear explosion - an "H-bomb" - as Pyongyang claims.

Why can't the world stop North Korea?

North Korea has a determination to defy both world opinion and heavy sanctions to reach its nuclear goal. Crucially, its main ally, China, has proved either unwilling or unable to help.

Source: bbc.com

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Gambia orders female workers 'to cover hair'

The Gambia's government has banned its female employees from leaving their hair uncovered at work, a leaked memo quoted by private newspapers says.

Women should use a "head tie and neatly wrap their hair", the memo said, without giving reasons for the ban.

Last month, The Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh declared the Muslim-majority country an Islamic republic.

He added that no dress code would be imposed and citizens of other faiths would be allowed to practise freely.

The Gambia is popular with Western tourists because of its beaches.

Mr Jammeh withdrew the former British colony from the Commonwealth in 2013, describing the organisation as neo-colonial.

The memo, dated 4 January and published in the pro-opposition Freedom and JollofNews newspapers, said that an "executive directive has been issued that all female staff within the government ministries, departments and agencies are no longer allowed to expose their hair during official working hours".

A supporter of outgoing Gambian President Yahya Jammeh wears a T-Shirt with a portrait of her candidate on November 22, 2011 during a campaign meeting in Bakau

"All are strictly advised to adhere to this new directive," it added.

Some 90% of Gambians are Muslim.

When Mr Jammeh declared The Gambia an Islamic republic, he said the move was in line with the West African nation's "religious identity and values".

His critics said the declaration was intended to deflect attention from the poor state of the economy, including the rise in the price of basic commodities.

Many Muslim scholars believe that Islam requires Muslim women to cover their hair in public.

However, the requirement is not strictly adhered to in The Gambia.

First Lady Zineb Yahya Jammeh has previously appeared in public with her hair uncovered.

In November, the Gambian leader banned female circumcision, saying it was not required in Islam.

Mr Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant, is accused by rights activists of presiding over a brutal regime which is intolerant of dissent.

The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to The Gambia in 2014 over its poor human rights record.

Source: bbc.com

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South Africa's ANC to push for tougher anti-racism law

South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) says it will push for tougher legislation to jail anyone guilty of "racial bigotry", or "glorifying" apartheid.

Black people could no longer be treated as "sub-humans", it said.

The nation has been gripped by a racism row after Penny Sparrow, an opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) member, on Facebook called black people "monkeys".

She denied she was a racist. The DA party suspended her membership.

The racially discriminatory apartheid system ended in South Africa in 1994. It had been introduced in 1948 by the then-white minority government and was later declared by the UN as a crime against humanity.

A spokesman for the ANC chief whip's office, Moloto Mothapo, told the BBC that current legislation was insufficient to tackle racism.

"We haven't had a single person imprisoned for racism despite many instances of racism. We don't believe it addresses the crime of racism," he said.

A statement issued by the ANC parliamentary chief whip's office said racial bigotry and apartheid should be considered a serious human rights violations punishable by imprisonment because of South Africa's "painful past".

1956: A sign common in Johannesburg, South Africa, reading 'Caution Beware Of Natives'

"Elsewhere glorification of Nazism and denial of Holocaust is a crime and perpetrators are tried and sentenced to a prison term," it added.

The ANC also said it had filed criminal charges against several DA members - including Ms Sparrow and MP Dianne Kohler Barnard.

Ms Kohler Barnard was expelled from the DA in October after she shared a post on Facebook which suggested that public services in South Africa were better during apartheid and called for the return of former President PW Botha.

She won an appeal against her expulsion from the party, and was instead ordered to pay 20,000 rand ($1,320; £888) to a charity working with communities disadvantaged by apartheid.

On Monday, the DA said it had filed charges against Ms Sparrow "for infringing the dignity of all South Africans and for dehumanising black South Africans" as it did not tolerate racism.

On Facebook, Ms Sparrow used the word monkeys to describe New Year's revellers on the beach in the eastern city of Durban because of the mess she said they made.

She later apologised but was condemned by many on social media and the hashtag #RacismMustFall was trending on Twitter.

The South African Human Rights Commission, a statutory body, is also investigating her comments.

Source: bbc.com

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Cologne sex attacks: Protest against gang assaults on women

Hundreds of people have protested in the German city of Cologne over sexual assaults and thefts carried out by groups of men on New Year's Eve.

Some held up signs demanding action from Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mrs Merkel has expressed outrage over the "disgusting attacks" and said everything must be done to find those responsible.

Witnesses and police said that the men involved were of Arab or North African appearance.

The scale of the attacks, involving groups of drunk and aggressive young men, has shocked the country.

There is an intense debate in Germany about refugees and migrants who arrived in record numbers last year, many of them fleeing the conflict in Syria.

However, Cologne Mayor Henriette urged people not to jump to conclusions about the attackers, none of whom has been arrested.

'New dimension'

Women have made at least 90 criminal complaints to police about harassment by gangs at Cologne's main railway station on Thursday night.

At least one woman in Cologne was reportedly raped and many were groped, including a volunteer policewoman.

Women were also targeted in Hamburg and Stuttgart in similar attacks, but on a smaller scale.

Police check suspects at Cologne Central Station, Germany, 5 January 2016

Police searched suspects outside Cologne Central Station on Tuesday

Up to 300 people, mostly women, demonstrated against the violence near the scene of the attacks on Tuesday evening.

Some held placards reading: "Mrs Merkel! Where are you? What do you say? This alarms us!"

Police were pictured stopping and questioning men near Cologne's central station on Tuesday.

However, the city's police chief, Wolfgang Albers, said no arrests had yet been made over the New Year's Eve attacks.

"We don't currently have any suspects, so we don't know who the perpetrators were," he said.

"All we know is that the police at the scene perceived that it was mostly young men aged 18 to 35 from the Arab or North African region."

He called it "a completely new dimension of crime" and rejected criticism of his force's handling on the night.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas warned against using the attacks to bolster anti-refugee sentiment.

"In criminal law what's important is proving a crime, and everyone is equal before the law," he said.

"It doesn't matter where someone comes from, it matters what they did and that we can prove it."

Mrs Merkel called Ms Reker on Tuesday to discuss the attacks.

She said everything must be done "to find the perpetrators as quickly and comprehensively as possible and punish them, regardless of their origin or background".

"It's completely improper... to link a group that appeared to come from North Africa with the refugees," she said, following talks with police.

She also promised preventive measures ahead of Cologne's carnival in February, when hundreds of thousands of revellers are expected on the streets.

One man described how his partner and 15-year-old daughter were surrounded by a crowd outside the station and he was unable to help. "The attackers grabbed her and my partner's breasts and groped them between their legs."

Most of the crimes reported to police were robberies.

A British woman visiting Cologne said fireworks had been thrown at her group by men who spoke neither German nor English. "They were trying to hug us, kiss us. One man stole my friend's bag," she told the BBC.

"Another tried to get us into his 'private taxi'. I've been in scary and even life-threatening situations and I've never experienced anything like that."

Source: bbc.com

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Migrant crisis: Bodies found on Turkish coast as boats sink

At least 34 bodies have been washed up on the Turkish coast in the latest tragedy to hit migrants and refugees trying to cross the sea to Greece.

Their boats are thought to have capsized while crossing to the island of Lesbos.

The bodies were found on beaches at Ayvalik and Dikili some 30 miles (50km) apart. Several were children.

More than one million migrants crossed the Mediterranean in 2015 and the vast majority went from Turkey to Greece.

According to the UN, 3,771 people were listed as dead or missing.

Conditions in the Aegean Sea in the early hours of Tuesday were described as rough and officials said the migrants who had tried to reach Lesbos were in rubber dinghies.

Coast guards at Ayvalik searched the area for survivors and rescued eight people who had climbed on to a breakwater, reported Dogan news agency.

Greek islands map

Residents said the boat that sank off Ayvalik appeared to have hit rocks. "I'm guessing these people died as they were trying to swim from the rocks," one man said.

Security forces pulled some bodies from the water while others could be seen on the beach, all wearing life jackets. Some were clearly children.

Police told Turkish media that 24 bodies were found on the beach or in the sea off Ayvalik while 10 more were discovered near Dikili.

Although their nationalities were not confirmed, local governor Namik Kemal Nazli Hurriyet said they were Syrians, Iraqis and Algerians.

On Sunday, dozens of people were rescued from a small island off the town of Dikili as they tried to cross to Lesbos. Helicopters had to be called in because the island was too rocky for rescue boats to get to.

Boats are continuing to arrive on the Greek islands every day, despite the wintry weather. Lesbos is by far the most popular destination for migrants leaving Turkey. More than 500,000 reached the island in 2015.

Late last year, Turkey reached a deal with the European Union to tighten its borders and reduce the numbers crossing to Greece in return for €3bn (£2.1bn) and political concessions.

Source: bbc.com

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Tearful Barack Obama: US gun control inaction must end

An emotional US President Barack Obama has unveiled new restrictions on gun purchases, saying the "constant excuses for inaction" have to stop.

Wiping away tears, the president recalled the Sandy Hook primary school shooting in 2012 where 20 children and six adults were killed.

His executive actions, without Congress approval, widen background checks on potential gun buyers.

But the National Rifle Association said it would fight Mr Obama's measures.

And the leader of the House of Representatives, Republican Paul Ryan, said the plans were certain to be challenged in the courts.

"His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty," he said.

Meanwhile, sales of guns in the US appear to have risen, amid speculation in recent weeks that the White House was going to tighten the law.

Earlier, the president announced the law change at the White House, while surrounded by survivors and relatives of victims of shootings.

"The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can't hold America hostage," Mr Obama said.


Analysis - Anthony Zurcher, BBC News North America reporter

An emotional president employed all of his rhetorical skill to justify what are, in reality, executive actions that only modestly expand federal regulation of firearm sales.

Standing in a room filled with victims of gun violence, he explained that the murder of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, changed him - and that he hoped it would change the country.

Three years have passed since that school massacre, however, and the country hasn't changed. While some states have toughened their laws, others have expanded gun rights and the US Congress has taken no action.

So Mr Obama did what he could, and wrapped the move in language that sounded more appropriate for a ceremony announcing the passage of sweeping legislation that, in today's political environment, has no chance of reaching his presidential desk.

And even this small move will likely be fiercely challenged in court, in Congress and at the ballot box by whichever Republican wins the nomination fight to replace him in 2017.


Gun violence is significantly higher in the US than in other advanced countries, killing about 30,000 people each year.

Congress has been reluctant to pass any laws restricting gun ownership, facing pressure from gun owners and the powerful National Rifle Association.

Mr Obama tried to pass expanded background check legislation in 2012 after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead but it failed in Congress.

Former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabrielle Giffords arrives before US President Barack Obama delivers a statement on executive actions to reduce gun violence

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (above), who was the victim of a shooting, attended the White House event

The executive actions include:

  • Background checks for all gun sellers, overturning current exemptions to some online and gun show sellers
  • States providing information on people disqualified from buying guns due to mental illness or domestic violence
  • Increased workforce for the FBI to process background checks, hiring more than 230 new examiners
  • Congress being asked to invest $500m (£339m) to improve access to mental healthcare in the US
  • The departments of defence, justice and homeland security exploring "smart gun technology" to improve gun safety

The announcement is already shaping up to be an issue in the 2016 presidential election.

Leading Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted: "@POTUS is right: We can protect the second Amendment while protecting our families and communities from gun violence. And we have to."

Republican candidate Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that the executive actions are unconstitutional, with a link to sign up for his campaign correspondence on a webpage that says "Obama wants your guns" with a photo of the president in an army jacket and hat.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush tweeted that he would repeal the actions and protect the Second Amendment.

During Mr Obama's speech, comedian Amy Schumer, cousin of New York Senator Chuck Schumer, was in the audience. Two women died in a shooting at a movie theatre in Louisiana during a showing of her movie Trainwreck.

Gabby Giffords, a former congresswoman who survived a shooting, was there as well, in addition to many relatives of victims and survivors of mass shooting.

Shares in gunmaker Smith & Wesson rose to their highest value since 1999 ahead of the president's announcement.

The number of background checks on potential buyers - a guide to future sales - has risen in the wake of mass shootings in the past.

Graph showing the number of background checks performed by the FBI from December 2007 to December 2015

Why Obama is powerless - the roadblock at Congress

Are you mad or criminal? - the question a gun seller asks

Texas women and their firearms - a photographer taught to shoot at an early age

Do tighter gun laws work? - a state where guns are a way of life

Guns at home - the question parents hate to ask before a playdate

Source: bbc.com

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North Korea announces hydrogen bomb test

The North Korean authorities say they have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb amid reports of a tremor near the main nuclear test site.

State media announced the test after monitors detected a 5.1 magnitude quake close to the Punggye-ri site.

The North is thought to have conducted three previous underground nuclear tests there since 2006.

A hydrogen bomb uses fusion to create a blast far more powerful than that of a more basic atomic bomb.

If confirmed, it would mean Pyongyang is intent on pursuing its nuclear programme with little regard for the major political and diplomatic costs that will inevitably accompany this unwelcome development, says Dr John Nilsson-Wright of Asia Programme at Chatham House.

In a surprise announcement a newsreader on North Korean state TV said: "The republic's first hydrogen bomb test has been successfully performed at 10:00 am on January 6, 2016."

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Pyongyang had developed a hydrogen bomb, although international experts were sceptical.


What is a hydrogen bomb?

  • A weapon energised by the nuclear fusion of hydrogen isotopes in a chain reaction, developed in 1958 by the United States
  • Also known as a thermo-nuclear bomb, it is seen as a "cleaner" bomb than an atomic one as it has less radioactive fallout - but also much more powerful
  • Unlike an atomic bomb, powered by nuclear fission, a hydrogen bomb is powered by the fusion of lighter elements into heavier elements
  • Such bombs can be as small as a few feet long and can fit in warheads of ballistic missiles

Suspicion of a test was first raised after the US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the quake - detected at 10:00 Pyongyang time (01:30 GMT) was in the north-east of the country, some 50km (30 miles) from Kilju city, near Punggye-ri.

The BBC's Kevin Kim in Seoul says analysts will now focus on trying to detect if any gases have leaked from the subterranean explosion to conclude what type of nuclear material may have been used, if it indeed it was a test of a hydrogen bomb.

N Korea's nuclear test sites

North Korea's nuclear tests

9 October 2006

The first test detonated a device based on plutonium, rather than enriched uranium. The test was conducted at Punggye-ri, also known as P'unggye-yok. US intelligence officials said that it had not been a powerful one, measuring less than one kiloton - that is less then a tenth of the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

25 May 2009

A second underground nuclear test was carried out which was said to be more powerful than the first. Russia's defence ministry estimated a blast of up to 20 kilotons, a similar size to the American bombs that completely destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Although the North gave no details of the test location, South Korean officials said a seismic tremor was detected in its neighbour's north-east around the town of Kilju - close to Punggye-ri.

12 February 2013

Unusual seismic activity was detected around Punggye-ri. This was followed by confirmation from the state news agency that North Korea had successfully tested a device. The announcement referenced a "miniaturised" nuclear device which raised fears that Pyongyang's ultimate aim is to produce a device small enough to fit on a long-range missile.

Source: bbc.com

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Court prevents student involved in GHC 83,500 cedi fraud from Travelling

Elvis Amoah, a student allegedly involved in a GHC 83,500 cedi fraud case, was arrested by security officials and handed over to an Accra Circuit Court when he attempted to travel outside the country.
 
Amoah is alleged to have defrauded Dr Isaac Kwabena Boakye of the stated amount under the pretext of selling to him four plots of land at Kwabenya in Accra.
 
The said plots, however, belonged to the state.
 
The Court presided over by Mrs Abena Oppong Adjin-Doku today revoked his 100,000 cedis bail and remanded him into lawful custody to reappear on January 18.
 
The Court further ordered for the seizure of his new Ghanaian passport and green card.
 
The GNA gathered that Amoah had prayed the Court to grant him two months adjournment to visit his ailing mother in the Brong Ahafo Region.
 
The Court, however, at its last sitting declined and gave him two weeks.
 
On December 30, Amoah attempted to travel outside the country but was nabbed by security officials at the Kotoka International Airport.
 
As part of his earlier bail condition in May 2015, the Court ordered Amoah to deposit his Ghanaian passport and green card but he managed to secure a new passport and green card and attempted to travel with them on December 30.
 
Charged with defrauding by false pretences, Amoah had pleaded not guilty.
 
He was therefore granted GHC 100,000 with three sureties one to be a public servant earning not less than GHC 500 cedis a month.
 
As part of the bail conditions he was to deposit his Ghanaian passport and USA green card to the Court.
 
In the substantive case, prosecuting Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) A.A. Annor said the complainant is a medical practitioner resident in Germany and Amoah is a student of Illinois Institute of Technology in the USA.
 
In 2010, when the accused person was in Ghana he made the complainant believe that he could secure him four plots of land at Kwabenya in Accra.
 
Based on that DSP Annor said Amoah collected GHC83,500 from Dr Boakye and allegedly issued the complainant with an Indenture dated November 3, 2011.
 
According to prosecution the indenture was signed by Nii Adjei Kpobi Asaawa and Ernest Okine.
 
When the complainant attempted to develop the land he was resisted by another person.
 
The complainant therefore conducted an official search at the Lands Commission and it came to light that the land belongs to the State.
 
Accused however disagreed with the complainant’s report after the search, failed to refund the complainant money and attempted to sneak out of the country.
 
Meanwhile on May 14, last year, Ghana Immigration Service Officers at the Kotoka International Airport were served with arrest warrant.
 
On May 18, last year, Amoah was found checking in to board a KLM flight to Amsterdam when Immigration officers arrested him and handed him over to the Police.
 
Amoah in his caution statement admitted the offence.

Source: Kasapafmonline.com/Ghana

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Health: Diet debate: Low-fat or high-fat - does it matter?

Is fat the great evil of our time responsible for seducing us into an early, extra-wide, grave with its delicious succulence?

Or is it as misunderstood as it is mouth-watering? And in need of a welcome return to our plates?

As the campaign against sugar has ratcheted up over the past year or two, there have been growing voices trying to redeem fat.

For decades it has been labelled public enemy number one and a "low-fat" food label is used to convince us that what we're buying is healthy.

The problem is low-fat can mean vegetables or just clever marketing for "we took out all the fat and then pumped it full of sugar".

So there I was having a moment in the supermarket - a tub of low-fat yoghurt in one hand and a full-fat one in other - pondering which was actually better for me.

If I had a third hand, it would have been scratching my head. And I'm not alone.

What to buy?

"When there's a huge wall of yoghurt, even I find it paralysing," said Susan Jebb, a nutrition professor at the University of Oxford.

When you take the fat out of products, particularly dry ones like cake or biscuits, then something has to replace it.

"It tends to be sugar - the calories in digestives and low-fat digestives are almost the same," Prof Jebb continued.

"Lots of yoghurts are rammed with sugar, that is the thing that annoys me about yoghurt."

There is a simple answer with yoghurt - a few brands are both low in fat and sugar, although I need to chuck in a bit of fruit to make it palatable.

But what about the case that we should be eating more fat?

Some have argued that the message about cutting all fats when discussing bad saturated fats from processed foods was oversimplified.

While others have made the case that favouring carbohydrates in our diet - particularly refined carbs like white bread and pasta, is playing havoc with our hormones to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and making us pile on the pounds.


More from our Diet Debate series:

Read: Is breakfast a waste of time?

Watch: How healthy is your breakfast?


Fatty joy?

We do all need fat in our diet - it contains essential fatty acids and is important for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D and E.

The question has always been: "How much fat should we eat?" And the mantra has been low-fat, high-carb.

The World Health Organization advises that between 30% and 35% of our calories should come from fat arguing there is "no probable or convincing evidence" that the total amount of fat in our diet is altering the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

So when it comes to the total amount of fat (and there is a separate argument when we come to consider different types of fat) it's really a question of how it affects our waistlines.

And fat is certainly calorific.

A gram of fat is worth around nine calories - twice the amount as carbohydrate or protein at four calories per gram.

Too much fat, like too much of anything, will make you put on weight and it is incredibly easy to overeat calorie dense foods.

So it appears to be an easy target for people trying to lose weight.

http://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/140CB/production/_87332128_thinkstockphotos-180258510.jpg

"There is very good evidence that if you cut down on total fat it causes a small reduction in weight, but it's not big," said Dr Lee Hooper from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

She conducted a large review of 32 separate trials, involving around 54,000 people.

It showed people who shifted between 5% and 10% of their calories away from fats lost around 2kg during the studies.

However, she is not convinced the weight-loss is actually down to fat but more a result of people thinking more about what they eat and avoiding burgers, ready meals and other processed foods.

"I suspect they'd do exactly the same thing if they targeted sugar," she concluded.

So how do diets compare when we target carbs?

Doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States reviewed 53 weight loss trials involving 68,128 people.

The results, published in the Lancet medical journal, showed that both low-carb and low-fat approaches led to decent weight-loss.

But those eating relatively more fat actually lost marginally more weight.

Fatty foods

Dr Deirdre Tobias, who led that study, told me: "If you're trying to reduce your calories and you take out the fat then you get a lot of bang for your buck, but that strategy clearly doesn't play out.

"Fat has been villainised because there's a mentality that 'fat makes you fat'. I think our evidence pretty much puts a nail in that coffin."

She is not saying that carbs are the villain instead, but that the best diet is the one you can actually stick to - some people would find it pretty easy to give up on white bread and pasta while others would find it impossible.

But she did warn that focusing on simply avoiding fat risked missing out on known beneficial foods - such as nuts, oily fish and olive oil - or convincing yourself that a low-fat muffin is healthy.

Cutting carbohydrates rather than the fat has also shown some benefit in patients with type-2 diabetes, at least for a short while.

When refined carbs are digested they rapidly lead to a spike in blood sugar levels and in turn of the hormone insulin. People with type 2 have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels so preventing the spike could help in theory.

Although studies show the advantage of cutting carbs was not sustained in the long-term.

Rethink required?

In the UK the total amount of fat being eaten is broadly in line with recommendations, but with slightly more saturated fat than advised.

Dr Hooper concluded: "I would be saying we don't need to be cutting down on fat, but we do need to think of the type of fat."

That's an issue we'll consider on Wednesday when we ask: "Is butter back?"

But clearly there is never going to be health advice to just pour cream down our throats and polish off all the pies and biscuits we can.

Even drowning a salad in olive oil could lead to weight gain.

Going overboard on fat, just as having too much sugar or refined carbohydrate, is a bad thing. Sugar is just stealing the headlines at the moment.

"The reality is that nutrition comes and goes in waves, we've had a fat wave and we're for sure in a sugar frenzy," says Prof Jebb.

She says she worries "enormously" when people reduce all the nation's health problems to being "all about fat or all about sugar".

We need to think about both.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Denmark responds to Swedish border checks with own controls

Denmark has tightened its border controls with Germany, hours after Sweden imposed similar measures to deter migrants entering from Denmark.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said the decision was "not a happy moment" but Denmark "must respond" to Sweden's restrictions.

Danish police will carry out border spot checks for the next 10 days.

The two countries are the latest to impose controls in Europe's Schengen passport-free travel area.

In a letter to the European Commission, Inger Stojberg, Denmark's integration minister, said the controls would focus initially on the border with Germany but may be extended to all of Denmark's borders.

She said the measures taken by Sweden meant Denmark was "faced with a serious risk to public order and internal security because a very large number of illegal immigrants may be stranded in the Copenhagen area".

The new controls would not cause a problem for "ordinary" Danes and Germans, Mr Rasmussen said.

"We are introducing temporary border controls, but in a balanced way," he said. "If the European Union cannot protect the external border you will see more and more countries forced to introduce temporary border controls."

Sweden's decision means all travellers wanting to cross the Oresund bridge from Denmark will be refused entry without the necessary documents.

Rail commuters heading to Sweden will have to change trains at Copenhagen Airport and go through ID checkpoints. The move is expected to cause serious disruption to traffic flows from Denmark.

Oresund Bridge

An estimated 20,000 commuters daily cross the Oresund bridge, which connects the Swedish cities of Malmo and Lund with the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

Direct journeys from Copenhagen's main railway station to Sweden will no longer be available and the changes are expected to add around 30 minutes to the current 40-minute commute.

Danish Transport Minister Hans Christian Schmidt called the checks "extremely annoying".

'Not a deterrent'

Holly Snaith, a British academic who commutes from Malmo to her job at Copenhagen University, told the BBC that the changes had added at least half an hour to her journey.

"We are all on tenterhooks hoping that the Swedish government will resolve things soon," she said.

Nicholas Bean, who commutes from Malmo to his marketing job in Copenhagen, said: "Travellers aren't happy about the Swedish government's action. There has to be a better way to handle the problem."

Sweden is trying to reduce the number of migrants entering the country. Some 160,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden last year, the highest number in Europe except for Germany. Most were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Responding to the developments, Martin Schaefer, a spokesman for Germany's foreign ministry told the AFP news agency: "Freedom of movement is an important principle, one of the biggest achievements [in the EU] in recent years. Schengen is very important but it is in danger."

Germany introduced border controls of its own on the Austrian frontier in September, and last week Norway, which is not an EU member but belongs to the Schengen area, said refugees coming from other Schengen countries without visas would be turned back.

A similar set of border closures in eastern Europe in October left thousands of migrants stranded in poor weather conditions.

Source: bbc.com

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Ghana to get 'sin-free' Facebook alternative

A Ghanaian Christian group is to launch a "holy" social network alternative to Facebook which will be free of "un-Christian" content. 

"Social networks these days are filled with nude content and violence," the group LoveRealm said in a statement. 

"The site will be launched on 9 January and will ensure a holy social network experience by censoring and removing "un-Christian content," its CEO Yaw Ansong Jnr said.

Hundreds of Christians are being invited to use the app in a pre-launch event at the Pentecost Convention Center in the capital, Accra, to enable them make inputs and accommodate necessary modifications, the statement added.

Founders of the site hope that it will allow those struggling to keep the Christian faith to share weaknesses and confess their sins to one another.

Source: bbc.com

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South African Facebook post sparks #RacistsMustFall outrage

Comments by a white South African woman calling black people "monkeys" have sparked widespread outrage.

On Facebook, Penny Sparrow used the word to describe New Year's revellers on Durban's beach because of the mess she said they made.

She was condemned by many on social media and the hashtag #RacistsMustFall was trending on Twitter.

The South African Human Rights Commission is now investigating the comments, the News24 website reports.

Ms Sparrow took down the original post and replaced it with an apology saying that "everyone makes mistakes".

She tried to clarify her remarks in an interview with News24 saying: "I made the mistake of comparing them [black people] with monkeys. Monkeys are cute and they're naughty, but they [black people] don't see it that way, but I do because I love animals."

Leading politicians have also got involved in the row.

It emerged that Ms Sparrow is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and its leader Mmusi Maimane tweeted that the "comments are racist. They are an insult to me and to our party."

The DA said in a statement that it has laid criminal charges against her "for infringing the dignity of all South Africans and for dehumanising black South Africans".

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula tweeted that Ms Sparrow was "an unrepentant racist".

An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, denoting the area for whites only

Spokesperson for the South African Human Rights Commission Isaac Mangena said that its own investigation could lead to legal steps, News24 reports.

"It is very concerning to the Commission that 22 years into democracy there are still comments and actions that incite and promote racism.

"These utterances have gone viral and angered many. They open the wounds of millions who were formerly oppressed by the apartheid government."

Apartheid, which legally enforced a racial hierarchy privileging white South Africans, ended in 1994 with the election of the country's first democratic government.

Source: bbc.com

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Libyan oil port of Sidra attacked by Islamic State

Islamic State (IS) fighters have clashed with guards as they tried to enter Libya's oil port of Sidra.

Two members of the Petrol Facilities Guard militia, which is defending Sidra, were reportedly killed.

The militants are said to have been pushed back, but IS says it now controls Bin Jawad, 30km (19 miles) west of Sidra on the road from its stronghold in Sirte.

In December, France said IS was aiming to control Libya's oil wells.

IS, which has been operating in Libya for about a year, failed to take Sidra in an attack last October.

Suicide attack

In Monday's attack, IS fighters first launched a suicide bomb attack at a checkpoint at the entrance to the town, the AFP news agency reports, and that was when the guards were killed.

AFP quotes a colonel from the Libyan army saying that the port entrance was then attacked by a convoy of 12 vehicles.

Libyan news website Libya's Channel is tweeting that seven people have been killed in all: The two guards, four IS members and one civilian.

Libya has descended into chaos since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

In December, Libya's rival politicians signed a UN-brokered deal to form a unity government, but that has not yet been implemented.


Libya's rival power bases (as of August 2015)

map

Source: bbc.com

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Ridge Hospital staff call for probe into appointment of new Medical Director

Some senior staff of the Ridge Hospital in Accra have called on the Ghana Health Service to probe the appointment of the new Medical Director of the facility, Dr Thomas Anaba.

A senior staff who spoke to Joy News on condition of anonymity cites breach of the selection process for Dr Anaba's position as reason for their disapproval of him.

Notices posted at parts of the hospital read “imposition of Anaba is recipe for chaos”.

The anonymous senior staff told Joy News "we the staff think that somebody somewhere has manipulated the process and the right thing must be done. In the first place they should go strictly by the appointment criteria and asking certain key people to recuse themselves from the interview process."

The agigated staff believes going by the appropriate selection criteria would ensure that the appointments do oot become a family-and-friends affair.

“There is no way my intimate friend will mark me down in an interview,” the anonymous staff said.

The Ridge Hospital staff are calling on the Ghana Health Service and the Ghana Health Services Council to act immediately on the matter.

They say the hospital is a very important and strategic hospital and its management should not be left in the hands of inexperienced people.

Director General of Ghana Health Service Dr Appiah Denkyira has told Joy News he has received a petition from the staff and would look into it.


Source: myjoyonline.com

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Judges bribery scandal: Sacked Magistrate challenges removal

One of the lower court judges named in the Anas Aremeyaw Anas corruption scandal is challenging his removal from office.

Samuel Ahiabor is part of 20 lower court judges who were sanctioned following a probe by a committee set up by Chief Justice, Georgina Wood.

In a letter stating his misconduct, the former Adidome District Magistrate, Samuel Ahiabor is accused of receiving GHC600 from a petitioner.

According to the document, this was to influence him to cause the arrest of a man who allegedly defrauded the said petitioner

Mr Ahiabor however says the Committees’ decision to remove him from office is a breach of his rights.

First he says he never collected, received or accepted any money although the evidence presented by Anas shows him taking the money.

Mr Ahiabor adds that, aside Anas Aremeyaw Anas, he never had the opportunity to cross examine the petitioner who purportedly bribed him at any of the disciplinary committee sittings

The former Adidome magistrate also maintains that since the matter of bribery allegation did not concern a case pending before him, he cannot be said to have misconducted himself.

Mr Samuel Ahiabor is therefore asking the high court to quash the committees verdict as quote, ‘’the decision is contrary to law, rules of natural justice and the 1992 constitution.’’

So far, 20 Magistrates and Circuit Court judges implicated in the judicial corruption scandal have been sacked.

The judges, who were part of the 32 implicated in the exposé done by ace investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, were dismissed for violating provisions of the 1992 Constitution, according to the Committee set up to investigate Anas's claims.

Some of them have been sacked with benefits while others got dismissed without their benefits.


Source: myjoyonline.com

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Oregon: Armed protest at US wildlife building

Armed protesters have occupied a US government building in Oregon to support father and son ranchers who have been ordered to return to jail.

Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven, 46, were convicted of arson in 2012 but a court ruled their original sentences were too short.

They said they lit fires on federal land to combat invasive species and protect their land from wildfires.

The case has riled right-wing activists who resent government interference.

Those occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge centre in Burns say they plan to stay for years and may use violence if police try to evict them.

Local police said "outside militants" had seized the building, and that multiple agencies were working on a solution, the Oregonian reported.

'Alternative motives'

Among those there is Ammon Bundy, whose father Cliven was involved in a stand-off with the government over grazing rights in 2014.

Speaking to CNN, Mr Ammon gave no specific demands but said the action was aimed at helping locals "claim back their lands and resources".

He said that the wildlife refuge had expanded at the expense of ranchers and miners.

The incident is part of a decades-old conflict between ranchers and the federal government over the use of public land.

Critics of the federal government say it often oversteps its authority over land use.

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Ammon Bundy's brother, Ryan Bundy, said the protesters' ultimate goal was to turn the land over to local authorities so that people can use it free of federal oversight.

"I understand the land needs to be used wisely, but that's what we as stewards need to do. A rancher is going to take care of his own ranch," he added.

But despite the protest Dwight Hammond says he and his son plan to report peacefully to prison on Monday.

His lawyers told Associated Press "neither Ammon Bundy nor anyone within his group/organisation speak for the Hammond Family".

Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward was critical of the protesters and their motives.

"These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers, when in reality these men had alternative motives to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States," Mr Ward said in a statement.

Source: bbc.com

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Earthquake hits India's Manipur state

An earthquake measuring 6.7 magnitude has hit northeast India, near its borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, killing at least nine people.

The quake hit at 04:35 local time (23:05 GMT Sunday) about 29km (18 miles) northwest of Imphal, the capital of Manipur state, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Strong tremors have been felt across the region.

The earthquake was originally reported to have measured 6.8 magnitude.

India's Meteorological Department said it struck at a depth of 17km (about 10 miles).

The tremor cracked walls and a newly-built six-storey building in Imphal collapsed, police said. Other buildings were also reported to have been damaged.

At least six people have been killed in Manipur and more than 30 injured, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Map

In the neighbouring Bangladesh, three people were reported dead while dozens were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained during the quake.

The BBC's Salman Saeed in Dhaka said panicked residents fled into the streets.

A 23-year-old man died when he suffered a stroke after the quake while two others died of heart attacks, news agency AFP quoted police as saying.

A university student, who jumped from a fourth-floor balcony to escape, was among the critically wounded, the agency added.

At the scene, Paojel Chaoba, Journalist

I was woken up by a terrible jolt and felt my building shake. We ran out into the street below.

It was a complete scene of panic: people were fleeing their homes, and shouting.

Several buildings have collapsed in Imphal, and many others have suffered structural damages.

The worst affected appears to be the Mother's Market or the 'Ima Keithel' area. It is home to lots of buildings, private houses, a hospital and the city's press club.

Many of them have been damaged in the quake and the entire area has been cordoned off. A number of buildings there have been evacuated.

A number of electricity lines have been damaged and many areas are without power.

At the main regional hospital in Imphal, 37 people have been admitted with injuries.

This, in my experience, is the worst quake to hit Imphal.

Deepak Shijagurumayum, a resident of Imphal, told AFP by phone that his house was severely damaged by the quake.

"Almost everyone was asleep when it struck and were thrown out of their beds," Mr Shijagurumayum said.

"People were crying and praying in the streets and in open spaces. Hundreds remained outdoors for several hours fearing aftershocks."

Shaking was felt as far away as Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), 600km (370 miles) away. "Many people were seen coming out of their homes in panic," local resident Rabin Dev told AFP news agency.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he had spoken to the region's chief ministers and federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh "on the situation arising in the wake of the earthquake".

Casualties have not yet been reported on the Myanmar side of the border, which is sparsely populated.

The region has a history of powerful earthquakes caused by the northward collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates. They are moving towards each other at a rate of 4-5cm per year.

In 2005, a magnitude 7.6 quake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir left more than 75,000 people dead.

In April 2015, Nepal suffered its worst earthquake on record with 9,000 people killed and about 900,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

Source: bbc.com

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Iran-Saudi Arabia row: Tehran envoys to leave Riyadh 'in 48 hours'

Saudi Arabia has given Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, amid a row over the Saudi execution of a top Shia Muslim cleric.

The Saudi government announced on Sunday that it had broken off diplomatic ties with Iran.

Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of stoking tension in the region.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are the major Sunni and Shia powers in the region respectively and back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

The US has appealed for calm, calling for continued diplomatic engagement.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others were executed on Saturday after being convicted of terror-related offences.

Sunnis and Shia: Islam's ancient schism

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr: Leading Saudi Shia cleric

Late on Sunday, police came under heavy gunfire in his home town of Awamiya in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, leaving one civilian dead and a child injured, the Saudi Press Agency said.

Security forces are still hunting the attackers, calling the incident a "terrorist" act, a police spokesman was quoted as saying.

Shia Muslims have complained of marginalisation in Eastern Province.

'Interference'

Saudi Arabia announced that it would sever diplomatic relations with Iran after demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. It has also recalled its diplomats from Tehran.

Analysis: Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent

A diplomatic rupture between the major Sunni and Shia powers in the region will resonate across the Middle East, where they back opposing sides in many destructive wars and simmering conflicts.

Players are already lining up along sectarian lines to support either Tehran or Riyadh.

Last year had ended with a bit of hope that talks on ending Yemen's strife had, at least, begun. Syria was to follow this month. It looks an awful lot harder now.

In October Saudi sources told me they only dropped their opposition to Iran's presence at Syria talks after the US persuaded them to test Tehran's commitment. But they doubt Iran will do a deal, and see it as key source of regional instability.

On the other side, Iranian officials don't hide their contempt for the Saudi system and its support for Islamist groups. There's been barely-concealed anger for months. Now it's boiled over.


Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would not let Iran undermine its security, accusing it of having "distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region".

"Iran's history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction," he told a news conference.

US state department spokesman John Kirby said: "We will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions".

"We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential," he said.

'Martyr'

Earlier, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the Sunni Muslim kingdom would face "divine revenge" for the execution - an act which also angered Shia Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ayatollah Khamenei called Sheikh Nimr a "martyr" who had acted peacefully.

Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran late on Saturday, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police. The Saudi foreign ministry said none of its diplomats had been harmed in the incident.

Iran on Monday accused Saudi Arabia of using the embassy incident to provoke further regional tension, Iranian state TV reported.

It quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying: "Saudi Arabia sees its life in pursuit of crises and confrontations and attempts to resolve all of its internal problems by exporting them to the outside."

Relations between the countries have been strained over various issues in recent decades, including Iran's nuclear programme and deaths of Iranians at the Hajj pilgrimage in 1987 and again in 2015.

Diplomatic ties were severed between 1988 and 1991.

Most of the 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks over the last decade.

Sheikh Nimr was involved in anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Arab Spring, up to his arrest in 2012.

The execution also sparked protests in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.

Source: bbc.com


 

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Donald Trump defends Muslim ban call after al-Shabab film

Donald Trump has again defended his call for a ban on Muslims entering the US after it was used in a propaganda video by Somali militant group al-Shabab.

The Republican presidential hopeful said people had praised his courage in truthfully highlighting a "problem" that others preferred to ignore.

"Now people are getting involved" in the issue, he told CBS News.

Mr Trump's call, after a shooting in the US, has been widely condemned.

Other Republicans, the White House, and the British Prime Minister David Cameron were highly critical of the comments, which followed the San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people died.

Democratic presidential candidate and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Mr Trump's rhetoric was turning him into the "best recruiter" for the Islamic State militant group.

A propaganda video by Al-Shabab, al-Qaeda's Somali affiliate, used a clip of Mr Trump repeating his call at a campaign rally last month.

During an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation programme, to be shown on Sunday, Mr Trump was questioned over how his comments had been framed by al-Shabab as an incentive for Muslims to join holy war.

"Look, there's a problem," he said. "I bring it up. Other people have called and say you have guts to bring it up because frankly it's true and nobody wants to get involved.

"People that are on different persuasions than me right now are saying, you know, maybe Trump isn't wrong. We want to examine it."

The video, released by al-Shabab's media wing, also urges African-Americans to convert to Islam and take part in holy war. It says racism, police brutality and anti-Muslim sentiment are rife in the US.

In recent years, several Somali-Americans from Minnesota have gone to fight for al-Shabab in Somalia.

Al-Shabab, which seeks to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government and impose a strict version of Sharia (Islamic law), has carried out attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Last month's campaign statement from Mr Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims" entering the US until the authorities could "figure out what is going on".

The call was issued after a deadly gun attack in San Bernardino, California, by a husband and wife who are thought to have been radicalised.

Source: bbc.com

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Islamic State video 'shows killing of five men it says spied for UK'

Islamic State militants have released a video, featuring a man and young boy speaking with British accents, purportedly showing the killing of five men who it says were spying for the UK.

In the 10-minute film, the man threatens attacks in the UK and says this is a message for David Cameron.

A young boy wearing military fatigues also appears, talking about killing "unbelievers".

The propaganda video has not been independently verified.

IS has repeatedly used children in its videos.

'Extraordinary duress'

In the new video, the masked jihadi militant, who is holding a gun, mocks Mr Cameron for daring to "challenge the might" of the extremist group before he makes a threat to British people to "invade your land".

The five men, wearing jumpsuits, are seen purportedly being shot dead in a desert location after making what is claimed to be their confessions.

But BBC World Service Middle East editor Alan Johnston says they appear to be "speaking under the most extraordinary duress" and "may be entirely innocent".

One of the men says he had been asked to provide information about the location of IS militants, including two Britons, apparently to help target them with air strikes, he added.

Some of the five men say that they are from Raqqa in Syria while another says he is from Benghazi, Libya, but none that they are from the UK.

After the apparent killings, the young boy, who seems to be aged around six or seven years old, is seen pointing into the distance.

Our correspondent says the release of the video comes in the aftermath of a "major military setback for IS," after it recently lost control of much of the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

He adds: "It's possible this is aimed at distracting attention from that defeat - an effort to shock watching Westerners and shift their focus."

Source: bbc.com

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Iran: Saudis face 'divine revenge' for executing al-Nimr

Saudi Arabia will face "divine revenge" for its execution of a prominent Shia cleric, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned.

Ayatollah Khamenei described Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a "martyr" who acted peacefully.

Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran late on Saturday, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police.

Several hundred people gathered outside the building again on Sunday afternoon.

The authorities have changed the name of the street on which the Saudi embassy stands, naming it after the executed Sheikh Nimr, one of 47 people executed for terrorism offences on Saturday.

But Ayatollah Khamenei said the cleric had been executed for his opposition to Saudi Arabia's Sunni rulers.

"This oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, nor was involved in covert plots," the ayatollah tweeted.

"The only act of #SheikhNimr was outspoken criticism," he added, saying the "unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians".

Sheikh Nimr had been a figurehead in the anti-government protests that erupted in the wake of the Arab Spring up to his arrest in 2012.

Fury in Iranian press, by BBC Monitoring

Newspapers in Iran have reacted with anger to the killing of the Shia cleric, warning it could bring down the Saudi ruling family but Saudi papers insist the authorities have the right to mete out punishment to those who do not obey the rules.

The killing "has brought the weak foundations of the bloodthirsty government of Saudi Arabia closer to collapse", says Iran's hard-line Vatan-e Emruz.

The authorities in Riyadh must now accept that the supporters of the cleric in the region "will take revenge", warns conservative Hemayat.

But reformist Sharq fears the "irresponsible" act could exacerbate sectarian tensions in the region and warns Tehran not to get drawn into Riyadh's "dangerous game".

In Saudi Arabia, Al-Riyadh is adamant that "the homeland's security, unity and prestige are non-negotiable" and no "incitement of harm or sedition" should be tolerated irrespective of the culprit's affiliations.

Finally, Al-Jazirah, says the "firm, strong verdict" has made the country "safer and more stable".


Iran - Saudi Arabia's main regional rival - has led condemnation among Shia communities over the execution.

The foreign ministry in Tehran said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it summoned the Saudi charge d'affaires in Tehran in protest.

Some of the protesters at the Saudi embassy in Tehran hurled petrol bombs and rocks. Forty people have been arrested, officials said.

There have also been demonstrations in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalisation, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.

The top Shia cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani described the execution as an "unjust aggression".

The leader of Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, launched his sharpest attack yet on the Saudi ruling family, accusing them of seeking to ignite a civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims across the world.

He said the blood of Sheikh Nimr would "plague the Al Saud [family] until the Day of Resurrection", prompting cries of "Death to the Al Saud!" among an audience watching his address.

For its part, Saudi Arabia complained to the Iranian envoy in Riyadh about what it called "blatant interference" in its internal affairs.

Clashes between protesters and police were also reported for a second day in Indian-administered Kashmir and in Bahrain, where a Shia majority have complained of marginalisation at the hands of the Sunni royal family.

The execution has worsened long-running tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations, which support opposite sides in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts.

The US and UN have both called for restraint.

In a statement after the executions, US state spokesman John Kirby appealed to Saudi Arabia's government to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings.

Mr Kirby also urged the Saudi government to permit peaceful expression of dissent and, along with other leaders in the region, to redouble efforts to reduce regional tensions.

Who was Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr?

  • In his 50s when he was executed, he has been a persistent critic of Saudi Arabia's Sunni royal family
  • Arrested several times over the past decade, alleging he was beaten by Saudi secret police during one detention
  • Met US officials in 2008, Wikileaks revealed, seeking to distance himself from anti-American and pro-Iranian statements
  • Said to have a particularly strong following among Saudi Shia youth

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr: Figurehead Shia cleric

Most of the 47 executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks last decade.

Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions last year, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

Source: bbc.com

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Drop in oil prices rocks producer states, triggers historic tax hike plan in Alaska

The plunge in oil prices has given a needed break to drivers this holiday season, but it’s causing some real pain in states that rely on oil revenue to fuel their economies and shore up their budgets.

Perhaps nowhere is the impact more pronounced than in Alaska, where Gov. Bill Walker is proposing a raft of new taxes, including the first personal income tax in over three decades, along with budget cuts to offset the damage from the price drop for the oil-reliant state.

“This is a major paradigm shift in how the state of Alaska conducts business,” Walker said in a statement as he announced the plan in December. “That’s because we cannot continue with business as usual and live solely off of our natural resource revenues.”

The price of Brent crude in the United States has fallen below $40 a barrel – more than $30 lower than in May of 2015.

Alaska is a state so reliant on, and accustomed to, big oil revenue that residents share in the profits. In a sign of changing times, Walker’s plan would redirect some of that money to the government itself, making for smaller dividend checks for residents.  

According to the Walker administration, the income tax component of the New Sustainable Alaska Plan could generate up to $200 million in revenue a year. Under the plan, the average Alaskan family would pay a rate of roughly 1 percent of their gross income. This would coincide with cuts for everything from obesity-focused education programs to grants for emergency communication.

“Never before has the state faced a deficit so large that we’re draining more than $9 million from savings every day,” Walker said in a statement. “Fortunately those who came before us had the wisdom to set aside money for a rainy day. Well, it’s raining now.”

Given the financial straits of the government, Walker, an independent, has garnered bipartisan support from lawmakers – but still faces reluctance on pursuing an income tax. 

In a statement, House Operating Budget Chairman Mark Neuman, a Republican, said Walker “deserves credit for proposing some difficult options for filling our income gap.” Still, he said the plan could use more budget cuts. House Capital Budget Chairman Steve Thompson, also a Republican, echoed that critique and said he doesn’t want residents to pay an income tax “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Under the plan, taxes on the oil and other industries also would increase, as would alcohol and tobacco taxes. 

Alaska is in a more vulnerable position than a big oil state like Texas, which enjoys a more diverse economy.

Chris Bryan, a spokesman for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, told Fox News that while the state is projecting lower oil-and-gas tax revenue, “the state’s diverse economy coupled with a large beginning balance and a conservative budget from the 2015 Texas Legislature should allow the state to absorb this reduction in projected revenues.” He said the government is still predicting economic growth in Texas north of 2 percent for fiscal 2016 and 2017.

Yet in North Dakota, where an oil and gas revolution has transformed the state, the drop in prices also threatens to do significant damage.

A recent Moody’s Analytics study reportedly said the state could be nearing a “full-blown recession,” citing the $27 oil price in North Dakota, the lowest since 2008.

According to a Watchdog.org report, North Dakota’s general fund tax revenue was about $152 million, or 8.9 percent, less than forecasted by lawmakers.

“It doesn’t seem like the revenues are going to rebound in the very near term,” state Sen. Gary Lee, a Republican, told Watchdog.org.

But according to Sheila Peterson, director of the Fiscal Management Division of North Dakota’s Office of Management and Budget, the falling oil prices are not crunching the budget as much as they are in Alaska. 

“The only direct oil revenue that goes into our general fund is about $300 million out of a $6 billion budget,” Peterson told Fox News. “We still expect to get the $300 million from direct oil taxes.”

According to North Dakota’s OMB, the oil tax composes only 5 percent of North Dakota’s general fund revenue.

North Dakota runs on a 24-month budget, which will be re-evaluated for updated revenue forecasts by mid-to-late January 2016.

“Although revenues are indeed running below forecast right now, it’s not as though we’ve run out of money,” Peterson said. “Depending on what the next forecast shows, we’ll decide if we need to take action, and if so, what those actions will be.”

Source: foxnews.com

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Protesters demand prosecutor in Tamir Rice case step down

CLEVELAND –  Protesters upset by a decision not to indict two white police officers in the shooting death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who had a pellet gun, marched to the home of the prosecutor Friday and repeated calls for him to resign.

More than 100 people stood outside the home of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty during the peaceful protest, which also included demands for a federal investigation into the shooting.

A march leader told protesters not to vandalize McGinty's home, which is in a neighborhood on the west side of Cleveland. Police officers accompanied the marchers and stood in McGinty's driveway but did not intervene.

The protesters chanted, "New year, no more!" and "McGinty has got to go!"

Through a spokesman, McGinty declined to comment.

Protesters have called for McGinty's resignation since he announced Monday that the officers would not face criminal charges in Tamir's death. But criticism of him dates back months as frustration grew over the length of time it took to reach a decision concerning the November 2014 shooting.

Joseph Frolik, director of communications and public policy at the prosecutor's office, called Tamir's death "clearly a monumental tragedy caused by a series of mistakes by the Cleveland Police Department."

"But we would hope that people will also respect the decision made (by) another group of citizens — the members of the grand jury," Frolik said in a statement. "They personally see, hear and question witnesses, and they reach a decision based on their oath. If you don't trust the grand jury, you don't trust your neighbors."

Dozens of marchers lay down on the sidewalk running past McGinty's house for four minutes, the time they say it took medical responders to reach Tamir after he was shot outside a recreation center.

In announcing that charges would not be brought, McGinty said it was "indisputable" that Tamir was drawing the pistol from his waistband when he was gunned down.

The prosecutor said Tamir was trying to either hand the pellet gun over to police or show them it was not real, but the officer who shot him, Timothy Loehmann, and his partner, Frank Garmback, had no way of knowing that.

Tamir was shot by Loehmann within two seconds of the officers' police cruiser skidding to a stop near the boy.

McGinty said police radio personnel contributed to the tragedy by failing to pass along the "all-important fact" that a 911 caller said the gunman was probably a juvenile and the gun probably was not real.

On Thursday, Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams said that as protests continue, they plan to balance public safety with protesters' First Amendment rights.

Source: foxnews.com

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New Year: Celebrations mark start of 2016

Countries around the world are marking the New Year, with festivities under way in the US and Canada.

In New York, a million people converged on Times Square, amid tight security, to watch the famous ball descend.

In Brazil, crowds packed Rio's de Janeiro's famous Copacabana beach to watch a spectacular firework display.

Earlier, European cities ushered in 2016 - despite heightened security measures in some countries.

In Japan, people released balloons by Tokyo Tower, while South Koreans celebrated with traditional bell-ringing.

Revellers in Australia and New Zealand were among the first to welcome 2016.

Crowds counted down at Auckland's Sky Tower in New Zealand, with a laser show and fireworks display. Fireworks also lit up Sydney harbour in Australia.

People in Toronto flocked to Nathan Phillips Square

Copacabana beach in Rio's de Janeiro was packed with revellers

Celebrations were held in Paris despite the terror attacks of 2015

Celebrations in Berlin went ahead as police warned of a terror attack in Munich

In London, more than 100,000 people watched the fireworks display by the River Thames with thousands of extra police officers on duty.

In the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, the traditional Hogmanay party received a New Year message from British astronaut Tim Peake who was broadcasting live from the International Space Station.

In Berlin, fireworks were held at the Brandenburg Gate, with one million people estimated to have attended the countdown. The celebrations took place as police in Munich warned of a planned terror attack and asked people to avoid crowds.

In Paris, the traditional fireworks display was cancelled to be replaced by a five-minute video performance at the Arc de Triomphe just before midnight. The screening was relayed on screens along the Champs-Elysees.

The city's mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said the video was intended to send "the world the message that Paris is standing, proud of its lifestyle and living together''.

Earlier, President Hollande in a New Year's Eve address to the nation said that his country "has not finished with terrorism yet", six weeks after gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in Paris.

In one of the more innovative celebrations, four divers equipped with musical instruments and breathing apparatus performed an underwater "concert" in a fish tank in Yantai, east China.

Festivities went ahead in Dubai despite a fire at the city's Address Hotel. A fireworks display was held near the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

Egypt celebrated with fireworks staged in front of the pyramids near Cairo, as the government works to revive its tourist industry.

The pyramids were illuminated ahead of celebrations in Giza, near Cairo

Revellers in Japan released balloons in front of Tokyo Tower

Auckland marked New Year with fireworks at the Sky Tower

A special New Year artwork in Amritsar, India

Russia - the first major European city to welcome 2016 - held a fireworks display over Red Square in Moscow.

Despite security fears across the continent, many major public events are going ahead, though with heightened security restrictions.

Only 25,000 people in Madrid were allowed into the Puerta del Sol square.

Over in Sierra Leone, the declared end of Ebola was marked by a return to New Year festivities, after Freetown, the capital, was left deserted a year ago due to the disease's outbreak.

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South Africa's King Dalindyebo goes to jail

A South African king who is a nephew of the late Nelson Mandela has begun a 12-year prison sentence for kidnapping, assault and arson.

King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo reported to prison after his legal attempts to overturn his conviction failed.

The case against King Dalindyebo was related to a dispute he had with some of his subjects about two decades ago.

He comes from the Thembu clan, to which Mr Mandela, South Africa's first black president, belonged.

He is the first monarch to be jailed in South Africa since minority rule ended in 1994.

King Dalindyebo, 51, ascended to the throne in 1989, and has about 700,000 subjects.

South Africa has 10 officially recognised monarchs representing different ethnic groups and clans.

They play a largely ceremonial role, and attend to minor disputes within their communities.

King Dalindyebo was accused of kidnapping a woman and her six children, setting their home on fire and beating up four youths, one of whom died, because one of their relatives had failed to present himself before the king's traditional court.

He handed himself to prison authorities in the eastern city of Mthatha in compliance with a court order after a judge refused to extend his bail on Wednesday, the justice ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Justice Minister Michael Masutha turned down his request for a retrial, saying there was no legal justification for doing so.

King Dalindyebo had maintained his innocence, saying he disciplined his subjects under customary law.


Analysis: Milton Nkosi, BBC Africa, Johannesburg

Many of the king's subjects feel that he has sullied the reputation of the Thembu royal household.

His father, Sabata, was a revered monarch who fought against minority rule, and campaigned for the unity of South Africa's ethnic groups.

In contrast, his son turned out to be a disgrace, and has paid the ultimate price.

More significantly, South Africa has once again demonstrated that, despite its leadership problems, it upholds the rule of law, even if it means locking up a king and alienating some of his subjects ahead of crucial local elections next year.

It is also to the monarch's credit that after exhausting all his legal options, he reported to prison rather than daring the police to come and arrest him at his palace in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.


Sentencing the king in October, the Supreme Court of Appeal said: "His behaviour was all the more deplorable because the victims of his reign of terror were the vulnerable rural poor, who were dependent upon him. Our constitution does not countenance such behaviour.

"We are a constitutional democracy in which everyone is accountable and where the most vulnerable are entitled to protection."

There are conflicting reports on whether King Dalindyebo would remain the monarch of the Thembu people.

One royal family spokesman was quoted in the South African media as saying that its elders would meet on Monday to choose a successor, while another spokesman said that he would remain the king despite his imprisonment.

King Dalindyebo defected from the governing African National Congress (ANC) to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party during his legal battles.

The DA revoked his membership following the ruling of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Source: bbc.com

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Munich police warn of imminent terror threat

Police in the German city of Munich have warned of a planned terror attack and asked people to avoid crowds.

The police tweeted that the city's main station and Pasing station had been evacuated and said trains were no longer stopping there.

In a Facebook post, authorities said they had "serious information" that the attack had been planned for New Year's Eve. They gave no further details.

Cities across Europe are already on a heightened state of alert.

"Current indications show that a terror attack is being planned in Munich. Please avoid gatherings of people and the Munich and Pasing train stations," police said in the tweet.

Munich newspaper TZ reported that police believed several groups of attackers could strike at different locations in the city.

Police said they had two pieces of information about a possible attack, German media reported.

"We have concrete information that we cannot sweep under the carpet," Bild newspaper quoted a police spokesperson as saying.

Local media reports say the information had come from French authorities.

Armed police have cordoned off the main station and asked people nearby to leave the area, TZ reported.

The newspaper quoted a spokesperson as saying the situation was "comparable to that in Hannover" in November, when a football match between Germany and the Netherlands was called off after what Hannover police called a "concrete security threat".

"We want to minimise the risk as much as possible," the spokesperson told the newspaper.

The city's police said they had called in reinforcements from southern Bavaria while special police units were already operating in the city.

Belgium arrests

Security concerns had already caused New Year celebrations to be cancelled or limited in other European cities.

The authorities in Brussels called off all official events after three people were detained on Thursday in connection with an alleged New Year's Eve plot.

They are being held for a further 24 hours, prosecutors said. Two other terror suspects were arrested earlier this week.

New Year: Celebrations mark start of 2016

But the apparent plots to target New Year celebrations in Brussels were not related to the suspected network behind the Paris attacks, the authorities said.

Police seized material during Thursday's raids including computers, phones and materials for playing airsoft - a military simulation game in which players fire replica weapons loaded with plastic pellets.

Separately, Belgian police arrested a 10th suspect over the 13 November attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed.

The Belgian national, identified as Ayoub B, was detained on Wednesday during a raid in the Brussels district of Molenbeek. He has been charged with terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

Paris attacks: Is Molenbeek a hotbed of extremism?

In Paris, the traditional fireworks display has been called off but thousands of people partied on the Champs Elysees in the biggest public gathering since last month's attacks.

Extra measures

Security was stepped up in other major European cities too, including Moscow, London and Berlin.

Earlier this week, Austrian police claimed a "friendly intelligence service" had tipped them off that major European capitals were at risk of being attacked over the holiday period.

In Moscow, the fireworks were delayed by five minutes and, for the first time, the police closed Red Square - a traditional place for crowds to gather.

London's Metropolitan Police deployed 3,000 officers in the inner city, including extra armed officers.

In Berlin, officials said the security situation remained unchanged despite the alert in Munich.

Backpacks and fireworks were banned and bags searched on the "party mile" leading up to the Brandenburg Gate.

Ankara 'plot'

On Wednesday, Turkish police arrested two suspected IS members over an alleged plot to attack celebrations in Ankara.

State media said they were planning two separate attacks on crowded areas. Suicide vests and explosives were found during police raids.

Source: bbc.com

 

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Rwanda genocide: Jean Uwinkindi sentenced to life in prison

Rwanda's High Court has sentenced a pastor to life in prison for his role in the 1994 genocide.

Jean Uwinkindi organised and participated in attacks on the minority Tutsi ethnic group, the court ruled.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by militias from the majority Hutu ethnic group.

The 64-year-old Hutu pastor was the first genocide suspect to be sent back to Rwanda for trial by the Tanzanian-based UN tribunal.

The tribunal shut down this month after sentencing 61 individuals and acquitting 14 others.

Uwinkindi - the former head of a Pentecostal church on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali - had opposed his transfer.

He said he would not get a fair trial in Rwanda, where there is now a Tutsi-led government.

His lawyers said he would appeal against the High Court's ruling.

"The court finds that there were killings of the Tutsi at Rwankeri and Kanzenze hills and that the attacks were led by Uwinkindi," said Judge Kanyegeri Timothee, Reuters news agency reports.

The prosecution alleged that in investigations after the genocide, some 2,000 bodies were found near the church in Kanzenze, just outside Kigali, where Uwinkindi was pastor.

He was indicted in 2011 after he was arrested in 2010 in neighbouring Uganda.

Another key suspect, Ladislas Ntaganzwa, who has a $5m (£3.2m) US bounty on him, was arrested two weeks ago in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Chicago police to get Tasers and training after shootings

Police in Chicago are to receive new equipment and training on how to defuse tensions following a spate of fatal shootings of African-Americans by officers, the city's mayor has said.

Rahm Emanuel says every patrol car in Chicago would be equipped with a Taser gun, which is usually non-lethal.

He said police must learn when they can use a gun and when not to do so.

Protesters have urged Mr Emanuel to step down over a case in which an officer fatally shot a black teenager.

Laquan McDonald's death led to the city's police chief being fired and days of protests.

"Just because you train that you can use force doesn't mean you should," said Mr Emanuel. "Helping officers make that distinction - and the training that goes with it - is essential."

Mr Emanuel said the department would make 1,400 Tasers available to officers, up from 700.

On the night Mr McDonald was killed, several officers were heard asking for a Taser before officer Jason Van Dyke opened fire, shooting the teenager 16 times.

Mr Van Dyke has since been charged with murder.

However, the shootings have continued.

Just after Christmas, Chicago police shot and killed two people.

Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old mother-of-five was shot "accidentally", police said, as officers opened fire on, and killed, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, who they said was being "combative" toward officers.

About 15% of Chicago's police officers have so far received training aimed at resolving incidents without violence, officials say.

Source: bbc.com

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Turbulence on Air Canada flight from China injures 21

A Canada-bound airliner was forced to make an emergency landing after severe turbulence injured 21 passengers, including three children, officials said.

The Air Canada flight from Shanghai to Toronto was diverted to Calgary after the turbulence hit.

Eight passengers suffered neck and back injuries and 13 more were taken to hospital for observation.

Those hurt were in a stable condition, an emergency services spokesman said.

Air Canada's chief operating officer Klaus Goersch said passengers had been through a "very unsettling experience".

The Boeing 777 with 332 passengers and 19 crew on board landed at Calgary without further incident, the airline said in a statement.

"To start with it was just OK, normal just up and down, and all of a sudden it was really violent and just shaking everybody," said Yi Lee.

"Suddenly the flight is just going down and everything is really scary. The girl sitting next to me, she was sleeping and she just fly up (to the ceiling)," said Linda He.

Mr Goersch praised the crew's response and said some of the passengers taken to hospital had quickly been discharged.

Source: bbc.com

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Terror alert as European capitals tighten security ahead of New Year celebrations

Security is being stepped up in major European cities ahead of New Year celebrations, with officials wary of possible terror plots.

New Year fireworks and festivities have been cancelled in the Belgian capital Brussels because of an alert.

Extra measures will also be in place in cities including Paris, London, Berlin and Moscow.

Meanwhile in Turkey, security services say they have thwarted a major plot to attack celebrations in Ankara.

Earlier this week, Austrian police claimed a "friendly intelligence service" had tipped them off that major European capitals were at risk of being attacked over the holiday period.

Brussels alert

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the Brussels decision had been taken "given information we have received".

Last year 100,000 people turned out in Brussels to welcome in the New Year.

"In these circumstances, we can't check everyone," Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said.

Earlier in the week, police arrested two people suspected of planning attacks during the festive season and seized propaganda for so-called Islamic State (IS) as well as military clothing and computer equipment.

Belgium has been on high alert since the terror attacks of 13 November in Paris. Several of the perpetrators are thought to have been based in Belgium.

Ankara 'plot'

On Wednesday Turkish police arrested two suspected IS members over an alleged plot to attack celebrations in Ankara.

They reportedly entered Turkey from Syria and were planning two separate attacks on crowded areas, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Suicide vests and explosives were found during police raids.

A double suicide bombing killed more than 100 people in Ankara in October. Turkey has blamed IS, but no group has sad it carried out the attack.

Security will also be stepped up in Istanbul, with local media reports saying that some officers will be wearing Father Christmas outfits and other disguises to patrol crowds undetected.

'Without fanfare'

In Paris a New Year fireworks display has been abandoned, but the traditional gathering on the Champs-Elysees will take place amid tight security.

Projections on the Arc de Triomphe will be shorter than normal, four giant screens will be placed at intervals to avoid creating tightly packed crowds and the fireworks display has been cancelled.

"We have decided to mark the New Year in a reflective manner and without fanfare," Mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

November's gun and bomb attacks in the city killed 130 people and at least one of the suspected attackers remains on the run.

The US military has said some IS commanders in Iraq and Syria who had links to the Paris attacks and were planning further attacks on the West have died in bombing raids over the past month.

Red Square closed

Security is also being tightened in cities where the authorities say there is no specific intelligence about a possible attack.

Authorities in Moscow will completely close off Red Square, where crowds normally count down to midnight.

In Berlin, backpacks and fireworks will be prohibited and bags searched on the "fan mile" in front of the Brandenburg Gate, which has reportedly been closed off since Christmas.

Up to a million people are expected to attend the celebration.

Berlin's interior minister Frank Henkel encouraged party-goers to not allow fear to sour their celebratory mood.

"Caution is a good counsellor, fear is not," he told broadcaster RBB.

London's Metropolitan Police will deploy 3,000 officers in the inner city, including extra armed officers.

More than 100,000 people are expected to watch the Mayor of London's fireworks show, a ticketed event.

"Our plans are purely precautionary and not as a result of any specific intelligence," said a spokesperson.

Source: bbc.com

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Iran conducts 'provocative' live rocket tests near US ships

Iran's navy conducted rocket tests last week near US warships and other commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, the American military has said.

The tests threaten to cause new tensions between the two nations following their landmark nuclear deal.

Iran fired "several unguided rockets" about 1,370m (1,500 yards) from two US vessels and a French frigate, US military spokesman Kyle Raines said.

The tests were "highly provocative", said Cmdr Raines.

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway between Iran and Oman that provides passage for nearly a third of all oil traded by sea. The strait is also crucial for ships taking part in the war against so-called Islamic State.

In 2012 Iran threatened to block the strait, which lies at the entrance of the Gulf and is 33km (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point.

The latest incident, which took place on Saturday according to the US, follows a series of weapons tests by the Islamic Republic. Iranian media and officials did not immediately comment on the reports.

Iranian ships announced over maritime radio their intention to carry out the test 23 minutes before the rockets were fired.

"Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognised maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law," Cmdr Raines said.

The US Navy's 5th Fleet is based in nearby Bahrain. It conducts anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf and serves as a regional counterbalance to Iran.

Old tensions

Iran signed a long-term deal with six world powers in July to limit its sensitive nuclear activities in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

However, this year it has also broadcast footage of a missile attack on a mock-up of an US aircraft carrier and aired film on state TV of an underground missile base.

The Strait of Hormuz was the scene of a battle between the US and Iran in April 1988, when the US attacked two Iranian oil platforms used for surveillance and sank or damaged six of its vessels, including two naval frigates.

Tensions had erupted after the near-sinking of missile frigate USS Samuel B Roberts by an Iranian mine.

In July 1988, the USS Vincennes was patrolling the strait when it shot down an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai, killing 290 people on board. The ship's crew apparently mistook the plane for an Iranian F-14 fighter.

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Burundi crisis: Pierre Nkurunziza threatens to fight AU peacekeepers

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has threatened to fight African Union (AU) peacekeepers if they are deployed to the country.

The AU announced two weeks ago that it would send 5,000 troops to protect civilians in the country, even without the government's consent.

"Everyone has to respect Burundi borders," Mr Nkurunziza said in his first public response to the AU plan.

At least 400 people have been killed and 220,000 displaced since April.

The violence began after Mr Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office. He survived a coup attempt in May, and secured a landslide victory in disputed elections in July.

There have been fears that the violence could spiral into civil war and possible ethnic conflict.

Under Burundi's constitution, foreign troops can only intervene if the warring parties ask for it, or if there is no legitimate government in place, the president said in comments broadcast on state radio.

Any violation of those principles would be considered "an attack on the country and every Burundian will stand up and fight against them," he said.

Other government officials have already criticised the AU proposal saying it would violate the country's sovereignty.

If the deployment goes ahead, it would be the first time the AU uses its power to deploy a force without a country's consent.

A clause in the organisation's charter allows it to intervene in a member state because of grave circumstances, which include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Diplomatic moves to prevent a civil war in Burundi have recently accelerated with the UN, the European Union and the East African Community fearful of the impact of worsening violence both on the local population and the region.

The government has said there is no threat of genocide.

A peace meeting held in neighbouring Uganda on Tuesday to find a solution to the crisis ended without any agreement.

A recent AU fact-finding mission reports of arbitrary killings, torture and the arbitrary... "closure of some civil society organisations and the media".

Ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in the 1990s claimed an estimated 300,000 lives.

Mr Nkurunziza is the former leader of a Hutu rebel group, who has been in power since a 2005 peace deal.

Both the government and the opposition are ethnically mixed.


Timeline - Burundi crisis

  • April 2015 - Protests erupt after President Pierre Nkurunziza announces he will seek a third term in office.
  • May 2015 - Constitutional court rules in favour of Mr Nkurunziza, amid reports of judges being intimidated. Tens of thousands flee violence amid protests.
  • May 2015 - Army officers launch a coup attempt, which fails.
  • July 2015 - Elections are held, with Mr Nkurunziza re-elected. The polls are disputed, with opposition leader Agathon Rwasa describing them as "a joke".
  • November 2015 - Burundi government gives those opposing President Nkurunziza's third term five days to surrender their weapons ahead of a promised crackdown.
  • November 2015 - UN warns it is less equipped to deal with violence in Burundi than it was for the Rwandan genocide.
  • December 2015 - 87 people killed on one day as soldiers respond to an attack on military sites in Bujumbura

Profile: President Nkurunziza

Find out more about Burundi

Source: bbc.com

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South Africa's King Dalindyebo's bid for retrial fails

South Africa's justice minister has thrown out a bid by the Thembu king to reopen his criminal trial so that he can avoid serving 12 years in prison.

King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo had failed to provide any new evidence to justify a retrial, Michael Masutha said.

The monarch is due to report to prison on Wednesday after being convicted of kidnapping, assault and arson.

He comes from the Thembu clan, to which South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, belonged.

King Dalindyebo is the first monarch to be convicted of a crime in South Africa since minority rule ended in 1994.

He ascended to the throne in 1989, and has about 700,000 subjects.

The late Mr Mandela grew up in the Thembu royal household, and was the 51-year-old King Dalindyebo's uncle.

South Africa has 10 officially recognised monarchs representing different ethnic groups and clans.

Nelson Mandela, who grew up in the Thembu royal household, died two years ago, aged 95

The case against King Dalindyebo was related to a dispute he had with some of his subjects more than two decades ago.

He was accused of kidnapping a woman and her six children, setting their home on fire and beating up four youths, one of whom died, because one of their relatives had failed to present himself before the king's traditional court.

King Dalindyebo appealed to Mr Masutha to reopen his trial after failing in the courts to have his conviction and sentence set aside.

His legal team said he would not report to prison on Wednesday, as they intended to apply for his bail to be extended yet again, the national broadcaster, SABC, reports on its website.

Last week, a court extended King Dalindyebo's bail while Mr Masutha considered his request for a retrial, making it possible for him to spend Christmas at home.

'Deplorable behaviour'

Many people feel King Dalindyebo has disgraced the royal family, and that he will be hard-pressed to find any sympathy, correspondents say.

There is already talk of his son, Prince Azenethi Dalindyebo, being crowned as the next monarch.

King Dalindyebo was a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, but it revoked his membership following his conviction.

Sentencing him in October, the Supreme Court of Appeal said: "His behaviour was all the more deplorable because the victims of his reign of terror were the vulnerable rural poor, who were dependent upon him. Our constitution does not countenance such behaviour.

"We are a constitutional democracy in which everyone is accountable and where the most vulnerable are entitled to protection."

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Ebola outbreak ends in Guinea, says WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the end of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, two years after the epidemic began there.

Guineans are expected to celebrate the landmark with concerts and fireworks.

The disease killed more than 2,500 people in the West African state, and a further 9,000 in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the WHO in September, and Sierra Leone in November.

However, Liberia has had new cases since the declaration.

A country is considered free of human-to-human transmission once two 21-day incubation periods have passed since the last known case tested negative for a second time.

"It's the best year-end present that God could give to Guinea, and the best news that Guineans could hope for," Ebola survivor Alama Kambou Dore told AFP news agency.

Local health workers echoed a warning from the WHO that vigilance was still vital despite the mood of celebration.

"We have to be very careful, because even if open transmission has been stopped, the disease has not been totally defeated," said Alpha Seny Souhmah, a Guinean health worker and Ebola survivor.

Ad campaigns have run in countries affected by Ebola calling for an end to stigma

 

In a statement, the WHO congratulated the Guinean government and people for showing "extraordinary leadership in fighting the epidemic".

But it also noted that there had been 10 new small outbreaks of the virus between March and November.

"The coming months will be absolutely critical," said Dr Bruce Aylward from the WHO's Ebola response team.

"This is the period when the countries need to be sure that they are fully prepared to prevent, detect and respond to any new cases."

The WHO will maintain surveillance and outbreak response teams in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia throughout 2016, Dr Aylward added.


Analysis: Tulip Mazumdar, health correspondent, BBC News

This is another major milestone in the bumpy road to the end of the worst Ebola outbreak in history. It all started in Guinea when the virus emerged, probably from fruit bats, in a rural community deep in the forest.

Guinea saw far fewer cases than neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone, yet the virus has been circulating there for longer than anywhere else.

I remember travelling through Guinea at the height of the outbreak, and there was still a lot of denial about Ebola; people told me it was a made-up disease. Suspicion is still rife in some communities, and many simply do not trust their government.

Ebola has made a comeback in Liberia after the country twice declared the end of the epidemic, and there is every possibility it could return to Guinea. It will be up to communities to keep the killer virus at bay, by reporting suspicious deaths and encouraging loved ones to seek treatment if they show symptoms of Ebola.

But medical facilities also need to respond quickly, which will happen for the extra 90-day "heightened surveillance" period. A key question is what will happen after that, particularly for the thousands of Ebola survivors who are still facing health problems.

More than 100 health workers also lost their lives in the fight against the disease.

Many survivors still live in fear of the stigma and long-term side effects associated with the virus.

The government in Guinea has blamed the virus for poor economic performance and says it has also caused people to distrust the country's health services.

President Alpha Conde has doubled the health budget since winning re-election in October.

Ebola cases 20 December

Source: bbc.com

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Migrant crisis: Over one million reach Europe by sea

More than one million refugees and migrants have reached Europe by sea since the start of 2015, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says.

More than 80% of the 1,000,573 people arrived in Greece, with the majority landing on Lesbos island, it said.

About 844,000 travelled to Greece from nearby Turkey. Most of the others - over 150,000 - crossed the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

The migrant crisis is Europe's worst since World War Two.

Migration to Europe in graphics

Migrants offered 'bad weather discounts'

The migrants reaching Europe by land

The number of sea arrivals has increased vastly since 2014, when it was recorded at slightly more than 216,000.

"Increasing numbers of refugees and migrants take their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate bid to reach Europe," the UNHCR said on its website.

"The vast majority of those attempting this dangerous crossing are in need of international protection, fleeing war, violence and persecution in their country of origin."

About 49% of those crossing the Mediterranean Sea are from Syria, with 21% coming from Afghanistan, it added.

The number of those dead or missing at sea is now at 3,735.

The BBC's Paul Adams in Lesbos says that while the island feels less overwhelmed than usual, thousands more people are still waiting to be registered so they can travel further into Europe.


Increasing numbers of migrants are travelling to Europe by sea
 
The majority travel to Germany, which has accepted a million refugees and migrants
 

On 21 December, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said the total number of migrants arriving by both land and sea had reached more than 1,006,000.

Many migrants are still making the journey to Europe despite winter weather. The influx has caused tension within the EU, with some states putting up fences and reimposing frontier controls.

Last week, the EU agreed to increase the number of Frontex agency staff in Greece, where most migrants arrive before travelling further into Europe.

Germany says it has received more than a million refugees and migrants, the largest number of any European country, but this includes a large number from the Balkan states who are not counted in the sea arrivals.

Source: bbc.com

 
 
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Nigeria suicide bombers attack Maiduguri and Madagali

A wave of attacks by female suicide bombers in north-eastern Nigeria has killed more than 50 people.

In the latest blasts two bombers struck a market in the town of Madagali in Adamawa state, an army official said. More than 25 people were killed.

In neighbouring Borno state, several attacks in Maiduguri killed more than 30 people and injured over 100.

Last week, Nigeria's leader said the war against Islamist Boko Haram militants had been "technically won".

The attacks are being blamed on the group.

The BBC's Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar in the capital, Abuja, says Boko Haram jihadists appear to be trying to prove that they can still inflict widespread destruction.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in May promising to defeat the group, told the BBC last week that the militants could no longer mount "conventional attacks" against security forces or population centres.

It had been reduced to fighting with improvised explosives devices (IEDs), he said.

The twin suicide blasts in Madagali were confirmed by the Adamawa state military chief, Brig-Gen Victor Ezugwu.

Maina Ularamu, a community leader and former local government chairman, told AFP two female suicide bombers killed at least 30 people.

'Fired indiscriminately'

Further north, during an attack on Dawari village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, security forces had intervened and killed 10 suicide bombers, spokesman Col Mustapha Anka said.

Residents said militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades drove into the village in trucks and began firing indiscriminately.

Muhammad Kanar, from the National Emergency Management Agency, told the BBC the injured had been taken to three hospitals in the city for treatment.

Hours later a female suicide bomber killed one person as people queued in the morning by a mosque in the city.

A resident in Maiduguri's Ushari Bulabulin district, who asked not to be named, told the BBC Hausa Service: "People were being scanned before they were allowed to pass, and she went into the middle of the gathering. She killed one person and injured six or seven...

"We cannot see the lower part of her body - the bomb must have completely destroyed the lower part of her body," he said.

The military has not commented on the latest attack on the mosque, which is believed to be about a kilometre from the village.

Boko Haram started its insurgency in 2009 and has sworn allegiance to Islamic State and often displays its trademark black flag

  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS's "West African province"
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory this year

Read:

Using football to tackle Boko Haram

Why Boko Haram remains a threat

Source: bbc.com

 

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Tamir Rice case: Police not to face charges over killing

A US grand jury has decided not to bring charges against a white policeman over the killing of a 12-year-old black boy armed with a toy gun.

A local prosecutor in Ohio state, Tim McGinty, called the events that led to the death of Tamir Rice a "perfect storm of human error".

But he said it was not unreasonable for the officer to fear for his life.

Public officials in Cleveland on Monday urged the public to remain calm and to protest peacefully.

State Senator Sandra Williams said any unrest would hamper progress but still called the decision a "grave miscarriage of justice".

The announcement comes at a time when the deaths of black men at the hands of police have sparked a national debate.

Rice was carrying a non-lethal pellet gun when police approached him in Cleveland in November 2014, in response to a 911 call reporting a man waving and pointing a gun at people.

Rice's gun was a toy but looked like a real weapon

The caller said the gun might not be real and the perpetrator could be a juvenile.

Mr McGinty, who announced the grand jury's decision on Monday, faulted the emergency services dispatcher for not relaying that information to police.

Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback have said the gun looked real and urged Rice to raise his hands three times.

Mr Loehmann shot Rice twice after the boy pulled the gun from his waistband.

The officers said they believed Rice was older than 12. He weighed about 175lbs (79kg) and stood 5ft 7in (1.7m) tall.

The toy gun lacked an orange safety tip and Mr McGinty urged toy manufacturers to stop making replicas that look like real guns.

The Rice family have said police fired too quickly and should have used a Taser, a non-lethal weapon.

Footage from a surveillance camera shows Mr Loehmann firing moments after police arrived at the scene.

Although the officers' actions were not criminal, Mr McGinty said Cleveland had learned from the shooting.

"It should never happen again, and the city has taken steps so it doesn't,'' Mr McGinty said.

Source: bbc.com

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Gov’t to enforce plastic ban in 6 months if…

Government has given plastic producers a six months ultimatum to help solve the country’s sanitation problem or face a blanket ban on the production of plastics.

The latest threat from government comes on the back of what some have described as the lack of commitment by the plastic producers to combat the plastic filth which has engulfed the country’s capital especially.

In mid-2015 President Mahama gave indications that government may have to go the Rwandan way of banning plastics into the country. His comments generated a huge public debate about the production and use of plastics in Ghana.

It was on the back of this that plastic producers pleaded with government to reconsider the decision by promising to make their products biodegradable.

Government suspended the ban which should have come into effect in November.

Environment Minister, Mahama Ayariga in an interview indicated that “there is an understanding that the flexy plastic manufacturers will work out a strategy with us on how to keep the environment clean from their products such as helping with sanitation management.

“They have also promised to provide litter bins and help in reducing waste especially plastic waste.”

These the minister says should be looked at immediately, or government would slap them with the ban.

Source: ghanaweb.com

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Benin PM Lionel Zinsou escapes from helicopter crash

Benin's Prime Minister walked away unscathed after the helicopter in which he was travelling crashed in the country's northwest, his daughter said.

It is unclear why the helicopter carrying Lionel Zinsou crash-landed in a stadium.

"My father is fine. There were no victims in the helicopter accident in Djougou," Marie-Cecile Zinsou tweeted.

Earlier this month, Mr Zinsou confirmed he would run as a candidate in Benin's 2016 presidential elections.

The helicopter crashed while landing at a stadium in the city of Djougou, a spokesman for Benin's interior ministry Leonce Houngbadji told the AFP news agency.

He said no-one in the helicopter was hurt.

Mr Zinsou, a former private-equity executive, was appointed prime minister of Benin in June.

He has said he will run for president in February's election as a candidate of the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party.

Reuters reported in early December that Mr Zinsou's announcement put an end to speculation Benin's president Thomas Boni Yayi was seeking a third term.

Source: bbc.com

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