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World Monthly Headline News December 2020

The Putin critic returned to Russia after receiving treatment after being poisoned with what German scientists said was a Russian-made chemical weapon.
By Patrick Smith and Matthew Bodner

Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will spend 30 days in detention after a court hearing in a Moscow police station Monday, his spokesman said. The decision was handed down less than 24 hours after the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin was detained on his return from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning with what scientists said was Novichok, a Russian-made chemical weapon. He has accused the Russian state of trying to kill him, which it denies. Navalny was detained due to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence — he says the charge is false. He was due to go to trial on Jan. 29 and faces a possible three-and-a-half year jail sentence. more...

Some wins, some losses, but overall a record to be proud of—if you’re Vladimir Putin.
By Jeff Stein and Patricia Ravalgi

If Russian intelligence were a baseball team, they’d be the Houston Astro—good, powerful, even lethal, but cheaters who broke the rules in a game already known for bending them. And they pretty much got away with it. “I like that analogy,” says retired top former CIA clandestine operations official Marc Polymeropoulos. “I would add that the Houston players were never really sanctioned either, right? They lost their manager and GM, but players got off scot-free. Sound familiar?”

Whatever the analogy, Russia’s spies took the field like bruising athletes in 2020, scoring big, clever, espionage wins in the West but also tripping over themselves with clumsy murder plots that further blackened their names on the competitive field of international relations. You’d think the manager would be fired with such a record, but then again, this team is run by Vladimir Putin. He just doesn’t care. “What surprises me is Putin's willingness to risk getting caught over such small fry,” says John Sipher, who knows a thing or two about the Russians, having been a CIA station chief in Moscow. All those targets were “no real threat to Putin.” more...

Ashley Westerman, Ryan Benk, David Greene

The Black Lives Matter movement became an international phenomenon in 2020. As protesters took to the streets in cities across the U.S. in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minn., so did demonstrators in other countries — all with a similar message: Black lives matter. "There is a George Floyd in every country," South Africa-based journalist Lynsey Chutel tells NPR's David Greene during a recent roundtable interview.

Joining Chutel for Morning Edition's roundtable are Ana Luisa González, a freelance journalist based in Colombia and Febriana Firdaus, a freelance investigative journalist based in Indonesia. Demonstrations spread across Colombia in June. They were sparked by the May killing of a young Black man named Anderson Arboleda in Puerto Tejada, who was allegedly beaten to death by police for breaking pandemic rules. Activists called for justice for Arboleda and other young Afro-Latino men killed by police. more...

By Diego Laje and Kara Fox, CNN

Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) Argentina's Senate approved a bill to legalize abortion Wednesday in an historic vote seen as a major victory for abortion rights advocates in the Catholic-majority country. The Senate voted 38-29 to give millions of women access to legal terminations under a new law supported by President Alberto Fernández. The margin was expected to be much smaller. Massive crowds of abortion rights activists and anti-abortion campaigners gathered outside the Palace of the Argentine National Congress to await the results, which came in the early hours of the morning after an overnight debate. Supporters of the bill greeted the news with loud cheers -- and, in some cases, tears of joy.

Gabriela Giacomelli, whose two sisters had illegal abortions, called the scene "very emotional." "We have been fighting for years," Giacomelli said. "I see young people now, though I hope they never have to abort, but if they do now they can do it safely." Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina and an ambassador for the global women's rights movement She Decides, said: "Today, Argentina has made an emblematic step forward in defending the rights of women, girls and people with reproductive capacity." The law will legalize abortion in all cases up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion in Argentina, South America's third-most populous country, is currently only permitted when a pregnancy results from rape or endangers the life or health of the woman. In all other circumstances, abortion is illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Abortion advocates hope Argentina's decision will spur similar movements in Latin America's other Catholic-majority states. more...

Loud blasts and gunfire were heard at the airport shortly after the plane arrived, witnesses said.
By The Associated Press and Reuters

SANAA, Yemen — At least 16 people were killed and dozens others injured in an attack on Aden airport in Yemen on Wednesday, shortly after a plane carrying a newly formed Yemeni Cabinet arrived from Saudi Arabia. No one on the government plane was hurt. Mohammed al-Roubid, deputy head of Aden’s health office, told The Associated Press that along with the 16 killed, at least 60 people were wounded in the explosion. The source of the blast remains unknown and no group immediately claimed an attack on the airport in the southern city. Loud blasts and gunfire were heard at the airport shortly after the plane arrived, witnesses said. The cabinet members including Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik, as well as Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Said al-Jaber, were transferred safely to the city's presidential palace, the witnesses and Saudi media said. A local security source said three mortar shells landed on the airport's hall. more...

Reese Oxner

Ever wonder what a 2,000-year-old fast food restaurant might look like? Well, new photos from researchers might give you an idea. Archaeologists said on Saturday they excavated a complete thermopolium — a Roman food counter — in the ancient city of Pompeii. Researchers are analyzing the findings to create a more complete picture of the daily life — and diet — of a person in Pompeii.

"As well as being another insight into daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety," Massimo Osanna, interim director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a statement.

Archaeologists have made discoveries in Pompeii, about 18 miles southeast of Naples, for centuries. The community was buried in ash and pumice when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, killing at least hundreds of people. The remains of two humans were found inside the stall. But the ash preserved items showing everyday life of the city's inhabitants, serving as an archeological gold mine. more...

Guardian News

Archaeologists in Pompeii, the city buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD, have made the extraordinary find of a frescoed hot food and drinks shop that served up the ancient equivalent of street food to Roman passers-by. Traces of nearly 2,000-year-old food were found in some of the deep terra cotta jars containing hot food which the shop keeper lowered into a counter with circular holes. more...

By Andrew Davis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said major changes are coming in the U.K. as the result of the trade deal his government negotiated with the European Union, completing the country’s separation from the bloc, the Telegraph reported. “We can’t sort of suddenly decide that we’re free and then not decide how to exercise it,” Johnson told the Sunday Telegraph in his first interview since the deal was reached on Dec. 24. “This government has a very clear agenda to unite and level up and to spread opportunity across the country.”

The agreement on the U.K.’s exit from the EU’s single market and customs union will allow for tariff and quota-free trade in goods after Dec. 31. It doesn’t apply to the services industry -- about 80% of the U.K. economy -- or financial services. The deal establishes a new framework for businesses on both sides of the Channel that leaves U.K. businesses facing more barriers to trade than they did while Britain was a member of the EU while freeing the British Parliament from many of the constraints imposed by EU membership. more...

By Zamira Rahim, Mary Ilyushina and Robert Iddiols, CNN

(CNN) The former British spy and Soviet secret agent George Blake has died in Moscow aged 98, according to Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti. "Books have been written about him, films have been made. In intelligence, he was highly respected and appreciated," a spokesperson for Russian foreign intelligence agency SVR said on December 26, according to the agency.
"In intelligence, he was highly respected and appreciated. He himself jokingly said: 'I am a foreign car that has adapted to Russian roads,'" the statement added.

"Now this foreign car has completed its almost century-long run." Blake was a double agent, who used his position as an officer in the UK's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6, to spy for the Soviet Union. He was the last in a line of British spies whose secret work for the Soviet Union humiliated the country's intelligence establishment when it was discovered at the height of the Cold War. In the UK he is perhaps best known for his daring escape from London's Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966. Blake was born in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, in 1922, moved to England in 1942 and transferred to the Dutch section of the SIS in August 1944.

He was captured by North Korean soldiers in 1950. Blake was interned for three years and secretly became a communist during that time, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. On his return to Britain, Blake became a SIS officer. "Blake returned from captivity to work for Soviet as well as British intelligence, betraying many agents who were later executed, including a network in East Germany," an entry on his life on the UK government website reads. British authorities arrested Blake in April 1961 and he admitted to being a double agent for the Soviet Union. mmore...

CBS News

Britain and the European Union have reached agreement a post-Brexit trade deal after months of contentious negotiations. The deal comes almost four years after Britain voted to leave the European bloc. CBS News foreign correspondent Roxana Saberi joined CBSN's Tom Hanson to discuss the latest. video...

The secretary of State also defended President Donald Trump for not publicly calling out the U.S. adversary for the attack.
By POLITICO STAFF

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly blamed Russia for the monthslong cyber hack of agencies across the U.S. government. “This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity,” Pompeo told radio host Mark Levin in an interview released Friday. “I can’t say much more as we’re still unpacking precisely what it is, and I’m sure some of it will remain classified. But suffice it to say there was a significant effort to use a piece of third-party software to essentially embed code inside of U.S. Government systems and it now appears systems of private companies and companies and governments across the world as well,” Pompeo added.

The massive and sophisticated cyber operation infiltrated the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, State and Agriculture; the National Institutes of Health, and the Commerce Department’s telecommunications policy agency. The Department of Energy has found evidence that hackers breached networks at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, two national laboratories, a DOE field office and a division of the National Nuclear Security Administration. U.S. officials believe hackers linked to a Russian intelligence agency infected software updates for an IT monitoring program made by a company called SolarWinds. Pompeo defended President Donald Trump for not publicly calling out Russia for the attack. more...

Elliot Smith

LONDON - The U.K. and the European Union are running out of time to agree terms on a post-Brexit trading arrangement, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has warned. Both sides have offered conflicting messages in recent days over the likelihood of a trade deal being agreed before Britain departs the EU’s orbit in two weeks’ time. Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels on Friday, Barnier said negotiations had reached “the moment of truth.”

“We have little time remaining, just a few hours, to work through these negotiations in a useful fashion if we want the agreement to enter into force on the 1st January,” Barner said. “There is a chance of getting an agreement but the path to such an agreement is very narrow.” A deal would likely ensure tariff-free goods trade between the U.K. and the EU after Dec. 31, but key disputes over issues such as fisheries have continued to plague discussions in recent weeks.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Friday that the U.K. wanted to keep talking so long as there remained a chance of a deal, but that trade discussions were “looking difficult,” according to Reuters. Both Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen adopted more downbeat tones following a phone call on Thursday night, with Johnson suggesting a deal was unlikely unless the bloc was willing to make concessions on fisheries. Meanwhile, von der Leyen acknowledged that an accord would be “very challenging” at this stage. This came just a day after von der Leyen announced that a “narrow path” had emerged for the two sides to agree a deal before the deadline. more...

By Mary Ilyushina, Laura Smith-Spark and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Moscow (CNN) Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Thursday that opposition politician Alexey Navalny "is enjoying the support of the US special services," adding that if Russian special services had wanted to kill him they would have "finished it." Putin's comments came in response to a question at his annual press conference following an investigation by the investigative group Bellingcat and CNN, published Monday, which uncovered evidence that Russia's Federal Security Service (the FSB) formed an elite team specializing in nerve agents that trailed Navalny for years.

Navalny was poisoned with the toxin Novichok in August and nearly died. After initial treatment in Omsk, Siberia, he was taken to a clinic in Berlin. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in his poisoning. In his first comments on the investigation, Putin didn't dispute any details of the findings but essentially confirmed that FSB agents did indeed trail Navalny. Putin claimed without evidence that Navalny -- whom he referred to as "this patient in the Berlin clinic" -- is being supported by US intelligence services, adding, "if that's correct, then that's interesting, then of course [our] special services need to keep an eye on him." "But that doesn't mean he needs to be poisoned, who needs him anyway? If [they] wanted to, they would've probably finished it," Putin added. "But in this case, his wife asked me, and I immediately gave the order to let him out of the country to be treated in Germany... This is a trick to attack the leaders [in Russia]." more...

By Eoin McSweeney CNN

(CNN) Hundreds of schoolboys who were abducted last week in northwestern Nigeria have been freed, according to a state official. More than 300 schoolboys were missing for nearly a week, after an attack on the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State. The Nigerian military late on Thursday rescued 344 of them, who are being brought to the state capital, said Abdu Labaran, a spokesman for state governor Aminu Bello Masari. Boko Haram was not involved, he added, but rather the boys were kidnapped by bandits masquerading as the Islamist terrorist group. CNN has not been able to independently verify this.

Some of the abducted children had addressed the Nigerian government in a video released earlier on Thursday, which bore the logo of Boko Haram. In the video, a boy in a white shirt appears to be coaxed by someone off camera into making the demands on behalf of the captors. He asks the Nigerian government to close down schools that teach "western education" and says government troops sent to find the boys should retreat. The video shows dozens of children under a tree, who appear tired. The voice in the video claims to be Abubakar Shekau, a leader of one of Boko Haram's factions. more...

Tim Daniels

Russia was banned Thursday from using its name, flag or national anthem during the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo or the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Graham Dunbar of the Associated Press reported the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled the same restrictions apply for all world championships over the next two years, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The court also "blocked Russia from bidding to host major sporting events for two years."

The penalties are based on allegations Russian state authorities "tampered" with evidence about potential doping by the nation's athletes before sending it to the World Anti-Doping Agency last year, per Dunbar. Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, issued a strong statement in opposition to the "devastating decision," saying it's a "weak, watered-down outcome" and a "catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law": more...

Extensions could redirect users to ads, phishing sites, collect user data, or download malware on infected systems.
By Catalin Cimpanu for Zero Day

More than three million internet users are believed to have installed 15 Chrome, and 13 Edge extensions that contain malicious code, security firm Avast said today. The 28 extensions contained code that could perform several malicious operations. Avast said it found code to:

   redirect user traffic to ads
   redirect user traffic to phishing sites
   collect personal data, such as birth dates, email addresses, and active devices
   collect browsing history
   download further malware onto a user's device

But despite the presence of code to power all the above malicious features, Avast researchers said they believe the primary objective of this campaign was to hijack user traffic for monetary gains. "For every redirection to a third party domain, the cybercriminals would receive a payment," the company said. Avast said it discovered the extensions last month and found evidence that some had been active since at least December 2018, when some users first started reporting issues with being redirected to other sites. more...

Jaclyn Diaz

French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the coronavirus and will quarantine for a week, his official residence announced Thursday. Macron was tested for the virus following the onset of symptoms, though the Élysée Palace didn't immediately explain what those symptoms might include. He will isolate himself for seven days and will continue to work remotely, his residence said. Because of his age, Macron, 42, is not considered to be part of the population most at-risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, Macron has taken the threat of the virus seriously, and was always seen wearing a mask.

France underwent a strict month-long lockdown in November and was able to reduce the infection rate from a record high of more than 60,000 confirmed cases in a single day, down to 14,000. Though, some restrictions have been loosened, the country maintains an 8 p.m. overnight curfew. News of the president's infection comes just weeks before France is set to receive 1.16 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. more...

Associated Press

KANKARA, Nigeria – Anger, fear and exhaustion. Anxiety has overwhelmed many parents in Nigeria’s northern village of Kankara who await word on their sons who are among the more than 330 kidnapped by extremists from a government boys’ school late Friday. Nigeria’s Boko Haram jihadist rebels have claimed responsibility for the abduction of the students from the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara. Hundreds of other students managed to escape by jumping the fence during the extremists’ attack or by fleeing as they were taken into the nearby forest. Boko Haram kidnapped the boys from the school because it believes Western education is un-Islamic, the rebels’ leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video claiming responsibility for the attack, according to SITE Intelligence Group. more...

By Emma Reynolds, CNN

London (CNN) A 9-year-old girl who died after an asthma attack is thought to be the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death in a landmark coroner's ruling. Ella Kissi-Debrah lived in Lewisham, southeast London, near one of the UK capital's busiest roads, the South Circular. She died in hospital in February 2013 after suffering a cardiac arrest from which she could not be resuscitated, the coroner reported on Wednesday.

The girl suffered from severe asthma that caused episodes of cardiac and respiratory arrest, and frequent emergency hospital admissions over three years. Her medical cause of death was listed as acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure. The coroner's conclusion was that Ella "died of asthma contributed to by exposure to excessive air pollution."

The charities Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said Ella was the first person in world history to have air pollution listed as a cause of death on her death certificate. Assistant coroner Philip Barlow said that Ella's mother had not been given information about air pollution and asthma that could have led to her take steps which "might" have prevented her daughter's death, according to PA Media. "Air pollution was a significant contributory factor to both the induction and exacerbation of her asthma," said Barlow as he gave his conclusions at Southwark Coroner's Court after a two-week inquest. more...

Laurel Wamsley at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The city of Paris has been fined 90,000 euros for an unusual infraction: It appointed too many women to senior positions in the government. In 2018, 11 women and five men became senior officials. That meant 69% of the appointments were women — in violation of a rule that dictated at least 40% of government positions should go to people of each gender. In remarks on Tuesday to the capital's governing body, Mayor Anne Hidalgo said she would deliver the check to the Ministry of Public Service herself — along with the women in her government. "So there will be many of us," she said. more...

He was picked up Monday in his native Winnipeg on a nine-count indictment.
By David K. Li and Tom Winter

Federal authorities alleged Tuesday that a Canadian fashion designer used his company to prey on girls and young women that they say he sexually assaulted and used to serve friends and business associates. Peter Nygard, the 79-year-old head of the Nygard Group, was arrested by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Winnipeg on Monday, officials said. He was hit with a nine-count grand jury indictment that included charges of racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, trafficking of minors, forced sex trafficking and transportation of a minor for prostitution.

The criminal acts are alleged to have happened between 1995 and as recently as this year, federal prosecutors in New York City said. "Mr. Nygard vehemently denies the allegations and expects to be vindicated in court," defense lawyer Jay Prober told NBC News. Nygard appeared before a judge in Winnipeg on Tuesday afternoon and was ordered to remain in custody, according to a Court of Queen's Bench of Manitoba spokeswoman. Nygard's next court date was set for Jan. 13, though he could apply for bail before then, the court representative said. more...

Holly Ellyatt

It’s taken a while, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has now congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his victory, the Kremlin announced Tuesday, a day after the U.S. Electoral College voted to clinch the Democrat’s defeat of President Donald Trump. Putin sent a telegram to Biden to congratulate him, the Kremlin said.

“Putin wished every success to the president-elect and expressed confidence that Russia and the U.S., who bear special responsibility for global security and stability, can facilitate resolution of many problems and challenges faced by the world now despite disagreements,” the Kremlin said.

“Russian-American cooperation, based on the principles of equality and mutual respect, would meet the interests of both nations and the entire international community,” Putin added, according to the Kremlin. “For my part, I am ready for interaction and contacts with you,” Putin said. On Monday, the Electoral College voted to cement Biden’s victory in November’s hotly contested election. more...

Doubts over Islamist extremists’ involvement in abduction of more than 300 students last week
Jason Burke and Isaac Abrak in Abuja

The leader of Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group that abducted hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria six years ago, has claimed responsibility for the mass abduction of students in north-western Katsina state last week. In an audio tape released on Tuesday, Abubakar Shekau said: “Our brothers were behind the abduction in Katsina.”A large group of men armed with AK-47s overran the all-boys Government Science secondary school in the town of Kankara on Friday night, marching more than 300 students into surrounding forests. Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school dormitory in Chibok, in north-eastern Borno state, in April 2014 and about 100 are still missing. The group has also taken other schoolchildren as well as thousands of people across north-east Nigeria and has recently expanded into the country’s north-west. There is doubt over the direct involvement of Boko Haram in the latest mass abduction, however. Shekau’s statement lacked detail, and officials in Katsina have already received ransom demands from a group of bandits that witnesses said were responsible. more...

MATTHEW LEE

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on its NATO ally Turkey over its purchase of a Russian air defense system, in a striking move against a longtime partner that sets the stage for further confrontation between the two nations as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.

The extraordinary step against a treaty ally comes at a delicate time in relations between Washington and Ankara, which have been at odds for years over Turkey’s acquisition from Russia of the S-400 missile defense system, along with Turkish actions in Syria, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The sanctions, which were required under a 2017 U.S. law aimed at pushing back on Russia if the administration deemed there was significant cause, add another element of uncertainty to the relationship as Trump winds down his term. The move is the first time that law, known as CAATSA, has been used to penalize a U.S. ally. more...

Wyatte Grantham-Philips USA TODAY

The only total solar eclipse of 2020 arrived Monday. And some lucky sky gazers in the world's southern hemisphere witnessed what NASA describes as "one of nature's most awe-inspiring sights."

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon fully blocks the sun and casts a shadow on Earth, creating a temporary darkness in the middle of the day. Observers in the eclipse's "path of totality" can see only the sun's atmosphere (or corona), which looks like a ring of light.

According to NASA, this year's show began at 9:40 a.m. ET Dec. 14. Unfortunately, few people around the world were able to watch it able to watch it live — as the path of totality tracked over only parts of South America — stretching from Saavedra, Chile to Salina del Eje, Argentina. more...

CBS News

Dubai, United Arab Emirates — An oil tanker off Saudi Arabia's port city of Jiddah was attacked on Monday by smaller "boobyt-trapped boat" rigged with explosives, causing a small fire on the ship, Saudi state TV reported, citing an official from the state energy ministry.

The unnamed official did not name any suspects, but pointed to the seriousness of such criminal acts and the threat they pose to maritime traffic, the security of oil exports and the freedom of global trade, in addition to the environmental consequences of potential gas or oil leakage.

Earlier a shipping company said the tanker had suffered an explosion after being hit by "an external source," suggesting another vessel had come under attack amid Saudi Arabia's years-long war in Yemen. more...

A parent and school employee said that roughly half of the school's 800 students were missing.
By Reuters

Gunmen who kidnapped scores of high school students in Nigeria's northwestern Katsina state have exchanged fire with military forces trying to rescue them, the country's president said Saturday. Armed with AK-47s, the gang stormed the Government Science secondary school in Kankara district on Friday night, police and locals said. A parent and school employee told Reuters that roughly half of the school's 800 students were missing.

Condemning the attack in his home state, President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that the military had located the kidnappers in a forest and was exchanging fire with them, aided by air support. Police and the military were still working to determine how many were kidnapped and missing. Police at the scene on Friday exchanged fire with the attackers, allowing some students to run for safety, police spokesman Gambo Isah said in a statement. Police said they would deploy additional forces to support the search and rescue. One officer was shot and wounded in the exchange of fire with the gang, they said. more...

By Radina Gigova, CNN

(CNN) The UK will have "a range of robust enforcement measures" at the end of the Brexit transition period, including "numerous" offshore patrol vessels available in its territorial waters, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) said Saturday. The measures, put in place "to protect our rights as an independent coastal state" includes "numerous patrol vessels across military and marine organizations that are used to provide physical presence, deterrence and inspection capability," the ministry said in a statement.

Measures, put in place "to protect our rights as an independent coastal state" include "numerous patrol vessels across military and marine organizations that are used to provide physical presence, deterrence and inspection capability," the ministry of defense said in a statement. Four offshore patrol vessels "will be available to patrol UK waters to assist other government departments where needed," the ministry said. The move comes as Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union enter a crucial 48 hours, with both sides expressing skepticism about reaching a deal before a Sunday deadline. more...

By FAY ABUELGASIM, NARIMAN EL-MOFTY and CARA ANNA

UMM RAKOUBA, Sudan (AP) — The only thing the survivors can agree on is that hundreds of people were slaughtered in a single Ethiopian town. Witnesses say security forces and their allies attacked civilians in Mai-Kadra with machetes and knives or strangled them with ropes. The stench of bodies lingered for days during the early chaos of the Ethiopian government’s offensive in the defiant Tigray region last month. Several mass graves have been reported.

What happened beginning Nov. 9 in the agricultural town near the Sudanese border has become the most visible atrocity in a war largely conducted in the shadows. But even here, much remains unclear, including who killed whom. Witnesses in Mai-Kadra told the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International that ethnic Tigrayan forces and allies attacked Amhara — one of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic groups but a minority in Tigray. In Sudan, where nearly 50,000 people have fled, one ethnic Amhara refugee gave The Associated Press a similar account.

But more than a dozen Tigrayan refugees told the AP it was the other way around: In strikingly similar stories, they said they and others were targeted by Ethiopian federal forces and allied Amhara regional troops. It’s possible that civilians from both ethnicities were targeted in Mai-Kadra, Amnesty now says. more...

By Luke McGee and James Frater, CNN

Brussels (CNN)The leaders of the European Union's 27 member states have reached a final agreement on the $2 trillion package designed to rebuild the bloc's faltering economies in the wake of the coronavirus recession. The package comprises the EU's €1.1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) Multi-annual Financial Framework, which is paid into by every member state and distributed across the bloc over a seven-year period, and a special Covid recovery fund of €750 billion ($858 billion), for which the EU will centrally raise money on financial markets and hand out as both loans and grants to member states.

The EU reached an agreement on the package back in July, but member states had since struggled to unanimously agree on the conditions attached to receiving funds. Two member states, Poland and Hungary, had vetoed the agreement at previous meetings of member states in protest at EU demands that funds would be withheld from member states deemed to be in violation of the rule of law. Both countries are currently under investigation for exactly this, with charges ranging from suppression of political opposition to undermining the independence of judges. more...

By Joseph Choi

.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday there was a “strong possibility” that a trade deal with the European Union would not be reached. Johnson said it was looking increasingly unlikely that there would be an agreement before Dec. 31, when the U.K. is set to stop adhering to EU trade rules, the BBC reported. The U.K. officially left the EU on Jan. 31 but was allotted an 11-month transition period to address issues like trade rules. Talks between the U.K. and the EU restarted last week as a final attempt to reach an agreement. However, both sides have said they remain far apart on several issues. In a joint statement released Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson said although progress had been made, three critical issues prevented a deal from being reached: “level playing field, governance and fisheries.” more...

Rob Schmitz

Four years ago, Simon Neumeyer enrolled in the Saxony State Police Academy in the eastern German city of Leipzig as a 19-year-old cadet. "At the time, I naively thought the police were 100% committed to law and order," he remembers. His naiveté began to wear off on the academy's target-shooting grounds while he and his fellow cadets, guns in hand, listened to a lecture from their commander.

"He told us we have to shoot well, because there are many refugees coming to Germany," Neumeyer recalls. "I thought to myself: 'Wow. This is very racist.' "Later, my ethics teacher complained about foreigners celebrating loudly in the city center on New Year's Eve and that this was his home. These teachers were basically passing their racism on to us cadets." Neumeyer tells NPR he finally spoke up one day when an academy teacher used the N-word in class. To his surprise, he remembers his classmates not defending him, but loudly defending their teacher. more...

Zachary Basu

The European Commission published a series of contingency measures on Thursday to ensure that basic air and road connectivity are maintained in the increasingly likely event that a free trade agreement is not reached with the U.K. by the end of the Brexit transition period.

Why it matters: It's the surest sign yet that the U.K. is headed for a cliff-edge Brexit on Dec. 31, coming one day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels and failed to make progress on major sticking points.

Details: The Commission's contingency measures propose regulations to maintain air services and safety standards and basic road connectivity for both passenger and freight transport for six months, provided that the U.K. ensures the same. more...

CBS News

Venice — Venice's St. Mark's Square was under water on Tuesday after a newly installed system of mobile artificial dams failed to activate. Residents — long accustomed to perennial "acqua alta" or high water events — pulled on their rubber boots once more to deal with flooding that reached a high of 4.5 feet above sea level in the afternoon. The waters drowned St. Mark's Square, the Renaissance city's lowest area at about three feet above sea level, and invaded the famous basilica as many shopkeepers blocked their entrances with wood panels to keep the water out. A massive flood defense system called MOSE aimed at protecting Venice's lagoon during high tide was finally installed in October. more...

By JILL LAWLESS and LORNE COOK

LONDON (AP) — The leaders of Britain and the European Commission will make a last-minute push for a post-Brexit U.K.-EU trade deal over dinner on Wednesday, with both sides warning that the chance of reaching agreement by a year-end deadline is slipping away. With just over three weeks until an economic rupture that threatens upheaval for businesses on both sides of the English Channel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that she looked forward to welcoming U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Brussels on Wednesday evening. Johnson’s office confirmed the two leaders would hold a dinner meeting ”to continue discussions on the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.”

The warm words masked a deep political divide between Britain and the EU over what their relationship will look like once a post-Brexit transition period ends on Dec. 31. Johnson and von der Leyen, head of the EU’s executive arm, spoke by phone Monday to take stock of trade talks that have ground to a halt after months of tense negotiations. The two leaders said afterwards that “significant differences” remained on three key issues — fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes. Johnson said Tuesday that “the situation at the moment is very tricky,” though he added that “hope springs eternal.” German European Affairs Minister Michael Roth, whose country currently holds the U.K.’s rotating presidency, said “we are really in a very difficult situation.” more...

Holly Ellyatt

Brexit talks in recent weeks have been dominated by numerous, anonymous “sources” briefing reporters in both the U.K. and on the continent about the parlous state of negotiations aimed at clinching a post-Brexit trade deal. Both sides have accused each other of being unwilling to compromise on key issues, with sticking points and “red lines” remaining over fishing rights, competition rules and the governance of any final deal. As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to travel to Brussels this week for face-to-face meetings with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, there is hope for a breakthrough.

But in the meantime, officials on both sides continue to comment, loudly, on the efforts being made — and the remaining obstacles — before a deal can be reached. Johnson warned Tuesday that talks were not in a good place. “You’ve got to be optimistic, you’ve got to believe that there’s the power of sweet reason to get this thing over the line. But I’ve got to tell you, it’s looking very, very difficult at the moment,” he told reporters. more...

Bill Bostock

The first man to get Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine out of trials in England was called William Shakespeare. The UK approved the vaccine last week, and begun inoculating vulnerable people in the Midland county Warwickshire on Tuesday. Shakespeare, 81, and his literary namesake were both born in the county, and the internet wasted no time cracking jokes. Adaptions of the titles of Shakespeare's plays were popular, including "The Taming of the Flu" and "The Two Gentlemen of Corona."

One of the first people injected with Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine outside trials in England was called William Shakespeare. The UK became the first country to approve the vaccine on Wednesday last week, and began administering it to vulnerable people on Tuesday morning. The first recipient was Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old grandmother, who was injected at 6:31 a.m. local time at University Hospital in Coventry, Warwickshire. Moments later, 81-year-old William Shakespeare became the first man to be inoculated, the BBC said. more...

The growing cases has delivered a blow to South Korea's vaunted pandemic-fighting system, which successfully blunted previous waves.
By Reuters

SEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Monday for expanded coronavirus testing and more thorough tracing as the country struggled to control its latest and largest wave of infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 615 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Sunday, capping a month of triple-digit daily increases that have led to 8,311 confirmed patients in quarantine, the most ever. The surge in cases has delivered a blow to South Korea's vaunted pandemic-fighting system, which successfully used invasive tracing, testing, and quarantines to avoid lockdowns, blunt previous waves, and keep infections below 50 per day for much of the summer. Moon ordered the government to mobilize every available resource to track infections, and to expand testing by deploying the military and more people from the public service, presidential Blue House spokesman Chung Man-ho told a briefing. more...

By Kelly Slivka - Live Science Contributor

Almost every human population has moved at some point. Human beings tend to be fascinated with their beginnings. Origin stories are found across cultures, religions, ethnicities and nationalities — and they are all deeply important. These stories tell people where they come from, how they fit in and how everyone fits together. One of these stories, of course, is the story of human genes, and it's a story anyone with human DNA shares. As scientists find more ancient human DNA, sample more modern DNA and develop more ways to analyze this genetic material, it's revealing a lot about how early humans moved — and moved and moved — around the world, coming to inhabit nearly every swath of land. So after thousands and thousands of years of nearly constant migration, are there any people out there who have never left the spot where it's thought Homo sapiens evolved? Put another way, is there anybody on Earth who isn't an immigrant? more...

CBS News

A Chinese spacecraft lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported. Chang'e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing's space program, which also has a orbiter and rover headed to Mars. Right before the ascent vehicle lifted off, the lander unfurled what the space administration called the first free-standing Chinese flag on the moon. The agency posted an image — apparently taken from the lander — of the ascend vehicle firing its engines as it took off. The spacecraft "unfolded the five-star red national flag, a genuine one made from fabrics, marking a first in the country's aerospace history," state media said. more...

Rallies also took place in Marseille, Lyon, Lille and other French cities.
By Reuters

PARIS — Scores of hooded anarchists launched projectiles at riot police, smashed up shop fronts, torched cars and burned barricades during a demonstration in the French capital on Saturday against police violence and a draft security law. The police fired back volleys of tear gas and made repeated charges at groups of troublemakers for close to three hours. One group of anarchists ransacked the branch office of a bank, throwing piles of paperwork onto a fire outside. It marked the second consecutive of weekend of unrest in Paris, provoked by recent episodes of police brutality and President Emmanuel Macron's security plans, which the demonstrators say would restrict civil liberties. more...

BBC

The leaders were called in after negotiators for the two sides said "significant divergences" remained following a week of intensive talks. "If there is still a way, we will see," EU negotiator Michel Barnier said. Sticking points include fishing rights, rules on state subsidies for business and arrangements for policing any deal. The BBC understands the call between the two leaders began at 16:30 GMT. President Von Der Leyen will make a statement shortly. The UK left the EU on 31 January but remains under EU trading rules until a transition period ends on 31 December. One source close to the negotiations on the UK side suggested there had been a more optimistic outlook earlier in the week but pointed to demands for EU fishing boats to have 10-year access to UK waters as one issue that derailed progress - as had been reported in the Telegraph. more...

Jason Slotkin

Britain's Royal Air Force has obtained images of what is considered the largest iceberg as it veers toward the island territory of South Georgia. Pictures of A68a were released Friday following a reconnaissance flight of the iceberg. At roughly 93 miles long and 30 miles wide, the floe is believed to be the world's largest. The pictures taken by British military aircraft, offering some of the closest views of the iceberg thus far, show cracks and apparently smaller chunks of ice breaking off. In a Facebook post, British officials note that because of the iceberg's massive size, it's nearly impossible to photograph it in full with the exception of satellite imagery. more...

By Darragh Roche

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has transferred his powers to his son as concerns about his failing health have mounted and the country faces increased tensions with Israel and U.S. Iranian journalist Mohamad Ahwaze reported the major political move on Twitter, citing sources in the country. Writing in Arabic, Ahwaze said Khamenei had handed power over to his son, Mojtaba Khamenei. "Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to meet on Friday with the Iranian Leader Khamenei, this meeting between [Khamenei] and President Rouhani was canceled due to the deterioration of Khamenei's health condition," Ahwaze wrote.

Ahwaze went on to explain that the cause of the supreme leader's ill health was not known, assertions about the senior Khamenei which Newsweek has not been able to independently confirm, but suggested it could be due to prostate cancer. Khamenei reportedly deteriorated over night. The political and religious leader is reportedly stepping down amid increased tensions between Iran and Israel following the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27. Iranian officials blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh's assassination and promised retribution. The Iranian Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) warned of "severe revenge and punishment." more...

By Darragh Roche

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has transferred his powers to his son as concerns about his failing health have mounted and the country faces increased tensions with Israel and U.S. Iranian journalist Mohamad Ahwaze reported the major political move on Twitter, citing sources in the country. Writing in Arabic, Ahwaze said Khamenei had handed power over to his son, Mojtaba Khamenei. "Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to meet on Friday with the Iranian Leader Khamenei, this meeting between [Khamenei] and President Rouhani was canceled due to the deterioration of Khamenei's health condition," Ahwaze wrote. Ahwaze went on to explain that the cause of the supreme leader's ill health was not known, assertions about the senior Khamenei which Newsweek has not been able to independently confirm, but suggested it could be due to prostate cancer. Khamenei reportedly deteriorated over night. more...

CBS News

The Pentagon said Friday it is pulling most U.S. troops out of Somalia on President Donald Trump's orders, continuing a post-election push by Mr. Trump to shrink U.S. involvement in counterterrorism missions abroad. Without providing details, the Pentagon said in a short statement that "a majority" of U.S. troops and assets in Somalia will be withdrawn in early 2021. There are currently about 700 troops in the Horn of Africa nation, training and advising local forces in an extended fight against the extremist group al-Shabab, an affiliate of al-Qaida. Trump recently ordered troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he was expected to withdraw some or all troops from Somalia. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said on Wednesday that the future structure of the U.S. military presence in Somalia was still being debated. more...

Silvia Amaro

LONDON — The U.K. and European Union have reached a critical point in their Brexit negotiations, as the deadline for a trade deal nears but an agreement remains elusive. The U.K. left the European Union in January but agreed to continue following EU trade rules until the end of the year so both sides could come to a new trade agreement. However, their negotiations have dragged on for months, and without a clear end in sight, there are growing concerns the talks could collapse without a deal. In this scenario, exporters on both sides would face higher costs and barriers in their day-to-day business. A senior U.K. government official told the BBC on Friday morning that the chances of reaching an agreement were “receding,” after EU negotiators brought “new elements” to the table. The U.K. government told CNBC on Friday that the talks were ongoing, but did not comment on whether a breakthrough looked less likely. more ...

By Jack Guy, CNN

(CNN) Picture a Christmas tree and you'll probably think of baubles, tinsel and fairy lights, but one Australian woman came home to find an unusual adornment: A koala. Surprised by the unusual visitor, Amanda McCormick, who lives in Coromandel Valley near Adelaide, southern Australia, called local koala rescue organization 1300Koalaz. "This evening our hotline operator took a call. At first she thought she was the victim of a prank call," wrote the organization in a Facebook post Wednesday. "But no, a koala desperate to get in the Christmas spirit had wandered into Amanda McCormick's house and decided it wanted to be the fairy on the Christmas tree."

Dee Hearne-Hellon, 1300Koalaz co-founder, told CNN that it is not unheard of for koalas to enter homes, but it's not an everyday occurrence. "The koala was a healthy juvenile female and was released out the front of the house, which is in a really lovely area for koalas if they have to live amongst us," said Hearne-Hellon. "The koala was still in the same tree she chose to climb when I saw her today (Thursday)." The team celebrated the successful removal on Facebook with a festive ditty: "Tis the season to be jolly, Koalalalala Lalalala." However, Hearne-Hellon warned against trying to move koalas by yourself. "(The) best thing to do is leave them alone as they can get aggressive and call 1300koalaz to remove them," she said. "As cute as they look they have very long claws and very sharp teeth." Koalas are one of Australia's most famous animals, but populations are under increasing threat due to the impact of humans. more...

József Szájer had boasted of rewriting constitution to define marriage as heterosexual institution
Shaun Walker in Budapest

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has condemned the behaviour of MEP József Szájer, from his rightwing Fidesz party, after Szájer’s participation in a “gay orgy” in Brussels prompted accusations of hypocrisy. “What our representative, József Szájer, did has no place in the values of our political family. We will not forget nor repudiate his 30 years of work, but his deed is unacceptable and indefensible,” said Orbán on Wednesday evening. He said Szájer had left the party. He had already resigned as an MEP over the weekend.

Orbán’s government has enacted a range of legislation over the past decade infringing on LGBT rights, and Szájer boasted of personally rewriting Hungary’s constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual institution in 2011. That made it all the more embarrassing when he was caught by Brussels police shinning down a drainpipe to escape a gay orgy last Friday. Police raided the gathering as it violated Belgium’s coronavirus regulations.

In a terse statement, the Fidesz grouping in the European parliament commended Szájer’s resignation. “He made the only right decision. We acknowledge his decision, just as we acknowledge that he has apologised to his family, his political community and to the voters,” it read. Prior to Orbán’s intervention, Hungarian ministers were tight-lipped when questioned by a reporter from the outlet Telex on Wednesday morning as they arrived for a cabinet meeting at a government building. more...

By James Frater, CNN

(CNN) A senior member of the European Parliament from Hungary's ruling Fidesz party has resigned after he admitted to breaching Belgium's coronavirus lockdown to attend a private gathering described by national media as a "sex party." József Szàjer said in a statement that he was "present" at the "private party," where police found about 20 people, including diplomats. According to Sarah Durant, the spokeswoman for the Brussels' public prosecutor's office, police were called to an apartment above a bar in the historic city center at 9:30 p.m. last Friday after neighbors "complained of nighttime noise and potential violations of measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Officers found about 20 people at the apartment, two of whom, aged 43 and 33, claimed diplomatic immunity, Durrant said. During police checks, "a passer-by reported to police that he had seen a man flee down the drainpipe," Durrant explained. "The man's hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself on the basis of a diplomatic passport as S.J. (1961)." The prosecutor's office said the 59-year-old Hungarian MEP was being investigated over possession of narcotics. "The procedure is ongoing. Criminal proceedings could only be brought after the waiver of the diplomatic or parliamentary immunity of the above-mentioned persons by the competent authorities." more...

Agence France-Presse in Cairo

Egyptian police have detained a photographer for disrespect after he shot images of a dancer in ancient costume at the Pyramid of Djoser outside Cairo, a security source has confirmed. Rumours had circulated on social media that the model, Salma al-Shimi, had been arrested after Monday’s shoot at the Saqqara necropolis, 20 miles south of Cairo, but the source said police detained the photographer on Monday. “A photographer has been arrested after a private shoot with dancer Salma al-Shimi in the archaeological zone,” the source said, adding that his case had been referred to the courts. Late last week, Shimi, who has thousands of followers on Instagram, posted photographs from the shoot of her in ancient Egyptian dress at the foot of the 4,700-year-old Step Pyramid of Djoser. more...

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

Washington (CNN) A senior US administration official said Israel was behind the assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist but declined to give details about whether the Trump administration knew about the attack before it was carried out or provided support. The official said that in the past, Israelis have shared information with the US about their targets and covert operations before carrying them out but would not say if they did so in this instance. The Iranian nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed Friday, had been a target for the Israelis for a long time, the official added.

Iran has blamed Israel for the attack and said the operation bore the hallmarks of Israel's foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad. While Iran has provided no evidence of Israeli involvement, Israel has neither denied nor claimed responsibility for Fakhrizadeh's death.
The New York Times first reported that a US official said Israel was behind the attack over the weekend.

Carte blanche
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel less than two weeks before the attack was carried out, part of a regional trip that included the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all places where he discussed Iran with his counterparts. President Donald Trump has given Pompeo carte blanche to continue carrying out the administration's "maximum pressure" campaign over the next two months, the official said, adding that there will be more US sanctions on Iran this week and next. more...

CBS News

A baby was among four people killed and 15 injured when a car tore through a pedestrian shopping street in the southwestern German city of Trier on Tuesday, police said, after arresting the driver. Prosecutor Peter Fritzen said the driver, a 51-year-old Trier native, appeared to be suffering from "psychiatric problems" and had been under the influence of alcohol whilst at the wheel of his silver SUV. Police, who have been questioning the suspect, said they had "no indications of a political motive." Prosecutors are considering requesting that the suspect be placed in psychiatric care, Fritzen told reporters. more...

By CARA ANNA

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The United Nations says food has now run out for the nearly 100,000 refugees from Eritrea who have been sheltering in camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, which has been cut off from the world for nearly a month amid fighting. “Concerns are growing by the hour,” U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. “The camps will have now run out of food supplies – making hunger and malnutrition a real danger, a warning we have been issuing since the conflict began nearly a month ago. We are also alarmed at unconfirmed reports of attacks, abductions and forced recruitment at the refugee camps.”

Wednesday marks a month since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced that fighting had erupted in the Tigray region between federal forces and regional ones, as each government now regards the other as illegitimate due to a dispute over holding elections during the pandemic. Communications and transport links to the Tigray region of 6 million people have been severed, and the U.N. and others have pleaded for access to deliver badly needed food, medicines and other supplies. Abiy, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has rejected the idea of dialogue with the Tigray regional leaders, who are on the run but say they continue to fight even after Abiy over the weekend declared victory in the deadly conflict. more...

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) Angela Merkel's faith in America was deeply shaken when Donald Trump won the US presidency in 2016. The German Chancellor who grew up behind the Iron Curtain was quicker than most to perceive his threat to the kind of US global leadership that has traditionally underwritten European security. Had Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Merkel may well have opted not to run for a fourth term. But she would not retire with Trump in the White House, seeing him as a peril to the West, its common values and security architecture like NATO.

A sense of relief four years later pulsed through her congratulatory message to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. "Joe Biden brings with him decades of experience in domestic and foreign policy. He knows Germany and Europe well," Merkel said in her first televised address since the US election. more...

Radik Tagirov, 38, is said to have confessed to murders after being identified using DNA evidence and shoe prints
Andrew Roth

Russian investigators claim to have caught the man responsible for more than 25 murders attributed to a perpetrator known for years only as the “Volga maniac”. Russia’s Investigative Committee said that the suspect, a 38-year-old man named Radik Tagirov, confessed to a string of 26 murders of elderly women that had terrorised central Russia between 2011 and 2012. He had been identified using DNA evidence, shoe prints, and other evidence from crime scenes, investigators said. Tagirov had conned his way into the apartments of elderly women living alone by impersonating an electrician, plumber, or utilities worker. more...

By Rachael Rettner

DeepMind has created an artificial intelligence system that can rapidly and accurately predict how proteins fold to get their 3D shapes. An artificial intelligence company that gained fame for designing computer systems that could beat humans at games has now made a huge advancement in biological science.

The company, DeepMind, which is owned by the same parent company as Google, has created an AI system that can rapidly and accurately predict how proteins fold to get their 3D shapes, a surprisingly complex problem that has plagued researchers for decades, according to The New York Times.

Figuring out a protein's structure can require years or even decades of laborious experimentation, and current computer simulations of protein folding fall short on accuracy. But DeepMind's system, known as AlphaFold, required only a few hours to accurately predict a protein's structure, the Times reported. more...

By Elaine Cobbe

Four Paris police officers have been handed preliminary charges over the beating of a Black music producer, after security footage of the incident was posted online. The video shows three of the officers shove Michel Zecler inside his music studio, then punch, kick and hit him repeatedly with a truncheon for several minutes.  As they leave, a fourth officer throws a tear gas canister through the door. Zecler, 41, said they also hurled racist insults at him, although the police deny that.

He said he was scared, afraid for his life. "I didn't do anything to deserve that," he said. The video prompted outrage in France to the highest levels. French president Emmanuel Macron said the images were "shameful." Posting on Facebook, he denounced what he called an "unacceptable attack." Preliminary charges have been filed against the three officers caught on tape for intentional violence in a group, with a weapon. The fourth officer, accused of throwing the tear gas, is under investigation for intentional violence. Two have been remanded in custody, while the other two were given conditional release. more...

By: David Wells

PEATRA NEAMT, Romania — Another mysterious monolith has been spotted halfway around the world after a similar monolith disappeared from the Utah desert last week. TMZ reports the new monolith was sighted outside the Romanian city of Peatra Neamt, on a hill called "Boatca Doamnei." The Daily Mail reports the Romanian monolith is just a few meters from an archaeological landmark known as the Petrodava Dacian. The Romanian monolith appears to be made of several pieces and has wavy markings on its side. more...


BERLIN (AP) — More than 180 police officers raided homes in three German states early Tuesday after the German government banned a far-right group, the interior ministry said. The homes of 11 members of the far-right group Wolfsbrigade 44 were searched in Hesse, Mecklenburg West-Pomerania and North Rhine-Westphalia to confiscate the group’s funds and far-right propaganda material, the German news agency dpa reported. “Whoever fights against the basic values of our free society will get to feel the resolute reaction of our government,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. “There’s no place in this country for an association that sows hatred and and works on the resurrection of a Nazi state.” more...

By Deirdre Hipwell and Katie Linsell

The U.K. retail industry suffered one of the harshest blows yet after two of the country’s best-known retailers collapsed, putting 25,000 jobs at risk in less than 24 hours. Debenhams said Tuesday morning it’s preparing to close its doors for good after failing to find a buyer. Late Monday, Philip Green’s Arcadia Group, which owns brands including Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, began insolvency proceedings.

Both retailers have anchored malls and main streets across Britain for decades and operate about 600 stores combined. U.K. retailers have suffered a double whammy: the pandemic hit as many were struggling to adjust to online competition. The industry is set to lose 235,000 retail jobs this year, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

The failure of Arcadia and Debenhams is “truly devastating” in a country where main streets are being increasingly hollowed out, said Richard Lim, chief executive officer of Retail Economics, a consultancy. “We cannot overstate the significance of the collapse given the vast property portfolio, number of jobs impacted and the reverberations felt across the industry.” more...

By NICK PERRY

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has joined Australia in denouncing a graphic tweet posted by a Chinese official that shows a fake image of a grinning Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to a child’s throat. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday that New Zealand has voiced its concerns directly with Chinese authorities. “This is an image that wasn’t factual. It wasn’t correct. And so in keeping with our principled position where images like that are used, we will raise those concerns and we’ll do it directly,” Ardern told reporters.

China has not backed down from the tweet and said there will be no apology. Ardern’s criticism was more muted than Australia’s. She faced an awkward choice of how far to get involved in a conflict between New Zealand’s closest ally, Australia, and its biggest trading partner, China. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called the image “repugnant” and demanded an apology from the Chinese government. The post took aim at alleged abuses by Australian soldiers during the conflict in Afghanistan.

The incident is further souring already tense relations between Australia and China. The image, which appeared to show the soldier slitting the child’s throat, was posted by Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. He wrote a caption with his tweet: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, & call for holding them accountable.” more...

The iron-fisted tactics used against Georgia and Ukraine seem to have fallen out of favor, replaced by a more subtle blend of soft power and an implicit military threat.
By Anton Troianovski and Carlotta Gall

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh — As a dilapidated old van pulled up at a hillside checkpoint, an Azerbaijani soldier inside scrubbed furiously at his fogged-up window, then cast a glowering look at an Armenian standing just a few feet away. Just days before, they were on opposite sides of a bitter war. But now the Russian peacekeeper next to them was in charge. He waved the van through toward Azerbaijani-held territory to the right. The Armenians traveled on to Armenian-controlled land to the left.

The vicious war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has settled into a tense truce enforced by heavily armed Russian troops. For Russia, long a provocateur in the broader Caucasus region, the peacemaker role is a switch — a new test and opportunity for a country struggling to maintain its influence in the former Soviet lands. “They say that things will be OK,” said Svetlana Movsesyan, 67, an ethnic Armenian who remained in the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert, even after narrowly escaping an Azerbaijani strike on the market where she sells dried fruits and honey. “I believe in Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.” more...

By Stephanie Halasz, CNN

(CNN) Several people have been killed and others injured in Germany after a car was driven into a pedestrian zone in the town of Trier, according to the local police force. Police in the western German town said on Twitter Tuesday that people should "avoid the area," adding that "police as well as other emergency services are on the scene." The force did not provide more specific numbers of dead and injured. Officers have arrested the driver of the car, a 51-year-old male, who is from the Trier-Saarburg area. The man is a German national. Trier police said they did not yet know why the incident had happened, or whether the man was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The vehicle has also been secured, Trier police added. A spokesperson told CNN that officers were not seeking anyone else in Trier in connection with the incident.  "The care of the injured has absolute priority," the force tweeted. "What happened in #Trier is shocking," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted after the incident. He added that his "thoughts are with the relatives of the dead, with the numerous injured and with everyone who is currently on duty to care for those affected." State police in western Germany's Rhineland-Palatinate, where Trier is located, asked people to not spread disinformation, in a Twitter post. more...


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