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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Possible South Sudan Truce as Fighting Continues

Even as rebel forces once again attacked the city of Bor, seen as a gateway to the capital city of Juba, both the government and the rebels have finally agreed to a ceasefire. Western and regional powers have been increasing pressure to end the fighting – some have threatened sanctions and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni even threatened the rebels with military action if they failed to agree to a ceasefire. Talks will begin today in Ethiopia and the two sides are expected to reach an agreement by the end of the day, although there is still no sign that the fighting will actually stop. The rebels have taken control of nearly all of Bor.

Syria Misses Chemical Weapons Deadline

Norwegian and Danish cargo ships waiting to escort Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons have returned to port in Cyprus after the hazardous containers failed to arrive for collection. An official from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said that bad weather and the bureaucracy of the multinational procurement effort for equipment have delayed the operation. Damascus was supposed to transport the “most critical chemicals” – including around 20 metric tons of mustard nerve agent – out of the Mediterranean port of Latakia by December 31st. They would then be destroyed via hydrolysis in international waters. It is unclear when the ships will make a second trip back to Syria.

Last 3 Chinese Guantánamo Detainees Freed

The last of 22 ethnic Uighur detainees – Chinese Muslims captured after the invasion of Afghanistan – have been freed and sent to Slovakia today. Authorities recognized that they posed no terrorist threat ten years ago and a federal judge ordered them freed in 2008. Although China had requested their return, the US refused to repatriate them for fear they would face persecution and torture (China has a history of mistreating Uighurs). Many countries had refused to accept them for fear of angering the Chinese government.

Guantánamo now holds 155 prisoners – down from over 750. Many of been there for over a decade, and dozens were cleared for release years ago. 56 detainees from Yemen have been cleared for transfer and despite the US lifting its moratorium on Yemeni transfers earlier this year, none have been released.

China’s Pollution Threatens Food, Soil

One-sixth of of China’s arable land (nearly 50 million acres) suffers from soil pollution from the factories that dot its agricultural heartland; more than 13 million tons of crops harvested each year were contaminated with heavy metals; and 22 million acres of farmland were affected by pesticides. A 2010 soil survey by the government to assess contaminants in the food chain has been locked away as a “state secret.”

Nevertheless, a Chinese government official announced today that about 8 million acres of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops. Current farming on the land will be halted and rehabilitated. It is unclear whether food already grown on that land would be recalled.

Argentina Heatwave Protests

Argentina is facing its worst heatwave in decades and residents have taken to the streets in Buenos Aires to protest power cuts that have left some people without energy for two weeks. Argentina’s aging power grid has struggled to keep up with demand as temperatures topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 11,000 people were still without electricity over the weekend, and hundreds of thousands have been affected over the preceding weeks.

City officials held emergency meetings on Sunday to coordinate help for those left without power. Nevertheless, protesters have blockaded the main roads into the capital and set garbage bags and tires on fire over the lack of service.

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