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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Syrian Rebels Free Iran Hostages

Forty-eight Iranian hostages were  freed by Syrian rebels on Wednesday, in exchange for more than 2,000 civilian prisoners held by the Syrian government. Iran’s embassy in Damascus confirmed earlier today that Syrian rebel forces have released the 48 Iranians in what is believed to be the largest prisoner exchange since the conflict began. The Iranians were captured in August by the rebel al-Baraa brigade and were initially claimed by the rebels to be members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sent to fight in Syria. Iran strenuously denied the claims and has continued to insist that the men were pilgrims visiting a Shia shrine in Damascus. The prisoner exchange deal is said to have been brokered by the Turkish NGO, IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation. As yet, there has been no confirmation of the deal taking place by the Syrian government.

India steps up claims against Pakistan

In an escalation of yesterday’s events, India has claimed one of the two soldiers killed in an alleged cross-border raid in Kashmir was beheaded by Pakistani troops. In a statement this morning, the Indian foreign ministry claimed that the bodies of the two soldiers had been subjected to “barbaric and inhuman mutilation” at the hands of Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has denounced the claims, calling India’s allegations “baseless” and insisting that its own investigations had found nothing to verify what it describes as Indian “propaganda.”  Pakistan’s high commissioner in Delhi is reported to have been summoned to a meeting with the Indian foreign secretary today to discuss the events. India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurslid earlier promised a “proportionate” response to the alleged Pakistani attack.

U.K. probation Service to be reformed

The U.K. government has announced plans to overhaul its probation service, allowing the supervision of low-risk offenders to be managed by the private sector. The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, unveiled proposals today to allow private security firms and voluntary groups to oversee the probation and rehabilitation of offenders on a “payment by results” basis. Under the new plans, approximately 200,000 low to medium risk prisoners could be supervised by private firms, with payment dependent on the success of rehabilitation efforts. The Ministry of Justice has however stressed that the public probation service will continue to supervise high-risk offenders, including those convicted of violent or sexual crimes. The proposals have already come under fire, with the shadow justice secretary describing the plans as “a reckless gamble with public safety.” The reforms are expected to be finalised later this year and implemented across England and Wales by 2015.

Boeing Dreamliner incidents raise concerns

Three accidents in three days have raised safety concerns over Boeing’s new 787  Dreamliner jets.  The cancellation of one of Japanese carrier All Nippon Airway’s flights yesterday further damaged the reputation of the new aircraft, after two Japan Airlines-operated planes experienced technical problems earlier this week. A fuel leak caused the grounding of a Japan Airlines-operated plane at Boston’s Logan International Airport yesterday, a day after an electrical fire occurred on another Japan Airlines-operated 787 shortly after its arrival in Tokyo. Concerns over the safety of the jets are not new; in December the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered the inspection of all 787s after the discovery of leaks on two aircraft. Despite the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board saying it would not investigate the latest incidents, investor confidence in the American plane-manufacturer has been shaken, with its shares having fallen by almost five percent since Monday.

Iraqis handed $5m Abu Ghraib settlement

A U.S. defense contractor has paid $5.28 million to over 71 former inmates of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The settlement was the result of a lawsuit  filed by the ex-detainees in a federal court in Maryland in 2008 against the defense contractor L-3 Services, now owned by Engility Holdings Inc, for permitting “scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners” at the Iraqi prison. It is the first time a U.S. contractor has been successfully sued by former prisoners of the jail, despite military investigations in 2004 identifying 44 alleged incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib. A further contractor, CACI, is expected to go on trial over similar allegations later this year.


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