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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

41 Taken Hostage by Islamic Group in Algeria

Islamic militants in Algeria took as many as 41 people hostage, including British, American, French, Japanese, and Norwegian citizens, when they seized a gas field in the south of the country. Three people died in the attack, they said, including a Briton and a French national. The raid, led by a group affiliated to Al Qaeda, is payback for France’s intervention in Mali against Islamic rebels, and it was also directed at Algeria’s government for allowing the French to use its airspace for the military operation. “The Algerian authorities will not respond to the demands of the terrorists and will not negotiate,” said Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia. The gas field is operated by British company BP, Norway’s Statoil, and Algeria’s Sonatrach.

Obama Unveils Gun Control Proposals

U.S. President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, unveiled today a set of measures to curb gun violence. After urging Congress to reinstate and strengthen a 1994 ban on assault weapons, prohibit magazines with more than 10-round ammunition, impose universal background checks upon purchase, and cracking down on gun trafficking, Obama signed 23 executive orders to increase enforcement of existing gun laws. The directives also aim at improving communication to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, launching a campaign for “safe and responsible gun ownership,” and lifting a ban on gun violence research at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Response from the Republicans was mixed: some said they will review the proposals while others condemned them as an assault on the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

French Launch Ground Operation in Mali

Fighting continued in Mali as the French military sent a special unit of 100 troops to confront Islamic militants who turned the town of Diabaly, 400 km (250 miles) of the capital Bamako, into a stronghold. A Malian colonel said local soldiers joined the French and surrounded Diabaly. They are now targeting rebels who have taken shelter in residents’ homes, making it more difficult to wage this battle without causing casualties among civilians. “When in doubt, we will not fire,” said French Admiral Edouard Guillaud. The news came as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attributed delays in providing France with logistical assistance and intelligence to legal questions raised by White House lawyers. “I find that every time I turn around I face a group of lawyers,” Panetta said today during a visit to Rome.

Germany Cuts Economic Forecast on EU Contagion

Germany said today it lowered its economic projections for 2013 as the austerity its government imposed across the euro area hurt demand for the country’s exports. German gross domestic product will grow 0.4 percent, compared with an initial estimate of one percent. This is less than the 0.7 percent expansion in 2012. Germany’s economy relies most heavily on exports, which were affected by the belt-tightening the nation demanded of its cash-strapped Eurozone neighbors, its largest customers. Slowing trade in the U.S. and China also hurt exports. The slump will be temporary, and the economy will pick up in 2014. “We assume that the phase of weakness this winter will be overcome in the course of the year and that our economy gains traction again,” said Economy Minister Philipp Roesler.

Exercise Boosts Flu Shot Efficacy

Exercising on the same day as receiving a flu vaccine improves the body’s resistance to the illness, recent studies have shown. Crucially, researchers say, the timing and duration of physical activity are key. Patients who jogged or rode a bike for 90 minutes after 15 minutes of being vaccinated showed a heightened immune response to the virus, while those who sat quietly did not see an improvement. Scientists also showed that exercising for 45 minutes or three hours resulted in a lower number of antibodies compared with those who exercised for 90 minutes. While the data is still incomplete, investigators think the exercise helped pump the vaccine into the blood stream towards different parts of the body.

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