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Friday, January 18, 2013

Hostages Still Unaccounted for in Algeria Crisis

The raid carried out yesterday by the Algerian government resulted in the liberation of 650 hostages at the gas field of In Amenas in the south of the country, including almost 100 foreigners, according to the state news agency. U.S. officials said at least one American died in the standoff, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said one French citizen was killed in the rescue operation. Three days after a group of Islamic militants seized the facilities and its workers, around 30 foreign nationals were still unaccounted for. A small group of jihadists reportedly locked themselves into a machine room filled with explosives, and are said to still be holding hostages, including Americans and Britons. Mauritania’s ANI news agency said the kidnappers are demanding the release of Omar Abdel Rehman, who was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, and Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed for attempted murder, in exchange for the U.S. captives. Both of them are in U.S. prisons.

Mali Retakes Towns from Rebels as Humanitarian Crisis Looms

Islamic rebels in Mali fled from two towns they had taken from the government in the past few days as French air strikes drove them out of hiding. Yesterday militants left Konna, whose invasion last week triggered France’s military intervention. Today, they escaped from Diabaly. “They [rebels] fled the town, dressed as civilians, early this morning. They abandoned their weapons and ammunition,” said a source in the Malian military. About 1,800 French troops are now active in Mali, facing Islamic militants who are “well-armed, well-equipped, well-trained and determined,” according to a French diplomat. Meanwhile, the United Nations (U.N.) warned that the crisis could displace as many as 700,000 people, including 400,000 to neighboring nations. These would come on top of the 376,000 who have already fled the violence since March 2012, when the conflict began.

Republicans Soften Stance and Retreat on Debt Ceiling

Retreating from their hard-line stance on the fiscal debate, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said today they will lift the government’s borrowing limit for three months without demanding spending cuts on the part of the White House. In exchange, they said, the Democratic-led Senate must agree with them on a plan for a budget by April 15, lest no member of Congress get paid and the debt ceiling not be raised for the long term. The move, announced during a G.O.P. retreat of the leadership in Williamsburg, shows a major shift in the party’s attitude towards President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats on fiscal issues, which have pitted the two sides in an acrimonious debate for two years and threatened to paralyze the country. Obama said last week he would not negotiate on deficit reduction and spending cuts should the debt ceiling be tied to the talks. The White House welcomed the extension.

U.S., China Agree on U.N. Sanction Rebuke of North Korea

The U.S. and China have agreed on a possible deal for a resolution at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) rebuking North Korea for the launch of a missile last month. While the vote would not establish any new sanctions, it will call for expanding existing penalty measures. China’s involvement is expected to deal a serious blow to the insular nation, as Beijing has historically been an ally to Pyongyang. Comments by Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin suggested the resolution would also be backed by his country. “I expect we will support it,” Churkin told Russia’s state news agency RIA. “I don’t expect that the U.N. Security Council members will have any serious problems [with the resolution].”

Weekend Read: The Party Faithful

As Israelis prepare to elect a new government, David Remnick examines the country’s new religious right and how it is shaping its politics. In The New Yorker.

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