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Monday, January 28, 2013

French and Malian Troops Capture Timbuktu, Fleeing Islamists Torch Library

French and Malian troops on Monday captured Timbuktu, an ancient trading town and UNESCO World Heritage site, without a shot being fired. A French military spokesman said the forces were being careful to avoid any combat inside the city so as not to damage cultural treasures, mosques and religious shrines in what is considered a focal point of Islamic learning. But the city’s mayor, Ousmane Halle, told the Reuters news agency that fleeing Islamist fighters had torched a South African-funded library in the city, the newly-constructed Ahmed Baba Institute, which contained thousands of priceless manuscripts. “This happened four days ago”, he said, adding that the rebels had also set fire to his office and to the home of a member of parliament. The institute is one of several libraries in the city housing documents dating back to the 13th century. Some were stored in underground vaults, but the mayor could not immediately clarify how much of the the collection had been burned. The capture of Timbuktu followed the retaking of Gao during the weekend, another Malian town occupied by Islamist fighters since last year. “Little by little, Mali is being liberated,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France 2 television.

Egyptian Opposition Rejects Calls for Dialogue

A call for a national dialogue made by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Monday, in an attempt to end days of violence on the streets of the country, has been rebuked by Egypt’s main opposition coalition. The National Salvation Front has deemed the proposal not genuine and has repeated that it will not attend any future talks unless a specific set of conditions is met. Calling the president’s offer “cosmetic and not substantive”, opposition leader Mohammed el-Baradei told a news conference in Cairo that his coalition members would “not go to the dialogue today”. He added that they would “send a message to the Egyptian people and the president of the republic about what we think are the essentials for dialogue. If he agrees to them, we are ready for dialogue”. The past five days of unrest across Egypt have led to 50 deaths and a state of emergency has been declared in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez, three cities plagued by violence in the Suez Canal region.

U.K. to Attempt to Curb Immigration with Negative Ad Campaign

The U.K. government is considering launching a negative advertising campaign in Bulgaria and Romania to discourage potential immigrants from moving to the U.K. The ads would focus on the downsides of British life, such as the rain and the lack of jobs, to curb immigration numbers as limits imposed on citizens from these countries living and working in 25 EU states are set to be lifted. One minister was quoted over the weekend as saying that such adverts would “correct the impression that the streets here are paved with gold”. Another government source quoted by the Guardian said that “it is true that options are being looked at but we are not commenting on the specific things mentioned … as obviously it is an ongoing process and we will bring forward any proposals in due course”. A growing number of Tory MPs, encouraged by Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer of an in/out referendum on EU membership, now believes the U.K. should simply ignore the lifting of restrictions even if it brought about a clash with the European Commission.

Japan Split Over Revising Pacifist Constitution

A survey carried out jointly by the Asahi newspaper and the University of Tokyo shows that 50 percent of Japanese voters are in favour of revising the country’s post-World War Two pacifist constitution in order to loosen constitutional limits on the military’s role. The popular division is in contrast to the nearly 90 percent of lower house members who would back such a change, according to the same poll. Japan is constitutionally prohibited from rearming by Article 9 of the constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation authorities in 1947, which states that the country will never maintain land, sea and air forces. In practice, however, it is equipped with a conventional military force, the Self-Defence Forces, that is by law an extension of the country’s police forces and was created in 1954 to guarantee Japan’s national security. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned to the premiership after a resounding victory in December, has made clear he wants to loosen the constitutional limits on the military and seeks to allow Japan to exercise its right to self-defence and to permit Japanese forces to come to the aid of allies under attack.

Iran Claims It Sent a Monkey into Space

Iran’s state-run Press TV said on Monday that the country’s scientists had successfully launched a monkey into space “as a prelude to sending humans”. The animal was sent up in a space capsule named Pishgam, or Pioneer, aboard the Kavoshgar rocket. It hit a height of 75 miles and “returned its shipment intact”, according to Press TV, which also clarified that the monkey survived the space odyssey. The director of Iran’s Space Agency, Hamid Fazeli, had said earlier this month that monkeys had been selected for the country’s first space missions “because of biological similarities between humans and monkeys”. There was no independent confirmation of the launch and Western monitors have not recorded any missile launches by Iran in recent days. The timing of the launch was also unclear, happening either this Monday or in the past few days. One year ago Iran had claimed it had sent a mouse, a turtle and worms into space.

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