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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Iran Revolutionary Guard Commander Killed in Syria

A commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the army created after the 1979 Revolution whose role is to protect the country’s Islamic system, was killed in Syria by opponents of Iran’s close ally President Bashar al-Assad. Gunmen shot General Hassem Khoshnevis, who was in charge of Iran’s reconstruction aid to Lebanon, in an ambush after he left Damascus. The Revolutionary Guard said last September it was providing non-military support to Assad’s regime and could step it up in the case of a foreign intervention. Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi blamed Israel for the killing. ”Assassinating this dear martyr is a clear sign that the Zionist enemy does not accept his successful work,” he said. The news came as syrian rebels advanced and a day after Russia said it will continue to provide weapons to the regime’s military.

Tunisia Prime Minister Stands Firm on Cabinet of Technocrats

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, of the Islamic Ennahda party, said he will continue to oppose his allies and push for a dissolution of the government to replace it with an interim cabinet of non-partisan technocrats. He announced he will lead negotiations tomorrow to gauge support for his solution and publicly present the conclusions of the discussions on Saturday. Jebali, who is also Ennahda’s secretary general, has been isolated as other ministers of his party in the coalition government said they rejected his proposal at the beginning of this week. Tunisia has been mired in a political crisis since Chokri Belaid, a leader of the secular opposition, was assassinated outside his home.

Hagel Confirmation Blocked in Senate Cloture Vote

The confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominee for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was blocked today in a Senate 58-40 cloture vote, which requires 60 votes out of 100 to bypass extended debate known as filibuster. It is the first time in U.S. history the filibuster has been used to block a nomination for the post. The Republican-led move aimed at delaying debate on the nomination, and it left the nation without a Secretary of Defense after Leon Panetta stepped down as Pentagon chief at noon today. Republicans criticized Hagel for opposing unilateral sanctions on Iran, and unrelatedly demanded more information from the White House on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. “It’s shocking that my Republican colleagues would leave the nation without a fully empowered Secretary of Defense,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Reid called the vote partly to force his opponents to cast a vote that would effectively be seen as filibustering Obama’s appointment, something considered an historic affront to presidential authority. The Senate will vote again in 10 days, when it returns from recess.

South African Paralympian Pistorius Charged with Murder

Oscar Pistorius, the 26-year-old South African Paralympics champion, was charged today with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, after she was found shot dead at his home in Pretoria. Initially, South African media reported he had confused her with a burglar as she tried to surprise him for Valentine’s Day. Pretoria is a dangerous city, still rife with violence, and homeowners often carry guns for self-defense. Later, however, neighbors told the police they had heard “screaming and shouting,” although such reports have not been confirmed. Officers said there had been previous incidents at Pistorius’ home which they described as “allegations of a domestic nature.” Steenkamp, a model who also spoke out against sexual abuse, and Pistorius had been in a relationship for a few months.

FDA Approves “Bionic Eye”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved today an “artificial retina” that will give some blind people limited vision. The device, called Argus II, will help patients with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited degenerative eye disease in which the eye’s photoreceptors progressively lose their ability to take in light. Argus II is a sheet of electrodes implanted in the eye. Combined with glasses and a video processor, it allows patients to identify visual patterns, such as doors, stove burners, and even large numbers and letter.

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