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Friday, December 27, 2013

Ice Breaker Rescue Stalled

The Chinese ice breaker, Xue Long or Snow Dragon, was six nautical miles away from the stranded Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy when Captain Wang Jiangzhong said it too was trapped in an unusually thick Antarctic ice floe. “Right now we are waiting for winds to blow ice away so we can move closer,” he said. “The current ice condition is exceeding our capabilities to break through further.” Wang suggested his ship might itself become the object of a rescue mission should the situation worsen.

Meanwhile, confused penguins wandered past the stuck, but otherwise unharmed, Akademik Shokalskiy. Janet Rice, a senator-elect for Victoria, Australia, who has been on board the ship since it left New Zealand, attempted to ally concerns, saying, “I understand why people might be concerned, but the feeling today on board the ship is like a summer holiday when the weather is bad, when you’re stuck inside reading books and playing Scrabble. We’ve been assured that we’re in no danger and it’s just a matter of waiting.”

SOSMA Trial Begins for Lahad Datu 30

Twenty-seven Filipinos will go on trial early next year in Malaysia, as part of the most significant Special Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) trial to date. The accused, including the Sultan’s nephew, Datu Amirbahar Kiram, are just a few of the 104 which were detained for “waging war” against Malaysia’s King, after an attack on the villages surrounding Lahad Datu in Sabah on the Malaysian part of Borneo which saw roughly 200 armed fighters from the Royal Sulu Army arrive in boats from the Philippines. The RSA claimed the Sabah region—which is heavily populated with Filipino immigrants earning a substance living on palm oil plantations—in the name of Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III. But ultimately the would be invaders were captured, killed, or driven out of the Malay province during the ensuing military reaction.

Those on trial were detained in the days and weeks following the incident. But a lawyer for the defendants said his clients were not involved in the attempted invasions and were merely, “in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” He notes that while police did confiscate a number of machetes, they found no guns on any of the accused. “It’s a cross border situation and very challenging,” attorney N Sivananthan, who was hired by the Philippine government to represent their citizens, told Al Jazeera]. “They all face the death penalty; that’s the pressure point. Nevertheless, it’s going to be interesting to see how the court views SOSMA and how it’s going to find a balance between the purpose of the law and the need for a fair trial.”

Mohamad Chatah Stuck Down

A car bomb exploded in central Beirut today, killing several people, including its presumed target, Mohamad Chatah, a prominent politician who had long been critical of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and officials from across Lebanon’s sectarian political divide condemned Chatah’s assassination. Mikati said the blast targeted “a moderate academic and noble political figure who believed in dialogue, the language of reason and the right to different views”. Hezbollah called the bombing a “heinous crime, which comes in the context of a series of crimes and explosions aimed at sabotaging the country”. Adding, “No-one benefits from [the bombing] but Lebanon’s enemies.”

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded the Special Tribunal for Lebanon probe former minister Mohammad Chatah’s assassination, strongly implying Hezbollah’s guilt. Siniora, flanked by a number of politicians, took to television to say, “I announce to the Lebanese with deep regret the passing of our martyred hero Dr. Mohammad Shatah who was killed this morning by criminals you are familiar with, you are thinking about, and you are pointing fingers at.”

Iranian Nuke Boss Allays Western Fears

Iranian atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, announced that the Arak heavy water reactor is incapable of producing plutonium for use in a nuclear weapon, saying, “The Arak research reactor cannot produce plutonium that could be used to make an atomic bomb since the plutonium will remain in the reactor’s core for a year.” The Arak site is of concern to Western governments because Iran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from its spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility. Salehi explained today, “plutonium destined to make a weapon cannot stay there for more than three or four weeks or it will contain other elements preventing its use” for military means, adding “Anyway, Iran does not have a reprocessing plant.”

Salehi also announced the development of a new type of uranium enrichment centrifuge. As part of the landmark nuclear deal Iran reached with Western powers, Iran agreed to refrain from bringing new centrifuges into operation for six months, as part of temporary limitations on its enrichment program in return for the easing of some sanctions. Iran also agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent and neutralize its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium. But the deal does not stop it from developing novel centrifuges, which might help it enrich to 5 percent much faster.

Colombian Security Forces Kill 10 FARC Members

The Colombian military announced its air force has killed at least 10 members of the FARC in the central Meta province. Among the dead is regional commander, Pedro Lain Parra Suns, perhaps better known by his nom-de-guerre Jhon 26. Jhon 26 was allegedly responsible for a number of attacks on police stations in the Meta area, and raising significant amounts of income for the rebel group.

While the FARC has unilaterally declared a one month ceasefire starting on the 15th, as its diplomatic corps holds peace talks with the Colombian government, Defense Minister Pinzon has refused to follow suit, saying the guerrillas would only use it to re-group and re-arm.

Weekend Read: The Wage Warrior

Maria Elena Durazo has been a force for the labor movement in California for years. But how did Durazo gain so much influence? Hillel Aron explains in Los Angeles Magazine.

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