Berlusconi Strikes Vital Italy Election Deal With League

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday announced an alliance with the devolutionist Northern League which could prevent the center-left forming a stable government after elections next month, according to Reuters.

Berlusconi has been striving for weeks to seal the deal with his estranged former allies to strengthen the center-right bloc, under a strategy to stymie the center-left government which is expected to emerge from a February 24-25 election.

The League had previously refused a pact because of rank-and-file opposition to the scandal-plagued Berlusconi being candidate for prime minister. The media magnate was driven from office a year ago at the height of Italy's economic crisis after he was charged with having sex with an underage prostitute.

In an interview on Italian radio station RTL, Berlusconi left the issue of the premiership open in a future center-right government. He said he would prefer to be the economy minister and that mostly likely Angelino Alfano, secretary of his People of Freedom (PDL) party, would be prime minister.

However he said he would remain head of the PDL and the coalition. "It will be the head of the coalition who would indicate who will be the prime ministerial candidate if we win," said Berlusconi who had previously insisted he himself would be the candidate.

Berlusconi said he had struck the deal early on Monday with Roberto Maroni, leader of the League - which was part of his previous coalition government. There was no immediate comment from the League but Maroni was due to give a news conference later on Monday.

The center-left led by Pier Luigi Bersani has been ahead in opinion polls for months. The latest survey, published on Sunday, said it would win between 38 and 39 percent.

A PDL-League alliance could pull in about 28 per cent of the vote with a centrist alliance under outgoing premier Mario Monti on 14-15 percent, the poll showed.

Under Italy's much-criticized electoral law, Bersani is expected to win a comfortable majority in the lower house.

But in the Senate the distribution of seats is decided on a regional basis and the populous northern regions led by Lombardy return more senators.

By allying with the League in its northern strongholds, Berlusconi hopes to be able to stymie a center-left government in parliament.

The League wants strict controls on immigration and favors giving more power and autonomy to Italy's 20 regions. It wants more tax revenue to go directly to the regions, saying the rich north is picking up the tab for a south it brands as corrupt and economically backward.

Berlusconi said that under the deal the PDL would support Maroni as candidate for president of Lombardy in regional elections.

Berlusconi's party backed Monti's technocrat government for a year before precipitating its fall by withdrawing support last month.

Berlusconi previously suggested Monti could lead the center-right but since the former European Commissioner sided with centrists has launched vitriolic daily attacks on him especially for his introduction of a widely hated property tax.


India: Death Toll from Cold Wave Rises to 140

At least 140 people have died during a three-week-long cold spell sweeping across India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh, news reports said.

As many as 11 deaths occurred in the Barabanki, Sultanpur and Etah districts of India's most populous state on Saturday, broadcaster CNN-IBN reported. The death toll had stood at 107 on Thursday.

Muzaffarnagar was the coldest in the state, with the temperature dipping to 0.3 degrees Celsius, according to the Voice of Russia.

Officials from the state's disaster relief department have denied that the deaths were due to the cold snap. However, reports said many homeless and poor had died from exposure. Some people also died in road accidents due to fog.

In the north, New Delhi and the Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh also experienced cold weather.

Saturday's minimum temperature in the Indian capital was recorded at 1.9 degrees Celsius, the coldest night-time temperature this winter.


Christmas terror attack foiled in Russia




RTV-Russian authorities have prevented a Christmas terror attack in the southern region of Kabardino-Balkaria. A car with three suspects exploded during a shootout with police, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee reported.

¬The special operation followed a timely tipoff about the terror cell’s plans to launch a series of extremist attacks in churches of Kabardino-Balkaria during Christmas service celebrations. A special unit was formed to battle the threat.

When one the members of the Special Forces attempted to stop a truck with three suspects inside near the city of Baksan late on January 6, the passengers opened fire at the police.

In the course of the fire exchange a number of explosives detonated in the car setting it on fire. The three passengers died in the blast.

Police found two pistols, an AK-47 with ammunitions along with explosives. The explosive material was destroyed at the scene while the guns were sent to a forensics expert.

Investigators are still trying to identify the bodies and track down any possible accomplices.

The operation was conducted as part of the government’s efforts to battle an extremist insurgency in the republic, the National Anti-Terrorism Committee press service said.






President al-Assad has outlined 'important initiative', says Zinin

MOSCOW,(ST)_ Russian Professor has said President Bashar al-Assad's speech delivered today is important and includes initiative to halt violence. 

Professor and Intellectual at the International Relations University of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Yuri Zinin, told SANA reporter: "The President's speech contained a very important  initiative to halt violence in Syria and avoid deteriorating situation."

He sees that regional and international powers have to listen to this speech to end foreign meddling in Syria's affairs, noting that the  continuation of meddling would increase number of victims and it would be difficult to stop violence then.

The professor hoped that the whole world would read the speech carefully and correctly.

He cited that the speech is addressing all Syrian citizens including those who really seek democratic changes. 

"President al-Assad has not left out, in his speech, voicing thanks  to Russia, China, Iran and other countries that stand by Syria and defend principles of justice and right in international relations," Zinin said.

He added that Syria has turned to be a target for a fierce aggression launched by international terrorist forces that flew- like ravens- from all over the world and alighted on the Syrian land which has a great history.

President al-Assad delivered on Sunday a speech at the Opera House in Damascus in which he set out a plan including national dialogue conference and a new government, but demanded regional and western countries stop funding and arming terrorist groups in Syria first.

The President said that Syria is in a state of war in every sense of the word, adding that:""The nation is for all and we all must protect it."

Basma Qaddour



7.5magnitude earthquake strikes off coast of Alaska

tsunami warning was canceled early Saturday for portions of British Columbia, Canada, and southeastern Alaska, officials said.

The warning was issued following a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Alaska 63 miles west of Craig, a town on Prince of Wales Island, and 208 miles south of the capital of Juneau, the U.S. Geological Survey said,according to CNN.

The size of the temblor, which struck at 3:58 a.m. ET, off the coast of Alaska was downgraded by the USGS from 7.7 to 7.5.

There were no initial reports of damage but the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said a small tsunami of about six inches was observed near the southeastern Alaskan town of Port Alexander on Baranof Island.

A tsunami watch for the coastal areas of the British Columbia-Washington border was also canceled.

Based on available data, the tsunami warning center said there is "no destructive threat" to Hawaii, though it warned that some coastal areas could experience larger waves and strong currents.

On October 27, a tsunami was spawned by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake that struck 86 miles south of Masset on British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands.

The tsunami reached all the way to Hawaii, where sirens were sounded to warn residents to get to higher ground. Visions of the devastating quake and tsunami that killed thousands in Japan in March 2011 fueled the fright, but the waves proved to be smaller and less powerful than feared.

While the warning at the time said waves could surge between 3 and 6 feet, the largest wave, measured in Kahului on the island of Maui, was about 2.5 feet above ambient sea level.


Australia wildfires: Thousands stranded in Tasmania

Wildfires on the Australian island of Tasmania have stranded thousands of people and destroyed at least 100 homes.

Much of Australia is experiencing a heatwave, and temperatures in the Tasmanian state capital Hobart earlier reached a record high of 41C.

Some took shelter on beaches on the Tasman Peninsula, which remains cut off.

A flotilla has brought in supplies and hundreds have been evacuated by sea.

he BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says large swathes of south-east Australia are suffering from the worst fire conditions since the Black Saturday disaster almost four years ago, when 173 people in rural Victoria lost their lives.

He says there has been a combination of a record-breaking heatwave, high winds and drought, with Tasmania by far the worst hit.

On the island, some 40 separate fires are burning - four of them out of control - despite temperatures falling back from their peak.

At least 100 properties have been destroyed, a large number in the small community of Dunalley, east of Hobart, where the police station and school were burned down.

One resident of Dunalley told ABC radio: "All I could do was drive the car out of the shed, drive across the other side of the road and stand back and look at the whole place just being engulfed in flames, just like a movie."

The main road to the Tasman Peninsula, south-east of Hobart, has been cut off, stranding thousands of people, many of them tourists in the historic site of Port Arthur.

Chief Officer Mike Brown, of the Tasmanian Fire Service, said: "Clearly, it's going to take a long time and a lot of work to properly contain these fires."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged people to look after their personal safety.

She told ABC: ''My message is there's only one you. Everything else in life, at the end of the day, no matter how precious, can be replaced."

She added: "It's a very Australian thing to fear and also to understand the devastation of bushfire."

Much of southern Australia remains under intense heat.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a German woman died while walking in 40 degree temperatures in Cape Otway, Victoria.


Argentina wants Malvinas Islands back

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has sent a letter to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, asking that talks between their countries should start over the status of the Falkland Islands.

180 years ago, Great Britain annexed this archipelago near Argentina’s shore.

“The Falkland Islands” is the name used by the UK, while Argentinians call them by a Spanish name “Islas Malvinas”.

In her letter, Ms. de Kirchner calls the islands “Malvinas”.

In 1965, the UN General Assembly issued a resolution which recognized the UK’s annexing of the islands an act of colonization.

On April 2, 1982, a war between the UK and Argentina over the islands began. The war lasted 74 days.

In 2010, the UK started to explore an oil deposit in the sea near the islands, which aggravated the conflict.


Australian dies fighting alongside Syria "rebels"

Al-Akhbar-An Australian citizen fighting with Syrian rebels in their battle against Syrian  government has been killed in the northwest of the country, a watchdog said on Wednesday.

"Abu al-Walid al-Australi was killed December 30 in a rebel assault on the Wadi Deif base," Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP by telephone.

'Rebel" fighters launched an assault on the Wadi Deif base, one of the regime's last strongholds in the northwest of Syria, on December 28 in a fresh bid to wrest control of the strategic post, according to activists.

The jihadist group the Al-Nusra Front led the offensive, said rebels on the ground.

Insurgents captured the nearby town of Maaret al-Numan, located on the important Damascus-Aleppo highway, in October.

Syria's insurgents comprise army deserters, civilians who have taken up arms and foreign fighters, including several Islamist groups.