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Belgian Terror Arrests, Britain's Flooding, Saudi Austerity

BELGIUM ARRESTS TWO TERROR SUSPECTS

Belgian police have arrested two suspected terrorists who were reportedly planning New Year's Eve attacks on "symbolic targets" in Brussels, newspaper Le Soir reports. The arrests came Sunday and Monday after police raids in the provinces of Brabant and Liège. Police said they hadn't found any weapons or explosives during the raids, but they seized computer equipment, military clothing and ISIS propaganda material. They also said there was no connection between this investigation and the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, in which several Belgian citizens or residents had participated.


VERBATIM

"2016 will be the year of the big and final victory, when Daesh's presence in Iraq will be terminated," a triumphant Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said today, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, after government forces recaptured the city of Ramadi from the terror group. And he promised more successes ahead. "We are coming to liberate Mosul, and it will be the fatal and final blow to Daesh."


A SAD RANKING FOR FRANCE

The January terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo made France the third-deadliest country for journalists in 2015, behind Iraq and Syria, an annual round-up from Reporters Without Borders shows. A total 110 journalists across the world were killed in connection with their work (eight of them in Paris) this year, and the group notes that 2015 marks a shift from last year, when two-thirds of the deaths happened in war zones. This year, two-thirds of the journalists were killed in countries "at peace."


$7.45 BILLION

Cleanup of the unprecedented flooding in Britain over the Christmas weekend will cost more than $7.45 billion, and widespread lack of insurance will leave many families and businesses financially ruined, The Guardian reports. Prime Minister David Cameron was heckled by flood victims yesterday during a visit to hard-hit Yorkshire, where politicians are accusing him of leaving the north with fewer flood defenses than the richer south. Yesterday's respite is forecast to end later today with another storm heading towards northern England and Scotland.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Already very active within the country, Chinese censorship is now being applied outside its borders, and via the Internet, Murong Xuecun writes in an essay for Le Monde. What are the implications for China, and the rest of us? "If the Internet has imposed itself as the place of freedom where resistance to censorship in China is expressed, it is also spreading the battle beyond our borders at a time when Chinese state-owned companies are networking around the world and when Confucius Institutes for the promotion of Chinese culture and language are being established in many different countries. Soon, the shadows of censorship will not only hang over we Chinese citizens, but will also catch up to you who are living far away, always believing you are safe from its reach."

Read the full article, How China Tries To Censor The Whole World.


ON THIS DAY


James Joyce, Jude Law and the first-ever YMCA (not to mention a little ditty from the Village People). We've got all that and more in today's shot of history.


SAUDI ARABIA TURNS TO AUSTERITY

Gasoline, electricity and water prices in Saudi Arabia will rise starting today and will continue to do so "gradually over the next five years," King Salman announced yesterday. The oil-rich country registered a 2015 deficit equivalent to $97.9 billion, 15% of its GDP, Al Arabiya reports. With oil as its main source of revenue, falling oil prices have hit Saudi Arabia's finances hard, in large part because of its decision to keep production levels high despite falling demand, as part of its "war on shale oil." According to theFinancial Times, the "radical austerity measures" also include major privatization plans.


WINTER STORM GOLIATH'S LAST PHASE

Photo: Nancy Stone/TNS/ZUMA

The winter storm Goliath, engulfing a large part of the United States, killing at least 24 people, is "entering its final chapter" as it moves into the Northeast, The Weather Channel reports. Severe weather across the U.S. over the past week has already killed 43 people and caused extensive damage.


OLMERT'S JAIL SENTENCE REDUCED

Israel's Supreme Court has reduced former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's jail sentence from six years to 18 months, but the 70-year-old will still become Israel's first ex-PM to go to prison, The Jerusalem Post reports. Olmert was found guilty of bribery in a real estate deal during his tenure as Jerusalem mayor, before winning the country's top job. He's expected to begin his sentence in February.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



FAREWELL LEMMY KILMISTER

Lemmy Kilmister, the frontman of hard rock band Motörhead, has died at age 70, two days after being diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. As the famous rocker had prophesied, "the only time I'm gonna be easy's when I'm killed expand=1] by death."

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Biden, and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin on Tuesday at the White House

Cameron Manley, Meike Eijsberg, and Emma Albright

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Thursday, his second visit to the country since the start of the war on February 24, annoucing that the U.S. intends to provide an additional $2 billion aid package to Ukraine and 18 other countries in and around the region.

This new aid package is in addition to the latest $675 million package to Ukraine, announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. It will include rounds for HIMARS, as well as military vehicles, and other equipment.

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