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ISIS Loses Kobani, Russia's "Junk" Rating, Blizzard Friends With Benefits

ISIS Loses Kobani, Russia's "Junk" Rating, Blizzard Friends With Benefits

ISIS LOSES LONG KOBANI BATTLE
After more than four months of intense fighting, Kurdish fighters have taken control of the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish border and have driven out ISIS fighters, though these still occupy important areas outside the town, Reuters reports. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 1,600 people died in the battle, most of them jihadists, and tens of thousands have fled.

ON THIS DAY

Seventy years ago on this day, Auschwitz was liberated ... Time for your 57-second shot of history!

GUNMEN TAKE HOSTAGES IN LIBYA
Libyan security officials say that gunmen have taken hostages at a luxury Tripoli hotel popular with foreign visitors after a car bomb exploded in front of the building. At least three guards have were killed, and a witness told the AP there were at least five gunmen. The BBC says they could be linked to ISIS. The story is developing.

NEW ENGLAND BATTERED BY BLIZZARD
New York, Boston and most of the Northeast are experiencing a potentially historic blizzard, with snowfall rates approaching 4 inches per hour and winds nearing hurricane force. New York City (see photo above) is effectively closed, and life is expected to be brought to a standstill in the region, as winter storm Juno has already led to more than 7,000 flight cancellations and disrupted ground transportation.

GREEK CABINET TO BE ANNOUNCED
Newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to unveil his cabinet later today, and his choices will represent a drastic change with the creation of four “super-Ministries,” newspaper To Vima reports. Athens will soon start negotiations with Brussels and other international lenders over the repayment of its debt. The chief economics spokesman for Tsipras’ party Syriza told the BBC that his country could never repay all its debt. “I haven’t met an economist in their heart of hearts that will tell you that Greece will pay back all of that debt,” he said. “It can't be done.”

VERBATIM
“I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” former Cuban leader Fidel Castro said in his first public comments since the U.S. and Cuba agreed to normalize relations.

S&P DOWNGRADES RUSSIA TO JUNK
Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has downgraded Russia to junk status, the first time in a decade the country has reached such lows. It comes amid falling oil prices and Western sanctions that have badly hurt the economy, The Guardian reports. The U.S. and EU are threatening further economic sanctions as fighting intensifies again in eastern Ukraine.

$889 MILLION
The Koch brothers and the conservative political network they oversee plans to spend an astonishing $889 million in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, more than double what they spent in 2012 and almost as much as each party spent at the time.

UN FORCED TO HALT GAZA REBUILD
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees announced it couldn’t repair Gaza houses destroyed by the Israeli army in last summer’s war because donors who pledged to finance the rebuild have failed to pay up. “Virtually none” of the $5.4 billion pledged at the Cairo aid conference last October has reached Gaza, the agency said, adding, “This is distressing and unacceptable.”

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


ARGENTINA TO SHUTTER INTEL AGENCY
Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner has announced plans to dissolve the country’s domestic intelligence agency after the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, The New York Timesreports. Accusing rogue factions inside the agency of trying to sabotage an agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the 1994 attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, she said she would create a new organization with reduced surveillance powers.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Le Temps’ Caroline Christinaz reports, a Swiss Simon Jacomet, who was raised by Benedictine monks, makes high-end skis for a very select clientele. “Turning his back on mass production, he targets instead a niche clientele and works with the best brands, such as Bentley or Hublot,” the journalist writes. “He is tech-savvy and lets his imagination flow, inspired by tradition and the nature around him. ‘The people of the Surselva valley have a know-how in terms of craftsmanship, what must be preserved,’ Jacomet says. ‘We need their knowledge to create skis. We're six people in the workshop, and we're all from around here.’”
Read the full article, The Swiss Who Makes The Rolls Royce Of Skis.

UGANDA SUED FOR MEDICAL “BRAIN DRAIN”
A Ugandan think tank is suing the African country’s government in what it says is one of the first ever public interest litigation cases concerning a medical "brain drain," AFP reports. It has denounced the country’s policy to “export” doctors abroad while it desperately lacks medical staff. “Thousands of people will die, thousands die already," it claims, pointing out that 16 women die each day because of complications related to childbirth.

BLIZZARD FRIENDS, WITH BENEFITS
As New Yorkers prepare for a three-foot snowfall, some of them want to ensure that they don’t spend it alone.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner's MIA Convicts: Where Do Deserting Russian Mercenaries Go?

Tens of thousands of Russian prisoners who've been recruited by the Wagner Group mercenary outfit have escaped from the frontlines after volunteering in exchange for freedom. Some appear to be seeking political asylum in Europe thanks to a "cleared" criminal record.

Picture of a soldier wearing the Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Soldier wearing the paramilitary Wagner Group Logo on their uniform.

Source: Sky over Ukraine via Facebook
Anna Akage

Of the about 50,000 Russian convicts who signed up to fight in Ukraine with the Wagner Group, just 10,000 are reportedly still at the front. An unknown number have been killed in action — but among those would-be casualties are also a certain number of coffins that are actually empty.

To hide the number of soldiers who have deserted or defected to Ukraine, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is reportedly adding them to the lists of the dead and missing.

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Some Wagner fighters have surrendered through the Ukrainian government's "I Want To Live" hotline, says Olga Romanova, director and founder of the Russia Behind Bars foundation.

"Relatives of the convicts enlisted in the Wagner Group are not allowed to open the coffins," explains Romanova.

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