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Swiss Banking Fraud, World's Priciest Artwork, Bloody Accents

NEW HOPE FOR UKRAINE
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama later today in Washington for talks that will focus primarily on a ceasefire for eastern Ukraine. This comes after emergency meetings Friday and Saturday in Kiev and Moscow to negotiate a possible agreement ahead of a four-way meeting Wednesday in Minsk with Presidents Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko. It’s unclear if the two sides can agree on a lasting truce. This morning, Kiev officials accused Russia of having recently sent 1,500 Russian troops and military equipment into Ukraine, which Moscow has denied in the past. Putin, meanwhile, laid blame on the West for the yearlong crisis.

  • An online video emerged of a mushroom-shaped explosion that reportedly hit a chemical plant near the Ukrainian city of Donetsk last night. Russian media are quoting a Ukrainian lawmaker as praising the army for the blast, an image of which was also caught by NATO’s satellites. There have been no reports of casualties so far.

$300 MILLION
A Qatari museum purchased a Paul Gauguin painting of two Tahitian girls for $300 million, making it the most expensive artwork ever sold.

HSBC TAX FRAUD
On its Monday front page, Geneva-based daily Le Temps features an ominous-looking photo of HSBC's Geneva headquarters with the accompanying headline, “What the Falciani files reveal.” It refers to the latest developments in the giant tax evasion scheme led by the world’s second-largest bank, HSBC via its Swiss subsidiary. Read more from our 4 Corners blog.

SNAPSHOT
NASA finally revealed what the not-so-dark side of the Moon (Photo above: NASA expand=1] Goddard) looks like. Check it out in this stunning video.

SHOTS FIRED AT FRENCH POLICE
Hooded gunmen in the southern French city of Marseille fired at the local police chief and other officers with Kalashnikovs just hours before Prime Minister Manuel Valls was expected to arrive for a one-day visit. There are no reports of injuries. Security remains tense in France a month after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but newspaper Le Figaro believes the Marseille attack to be related to rivalry between drug-dealing gangs rather than terrorism.

ON THIS DAY

Halley’s Comet last appeared on Feb. 9, 1986. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

NIGERIAN ELECTION DELAYED
Nigeria’s election authorities have decided to postpone until March 28 a crucial presidential election initially planned for Feb. 14, citing security fears as Islamist terror group Boko Haram continues to wage war in the country’s northeastern regions, The Nigerian Tribune reports. Muhammadu Buhari, the main opponent to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, denounced the move as “a crude and fraudulent attempt to subvert the electoral process,”Vanguardreports. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also criticized the decision, saying the international community would be “watching closely.”

  • Boko Haram fighters, meanwhile, opened a new front as they launched an attack on the town of Diffa, in neighboring Niger, in yet another sign that the fight against the Islamist sect is becoming regional.
  • Al-Shabab, a terrorist group active in Somalia, added another name to its list of murdered politicians after lawmaker Abdulahi Qayad Barre was killed in Mogadishu this morning. Last year, the group killed five Somalian lawmakers.

GREECE ON COLLISION COURSE WITH EU
Greece’s defiant new leader Alexis Tsipras told the country’s parliament yesterday that his government would not seek to extend the international bailout. But he simultaneously vowed to push ahead with his Syriza party’s pre-election promises to roll back austerity policies implemented over the last five years, Reuters reports. “The bailout failed,” the BBC quoted Tsipras as saying in what was his first major speech since his election. “The new government is not justified in asking for an extension ... because it cannot ask for an extension of mistakes.” The move is once again fueling speculation that Athens will leave the Eurozone, with former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan saying over the weekend it was “only a matter of time.” Greek stocks have lost more than 5% in early trading today.
For more on the new Berlin-Athens relationship, we offer this Süddeutsche Zeitung/Worldcrunch piece, A German Dose Of Skepticism On Tsipras And Friends.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Francois Duchateau writes for Die Welt, a trial public work program for German drug addicts promised modest hourly wages and optional bottles of beer. The results have surprised social workers. “When this program, officially called ‘Pick up,’ began in October, people had reservations about it,” Duchateau writes. “The basic idea, taken from an Amsterdam program, is to get addicts onto a daily schedule by having them clean up street litter. For this, they are paid a little over one euro per hour plus up to three bottles of beer. The idea was criticized as being exploitive and contemptuous in its approach to people. Many thought wrongly that ‘Pick up’ was somehow associated with the drinker's scene in Essen's inner city when in fact the trial program primarily targets severe drug addicts who may also use alcohol from time to time. As testament to this, the 20 crates of beer that were bought for the program are still in the cellar, virtually untouched after more than two months.”
Read the full article, The Public Work Program For Addicts That Pays In Beer.

VERBATIM
“Beck needs to respect artistry, and he should have given his award to Beyoncé,” Kanye West said after pulling a Kanye West at yesterday’s Grammy Awards ceremony. So 2009.

ABBOTT SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE VOTE
Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a leadership challenge inside his own party brought by sharp criticism of some of his political choices. But as The Sydney Morning Herald writes, his victory with 61 votes to 39, “rather than settling anything will probably ensure another bout.”

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


BLOODY ACCENTS
And the award for the most attractive accent goes to … Britain, according to a poll of 11,000 people in 24 cities around the world. The American accent came in second, while French placed fifth.

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War In Ukraine, Day 279: New Kherson Horrors More Than Two Weeks After Russian Withdrawal

Shelling in Kherson

Anna Akage, Bertrand Hauger and Emma Albright

While retreating from Kherson, Russian troops forcibly removed more than 2,500 Ukrainians from prison colonies and pre-trial detention centers in the southern region. Those removed included prisoners as well as a large number of civilians who had been held in prisons during the occupation, according to the Ukrainian human rights organization Alliance of Ukrainian Unity.

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The NGO said it has evidence that these Ukrainians were first transferred to Crimea and then distributed to different prisons in Russia. During the transfer of the prisoners, Russian soldiers also reportedly stole valuables and food and mined the building of colony #61.

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