SYRIA TALKS COLLAPSE
Opposing sides in the Syrian conflict have accused each other of being responsible for the collapse of peace talks in Geneva yesterday. French French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the Syrian government's offensive near Aleppo, backed by Russia, had "torpedoed the peace efforts." The head of the Syrian delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, blamed the failure on having not "one opposition, but a number of oppositions" at the table, receiving "orders from external powers and masters," Syrian news agency SANA reports. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed that the break in talks should be "as short as possible," and Kerry urged Russia to halt bombings in Syria. "I see no reason to stop these airstrikes â€¦ until we truly win over terrorist groups ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and such," Lavrov replied.
- Jalal Baleedi, Yemen's al-Qaeda leader, has reportedly been killed in a U.S. drone strike. Another 11 Islamists were also among the dead.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country would donate $2.6 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria until 2018, more than one-quarter of the total $9 billion raised by the UN and charities.
GERMANY ARRESTS ISIS SUSPECTS
During early morning raids in three different cities, German police arrested two Algerian men who lived in refugee centers and are suspected of connections with ISIS, Deutsche Welle reports. Police are reportedly looking for two other suspects, believed to be preparing an attack in Germany. According to police sources quoted by AFP, at least one of the two arrested has received military training in Syria and is wanted in Algeria over his links with ISIS. The arrests come amid security concerns coinciding with the start of Germany's traditional Carnival celebrations. In Cologne, where more than 500 women were sexually assaulted by migrants on New Year's Eve, police presence has been increased and party-goers have been warned to be careful.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is planning to cut 10,000 jobs after reporting its worst profits in years, International Business Times reports. The company's 2015 profits fell by a staggering 80% compared to 2014, hit by the steep decline in oil and gas prices.
- Crédit Suisse has posted a pre-tax annual loss of $2.4 billion for 2015, a first for the bank since 2008. The Switzerland-based group announced it would cut 4,000 jobs.
- Another alarming sign that the global economy is slowing comes from the Baltic Dry, an index that tracks the price of shipping raw materials and is therefore considered a leading indicator of global economic activity. The index, at an all-time low of 303, has lost 35% this year and is yet to register a single session of gains. In May 2008, the index peaked at 11,793.
A new study shows that income and asset inequality in China has reached epic proportions, with the top undertaxed and the bottom at grave social risk because of a lack of civil protection. "One group represents the top 1% of Chinese households, which a recent Beijing University study says own one-third of the national wealth," China's Economic Observer writes. "In other words, income and asset inequality is worsening. Meanwhile, the bottom 1% is comprised of the 13 million so-called hei-hu or â€˜black households,' families whose parents gave birth to several children while the country's notorious one-child policy was in force. They are overwhelmingly poor families, whose parents still risk being charged the â€˜social compensation fee,' a severe financial penalty, for violating the policy that finally ended in October."
Read the full article, China's Worrying 1%, Wealth Inequality Of Epic Proportions.
ASSANGE ACCEPTS FATE
"Should the UN announce tomorrow that I have lost my case against the United Kingdom and Sweden, I shall exit the embassy at noon on Friday to accept arrest by British police," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a statement today. He's been staying inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex assault claims that he denies. He complained to the UN in 2014 that he was being "arbitrarily detained" given that he could not leave without being arrested and, he feared, deported to the U.S. "However, should I prevail and the state parties be found to have acted unlawfully, I expect the immediate return of my passport and the termination of further attempts to arrest me," he said. According to the BBC, the UN panel examining his case has already ruled in Assange's favor.
Australia's controversial policy of diverting immigrants to tiny Pacific Islands dominated the Australian media today after the country's highest court ruled it was legal for the government to fund and participate in offshore detention. Read more about it and see how The Sydney Morning Heraldfeatured the story on its front page here.
MINISTERS SIGN TPP AMID PROTESTS
Trade ministers from the 12 countries participating in the Trans-Pacific Partnership have signed what's being hailed as the "biggest trade deal in a generation" in Auckland, New Zealand. Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters blocked the streets to denounce "the corporations that are wanting to take over," The New Zealand Herald reports.
Photo: Ben Weller/ZUMA
Men are seen launching handheld fireworks yesterday at Inaba Shrine in Gifu, central Japan, as part of a Setsubun ceremony marking the beginning of spring.
GOOGLE NAMES NEW SEARCH ENGINE CHIEF
Google continues to bolster its artificial intelligence sector, and news that the company has appointed A.I. expert John Giannandrea as its new head of search algorithms suggests a "sea change in one of the core technologies of the Internet," the Financial Times writes.
ON THIS DAY
Feb. 4, the day George Washington founded Facebook at the Yalta Conference. No, wait. â€¦ Get it right in today's 57-second shot of history.
UKRAINE ANTI-CORRUPTION MINISTER RESIGNS
Ukraine's Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius resigned yesterday, claiming that senior figures inside the government of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blocked attempts to fight widespread corruption, newspaper The Kyiv Post reports. "My team and I have no desire to be a screen for brazen corruption or puppets for people who want to take control over state funds in the style of the old government," Lithuanian-born Abromavicius said, explaining he wanted his resignation "to serve as a warning call, a cold shower."
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
"Trump is, as you know, a well-known scientist — brilliant scientist. And he has concluded after years of studying the issue that climate change is a hoax *dramatic pause* brought to us by the Chinese. Now, that shocked me, Anderson, because I thought that he would have thought it was a hoax brought to us by the Mexicans or the Muslims." — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at last night's Democratic town hall, when asked by Anderson Cooper what he would say to independent voters wavering between him and Donald Trump.