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N. Korea Web Outage, Oil Industry Turmoil, RIP Joe Cocker

British singer Joe Cocker died Monday at age 70
British singer Joe Cocker died Monday at age 70

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Internet access has been partly restored in North Korea after the country found itself without any service for more than nine hours. It’s unclear whether it was the result of a coincidental glitch or of a cyber attack, though it comes just days after President Barack Obama vowed to “respond proportionally” to the alleged North Korean hacking of Sony Pictures. A State Department official yesterday issued what The Washington Post describes as “a somewhat coy non-denial,” merely saying that “as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some will not be seen.”

The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, put the issue of human rights in North Korea on its agenda for the first time. North Korea denounced the move, branding it a “hostile policy pursued by the United States.” Read more from The New York Times.

British singer Joe Cocker, an icon of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Monday at his home in Crawford, Colorado. He was 70. Read more from The New York Times.

Construction of a 278-kilometer inter-oceanic canal that hopes to rival the Panama Canal has begun in Nicaragua, newspaperEl Nuevo Diario reports. The $50 billion project is being developed by a Chinese company, HKND, and the government hopes that it will help lift the country out of poverty. ButLa Prensa reports that many protesters demonstrated against the project in several parts of the country, with farmers still unwilling to sell their land to make way for the construction. Other opponents fear the devastating environmental risks.
For more on the controversial project, we offer this La Stampa/Worldcrunch piece, A Dubious Chinese Link To The Grand Nicaragua Canal.

As Calcalist reports, though some top executives have learned the art of apologizing, others compound their company's PR problems by failing to take responsibility. “When the massive explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig caused a devastating spill in the Gulf of Mexico — the largest in U.S. history — then-CEO Tony Hayward apologized for the disturbances the oil spill caused to the daily routine of residents,” the newspaper writes. “But in what The New York Times characterized as the ‘sound bite from hell,’ he immediately added, ‘I'd like my life back.’ Why is it so difficult for managers to apologize?”
Read the full article, Why CEOs Still Can't Say "I'm Sorry."

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister and OPEC leader Ali al-Naimi said in an interview that “it is not in the interest of OPEC producers to cut their production, whatever the price is,” suggesting that even a price of $20 per barrel wouldn’t make them budge. The Financial Times brands the policy “a dramatic shift,” saying it “will have far-reaching implications for the global energy industry.” While this could provide the global economy with a needed boost, the aggressive policy of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries, which are desperately trying to protect their market share at all cost, will likely have devastating effects on other oil-producing economies, such as Russia, Venezuela, Brazil or even West Africa, where production costs are much higher.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that there has been a “heightened level of terror chatter” since the siege at a café in Sydney in which two hostages and the gunman were killed last week, The Sydney Morning Heraldreports. But Abbott stopped short of raising the terrorist threat level from “high” to “extreme.”

French ministers, meanwhile, are holding an emergency meeting about three unrelated attacks in as many days. While a converted Islamist’s attempted killing of police officers Saturday is still being investigated, a prosecutor ruled out a terror link in a Sunday attack in the city of Dijon, which appears to have been carried out by a man with a “long-lasting and severe psychological disorder.” Last night, a man drove a van into a crowd at a Christmas market in the western city of Nantes, injuring at least 11 people, Le Figaroreports. The driver then stabbed himself nine times but survived his injuries. Investigators are treating the case as an “isolated act” and have said that the man had no apparent connections to Islamist networks.

The Syrian government has agreed to allow the delivery of medicine and surgical supplies to rebel-held areas in Aleppo and two other zones difficult to access near Damascus, the World Health Organization announced. Poor sanitary conditions and sieges from both government and rebel forces have worsened the spread of disease, with contaminated water and falling vaccination rates the main causes of concern. Read more from Reuters.

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More than 17,000 people showed up for the latest “anti-Islamization” rally in Dresden Monday, a record since the far-right PEGIDA movement began the marches in October. The demonstrators sang Christmas carols outside the eastern city’s historic Semper opera house, Deutsche Welle reports. In turn, the opera management turned the building’s lights off to show its distaste. As several counter-demonstrations were held the same day, several politicians spoke out against the PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West). Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned Germans against falling into xenophobic "rabble-rousing," while former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for a counter-movement against the far-right group, saying “that's the kind of public reaction we need now.”

Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok has been sentenced to five years in jail and fined $65,000 for corruption, but the former chairman of the city’s largest developer is expected to appeal the decision, the BBC reports. He was found guilty of paying as much as $1.1 million in bribes to former government official Rafael Hui in exchange for information on land sales between 2005 and 2007. Hui was handed a seven-and-a-half year sentence and fined close to $1.5 million. Read more from Xinhua.

Six million Americans who describe themselves as white actually have some African ancestry, according to a new study.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Russia Is Suddenly Deploying Air Defense Systems On Moscow Rooftops

Russia is increasingly concerned about security from the sky: air defense systems have been installed on rooftops in Moscow's government quarter. Systems have also appeared in several other places in Russia, including near Vladimir Putin's lakeside home in Valdai. What is the Kremlin really worried about?

photo of ice on the river in Moscow

Clear skies, cold reality along the Moskva River

Anna Akage


The Russian Defense Ministry has refused to comment. State Duma parliamentary officials say it’s a fake. Still, a series of verified photographs have circulated in recent days of an array of long-range C-400 and short-range air defense systems installed on three complexes in Moscow near the Kremlin, as well as on locations in the outskirts of the capital and in the northwest village of Valdai, where Vladimir Putin has a lakeside residence.

Some experts believe the air defense installations in Moscow were an immediate response to recent Ukrainian statements about a new fleet of military drones: The Ukroboronprom defense contracter said this month that it completed a series of successful tests of a new strike drone with a range of over 1,000 kilometers. Analyst Michael Naki suggests that Moscow’s anti-air defense systems were an immediate reaction to the fact that the drones can theoretically hit Kremlin.

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Yet the air defense installations in Valdai seem to have been in place since late December, following Ukrainian drone attacks on a military airfield deep inside Russia’s Sorotov region, 730 kilometers (454 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Others pose a very different rationale to explain Russia’s beefing up anti-air defenses on its own territory. Russian military analyst Yan Matveev argues that Putin demanded the deployment of such local systems not as defense against long-range Ukrainian drones, but rather for fear of sabotage from inside Russia.

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