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Bombings kill 23, wound dozens in Iraq

Written By doni donian on Sabtu, 30 Maret 2013 | 14.00

Bombings targeting Shi'ite mosques in Iraq have killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens. Source: AAP

A STRING of bombings targeting Shi'ite mosques in Iraq have killed at least 23 people and wounded dozens, officials say.

Friday's attacks were the latest in spectacular assaults staged by insurgents seeking to undermine the Shi'ite-led government's efforts to achieve security across the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the bombings bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda's Iraq branch. The group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq, frequently uses car bombs, suicide bombers and coordinated blasts in an effort to sow fear among Shi'ites and erode their trust in the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Four car bombs hit Shi'ite mosques in the Iraqi capital as worshippers were leaving after Friday prayers, killing 19 people and wounding 72.

First, a parked car exploded in Baghdad's western Jihad neighbourhood, killing seven worshippers and wounding 25, a police officer said. Another police officer said four people were killed and nearly 20 were wounded in a bombing in an eastern Qahira neighbourhood. Three people died and 15 were wounded in the eastern Zafaraniyah district while yet another car bomb killed five people and wounded 14 in the northeastern Binook neighbourhood.

Three health officials confirmed the causality figures.

And in the northern city of Kirkuk, 290km north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden car into a group of worshippers as they were leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, killing three people and wounding up to 70, according to police colonel Najat Hassan. A senior provisional health official, Sidiq Omar Rasool, confirmed the casualty figures in Kirkuk.

Violence has ebbed sharply since the peak of Sunni-Shi'ite fighting that pushed the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, but Sunni insurgents still occasionally carry out high-profile attacks against Shi'ites, considering them to be heretics.

Friday is a particularly popular day for militants to undertake such attacks because of the rush of mostly men and boys who flock to the mosques throughout the country to hear traditional Muslim sermons and take part in communal prayers.

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Chinese tourists victims of crime in Paris

MASS muggings and attacks on Chinese tourists in Paris have spawned alarm and warnings of a decline in the number of free-spending visitors from the Asian giant who swarm to France.

More than one million Chinese visitors come every year to France, a country which for them epitomises luxury, romance and quality products.

But that may very well change, said one expert, citing a slew of recent attacks which he says takes the sheen off the "City of Lights" for Chinese visitors.

"This has become a scourge. Since the past year, we have been seeing attacks almost every day," said Jean-Francois Zhou, the head of Ansel Travel, which specialises in tours to and from China.

On March 20, a group of 23 Chinese visitors were robbed in a restaurant shortly after they landed in Paris's Charles De Gaulle airport.

Their passports, plane tickets and cash were stolen and the group leader sustained an injury to the face.

"The situation is serious. If these attacks continue, we may have to pay the price," Zhou told AFP.

He said about 10 Chinese visitors were robbed on one day in October, mainly in the famed Louvre museum, right in the heart of the city.

And in February, "a minibus caught in a traffic jam was attacked, its windows were smashed and hand bags stolen", he said, adding there was a more recent attack on Chinese nationals at a four-star hotel in Paris.

Li Peng, who is in charge of consular affairs at the Chinese embassy in Paris, said: "There has been an increase in the number of complaints filed over the past year.

"In a week we could have five to six demands for travel documents" to replace stolen passports, Li said.

French Tourism Minister Sylvia Pinel has pledged that "everything will be done to find the perpetrators" of the latest mass mugging, and underscored "the determination of the French government to ensure the security of tourists in France".

Zhou, the travel agency boss, said the Chinese were targeted as they were big spenders, adding: "Some of them carry up to 20,000 euros ($25,000) for shopping."

The latest incident has fuelled concern and some anti-French feeling on China's talkative social media scene, but several Chinese travel agencies declined to comment to AFP on the possible consequences.

One municipal travel committee in China's Jiangsu province urged travellers to take precautions.

"Chinese tourists who travel abroad are recommended to take less cash, never show off money or valuables, never talk to strangers in public places or scenic spots, always keep an eye on personal belongings," it said on its weibo account, a Chinese website similar to Twitter.

They should "take proper care of valuable items including passports" and "avoid going outside alone at night or in any remote places", it added.

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Suicide bomber wounds seven in Pakistan

Police were targeted in the bomb blast north of the restive Pakistani city of Peshawar. Source: AAP

A SUICIDE bomber struck a police patrol in a town in northwestern Pakistan, wounding three policemen and four civilians, police said.

The bombing took place at a market in Katalang, 50km northeast of Peshawar, the capital of restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan.

"At least three policemen and four civilians were wounded after a suicide bomber blew himself up close to a police patrol car," local police official Israel Khan told AFP.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, Khan said, but Taliban militants in the past have carried out several bombings in the region.

Pakistan says more than 35,000 people have been killed as a result of terrorism in the country since the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

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Suicide bomber kills six in Pakistan

Written By doni donian on Jumat, 29 Maret 2013 | 14.00

A SUICIDE bomber has targeted a senior Pakistani police commander in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least six people and wounding 11 others, officials said.

It was not clear whether Abdul Majeed Marwat, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was hurt in the attack.

"It was a suicide attack, the target was the FC commander," said police official Arshad Khan.

The attack took place on Friday when the police chief was passing through a military checkpost in the busy cantonment area of Peshawar.

"We have received six dead bodies, including two women. Eleven people were also injured," said Sayed Jameel Shah, a spokesman for Peshawar's main Lady Reading Hospital.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Pakistani police, soldiers and paramilitary units are frequently targeted by domestic Taliban, who have been fighting an insurgency since July 2007.

There has been a recent spike in violence in the northwest as the country prepares to hold historic elections on May 11.

The vote will mark the first democratic transition of power in Pakistan, which has been governed by four military rulers.

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Mock crucifixions mark Philippines Easter

CATHOLIC zealots in the Philippines re-enacted the last hours of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, whipping their backs and nailing themselves to crosses in a grisly Easter ritual that persists despite Church disapproval.

Foreign and local tourists flocked to the outskirts of the city of San Fernando, a 90-minute drive from Manila, to see the annual spectacle where a Christian "passion play" is taken to its blood-soaked extreme.

In a vacant plot of land beneath the burning sun in the San Juan district, long nails were driven through the hands and feet of four men who took turns hanging on a cross as attendants prayed for them.

Elsewhere in the city, hooded men lashed their bloody backs with cloth and bamboo whips, doing penance for their sins while spraying onlookers with flecks of blood.

Devotees commit to undergo the mock crucifixion in exchange for a gift from God such as the healing of a sick loved one.

"I am used to it already," said Alex Laranang, 58, who was nailed up for the 14th time.

Laranang, a short, sunburnt man who sells baked buns to bus passengers, said: "It is just like a needle going through my hand. After two days, I am ready to go back to work again."

So far, he told AFP, his suffering has been rewarded as his wife and children enjoy good health and he continues to make a good living.

"I am doing this for my family, so that no one will get sick and that my livelihood will continue. I am just a poor man. But I don't ask God to make me rich," he said.

He and the three other men grimaced as the nails were pounded into their hands, but they fixed their eyes on the sky and appeared to be in a trance as they each hung on the cross for up to 10 minutes.

After they were taken down, the men hobbled off to a medical tent as Western tourists snapped pictures.

Men in other districts of San Fernando were scheduled to go through the ordeal later Friday in a demonstration of the deep religious fervour in the Philippines, which has Asia's largest Roman Catholic population.

Norwegian Charlotte Johanssen, 26, a Manila resident who was among the crowd of onlookers, said some of her visiting friends had found the sight too much to take.

"I have friends who felt sick to their stomachs and who got nauseated," said Johanssen, who works for an aid group in the Philippine capital.

"There are those who get amazed. You can't imagine how anyone can subject themselves to this kind of pain," she said.

The mock crucifixions have been going on for decades despite official disapproval from the Philippines' Catholic bishops.

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Sri Lanka security boost after mob attacks

ELITE police commandos patrolled a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital after hundreds of rampaging Buddhist hardliners torched a Muslim-owned business in the latest in a series of mob attacks.

At least three people were wounded when majority Sinhalese mobs stoned and later set fire to a clothing store in Pepiliyana on Thursday night, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.

No arrests had been made.

The authorities have not declared a motive for the attack, but official sources said it appeared to be a part of the ongoing targeting of minority Muslim businesses by a group of Sinhala-Buddhist hardliners.

Hundreds of men stormed the Fashion Bug store, smashed several vehicles parked outside and set fire to merchandise before escaping on Thursday night, witnesses said.

Army units were called in to disperse the mob as tension gripped the area.

The latest attack came a day after Sri Lankan police set up a hotline to tackle complaints about anyone suspected of "inciting religious or racial hatred".

Mobs pelted stones at another Muslim-owned clothing chain near Colombo in January while Muslim businessmen have also complained of random stone-throwing incidents and intimidation.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, urged monks earlier this year not to incite religious hatred and violence.

The United Nations estimates that Sri Lanka's ethnic civil war claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, when Tamil rebels were crushed in a major military offensive.

Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million are Muslim. The majority are Sinhalese Buddhist, while most Tamils are Hindu.

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Thai man in jail over Aust TV rip-off

Written By doni donian on Kamis, 28 Maret 2013 | 14.00

A THAI man has been sentenced to three years and four months in prison for selling video CDs of an Australian TV news segment deemed offensive to Thailand's royal family.

The court Thursday convicted Akachai Hongkangwan under lese majeste laws prohibiting defamation of the royal family.

The VCDs contained a segment on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Foreign Correspondent series in 2010 that questioned the future of Thailand's monarchy.

The segment included footage from a private video of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn with his then wife-to-be.

The court also fined him for 66,000 baht ($A2,163) for violating copyright law.

Akachai was arrested in March 2011 and was released on bail.

Thailand's lese majeste laws mandate a jail term of up to 15 years and are criticized as an infringement of free speech.

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Ryder fighting for life after assault

NZ cricketer Jesse Ryder is in intensive care after an attack left him with a fractured skull. Source: AAP

THE cricket community is in shock as Jesse Ryder fights for his life in hospital after he was attacked twice while out in Christchurch, New Zealand with his teammates.

The 28-year-old is in a critical condition in an induced coma in Christchurch Hospital after he suffered multiple injuries, including a fractured skull.

Police say Ryder had been out for a drink with his Wellington teammates at Aikmans Bar in Merivale following their loss to Canterbury in a domestic one-day match.

At about 12.30am on Thursday, there was an initial altercation on the footpath outside the bar involving Ryder and at least two other men, Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Archer told reporters.

Ryder and two others went across the road to McDonald's to meet up with their teammates, where a second altercation involving one of the men from the initial incident took place at the entrance to the carpark.

It was then that Ryder was seriously assaulted and emergency services were called, Det Sen Sgt Archer said.

It's thought at least 10 people witnessed the attacks and police are reviewing CCTV footage from the area.

One witness, HR manager Emma-Louise Ferguson, told the New Zealand Herald she saw three or four men attacking Ryder.

"They were just punching him, they had him on the ground and they were kicking him hard. It was unbelievably brutal," she said.

"When he was on the ground, I couldn't actually see him but I could hear the they were kicking him as hard as they could."

Det Sen Sgt Archer said police haven't yet identified the people involved, but they're following "positive lines of inquiry" and reviewing CCTV footage.

Although Ryder had been drinking, there was no indication that alcohol was a contributing factor to the assault,Det Sen Sgt Archer said.

New Zealand Cricket Players' Association Heath Mills said the cricket community is in shock over what's happened to Ryder.

"It's a sad day for us," he said.

New Zealand Cricket offered its support to the player.

"We are all shocked by what has occurred and extremely concerned for Jesse. New Zealand Cricket's thoughts are with him and his family," NZC chief executive David White said.

The big-hitting Ryder was due to leave for the Indian Premier League on Friday after his services were acquired by the Delhi Daredevils at a player auction in February.

It is not the first time Ryder has been involved in an incident in Christchurch. In February 2008 he cut his hand trying to break into a toilet in a bar in the city.

After a number of other drinking incidents, he admitted he had a drinking problem and last March announced he was taking an indefinite break from international cricket.

He played for the Pune Warriors in last year's IPL and was accompanied by psychologist Karen Nimmo and Klee.

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US flies stealth bombers over South Korea

Two nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers have flown over South Korea. Source: AAP

TWO nuclear-capable US B-2 stealth bombers have flowen what the US military described as "deterrence" missions over South Korea in a move sure to further inflame tensions with the North.

The two planes, flying out of Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri on Thursday, flew the 21,000 km round-trip in a "single continuous mission," dropping dummy ordnance on a target range in the South, the US military said in a press release.

"This .... demonstrates the United States' ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will," the statement said.

The two bombers were participating in an ongoing South Korea-US joint military exercise that has infuriated North Korea and prompted threats from Pyongyang to unleash an "all out war" backed by nuclear weapons.

The use of stealth fighters will further inflame tensions, given that the North was already incensed by the participation of B-52 bombers in the exercise.

"The B-2 bomber is an important element of America's enduring and robust extended deterrence capability in the Asia-Pacific region," the US statement said.

In a telephone call with his South Korean counterpart Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had stressed that all US military capability would be extended to the South, including "the nuclear umbrella, conventional strike means and missile defence."

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Pope to live in Vatican guesthouse

Written By doni donian on Rabu, 27 Maret 2013 | 14.00

Pope Francis says he will live in the Vatican's guesthouse not the official papal residence. Source: AAP

POPE Francis has announced he will be staying in the Vatican's guesthouse, rather than moving into the vast palace used as the official papal residence.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the new pontiff would remain in the 120-room guesthouse among other members of the clergy "until further notice."

"He is trying out this type of simple living with other priests," Lombardi said, without saying when, or even if, the Pope would move into the papal residence.

"This morning he let his fellow cardinals know that he will keep living with them for a certain period of time."

The pontiff has been taking his meals in the common dining room of the guesthouse and celebrating 7am mass with Vatican employees in its main chapel.

However Lombardi said the Pope had moved out of the simple room he was allocated during the conclave that elected him and is now staying in a slightly larger suite where he can receive visitors.

The Argentinian pope, who was appointed on March 13 after the historic resignation of his predecessor Benedict XVI, has won praise for his no-frills lifestyle and focus on humility.

Lombardi said the official residence, known as the Apostolic Palace, was ready for its new tenant. Local media have reported the Pope finds the residence too spacious.

The apartments overlooking St Peter's Square were first occupied by St Pius X in 1903. The residence was completely renovated by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and has been slightly modified by each successive pope.

The Pope, a son of working class immigrants, has shunned much of the Vatican tradition by choosing simpler and less costly alternatives when it comes to both papal clothes and accessories.

The Casa Santa Martha guesthouse was built in 1996 specifically to house cardinals during a conclave, but also serves as a permanent residence for priests and bishops who work at the Vatican.

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Rebels crack down on looting in Bangui

REBEL leaders in the Central African Republic have been cracking down on looters roaming the streets of the capital following the latest coup in the notoriously unstable nation.

Bandits, local residents and rebels themselves went on the rampage in Bangui after strongman Michel Djotodia's Seleka rebel coalition seized control in a rapid-fire weekend assault that forced president Francois Bozize into exile.

Djotodia was expected to unveil a new government after announcing he planned to rule by decree until elections in three years.

"There is pillaging everywhere, it's very hard to control anything," a soldier from the FOMAC African force told AFP on Tuesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the fighting had left scores dead, but could not yet give precise figures.

Thirteen South African troops were among those killed, the nation's heaviest post-apartheid military loss, and Pretoria was facing increasing pressure from the opposition to explain what the troops were doing there.

While their official role of the 200-strong force was to train the poorly disciplined Central African troops, opposition politicians said it looked more like they had been there to prop up the now ousted president Bozize.

Bangui remained tense, with hundreds of people roaming the streets on foot, many looking for food, and rebel patrols occasionally shooting bursts of gunfire into the air to disperse onlookers.

In a bid to win the population over, Seleka forces were making a show of punishing those committing the looting.

In the Cattin area of Bangui, one rebel tied the hands of a looter to his feet behind his back and dragged him several metres on the ground - his cries of pain drowned out by the applause of onlookers.

He was hauled into a pick-up and minutes later, another joined him. He was flogged with ammunition belts.

"Zero tolerance for looters," said General Moussa Mohammed Dhaffane, a Seleka member who was helping track looters, running down dusty streets, his gun drawn.

Djotodia, a former diplomat and civil servant who joined rebel forces in 2005, said he would keep Nicolas Tiangaye as prime minister in a power-sharing government. On Monday he said he was suspending the constitution and dissolving parliament and government.

"During that transition period which will lead us to free, credible and transparent elections, I will legislate by decree," he told reporters.

He did not rule out running in the elections, promised for 2016.

The African Union suspended the landlocked former French colony on Monday, imposing sanctions on Djotodia and other leading members of the Seleka coalition. The UN Security Council condemned the coup, threatening unspecified "further measures".

And on Tuesday, the United States warned it could freeze some $US2.2 million ($A2.11 million) in aid to the country, denouncing the looting as "unacceptable".

The UN's children agency UNICEF warned that the lives of thousands of children were at risk because of the lack of basic aid and food. It also denounced the exploitation of child soldiers in the country.

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Petraeus says sorry for affair in speech

FORMER CIA chief General David Petraeus has said sorry for the "mistake" that triggered his resignation last year, in his first public speech since quitting due to an extra-marital affair.

Addressing a military audience in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Petraeus voiced regret for the "pain" caused by his relationship with his biographer Paula Broadwell, pledging to try to "make amends to those I have hurt and let down."

"I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago," Petraeus told over 600 veterans and Reserve Officers' Training Corps students, hosted by the University of Southern California (USC) in a Los Angeles hotel.

"I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing," said the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and before that top US general, who spearheaded the "surge" in Iraq.

"So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret - and apologise for - the circumstances that led me to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters."

Petraeus, who was given a standing ovation, stepped down on November 9 as head of the CIA after admitting to an affair with Broadwell, a counter-terrorism expert and lieutenant-colonel.

The FBI stumbled upon the affair when Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite and friend of the Petraeus family, asked investigators to look into threatening emails that turned out to be from an apparently jealous Broadwell.

Towards the end of his 25-minute address Petraeus said: "I know that I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and on a number of others.

"I can, however, try to move forward in a manner that is consistent to the values to which I subscribed before slipping my moorings and, as best as possible, to make amends to those I have hurt and let down.

"Life doesn't stop with such a mistake; it can and must go on."

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Huge blow to Chan's Bali Nine clemency bid

Written By doni donian on Selasa, 26 Maret 2013 | 14.00

A BID by the Bali Nine's Andrew Chan to avoid a firing squad has been dealt a massive blow with Indonesia's National Narcotics Board believed to have recommended that his request for clemency be rejected.

A senior source involved in the clemency process has told AAP that the narcotics board's decision is in line with the recommendation of a Supreme Court judge, who was also asked to offer an opinion on whether Chan's death sentence should stand.

"For Andrew Chan ... the goods involved so many kilos, right? It's difficult when it comes to this," he told AAP.

"So, we're just following what's requested to us and what's been recommended, that it's a 'no.'"

Chan, 29, was arrested and jailed in 2005 for his role in an attempt to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.

His fellow Bali Nine inmate Myuran Sukumaran also has a clemency request with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Supreme Court Justice Salman Luthan is also believed to have recommended to Dr Yudhoyono that Chan's clemency request be rejected.

"Our recommendation for it is no, as which is the recommendation of Supreme Court as well," the source told AAP.

The advice from the judge and narcotics board emerged on Tuesday and comes after Indonesian earlier this month carried out its first execution since 2008.

Adami Wilson, from Malawi, was shot by firing squad in the Thousand Islands, an archipelago popular with tourists which is located off the coast of the capital Jakarta.

Adami, 48, was caught in 2003 attempting to smuggle one kilogram of heroin into Indonesia.

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Huge blow to Chan's Bali Nine clemency bid

A BID by the Bali Nine's Andrew Chan to avoid a firing squad has been dealt a massive blow with Indonesia's National Narcotics Board believed to have recommended that his request for clemency be rejected.

A senior source involved in the clemency process has told AAP that the narcotics board's decision is in line with the recommendation of a Supreme Court judge, who was also asked to offer an opinion on whether Chan's death sentence should stand.

"For Andrew Chan ... the goods involved so many kilos, right? It's difficult when it comes to this," he told AAP.

"So, we're just following what's requested to us and what's been recommended, that it's a 'no.'"

Chan, 29, was arrested and jailed in 2005 for his role in an attempt to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin from Bali to Australia.

His fellow Bali Nine inmate Myuran Sukumaran also has a clemency request with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Supreme Court Justice Salman Luthan is also believed to have recommended to Dr Yudhoyono that Chan's clemency request be rejected.

"Our recommendation for it is no, as which is the recommendation of Supreme Court as well," the source told AAP.

The advice from the judge and narcotics board emerged on Tuesday and comes after Indonesian earlier this month carried out its first execution since 2008.

Adami Wilson, from Malawi, was shot by firing squad in the Thousand Islands, an archipelago popular with tourists which is located off the coast of the capital Jakarta.

Adami, 48, was caught in 2003 attempting to smuggle one kilogram of heroin into Indonesia.

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Cyprus banks remain shut until Thursday

President Nicos Anastasiades says the bailout he secured has saved Cyprus from collapse. Source: AAP

CYPRUS has reversed course and decided to keep its banks shut as world markets took fright at the implications for the eurozone of the 10 billion euros ($A12 billion) bailout deal with international creditors.

President Nicos Anastasiades defended the deal in a speech to fellow Cypriots, but promised a criminal investigation to identify those responsible for the financial debacle.

All banks are to remain shut until Thursday, the Central Bank of Cyprus announced in a shock statement late on Monday, cancelling an earlier decision to open most banks on Tuesday.

Finance Minister Michael Sarris had decided to follow central bank governor Panicos Demetriades's recommendation to "ensure the smooth functioning of the entire banking system," the statement said.

Just hours earlier, the central bank had said all Cyprus banks except for its two biggest lenders, those worst-hit by the financial crisis, would reopen on Tuesday after a 10-day lockdown for fear of a run on deposits.

Laiki Bank and the Bank of Cyprus were in any case staying shut until Thursday due to the restructuring and merger agreed under the terms of the bailout.

But stock markets reeled after the head of the Eurogroup, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, suggested that the deal could form the basis for future bailouts in the zone.

"Taking away the risk from the financial sector and taking it on to the public shoulders is not the right approach," he said.

"If we want to have a healthy, sound financial sector, the only way is to say: 'Look, there where you take the risks, you must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them you shouldn't have taken them on and the consequence might be that it is end of story'."

After European markets closed, his office clarified.

"Cyprus is a specific case with exceptional challenges which required the bail-in measures we have agreed upon yesterday," said the statement.

"Macro-economic adjustment programs are tailor-made to the situation of the country concerned and no models or templates are used."

But by then, the damage to stock markets and the euro had been done. US stocks also tumbled on Monday.

Soon afterwards, the Cypriot finance ministry decided to postpone the reopening of all banks.

The euro recovered some of its value in later trading in New York. In Tuesday trading however, Asian markets followed the downward trend.

It was in the early hours of Monday morning that Anastasiades clinched a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union that threw the debt-stricken eurozone member a 10-billion-euro lifeline.

In an address to the nation after returning from the Brussels talks, he expressed confidence that Cyprus would "find its feet again".

And in the face of public outrage over the devastation of the island's prized banking sector, he vowed to open a criminal investigation into the crisis "...to find and attribute responsibility wherever it belongs".

He shared the "bitterness and disappointment" felt by many on the island at the attitude of "some of our respected partners" in the eurozone, he said. But quitting the single currency was not the answer, he said.

The deal averts a chaotic eurozone exit for the island - but at a heavy price.

Depositors in the two biggest banks - many of them Russian - will pay huge levies on deposits over 100,000 euros ($A123,000). The deal also effectively shuts down Laiki, the island's second-largest lender.

Part of Laiki is to be merged with Bank of Cyprus, whose larger depositors will face a "haircut" of 30 per cent, government spokesman Christos Stylianides said.

The European Central Bank announced that in light of the deal it would continue emergency funding of the two banks, which it had been threatening to cut off.

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Five ill after drinking bleach-laced water

Written By doni donian on Senin, 25 Maret 2013 | 14.00

AT least five people who were served bleach-laced water at a Mister Donut store in Japan had to be treated by medics, the operator says.

Duskin Co, a Japanese cleaning company that also operates the US fast food franchise in the country, said one of its stores in Osaka served a diluted solution of bleach as drinking water on Friday.

The mishap occurred after a worker poured the solution into a pot used for drinking water as part of the cleaning procedure at closing up time the previous day, the company said in a statement on Monday.

On Friday, another worker who thought it had been properly cleaned poured the water out for customers.

Some 12 people complained about an "unpleasant sensation", the company said.

"Two people were taken to hospital directly from the store, and three others saw doctors on their own," said a Duskin spokesman, adding none of them was in a serous condition.

Duskin operates more than 1300 Mister Donut stores in Japan.

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S. Korea hails new military pact with US

A NEW South Korea-US pact providing for a joint military response even to low-level provocation by North Korea offers an added deterrent at a time of elevated tension, the South's defence ministry says.

The two allies signed the military agreement on Friday in a move likely to fuel fresh outrage in Pyongyang, which has spent the past few weeks denouncing joint South Korea-US military exercises.

While existing agreements provide for US engagement in the event of a full-scale conflict, the new protocol addresses the response to a low-level action such as a limited cross-border incursion.

It guarantees US support for any South Korean retaliation and allows Seoul to request any additional US military force it deems necessary.

"This allows both nations to jointly respond to the North's local provocations, with the South taking the lead and the US in support," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said on Monday.

"It will have the effect of preventing the North from daring to provoke us," Kim told reporters.

The United States has close to 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea with the option to bring in reinforcements from its military bases in Japan.

The "provocative" scenarios envisaged by the new pact include maritime border incursions, shelling of border islands, and infiltration by low-flying fighter jets or by special forces units.

The chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jung Seung-Jo, said the accord would allow a "strong retaliation" that would make North Korea "bitterly regret" any provocative move.

The protocol was signed just days before the third anniversary of the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval corvette, Cheonan, with the loss of 46 lives.

South Korea said it was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, although Pyongyang had always denied any involvement.

Later the same year, North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people.

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CIA boosts arms shipments to Syrian rebels

ARAB nations and Turkey, helped by the CIA, have dramatically increased military aid to Syrian rebels in recent months, The New York Times reports.

The US Central Intelligence Agency was helping their efforts, the newspaper added, citing air traffic data and interviews with unnamed officials and the rebel commanders.

The airlift has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and at other Turkish and Jordanian airports, the report said on Monday.

US intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, it said. They had also vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive.

Turkey had overseen much of the program, fixing transponders to trucks ferrying the military goods through Turkey so it could monitor shipments, the paper added.

"A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3500 tons of military equipment," Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told the paper.

"The intensity and frequency of these flights," were "suggestive of a well-planned and co-ordinated clandestine military logistics operation", he added.

The armed uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sprang up in response to the Damascus regime's crackdown two years ago on opposition protests.

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Cyprus bailout talks go down to the wire

Written By doni donian on Minggu, 24 Maret 2013 | 14.00

EU leaders are keeping the Cyprus president waiting for the anticipated finance talks in Brussels. Source: AAP

EU economic chief Olli Rehn is warning Cyprus it is essential to reach a deal in Brussels to save its economy from imminent bankruptcy.

"There are only hard choices left" for the country, he said on Sunday.

Rehn welcomed "progress" made toward meeting EU-IMF demands that Cyprus reform its financial sector and raise 5.8 billion euros ($A7.22 billion) to unlock 10 billion euros in desperately needed emergency loans by a Monday deadline.

Cypriot leaders face a make-or-break meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Sunday evening, their last chance to get a deal.

"It is essential that an agreement is reached by the eurogroup on Sunday night," said Rehn, who is the EU economy and euro commissioner.

He acknowledged Cypriot leaders faced hard choices to try to limit the damage to the economy from the blow to its bloated banking sector, after a firestorm of protest over EU plans to impose a special levy on bank accounts.

"Unfortunately, the events of recent days have led to a situation where there are no longer any optimal solutions available. There are only hard choices left," he said.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also warned Cyprus it had to meet the terms of the rescue package if it was to stay in the eurozone.

"The eurozone countries want to help Cyprus, but the rules must be respected, the aid must be relevant and the program must tackle the problems at their root," he said in comments published on Sunday in Germany's Welt am Sonntag.

Talks went on until nearly midnight on Saturday (0900 AEDT Sunday) to try to find a way to meet the EU-IMF conditions.

Media reports suggested Cypriot officials had made progress with EU and IMF representatives, having agreed a 20 per cent haircut on Bank of Cyprus and a 4.0 per cent levy on other banks hours ahead of the Brussels talks.

Privately run Mega TV said the government had reached agreement on most elements of a deal, but the final stumbling block might not be settled before the crunch 1700 GMT (0400 AEDT Monday) talks between President Nicos Anastasiades and EU ministers.

The Cypriot parliament has already approved a painful package of banking reforms and there was reluctant consensus on a raft of other revenue-raising measures to put to the eurozone ministers.

A radical restructuring of the island's second largest lender Laiki (Popular Bank) will see all deposits over 100,000 euros put into a "bad bank" where they will be tied up for years and may never be recovered in full.

MPs passed that measure on Friday night.

But negotiations stumbled on EU-IMF demands for a substantial levy on deposits above the same threshold in Bank of Cyprus to avoid it being subjected to a similar restructuring.

The bank is the island's largest lender, with more than a third of all deposits.

Mega TV said the 20 per cent haircut on Bank of Cyprus account-holders would be in the form of a bond or share swap in a bid to get the measure through parliament.

On Tuesday, MPs flatly rejected an earlier plan for a levy on all bank deposits.

The Cypriot president has invited all the island's party leaders to accompany him to Brussels in a bid to persuade eurozone ministers that there will be no repetition of that defeat.

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Leaders urge end to Myanmar clashes

BUDDHIST and Muslim religious leaders are calling for calm in violence-hit central Myanmar (Burma), while urging the government to step up security for both communities.

The outbreak of religious violence in the town of Meiktila has claimed at least 32 lives and displaced about 9,000 people, according to officials on Sunday, leaving swathes of the town in ruin and prompting an army-enforced state of emergency.

The Interfaith Friendship Organisation called on the government "to lay effective security plans and provide security to people of the two communities".

The statement, signed by Buddhist and Muslim leaders and carried in the state-mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar, asked followers of different religions to obey the law and "maintain the community harmony with love and kindness".

The leaders are the first religious figures to speak out publicly since riots hit Meiktila, 130 kilometres north of the capital Naypyidaw, last Wednesday, leaving buildings torched and charred bodies in the streets.

The clashes are the latest sign of worsening tensions between Muslims and Buddhists and present a serious challenge for the quasi-civilian regime as it looks to reform the country after decades of iron-fisted military rule.

It is the worst communal violence since a wave of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year that left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

Urging people from all communities to step back from violence, the Interfaith Friendship Organisation, which also includes Christian and Hindu community leaders, said the clashes were posing a threat to Myanmar's progress.

The state of emergency order, signed by President Thein Sein, is designed to enable the army to help restore order and is a significant move in a country trying to emerge from the legacy of junta rule, which ended two years ago.

The United Nations, US, Britain and rights groups have called for calm and dialogue between communities amid fears that the violence could spread.

Myanmar's Muslims - largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent - account for an estimated four per cent of the population of roughly 60 million, although the country has not conducted a census in three decades.

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Hoax nurse family pin hopes on inquest

THE family of British nurse Jacintha Saldanha remains hopeful an inquest which resumes this week will unravel the events that led to her death days after a prank call from two Australian DJs.

The 46-year-old mother of two in December answered a call from 2Day FM's Mel Greig and Michael Christian posing as the Queen and Prince Charles.

The radio hosts were transferred and subsequently given an update on the condition of Prince William's pregnant wife Catherine.

British MP Keith Vaz, who has been representing Ms Saldanha's family, says three months after the Indian-born nurse committed suicide there remain a number of unanswered questions.

Mr Vaz has said he's astonished the prestigious King Edward VII hospital had a nurse rather than a trained operator answering calls at reception.

"The family remain hopeful the inquest and investigating will provide the answers they seek," the MP said in a statement.

Mr Vaz said the hospital had told him its own internal inquiry was expected to be completed after the inquest which reopens at Westminster Coroner's Court on Tuesday.

The Labour MP has also written to Austereo in Australia which he noted remained "subject to an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority".

Ms Saldanha's family will be represented at the inquest by John Cooper QC.

He's been acting pro bono and earlier this month hit out at a decision to deny the bereaved family legal aid for the inquest.

"The family believe there are questions to be asked about the hospital protocols that led to Mrs Saldanha being put in that job on that night," Mr Cooper told the Independent newspaper.

Prosecutors in early February announced they would not bring charges against Greig and Christian over the hoax call because there was "no evidence" to support a charge of manslaughter.

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