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Chavez meets government ministers to discuss confronting financial speculators trying to run Venezuelan economy into the ground

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced the heightening of measures against economic sabotage in the country last Friday after meeting with President Hugo Chavez, currently recovering from cancer surgery in the military hospital Dr. Carlos Arvelo in Caracas.

Maduro reported that the convalescing head of state gave orders to confront sectors of the Venezuelan private sector that through hoarding and price-hiking have been attempting to sow instability in the country.

"The President was very clear in saying that we have to increment the actions to confront the economic war that the bourgeoisie is waging against the people. It's a real economic war and we must continue winning it", Maduro said in a press conference.

Friday's meeting with Chavez lasted for more than 5 hours and included the presence of Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas, and the head of the national intelligence service Miguel Rodriguez.

While details on the actions that will be taken against those members of the business community who engage in illicit activity were not forthcoming, Maduro said that they would be formulated "to favor the public and our national interests".

Arrow Down

Hot air balloon crashes in Luxor, Egypt - fireball caught on camera

© AFP Photo
Egyptians gather at the site where a hot air balloon exploded over the ancient temple city of Luxor on February 26, 2013
At least 19 foreign tourists, some French, Chinese and Japanese, died in a hot air balloon crash near the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor, a popular tourist site, an Egyptian security official reported.

The balloon crashed into a sugar cane field after an explosion caused by a fire. It was flying at an altitude of 300 meters when the accident occurred.

There were 21 people aboard the balloon, 19 tourists and two Egyptians. The passengers included nine Chinese citizens from Hong Kong, three Japanese citizens, four Brits, two French citizens and one Hungarian, officials said.

Three survivors were taken to the hospital, where according to the tour operator Thomas Cook a third Briton died.

Another injured British tourist was reported to be "stable and well," while the condition of the pilot is currently unknown.

Following the tragedy, the governor of Luxor Province has ordered a ban on all hot air balloon flights in the city.


Police brutality: South African police drag man, who later dies

© Associated Press/The Daily Sun
In this still frame from TV showing a South African man with his hands tethered to the back of a police vehicle being dragged behind as police hold his legs up and the vehicle apparently drives off, east of Johannesburg Tuesday Feb. 26, 2013.
They bound his hands to the rear of a van, and then sped off, dragging the slender taxi driver along the pavement as a crowd of onlookers shouted in dismay. The man was later found dead.

A gut-wrenching video of the scene is all the more disturbing because the men who abused the Mozambican immigrant were uniformed South African police officers and the van was a marked police vehicle.

The graphic scenes of the victim struggling for his life shocked a nation long accustomed to reports of police violence.

"The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable. No human being should be treated in that manner," said South African President Jacob Zuma.

The Daily Sun, a South African newspaper, posted video the footage Thursday and it was quickly picked up by other South African news outlets and carried on the Internet. It sparked immediate outrage about police behavior.

"They are there for safety, but we as a people fear them more," said Johannesburg resident Alfonso Adams. "You don't know who to trust anymore."

Some of those in the crowd who watched the scene unfold in the Daveyton township east of Johannesburg shouted at the police and warned that it was being videotaped. The police did not seem at all concerned by all the witnesses and the presence of cameras as they tied Mido Macia, a 27-year-old from neighboring Mozambique, to the back of a police vehicle, his hands behind his head. At least three policemen participated in the incident. Macia was found dead in a Daveyton police cell late Tuesday.

"We are going to film this," several onlookers shouted in Zulu as the police tormented Macia. One bystander can be heard on the videotape shouting in Zulu: "What has this guy done?"

The video can be seen at:

Brick Wall

Georgia couple who confined teenage son sentenced to 15 years in prison

© Associated Press/John Bazemore
In this Thursday, Oct 14, 2012 file photo, Paul and Sheila Comer appear in court during a hearing in Dallas, Ga.
Dallas, Georgia - A mother and stepfather who confined their teenage son to a bedroom for years with little food were each sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday after pleading guilty to cruelty to children and false imprisonment charges.

Under an agreement with prosecutors, Paul and Sheila Comer each will also serve 15 years on probation, were ordered not to have any unsupervised contact with minors and to forfeit all their assets, which will be put in a trust for their children, said Paulding County District Attorney Dick Donovan.

Their son, 18-year-old Mitch Comer, was found wandering a Los Angeles bus station on Sept. 11 and told police he had suffered years of abuse.

The plea agreement allowed the county to avoid the expense of a trial and kept prosecutors from having to call Mitch Comer and two younger Comer children as witnesses "to relive what was a pretty horrendous time in their lives," Donovan said.

Lawyers for Paul and Sheila Comer did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Snakes in Suits

Former aide to Canadian PM fired after child porn comment

Tom Flanagan
© Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press
Professor Tom Flanagan in his office at the University of Calgary's Department of Political Science.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office quickly distanced themselves from former Harper aide Tom Flanagan on Wednesday after the political commentator said viewing child pornography did not harm others.

Flanagan was a campaign manager and chief of staff for Harper or the Conservative Party at various times before the Conservatives took power in 2006, and has long been a commentator for CBC.

At a seminar at Alberta's University of Lethbridge on Wednesday, he took issue with the Conservative "jihad" on child pornography.

The CBC dumped him as a political commentator and Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall said his remarks were repugnant and did not reflect the Conservative government's view.

"...you know a lot of people on my side of the spectrum, a certain side of the spectrum, are bent on kind of a jihad against pornography and child pornography in particular, and I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures," Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, told the seminar on Wednesday night.

He said there was a real issue as "to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person."

Flanagan apologized, but not before the CBC fired him and Alberta's conservative Wildrose Party, for which he was campaign manager last year, said he would have no future role.


Another Newfoundland village set to join hundreds of other abandoned settlements


Battle Harbour Labrador, in July 2009
Canada - One of the bittersweet aspects of living in Newfoundland is that while people cherish their communities, they're often forced to leave them.

It's always been that way and it marks Newfoundland and Labrador's history deeply.

As the National Post reports, the village of Little Bay Islands now finds itself wrestling with a tough decision: agree to a provincially funded resettlement plan that would pay remaining residents tens of thousands of dollars to leave, or stay to watch their economically bereft community inevitably die.

Despite the riches that offshore oil and gas development have brought in recent years, life on The Rock remains tenuous. Governments have struggled with the issue since before it joined Confederation in 1949.


Owner: Dog may have been poisoned at Westminster Kennel Club show

© The Associated Press
Questions surround the death of three-year-old Samoyed, Cruz.
New York - A dog owner says she thinks there's a chance her prized pet was deliberately poisoned while competing at the Westminster Kennel Club show, causing it to die several days later.

"It is in the realm of possibility," Lynette Blue told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Blue co-owns a 3-year-old Samoyed named Cruz, and said he probably swallowed poison at Westminster earlier this month. Four days after competing, the dog died, on Feb. 16, while at a show in Colorado.

Blue has worked since the 1970s with Samoyeds, a sturdy, medium-sized breed. She said that while there was no evidence foul play was involved, certain symptoms were consistent with dogs who ingest rat or mouse poison. That was the reason she said she decided against a necropsy - an autopsy for animals.

"The timeline adds up. There's no other scenario we can come up with other than poison," she said.

Asked if she thought it was intentional, she said: "I don't think we'll ever know."

The dog's death was first reported by The New York Times.


Living in a box: The desperate workers forced to live in tiny 'coffin' apartments of Tokyo - which still cost up to £400 a month to rent

  • Japanese capital is one of the most crowded cities in the world
  • 'Geki-sema' or share houses are mainly used by young professionals
  • No windows and enough room for one person and a few possessions
© alfalfa.com
Tight squeeze: A Tokyo local shows a Japanese news crew around her tiny 'coffin apartment'
They are barely large enough for a single person to squeeze into at all, let alone swing a cat.

But incredibly these tiny 'coffin' apartments in central Tokyo still command rents of up to £400 a month.

The Japanese capital is one of the most crowded cities in the world, and to cash in on the chronic housing problem, landlords have developed what are known as 'geki-sema' or share houses.

They are little more than cupboards, tiny cubicles stacked on top of each other with just enough room for one person and a few of their possessions.

Eye 2

New York man charged with killing and dismembering his mother appears in court wearing trash bag

Bahsid McLean, Tanya Byrd
New York - A man charged with killing and dismembering his mother and dumping her body parts in the trash appeared in court Thursday dressed in a garbage bag and said he'd done nothing wrong - even though detectives say they found a cellphone photo of him holding her severed head.

Bahsid McLean, 23, was charged with murder, hindering prosecution and criminal possession of a weapon. According to a criminal complaint, he stabbed Tanya Byrd and then cut up her body with help from an accomplice, William Harris, 26.

Byrd, a 45-year-old home health aide, was last seen alive Monday. Her remains were found a day later stuffed in four plastic garbage bags and scattered along four blocks, police said.

Detectives said they recovered an image on McLean's phone of him holding his mother's severed head.

"I didn't do anything wrong," McLean said during court.

McLean's attorney for the arraignment, Jerry Iannece, said his client wore the bizarre covering because he had been urinating on himself. The shorts he had been wearing were soaked through, so court personnel gave him the trash bag to wear, Iannece said.

Iannece said his client was off his medication but didn't say what type. McLean was held without bail, was placed on suicide watch in protective custody and was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation.

"Everybody's innocent until proven guilty," Iannece said. "Obviously this is a troubling case, but we will investigate and defend it thoroughly."


Gunman in New York officer's death gets 45 years to life

Lamont Pride
© The Associated Press
Lamont Pride
New York - A man convicted of firing the shot that killed a policeman during a botched robbery was sentenced Thursday to 45 years to life in prison after the slain officer's loved ones described how he would never walk his four daughters down the aisle or meet his grandchildren.

Lamont Pride, 28, was convicted this month of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Officer Peter Figoski; he was acquitted of a more serious murder charge. But state Supreme Court Judge Alan Marrus sentenced him to the maximum time allowed under the law.

"I want to make it crystal clear," he said, "that it is my intention that the defendant serve this sentence and never get out of prison."

The courtroom was packed with Figoski's family and fellow officers, many of whom wept as the family spoke. The assembled also included relatives of other officers lost in the line of duty: the father and sister of Alain Schaberger, who was shoved to his death while answering a domestic violence call in 2011, and the mother of Russel Timoshenko, who was shot during a 2007 traffic stop.

"When our father died, a part of us died, too," said 15-year-old Corinne Figoski, who spoke through tears along with her three sisters.

"Our dad was our world, our everything," she said. "Nothing will ever be the same again. We lay in bed, in the dark, at night, thinking about all the ways things have changed."

Her sister, Caitlyn, 19, said they'll miss being walked down the aisle by him, "something every father and every daughter dream of."

"Our father will never see us grow into the strong, independent women he wanted us to be," she said.