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Chávez tackles housing crisis by urging poor to squat wealthy parts of Caracas

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© Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Venezuelans left homeless after December's torrential rains gather in the wealthy Caracas neighbourhood of La Castellana.
Move to exploit 'unused' land in capital rattles Venezuela's middle class, as troops also take over 'unproductive' farms

Hugo Chávez has sent out troops to take over farms and urged the poor to occupy "unused" land in wealthy areas of Caracas, prompting a wave of squats that is rattling Venezuela's middle class.

The move by Venezuela's president to step up the campaign to "recover" land and other property follows a housing crisis that has left millions of people in shabby conditions and affected his popularity in the run-up to next year's election.

Squatters wearing red T-shirts from Chávez's socialist party seized 20 spaces in a co-ordinated strike in the well-off Caracas municipality of Chacao last weekend, a move which shocked even some government supporters. Additional groups have targeted other cities.

Chávez has also announced a series of laws and deals with China, Russia, Belarus, Iran and Turkey, among others, in a breakneck effort to build 350,000 housing units in Venezuela in the next two years.

Bomb

Car bomb at Baghdad funeral kills 48

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© Reuters
A car bomb has ripped through a funeral tent in a mainly Shia Muslim area of Baghdad, killing 48 people.

Officials say that another 78 people were wounded in the mid-afternoon blast in the north-western Shula district.

Angry mourners attacked police who rushed to the scene, accusing them of failing to provide protection.

The funeral attack comes after a series of bombings killed dozens of Shia pilgrims during their annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala last week.

A spate of bombings in the past month against pilgrims, police recruits and security forces across Iraq has killed more than 170 people.

The recent rise in violence comes as the US military prepares to withdraw from the country at the end of the year.

Heart - Black

Uganda gay rights activist David Kato killed

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A Ugandan gay rights campaigner who last year sued a local newspaper which outed him as homosexual has been beaten to death, activists say.

Police have confirmed the death of David Kato and say they have arrested one suspect.

Uganda's Rolling Stone newspaper published the photographs of several people it said were gay next to a headline reading "Hang them".

Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, with punishments of 14 years in prison.

The BBC's Joshua Mmali, in Kampala, says it is unclear whether the death is linked to the Rolling Stone campaign but police have said there is no connection between Mr Kate's activism and his death.

Wolf

'Second underage girl' named in Berlusconi sex case

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© AFP
Mr Berlusconi said he had "nothing to be ashamed of"
A second 17-year-old girl has been named as taking part in what prosecutors allege were sex parties held by the Italian prime minister.

The girl, named as Iris Berardi, was known to police as a prostitute, Italian reports say, and attended one of the events days before turning 18.

The details have emerged from new documents submitted by prosecutors on Wednesday to a parliamentary committee.

Mr Berlusconi says the allegations against him are politically motivated.

Using the services of prostitutes is not a crime in Italy, but paying a prostitute aged under 18 is an offence.

Ms Berardi's presence at Mr Berlusconi's villas in Sardinia and Milan has been proven by mobile phone records, Italian media report.

Sherlock

Missing vial of nerve agent shuts down Dugway

dugway base
© U.S. Army photo
Dugway Proving Ground.

An overnight lockdown, triggered when vial of the deadly VX nerve agent went temporarily missing, was lifted early Thursday morning at Utah's sprawling, 801,000-acre Dugway Proving Ground.

Officials at the remote Army installation, 90 miles southwest of Salt Lake City in Utah's western desert, abruptly ordered gates closed at 5:24 p.m. Wednesday. Up to 1,500 employees of Dugway - military personnel, contractors and civilian workers - were forced to stay the night.

Dugway spokeswoman Paula Nicholson said Thursday that the lockdown was ordered after a "routine inventory of sensitive material in the chemical laboratory. . . discovered a discrepancy between the records and the agent on-hand. As a precaution, the commander immediately locked down the installation and began efforts to identify the cause of the discrepancy. "

Family

Now Walmart targets Eight-year-olds with a new range of 'anti-aging' make-up

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© unk
Inappropriate: Make-up for youngsters has attracted criticism for contributing to the over-sexualisation of youngsters. There was widespread condemnation when Katie Price gave her daughter Princess Tiaamii a 'make-over'

Retail giant Walmart has added a new range of anti-aging make-up to its shelves - aimed at young children.

The new 'Geo-Girl' beauty line is said to be aimed at the 'tween' market of 8-12 year olds, and will include blusher, mascara, face shimmer and lipstick that is 'mother approved', as well as anti aging products.

According to the marketing team behind the line the formulas are designed for 'young skin' and contain natural ingredients like white willow bark, chamomile, lavender and calendula, as well as anti-oxidants which are said to prevent aging.

Joel Carden, executive vice president of Pacific World, the brand's manufacturer, says the line is designed for young children who want to use 'real cosmetics, but with natural ingredients.'

Light Sabers

US: Pennsylvania House Meeting Boils Over

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© unknown
One lawmaker used her scarf as a symbolic gag.
Rules Committee Turns Into Shouting Match

It was all going so well in the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers were positioned to vote on several bills Wednesday that would change the way state government in Pennsylvania operates, and then the wheels came off.

"You should be ashamed of yourselves," one lawmaker could be heard yelling.

News 8 government reporter Matt Belanger reported that there was shouting, profanity, and accusations. It culminated with one person throwing a stack of papers into the air and Democrats storming out of the room.

Bad Guys

Reports of 'Massacre' in Suez as Protests in Egypt Move into Third Day

Egypt protestors
© Guardian UK
Anti-government protests in Egypt moved into their third day early Thursday, with unconfirmed reports of police "massacres" of civilians in the port city of Suez.

In Cairo, protesters "played cat and mouse with police" into the early hours of Thursday, Reuters reported. Opposition groups reported on their websites that electronic communications had been cut off in the city center, and parts of the city were experiencing blackouts.

The official death toll stood at six over the first two days of protests, but social networks were abuzz with claims of police shooting at protesters, many of those reports focusing on the city of Suez, where protesters torched a government building on Wednesday.

"Security forces are committing heinous massacres and there is zero media coverage," read an update on the web page of Suez from Egyptian Association for Change - USA, an opposition group that had joined the call for an uprising starting on January 25.

"Government is trying to cover up what happened in city of Suez. Media banned from entry," read another update. "Reporters from Suez, Al Jazeerah, Dream and Al Mehwar were prohibited from entering Suez to enforce a media blackout on the subject."

Others reported on the web page that a curfew was placed on the city and police were using "live ammunition."

Family

Resolution Calling to Amend the Constitution Banning Corporate Personhood Introduced in Vermont

corporate personhood cartoon
© Unknown
On the anniversary of the Citizens United decision, Vermont politicians are moving to deny corporations the rights that humans enjoy.

A year ago today, the Supreme Court issued its bizarre Citizens United decision, allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections as a form of "free speech" for the corporate "person." Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the dissent, had the task of recalling the majority to planet earth and basic common sense.

"Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires," wrote Stevens. "Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

Fortunately, movements are afoot to reverse a century of accumulated powers and protections granted to corporations by wacky judicial decisions.

In Vermont, state senator Virginia Lyons on Friday presented an anti-corporate personhood resolution for passage in the Vermont legislature. The resolution, the first of its kind, proposes "an amendment to the United States Constitution ... which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States." Sources in the state house say it has a good chance of passing. This same body of lawmakers, after all, once voted to impeach George W. Bush, and is known for its anti-corporate legislation. Last year the Vermont senate became the first state legislature to weigh in on the future of a nuclear power plant, voting to shut down a poison-leeching plant run by Entergy Inc. Lyons' Senate voted 26-4 to do it, demonstrating the level of political will of the state's politicians to stand up to corporate power.

The language in the Lyons resolution is unabashed. "The profits and institutional survival of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings," it states, noting that corporations "have used their so-called rights to successfully seek the judicial reversal of democratically enacted laws."

Thus the unfolding of the obvious: "democratically elected governments" are rendered "ineffective in protecting their citizens against corporate harm to the environment, health, workers, independent business, and local and regional economies." The resolution goes on to note that "large corporations own most of America's mass media and employ those media to loudly express the corporate political agenda and to convince Americans that the primary role of human beings is that of consumer rather than sovereign citizens with democratic rights and responsibilities."

Ambulance

21 workers killed in Colombian mine blast

Columbian mine blast
© AP Photo/Fernando Vergara
Rescue workers comfort Caterine Zapata, center, wife of mine worker Jorge Lara, outside La Preciosa mine in Sardinata, northeastern Colombia, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Lara is among 20 miners feared dead after an explosion believed to have been caused by a methane gas buildup rocked the underground coal mine early Wednesday. Methane gas was also believed to be the cause of an explosion at the mine in 2007 that killed 32 miners.

Sardinata - An explosion likely caused by a methane gas buildup ripped through an underground coal mine in Colombia during a shift change Wednesday, killing 21 workers, officials said. A similar fatal blast occurred at the same mine four years ago.

Five of the victims died at the mine's entrance and by afternoon two bodies had been removed from the mine with another 14 left to recover, said the provincial Colombian Red Cross director, Johel Enrique Rodriguez.

He told The Associated Press that rescuers had seen the rest of the bodies, which he said were covered in burns and scattered throughout the kilometer-long (0.6 mile-long) tunnel that extended horizontally beneath a verdant mountain.