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Ireland upgrades status of Palestinian mission to embassy

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Palestinian delegation in Ireland will be upgraded to an official embassy, following France and Spain; U.K., Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany and Denmark expected to follow.

The Irish government announced on Tuesday the decision to upgrade the Palestinian diplomatic status in the country to the status of an official embassy, joining a growing list of European countries that have made the same diplomatic move, including France and Spain.

Last month the Foreign Ministry ordered every Israeli envoy abroad to begin "urgent" diplomatic activity after reports reached Jerusalem that the Palestinian Authority was trying to persuade about a dozen European Union member states to upgrade the PA's diplomatic status.

The Israeli assessment is that Britain, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Luxembourg, Austria and perhaps other states are considering a similar move.

In response to the announcement, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Israel expressed regret over Ireland's decision, adding that "we are not surprised by this move in light of the Ireland's longstanding slanted policy with regards to the Israel-Palestinian conflict."

Heart - Black

Brazil man arrested for locking up wife for years

Joao Batista Groppo, 64
© AP Photo/Pedro Henrique Negrao, Diario de Sorocaba
In this photo released by Diario de Sorocaba, Joao Batista Groppo talks to the press as he sits handcuffed in the Sorocaba municipality in Sao Paulo state, Brazil, Thursday Jan. 27, 2011. Police in southeastern Brazil say they arrested Joao Batista Groppo, 64, on Wednesday for allegedly keeping his wife of 40 years locked in a cellar for 16 years.

Sao Paulo - A man has been arrested for allegedly keeping his wife locked for eight years in the dark, dank cellar of their home in southeastern Brazil, police said Thursday.

Joao Batista Groppo, 64, was arrested after his wife of 40 years, Sebastiana, was found confined in a "filthy, dark" cellar, said police inspector Jaqueline Barcelos Coutinho.

Groppo's girlfriend, Maria Furquim, was arrested as an accomplice by police in Sorocaba, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Sao Paulo, the inspector said.

Initially, Groppo told police that he had locked his spouse up for 16 years. He later revised the time period to eight years, which their son confirmed, Coutinho said in a telephone interview.

The son told her he knew what his father was doing but was unable to persuade him to stop, Coutinho said, adding that the son "may face charges of failing to come to the aid of someone in need." She declined to identify him.

Groppo, who described himself as a retired industrial consultant, said he locked up his 64-year-old wife beginning in 2003 because she is mentally ill and aggressive, the inspector said.

Bad Guys

Egypt: Internet down, police counterterror unit up

riot police
© Associated Press
An Egyptian riot policeman fires at protesters in Suez, Egypt Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Egyptian activists protested for a third day as social networking sites called for a mass rally in the capital Cairo after Friday prayers, keeping up the momentum of the country's largest anti-government protests in years.

Cairo - Internet service in Egypt was disrupted and the government deployed an elite special operations force in Cairo on Friday, hours before an anticipated new wave of anti-government protests.

The developments were a sign that President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toughening its crackdown following the biggest protests in years against his nearly 30-year rule.

The counter-terror force, rarely seen on the streets, took up positions in strategic locations, including central Tahrir Square, site of the biggest demonstrations this week.

Facebook and Twitter have helped drive this week's protests. But by Thursday evening, those sites were disrupted, along with cell phone text messaging and BlackBerry

Messenger services. Then the Internet went down.

Earlier, the grass-roots movement got a double boost - the return of Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and the backing of the biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Bizarro Earth

Border Collie frozen in a block of ice left in Dawson Creek yard

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© SPCA, Special to the Vancouver Sun
The body of a Border Collie cross frozen in a block of ice, which was left in the yard of a Dawson Creek man, is under investigation by BC SPCA animal cruelty investigators. It's possible another animal ate part of the dog's intestines, but it appears the 18-kilogram (40-pound) dog was owned by somebody because it had a healthy weight. The SPCA wants to find out who was responsible for placing the dog in the block of ice, which looks to have been made using a large rubber bin. The dog was discovered Jan. 15.
Animal cruelty officers are investigating a disturbing case involving a dead dog that was frozen into a block of ice and left in the yard of a Dawson Creek man.

The man discovered the dog Jan. 15, but told officers he had no idea why its frozen body was left on his property.

"I thought I'd seen everything, but when I opened that [file] up I was blown away. It's so disturbing. We want some answers," said Marcie Moriarty, general manager of the BC SPCA's cruelty investigations. "Anyone who would do something so sick - I'm concerned if they have other animals in their custody."

Moriarty said the case is such a mystery that investigators are asking for the public's help, hoping someone may have known the black dog or witnessed it being dropped off in the yard of the unidentified Dawson Creek man. She said the man does not have pets, did not know the dog and has no idea why the animal was left in his yard.

"The only salvation is we just found out the dog died before being placed in there. It had puncture wounds consistent with being in a dog fight and all of his intestines were missing," Moriarty said.

Handcuffs

British police arrest five over Anonymous WikiLeaks attacks

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© Jonathan Bainbridge/Reuters
Five people have been arrested in conjunction with an alleged Anonymous DDoS attack on websites including that of MasterCard.
Five people in custody on suspicion of crippling the websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal

Five people from across the UK were arrested early today in connection with a spate of online attacks last month in support of the whistleblowers' site WikiLeaks.

Police said the five males, aged between 15 and 26, are being held after a series of arrests in the West Midlands, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey and London.

Three teenagers, aged 15, 16 and 19, were arrested in a series of coordinated raids at 7am along with two men aged 20 and 26. All five are being held in custody at local police stations.

The five were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the loose-knit group of "hacktivists" known as Anonymous, who temporarily crippled the websites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after those companies cut off financial services to WikiLeaks. The attacks followed WikiLeaks' release of US diplomatic cables from late November.

Today's arrests were coordinated by the Metropolitan police working in conjunction with other UK forces and international agencies.

Wolf

Silvio Berlusconi hit by drug allegations as well as sex claims

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© Matteo Bazzi/EPA
Marysthell García Polanco. Drugs were found in a flat allegedly provided to her by Berlusconi.
Evidence given to Rome parliament alleges cocaine was found in flat provided to female model friend of Italian prime minister

The scandal involving Silvio Berlusconi's private life deepened today after drugs were mentioned in new evidence to Italy's parliament.

The new evidence delivered yesterday revealed that almost 3kg of cocaine were found last year in the cellar of a flat allegedly provided free of charge to one of Berlusconi's guests at his villa outside Milan.

Marysthell García Polanco, from the Dominican Republic, is a model and former weather announcer, known among other things for a celebrated appearance in the "sexy car wash" segment of a popular reality show on one of Berlusconi's television channels.

The drugs were part of a haul of more than 12kg allegedly belonging to García Polanco's boyfriend. He was arrested while driving a car belonging to Nicole Minetti, who, prosecutors claim, organised the supply of women for Berlusconi's parties.

Heart

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.