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Iran opens espionage trial of U.S. hikers

An Iranian court held closed-door proceedings Sunday to begin the espionage trial of three Americans - two in custody and one freed on bail - whose 18-month detention has been the subject of impassioned family appeals and backdoor outreach by Washington through an Arab ally in the Gulf.

Iran's state-run Press TV reported that not guilty pleas were submitted to the court by their attorney, but gave no other details.

The case highlights the power of Iran's judiciary, which is controlled directly by the nation's ruling clerics and has rejected apparent appeals by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to show some leniency.


USA

10 Things Conservatives Don't Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan

Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of President Reagan's birth, and all week, conservatives have been trying to outdo each others' remembrances of the great conservative icon. Senate Republicans spent much of Thursday singing Reagan's praise from the Senate floor, while conservative publications have been running non-stop commemorations. Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee and former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich are hoping to make a few bucks off the Gipper's centennial.

But Reagan was not the man conservatives claim he was. This image of Reagan as a conservative superhero is myth, created to untie the various factions of the right behind a common leader. In reality, Reagan was no conservative ideologue or flawless commander-in-chief. Reagan regularly strayed from conservative dogma - he raised taxes eleven times as president while tripling the deficit - and he often ended up on the wrong side of history, like when he vetoed an Anti-Apartheid bill.

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ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the top 10 things conservatives rarely mention when talking about President Reagan:
1. Reagan was a serial tax raiser. As governor of California, Reagan "signed into law the largest tax increase in the history of any state up till then." Meanwhile, state spending nearly doubled. As president, Reagan "raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office," including four times in just two years. As former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan "a dear friend," told NPR, "Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration - I was there." "Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes," said historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan's memoir. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is "false mythology," Brinkley said.

Stormtrooper

2 dead in Tunisia protest

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© Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
Their dictator resigned three weeks ago... but the regime still stands.
El Kef, Tunisia - Police fired into a crowd of protesters in El Kef, Tunisia, Saturday, killing two people and injuring 17, state media reported.

CNN said Tunis Afrique Presse reported about 1,000 people had gathered outside a police station. They began throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the building and burned two cars, TAP said.

Police responded first by firing tear gas and shots into the air. When that failed to disperse the crowd, they turned their weapons on the people, TAP said.

It wasn't clear what had prompted the rally in the first place, CNN said.

TAP also reported it had learned form a source in the Interior Ministry that four police officers were arrested Saturday afternoon in connection with the deaths of two youths after a fire broke out Friday in a Sidi Bouzid police station.

Tunisia has been in political transition since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on Jan. 14, following the outbreak of widespread protests.

Che Guevara

Serbia holds biggest opposition protest in years

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© Reuters/Ivan Milutinovic
Supporters of Serbia's opposition Progressive Party attend an opposition rally in Belgrade February 5, 2011.
Tens of thousands of disenchanted Serbs protested in central Belgrade on Saturday in the biggest anti-government rally in years aimed at showing opposition strength ahead of scheduled 2012 elections.

A pro-European Union coalition has governed Serbia since 2008, but persistent economic hardship and frustration with slow EU integration has left many disgruntled with the government.

"This government was promising us milk and honey in 2008 and what do we have now? More hardship, and a dishonest and arrogant government which does not care about its own people," said Zdravka Stanojlovic, 44, a Belgrade waitress.

The rally was organised by Tomislav Nikolic, head of the Serbian Progressive Party, the most influential opposition party shown in polls as offering a strong challenge to the current ruling Serbian Democratic Party.

No Entry

Mystery of the mummy's Chinese travel ban

mummy,Beauty of Xiaohe
© AP
The 'Beauty of Xiaohe', which China has pulled out of an exhibition in the US

For her advanced years, she looks remarkable. Despite nearing the ripe old age of 4,000, long eyelashes still frame her half-open eyes and hair tumbles down to her remarkably well-preserved shoulders.

But the opportunity for new audiences in the United States to view the "Beauty of Xiaohe" - a near perfectly preserved mummy from an inhospitable part of western China - has been dealt a blow after it was pulled from an exhibition following a sudden call from the Chinese authorities on the eve of opening. The reason for pulling the mummy and other artefacts from the show remained unclear yesterday (Chinese officials were on New Year holiday) but there were suggestions that the realities of modern Chinese politics may have had a part to play.

The mummy was recovered from China's Tarim Basin, in Xinjiang province. But her Caucasian features raised the prospect that the region's inhabitants were European settlers.

Crusader

Pope's Organs are Too Holy to Donate to Mortals, Says Church

Pope Benedict
© AFP
As a cardinal he carried a donor card and as Pontiff he showed his commitment to the cause by attending a congress on organ donation
Benedict XVI has tried to scotch rumours that he carries an organ donor card after his secretary revealed that his ascension to the position of Holy Father means he is no longer able to bequeath his body parts to lesser mortals.

On the pontiff's instructions, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, Benedict's personal secretary, fired off a letter to quell the rumours that started in the Pope's native Germany.

"It's true that a simple cardinal can have an organ donor card but, despite public declarations to the contrary, it ceased to apply when he was elected head of the Catholic Church," Mgr Gaenswein said.

In 1999, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger said he was on an organ-donor list. "I am available to offer my organs to whoever might need them. It is an act of love, of affection and generosity," he said at the time.

And as recently as 2008, three years after being elected pontiff, Benedict attended an international congress on donor transplantation where he repeated his support for organ donors. "It's a special way of showing charity," he said, though he added that donations had to be "free, voluntary [and] respectful of the health and dignity of the donor".

Sherlock

Google Exec Who Went Missing In Egypt Now A Spokesman For Opposition Group

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© Unknown
Wael Ghonim
A Google executive who has gone missing in Egypt has been "symbolically" named the spokesman for an opposition group, in an attempt to free him from being held by Egyptian authorities, CBS News reports.

Wael Ghonim, Google's head of marketing for the middle east, flew into Egypt last week to participate in the demonstrations against the government. At some point he went missing, and one of his last tweets ominously read, "we are all ready to die."

The Egyptian government will not comment on whether it has Ghonim or not, but many suspect he is being held.

The demonstration where he Ghonim may have been captured was organized "largely" by the April 6 movement, CBS News reports. The April 6 movement is a youth movement in Egypt formed almost three years ago.

Cloud Lightning

Texas Dems accuse Perry of 'California dreamin'' during ice storm

Rick Perry
© unknown
Rick Perry
Gov. Rick Perry took heat from Texas Democrats on Thursday for being in California while Texans back home were dealing with icy streets, rolling power blackouts and the lowest temperatures in years.

"RICK PERRY WAS CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' WHILE TEXANS ENDURED BLACKOUT NIGHTMARE," screamed the headline of a news release from Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray. Perry is in California to participate in the 100th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's birth. But spokesman Mark Miner said Perry was monitoring storm-related developments back home.

"It shows the Democrats are out of touch," Miner said. "He's been in constant communication with the office and is dealing with the weather situation and other issues facing the state on a regular basis."

Rocket

US missile misses Bin Laden, hits Afghan woman and her kids

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An Afghan woman has been injured along with her five young children when a missile fired by US-led forces struck their house in Afghanistan's northeastern province of Kunar.

A US-led convoy, rolling through Sarkani district of Kunar Province, came under attack by Taliban militants on Friday. The forces responded by firing a missile which missed the target and hit the residential building.

Parts of the structure were damaged in the incident, a Press TV correspondent reported on Friday.

The incident comes as violence in Afghanistan has spiked to record high levels since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Statistics about the civilian death toll in Afghanistan are not available. However, it is estimated that between 14,000 and 34,000 Afghan civilians have lost their lives since the US-led invasion.

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have reportedly lost their lives as the result of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.

Che Guevara

More protests as Jordanians call for reforms

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Hundreds of Jordanians have gathered outside the prime minister office in the capital, Amman, calling for wide and quick political and economic reforms.

Around 1,000 protesters marched toward the prime ministry following the Friday Prayers and urged Jordan's newly-appointed Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit to bring in the public on the country's decision making process.

Demonstrators said they demand more government reforms than the appointment of a new prime minister. The protest was organized by the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood.

On Tuesday, after three weeks of anti-government protests, King Abdullah sacked the prime minister, Samir Rifai, and appointed Marouf Bakhit in his place, instructing him to "take practical, quick and tangible steps to launch true political reforms."

The opposition, however, says Bakhit is not a reformist.

"We want seriousness on the ground. We want a genuine reform. We want initiatives and now so that people feel they are partners in decision making," Secretary General of IAF Hamzeh Mansour said.