20 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


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North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Sony’s film The Interview, which it pulled following the cyber-attack, depicts Kim’s assassination. Photograph: KCNA/EPA

North Korea demands joint inquiry with US into Sony Pictures hack

Pyongyang denies responsibility for cyber-attack and threatens grave consequences if Washington continues to blame it

North Korea has proposed holding a joint inquiry with the US into the hacking of Sony Pictures, claiming it can prove it did not carry out the cyber-attack.

The foreign ministry in Pyongyang denied responsibility for the the highest-profile corporate hack in history, and said there would be grave consequences if Washington refused to collaborate on an investigation and continued to blame it.

The state KCNA news agency added that claims North Korea had conducted the attack on Sony in revenge for the controversial comedy The Interview, a multimillion-dollar comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un, were “groundless slander”.

KCNA quoted the foreign ministry as saying: “As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident.

“Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.”………………


Israeli soldiers stand by Hamas rocket

An Israeli border policeman stands by the remains of a rocket launched by Hamas militants on Friday morning. Photograph: Xinhua News Agency/REX

Israeli aircraft bomb Hamas base in Gaza Strip after militants fired rocket

Israeli defence force says there were no casualties from bombing, the first since conflict ended in August

Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas militant base in the Gaza Strip on Friday for the first time since the end of a war in the territory.

The bombs struck in the Khan Younis area in the southern Gaza Strip. Local hospital officials said there were no casualties.

The army said the move was in response to a rocket that militants launched earlier in the day, which landed in a field in southern Israel and did not cause casualties.

“The IDF (military) will not permit any attempt to undermine the security and jeopardise the wellbeing of the civilians of Israel. The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible and accountable for today’s attack against Israel,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a statement………………


Pope Francis with Franciscan preacher father Raniero Cantalamessa

Pope Francis with Franciscan preacher father Raniero Cantalamessa at the Vatican. Photograph: AP

Franciscan order of monks inquiry uncovers major financial fraud

Minister general says 800-year-old order in grave difficulty after ‘questionable financial activities’ by monks and outsiders

The Franciscan order of monks has announced it is in grave financial difficulty after the discovery of a massive fraud.

An internal investigation begun four months ago has found that some monks who ran the Franciscans’ endowment engaged in “questionable financial activities” that have emptied the 800-year-old order’s coffers.

The Franciscans are a community within the Catholic church who follow St Francis of Assisi, who was known for advocating a life of poverty.

The order’s financial woes were disclosed in a rare open letter published this week by American monk, Michael Perry, the Franciscans’ minister general.

He painted a desperate picture of an order whose viability is in doubt and facing a “significant burden of debt” as a result of the deception. He also cast blame outside the church. “These questionable activities also involve people who are not Franciscan but who appear to have played a central role,” he said in the letter……………..



African migrants in Israel’s Holot detention centre – video

In September 2014 the Israeli supreme court ruled that the Holot detention centre should close within 90 days. But as the deadline looms, the centre shows no signs of closing. This new documentary by Walks of Life Film captures the lives of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees sent to this centre deep in the Negev desert, in a country which views them as illegal “infiltrators”


An anti-pipeline sigh near Bradshaw, Nebraska, along the Keystone XL route.

An anti-pipeline sigh near Bradshaw, Nebraska, along the Keystone XL route. Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP

Obama expresses scepticism over Keystone pipeline

President says pipeline’s extension from Canada to Nebraska would do little to reduce American energy prices, and generate only a limited number of US jobs

US President Barack Obama has delivered his most sceptical remarks yet on the future of the Keystone oil pipeline, claiming its controversial extension from Canada to Nebraska would do little to reduce American energy prices and generate only a limited number of US jobs, but could add to the infrastructure costs of climate change.

Speaking during an end-of-year press conference just one day after Republicans promised fresh legislation designed to force the project’s approval, the president departed from official White House neutrality on an upcoming review by the State Department to deliver a withering assessment of its merits, claiming his opponents were wrong to insist the pipeline was a “magic formula” for economic growth.

“At issue in Keystone is not American oil; it is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada,” he said when asked if he was minimising the benefits. “That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.”……………………..


A gray wolf is shown in Forest Lake, Minnesota

A gray wolf is shown in Forest Lake, Minnesota, Photograph: Dawn Villella/Associated Press

Judge rules to keep gray wolves on endangered species list

Order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin after US Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections from

those animals in 2012

A federal judge on Friday threw out an Obama administration decision to remove the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list – a decision that will ban further wolf hunting and trapping in three states.

The order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The US Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections from those wolves in 2012 and handed over management to the states.

US District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, DC, ruled Friday the removal was “arbitrary and capricious” and violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

Unless overturned, his decision will prohibit further wolf hunting and trapping in the three states, all of which have had at least one hunting season since protections were removed. More than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves have been killed since federal protections were removed, said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. The group filed a lawsuit that prompted Howell’s ruling…………………………



Pope Francis looks on during an audience

Pope Francis: ‘When it comes to moral authority, he’s the top man in the world. Now that Mandela’s dead, who else is there?’ Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

The Pope Francis stardust worked over Cuba. Could it work with Isis and the Taliban?



Francis had a diplomatic triumph this week. If only he could resolve the world’s bloodiest conflicts too

Stalin had quite a knack for the soundbite. “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” That’s said to be him. “The people who cast the votes don’t decide an election. It’s the people who count the votes who decide an election.” Him too. And, among the most enduring, the dictator’s mocking riposte on hearing that the pope was urging an end to the oppression of Catholics under Soviet rule. “The pope? How many divisions has he got?”

To a practitioner of realpolitik and respecter of brute force like Stalin, the bishop of Rome was a perennially toothless do-gooder, fine for a sermon about heaven but with no heft, or troops, to see his will done on Earth.

For much of recent history that held true (though the papacy would have its revenge when John Paul II played his part in the crumbling of the Soviet empire). This week, however, saw the Vatican boast of a diplomatic triumph that had eluded the conventional players of great power politics for over half a century. When the presidents of the US and Cuba made their simultaneous announcement on Wednesday of an entente between their two nations, the man they thanked was Pope Francis…………………..




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