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US Embassy shelters Americans amid Egypt NGO crackdown

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) - Several American citizens have taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo amid a sharpening dispute between Washington and Egypt over U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups in the country, the State Department said on Monday.

"We can confirm that a handful of U.S. citizens have opted to stay in the embassy compound in Cairo while waiting for permission to depart Egypt," State Department spokeswoman Kate Starr said.

The unusual step of offering ordinary U.S. citizens diplomatic refuge follows a crackdown by Egypt's military-led government on non-governmental organizations, including several funded by the U.S. government, which saw travel bans imposed on six American staffers including a son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Egyptian police raided the groups in late December as part of an investigation into foreign funding of 17 pro-democracy and human rights groups, part of what civil society groups say has been a broader crackdown on critics of the army's heavy-handed tactics in dealing with street unrest.

Washington has strongly criticized the move, which has cast a pall over U.S.-Egyptian relations as the most populous Arab nation reaches a critical stage in its uncertain transition away from authoritarian rule.

"We have made clear our concerns about this issue and our disappointment that these several citizens are not being allowed to depart Egypt," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.

Leading U.S. lawmakers have also voiced outrage over the incident, and American officials have repeatedly warned that Washington may have to take a fresh look at U.S. aid to Egypt's military, which runs about $1.3 billion per year.

The six U.S. citizens hit with travel bans work with the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute. Both receive U.S. public funding and are loosely affiliated with the two major U.S. political parties.

The State Department did not provide details on the Americans sheltering in the embassy, although officials at the National Democratic Institute said none of their staff had been relocated. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Another State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, described the refuge offer as "a unique situation" and dismissed suggestions that the aim was to shield the U.S. citizens from potential arrest.

"There is no expectation that any of these individuals are seeking to avoid any kind of judicial process," Nuland said.

"We do not feel that they are in physical danger at the moment. That is a different matter than whether they are being persecuted in the Egyptian judicial system," Nuland added.

MILITARY DELEGATION

An Egyptian military delegation is expected in Washington this week for regular talks that are expected to focus on the impasse over the NGOs, U.S. officials said.

Nuland, while stressing that the visit had been planned before the NGO dispute erupted, said the Egyptians could expect firm words during their U.S. meetings.

"We have concerns about the fact that we have not been able to resolve this situation. That is the message that we are giving the Egyptian government in the strongest terms," she said.

The delegation, made up of four major generals, was expected in Washington on Tuesday, diplomatic sources said.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on January 20. He stressed the importance of the NGOs and discussed Egypt's request for $3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

In a weekend call to Tantawi, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged the Egyptians to lift the travel ban and expressed concern over restrictions placed on NGOs, the Pentagon said.

The Obama administration is finalizing its budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which will be presented on February 13 and is expected to include continued assistance for Egypt's military, albeit subject to new conditions imposed by U.S. lawmakers.

Those include evidence that Egyptian military authorities are committed to holding free and fair elections and protecting freedom of expression, association, and religion.

Alliance Tax Resolution Launches Tax Debt Relief Programs for Tax Payers

New fresh start initiative designed to replace more aggressive IRS collection tactics that damage a taxpayer’s long-term financial position. Alliance Tax Resolution Inc., a California Company, has focused all its efforts to assist taxpayers in taking control of their tax debt.

Anaheim, CA (iBBC News) January 31, 2012
Last year, the IRS Commissioner announced that the IRS is focused on helping taxpayers with outstanding tax debt to get a “fresh start.” This new fresh start initiative was designed to replace more aggressive IRS collection tactics that damage a taxpayer’s long-term financial position. Alliance Tax Resolution Inc., a California Company, has launched programs to assist unaware taxpayers in taking control of their tax debt in 2012.

IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman called the changes an effort to "stand in taxpayers' shoes" following "the worst recession in a generation."

For people with no hope of paying their tax debts, the IRS has expanded and eased the terms of its programs. The IRS now allows taxpayers to settle their debt by paying a lesser amount, as long as the IRS is convinced that the debt can't be paid in full either as a lump sum or through periodic payments. This is most effectively done with the help of a Tax Debt Relief company.

The IRS will also help repair the damage to taxpayers' credit scores after the full amount of the debt is made. In an important technical move, the agency will grant more taxpayers "lien withdrawals"—a higher level of debt forgiveness than the pre-existing "lien release."

"This is a really helpful effort on part of the IRS to accommodate taxpayers' needs," said Nathan Alhamaidi, Operations Director, Alliance Tax Resolution, Inc. The positive changes affecting the largest number of taxpayers pertain to liens, or legal notices that give the IRS a legal claim to a taxpayer's property in the amount of the unpaid tax debt. The new rules generally prohibit the IRS from filing a tax lien unless unpaid taxes exceed $10,000, doubling the previous limit, which had been in effect since the mid-1980s.

If you have a Tax Debt, you may qualify for a Tax Debt Relief Program. Please call Alliance Tax Resolution at 800-928-7166 or visit http://AllianceTaxResolution.com today.

US urges swift oil deal for South Sudan, Khartoum

UNITED NATIONS (iBBC News) - The United States on Monday called for a swift agreement between Sudan and South Sudan on the division of oil and revenues between Khartoum and its new neighbor.

Sudan has released four tankers loaded with South Sudanese oil to try to defuse a dispute over export transit fees, but southern officials say the move was not enough to reverse South Sudan's decision to shut off crude supplies.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on South Sudan that Khartoum's move to release the tankers was an "overdue and important step."

"We hope that conditions can quickly be created so that the parties can sit at the table and finalize, as swiftly as possible, a permanent arrangement with respect to the oil and revenue sharing, without which both sides will suffer and the loss of oil revenue will be crippling to all," Rice said.

South Sudan seceded in July under a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of civil war with Khartoum but the two sides have yet to resolve a long list of disputes. Disentangling the oil industries both depend upon is among their top priorities.

Rice also reiterated Washington's "grave concern ... about the deteriorating situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the humanitarian crisis there, which is becoming more and more urgent."

The United States has pressed Khartoum to allow more aid into the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, citing expert reports that said more than a quarter of a million people could be on the brink of famine there by March.

The U.N. World Food Program said on Monday that conflict and food shortages could force up to half a million Sudanese refugees to flee to South Sudan in the next few months if Khartoum does not allow aid agencies into the two states.

Sudan's U.N. Ambassador Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman this month dismissed concerns of a looming crisis in the two states, saying the situation there was "normal."

Govt provisionally revises down 2010/11 growth to 8.4 pct

iBBC News - India's economic growth for the 2010/11 fiscal year has been provisionally revised down to 8.4 percent from 8.5 percent, the government said on Tuesday.

GDP growth is slowing after a prolonged bout of monetary policy tightening that has seen 13 interest rate increases since March 2010, as well as sluggish investment and weak global conditions.

Christine Bleakley says she is firm believer in power of laughter

London, Jan 31 (iBBC News): Christine Bleakley says that laughter is very important, especially in times of stress and in her relationship with Frank Lampard.

She met the Chelsea footballer in 2009 and they got engaged 15 June 2011. Lampard has two daughters from his relationship with Spanish model Elen Rivas - Luna, six, and Isla, four.

"Laughter is the best medicine, especially in times of stress. Last week I had terrible food poisoning from eating a dodgy prawn sandwich. Frank was joking about me being a really bad patient and I'd have a fit of giggles," the Daily Mail quoted her as saying.

"I thought 'Here I am, in pain, and he is managing to make me laugh.' That's a good sign. Laughter is such an important part of a relationship. It's what first attracted me to him," she said.

Afghan woman killed by husband, mother-in-law for giving birth to third girl

Kabul, Jan 31 (iBBC News): A 22-year old woman in Afghanistan has been strangled to death by her husband and mother-in-law for giving birth to a baby girl.

Afghan police has arrested the woman's mother in-law for the murder that took place two days ago in Kunduz province.

Khanabad's police chief, Sufi Habib, said that, "the woman, who was known as Stori, gave birth to a third girl two months ago. The husband and mother-in-law strangled her for giving birth to a third daughter".

The BBC quoted senior officials, as saying that the mother-in-law, known as Wali Hazrata, tied Stori, while the woman's husband strangled her.

According to the report, Stori's husband is thought to be a fighter with an illegal armed militia, which is believed to have some political support.

Meanwhile, the Director for Kunduz Women's affairs, Nadira Gya, condemned the incident saying, "it was a brutal crime committed against an innocent woman."

Local religious and tribal elders in the district also condemned the killing, saying it was an act of ignorance, and calling it a crime against Islam, humanity and women.

Calif. college says it submitted false SAT scores

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — California's Claremont McKenna College says a senior administrator submitted false SAT scores to publications such as U.S. News & World Report that use the data to rank the nation's colleges and universities.

The New York Times reports (http://nyti.ms/w1WGD8 ) President Pamela Gann told college staff members and students of the falsified scores in an e-mail Monday. Gann wrote that a "senior administrator" had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

Gann says the critical reading and math scores reported to U.S. News and others "were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each."

The current U.S. News rankings list Claremont McKenna as the ninth-best liberal arts college in the country, a fact noted on Gann's biography on the college's website.

Mumbai Mirror Epaper 31 Jan 2012 Free Download

Times of India Epaper 31 Jan 2012 Free Download

Man says Nigeria kidnapping like 'an action movie'

BOWDON, Ga. (iBBC News) — Two men came out of nowhere as Greg Ock's car idled in traffic in a remote Nigerian town. One shot his security guard five times and stole the dead man's gun, while the other ushered Ock into a tiny getaway car, where a waiting driver sped away.

The car weaved through traffic on side roads and then sped to a main road, where police, known there as "mopols," had erected a roadblock. Ock's captors crashed through the barricade and traded fire with a truck of police officers, who narrowly missed Ock.

"I felt like I was in an action movie," Ock told The iBBC News at his west Georgia home on Monday, a day after he returned to his family. As they were speeding away from the police, he said he told his guards: "I was more afraid of mopols than you guys."

Ock, 50, was held seven days and then released Friday after he was kidnapped Jan. 20 in Warri, a main city in the Niger Delta, an oil-rich area where foreign firms pump 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day.

Ock worked in construction for decades, landing gigs all over the U.S. and as far away as Abu Dhabi. He loved the work, the camaraderie and the pay, which helped him support a wife and four daughters.

He landed in the Nigerian town of Sapele in September 2010 to begin one of his more adventurous assignments, maintaining gas turbines and other heavy machinery for Marubeni Corp.

It was tough work and the perks weren't enticing. The food was bad, he said, and the heat was unbearable. But he had chances to leave the "little prison" of the company's base camp, often going on Sundays with co-workers and a security guard to a golf course, or to neighboring Benin to eat at a Chinese restaurant.

His journey the day he was ambushed wasn't nearly as adventurous. He went with a driver, a security guard and a company secretary to a clinic in Warri, where he would get a checkup for a recent bout with malaria.

He took out some cash from an ATM, hopped in the car and tuned his iPod to Don Henley as the driver idled in traffic. What happened next seemed to unfold in a flash.

A gunman ran up to his vehicle and yelled "die, mopol, die" as he fired five bullets into the guard. The other gunman ordered Ock out of the car and pushed him toward a tiny red Audi.

"They told me we were an easy target. We didn't have tinted windows and only one mopol," he said. "They told me they wanted a white guy anyways."

They escaped the city, and one of the kidnappers then called Ock's boss and demanded about $330,000 for his safe return.

They drove about an hour, arriving at a squat shack where he was forced into a small room. He shared the room with two or three guards, a plastic chair, piles of dirty dishes, some scattered clothes and a mattress blocking the window.

The men dulled his senses by forcing him to smoke marijuana and drink Baron Del Valle red wine at all hours. He didn't have many food options, either. Early in his captivity, Ock said he asked for boiled eggs. From then on, he got four eggs in the morning and four at night. As a snack, he got apples.

He was told few details about the negotiations his captors were working with his company, adding to his unease. When he was able to sleep, his captors often woke him by cranking an odd mix of local music and Dolly Parton classics from a stereo.

"I was on the edge all the time," he said.

After a few days, he decided to escape. He found a butcher knife resting in a bowl and reached for it when he thought his captors were sleeping. They weren't. One alerted the others, who "slapped me around a bit" and chained him tighter to his chair. Despite the beating, Ock said he wasn't tortured.

The next morning, a guard pulled out a gun and threatened to kill his captive. Ock called his bluff.

"I told them I didn't care," he said. "I've had a good life."

On Thursday, Ock could tell the negotiations were heating up. His captors were celebrating and drinking moonshine. Two of the men left the house around noon, returning five hours later with wide smiles.

Around 3:30 Friday morning, the men dumped Ock in a desolate area with about $12 to hail a scooter to the nearest police station. Once there, he called his boss and his wife to let them know he was OK.

Ock said he wasn't told by either his captors or his company whether a ransom was paid.

"But they seemed happy," he said. "They let me go for a reason — and I don't think it was because they were out of eggs."

He returned home on Sunday morning, arriving at Atlanta's airport to a rapturous greeting from family and friends. There, a limousine drove him the 60-mile route to rural Bowdon. Someone told Ock to peek out the sunroof as they approached, and when he did he saw about 500 people gathered to celebrate.

Among the gifts he received was a plastic bag with only an egg and an apple. The friend who offered it to him joked that she didn't know if he wanted breakfast or summer, so she brought both.

Ock has no plans to return to Nigeria, instead looking for work closer to home. But his wife Teresa said she doubts his kidnapping will scare him from working another faraway gig.

"It's in his blood to travel," she said. "He may work here for a while. But I know him. He'll get to itching to leave."

For now, Ock is catching up on sleep and making up for lost time.

"It's taken a while to process it all. For us, too," Teresa Ock said. "We're just so thankful for the prayers, from our church, from our community, from everyone who prayed for him."

She glanced at her husband, who summoned an impish smile.

"I guess I've got to go to church now," he said.

Gaiman, McFarlane settle Spawn lawsuit

MADISON, Wis. (iBBC News) — Fantasy industry giants Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane have agreed to settle their long-running legal battle over Gaiman's share of the Spawn universe.

Gaiman and McFarlane have been fighting for the last decade over Gaiman's claims to a handful of characters created while he was collaborating with McFarlane on the Spawn comic book series. The series features a demon hunted by angels.

Their attorneys filed notice Friday in federal court in Madison saying they've reached a deal that calls for declaring Gaiman a 50 percent owner of Spawn issues 9 and 26, the first three issues of a spin-off series on the angels and the issues' contents.

Jeffrey Simmons, one of Gaiman's attorneys, declined to elaborate, saying the terms are confidential. McFarlane's attorney didn't immediately return a message.

Democrats slam Tea Party ties in Oregon special election

(iBBC News) - An Oregon special election in which national Democrats have sought to paint the Republican congressional candidate as a Tea Party radical foreshadows a tactic the party will employ in its quest to take back Congress seats lost in the 2010 election.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent about $1.3 million in the race, half of it opposing Republican businessman Rob Cornilles in Tuesday's election to replace Democratic ex-Representative David Wu.

Television advertising and a website run by the committee, which supports Democrats in House of Representatives races, slam Cornilles for referring to himself as "the original Tea Party candidate" during a previous congressional run.

The race between Cornilles and Democratic state Senator Suzanne Bonamici is a preview of an already heated election year when outside groups are pumping money into opposition advertising, and Democrats plan to attack conservatives who have curried favor with the Tea Party.

"There is no doubt that races across the country will be about a contrast between Tea Party extremism that protects the ultra-wealthy versus defenders of the middle class and Medicare," said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for DCCC.

"But in each district, the message will fit the district, the local values of the community and the candidates running."

The race has attracted an unusual level of interest for a traditionally safe Democratic seat. Obama easily won the Portland-area district in 2008, and Wu beat Cornilles in a 2010 election year that heavily favored Republicans elsewhere in the country.

Wu, who was in his seventh term, in July announced he would resign after a sex scandal. The race to replace him will wrap up on Tuesday, when Oregon's vote-by-mail ballots are due.

The election has drawn almost $2 million in independent expenditures since November despite the fact that early polling showed Bonamici, a former Federal Trade Commission lawyer who has served in the Oregon Senate since 2008, with a considerable lead.

CYBER ATTACKS

Democrats have made Cornilles' Tea Party statement, made at a May 2010 event, a central part of their attack on the Republican, who runs a sports-consulting business.

Teapartycornilles.com, a website paid for by the DCCC, features the quote, raps Cornilles for his "extreme" opposition to abortion and claims he supports ending tax cuts for middle-class families.

A fake Twitter account, @TPartyCornilles, sends out comments such as, "Will Republican Rob Cornilles try to run from his extreme Tea Party anti-choice record in tonight's debate?"

Many Republican candidates attended Tea Party events and sought endorsements from local chapters in 2010 to fend off primary challenges or third-party candidates as support for the Tea Party's small-government mantra swelled.

But public sentiment has since shifted, with Tea Party-sanctioned Republican freshmen in the House of Representatives taking much of the blame for standoffs over the extending debt ceiling, extending payroll taxes and other issues in 2011.

Oregon Republicans say all the Democratic-aligned money is proof Democrats are worried about losing more seats in 2012. Cornilles' campaign recently released an internal poll showing him within four points of Bonamici.

"I think the DCCC has kind of hit the panic button here...the more they've spent, the closer the numbers have gotten," said Greg Leo, chief of staff for the Oregon Republican Party.

"I don't think it's really an accurate referendum on the Tea Party, nor is it an accurate description of Rob Cornilles," Leo said, pointing to the candidate's refusal to sign Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge as evidence Cornilles is not driven by the Tea Party.

The multi-media approach to attacking Tea Party-aligned candidates could be employed in other districts leading up to the November general election when all House seats and a third of the Senate are up for re-election.

"If somebody comes out as a Tea Partier, we're going there," said Trent Lutz, executive director of the Oregon Democratic Party. "If they drape themselves in the Tea Party banner, then absolutely it's something that we will discuss."

Democrats also have run sharp ads in Oregon claiming Cornilles has overstated the number of jobs created by his consulting business. A coalition of women's groups paid for ads and mailers criticizing the Republican for his pro-life views.

The National Republican Congressional Committee pitched in on a coordinated ad buy with the Cornilles campaign, but nearly all of the outside spending reported in the race came from Democratic groups.

Republican ads say Bonamici lacks experience creating private sector jobs and that she has voted to raise taxes while in the state Senate. One Cornilles ad tries to hurt her image by linking her to Wu, also a Democrat.

Assad troops fight back against Syria rebels

AMMAN (iBBC News) - Street battles raged at the gates of the Syrian capital on Monday as President Bashar al-Assad's troops sought to consolidate their grip on suburbs that rebel fighters had seized only a few miles from the centre of government power.

A diplomatic battle loomed in the United Nations, where the Arab League - backed by the United States, Britain and France - wants the Security Council to act on an Arab peace plan that would call for Assad to leave power.

Russia, a veto-wielding Security Council member and one of Syria's few allies, said Assad's government had agreed to talks in Moscow to end the crisis, but a major opposition body rejected any dialogue with him, demanding he step down.

The White House said countries needed to accept that Assad's rule was doomed, and stop protecting him in the Security Council.

"It is important that the Security Council take action," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "We believe that the Security Council should not permit the Assad regime to assault the Syrian people while it rejects the Arab League's proposal for a political solution."

"As governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what further steps need to be taken with regards to the brutality of the Assad regime, it is important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go," Carney said. "The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall."

A U.N. Security Council resolution could pave the way for international measures such as a "buffer zone" to protect refugees, as well as sanctions and other action aimed at forcing Assad to stand aside.

Passing it would require convincing Russia and China to abstain rather than veto the draft, as they did previous drafts. So far Moscow has shown little sign of being persuaded.

"The current Western draft is only a step away from the October version and can by no means be supported by us," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Interfax. "This document is not balanced ... and above all leaves the door open for intervention in Syrian (internal) affairs."

He said earlier on Monday that Moscow wanted to hear directly from observers sent by the Arab League before voting.

Yet despite Moscow's objections, some Western diplomats say they hope that Russia and China can be persuaded not to block the draft. An abstention by Russia and China last March paved the way for the Security Council to authorise force against Muammar Gaddafi's military in Libya, after the Arab League made clear it wanted action.

Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby is to seek support on Tuesday for the Arab peace plan from the Security Council. He will be joined by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the League's committee charged with seeking a solution to the Syrian crisis.

ASSAULT ON DAMASCUS BEATEN BACK

Ten months into the uprising, fighting has entered a new phase in recent weeks, with government forces losing control of parts of the country, including a town on the Lebanon border where rebels are ensconced.

Yet Assad's forces appear to have decisively beaten back an attempt by the opposition to march on the outskirts of Damascus.

Activists and residents said Syrian troops now had control of Hamouriyeh, one of several districts where they have used armoured vehicles and artillery to push back rebels who came as close as 8 km (5 miles) to Damascus.

An activist said the Free Syrian Army (FSA) - a force of military defectors with links to Syria's divided opposition - mounted scattered attacks on government troops who advanced through the district of Saqba, held by rebels just days ago.

"Street fighting has been raging since dawn," he said, adding tanks were moving through a central avenue of the neighbourhood. "The sound of gunfire is everywhere."

Rebels are risking heavier clashes and speaking of creating "liberated" territories to force diplomatic action. In the past three weeks they have taken Zabadani - a town of 40,000 in mountainous near the border with Lebanon.

"God willing, we will liberate more territory, because the international community has only offered delayed action and empty threats," said a lieutenant colonel who had defected to the FSA but declined to be named.

RUSSIA SEEKS TALKS

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Syria agreed to Russian-brokered negotiations over the crisis, but senior members of the council that claims to speak for a fragmented Syria opposition said there was no point in talking to Assad, who must quit.

"We rejected the Russian proposal because they wanted us to talk with the regime while it continues the killings, the torture, the imprisonment," Walid al-Bunni, foreign affairs chief for the Syrian National Council, told Reuters.

The rebels said at least 15 people had been killed as they pulled back in Saqba and Kfar Batna. Activists cite a death toll of more than 100 people in three days of fighting in the districts, which have seen repeated protests against Assad's rule and crackdowns by troops on the 10-month-old uprising.

The escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to suspend the work of its monitors on Saturday. Arab foreign ministers, who have urged Assad to step down and make way for a government of national unity, are due to discuss the crisis on February 5.

Syria's state news agency said six soldiers died in an attack near Deraa in the south and "terrorists" blew up a gas pipeline. Pipelines have often been targeted in the uprising.

The state news agency SANA has reported funerals of more than 70 members of the security forces members since Friday.

Residents of Deraa - where anti-Assad unrest first flared - said firefights between army defectors and government troops killed at least 20 people, most of them government forces.

In Homs, the central Syrian city that has seen heavy attacks by Assad's forces and sectarian reprisal killings, residents said government troops backed with armour fought rebels near its marketplace.

Syria limits access for journalists and the details of events could not be immediately verified.

After mass demonstrations against him erupted last spring, Assad launched a military crackdown. Growing numbers of army deserters and gunmen have joined the protesters in a country of 23 million people at the heart of the Middle East.

The insurgency has crept closer to the capital. The suburbs, a string of mainly conservative Sunni Muslim towns known as al-Ghouta, are home to the bulk of the 3 million population of Damascus and its outlying districts.

State television read out a statement from the Interior Ministry calling the events there a sweep against terrorists.

The Damascus suburbs have seen large demonstrations demanding the removal of Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated the mostly Sunni Muslim country for the last five decades.

The rebel force said on Monday medicine and blood were running low in field hospitals, some set up in mosques, and that advancing government forces were carrying out mass arrests.

Iran, Syria's regional ally and once unconditional supporter of Assad's crackdown, said Assad must be spared foreign interference to enact promised constitutional reforms.

The United Nations said in December more than 5,000 people had been killed in the protests and crackdown. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.

Thompson raises $656,000 in 3 months

MADISON, Wis. (iBBC News) — Former governor Tommy Thompson reported Monday that he had raised more money than one of his Republican challengers in the U.S. Senate race, but the only Democrat running brought in about as much as both of them combined.

Collectively, three of the four announced candidates reported raising more than $2.2 million between October and December in the race to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. The seat has been in Democratic hands for more than 50 years and it would be a major win for Republicans as they work to pick up the four seats needed to gain majority control in the Senate.

Thompson, the former four-term governor who hasn't stood for election since 1998, said Monday that he has raised more than $656,000 in three months and has about $544,000 cash on hand.

Thompson's total was higher than the $518,000 raised by his Republican rival and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann over the same period. Since Neumann got in the race in September, he has raised a total of $820,000.

Thompson officially entered the race in October, so the report showing fundraising between late September and December is the first he has had to file.

By contrast, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin raised $1.1 million over the reporting period and had $1.8 million cash on hand, more than three times what Thompson reported.

Wisconsin state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is also seeking the Republican nomination but his report had not yet been filed as of midday Monday. His spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

Thompson spokesman Darrin Schmitz said the latest fundraising numbers, together with a poll released last week showing him with high marks and key endorsements he's secured, are proof that Thompson has momentum.

"It's clear Thompson is exceptionally well-positioned for both the primary and general elections," Schmitz said.

Neumann's campaign manager Chip Englander said it was his candidate who had the momentum, noting that Neumann had received 7,450 donations over the past four months. Thompson had donations from about 1,900 people, Schmitz said.

Republican state Sen. Frank Lasee of DePere, who had been considering getting into the race, bowed out on Sunday. Eric Hovde, a community banker and hedge fund manager, is also considering running as a Republican.

A Marquette University poll released last week showed that Thompson had the highest favorability rating of any candidate in the race with 49 percent having a favorable view while 31 percent didn't.

Neumann had a 27 percent favorable rating and 18 percent unfavorable. Fifteen percent viewed Fitzgerald favorably, while 18 percent were unfavorable. He was the only one of the three where a higher percentage viewed him unfavorably.

Baldwin had a 23 percent favorable rating compared to 21 percent unfavorable.

The telephone poll conducted Jan. 19-22 among 701 registered voters had a 3.8 percentage-point margin of error.

States to decide this week on mortgage deal

WASHINGTON/CHARLOTTE (iBBC News) - State and federal officials are close to a settlement with the largest U.S. banks over mortgage abuses, with states facing an end-of-the-week deadline to decide whether they will sign on, people close to the talks said.

The final value of any settlement will depend on which states it includes, and could drop sharply if states like California, one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, do not join.

In another sign the deal is close, negotiators have overcome a sticking point and agreed on Joseph Smith, North Carolina's banking commissioner, as a monitor to ensure the banks comply with the terms of the settlement, these people said.

Talks have dragged on for more than one year but picked up steam last week as the Obama administration announced a new federal-state working group to investigate misconduct in the pooling and sale of risky home loans, a move that signaled the settlement would only allow banks to put behind them a small slice of misconduct.

The banks in the talks are Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup and Ally Financial Inc.

The proposed settlement releases the banks only from civil claims of errors in servicing and originating the loans. Those details have been in place for months, but the launch of the working group, the Obama administration said, makes clear its commitment to continue to investigate misconduct that fueled the financial crisis.

In exchange for up to $25 billion, much in the form of cutting mortgage debt for distressed homeowners, the banks will resolve civil state and federal lawsuits about servicing misconduct and faulty foreclosures, and state lawsuits about how they made some of the loans.

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech last week that he directed his attorney general to create the new working group to "help turn the page on an era of recklessness."

Left-leaning groups including MoveOn.org had decried the proposed settlement as a "sweetheart deal" and criticized the administration for what they said was a failure to bring big-ticket cases against Wall Street banks and individuals who played a role in the 2007-2009 collapse.

The new working group, designed to coordinate investigations into the residential mortgage-backed securities market, potentially gives the administration and dissident states political cover to join the settlement.

CALIFORNIA STILL IN QUESTION

In announcing the new working group, housed within an older financial fraud task force, federal and state officials made clear the settlement would cover misconduct that occurred in the aftermath of the crisis, while the group would focus on wrongdoing that fueled the crisis itself.

The attorney general in New York, Eric Schneiderman, who has been a holdout on the settlement, saying that it released the banks from too many claims, is helping to lead the new group.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, he said the focus of the settlement had "become narrow enough" to allow a full investigation to go forward, even though he said he was "not yet" ready to sign on.

California has also been reluctant to sign on.

The state's attorney general, Kamala Harris, withdrew from the talks last year amid concerns that the proposed settlement was too lenient, and her spokesman said again last week she believed the settlement remained "inadequate."

But Harris did meet with federal officials last week to press her concerns, people familiar with the matter said, and has not yet officially said her state is out of any final deal.

Separately, Massachusetts filed its own lawsuit against the banks last month, a signal that state may also go its own way in resolving allegations of deceptive foreclosure practices.

States have one week to make a decision, and an announcement of a settlement could come as early as next week, people familiar with the talks said.

The appointment of Joseph Smith as the monitor is also likely to win plaudits.

President Barack Obama nominated Smith, who has long had the respect of both banking executives and consumer advocates, to become the chief regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2010, but he withdrew from consideration amid objections from Republicans in Congress.

A spokeswoman for Smith said he was unavailable for comment.

Calif. man gets 6 years for foiled murder plot

LOS ANGELES (iBBC News) — A businessman has been sentenced in Los Angeles to six years in prison after being convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill a former business partner two years ago.

Eugene Temkin was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year term for Temkin, who was found guilty in August of three murder-for-hire related counts.

Authorities say the 51-year-old Temkin wanted a former business partner killed because he felt he wasn't repaid for a deal that soured nearly 10 years earlier. Temkin tried twice to hire hitmen, who turned out to be undercover law enforcement officers.

Temkin was arrested in July 2010 after authorities foiled the plot. Defense attorney Richard Callahan says Temkin never intended to kill the man.

NJ woman accused of streaming kid sex abuse cries

TRENTON, N.J. (iBBC News) — A New Jersey waitress cried in court as she heard a prosecutor describe allegations that she sexually assaulted a 5-year-old she was baby-sitting and streamed video of the abuse online.

Jennifer Mahoney, of Manalapan, is charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child. She was denied bail Monday at a federal court hearing in Trenton.

Authorities say the 32-year-old committed numerous sexual assaults against the child, laughing while she did so and again as she streamed the video to at least two other people. They say she confessed twice to different sets of investigators.

Mahoney's lawyer says he needs to see the evidence before deciding how to proceed.

Mahoney has been in custody since Dec. 14, the day after the videos were found on a Texas man's computer.

White House expresses concerns on Egypt situation

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The White House says it's concerned and disappointed about the situation in Egypt, where a handful of U.S. citizens who are being prevented from leaving the country have taken shelter at the American embassy in Cairo.

White House press secretary Jay Carney says the administration has made its concerns clear in discussions with Egypt's military authorities. He said U.S. officials are working to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

The unusual situation comes amid an Egyptian crackdown on U.S.-funded groups promoting democracy that has jeopardized more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt.

But Carney was careful Monday to praise Egypt for taking important steps toward transitioning to democracy since the fall of Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

New Certification Exam Proves Mobile App Developers Have the Right Stuff

Mobile Development Institute now offering unique hands-on exam to certify mobile app developers.

Los Angeles, CA (iBBC News) January 30, 2012
The Information Technology industry thrives on certifications. For most technical positions within the business community, academic degrees from 4-year universities are less relevant than practical, hands-on skills that potential employees must possess to perform their work. Throughout the Computer Age, there have been several professional certifications that at different times have been the hallmark of achievement: the CNE, the MCSE, the CCIE, the CISSP, and now, because of the overwhelming strength of the mobile software market, the MDICD.

These titles have been widely respected by employers, who want to know immediately if their job candidates have completed a formal and professional training program that includes practical experience. Those certified have enjoyed the high-paying work opportunities that their designation commands.

There are currently only a few organizations that offer a complete mobile development certification program. Growing rapidly in recognition is the Mobile Development Institute Certified Developer (MDICD), the professional title issued by On The GoWARE, a firm specializing in developing mobile applications for the enterprise corporate market.

MDI offers certification programs in the three leading mobile platforms: Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad), Google Android, and RIM BlackBerry. Their programs are designed to teach someone from beginning to proficiency, even if they have no programming experience at all. By the time a student has successfully completed the training they have designed, programmed, tested, and published a finished app into the market.

Until recently, the only way to earn an MDICD credential was to go through the entire training program. As the certification title grew in popularity, On The GoWARE began to receive numerous requests from experienced mobile app developers who wanted the title but did not need to take the coursework. The Mobile Development Institute has devised an ingenious way to make sure that developers know their stuff before issuing the MDICD credential.   

According to Steven Uy, Vice President of Training Services for The Mobile Development Institute, “we needed a test to really make sure that a person has enough practical experience to earn the MDICD title, but not so brutal that it would be impossible to pass. The only real way to be sure is to watch over their shoulder, so-to-speak. It’s a hands-on demonstration to an instructor that you’ve successfully designed, built, and published at least one mobile application.”

The MDI proctors verify the developer’s experience by conducting a remote viewing session via the web. The examination process typically lasts approximately one hour, during which developers open their active app store developer account and show their application is currently published; demonstrate their development tools/SDK that were used to create the published application; browse through the source code and explain the major application modules; and answer questions that the exam proctor may have about the structure and approach of their application.

The exam proctor then requests that the developer makes a slight change to their application, and demonstrate the modification in a simulator. Based on their performance of these tasks, the proctor either awards a passing score, or advise them on areas they must improve upon before an MDICD credential can be awarded. The MDICD certification exam can be re-attempted an unlimited number of times, but the exam can only be taken once every 30 days.

Eclectic Fla. museum to be emptied by auction

BOCA RATON, Fla. (iBBC News) — Say goodbye to the twirling carousel, the rows of perfectly shined classic cars, the player pianos and jukeboxes. They're selling all the neon signs, the slot machines, the antique guns, the Tiffany lamps, the hulking chandeliers. There will be no more rare organs or vintage gas pumps or the Army airplane gliding overhead, none of this out-of-this-world collection that took a lifetime to amass.

It will all be gone soon, before most people ever knew it existed.

Two brothers, Bob and Paul Milhous, are liquidating their one-of-a-kind private museum after spending decades scouring the world to find its gems. The Milhous Collection, as the items in their 39,000-square-foot building have become known, head to the auction block next month, estimated to fetch around $40 million.

"Our time's kind of up with them," said Bob Milhous, who at 75, is the elder brother. "It's time to move on."

The men first started picking up collectible cars and rare automated musical instruments a half-century ago, but they never knew it would grow into this. Their hobby became something of an obsession, with them buying so furiously their collections outgrew their own homes, then spilled into a succession of three increasingly larger spaces, until they built a new museum here, within a suburban corporate park, in a nondescript building that gives no hint of its holdings.

"Our wives say, 'Most people go to the museum and buy a postcard,'" recalled Paul Milhous, 73, "'You go to the museum and buy the museum.'"

What they have built is part carnival, part sparkling car showroom. It has both Vegas glitz and the refrained elegance of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. You find yourself in a room of thick red drapes, a massive crystal chandelier and a variety of musical instruments that line the walls then, moments later, in the glow of neon, surrounded by the chrome and steel of collector cars.

Quite simply, you've never seen anything like it.

"People come here and they leave amazed and then they try to explain it to somebody what they saw and it just doesn't work," Paul Milhous said.

The Indianapolis-born brothers are distant cousins of President Richard Milhous Nixon. They made their fortune in the printing business, making circulars and comic strip inserts for newspapers. They sold off that business in the 1990s, but were involved in a string of other manufacturing pursuits, making plastics, metals, ink, foam and on and on. They still have involvement in a number of real estate ventures, but have liquidated other businesses in their holdings as they plan their estates. Giving up all their prized collectibles is part of it.

"'Don't leave this burden to us," Paul Milhous recalled his and his brother's wives saying.

And, so, on Feb. 24 and 25, it will all be sold. Two auction houses, RM Auctions and Sotheby's, have divided it up into more than 550 lots, each to be sold to the highest bidder.

There is the whimsical: Dozens of vintage toy cars, giant toy soldiers that once stood at FAO Schwarz in New York, funhouse mirrors and carnival sideshow banners. There is artwork, fine furniture and the contents of a turn-of-the-20th century barbershop.

But the real highlights are in the Milhous collections of classic cars, the mechanical musical instruments and the carousel that is the centerpiece of their museum.

There are 29 cars, 5 motorcycles, 2 tractors, a motorbike, a popcorn and peanut wagon and a PT-22 airplane. Among the cars is the only known surviving 1912 Oldsmobile Limited, which is estimated to bring bids around $1.5 million.

The instruments include music boxes, player pianos, band organs and orchestrions, which are made to simulate the sound of an orchestra all in one piece. There are dozens of theater, fair and dance organs. At least eight of the instruments have price estimates that exceed $1 million each. Many are elaborately decorated with oil paintings, stained glass, gold leaf and moving figurines.

Still, nothing in this eclectic palace draws the eye more than the carousel. The brothers searched for years for precisely what they wanted. When nothing turned up, they had one built, with 42 animals hand-carved from basswood and a Wurlitzer band organ. Its estimated price is $1 million to $1.5 million.

The museum has been kept so private over the years the idea of opening it to the public for an auction makes the brothers a bit uneasy. It has played host to many charity events, but whenever they've opened it up, it has been to limited audiences, with off-duty police officers hired to stand guard over their prized possessions. Now, anyone who buys a $120 auction catalog will be able to come to the preview.

For now, they're preparing to bid farewell to it all, and enjoying their final moments with it. On a recent tour, they recalled their first purchases and remembered all the places they've driven their many cars. And as they walk into a dimly-lit second-floor room of the museum, its walls lined with all types of instruments, only one question comes from Paul Milhous' lips.

"What do we want to play?" he asks.

Former Haiti dictator to receive judge's ruling

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (iBBC News) — A Haitian judge says he has finished his investigation of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier but is not ready to publicly reveal his conclusion.

Magistrate Carves Jean says he must still notify the former leader known as "Baby Doc" of the results of his yearlong investigation into whether Duvalier can face trial on charges dating back to his 15-year rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

Jean's ruling must also be reviewed by the country's attorney general before it becomes public. He spoke to reporters outside court Monday.

Duvalier is accused of corruption and human rights violations before he was ousted in a popular uprising and forced into exile. His lawyers have argued that the statute of limitations has expired.

Fidelity says conducting review of India fund business

MUMBAI (iBBC News) - Fidelity Worldwide Investment said on Monday the company was conducting a "strategic review" of its asset management business in India.

"The review is underway and it is too preliminary to discuss any outcome," the company said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Fidelity is in talks to sell its India mutual fund business and is seeking a valuation of $202 million for the unit, a report on the Economic Times website said, citing a person with direct knowledge of the development.

Fidelity is seeking a valuation of 10 billion rupees for the asset management arm, the report said, adding the assets may attract interest from a large number of fund houses including Goldman Sachs Asset Management Company.

Shares slump as Greece disputes EU austerity push

NEW YORK (iBBC News) - U.S. stocks tumbled in early trading on Monday as concerns grew about the state of Europe's finances as Greece and Germany sparred over budget measures for Athens.

Bank stocks led the way lower after a report that Germany was pushing for Greece to give up control over its budget policy to European institutions as part of discussions over a second bailout package.

The issues in Greece added to uncertainty surrounding a Monday summit where European Union leaders will sign off on a permanent rescue fund for the euro zone. The leaders are expected to agree on a balanced budget rule in national legislation.

While sentiment has improved over the euro zone lately, with the S&P 500 up 4.7 percent before the start of trade Monday, many investors still view the region with caution as setbacks in solving its sovereign debt issues could hamper international economic growth and erode domestic bank profits. Friday's weaker-than-expected read on U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product further underscored those anxieties.

"The pace of U.S. growth doesn't justify the returns we've seen so far this month, and the resurgence of issues in Europe is putting the risk-off trade back on the table," said Joshua Brown, vice president of investments at Fusion Analytics in New York.

"Lately we've done a good job of shrugging off euro headlines, but I think we're reaching a tipping point."

U.S. consumer spending was flat in December as households took advantage of the largest rise in income in nine months to boost their savings, setting the tone for a slowdown in demand early in 2012.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 112.50 points, or 0.89 percent, at 12,547.96. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 14.65 points, or 1.11 percent, at 1,301.68. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 28.78 points, or 1.02 percent, at 2,787.77.

U.S.-listed shares of Barclays Plc fell 5 percent to $13.38 and Deutsche Bank sank 5.6 percent to $41.94. European shares were down 1.2 percent while an index of European banks lost 3.5 percent.

Standard & Poor's late Friday issued negative ratings on three brokerage firms, including Jefferies Group Inc, citing the impact of a prolonged crisis in Europe.

Issues in Europe have taken a backseat to the focus on corporate earnings in recent weeks. By the end of last week, a majority of companies have topped analyst consensus expectations, though by a lower rate than previous quarters.

Gannett Co reported fourth-quarter results that were roughly in line with expectations, but shares fell 6.4 percent to $14.24.

Pep Boys Manny, Moe and Jack soared 23 percent to $14.85 after the company agreed to be bought by Gores Group for $791 million.

Swiss engineering group ABB agreed to buy U.S. electrical components maker Thomas & Betts Corp for $3.9 billion in cash, sending shares of the company up 23 percent to

$71.08.

Bank of America Corp is shaking up the leadership of its investment bank as it looks to find its footing in a difficult market environment. The stock fell 3.3 percent.

100th Anniversary Inspires Titanic Marketing Blitz

While it's not unusual for commemorative events to spark a marketing frenzy, the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking is inspiring a wide range of unusual and varied business ventures. From memorial cruises to commemorative collectibles, businesses are making the most of the marketing opportunity.

Cruises, perhaps the most obvious – or the most bizarre, depending on your perspective – are among those looking to cash in. Several companies are offering trips that mirror the infamous ocean liner's route in an effort to give adventurists a feel for the Titanic's journey.

The Titanic Memorial Cruise, set to depart from Southampton, England, April 8, will retrace the original voyage of the so-called "Unsinkable Ship," which crashed and sank on April 14, 1912.

Other ocean-bound options include Fred Olsen Cruise Line's mini-Titanic cruise or a trip on the 694-passenger Azamara Journey, which is booked to visit the resting place of the Titanic April 15, after departing from New York.

In California, meanwhile, an organization is putting together a gala for those looking to commemorate the event without heading to sea.

The Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild is hosting "The Last Dinner on the Titanic," allowing revelers to get decked out in their best 1900s-inspired attire while enjoying a night of fine food and dancing.

A similar dinner is being hosted in Ontario, Canada, by Haldimand Art Works. Guests there are also encouraged to dress for the event, during which they will receive a boarding pass featuring their new identity, including documentation relating to a real passenger aboard the Titanic. They will learn about their character's life, destination and reason for being onboard.

Instead of hosting an event, one TV jeweler is angling for a more lasting commemoration by releasing its own line of Titanic jewelry. Broadcast shopping network Jewelry Television unveiled its new Titanic Jewelry Collection this month, ahead of the official anniversary of the famed ship's maiden journey.

Created in partnership with Titanic Museum Attractions, the Titanic Jewelry Collection, which features pieces in the art nouveau and Edwardian styles typical of that era.

"Our purpose in bringing this collection to the public is to honor and celebrate the fashionable women onboard the Titanic, several of whom were international style icons," said Pat Bryant, chief marketing officer for JTV.

Among the pieces is a gold-tone red-and-white crystal rose brooch inspired by then 22-year-old movie star Dorothy Gibson, and a chandelier necklace inspired by the Victorian-era journalist Edith Rosenbaum, both of whom survived the Titanic's sinking.

The jewelry line is absent the giant Heart of the Ocean necklace made famous in the blockbuster "Titanic" film, but does have a similar piece – a blue resin pendant surrounded by white crystals and inspired by survivor Lucile Carter.

Other marketing ventures and products inspired by the 100th anniversary include:

  •     The Belfast Titanic Gift Shop's 100th Anniversary Porcelain Collection, featuring a wall clock, plate, set of four mugs and three-piece teapot set.
  •     The Titanic 100th Anniversary coin set from APMEX, which features a 1 oz. .999-fine silver coin with a colored image of the Titanic on the open ocean on its obverse. The reverse displays the Raphael Maklouf depiction of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II as well as the date of 2012.
  •     A company called Zaazle's has debuted a commemorative stamp, featuring a picture of the ship, along with the dates 1912-2012.
  •     A company called Revell's is offering a detailed 100th anniversary edition Titanic model kit features thread to simulate rigging and a commemorative display stand, as well as authentic reproductions of the Titanic's illustrated 25-page promotional booklet, the ship's menu card and three White Star Line cruise ship postcards.
  •     A commemorative coal coin from 401 Designs incorporates a limited supply of coal that was actually recovered from the shipwreck. The coal is the only recovered object rescued from the ship that can be sold to the public.

Trump considering building private cemetery in NJ

BEDMINSTER, N.J. (iBBC News) — Donald Trump is considering spending eternity next to the fifth fairway of his golf club in northern New Jersey.

A consultant for the dealmaker tells The Star-Ledger (http://bit.ly/y5JSOH ) that Trump is considering seeking state approval to put a 1.5-acre burial ground next to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.

Ed Russo says it would be available for club members to rest in peace, but that a section could be saved for Trump and his kin.

The plan would also make the club available for late golfers to have their ashes spread there.

Trump has previously considered making the course his fairway to heaven. But he decided in 2007 not to build a big family mausoleum in the Somerset County community in 2007.

Senegal leader's poll bid could risk stability: US

DAKAR (iBBC News) - Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term in office could jeopardise the West African country's democracy and stability, a senior U.S. official said on Monday in Washington's strongest comments yet.

"We are concerned that the decision by President Wade to seek a third term ... could jeopardise the decades-long record that Senegal has built up on the continent for democracy, democratic development and political stability," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told a teleconference.

He was speaking after Senegal's top legal body confirmed its decision on Friday to validate Wade's bid for a third term in February 26 elections, a move which sparked fierce street protests by opponents who say a third term is against the constitution.

Juve's Toni moves to Dubai's Al Nasr

(iBBC News) - Former Italy striker Luca Toni has left Juventus for Dubai's Al Nasr in a permanent deal, the Serie A leaders said in a statement on Monday.

The 34-year-old has struggled for opportunities in Turin this term after new coach Antonio Conte preferred the likes of marquee signing Mirko Vucinic.

The former Bayern Munich and Fiorentina forward arrived from Genoa in January last year but scored just two goals as his failing career nosedived further.

He will link up in the United Arab Emirates with former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach.

ABB to buy Thomas & Betts for $3.9 billion

LONDON (iBBC News) — Swiss engineering group ABB says it will buy U.S. company Thomas & Betts Corp., which specializes in low voltage electrical products, for $3.9 billion in cash.

The board of Thomas & Betts has accepted the deal and recommended it to its shareholders.

ABB says the price of $72 a share is a 24 percent premium over Thomas & Betts' closing stock price on Jan. 27.

The deal, its says, is part of its strategy to increase its market presence in North America.

Thomas & Betts employs about 9,400 people and is forecast to report 2011 revenues of about $2.3 billion.

Afghanistan to press Pakistan for access to Taliban

KABUL (iBBC News) - Afghanistan will press Pakistan for access to Taliban leaders during a one-day visit to Kabul by Pakistan's foreign minister, with Afghan officials hoping to ease cross-border strains and lay the ground for peace negotiations with the insurgents.

Hina Rabbani Khar will visit Kabul on February 1 to discuss reconciliation and nascent plans for peace talks ahead of a meeting between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.

Khar's trip will mark the first high-level meetings between officials from the countries in months.

Pakistan is seen as critical to U.S. efforts to stabilise Afghanistan before foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

"We hope it will mark a new phase in the relationship between both countries," Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said on Monday.

Senior Afghan security sources told Reuters that Afghan officials would use Khar's visit to press for access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban captured in Pakistan in 2010, as well as other members of a Taliban council known as the Quetta Shura, after the Pakistani city of Quetta where the leaders are said to be based.

Afghan officials want direct access to senior Taliban members and advisers because they are the main decision makers for the insurgency and will be crucial to winning support for the fledgling peace process.

Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and denies the existence of any Quetta Shura.

Baradar, a close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the September 11 attacks in the United States, had been ranked second to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

He was captured in Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agents in February 2010.

"When the Pakistan delegation visits here, we will be asking for direct access to the Quetta Shura, or access to Mullah Baradar, who has been in Pakistan custody, as a gesture of good faith," said a senior Afghan security source.

"We want sincere cooperation from Pakistan in regards to peace talks," said the source, who declined to be identified.

Ties between the neighbours were severely damaged after the assassination in Kabul last September of Afghanistan's main peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani, by an insurgent messenger carrying a bomb concealed in his turban.

Afghanistan accused Pakistan of involvement in the attack and of trying to sabotage negotiations with the Taliban, charges Islamabad denied.

"PARANOID"

Critics accuse Pakistan of using militant groups as proxies in Afghanistan to counter the growing influence of rival India there and of trying to use the proxies to ensure a government in Kabul that is friendly towards Pakistan. Pakistan rejects the allegations and says it wants peace in Afghanistan.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government will be held in Saudi Arabia this year, an Afghan official in the Saudi capital Riyadh told Reuters by telephone.

"The talks will be held in Saudi, but there is no set date yet," the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia, along with Pakistan and the United States, backed Islamist insurgents fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and later became one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban government.

Riyadh also has considerable influence in Pakistan because of its economic support and it may be able to influence Pakistan's Afghanistan policy.

The Taliban announced this month they would open a political office in the Qatari capital Doha to support possible peace talks with the United States and key allies, seen by supporters as the best chance of reaching a ceasefire ahead of the foreign troop withdrawal over the next three years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai fears being sidelined by U.S.-led efforts to forge peace with the Taliban, so he may be pushing for alternative talks in Saudi Arabia.

"The government has been paranoid since the secret talks opened between the U.S. and the Taliban, and we believe Pakistan feels the same," the Afghan security source said.

As a confidence-building measure, the Islamist group which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion of the country in late 2001 called for the release of five members being held at Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. military enclave in Cuba.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the likelihood of separate Afghan-Taliban negotiations, but said senior U.S. envoys had consistently called for Pakistan to be part of efforts to end a war stretching into its 11th year.

"We support an Afghan process that includes Afghans talking to Afghans," he said.

Cell Therapeutics withdraws cancer drug application

(iBBC News) - Cell Therapeutics Inc said on Monday it has voluntarily withdrawn the marketing application for its cancer drug, sending its shares down 17 percent before the bell.

The company said it withdrew the application as it needed additional time to prepare for the review of the drug, Pixuvri, designed as a treatment for relapsed or refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in patients who failed two or more lines of prior therapy.

Cell Therapeutics said it had requested the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reschedule the drug's review date prior to the withdrawal, but the health regulator was unable to accommodate the request.

The company plans to resubmit the application later this year.

Shares of the Seattle-based company were down 17 percent at $1.13 in premarket trade. They closed at $1.33 on Friday on the Nasdaq.

Banks warn bond deal could delay merger : Greece

ATHENS, Greece (iBBC News) — Greek lenders Eurobank and Alpha Bank say a planned merger to create the country's largest bank by assets could be put on hold because of debt-relief negotiations between the crisis-hit country and private creditors.

The banks said Monday that "an accurate timeline cannot be given" to complete the deal announced last August because of the negotiations.

The closely watched talks would see private holders of Greek bonds cancel half their debt and likely accept additional losses in a swap for bonds with a longer maturity.

Greece's finance ministry expressed surprise at the announcement, arguing that the negotiations had produced "nothing new or different" to factors already taken into account by both banks.

Tiger pleased with progress despite Sunday disappointment

LONDON (iBBC News) - Tiger Woods's joint third-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship showed the former world number one was getting closer to regaining his imperious form of old.

For the opening three rounds in the desert heat of the Middle East, the 36-year-old American was almost metronomically accurate with his irons and stunningly precise off the tee.

Woods's putter was cold on the first day but from then on he found his range on the greens and by Sunday's final round, could be backed with near certainty to hole the six-to-eight footers that have been his nemesis for the last two years.

The 14-times major champion eventually finished two strokes behind surprise winner Robert Rock of Britain but chose to accentuate the positives rather than highlight the negatives of his week.

"I'm pleased at the progress," Woods told reporters after a closing level-par 72 gave him an 11-under total of 277.

"Basically, since playing in Australia (at the end of 2011) my strokeplay events have been pretty good. I just need to keep building, keep getting more consistent."

When the heat was on in his head-to-head duel with Rock on Sunday, Woods was unable to find any sort of consistency from tee to green.

He was expected to stamp his authority on his little-known playing partner early in the round but instead it was the Englishman who wrested the initiative away as Woods reached only one green in regulation in the opening eight holes.

The former world number one, up from 25th to 17th after his result in Abu Dhabi, had to scramble on and around the greens to simply stay in contention.

Birdies proved elusive for Woods on the back nine and Rock moved three shots clear of the field with three holes to play before he bogeyed the last to win by a stroke from U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.

TURNING POINT

"I think the turning point for me was at the 10th where I hit the most beautiful little wedge after I had just birdied nine to cut the deficit to one," Woods said.

"But I don't know how it did what it did because from our view it looked pretty good. Next thing you know I'm making bogey instead."

Woods's wedge finished off the green and two putts later a six on his card meant Rock was two shots ahead again.

"That was a big turnaround there and I never closed the gap after that," the American added.

"I hit the ball beautifully all week which I'm very pleased about but I was just a touch off on Sunday. I was hitting the ball a little bit further than I thought I would.

"A couple of my three-woods were going about 320 yards which I don't normally do and a couple of my irons were going further than they are supposed to," he said.

"That's something to look at and something to try and figure out."

Overall, his performance against a world-class lineup in Abu Dhabi represents a continuation of the revival he started by winning the Chevron World Challenge limited-field event in California last month.

Woods last triumphed in a full-field event at the 2009 Australian Masters before his game went into decline following injuries and the breakdown of his marriage.

His next outing is the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that starts on February 9 as he counts down to the first major of the season, the U.S. Masters at Augusta in April.

"I hit the ball good enough to win the golf tournament this week," said Woods. "I just didn't get it done.

"Now I've got a week off to get ready for Pebble and then we have a couple of big World Golf Championship events."

Egypt trims 3 and 5-yr bond sale as yields climb

CAIRO (iBBC News) - Egypt's central bank sold half the number of reopened three- and five-year bonds that it offered at an auction on Monday, and the yield ranges on the instruments crept higher from those at the last auction two weeks earlier.

The bank said it sold 1 billion Egyptian pounds of reopened three-year bonds that mature on January 17, 2015, and carry a 16.15 percent coupon. The yield ranged from 16.18 to 16.42 percent..

The yield at an auction of the same three-year bonds two weeks ago was 15.96 to 16.35 percent.

The bank also sold also 1 billion pounds of reopened five-year bonds that mature on January 17, 2017, and carry a coupon of 16.35 percent. The yield ranged from 16.6 to 16.75 percent.

The yield at an auction of the same five-year bonds two weeks ago was 16.20 to 16.69 percent.

The central bank, which sells the bonds on behalf of the Finance Ministry, had offered 2 billion pounds of each maturity.

Settlement will take place on January 31.

Former UBS trader pleads not guilty in UK court

LONDON (iBBC News) — A former UBS trader arrested in London on charges of fraud linked with unauthorized trades at the Swiss bank has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

Kweku Adoboli, 31, pleaded not guilty Monday to two counts of fraud and two of false accounting between 2008 and September 2011.

The trader was arrested on Sept. 14 on charges of fraud that cost the bank over $2 billion.

The incident pushed then-chief executive Oswald Gruebel to resign and damaged the bank's efforts to clean up its image after being involved in a United States tax evasion investigation and sustaining huge losses on subprime mortgages during the financial crisis.

Adoboli is being held in custody. Judge Alister McCreath said he will listen to an application for bail. The trial was set for Sept. 3.

Japan population to shrink by one-third by 2060

TOKYO (iBBC News) — Japan's rapid aging means the national population of 128 million will shrink by one-third by 2060 and seniors will account for 40 percent of people, placing a greater burden on the shrinking work force population to support the social security and tax systems.

The population estimate released Monday by the Health and Welfare Ministry paints a grim future.

In year 2060, Japan will have 87 million people. The number of people 65 or older will nearly double to 40 percent, while the national work force of people between ages 15 and 65 will shrink to about half of the total population, according to the estimate, made by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

The total fertility rate, or the expected number of children born per woman during lifetime, in 2060 is estimated at 1.35, down from 1.39 in 2010 — well below more than 2 needed to keep the country's population from declining. But the average Japanese will continue to live longer. The average life expectancy for 2060 is projected at 90.93 for women, up from 86.39 in 2010, and 84.19 years for men, up from 79.64 years.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has pledged to push for social security and tax reforms this year. A bill he promised to submit by the end of March would raise the 5 percent sales tax in two stages to 8 percent in 2014 and 10 percent by 2015, although opposition lawmakers and the public pose challenges to its approval.

Experts say that Japan's population will keep losing 1 million every year in coming decades and the country urgently needs to overhaul its social security and tax system to reflect the demographic shift.

"Pension programs, employment and labor policy and social security system in this country is not designed to reflect such rapidly progressing population decline or aging," Noriko Tsuya, a demography expert at Keio University, said on public broadcaster NHK. "The government needs to urgently revise the system and implement new measures based on the estimate."

L&L Energy buying majority stake in mine in China

SEATTLE (iBBC News) — L&L Energy Inc., which mines and distributes coal in China, is buying a majority stake in China's Weishe coal mine for about $16.2 million.

The Seattle company said Monday that it will pay for the 51 percent stake with 3 million L&L shares at $5.396 per share.

The Weishe mine, which makes high quality, low sulfur, anthracite coal, has reserves totaling 19 million tons and a production rate of 124,000 tons. Annual production is expected to be expanded to 450,000 tons over the next few years.

The mine is one of three newly constructed mines owned by Union Energy and located in the Hezhang, Guizhou Province.

Japan's Canon posts 0.8% full-year profit gain

Japanese high-tech giant Canon said its full-year net profit was up 0.8 percent as cost-cutting offset the impact of last year's tsunami and Thai floods, as well as the strong yen.

Group net profit rose to 248.6 billion yen ($3.2 billion) for the year to December from 246.6 billion yen, said the PowerShot digital camera and office equipment maker, even though sales slipped 4.0 percent to 3.56 trillion yen.

The firm said Japan's strong currency, which set several post-World War II highs against the US dollar in 2011, had cost it 83.3 billion yen at the operating profit level.

"It was an extremely tough year for our group's businesses because of historic highs for the yen on top of the (March) earthquake disaster and floods (in Thailand)," Canon said in a statement, released on Monday.

"But because of cost-cutting efforts, our corporate structure has been strengthened further.

"For the second half, we recovered from a sizable business slump resulting from the disaster while absorbing the impact of the floods and the yen's appreciation."

For the current year to December 2012, Canon projects a further recovery despite ongoing concerns over the European debt crisis and dim prospects for the global economy.

Canon forecast 250 billion yen in net profit for the year and 390 billion yen in operating profit on sales of 3.75 trillion yen.
 
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