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Amnesty International: Hundreds of Thousands of Nigerians at 'Grave Risk' of Boko Haram Attack


Pontuse/iStock/Thinkstock(MAIDUGURI, Nigeria) -- Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are at "grave risk" from large-scale attacks by militant group Boko Haram, Amnesty International says.

Amnesty's Africa Director Netsanet Belay said in a statement that the latest attacks by Boko Haram "are significant and grim news. We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk."

The city of Maiduguri, and its population of over 600,000, may be the next target after locals and activists say Boko Haram attacked a nearby military base and the nearby town of Monguno on Sunday.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Nigeria, meeting with president Goodluck Jonathan and his leading opponent in next month's presidential election.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International released satellite images showing what appeared to be thousands of homes destroyed in a Boko Haram attack on the town of Baga.

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Pope Francis Releases Balloons of Peace in Place of Doves


GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis broke with tradition on Sunday, releasing balloons of peace in place of the typical doves during his Sunday mass.

Last January, shortly after the pontiff released the two peace doves, they were attacked by other birds. During the last Sunday mass of January, the pope traditionally released the doves to symbolize the need to pray and work for world peace, London's The Telegraph newspaper says.

In the place of the doves, Pope Francis had children release the multi-colored balloons.

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Angelina Jolie Visits Refugees in Iraq


SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images(ERBIL, Iraq) -- Angelina Jolie traveled to Iraq on Sunday to visit Syrians and Iraqis displaced in the battle against ISIS.

Jolie is a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees and has made multiple visits to refugee camps in the region. The United Nations says more than three million people have fled the fighting in Syria and another 6.5 million were displaced within Syria. An additional 2.5 million were displaced in Iraq.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," Jolie said. "Many...innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety admist shifting frontlines."

"Too many innocent people are paying the price of the conflict in Syria and spread of extremism," the Unbroken filmmaker said. She also expressed her "deepest sympathy" to the family of Haruna Yukawa, the Japanese hostage who was apparently executed at the hands of ISIS.

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Ukrainian President: Ukraine Has Evidence of Russian Involvement in Saturday Attacks


FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Sunday that there is evidence of Russian involvement in the rocket attacks on the city of Mariupol on Saturday.

"Interception of radio and phone conversations by the Security Service of Ukraine irrefutably indicates that the given attack was organized by terrorists supported by Russia," Poroshenko said. "I consider it an issue of every country to determine its attitude to the tragedy in Mariupol and Volnovakha. Evasion of fair and honest assessments is also a support of terrorism, which is unacceptable."

At least 27 people were killed in Saturday's attacks, as rockets hit markets, schoools and homes in the city of Mariupol.

President Obama on Sunday said that the U.S. is "deeply concerned about the latest break in the cease-fire and the aggression that these separatists with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing and Russian troops are conducting." He vowed to "continue taking the approach we've taken in the past" by "ratcheting up pressure on Russia."

Poroshenko called Saturday's attacks "the most dreadful tragedy since the beginning of the war."

Vice President Biden spoke with Poroshenko by phone on Saturday expressing concern that Russia had shown "blatant disregard for its commitments under the September Minsk agreement and unilateral escalation of the conflict."

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Japan PM Shinzo Abe Condemns ISIS Execution of Hostage as 'Outrageous and Impermissible'


YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday condemned the apparent execution of a Japanese hostage at the hands of ISIS.

The video, which was posted online on Saturday, shows a still picture of Japanese television reporter Kenji Goto holding a photo of the beheaded body of Haruna Kuwana. Abe said in a statement that Japan has "been pursuing every possible means including all available diplomatic channels, first and foremost, the save the lives of the two Japanese nations" who had previously been shown in videos purportedly posted online by ISIS.

Abe said the most recent video left him "speechless."

"Such an act of terrorism is outrageous and impermissible," he said, expressing "resolute condemnation." Abe demanded that Goto, the second hostage, be released immediately.

"The Government of Japan will never give in to terrorism, and actively contribute to the peace and stability of the world together with the international community in an unwavering manner."

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Missing Snowboarder Found Without Serious Injury


SerrNovik/iStock/Thinkstock(WHISTLER, British Columbia) -- A woman who went missing while snowboarding in Whistler, British Columbia, was found in good condition Saturday after three days lost "in the backcountry," according to the police.

The snowboarder was found by search and rescue teams Saturday afternoon, the Whistler Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

The snowboarder, identified as 21-year-old Julie Abrahamsen, had last been seen Wednesday morning on Blackcomb Mountain, according to police.

She was reported missing on Friday, igniting a police and ski patrol search.

Tracks were spotted in the snow by searchers in a helicopter, and when rescuers on the ground followed them, they found the young woman, Whistler RCMP Sgt. Rob Knapton said.

"Searchers followed the trail and at approximately 1:30 p.m. located the missing snowboarder in cold, but good, condition," Knapton said in a statement. Abrahamsen was taken by helicopter for medical treatment.

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ISIS Reportedly Executes One Japanese Hostage


zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(TOKYO) -- A purported ISIS video posted online on Saturday claims the terror group has beheaded one of two Japanese hostages and will execute the second unless an al Qaeda female prisoner is freed in Jordan.

Neither U.S. nor Japanese officials were able to immediately authenticate the video, which did not contain many of the high production techniques seen in earlier ISIS videos nor the typical branding for the terror group.

The video shows a still picture of Japanese television reporter Kenji Goto holding a photo of the beheaded body of Haruna Kuwana.

“You have seen the photo of my cellmate Haruna slaughtered in the land of the Islamic caliphate,” a voice that appears to be Goto narrates.

Clearly reading a message written for him, the voice says ISIS no longer is demanding a $200 million ransom but will free him if the female prisoner is released.

“They no longer want money, so you don’t need to worry about funding terrorists,” the voice says. “They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister, Sajida al-Rishawi. It is simple, You give them Sajida and I will be released.”

The message is an apparent reference to a woman who was sentenced to death in Jordan following a suicide bomb attack on a hotel in Amman in 2005 that killed at least 60 people attending a wedding.

The voice attributed to Goto on the video concludes, “These could be my last hours in this world and I may be a dead man speaking.”

The voice also pleads for Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to help him.

The voice also pleads for help from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who called the alleged beheading "an outrageous and unforgivable act," according to the Associated Press.

In a statement, the White House expressed its support of Japan.

"The United States strongly condemns ISIL's actions and we call for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages," read the statement.

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Dozens Killed in Rocket Attacks in Ukrainian City


semakokal/iStock/Thinkstock(MARIUPOL, Ukraine) -- At least 27 people were killed following several rocket attacks in Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The rocket attacks on Saturday slammed into markets, schools, and homes in the city, which is strategically placed on the Azov Sea halfway between Russia and Crimea.

Saturday’s attacks also raised concerns that a major offensive is underway, the biggest escalation in the war there since last summer.

A top rebel commander was recorded saying the group planned plan to attack the city, but later said they had no plans to do so.

The attacks also have dashed hopes of a recent peace deal.

Ukraine has accused Russia of sending some 9,000 troops, plus tanks and heavy equipment, into Ukrainian territory to bolster the rebels. Russian officials however continue to deny the allegations.

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“Charlie Hebdo” Protests Erupt Across Southern Asia


mjbs/iStock/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets throughout several countries on Friday in anger with the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the western Afghan city of Herat, an estimated 20,000 people protested the magazine’s anti-Islam satire.

Police on Friday also clashed with thousands of demonstrators in India-controlled Kashmir, while some 15,000 protesters denounced Charlie Hebdo, and France, burning the French flag in protest in the streets of Pakistan's capital.

Earlier this month, two gunmen stormed the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris killing a total of 12 people, prompting international condemnation of  Islamic extremism.

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Italian Supreme Court Orders Compensation for Gay Driving Suspension


JaysonPhotography/iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- An Italian man is celebrating after winning a 14-year legal battle to get his permanent driver's license back after officials revoked it because he was gay.

It all started when then 18-year-old Danilo Giuffrida underwent a medical exam for the military service and told the doctor he was gay. At the time, Italy’s military banned gay men, and the doctor, disbelieving Giuffrida, told him to go register at the local gay rights organization.

Giuffrida did, but the military sent his medical records to the transportation ministry advising they suspend his driver's license because he was "troubled by his sexual identity" and lacked the "psycho-physical capacity to drive."

It took the better part of 14 years, but Giuffrida now has a licence to drive and a major legal victory.

Italy's highest court ruled on Thursday that the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Transportation exhibited clear homophobia against Giuffrida and will have to pay high damages.

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Cardiff, Wales' Best Restaurant Is Located In a Prison


fotokon/iStock/Thinkstock(CARDIFF, Wales) -- A restaurant located inside of a prison has been voted the best place to eat in Wales' capital, according to travelers who have dined there.

Opened just over two years ago, The Clink Cymru, which is operated by 30 category D prisoners, recently beat out 950 other establishments in Cardiff, Wales, when it assumed the number one position in TripAdvisor's Popularity Index for the locality.

Designed to help prisoners develop skills that can be put to use once they reintegrate with society, the restaurant also seeks to highlight locally grown Wales produce.

Menus, which change seasonally, offer dishes from "pressed game terrine with ciabatta croute, fruit chutney and baby cress" to "pan-seared breast of chicken with sugar snap peas, mashed potato, purple sprouting broccoli and chicken jus" to "spiced poached pear with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream."

It even features a private dining room and AV facilities for business presentations.

One TripAdvisor reviewer noted, “The Clink offers amazing value for money, exceptional service and food that few restaurants in Cardiff can compete with. The Clink is a must visit.”

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Four Questions for Roberta Jacobson, the Lead US Negotiator in Cuba


ABC News(HAVANA) -- History was made this week when for the first time in nearly 40 years American and Cuban diplomats sat face to face in Havana to talk about restoring their relationship – one that has been virtually non-existent since the U.S. trade embargo was established 1960.

In an interview with ABC’s Serena Marshall, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who led the talks for the U.S., said this first round of talks were all about getting to know what each side wanted.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST HURDLES?


The most glaring point of contention between Communist Cuba and Washington concerns human rights. Jacobson suggested it’s an issue on which the two sides may never totally agree.

“When we talk about profound differences on human rights I don’t know that I see that as an issue that gets fixed, certainly not in the near term,” Jacobson said. “We have no illusions about this government. We would certainly like to see a major improvement in human rights, but we don’t necessarily expect that will happen right away.”

Cuba like many foreign adversaries, has suggested the U.S. ought to examine its own human rights record before making demands on others. Most recently Cuban officials have cited the police shooting death of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, as an example.

“Yes they have posed criticisms of our system, but obviously we believe that our system allows for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and all sorts of things that are not allowed here in Cuba,” Jacobson said.

WHAT DO THE CUBANS WANT?

High on the list of Cuban demands is to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

They also have said that before reopening a US embassy in Havana, the US needs to provide a way for the Cuban interest section in Washington, D.C., to make routine financial transactions. Right now they are unable to use credit or deal with US banks as a result of the embargo. Cuba has also called for an end to the so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy – a product of the Clinton administration.

Cuba says the policy encourages its citizens to flee to the United States. It’s called “wet-foot, dry-foot,” because Cubans caught at sea while attempting to immigrate illegally are sent home, while Cubans caught on U.S. soil are given a chance to stay in the U.S.

DOES NORMALIZING RELATIONS REWARD CUBA?


The negotiations have faced criticism from within the U.S. Opponents to the Obama administration see the talks as a way of rewarding Cuba, despite bad behavior.

“This is not a gift, this is not some type of a concession,” Jacobson said. “This is how we advance our interests. This is how we hope to advance the interests of the Cuban people.”

DID THEY AGREE ON ANYTHING?

So far the only agreement is that the two parties will meet again.

“Yesterday’s talks were as we expected, which was to get many issues out on the table, but really not to resolve any of them,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the U.S. extended an invitation for the Cubans to visit Washington, D.C., for the next round of talks, which she hopes will occur in the coming weeks. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week his goal is to visit Cuba soon and to open a U.S. embassy there if the talks go well.


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Homeless In Philippines Moved to Resort For Pope’s Visit


fazon1/iStock/Thinkstock(MANILA, Philippines) -- Members of parliament in the Philippines are demanding an explanation after government officials revealed that hundreds of homeless people were taken off the streets of Manila during Pope Francis’ recent visit to the country.

The country’s social welfare secretary admitted on Friday that 490 people were taken to a resort near Manila that featured air-conditioned log cabins during the pope’s visit, according to a report by The Guardian.

Those taken to the resort were later placed back on the streets after the pontiff’s departure, The Guardian reports.

Pope Francis drew a crowd of six million people on Sunday to mass along Manila Bay.

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Outrage After Female Tennis Star Asked to 'Twirl' on Court at Australian Open


MAL FAIRCLOUGH/AFP/Getty Images(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- It's a twirl that now has some heads spinning.

Just moments after seventh-ranked Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard crushed her opponent in 54 minutes to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday, Australian commentator, Ian Cohen, asked her to “twirl” to show off her hot-pink outfit.

The interviewer’s request has now sparked a flood of criticism and cries of sexism.

In a video of the incident, Bouchard can be seen on the tennis court following her easy defeat of Kiki Bertens in the second round of the competition.

Cohen then tells the 20-year-old: “Now yesterday, or last night, you tweeted that you loved Serena [Williams]’ outfit. ... She was kind enough to give us a twirl. Can you give us a twirl and tell us about your outfit?”

Bouchard, who had been beaming at the beginning of the presenter’s remarks, appeared slightly taken aback by the request but she gamely complied.

“A twirl, a pirouette, here we go,” the presenter replied. The crowd cheered.

Bouchard performed a spin, covered her face, then said: “I mean I have to say, I honestly think Serena’s outfit is the best, even better than mine. I’m going to give her that.”

In a post-match interview, Bouchard called Cohen’s request “very unexpected.”

"I don't know, an old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny," Bouchard said, according to the CBC.

There was strong criticism of Cohen on Twitter, even sparking the hashtag #twirlgate, with some people asking whether male tennis stars could be asked to do twirls on the court.

 

Without condition, when a man patronizes a professional woman by asking her to "twirl" it's sexist as hell. Case closed. #EugenieBouchard

— Ashley Ratcliffe (@ashratcliffe) January 22, 2015

 

 

Okay we know @geniebouchard is pretty but why do male reporters ask her such inappropriate questions its just wrong

— candie crush (@booscott10) January 22, 2015

 

 

Last year @geniebouchard was asked whom she'd like to date. This year she is asked to twirl. @AustralianOpen commentators need to grow up.

— Mike Kim (@mikejkim) January 22, 2015


Tennis legend Billie Jean King, a 12-time grand slam champion, tweeted, "The Australian Open interviewer asking the women to 'twirl' on court is out of line. This is truly sexist. If you ask the women you have to ask the guys to twirl as well. Let's focus on competition and accomplishments of both genders and not our looks.'"

 

But some felt too much was being made of the incident.

 

If the interviewer who asked Genie Bouchard to twirl was a woman, would we be talking about this right now? @bradyfan590 @FAN590Walker

— Tyler Louden (@tjslouden) January 23, 2015

 

On YouTube, one commenter wrote: “She could've easily said no if she felt uncomfortable.“

Bouchard seems to be taking "twirl gate" in stride however, saying, "I'm not offended. I'm fine with being asked to twirl if they ask the guys to flex."


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First Round of US-Cuba Talks End


iStock/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- The first round of high-level talks between the U.S. and Cuba ended on Friday in Havana.

"These talks were cordial and respectful. I believe that each delegation understood the importance of the task they are facing in trying to mend more than 50 years of diplomatic estrangement," said Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, who led the delegation.

While the talks appear to have gotten off to a good start, Jacobson said there are still major obstacles standing in the way of a "normal" diplomatic relationship with Cuba.

"It was just a first step. We know there will need to be many more, but this is the work of diplomacy. In order to build a better and more productive relationship between our two countries," she said.

Some of the big sticking points include freedom of expression and human rights.

Meanwhile, earlier on Friday, Jacobson met with seven dissidents in Cuba. After speaking with them, the assistant secretary joined them for breakfast.

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