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Rare trees turned into firewood as Syrian civilians struggle for warmth

Beset by a freezing winter and stifling fuel and electricity shortages, Syrian civilians desperate to stay warm in a northern forest have no choice but to cut down trees for firewood. Once a tourist destination for Syrians and other Arabs across the Middle East, the formerly pristine national park to…

How cigarette smuggling fuels Africa’s Islamist violence

Contrabrand tobacco is a $1bn trade in north Africa, run by extremists including Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who masterminded the attack on the Algerian gas plant. The trade is highly profitable – and very low risk. Jamie Doward investigates For many years Mokhtar Belmokhtar was little more than a footnote in the…

Peaceful rally in Azerbaijan broken up brutally by police

Azerbaijan police on Saturday brutally dispersed an unauthorised rally in central Baku, beating up and arresting scores of people, an AFP correspondent witnessed. Several dozen protesters briefly gathered in Baku’s central Sahil square to protest against the police using excessive force against peaceful protests. But police halted the rally within…

Namibia offers model for taking on poachers

Faced with poachers who are ravaging elephant and rhino populations, African nations could do worse than look to Namibia for a game plan to combat the scourge. Wildlife poaching is on the rise across Africa’s vast savannahs and in the jungles and outmanned and outgunned governments have struggled to keep…

Thousands hit the road as annual Chinese migration begins

The world’s largest annual migration began Saturday in China with tens of thousands in the capital boarding trains to journey home for next month’s Lunar New Year celebrations. Passengers will log 220 million train rides during the 40-day travel season, the Ministry of Railways estimates, as they criss-cross the country…

Russia’s unlikely World Cup host awaits the spotlight

Saransk, the capital of Russia’s republic of Mordovia, is not a place that yet trips off the tongue of football fans but says it is ready for the global spotlight when it hosts the World Cup in 2018. The city of 300,000 situated in the Volga river basin was world…

At least 30 dead in Egypt after riots over soccer trial verdict

Street clashes killed at least 30 people in Egypt’s Port Said on Saturday after 21 supporters of a local football club were sentenced to death over a bloody stadium riot in the canal city. The violence comes a day after nine were killed in protests against President Mohamed Morsi on…

Report: China puts two Tibetan self-immolation ‘inciters’ on trial

Two Tibetans in southwest China stood trial for murder on Saturday for allegedly inciting others to self-immolate, state media said, as authorities aim to crack down on this form of protest. Lorang Konchok, 40, and his nephew Lorang Tsering, 31, “were accused of intentional homicide” for urging eight people to…

Latin American and European leaders kick off trade summit

European leaders kicked off a two-day summit with their Latin American counterparts here Saturday seeking closer trade ties but also assurances on free trade and investment protection. The summit opened with children’s songs and welcome messages from ordinary Latin American citizens. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the summit host, then formally…

NATO deploys Patriot as warplanes hit Syria capital

NATO declared that a Patriot missile battery went operational on Turkey’s border with Syria on Saturday, as a watchdog reported regime warplanes launched raids on a Damascus district. Britain, meanwhile, pledged a multi-million dollar aid package to help Syrian civilians, nearly half of which would be channelled through agencies in…

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