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Pirate attacks drop but Somali threat remains high

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LONDON — Pirate attacks dropped slightly in 2011 for the first time in five years thanks to increased security, but the situation off Somalia is a growing concern, a maritime watchdog said Thursday.

Around the globe there were 439 recorded incidents of piracy and armed robbery last year, compared with 445 in 2010, which was the fourth consecutive year of increased piracy.

In total 802 crew members were taken hostage in 2011, also down from the four-year high of 1,181 the year before.

Forty-five vessels were hijacked, 176 boarded and 113 fired upon, while there were 105 reported attempted attacks. Eight crew members were killed during the year, the same number as in 2010.

But Somali pirates remain the greatest threat, as more than half — 237 — of the incidents took place off the coast of Somalia in 2011, against 219 in 2010.

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, said the overall figure for last year would have been higher without increased efforts by international naval forces to tackle the problem.

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“These pre-emptive naval strikes, the hardening of vessels and the deterrent effect of privately contracted armed security personnel have all contributed to this decrease,” he said in the report.

But the IMB report highlighted the first hijacking by Somali pirates of an anchored vessel from within the territorial waters of Oman, underlining the need for ports and vessels at anchorages to be vigilant.

Elsewhere, Nigeria and Benin continued to be “piracy hotspots”, it said.

Although 10 attacks were reported in Nigeria, including two hijackings, the IMB warned that this number was not a true reflection of the real threat of Nigerian piracy.

Britain will hold an international conference in February on the instability in Somalia and focus on ways of protecting ships from pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

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Russians to prod Putin on poverty and his personal life as his ratings tank

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Russians are set to ask President Vladimir Putin about growing poverty at home and tensions abroad during an annual televised phone-in Thursday, which comes following a fall in his approval ratings.

The leader is also likely to face a degree of grilling on his personal life, according to questions submitted by the public online ahead of the live show.

Set to be held for the 17th time since Putin came to power in 1999, the show starts at 0900 GMT and usually lasts several hours.

Ahead of the carefully choreographed show, more than one million questions had been submitted, organisers told Russian news agencies.

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Trump could turn on Hope Hicks just like Michael Cohen: Trump family biographer warns

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Trump family biographer Emily Jane Fox explained that she didn't think that the president would turn on long-time aide Hope Hicks, but then again, it was the same thought about Michael Cohen as well.

In a panel discussion about Hicks' testimony during MSNBC's Brian Williams' Wednesday show, Fox recalled that Micahel Cohen once said that he would take a bullet for the president. Once it appeared that Trump would throw him under the bus, Cohen began looking for a way out.

The same scenario seems to be happening with Hicks now.

"She works at new Fox, which is a company run by a Murdoch son," Fox said. "It's a company that's brand new. She's the head of communications there. And there are shareholders who would take issue with the fact that a senior member of this company is being put in this situation and being thrust on the world stage."

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Trump jumped to Speaker Pelosi’s defense in marathon Fox News interview

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In a strange twist, President Donald Trump appeared to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday.

Hannity began by saying to Trump that he believes Pelosi has lost control of her own party, as officials like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) continue to call for impeachment.

"I say Nancy Pelosi is the speaker in name only," Hannity told Trump, calling Ocasio-Cortez the real start.

But what Trump said was the unusual point.

"I think Nancy Pelosi probably has control of it, I hear different things, but I think she does," Trump said, appearing to defend the Speaker. "She knows what she's doing. We will see how it all comes out."

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