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The Overnight News Digest is an ongoing evening series dedicated to chronicling the day's news that the editor de la nuit finds of import or interest. Everyone is welcome to add their own news items in the comments. Tonight's OND showcases news from around the world.

Top Story


  • Space Reporter - NASA images confirm Arctic Ocean sea ice is thinning at alarming rate
    A team of University of Washington and University of London researchers have reportedly obtained enough data to confirm Arctic Ocean sea ice really is thinning.

    The team, using data collected by NASA’s Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, say Arctic sea ice volume declined 36 percent in the autumn and 9 percent in the winter over the last decade. The figures, which build on previous studies, match predictions made by models that show sea ice thinning over the coming decade.

    The report, published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, provides a 34-year monthly picture of the Arctic. Researchers reportedly developed the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) in an attempt to combine weather records, sea-surface temperature, and satellite images in order to determine the total volume of sea ice. The program checked its readings against a database of actual sea ice volume measurements collected by researchers over the years. According to the report, the figures were largely accurate.

    Important to note, the findings confirm for the first time that the decline in sea-ice coverage in the Arctic has been accompanied by a substantial decline in ice volume.

USA


  • WaPo - Medal will honor troops engaged in cyber ops, drone strikes
    In what probably was his last move as defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta on Wednesday announced the creation of a new type of medal for troops engaged in cyber-operations and drone strikes, saying the move “recognizes the changing face of warfare.”

    “I’ve seen firsthand how modern tools, like remotely piloted platforms and cyber-systems, have changed the way wars are fought,” Panetta said during his swan-song news conference at the Pentagon. “They’ve given our men and women the ability to engage the enemy and change the course of battle, even from afar.”

    … The new honor is called the Distinguished Warfare Medal. It will be awarded to a few warriors who make exceptional contributions, officials said.
  • NYT - Few States Look to Extend Preschool to All 4-Year-Olds
    President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” rallied advocates across the country who have long argued that inequity in education begins at a very young age…

    In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all 4-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. According to W. Steven Barnett, director of the institute, which is based at Rutgers University, only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.

  • CNN - Foreclosure filings fall to lowest level since 2007
    Foreclosure filings in January plunged to their lowest level since April 2007.

    Notices of default, scheduled auctions, bank repossessions and other filings fell to 150,864 last month, a 7% decline from the previous month and a 28% drop from January 2012, according to RealtyTrac. New foreclosure filings fell to the lowest level since June 2006…

    Regulations that took effect in California contributed to the dramatic decline… Under the new rules, mortgage servicers must halt all foreclosure proceedings once a borrower applies for a mortgage modification. Servicers will also face fines of up to $7,500 per loan if they record and file multiple unverified documents in foreclosure proceedings.

Europe


  • Guardian - FSA and police raid two British companies in horsemeat investigation
    Police raided two British meat companies on Tuesday in their first action – jointly with food standards officials – into food fraud and the horsemeat scandal.

    Officers entered Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and Farmbox Meats Ltd near Aberystwyth in Wales, as they investigated the circumstances in which horsemeat was sold as beef "for kebabs and burgers"…

    Andrew Rhodes, the FSA's director of operations, said he had ordered an audit of all abattoirs processing horses in Britain after this issue first arose last month. "I was shocked to uncover what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers. I have suspended both plants immediately while our investigations continue."
  • RIA Novosti - Adoption Ban: Children Russia’s Top Priority, Says Envoy
    Speaking in an interview with RIA Novosti, Ambassador Sergei Kislyak lamented an unwillingness among many in the United States even to listen to Russia’s case for halting US adoptions, evidence of a polarizing dynamic he said speaks to deeper dysfunctions in the relationship between the two countries.

    “I wouldn’t call it a reaction to Magnitsky. It wasn’t,” said Kislyak, referring to a US law crafted to punish Russians deemed by Washington to have violated human rights. That law was passed days before Russia imposed its ban and media in both countries characterized the latter as strictly tit-for-tat retaliation…

    “Russian kids who are being adopted here sometimes are not properly cared for,” he said. “And we also have a feeling that we cannot get enough access to information about the kids.”
  • DW - French carmaker Peugeot Citroen hit by record annual loss
    Struggling French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen has announced it has incurred the biggest annual net loss in its history. It said its huge dependence on the European market has taken its toll.

    French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen on Wednesday reported a net loss of five billion euros ($6.7 billion) for last year, booking the worst result in its history.

    France's biggest auto maker blamed the disappointing figures on a 4.7-billion euro writedown in 2012 and its huge dependence on the European market where it said demand had plummeted in recent months.
  • Spiegel - Massive Rail Project Haunts Merkel Campaign
    German rail CEO Rüdiger Grube has suffered greatly as a result of Stuttgart 21, the controversial large-scale railway construction project in the major southern German city. Enraged citizens have called Grube a swindler and worse. He even received anonymous death threats when a section of Stuttgart's old railway station was demolished to make room for the new project.

    Throughout all this, though, Grube knew he could rely on support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her administration, the politicians who first elevated construction of a new transport hub to become a key issue for Germany in its role as an economic power.

    But that support, too, now appears to be a thing of the past. Last week, three state secretaries from the German government paid a visit to Deutsche Bahn's headquarters in Berlin, where they spent four hours questioning Grube on Stuttgart 21, calling into doubt nearly every bit of planning Grube had ever drafted for the project.

Africa


  • AP - Islamists push back into Gao
    Black-robed Islamic extremists armed with AK-47 automatic rifles invaded Gao in wooden boats Sunday to launch a surprise attack on the most populous city in northern Mali, two weeks after French and Malian troops ousted the jihadists.

    Gunfire echoed for hours across the city of mud-walled buildings. The combat started at about 2 p.m. in downtown Gao and the fighting was continuing as night fell. Later the sound of gunfire was replaced by the clattering of French military helicopters overhead.

    The attack in Gao shows the Islamic fighters, many of them well-armed and with combat experience, are determined and daring and it foreshadows a protracted campaign by France and other countries to restore government control in this vast Saharan nation in northwest Africa.
  • Guardian - Ethiopia looks to realise its geothermal energy potential
    Ethiopia, like its fellow Great Rift Valley countries, has enormous geothermal energy potential. However, the costs involved and the need for skilled expertise have, until now, been major obstacles.

    In late January, the Development Bank of Ethiopia announced that, over the next five months, it will offer an initial $20m to kickstart geothermal energy projects in the country's private sector as part of a programme funded by the World Bank. A further $20m is expected to be made available at a later stage.

  • BBC - Zimbabwe referendum 'tentatively set for 16 March'
    Zimbabwe's key referendum on a new constitution has been "tentatively" set for 16 March, government minister Eric Matinenga has said.

    Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the referendum would herald a major step towards democratic reform, AFP news agency reports. It would be followed by elections, expected to be contested by Mr Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe. The date was announced as the election chief resigned, citing ill health.

    The 88-year-old Mr Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980. Details of the new constitution, agreed by Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, have not been officially released.

Middle East


  • Guardian - Israel unveils Herod's archaeological treasures
    A magnificent mausoleum in which King Herod the Great, the biblical-era ruler of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, was laid to rest at the end of his 37-year reign of terror is the centrepiece of the most ambitious archeological exhibition ever mounted in Israel.

    Herod's burial chamber, discovered less than six years ago after a 40-year search, has been reconstructed within the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for the first ever exhibition to focus on the murderous king. Thirty tonnes of artefacts were excavated from the site of the tomb, the desert palace of Herodium, situated near the West Bank city of Bethlehem, for the eight-month show, Herod the Great: The King's Final Journey.

  • NYT - Iran Upgrades Devices at Nuclear Plant as Talks Resume
    The top Iranian atomic energy official was quoted on Wednesday as saying that his country had begun to install more sophisticated enrichment devices at its Natanz nuclear site. The development coincided with the start of a new round of talks with negotiators from the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

    Fereydoon Abbasi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, said scientists began putting in new centrifuges last month, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency said. “We have produced the machines as planned, and we are carrying out the installation gradually, to complete the tests relevant to the new generation,” he was quoted as saying.

    Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear regulatory body, late last month that it planned to install the new equipment at Natanz, southeast of Tehran, to speed up the production of enriched uranium, a move that seemed likely to worry the United States, Israel and the West.
  • WaPo - Yemen’s powerful families still cast shadows
    In the northwest enclaves of this capital, a renegade general’s forces control the streets. In the southern reaches, Yemen’s former president exerts influence from his mansion. And in a neighborhood nestled in the middle, a powerful tribal family wields authority on the ground and in political circles.

    A year after President Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in a deal brokered by the United States and Yemen’s Arab neighbors, the country’s three most influential families continue to cast a large shadow over the political transition. Unlike leaders of other nations altered by the Arab Spring revolutions, Yemen’s elites were neither jailed nor exiled, and they have remained inside the country, free to operate as they will.

    The continuity has helped prevent Yemen from descending into a Syria-like civil war or erupting into the violent political turmoil seen in Egypt and Tunisia. But the elites’ lingering influence has also impeded Yemen’s progress, say activists, analysts and Western diplomats.

South Asia


  • LAT - 10 Afghan civilians reported killed in NATO airstrike
    A NATO airstrike apparently targeting Taliban commanders in an Afghan village near the border with Pakistan killed 10 civilians, including women and children, officials said Wednesday.

    The attack Tuesday night in the village of Chugam, in eastern Kunar province, also killed four Taliban commanders, according to Abdul Zahir, the governor of Shigal district.

    Zahir said Afghan and NATO forces were conducting a ground operation in the area when insurgents opened fire on them from inside a house. The ground forces called for backup, resulting in the airstrike, he said.
  • LAT - Rural Afghanistan force with shady reputation may grow
    In an effort to fight the insurgency after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, officials in Washington and Kabul are planning to dramatically expand a 3-year-old rural police force that has been implicated in human rights abuses and criminal activity.

    The plan by the U.S. Special Operations Command would extend a financial lifeline from the Pentagon to the Afghan Local Police for at least five more years, providing $1.2 billion to train, arm and pay 45,000 fighters, up from a current force of 19,600, according to senior U.S. officials and planning documents.

    Despite heavy casualties so far, and a worrisome reputation for corruption and brutality, the paramilitary force would serve as the first line of defense against the Taliban in rural areas beyond the reach of regular Afghan army and police units.
  • Times of India - Air pollution fifth leading cause of death in India: Study
    Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution, tobacco smoking and poor nutrition, with about 620,000 premature deaths occurring from air pollution-related diseases. Like China, India faces an unprecedented public health crisis due to air pollution, the Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE) analysis of government data and the Global Burden of Disease report's data on India has shown.

    The green think tank released its own assessment and the global study's India specific data on Wednesday warning that the number of premature deaths due to air pollution had increased six fold over the last 10 years.

  • LAT - India bribery scandal threatens to ground $750-million copter deal
    India’s defense minister threatened Wednesday to cancel a $750-million helicopter deal with an Italian defense company if an official investigation proves contracts were secured through kickbacks, in the latest corruption scandal to hit the Congress Party-led government in advance of a 2014 general election.

    The threat follows reports by Italian media this week that Roman prosecutors have named former Indian Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi in a bribery probe of Italian aircraft company Finmeccanica. Prosecutors reportedly suspect that Finmeccanica paid some $68 million under the table, around 10% of the total price, to ensure that its AgustaWestland helicopters won the India contract.

  • AFP - Govt asks Pakistani Taliban to announce ceasefire before talks
    The government on Wednesday urged the Pakistani Taliban to announce a 30-day ceasefire as a precursor to peace talks which the militants offered earlier this month, adding the nation had rejected their campaign of terror.

    The umbrella Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction has stepped up attacks in recent months, leading to fears that violence could mar general elections scheduled to take place by mid-May.

    In a video message handed out to journalists on Feb 3, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan proposed talks with Islamabad provided that certain opposition politicians, including main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, act as guarantors.

Asia


  • SMH - Japan worried about fair hearing in whaling case
    Japan is said to be deeply concerned about obtaining a fair hearing in the whaling case brought against it by Australia at the International Court of Justice.

    The Japanese government says "serious anomalies" arise from the admission of New Zealand as an intervenor in the case on Australia's side, as both anti-whaling countries will have judges on the bench…

    Australia is taking Japan to the tribunal over its Antarctic whale hunt, claiming the Asian power's so-called scientific whaling in fact breaches of a global moratorium on commercial whaling.
  • China Daily - China stays No 2 in trade, despite data difference
    The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Wednesday quashed recent media reports speculating that China had surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest trading nation by volume.

    Recent data from the world's two largest economies show that Chinese trade in goods and services reached $3.87 trillion in 2012, according to the General Administration of Customs, while the value of US exports and imports was $3.82 trillion, according to the US Commerce Department.

    The ministry said, however, that China's combined export and import volume from last year is below that of the US when the same method of measurement is used.
  • McClatchy - 100th Tibetan self-immolation reported in a protest China can’t stop
    An account released on Wednesday of an ethnic Tibetan man in western China lighting himself on fire earlier this month, calling for the long life of the Dalai Lama before dying in the flames, marked the 100th reported self-immolation since 2009, a dramatic milestone in a series of fiery protests that Beijing has sought to crack down on but has not managed to stop.

    The fact that news of the man’s Feb. 3 death – he’s been identified as Lobsang Namgyal, 37 – took 10 days to surface in a release by the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet is testament to the ever-tightening cordon imposed by the Chinese Communist Party on ethnic Tibetan regions where the self-immolations have occurred.

  • Reuters - Chinese $11 billion mega-project mystifies Cambodians
    The remote district of Rovieng was once a battleground between Cambodian government troops and Pol Pot's genocidal Khmer Rouge. Unexploded bombs still lurk in its fields and forests.

    So does something more desirable - iron ore - and supposedly in such huge quantities two Chinese companies have an $11-billion plan to extract it.

    Their proposal - a steel plant and seaport linked by a 404-km (251-mile) railroad - has alarmed environmentalists, mystified mining and transport experts, and bolstered Cambodia's reputation as an agent for Chinese expansionism in a region where the United States is increasingly competing for influence.

Oceana


  • SMH - The koala in the coalmine
    If we need an indicator that climate change is upon us, we need look no further than Australia’s koala.

    The koala family (Phascolarctidae) has existed in Australia for tens of millions of years, yet in a mere evolutionary blink of 200 years, this unique Australian marsupial is declining significantly in many areas of its natural range.

    Koalas are highly vulnerable to unprecedented heatwaves and just like humans, they suffer from heat stress and dehydration in extreme temperatures. Bushfires such as the Coonabarabran fires that burnt out 100,000 hectares can also decimate koala and other wildlife populations. In the past decade, we have experienced the hottest temperatures on record followed by floods and cyclones.
  • Cinema Blend - The Hobbit Has Made So Much That New Zealand Wants Its Money Back
    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been out for little more than a month and yet has already pulled in more than $886 million worldwide. While this should be all around great news for film's director Peter Jackson and its distributor Warner Bros., its meteoric rise has inspired a rabblerousing politician to demand about $56 million dollars be refunded to New Zealand, where the movie—as well as its forthcoming sequels—were shot.

    Deadline reports the New Zealand government offered Jackson's production company Wingnut Films $56 mil to encourage the director to create as many jobs in the country as possible. In response, Jackson not only employees hordes of actors, but also armies of set builders, engineers, and visual effects artists. It's estimated that The Hobbit trilogy's production created 3,000 jobs in the country not counting the boost it would bring to the economy in the forms of catering, hotel rooms and air travel for its sprawling cast and crew. While the figure of roughly 3,000 jobs is agreed upon by Wingnut Films and NZ Prime Minister John Key, NZ First party leader Winston Peters insists this number was "plucked out of the air."

Americas


  • NPR - Hungry For Energy, Brazil Builds Monster Dams In The Amazon
    Brazil envisions a future requiring massive amounts of electrical power for its expanding industries and growing cities. The response has been a construction boom that will install dozens of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon — and that's generating plenty of controversy, particularly from environmentalists.

    In the jungles of far-western Brazil, workers drill and hammer on one end of the giant Jirau hydroelectric dam. It's a massive complex that, when completed, will stretch five miles across the Madeira River…

    But this dam is just one of many that will be built over the next decade. The environmental group International Rivers, which tracks Brazil's dam-building plans, says 168 will go up in the Amazon alone.
  • LAHT - Venezuela’s Black-Market Bolivar Slides to Record
    Venezuela’s bolivar plunged to a record low in unregulated trading after last week’s devaluation of the official rate failed to increase the supply of dollars.

    The currency weakened 10 percent to 22.36 bolivars per dollar today, according to Lechugaverde.com, a website that tracks the country’s currency in the black market.

    The bolivar has declined 18 percent in unregulated trading since President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba, ordered officials on Feb. 8 to devalue the official exchange rate by 32 percent to 6.3 bolivars per dollar.
  • LAT - Six arrested in Acapulco rape case
    Mexican officials announced Wednesday that they had arrested six men on suspicion of raping a group of Spanish women who were vacationing this month near the violence-plagued resort city of Acapulco -- an incident that sparked international concern about the safety of the millions of foreign tourists who visit the country each year.

    At an afternoon news conference in Acapulco, Mexican Atty. Gen.  Jesus Murillo Karam said the six suspects, who range in age from 16 to 30, had confessed to authorities. He said that one other suspect remained at large. “This case is, I can safely say, solved,” Murillo Karam said.

    Authorities said the six tourists were raped  Feb. 4 by masked, armed men who burst into their beachside rental home and tied up their male companions. A Mexican woman in the house was left alone, officials said. The men also allegedly made off with cash, electronics and other items.
  • Globe and Mail - U.S. ambassador warns Ottawa to heed Obama on energy
    [United States] ambassador in Ottawa, David Jacobson, said that when Canadians can show progress on climate change, it has an impact on Americans’ judgment of whether the energy-security benefits of oil-sands imports outweigh the environmental impact.

    “It does,” Mr. Jacobson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I think that there are an awful lot of folks who are trying to make up their minds, and trying to draw the right balance between these two things, who I think will be moved by progress. “There has been progress. As I’ve said many times before, there needs to be more progress.”

    The ambassador’s comments were made on a day that 48 environmentalists, including the head of the Sierra Club, were arrested in Washington as they protested against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

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