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In the southern Philippines government negotiators continue talks with clansmen holding 48 hostages. The leader of the group demands that murder charges against them be dropped.
In the southern Philippines 15 members of a clan freed nine hostages Friday. They were among 75 people seized Thursday from a school in Agusan del Sur province. The kidnappers freed 18 of the hostages shortly after taking them.

Police say the gang leaders are wanted on murder charges, but the hostage-takers deny the allegation.
Presidential Press Secretary Cerge Remonde says the government hopes to resolve the kidnapping peacefully.
“I was assured by our military commanders that they are ready to move in anytime when the local crisis management committee will give them a signal, but of course right now the local management committee is exhausting all possible peaceful negotiations,” said Remonde.
Joebert Perez, the leader of the gang, says the charges against him are fabricated and blames a rival clan, the Tubays, for the murders of six of his siblings. He demands that police disarm the other clan before he will free the remaining hostages.

Government negotiators say they are attempting to disarm both clans.
Police say the hostage-takers are former militiamen who have turned to banditry and extortion, targeting mining and logging companies in the area. For decades, the Philippines government has armed civilian volunteers as a backup security force in areas with communist or Muslim insurgencies. Remonde says the military is making progress in disarming these militias.

“As of December 10, a total of 1,013 firearms, along with 591,000 rounds of ammunition and C-4 explosives have been confiscated or have been surrendered to authorities,” said Remonde.
The kidnapping Thursday comes as the government is trying to capture scores of militiamen suspected of being involved in last month’s massacre of more than 50 people in Maguindinao province. They were gunned down to prevent one of the victims from registering her husband as a candidate for provincial governor.

The southern Philippines has long had a violent history. For decades Muslim insurgents have fought for a separate homeland in the south. Several groups that say they are fighting for that homeland have targeted civilians - kidnapping and often killing tourists, farmers, business people and others. (VOA news)


India reaffirms pledge for new Telangana state
Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai has said that the process for creating the new state of Telegana will go ahead and its capital will be Hyderabad.
Pillai was speaking as protests against plans to carve out the new state from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh led to sporadic violence.

He said that he expected the current agitation soon to fade away.
The move to form Telangana state has plunged Andhra Pradesh into crisis, with over 100 lawmakers resigning.
Investors fear the protests will hurt Hyderabad, an IT hub of southern India and home to firms like Microsoft, Google and Dell. Telangana region is spread over 10 northern districts of Andhra Pradesh.
The demand for separate state status for the underdeveloped and drought-prone area dates back 50 years.
More than 400 people died in violence over the demand for a Telangana state in 1969.

Campaigners say Telangana’s economic development has been neglected in favour of the richer and more powerful Andhra region - and that a new state is the only solution.
The last three new states in India were formed in 2000: Chhattisgarh was created out of eastern Madhya Pradesh; Uttarakhand was created out of the hilly areas of northern Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand was carved from Bihar’s southern districts.
India currently has 28 states. (BBC NEWS)



Politicians in the Republic of Cyprus have voiced outrage after thieves stole the corpse of former President Tassos Papadopoulos from his grave. His ex-rival and successor as president, Demetris Christofias, condemned the “unholy” theft and urged the public to remain calm. The remains were stolen during a thunderstorm, shortly before the first anniversary of the ex-leader’s death. As investigators sought a motive for the act, three people were questioned. The desecration is bound to stir up passions over peace efforts aimed at reuniting the Turkish and Greek parts of the island, the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant reports from Greece’s capital, Athens. Papadopoulos made many enemies during a long and eventful political career, after fighting British colonial rule in a guerrilla group. The pinnacle of his career came in 2004, when he made an emotional denunciation of a UN plan to reunite the island, our correspondent says. (BBC News)


A missile fired this week by a Central Intelligence Agency drone over Pakistan’s tribal regions killed a top operations planner for Al Qaeda, American counterterrorism officials said Friday. An American intelligence official said there were “strong indications” that a drone strike this week killed Saleh al-Somali, a member of Al Qaeda’s inner circle who was taking refuge in the mountainous tribal belt in western Pakistan. (Nytimes)


More than $2 billion allegedly held on behalf of Iran in Citigroup Inc. accounts were secretly ordered frozen last year by a federal court in Manhattan, in what appears to be the biggest seizure of Iranian assets abroad since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The legal order, executed 18 months ago by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is under seal and hasn’t been made public. The court acted in part because of information provided by the U.S. Treasury Department. President Barack Obama has pledged to enact new economic sanctions on Iran at year-end if Tehran doesn’t respond to international calls for negotiations over its nuclear-fuel program. The frozen $2 billion stands at the centre of an intensifying legal struggle between Luxembourg’s Clearstream Banking S.A., the holder of the Citibank account, and the families of hundreds of U.S. Marines killed or injured in a 1983 terrorist attack on a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.


Copenhagen: US, China clash in climate ping-pong
They sang each other’s praises in the run up to the Copenhagen climate summit, but China and the United States traded sharp barbs in a superpower standoff that has helped set the UN talks on edge.
On key issues ranging from how to share out the burden of slashing greenhouse gases, whether such efforts should be independently verified, or if the United States owes developing countries -- including China -- a “climate debt,” the world’s two largest carbon polluters were at loggerheads.
“The atmosphere seems extremely negative. Everyone is taking tough positions, talking to their domestic audiences,” said Isabel Hilton, editor of online environmental newsletter China Dialogue. (AFP)


Fire attack on West Bank mosque
A mosque in a village in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank has been damaged in an arson attack.
Attackers set fire to bookshelves and a large area of carpet in the mosque, and sprayed graffiti in Hebrew on a wall.
Palestinian residents of the village of Yasuf clashed with Israeli soldiers investigating the attack. Eyewitnesses say settlers were responsible.

Attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers are increasing. A number of incidents have been captured on video.
One of the slogans sprayed on the wall of the mosque in Yasuf read: “Get ready to pay the price,” Israeli public radio reported. Another read: “We will burn you all.”

Some hard-line settlers advocate a “price tag” policy under which they attack Palestinians in retaliation for any Israeli government measure they see as threatening Jewish settlements.
The village is located near the Jewish settlement of Tappuah.
In a statement, the Israeli military said it “views the incident gravely” and that security forces were working to locate the perpetrators. (BBC NEWS)