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Jan. 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM   |   Comments

France strikes Malian insurgents from air

PARIS, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- French forces struck Islamist militants in Mali from the air and ground Saturday as France sent troops to protect the capital, Bamako, defense officials said.

French troops, warplanes and drones supported Malian troops Friday in retaking the town of Konna, a settlement only miles from Mopti, the northernmost city controlled by the government, the BBC reported.

"Konna is under our control this evening but we are still conducting mopping-up operations," Lt. Col. Diarra Kone, a Mali military spokesman, said late Friday.

He warned that some rebels might still be in the town.

Kone said Nigerian and Senegalese forces had assisted in the battle, although Nigeria's defense minister had earlier denied any Nigerian troops were involved, CNN reported.

The number of French troops involved was not clear.

French President Francois Hollande announced the intervention Friday, saying al-Qaida groups that control the northern region of Mali threatened to turn the country into a "terrorist" state. He said French forces would be in the country "as long as necessary."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the terrorists' advance in Mali must be stopped. If Mali were to fall into their hands, "the whole of Africa and Europe" would be threatened, he said.

The United Nations Security Council said the "serious deterioration of the situation ... constitutes a direct threat to international peace and security."


Australia fights hundreds of fires, heat

CANBERRA, Australia, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Firefighters battled roaring blazes in extreme hot weather Saturday as hundreds of wildfires blackened parts of southeastern Australia, officials said.

The danger was said to be serious in Victoria and Tasmania but New South Wales has so far had the worst of the fires, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Firefighters worked through the night to combat more than 100 bush fires in that state as hot, gusty conditions are forecast for Sunday.

More than 100 firefighters were working a blaze about 70 miles south of the national capital, Canberra.

A blaze near Yass, in southern New South Wales, has a 60-mile fire front, which a fire official said crews will be fighting throughout the night. Officials are concerned the westerly winds could push the fire into nearby towns.

No deaths have been reported. Six people have been treated for heat exposure, the BBC said.

Although temperatures in the region fell slightly Saturday, the average high daily temperatures across the country reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit this week, said David Karoly, co-author of a report issued this week by the Climate Commission.

The report blamed climate change for "increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heat waves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions."


Cleric's march could disrupt Pakistan vote

ISLAMABAD, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- An anti-corruption march that could draw huge crowds to Pakistan's capital may be a plot to disrupt the upcoming election, government officials said.

Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri says he plans to hold the march next week in Islamabad "so that the election will be guaranteed to be fair, honest and free of all corrupt practices," The Guardian reported Saturday.

The date of the election will be decided after the government completes its term in two months. It would be Pakistan's first democratic turnover of power.

Qadri says he expects millions to participate in the march, but most estimates place the likely figure at hundreds of thousands. Even so, officials say they fear the marchers could overwhelm the city, creating an excuse for a military takeover -- or the establishment of a caretaker government appointed by the military -- that could stay in power longer than the 90 days the constitution allows.

The cleric -- generally regarded as a religious moderate -- who returned to Pakistan last month after years of living in Canada, is demanding creation of a caretaker government not appointed by current politicians and the disqualification of any candidate for parliament who has broken the law or not paid taxes.


Haiti marks third anniversary of quake

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Haiti Saturday observed the third anniversary of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

Communities across the Caribbean country have planned ceremonies for anniversary, Voice of America reported.

Much of the country still lives poverty in makeshift camps around the capital, Port-au-Prince. A cholera outbreak in the months after the earthquake struck in January 2010, infected about 640,000 people and killed an estimated 8,000, NPR reported.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a plan in December to rid Haiti and the Dominican Republic of cholera.

"Cholera can certainly be eliminated from Haiti," said lawyer Brian Concannon, who founded the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. "It's been eliminated from the United States, from England, from many countries in South America. This is basically 19th century technology that needs to be installed in Haiti."

Ban called on the international community Friday to continue its support for Haiti, U.N. News Centre said.

"My memories of the damage and suffering, which I saw first-hand during two visits, are still fresh, but I also have a keen sense of the progress that has been achieved in reconstruction and recovery over the past three years," Ban said in a message in observance of the earthquake. "I continue to call on the international community to stand with Haiti at its time of dire need."

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