West wrestles with complex threat

Security across Europe is high following a series of counter-terror actions, with police making a number of arrests in several countries and authorities warning of the “complex nature” of the threat. Belgium on Friday moved to expand its anti-terror laws and British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country’s threat level status was currently “severe”, indicating an attack was “highly likely.

Cameron and US President Barack Obama said in Washington that their countries would step up co-operation on tackling “violent extremism”.

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(image: CNBC)

The two leaders were not always on the same page on issues of surveillance, discussing co-operation on cybersecurity and the implications of encryption technology, with “war game” exercises planned for later in the year, featuring the NSA and GCHQ.

Meanwhile, In Pakistan, demonstrations against Charlie Hebdo turned violent after the country’s parliament condemned the cover of the magazine’s new issue as “hate speech.” A photographer for AFP was shot during a protest at the French consulate in Karachi, initial reports were that his life was not in danger. Four people were reported killed in Niger, when a French cultural center was set on fire.

* WORLD * President Obama said he would veto any attempt by congress to impose fresh economic sanctions against Iran. He said any punitive moves would “jeopardize the possibility of a diplomatic solution” as negotiators continue to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Talks resume in Geneva on Sunday.

The US Supreme Court will decide on the national status of same-sex marriage by reviewing rulings by courts in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. Arguments are set to be heard in April.

Pope Francis made a hasty change to his schedule in the Philippines, returning to Manila early because of an approaching storm. The Pontiff had been celebrating mass in Tacloban, scene of a devastating typhoon in 2013. In a speech earlier to President Aquino and political leaders, the Pope called for an end to corruption and social inequality. Millions of people are expected to attend an open-air mass in Manila on Sunday.

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(image: Reuters/SMH)

Saudi Arabia delayed the second round of flogging for liberal blogger Raif Badawi, apparently on medical grounds. Badawi, who had been convicted of insulting Islam, was given the first 50 of a 1,000-lash sentence last week. His wife said that the case had been referred to the Saudi supreme court.

An official US delegation – all Democrats – travels to Cuba this weekend, following Friday’s changes to rules on travel and trade, a precursor to talks on normalizing relations.

The Beagle 2 Mars Lander was found on the planet’s surface, after being lost since Christmas Day 2003. The partly-deployed lander was identified in high-resolution images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

* POLITICS * Mitt Romney told Republicans on board an aircraft carrier in San Diego that he is “giving some serious consideration to the future”. Officially, though, the number of actual presidential candidates remains zero. That hasn’t stopped preparations for a slimmed-down series of GOP debates, with the RNC apparently learning from last time out; chairman Reince Priebus saying: “We’re not going to have a circus.” Fox News will carry the first debate of nine, beginning in August. MSNBC won’t, as yet, be hosting.

As the UK prepares for its general election in May, party leaders clashed this week over participation in planned televised debates, with Prime Minister David Cameron – accused of being reluctant to take part – saying the media have become “obsessed” with the debates, the first of which is scheduled for April 2.

* BUSINESS * Bankers in London and New York are likely looking at lower bonuses for 2014 compared with last year. Goldman Sachs reported that disappointing trading results had dented its fourth-quarter performance.

Currency broker and West Ham shirt sponsor Alpari has shut its UK arm in the wake of the “exceptional volatility” created by Switzerland’s move to end the SFr cap against the Euro.

* MEDIA * The New York Post’s Twitter account was hacked, as was that of the UPI, which tweeted that the Pope had declared the start of World War Three.

* SPORTS * The African Cup of Nations gets under way in Equatorial Guinea on Saturday. The tournament was moved in November from Morocco after fears over the spread of Ebola. The Guardian‘s Jonathan Wilson writes that it’s a triumph that the tournament is taking place at all, and previews the on-field action.

Sunday sees this year’s NFL conference championship games, with Green Bay visiting Seattle and New England hosting Indianapolis. The NFL also announced it would hold a new scouting “combine” or tryout session for veteran players in March, providing additional programming for the NFL Network. As Gary Davenport writes at Bleacher Report: “Football fans are voracious. They’ll watch NFL players paint a house if it’s on TV, and plenty of folks will be tuning in on March 22.”

The NCAA agreed to restore Penn State’s wins that were stripped as part of sanctions imposed in 2012 after the child molestation scandal in the school’s football program. While some alumni spoke of a “wrong being righted”, the deal made the two parties Keith Olbermann’s “worst persons in the sports world.”

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