Japanese PM left ‘speechless’ by hostage tape

UPDATE 10PM ET SAT: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday evening that the tape which had surfaced reportedly detailing the death of hostage Haruna Yukawa appeared to be genuine. Abe said he was left “speechless” by the murder and would not comment on speculation regarding the second hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, saying only that the government was still working on the situation.

UPDATE 2PM ET SAT: A recording apparently saying that one of the hostages had been executed reportedly came to light on Saturday. Japanese authorities and US intelligence agencies are working to determine its authenticity. Meanwhile Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was “using every diplomatic channel and means to work towards a release.”

MIDNIGHT ET FRI: Japan said it “would not give up” and was doing “everything [we] can to win the release” of two of its nationals apparently held hostage by Islamic State. But after the deadline passed on Friday with no word from the kidnappers, the fate of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa remains uncertain.

According to CNN: “An ISIS spokesman told Japanese broadcaster NHK that the group would release a statement “soon” about the hostages. That statement didn’t come. When asked whether ISIS has been in negotiations with the Japanese government, the spokesman told NHK he wouldn’t comment.”

The mother of Kenji Goto has made an emotional video appeal for his freedom, saying her son, a freelance journalist, “is not an enemy of Islamic State.”

kenji (image: NHK/The Independent)

In Japan, where the hostage crisis has dominated news coverage since a video of the men was posted on Tuesday along with the ransom demand, some believe the captives acted recklessly by putting themselves in harm’s way.

* WORLD * As leaders head to Riyadh to pay respects to Saudi Arabia‘s King Abdullah, the  new King, Salman, promised continuity in the kingdom’s energy and foreign policies. The New York Times says the new monarch comes to power at a “crucial time in his nation’s relationship with the US.”

In Yemen, the collapse of the government has forced the US to “suspend some counterterrorism operations” according to the Washington Post. The administration said it had withdrawn some staff from its embassy in Sanaa, where demonstrators burned US, French and Israeli flags. According to Business Insider:

“[Former President] Hadi was a unique figure who not only tolerated drone strikes, he welcomed them,” said Bruce Riedel, director of the Brookings Institution think tank’s Intelligence Project. “I don’t think we’re going to have that kind of enthusiastic partner in the foreseeable future.”

yemenflags

(image: AP/Business Insider)

President Obama heads to India this weekend, where on Monday he will be the “chief guest” of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the country’s Republic Day parade, the first US President to be so honored. And it will be a trip full of “firsts”. [UPDATE: It was announced early Saturday that the President would cut his trip short, canceling a planned visit to the Taj Mahal on Tuesday to fly to Riyadh to pay respects to King Abdullah.]

The situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, with fresh fighting thwarting hopes for a cease-fire. The New York Times reports:

While the separatist forces now seem ascendant, analysts have little doubt that their fortunes are tied to the level of support provided by Moscow. In August, on the verge of defeat, they were rescued by an all-out Russian incursion that turned the tide on the battlefield and drove Kiev to the bargaining table. The same dynamics appear to be at work now, Ukraine and NATO say, with Russian troops in unmarked uniforms apparently joining the separatists in the assaults on Ukrainian positions.

Greece votes on Sunday in an election which could be the “most important in recent memory”, with the ruling New Democracy coalition trying to fend off a challenge to its austerity policies from opposition party Syriza, which promises to raise the minimum wage and boost living standards. An exclusive poll for The Huffington Post Greece finds that, “Greeks will vote mostly based on the hope that the crisis will recede, and not on the fear that it might get worse.”

Historic talks between the US and Cuba wrapped up Friday with apparently a long way to go before diplomatic relations can be normalized; Havana warned against attempts to  “meddle in its internal affairs” after a senior US diplomat met with a group of dissidents. It will likely be several weeks before the next round of talks can be arranged.

* POLITICS *  If Florida Senator Marco Rubio does actually make a run for the GOP nomination, as appears increasingly likely, he has signaled that US policy towards Cuba will form a centerpiece of his campaign, even if another former GOP candidate thinks talking to Rubio about Cuba is “like talking to a stone wall.”

About two dozen senior Republicans will appear on Saturday at the Iowa GOP’s “Freedom Summit” in downtown Des Moines. But as much as Iowa congressman Steve King talks the event up in order to claim the role of, er, kingmaker – “Odds are, the next president of the United States will be there,” he says – the two apparent early front-runners, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, along with Rand Paul and Rubio, will be sitting it out.

You can watch the speeches at the Des Moines Register‘s live blog here.

Meanwhile, the DNC announced that the 2016 Democratic convention will be held – in an as-yet unnamed city – the week of July 25, immediately following the Republican gathering in Columbus, Ohio.

* MEDIA * The latest Newsonomics column from Ken Doctor talks about challenges raised by the “US Newspaper Industry’s $1.4bn Money Hole”.

The parent company of the ubiquitous and delightfully quirky in-flight shopping magazine SkyMall filed for bankruptcy, prompting lots of listicles lamenting the loss of its cornucopia of absurdities. Here are the favorites from Yahoo Tech (18); ABC News (10); Time (12); Cosmopolitan (22); Huffington Post (19), you get the picture.

My own favorite – as apparently it was for many, many others – was this guy…

YETI

(image: SkyMall)

In possibly more encouraging publishing news, despite reports of its demise, the owner of “hip chronicle of ag life” Modern Farmer magazine says it will be back in the summer.

* BUSINESS * Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, owner of the Three digital network, is in talks to buy rival network O2 from Telefonica. If the $15bn deal goes through it would create Britain’s largest mobile group and would be Mr Li’s largest overseas acquisition.

McDonald’s reported a 21% drop in year-on-year fourth-quarter earnings, and said it would be looking at changes to its menu to try to win back customers. Ironically, one of the new breed of restaurant chains that are now eating McDonald’s lunch is Chipotle, which McDonald’s once owned.

Wearable camera company GoPro teamed up with the National Hockey League to let TV viewers experience games from the players’ perspective, while footage can be incorporated later into highlight packages. It’s GoPro’s first deal with a major professional sports league and use of the technology will start this weekend during the NHL’s All Star Game.

* SPORTS *

RIP, Mr Cub.

ernie B8FrvpnCcAIA5QX

(image: Chicago Sun-Times)

Two basketball “Ks” in the news – The NBA’s highest-paid player, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant is expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff;  Meanwhile in college hoops, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Sunday goes for what would officially be his 1,000th win, when his Blue Devils take on St John’s at Madison Square Garden.

In the NFL, as DeflateGate  dominates the pre-Super Bowl narrative – and brings out the best in the New York tabloid headlines – the ProBowl takes place on Sunday, while in business developments, the Miami Dolphins and SeaWorld are ending their marketing partnership.

In soccer, after a thrilling quarterfinal that saw Iraq beat Iran 7-6 on penalties after a 3-3 draw, the Asian Cup semi-finals start on Monday, with Iraq playing South Korea and hosts Australia taking on the UAE.

Meanwhile, the Africa Cup of Nations continues this weekend and it’s the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. The first tie of the round was played on Friday night, with Cambridge United – the lowest placed team still in the competition – holding Manchester United to a goalless draw in front of about 7,500 fans at the Abbey Stadium. Cambridge’s reward is a money-spinning replay at the 75,000-seat Old Trafford.

Finally, isn’t it kind of ironic as we bid farewell to the man who wanted to “play two”, baseball is looking at ways to speed up the game?

* CULTURE * Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Here’s how many of his countrymen would have watched his funeral at the time, via the British Pathe newsreel

(British Pathe News/YouTube)

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