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Venezuelan Vote On Chavez Successor
People in Venezuela are voting in a presidential election, called after the death of Hugo Chavez.

Acting President Nicolas Maduro, chosen by Mr Chavez as his successor, is running against Henrique Capriles, currently governor of Miranda state.

Mr Capriles narrowly lost to Mr Chavez in elections last October.

On the eve of polls opening, he accused Mr Maduro of breaking elections laws by continuing its campaign on state television.

Mr Maduro, aged 50, whose campaign has focused on his close relationship to Mr Chavez, was shown visiting the tomb of the late leader, a move Mr Capriles, 40, said was "violating all the electoral norms".

The BBC's Will Grant in Caracas says both candidates have to some extent broken the media silence they are supposed to have maintained since campaigning officially ended on Thursday.

Almost 19 million Venezuelans will have the right to vote on Sunday.

Voting is electronic - one machine will identify voters' fingerprints, and a second will recognise identity card numbers and register the vote anonymously.

Polls opened at 06:30 local time (11:00 GMT) and will close 10 hours later, although they will stay open until all those queuing at closing time have voted.

The former president died on 5 March, after a two-year long battle against an undisclosed type of cancer, prompting a short electoral campaign period before Sunday's elections.

The winner is due to be sworn in on 19 April and serve until January 2019, to complete the six-year term that Mr Chavez would have begun in January.

Mr Chavez's handpicked candidate Nicolas Maduro is seen as the front-runner, but recent polls suggested the gap between him and his rival, Mr Capriles, was narrowing.

"My vote will be for Maduro, but my heart will be with Chavez," Alejandro Almeida, 67, a retired factory worker, told the French news agency AFP.

But opposition supporter Alexis Chacon, 74, who runs a chemical company, said he was "terribly disappointed" with the current situation in oil-rich Venezuela.

"The Hugo Chavez nightmare has sunk this country," he told AFP. 
April 14, 2013
'Five Dead' In Somali Courts Attack
Five people have been killed in an attack on the main law courts in the Somali capital, police have said.

Gunmen entered the Mogadishu courts, detonating explosives and opening fire, witnesses said.

A gunfight followed as security forces exchanged fire with the attackers, who remain unidentified.

Most attacks in Mogadishu are blamed on Islamic militant group al-Shabab. Somalia has been rebuilding itself after two decades of civil conflict.

A BBC reporter says armed intruders entered the court in Mogadishu and began firing, after which there was an explosion.

An intelligence officer, Abdirahman Mohamed, told the French news agency AFP that at least one suicide bomber had blown himself up, leaving several people dead.

"Armed men entered the court and then we heard a blast. Then they started opening fire," witness Hussein Ali, who works at the courts, told Reuters news agency.

Other witnesses told AFP the attackers were dressed in Somali military uniform.

The incident comes a month after 10 people were killed in a suicide car bombing, in one of the deadliest attacks in the coastal city since a new UN-backed Somali government was formed last year

Security has improved in Mogadishu since al-Shabab withdrew from the city in August 2011, but the group's fighters still launch attacks.

The al-Qaeda-aligned insurgents have been forced out of main towns but still control most villages and rural areas.

For more than 20 years Somalia has seen clan-based warlords, rival politicians and Islamist militants battling for control of the country. 
April 14, 2013
China And US Make North Korea Nuclear Pledge
China and the US have vowed to work together to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programme and to settle tensions through dialogue.

A Chinese statement issued during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry said the nuclear issue was the "shared responsibility of all parties".

Mr Kerry said the two sides must decide "very quickly" how to proceed.

North Korea has recently threatened nuclear attacks, and is feared to be preparing a missile launch.

A flurry of warlike statements from Pyongyang has prompted speculation that a launch could happen on 15 April, when the country marks the 101st birthday of the nation's founder and former leader, Kim Il-sung.

North Korea has reportedly moved at least two Musudan ballistic missiles to its east coast, but on Saturday, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted officials in Seoul as saying that no new movement of the mobile launchers had been detected for two days.

US officials including Mr Kerry have been playing down a leaked Pentagon report which warned that Pyongyang could have developed the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Since the UN imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea in February, its leadership has promised to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor, has shut an emergency military hotline to South Korea, and has urged diplomatic staff to leave, saying it cannot guarantee their safety.

The North says it has also been angered by joint US-South Korean military exercises.

Though its rhetoric has been more bellicose than usual, analysts say it fits a long-standing pattern, and may be intended to boost the popularity of Kim Jong-un, who came to power last year.

In Beijing Mr Kerry held talks with President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. In comments to Mr Xi, he said the world was facing "a critical time with some very challenging issues".

Among them were Korean tensions but also "the challenge of Iran and nuclear weapons, Syria and the Middle East, and economies around the world that are in need of a boost", he said.
'Great specificity'

He later issued a statement saying the US and China were able "to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner".

He said the two sides would have "further discussions to bear down very quickly with great specificity on exactly how we will accomplish this goal"

The statement was issued after talks with Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat.

Mr Yang said China was "firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearisation process".

"To properly address the Korea nuclear issue serves the common interests of all parties. It is also the shared responsibility of all parties," he said.

China is North Korea's only ally and major trading partner, but has grown increasingly frustrated with its growing belligerence.

Even so, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports from Beijing that persuading China to up the pressure on North Korea will not be easy.

China might be frustrated by the Pyongyang's behaviour but it is still the North's lifeline, so Beijing is unlikely to cut vital supplies of food and fuel since it feels that may make the North even more desperate and unpredictable, our correspondent adds.

Following meetings in the South Korean capital, Seoul, on Friday, Mr Kerry said no country had a closer relationship with Pyongyang than China.

Noting that Beijing, like Washington, wanted denuclearisation on the peninsula, he added: "If that's your policy, you've got to put some teeth into it."

He warned North Korea against any missile launch, saying it would be a "provocation and unwanted act" which would further isolate North Korea and its people who, he said "are desperate for food, not missile launches".

But he also said the US had tried to tone down its own statements, and cancelled some military exercises.

"I think we have lowered our rhetoric significantly and we are attempting to find a way for reasonableness to prevail here," he said.
April 13, 2013
All Survive After Jet Lands In Sea Off Bali Indonesia
An airliner has ended up in the sea off the Indonesian island of Bali after missing Denpasar airport runway, but all those on board survived.

Hospitals treated 22 people after the crash, which involved an Indonesian Lion Air plane carrying 101 passengers and seven crew.

Photos posted on Twitter showed the jet with its fuselage cracked, sitting in water near rocks, with dinghies nearby.

The Boeing 737 was on a domestic flight from Bandung in West Java.
It missed the runway reportedly from a height of 50m (yards) and landed in the ocean nearby.

Terrified passengers made their way ashore through the shallow water in life jackets as police in rubber dinghies rowed out to rescue them.

A transport ministry official told BBC News it was too early to talk about what had caused the plane - a new Boeing 737-800 - to crash.

At least one foreigner was aboard the plane - a Frenchman, according to AFP news agency.
Light rain was falling at the time of the crash, which occurred at around 15:00 (07:00 GMT).

Most of those hurt had head wounds and broken bones with one report of a passenger suffering a life-threatening brain haemorrhage.

"The plane plunged into the sea at high speed," passenger Ignatius Juan Sinduk, 45, told AFP from his hospital bed in Denpasar, where he was being treated for a chest injury.
"Everybody screamed and water suddenly surged into the plane. Passengers panicked and scrambled for life jackets. Some passengers fell, some ran into others, it was chaos.

"I managed to grab [a lifejacket] and slowly swam out of the plane and to the shore."
Dewi, a passenger who sustained head wounds in the crash, told AP news agency he had watched the plane descending towards the sea.

"All of the passengers were screaming in panic in fear they would drown," he recalled.

"I left behind my belongings and went to an emergency door. I got out of the plane and swam before rescuers jumped in to help me."

The discount airline Lion Air, Indonesia's biggest commercial carrier, has been expanding rapidly in recent years.

Bali is one of Indonesia's top holiday destinations, popular with foreign tourists.
April 13, 2013
Pope Picks Cardinals To Advise On Vatican Reform
The Catholic Church's new leader has appointed a group of top churchmen to advise him on how to reform the Vatican's often arcane bureaucracy.

Pope Francis chose eight cardinals and a bishop who between them represent nearly every continent, and only one of whom is currently a Vatican official.

The bureaucracy, or Curia, has been blamed for the Church's hesitant response to sex abuse and other crises.

It is nearly 50 years since the Vatican's last major reforms.

The cardinals who elected Pope Francis last month were strongly critical about basic failings of the Curia under Pope Emeritus Benedict, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

The cardinals include two Europeans (from Italy and Germany), two from Latin America (Chile and Honduras), one from the US, one from Asia (India), one African and one Australian. An Italian bishop will act as secretary.

Announcing the appointments, the Vatican said the pontiff had got the idea of forming the advisory body from meetings ahead of his election by cardinals last month.

Pope Paul VI undertook the last major reform of the Vatican bureaucracy in 1967.

The new group is to have its first meeting on 1-3 October.

Earlier this week Pope Francis met personally all 300 staff members of the Vatican's secretariat of state, the body responsible for carrying out Church policies.

Some radical reforms are expected soon, although the Pope is moving cautiously given the complexity and sensitivity of Church government, our correspondent says.

Scandals have included clerical sexual abuse, financial problems at the Vatican bank and the theft of documents from Benedict's desk
April 13, 2013
Egypt Judge Withdraws From Mubarak Trial
The judge presiding over the retrial of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has withdrawn himself from the case as the trial opened in Cairo.

There were chaotic scenes as the judge said he was referring the trial to another court.

Mr Mubarak was convicted last June of conspiring to kill protesters during the 2011 revolt that ended his rule.

He was sentenced to life but a retrial was ordered in January after he appealed against the sentence.

About 850 people were killed in the 2011 crackdown.

Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah announced his decision at the start of the retrial at a police academy on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital.

The judge said he was referring the case to the Cairo appeals court as he felt "unease" in reviewing the case.

That court is then expected to appoint a new panel to hear the retrial.

But there was shouting in the courtroom, with relatives of protesters killed in the 2011 uprising chanting: "The people demand the execution of Mubarak!"

Also, prosecution lawyers complained that the transfer could delay the case for months and make it less likely that the former president would be convicted and sentenced.

"Egypt cannot close the door on the former regime until there is justice for the martyrs of our revolution," said Mohamed Rashwan, quoted by Reuters news agency.
Stretcher again

Mr Mubarak, 84, is in poor health and currently being held in a military hospital in Cairo.

On Saturday, he was flown by helicopter to the courthouse at a police academy on the outskirts of Cairo.

State TV showed him being wheeled into the building on a stretcher, wearing a white outfit. Wearing dark glasses and with an intravenous cannula on his hand, he later waved to the courtroom from inside a cage.

His first trial, at which he also appeared on a stretcher, lasted 10 months.

Two sons of the former leader, former interior minister Habib al-Adly and six aides will also be re-tried, facing the same charges as before.
April 13, 2013
Crowds At Final Rallies In Venezuela
The main Venezuelan presidential hopefuls ended their campaigns with massive rallies, ahead of Sunday's election of a successor to President Hugo Chavez, who died last month.

Hundreds of thousands of acting president, Nicolas Maduro's, supporters took to the streets of Caracas.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles spoke to another large crowd in the northern city of Acarigua.

Venezuelans will choose the successor to the late Mr Chavez on 14 April.

In his final speech, Mr Capriles promised to revive the economy within a year and said his team was already working at their first measures.

'I can govern'
"I ask you for the opportunity to show that I can indeed govern and make things right," he told the crowd.

Mr Capriles says he will not dismantle Chavez-era social programmes, but promises to eradicate official corruption.

The charismatic leader died last month after 14 years in office.

In Caracas, the main avenues were filled with red-shirted crowds, the favoured colour of Chavez supporters.

Mr Maduro, who was handpicked by Chavez as his political heir, described himself as a son of the leader and vowed to continue his socialist revolution.

Mr Capriles, a 40-year-old lawyer and politician, says he wants to encourage free-market economies and tackle crime, without neglecting strong social policies.

He is very critical of Mr Chavez's left-wing policies and says he is inspired by the Brazilian model of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose government managed to achieve economic growth and lift millions of people out of poverty.

Mr Lula da Silva, however, recently released a video expressing his support for Mr Capriles' opponent, Nicolas Maduro.

Opinion polls say acting President Maduro has a strong lead over his rival.
April 12, 2013
Credit Card Fraudsters Purchased Fake Identities For Computer Hackers
Some 32 people, including a Hudson County jail nurse, have been arrested in a multimillion, multi-state identity theft and credit card fraud ring.

The Hudson County Prosecutor's Office first got involved in the investigation in the early fall of 2012, when they received numerous complaints from victims as far away as California claiming that credit cards in their name made fraudulent retail purchases in Hudson County, officials said today.

Using store video and physical surveillance, the detectives were able to identify several suspects, authorities state. Detectives then linked those suspects to hundreds of other accounts and millions of dollars in phony transactions.

The leaders of the group, authorities say, purchased the identities of unsuspecting victims from online brokers, who got the information from computer hackers across the United States.

In a process known as "punching," electronic account information from the cards' magnetic strips would be transferred onto counterfeit cards, which were provided to "strikers" who conducted the purchases at retailers all over the Eastern Seaboard, authorities say.

Teams of strikers purchased retail gift cards that were then used to purchase various electronic items, authorities say. Those items were then sold in bulk to fences in New York and New Jersey, authorities say. The fence would then sell the items to other people for cash payments.

The investigation has identified nearly 1,000 victims across the country and millions of dollars in phony transactions, authorities say.

Authorities say the suspects spent the proceeds on luxury cars, high-end jewelry and other lavish expenses. Some of the money was additionally sent to accounts in Nigeria, authorities say.

Acting Hudson County Prosecutor Guy Gregory commended a long list of agencies that were involved in the take down, saying, "The operation could not have succeeded without their assistance."

Defendants charged with money laundering, theft by deception, wrongful impersonation and conspiracy include: Bolaji Ola, 30, of Sayreville; Olamide Otti, 27, of Queens; Akintunde Adeyemi, 28, of East Orange; David Brown, 27, of Parlin; Adegbola Adedeji, 31, of Parlin; Oluwaseun Jato, 23, of Hillside; Oluwasola Diji, 31, of Westbury, NY; Oladapo Araromi, 26, of Elizabeth; and Bertrand Ahaneku, 25, of South Orange.

Those charged with theft by deception, wrongful impersonation, and conspiracy include: Oluwaseun Adekoya, 25, of Sewaren; Henry Abdul, 25, of Union; Babatunde Oyefeso, 27, Union; Michael Assih, 24, of East Orange; John Orubo, 32, of Brooklyn; Idris Soyemi, 25, of Brooklyn; Imrahim Akaba, 23, of Piscataway; Vladimir Francois, 27, of Newark; Yves Desir, 29, of Irvington; Aglaide Alzuphar, 23, of Newark; Kossi Klutse, 25, of Newark; Evon Morris, 23, of East Orange; Fontessa Foreman, 27, of Newark; Olutoye Babatunde, 22, of Plainfield; Olukayode Adeosun, 30, of Newark; Gologo Benshaw, 25, of Newark; Olushola Ayeni, 31, of Brooklyn; Orwells Oyakhire, 24, of Maplewood.

Oladayo Araromi, 26, of Linden and Olujimi Williams, 24 of Hillside were charged with conspiracy. Matthew Sabo, 29, of Sayreville and Vijay Shah, 24, of Springfield, are charged with fencing, conspiracy, and receiving stolen property.

Oladayo Araromi, a nurse at Hudson County jail making $79,298, has been suspended without pay, Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly said today.

Of the 32 arrested, 24 appeared in Central Judicial Processing court this afternoon. Bail was set for those who appeared by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Joseph Isabella prior to their court appearance.

More arrests are expected, said Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Gene Rubino. 
April 12, 2013
US Warns N Korea Missile Launch Would Be 'huge Mistake'
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said an anticipated missile launch by North Korea would be a "provocative act" and "huge mistake".

The North has moved two missiles to its east coast and South Korea is on alert.

Speaking in Seoul, Mr Kerry reconfirmed the US's commitment to protecting itself and its allies.

But he played down a US report that the North has a nuclear warhead, saying it was "inaccurate" to suggest it has "a working and tested" device.

A declassified section of a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report had warned there was "moderate" confidence that Pyongyang had developed the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.

North Korea will mark the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung on 15 April, a date which could be used for a missile launch.

It has moved two Musudan ballistic missiles to its east coast. Estimates of their range vary, but some suggest the missiles could travel 4,000km (2,500 miles).

North Korea will mark the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung on 15 April, a date which could be used for a missile launch.

It has moved two Musudan ballistic missiles to its east coast. Estimates of their range vary, but some suggest the missiles could travel 4,000km (2,500 miles).

That would put US bases on Guam within range, although it is not believed that the Musudan has been tested before.

In a joint news conference with his South Korea counterpart, Mr Kerry said that if Northern leader Kim Jong-un decided to go ahead with a launch "he will be choosing wilfully to ignore the entire international community, his own obligations which he has accepted, and it will be a provocative and unwanted act that will raise people's temperature".

"It is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that because it will further isolate his people ... who are desperate for food not missile launches, who are desperate for opportunity not for a leader who wants to flex his muscles in this manner," he said.

Mr Kerry said that in his talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye she had made clear her "bright vision" of a peaceful Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

"We are prepared to work with conviction that relations between the North and South can improve and can improve very quickly," he said.

"The world will be much better off if the leaders of the North, and one leader in particular, can make the right decision."
That would put US bases on Guam within range, although it is not believed that the Musudan has been tested before.

In a joint news conference with his South Korea counterpart, Mr Kerry said that if Northern leader Kim Jong-un decided to go ahead with a launch "he will be choosing wilfully to ignore the entire international community, his own obligations which he has accepted, and it will be a provocative and unwanted act that will raise people's temperature".

"It is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that because it will further isolate his people ... who are desperate for food not missile launches, who are desperate for opportunity not for a leader who wants to flex his muscles in this manner," he said.

Mr Kerry said that in his talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye she had made clear her "bright vision" of a peaceful Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.

"We are prepared to work with conviction that relations between the North and South can improve and can improve very quickly," he said.

"The world will be much better off if the leaders of the North, and one leader in particular, can make the right decision." 
April 12, 2013
Sudan's President Bashir Meets South Sudan's Kiir
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is visiting South Sudan for the first time since it became independent in 2011.

Mr Bashir and his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir, will discuss territorial disputes and border demarcation.

Also on the agenda is a recent deal on how much the South should pay for exporting its oil through Sudan.

The two countries came to the brink of war last year over unresolved disputes following South Sudan's secession.

However, there has been an easing of tension since they agreed to resume pumping oil last month.

A military band played the two national anthems as Mr Bashir was welcomed by Mr Kiir at the airport in the southern capital, Juba.

Security in the city is described as tight, with only official vehicles on the road and those on foot subject to regular checks.

Speaking ahead of the visit, South Sudanese Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin said it would be "good for the future of the two countries".

The South's independence - which followed decades of civil war - left key issues unresolved.

South Sudan took with it nearly three-quarters of Sudan's oil production when it declared independence and the two sides fell out over how much the South should pay to export its oil through Sudanese pipelines.

At the height of the dispute last year, the South shut down its entire oil output, badly hitting both struggling economies.

Oil started flowing again this month after both sides struck a deal in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in March.

They also agreed to withdraw troops from their border area.

A demilitarised buffer zone is to be set up, with the intention of improving security.

However, the two leaders still need to agree on who owns the flashpoint Abyei province and other regions along their disputed 2,000km (1,200 mile) border.
April 12, 2013