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Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:55 PM PST
US-Russia spat puts adoption couple, Heather and Aaron Whaley, in limbo
Washington: Heather and Aaron Whaley just wanted to start a family with a four-year-old Russian girl nicknamed Addie who they found on the Internet but have yet to see in person.
Never did they expect to find themselves caught up in a souring of relations between Moscow and Washington over human rights.
The Whaleys are among several US couples whose pending adoptions of Russian children are in limbo after President Vladimir Putin signed legislation barring Americans from adopting Russian youngsters.
“We’re both very worried and stressed right now,” Heather Whaley told AFP on Friday as she and her husband drove back to their Frederick, Maryland home after a Christmas holiday in her native Alabama.
“President Putin originally said he would allow families which are ‘in process’ to complete their adoptions within the next year,” she said. “I don’t know if he’ll hold to that… but we’re hopeful.”
When Putin signed the adoption ban earlier Friday, 46 Russian children had been cleared by Russian courts for adoption by American families, said Megan Lindsey of the National Council for Adoption, an advocacy group.
Around 1,500 other applications were at some stage of being processed.
The Whaleys, devout Christians who say God blessed them “with a heart for children,” discovered Addie — the girl’s Russian given name is Regina — last February on a website featuring Russian kids available for adoption.
Someone else had applied to take her but dropped out after learning that Addie — like many unwanted Russian children — had special needs, something that did not at all deter the Whaleys.
“She’s very, very tiny for her age — she’s only 24 pounds (11 kilograms), which is about the size of an 18-month-old,” said Heather Whaley, who has two adopted sisters and works part-time with youngsters with special needs.
“We also know that she is developmentally delayed” and unable to speak at a level on a par with children her age, she added.
The Whaleys started the paperwork with World Links International, an adoption agency in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and launched a blog (www.bringaddiehome.com) to chronicle their journey.
They also drained their life savings, and reached out to family and friends, to help cover the estimated $65,000 in adoption fees and travel expenses to bring Addie to America.
“We had felt that was going to be our biggest worry, just raising a huge amount of money,” Whaley said.
They had been planning to travel to Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east, in early 2013 to actually see Addie in the flesh on the first of three visits that would-be adoptive parents are required by Russian law to make.
“Russia is one of the hardest countries to adopt from. Their regulations and red tape are excruciating,” said Whaley, who has decorated her home with pictures of the smiling child.
In the meantime, the Whaleys’ home has been inspected by adoption officials, and a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University has gone over Addie’s medical file with a fine-tooth comb.
Tatiana Suslin, chief executive of World Links International, said her agency has 16 families whose applications to adopt Russian children are currently in a bureaucratic pipeline that typically takes a year to clear.
“They are just struggling,” she told AFP. “They are so upset. What can you tell them?”
Two of those families won Russian court approval of their adoption applications on December 7, but even they are not 100 percent sure their children will be free to depart Russia as planned.
“Those children, they are hostages of a political situation,” Suslin said.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:41 PM PST
Frontier ConstabularyQuetta: The Frontier Constabulary (FC) has recovered huge quantity of explosives near Pak-Afghan border on Friday night.
According to an FC spokesman, two motorcyclists dropped two bags full of explosives as FC personnel tried to stop them for routine checking.
The officials took the bags in custody containing explosives nearly 150kg. The bikers, however, managed to flee, the spokesman said.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:39 PM PST
Obama to make statement after fiscal cliff talks
Washington: President Barack Obama and top lawmakers Friday searched for a deal to stop the US economy tumbling off a “fiscal cliff” next week in a crisis that could cause a new recession and rock global markets.
Obama was to make a statement on the crunch talks at the White House at 2245 GMT, after a sense of crisis built throughout the day over a $500 billion time bomb of tax hikes and spending cuts due to detonate on Tuesday.
Wall Street picked up pessimistic signs, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 158.20 points or 1.21 percent, as Washington’s perennial dysfunction and gridlock threatened to deal a massive self inflicted wound to the economy.
The president met Republicans House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the Oval Office.
An aide to Boehner said the talks focused on “potential options and components for a plan that could pass both chambers of Congress” and told Obama that the Senate must go first, before the House acts.
Mitch McConnell fiscal cliff talks
Mitch McConnell departs from the West Wing of the White House on December 28, 2012 © AFP
Reid told reporters he hoped the meeting “bears fruit” but there were few concrete details of the talks ahead of Obama’s statement.
If no deal is reached by January 1, all Americans will face a tax hike and massive and automatic budget cuts will come into force which budget experts say could trigger a new US recession and cause a spike in unemployment.
The president is banking on a stopgap solution he suggested a week ago that would see taxes on American families earning more than $250,000 go up but would spare the middle class.
Obama did not make a new offer to Republicans during the talks, a source familiar with the meeting said, adding that the president also asked for an extension of expiring unemployment insurance for two million people.
He told Republicans that if they cannot come up with a counter-proposal to avert the fiscal cliff they must allow his plan to come up for a vote in both chambers of Congress, the source said.
Nancy Pelosi White House fiscal cliff
Nancy Pelosi waits for her car as she departs from the West Wing of the White House on December 28, 2012 © AFP
Such a scenario would leave Republicans in a tough political spot as if they refuse, it would be easy for the White House to blame them for the economy toppling over the cliff.
It is not clear whether the Obama plan would avert the massive spending cuts due to come into force on January 1 or deal with his separate request to raise the $16 trillion ceiling on government borrowing.
Republicans want to extend George W. Bush-era tax cuts due to expire on Tuesday for everyone and accuse the president of failing to offer meaningful spending cuts in a bargain in return for them agreeing to raise revenues.
Some top lawmakers clung to hope.
“Sometimes, it’s darkest before the dawn,” said Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on NBC, saying McConnell’s role could be a catalyst for action.
But Republican Senator Bob Corker complained Obama and Democrats in Congress had balked at cutting spending on key social programs weighing on the budget, and inflating the deficit, accusing them of a “total dereliction of duty.”
“We’re going to end up with a small, kick-the-can-down-the-road bill that creates another fiscal cliff to deal with this fiscal cliff. How irresponsible is that?” Corker told reporters.
John Boehner fiscal cliff
John Boehner arrives at the West Wing of the White House on December 28, 2012 © AFP
Retiring Democratic Senator Ben Nelson warned: “If this meeting is not successful in achieving a proposal, I think you need to get a parachute.”
Obama broke off his vacation in Hawaii in search of a last-minute deal and Boehner called the House back to work on Sunday.
The president’s scaled-down solution calls for an extension of tax cuts for people earning less than $250,000, and an extension of unemployment benefits before a wider effort to trim the deficit next year.
But it is doubtful the package could pass the House as restive conservatives last week rebuked Boehner by rejecting his fallback plan that would have raised taxes on people earning $1 million.
While each side must for the sake of appearances be seen to be seeking a deal, the easiest way out of the mess might be to allow the economy to go over the cliff, but to fix the problem in the first few days of next year.
In that scenario, Republicans, who are philosophically opposed to raising taxes, could back a bill to lower the newly raised rates on almost all Americans, thus sidestepping the stigma of raising taxes.
Recent polls show a majority of Americans back Obama’s handling of the crisis, and would blame Republicans for a failure to fix it, so the president could get a short-term political boost from an early deal next year.
Should the stalemate linger however, the crisis would cloud the early months of Obama’s second term, would dent his popularity and could detract from his key political goals like immigration reform and gun control.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:31 PM PST
FacebookNew York: Facebook shares fell Friday after a report said its photo-sharing app Instagram had lost millions of users following the release of planned policy changes since dropped on an outcry from users.
According to audience tracker AppData.com, over the past week the number of daily Instagram users fell by 3.5 million to an average of 12.4 million users per day.
Facebook shares sank about 2.5 percent lower in early trade, before rebounding to $25.71 in the early afternoon, off 1.2 percent.
Earlier this month, Instagram backed off planned policy changes that appeared to clear the way for the mobile photo sharing service to sell pictures without compensation, amid protests from users.
Changes to the privacy policy and terms of service had included wording that appeared to allow people’s pictures to be used by advertisers at Instagram or Facebook worldwide, royalty-free.
Twitter and Instagram forums buzzed over the phrasing, as users debated whether to delete their accounts before the new rules kicked in.
Facebook acquired Instagram earlier this year. The original price was pegged at $1 billion but the final value was less because of a decline in the social network’s share price.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:24 PM PST
Greece's former finance minister George PapaconstantinouAthens: A Greek tax-dodging scandal took a new twist Friday with the revelation that a former minister supposedly scrubbed names from a list of alleged tax avoiders.
Greece’s former finance minister George Papaconstantinou, who helped draw up the debt-ridden nation’s first austerity drive, was swiftly booted from his socialist Pasok party after the alleged discrepancies came to light.
In a statement announcing his ejection, Pasok said there were “clear indications” that names of family members had been deleted from the list.
Greek prosecutors are investigating some 2,000 holders of HSBC bank accounts in Switzerland for suspected tax evasion, according to media reports.
Papaconstantinou “categorically” denied having altered the list, which had been given to him personally by France’s then finance minister Christine Lagarde in 2010, the current head of the International Monetary Fund.
Media have dubbed the case the “Lagarde list”.
Greek prosecutors provoked an outcry by going after a journalist who had printed names supposedly on the list.
The list was originally leaked by an HSBC employee before being passed to Greece by Lagarde.
Authorities have claimed the list was illegally obtained and hence could not be used in the battle against tax evasion, a chronic problem in the heavily indebted and recession-hit country.
But mounting anger against a new round of austerity cuts, imposed by Greece’s international creditors, put pressure on the government to seek the list.
Officials maintained that the original Lagarde list had gone missing, prompting Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to ask France to re-send it.
Papaconstantinou also denied knowing which family members had appeared on the list.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:22 PM PST
Neymar staying put in Brazil until 2014: father
Barcelona: Brazil star Neymar is to stay with Santos in his homeland until at least after the 2014 World Cup, according to his father Neymar da Silva.
Neymar senior said his son did want to play in Europe to further his career development but told Friday’s Barcelona-based Sport daily: “This is what he wants (but) he will do it in 2014.”
He added that was why his son’s Santos contract had been shortened from 2015 to 2014 to allow him to showcase his talents through to the World Cup on home soil as a home-grown star.
Even so, his father warned that “if Neymar is not happy” or Santos found that it would be better to sell him on financial grounds then that could conceivably be an option.
Were that to transpire then the 20-year-old forward is set to head off to Spain’s La Liga with Barcelona.
“Barca, of course. Barcelona’s football is similar to that of Neymar, isn’t that so?” said Neymar senior.
Even so, while admitting to early contacts with the Catalan club, he conceded that “it could be Barca will not want him in 2014.”
Barca’s Brazilian connections stretching back across the decades could play a part in Neymar’s future destination as “Neymar has his idols and it is normal that he would want to triumph where Romario or Ronaldo (played)”.
Brazil are hoping the country’s growing emergence as a world power could allow Neymar to feel he can stay at home for now at least rather than follow the well-trodden path to Europe.
“Neymar has broken the mould of Brazilian footballers who left to pursue the best financial offer without taking their own personal situation into account,” said Neymar da Silva.
Neymar has already turned down one chance of a move to Europe — rejecting a 36 million euros move to Chelsea two seasons ago and his father said his son was only thinking about his development as a player.
“Neymar needs to grow and mature … many (players) left and suffered abroad. What Neymar loves is to play football. We will do everything as well as possible to ensure he plays until he is 35.”
Sport on Thursday quoted the player as saying he would see out his contract until 2014, insisting he is happy with Pele’s old club Santos, and only then think about whether a move to Europe would be in his interests.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:14 PM PST
'Fiscal cliff' talks won't impact US rating: Standard and Poor's
Washington: Rating agency Standard and Poor’s said Friday it does not expect the negotiations over the fiscal cliff to spark another downgrade of the United States, nor improve the country’s rating.
The agency said it had already accounted for the political stalemate over reducing the deficit when it cut the country’s rating from the top-level AAA to AA+ for the first time in history in August 2011, and labeled it with a “negative” outlook.
At that time, S&P cited “the political brinkmanship of recent months (that) highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable”.
“We believe that this characterization still holds,” it said in a statement Friday.
The announcement came as President Barack Obama hosted a high-level meeting in the White House in a last-ditch effort to keep the United States from going over the so-called fiscal cliff — a mix of steep spending cuts and tax hikes set to kick in next month.
Going into the Friday afternoon talks, neither the White House nor Republicans showed any sign of shifting from their entrenched positions.
S&P maintained its negative outlook on the US rating, saying that any deal cobbled together in last-minute negotiations to avoid the cliff would neither improve nor immediately worsen Washington’s medium term debt outlook.
The absence of any agreement, it said, would in fact improve the government’s fiscal position but also likely send the country back into recession.
Moreover, it said, such a deal would amount to “fiscal consolidation enacted by default” and “centered on short-term measures,” rather than a long-term bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit.
It would likely be “insufficient to place the US medium-term public finances on a sustainable footing.”
Also, it added, any likely last-minute deal would “be vulnerable to reversal, especially in the first few weeks of the new year.”
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 02:07 PM PST
Indian gang-rape victim dies in Singapore: hospital
Singapore: An Indian gang-rape victim died Saturday, the hospital treating her in Singapore said, after suffering severe organ failure in an attack that has sparked widespread street protests.
Authorities in India have been preparing for the possibility her death could ignite more protests amid simmering anger at the level of violence against women.
“We are very sad to report that the patient passed away peacefully at 4.45 am (2045 GMT Friday) on 29 Dec 2012,” Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said in a statement.
Indian gang-rape victim dies in Singapore: Mount Elizabeth Hospital
Indian members of NGO ‘Aastha’ hold placards during a protest in Mumbai on December 27, 2012 © AFP/File
“Her family and officials from the High Commission of India were by her side. The Mount Elizabeth Hospital team of doctors, nurses and staff join her family in mourning her loss.”
The 23-year-old, who has not been named, was attacked by six men on a bus in New Delhi on December 16 and beaten with an iron bar.
She had been in a critical condition since arriving at the hospital on Thursday after she was airlifted from India.
“Despite all efforts by a team of eight specialists in Mount Elizabeth Hospital to keep her stable, her condition continued to deteriorate over these two days,” Loh said.
“She had suffered from severe organ failure following serious injuries to her body and brain. She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome.
“We are humbled by the privilege of being tasked to care for her in her final struggle.”
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 01:55 PM PST
Tito Vilanova can return to work soon: Barcelona chairman Sandro Rosell
Dubai: Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova, who underwent surgery on December 20 for a recurrence of a cancerous tumour, can envisage a return to work in “15 to 20 days,” club chairman Sandro Rosell said Friday.
“I think he will return to work in 15 to 20 days,” Rosell said on the sidelines of the Dubai International Sports Conference.
“He will be obliged to have occasional check-ups but the doctor has assured (me) that will not preclude him from taking charge of the team,” Rosell added.
Vilanova, 44, left hospital on December 22, barely 48 hours after his surgery to remove a tumour from a salivary gland. He had similar surgery a year ago.
He now faces some six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Vilanova has led Barca to the best league start in their history – the Catalan club lead the table by nine points with 16 wins and a draw to date.
Posted: 28 Dec 2012 01:52 PM PST
University of KarachiKarachi: The University of Karachi (UoK) has announced to conduct entry tests on Sunday, December 30, 2012 for various faculties, Director Admission Committee Dr Khalid Iraqi.
Dr Iraqi said that the test for admission in MBA and BSCS/SE would be conducted at 10 am while for MSc and Applied Physics (Hons) programmes at 2 pm.
He added that all test would be conducted in the Faculty of Arts. Details about seating arrangements are given here.
Candidates are required to bring their admit cards and original CNIC otherwise they will not be permitted to take the test, Dr Iraqi said.


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