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Frightening air rescue for ferry passengers

BARI, Italy – Rescuers, after battling a gale-force storm and monster waves, used helicopters to pluck more than 420 people from the frigid decks of a Greek-operated ferry crippled by fire in the Adriatic Sea. At least 10 people died before the all-night operation was complete, officials said Monday.

The joint Greek-Italian mission turned from a sea-going rescue into a dramatic airborne recovery after rough seas blocked vessels from reaching the multi-story ferry, the Norman Atlantic, off the Albanian coast.

At one stage after the fire broke out Sunday, merchant ships lined up to form a barrier to protect the ferry from towering waves, Italian officials said. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called the operation to save passengers and crew “massive and unprecedented.” Italy’s premier, Matteo Renzi, said the rescuers prevented “a slaughter at sea.”

The fire began in the car hold as the ferry traveled from Patras in western Greece to the Italian port of Ancona. Soon, passengers raced to the decks – in freezing rain and hail – to escape the flames and eye-stinging smoke.

– Washington Post


No military solution to stopping separatists

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko conceded Monday that his forces are unable to militarily defeat separatists backed by Russian mercenaries and armaments, and he called for a new attempt at negotiating an end to the fighting at an international summit on Jan. 15.

The meeting to be held in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, will include Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Poroshenko and his Western allies accuse of instigating the rebellion in eastern Ukraine, and the leaders of France and Germany.

President Obama has also been asked to join in the negotiations, Poroshenko said, referring to the meeting as under the “Normandy format” established on June 6, when the newly elected Ukrainian president met informally with Putin, Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion.

– Los Angeles Times


Fire damages another Islamic center in Sweden

BERLIN — A basement room used as a place of worship by Muslims in a southern Swedish town was destroyed by a fire Monday, officials and the imam for the town said. It was the second time this week that an Islamic worship center was damaged by a fire in Sweden, where a far-right party with an anti-immigration stance has been gaining support and influence.

A statement from the police in the county of Skane said they were investigating possible causes, including arson. The fire broke out early Monday in the basement of an apartment block in Eslov, about 20 miles northeast of Malmo, a city of about 260,000 in southern Sweden. No one was injured in the fire, which was quickly extinguished, the police said.

– New York Times


Countries will share North Korea intelligence

SEOUL, South Korea – Japan and South Korea on Monday pledged for the first time to share military intelligence about North Korean weapons programs, in a three-way pact with the United States that Washington hopes will improve cooperation between its mutually estranged Asian allies.

Defense analysts called the agreement a small but symbolic breakthrough because it brought together Japan and South Korea, two prosperous democracies that have been divided by emotional disputes over history and territory. The difficulties of bridging their differences were evident in the narrow scope of the pact, which was not a legally binding treaty but a memorandum of understanding.

Under the pact, the sharing of classified information will be limited to North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. In addition, Japan and South Korea will share that intelligence not directly but via the United States.

– New York Times