President Barack Obama has called on Americans to defend their democracy in his farewell speech in Chicago. “By almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place” than it was eight years ago when he took office, he told thousands of supporters. But he warned “democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted”. He implored Americans of all backgrounds to consider things from each other’s point of view, saying “we have to pay attention and listen”. The country’s first black president, now 55, was first elected in 2008 on a message of hope and change. His successor, Donald Trump, has vowed to undo some of Mr Obama’s signature policies. He will be sworn into office on 20 January.
Novak Djokovic has put his racket to one side to try his hand at Australian rules football, cricket, basketball and soccer (football, to our English readers) ahead of the upcoming Open. The world No 2 is gearing up for the Australian Open, where he will be hoping to win the competition for a seventh time. He looked in high spirits as he took part in A Night with Novak at the Margaret Court Arena getting to grips with a range of different sports.
Carnations lie on the ground near the scene of the Dec. 31 shooting attack in Istanbul, as family and friends began attending funerals for its victims. Turkey’s state-run news agency says police have detained eight people in connection with the incident. The gunman, who escaped after carrying out the attack, wasn’t among the eight. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the violence, which killed 39 people, most of them foreigners.
The Liwa Moreeb Dune Festival attracts participants from across the Gulf region, which includes a variety of races (cars, bikes, falcons, camels and horses) and other activities aimed at promoting the area’s folklore.
In the United Arab Emirates, Moreeb dunes (Al Moreb Hill) is a place for organised drag races. With a reported 50 degree slipface, and height of 300 metres, it is a perfect place for sand drags. Moreeb Hill is supposedly the tallest dune in the UAE, and one of the largest hill climbs in the world. Moreeb Dune is one of the highest sand hills in the world. Its altitude is about 300 metres with slope of 50 degrees. The dune is 1600 meters long. Because of its steep slopes it has been given this name (Moreeb Dune – Scary Mountain).
An area of high pressure has been centred over Europe for much of the last couple of weeks. On its eastern flank, cold air has been brought down from the Arctic. Even by European winter standards, the extent of the cold air has been exceptional. Moscow has experienced daytime maximum temperatures of minus 23C, some 14C below average for January. Deaths because of the cold weather have been reported in Italy and Poland, and there have been many serious traffic accidents because of ice, snow and, across more western areas, fog. Although it will remain cold over much of the continent in the coming days, there should be a return to ‘average’ January weather conditions. Further snow is expected over central and southern areas.
The UN Security Council has voted in favour of a resolution demanding the halt of settlement activity by Israel on occupied Palestinian territory with the United States notably abstaining. The resolution was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote on Friday by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal, a day after Egypt withdrew it under pressure from Israel and US president-elect Donald Trump. Israel and Trump had called on the US to veto the measure.
“This is a day of victory for international law, a victory for civilised language and negotiation and a total rejection of extremist forces in Israel,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters news agency. “The international community has told the people of Israel that the way to security and peace is not going to be done through occupation … but rather through peace, ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state to live side by side with the state of Israel on the 1967 line,” Erekat said.
The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour to a resounding round of applause. It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. “Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms,” a statement from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. The United States’ abstention was the biggest rebuke in recent history to long-standing ally Israel, allowing the Security Council to condemn its settlements and continuing construction in Palestinian territory as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had backtracked on the move to condemn Israel’s settlement policy on Thursday after receiving a phone call from US president-elect Donald Trump, who spoke out in favour of a US veto. Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said his government had expected a US veto of “this disgraceful resolution”. “I have no doubt that the new US administration and the incoming UN secretary-general will usher in a new era in terms of the UN’s relationship with Israel,” said Danon after the vote.
Israeli settlements are seen as a major stumbling block to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state. The United Nations maintains that settlements are illegal, but UN officials have reported a surge in construction over the past months. Yuval Steinitz, Israeli energy minister, accused the US of abandoning Israel by abstaining. “This is not a resolution against settlements, it is an anti-Israel resolution, against the Jewish people and the state of the Jews. The United States tonight has simply abandoned its only friend in the Middle East,” Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, told Channel Two News.
Some 430,000 Israeli settlers currently live in the West Bank and a further 200,000 Israelis live in occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.