Study: Mammals Vanishing As Burmese Python Spreads

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Mammals like raccoons, opossums, rabbits and deer are vanishing from the Florida Everglades as Burmese pythons multiply, researchers said Monday.

In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group said nocturnal road surveys along the main road in Everglades National Park show steep declines in the number of animals spotted. In surveys between 2003 and 2011, no rabbits were observed and the number of raccoon sightings was down 99.3 percent while the number of opossums fell 98.9 percent.

While there could be other reasons, the authors said pythons, constrictive snakes that can grow to be 20 feet or more in length, are the main suspects. The decline in mammal populations coincides with the spread of the snakes and is most severe in the southern Everglades, where they first became established.

Water levels have changed during the years involved, but the area has otherwise been stable during the time.

The snakes are known to eat those particular mammals.

“There aren’t many native mammals that pythons can’t choke down,” Robert N. Reed, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center and one of the authors of the study, told The Washington Post.

South America Drought Hits Corn Yields

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Drought in Central and South America is affecting corn yields, a boon for U.S. corn exporters but a cause of major worries for agriculture traders in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Mexico.

Dry conditions blamed on La Nina weather phenomenon caused political wrangles in Argentina, led to a state of emergency in parts of Paraguay and relief measures in other countries.

Argentina is the world’s second largest corn exporter after the United States.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is facing farmer unrest over allegations her government’s relief program is too little too late for many communities affected by drought.

Argentine agriculturalists said La Nina could diminish corn yields in the country by 2 million tons.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization economist Liliana Balbi said current projections reduced estimates for Argentine corn yields from 23 million tons last year to 21.4 million tons this year.

Corn yields in southern Brazil are down about 1.5 million tons. South Brazil accounts for more than 60 percent of summer corn exported by the country, the world’s third largest exporter.

The drought has caused political disruptions, more so in Argentina than in other Latin American countries. Relations between Argentina’s government and importers soured after Fernandez slapped new taxes on traders and refused to budge in the face of furious demands for change.

Fernandez also upset farmers’ groups after ignoring demands for more emergency aid to drought-stricken areas of the country.

The latest potential political flash point was caused when the government refused to defer new legislation that importers denounced as punitive, restrictive and wrapped in red tape.

Further complications arose after trade partner Brazil, increasingly under pressure over drought damage to its own crops, objected to new Argentine rules coming into place. Argentina and Brazil have $30 billion-a-year trade.

Critics say the new rules, going into effect next month, will introduce more bureaucratic delays. Manufacturers said the rules would inhibit industrial production and growth as they would likely impede the flow of components, raw materials and other industrial inputs.

Brazilian Foreign Trade and Industry Minister Fernando Pimentel declared that in contrast to amicable political ties the “trade relations with Argentina are a permanent problem.” Brazilian media criticism of Argentine trade policies has gained momentum amid calls for retaliatory steps.

The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said it wants to wait and observe till March before taking countermeasures against Buenos Aires.

The influential Sao Paulo Federation of Industries in Brazil said the new Argentine import rules could affect 80 percent of Brazilian exports to the country.

U.S. Minerals Sector Recovering

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — With the U.S. economy slowly emerging from an economic recession, the USGS estimated the value of U.S. mineral production increased 12 percent last year.

Major world economies were hammered by an economic recession that began December 2007. More than four years on, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, in its monthly report for January, warned trouble in the European economic could drag on global markets.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Geological Survey said the value of U.S. mineral production increased 12 percent in 2011 compared with 2010 levels. The agency said metals accounted for much of the increase. The non-metallic mineral sector increased 3 percent, the first increase since 2007, the USGS said.

Non-fuel minerals mined in the United States were valued at $74 billion in 2011. USGS Director Marcia McNutt said domestically recycled metallic and mineral materials contributed $32 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011.

The agency said, however, that the U.S. economy depends on foreign sources to meet most of its domestic mineral demand. Domestic raw materials and recycled materials were used last year to produce mineral materials worth $633 billion, the USGS said.

Cuba Can’t Be Trusted With Oil, Florida Says

MIAMI, Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Cuban government can’t be trusted to oversee the safety of oil drilling activity planned 90 miles from the Florida coast, a state official said.

U.S. Coast Guard officials, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Florida lawmakers met to discuss plans for oil exploration in Cuban waters. Spanish energy company Repsol is working with its partners to start drilling for oil off the Cuban coast.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Baumgartner, in written testimony, said the United States and Caribbean nations, including Cuba, are party to international conventions on oil spills.

“If a spill occurs within Cuban waters that threatens to impact U.S. waters, shorelines or natural resources, the Coast Guard would mount an immediate response, in partnership with other federal, state and local agencies,” he said.

U.S. authorities examined safety systems, the blowout preventer and other equipment on the Scarabeo 9 drilling unit off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago that Repsol plans to use in Cuban waters this year.

U.S. inspectors found the drilling unit was in compliance with international and U.S. standards for work in the offshore environment.

Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, however, said that with a reputation for having a lack of transparency, the Cuban government shouldn’t be trusted with offshore oil work.

“Cuba cannot be trusted to provide even the bare essentials to its own citizens and it certainly can’t be trusted to oversee safe and environmentally sound oil drilling only 90 miles off of our pristine Florida coast,” she said in her prepared remarks.

New York To Get New … Typewriters?

NEW YORK, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Some workers in the high-tech environs of New York City say they’ll be accomplishing their daily tasks on new typewriters — replacements for their old ones.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg — a man fond of his iPad and electronic gadgets, and who says he’ll turn his city into a new “Silicon Alley” — has employees of several municipal agencies working not on the latest speediest computers, but a fleet of 1,172 typewriters, the New York Post reported Monday.

Those employees in the New York Police Department, Department of Buildings and Human Resources Administration and 18 other agencies will be getting new electronic typewriters to replace aging ones, the report said.

The city Department of Administrative Services issued a request for bids for new typewriters to replace the geriatric assortment now in use, an agency spokeswoman said.

“The contract is for typewriters, which are primarily used to complete carbon-copy forms that are not computerized,” Julianne Cho said.

New York’s last typewriter contract — put out five years ago at a cost to the city of $320,000 — is set to terminate, the Post said.

“The offices that use them here have to fill out old-style standardized requisitions and purchase orders, etc. — forms that have multiple carbonless-copy pages and which need an actual keystroke to make a copy on all the pages,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow.

Blood Donor Wins Super Bowl Tickets

LAFAYETTE, Ind., Jan. 31 (UPI) — An Indiana woman who has donated 143 units of either whole blood or platelets since 2003 said she was shocked to win Super Bowl tickets.

The Indiana Blood Center said Carol Sikler, 50, of Lafayette gave blood frequently enough to qualify for the contest, which was open to anyone who donated blood or blood products four or more times in the space of three months, and she has now been announced as the winner of two tickets to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, The Journal & Courier, Lafayette, reported Monday.

Sikler said she has been giving blood in a bid to “break even” for the blood made available to her husband Chuck during a pair of lengthy hospital stays prior to his death in 2003. She said she recently surpassed her goal and decided to keep donating.

“It’s a way for me to do something for someone that can’t ever thank me or pay me back personally. It’s giving without expectation,” she said.

Sikler said she was shocked to win the contest.

“I’m not the kind of person who wins things,” she said.

Woman Offers Kidney To Get Son A Job

PERUGIA, Italy, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An Italian woman said she is willing to give up a kidney in exchange for a job for her 38-year-old son.

The Perugia woman, whose name was not released, told the daily La Nazione she had “nothing left to lose and nothing to be ashamed of” in offering her kidney in exchange for employment for her son, ANSA reported Tuesday.

The woman said her son speaks multiple languages but has been unemployed since his business went bankrupt in August of last year.

“One kidney is enough for me to live on; therefore, I am willing to give it up to help a 38-year-old smile again,” the woman said.

Boy, 10, Arrested For Pulling Toy Gun

BURBANK, Calif., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Police in California said a 10-year-old boy was arrested after allegedly pulling a toy gun on a woman who believed it to be a real firearm.

Burbank police said the boy, whose name was not released, knocked on the front door of a 67-year-old woman whose grandson beat up one of the boy’s friends at school, the Burbank Leader reported Tuesday.

Lt. John Dilibert said the boy yelled “you suck” at the woman and pointed the toy gun at her before fleeing.

Dilibert said the toy gun appeared to be an Airsoft gun, a realistic-looking toy that shoots pellets, CBS News reported.

“They’re replicas,” Dilibert said. “They look just like the real thing. It shoots soft pellets, like a BB gun.”

The boy was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a weapon and released to his parents. He was given a citation and will have to appear in court, Dilibert said.

Bill Would Make Toto’s Breed, Cairn Terrier, Kansas State Dog

TOPEKA, Kan., Jan. 31 (UPI) — A Kansas state lawmaker is proposing a measure to make the cairn terrier, the breed of Toto from “The Wizard of Oz,” into the official state dog.

Democratic state Rep. Ed Trimmer of Winfield, acting on an idea proposed by Brenda Moore of Augusta, obedience chairwoman with the South Central Kansas Kennel Club, introduced House Bill No. 251 last week to make the cairn terrier the official state dog, The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle reported Tuesday.

“They just thought we needed a state dog,” Trimmer said Thursday. “It is one of those things that when a constituent asks you, you do.”

“I realize we have very critical, critical issues at the state level. But our constituents and their issues are very important to them and that’s why I introduced it for them,” he said.

Moore said cairn terriers are a perfect representation of Kansas because they “have a gusto for life. They are very smart and very loyal, although they can be a little bit of a digger — like all terriers can.”

Detroit official hopeful of union giveback

DETROIT, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Detroit and the largest municipal union are close to agreement on concessions to ease the city’s budget problems, the city council president said Tuesday.

Charles Pugh said the concessions will be big enough to avoid a state-appointed emergency manager, The Detroit Free Press reported.

“They said they feel it’s going well and they expect it to wrap up in the next two days,” Pugh said. “I’ll call them this evening to see what movement they have made. I think they have made movement in healthcare, which is a big chunk.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said the city must wrest $105 million in concessions from its unions, the Detroit Free Press reported. If not, an emergency manager would take over city operations.

In addition, a recent report said the city has a cash-flow problem that could leave it without money for operating expenses by April 1, the News said.

This week, the council discussed possible cuts, including raising bus fares from $1.50 to $2, closing recreational centers and ending subsidies to cultural institutions like the famed Detroit Institute of Arts.

Mayor David Bing has proposed eliminating 1,000 city jobs and said another 1,300 employees could be laid off unless unions agreed to concessions.

Fake colleges a problem in Sweden

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Jan. 31 (UPI) — An influx of fake colleges has been reported in Sweden after the introduction of tuition fees, officials say.

Fake universities are a fairly recent phenomenon in Sweden, despite issues with them in other countries such as Britain and the United States.

Up until recently, Sweden’s colleges and universities were among the few in the world that did not charge tuition or fees. Every student, Swedish or foreign, had been funded by taxpayers. However, with last year’s introduction of college tuitions, as well as a British crackdown on “fake universities,” Sweden has suddenly seen an flood of these dubious colleges, reports said.

The universities mostly have English sounding names, Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan reports. The National Agency for Higher Education has checked the addresses of such universities, claiming to offer courses in business administration or hospitality management, only to find disconnected phone numbers and addresses pointing to post office boxes, no campuses to be found.

Lennart Stahle, spokesman for the agency, says the colleges are difficult to crack down on because they are not offering Swedish qualification, The Local reports.

“At the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education we can’t have an opinion when it comes to this and they can establish themselves here as long as they follow Swedish tax laws,” he said. “It is like any sort of business venture.”

Child abuse claims made in custody fight

TACOMA, Wash., Jan. 31 (UPI) — The family of a man whose wife disappeared from their Utah home in 2009 charges the couple’s sons are being abused by their maternal grandparents.

The “4thekidzz” Web site created by Josh Powell’s brother also accuses police in West Valley, Utah, of mishandling the investigation into Susan Powell’s disappearance, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The site was launched this week, days before a court hearing on custody of the two Powell boys.

When he reported his wife, Susan, missing, Josh Powell told police he had taken his sons, now 5 and 7, on a mid-winter camping trip and found her gone when he returned. Police are investigating the case as a homicide.

Josh Powell later moved back to his father’s home in Puyallup, Wash. His sons were removed from the home after his father, Steve Powell, was charged with secretly photographing women and girls.

“Recently, my nephews have been subjected to multiple instances of severe endangerment and physical abuse by the Coxes,” Alina Powell, one of Josh Powell’s sisters, said in a statement. “Child Protective Services has condoned the Coxes’ abuse and endangerment of my nephews, and certain members of CPS are trying their best to smooth it over and cover it up.”

Another sister, Jennifer Graves, has broken with her family.

A lawyer for the grandparents, Chuck and Judy Cox, says they are providing a “safe and loving home.” A hearing on custody is scheduled Wednesday.

7 execs detained in China waste discharges

NANNING, China, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Chinese officials say a chemical spill into a tributary of the Pearl River system that threatened downstream water supplies is nearly contained.

Seven chemical plant executives in China were detained in a probe over the industrial waste discharges containing high levels of cadmium, Chinese officials said Monday. Feng Zhennian, a regional environmental protection department official, said the executives work for plants in the Guangxi Zhuang region, including Jinchengjiang Hongquan Lithopone Material Co. Ltd. in Hechi, Xinhua reported.

Cadmium pollutants, first detected in Longjiang River near the Lalang reservoir on Jan 15, were found to be 80 times higher than the official limit of 0.005 milligrams per liter. Neutralizers made from dissolved aluminum chloride were used to dissolve the contaminants at six locations along the river.

Feng said the cadmium concentration at Lalang reservoir has returned to normal and officials were working to protect drinking water supplies for the 1.5 million residents of the city of Liujiang as the pollution moves downstream.

More than 200 surveillance workers are monitoring water quality at 20 testing stations set up along a 124 mile stretch of the river, Feng said.

Man says sisters sexually assaulted him

HUDSON, Wis., Jan. 31 (UPI) — A young Wisconsin man says two sisters assaulted him sexually and physically and forced him to drink urine.

Valerie Bartkey, 24, and Amanda Johnson, 17, of Somerset, Wis., have been charged with sexual assault by force and two misdemeanors, battery and damaging property, the Eau Claire (Wis.) Leader-Telegraph reported. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

The 18-year-old man told police the assault took place Oct. 1 in a home in Somerset, court records said. He said the sisters first hit him and then took his shoes, soaking both with water.

Later, he said, they gave him a cup of something they claimed to be lemonade. When he drank it, he found that it was urine.

They then allegedly forced him to remove his clothes. He told police Bartkey used pliers to attack his penis while her sister stood over him with a belt.

He said Johnson called him on Oct. 27 and said she and her sister would tell police he had smoked marijuana on Oct. 1 if he said anything about the attack. He said the sisters were smoking marijuana but he did not.

A court appearance is scheduled April 12.

U.S. terror ‘hot spots’ studied

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Five urban counties lead in a study of U.S. ‘terror hot spots’ but rural areas are not exempt from terror attacks, a study has found.

Nearly a third of all terrorist attacks from 1970 to 2008 occurred in just five metropolitan U.S. counties — New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Washington — but events continue to occur in rural areas also, researchers at the University of Maryland said.

The researchers defined a “hot spot” as a county experiencing a greater than average number of terrorist attacks, more than six across the entire time period of the study, 1970 to 2008.

Smaller, more rural counties such as Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix, have seen an increase in incidents of domestic terrorism in recent years, they said.

“The main attacks driving Maricopa into recent hot spot status are the actions of radical environmental groups, especially the Coalition to Save the Preserves,” said Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism based at the University of Maryland.

“So, despite the clustering of attacks in certain regions, it is also clear that hot spots are dispersed throughout the country and include places as geographically diverse as counties in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Texas,” LaFree said in a UM release Tuesday..

The researchers said their study also found time trends in terrorist attacks.

“The 1970s were dominated by extreme left-wing terrorist attacks,” study co-author Bianca Bersani at the University of Massachusetts-Boston said. “Far left-wing terrorism in the U.S. is almost entirely limited to the 1970s with few events in the 1980s and virtually no events after that.”

Ethno-national/separatist terrorism was concentrated in the 1970s and 1980s, religiously motivated attacks occurred predominantly in the 1980s, extreme right-wing terrorism was concentrated in the 1990s and single issue attacks were dispersed across the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the study found.

Two sue for alleged rendition to Libya

LONDON, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Two men have filed suit in Britain against a senior MI6 intelligence officer who allegedly turned them over to Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, officials say.

Attorneys for Sami al-Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhadj served papers Friday in the civil suit against Sir Mark Allen. The two men say they were handed over to Gadhafi’s regime in 2004 and subsequently tortured.

Al-Saadi and Belhadj allege they were illegally detained and flown to Libya, along with their wives and children. Belhadj says his wife was mistreated, the BBC reports.

Papers found in Tripoli during the Libyan uprising bore Allen’s name on them and discussed the transport of the two men to Libya, the suit contends. In a letter dated March 2004, Allen allegedly told Libyan spy chief Moussa Koussa:

“I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [Belhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years.”

Allen has declined to speak to the BBC.

Gov. Walker recall petition signers names not released

MADISON, Wis., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Wisconsin officials say they’re delaying posting on a Web site recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker because of privacy concerns among petition signers.

Reid Magney, a spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, said the board had decided against posting the petitions on its Web site Monday, as planned, after hearing concerns about a stalking victim who signed and others who did not want their names released, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

More than 1 million people signed petitions to recall Walker, almost twice as many as the 540,208 valid signatures needed, recall organizers said. The board is to determine by March 19 whether enough signatures were filed to force a recall election.

Copies of recall petitions against four Republican state senators have been posted on the board’s Web site, and recall petitions against Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are being electronically scanned by the board, which plans to give them to her campaign this week.

The board has treated recall petitions as public records in the past and has done the same with nominating petitions candidates must submit. Making the petitions publicly available is meant to ensure the public can verify enough proper signatures have been gathered.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin told the board if it makes names of petition signers public, it should conceal the names of domestic abuse victims who want their identities kept confidential.

But Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the petitions should be public and signing a petition was a public act like signing a nominating petition for a candidate, not a private act like voting.

For someone with safety concerns, such as a domestic violence victim, he said the board could set up a process by which people could have their names or addresses concealed without keeping all the names private.

Kennedy house to become study center

HYANNIS PORT, Mass., Jan. 31 (UPI) — The Hyannis Port, Mass., home where President John F. Kennedy and his brothers spent childhood summers is to become a study center.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate announced Monday that the Kennedy family is giving the institute ownership of the famed 21-room house at the center of the family compound. The house is currently owned by Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

The institute said the late senator promised his mother, Rose, that the house would eventually be put to “charitable use.”

“This house was my family’s epicenter, where my grandparents, father, uncles and aunts would retreat to connect with one another through heated political debates in the dining room and rousing games on the front lawn,” Ted Kennedy Jr., the senator’s oldest son, said in a statement.

“Over the generations, we have returned to Hyannis Port in times of both happiness and pain,” he said. “We have come to celebrate baptisms and marriages, await election results, and grieve the passing of our relatives.”

Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, bought the house in 1928. Family members now own homes on adjacent properties.

It is expected that the main house will be used to host educational seminars and forums organized by the EMK Institute, as well as programs on behalf of other institutions, the institute said.

Algeria ‘foils al-Qaida attack on ships’

ALGIERS, Algeria, Jan. 31 (UPI) — U.S. officials say Algerian intelligence foiled an al-Qaida plot to mount suicide attacks against U.S. and European ships in the Mediterranean at a time when the jihadists are driving to expand operations in North Africa.

The Algerian intelligence service, Direction de la Securite Interieure — DSI — caught the plot in its early stages and arrested three suspected members of al-Qaida’s North African affiliate, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

The Algerian daily newspaper Echorouk broke the story a week ago. U.S. officials said they knew of the plot but the Algerians made the arrests.

Echorouk reported that the men had purchased a boat that they reportedly planned to pack with explosives and ram into a ship in the western Mediterranean. The plot, as outlined by the newspaper, bore a striking resemblance to tactics used by al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch when it badly damaged the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole in Aden harbor Oct. 12, 2000, by ramming it with a small boat packed with explosives.

That attack killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded dozens more.

An earlier attack using similar tactics against another U.S. destroyer, USS The Sullivans, failed when the attacking boat foundered.

Al-Qaida struck again with a seaborne suicide attack against the 157,000-ton French tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast as it sailed from the Persian Gulf to Malaysia Oct. 6, 2002. The vessel was holed and one crewman killed but it continued its voyage.

In May 2002, Moroccan authorities arrested three Saudi members of al-Qaida who were convicted of planning seaborne suicide attacks on U.S. and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Moroccan police said in April 2007 they were hunting a jihadist group supposedly planning similar attacks on ships, although no such strikes took place.

In the Algerian crackdown, it wasn’t clear whether the Americans endorsed Algiers’ decision to round up the trio of suspects, rather than wait to see how the plot developed and possibly track down other militants. However, relations between the Americans and Algeria’s security establishment have been strained for some time.

Algeria, the regional military heavyweight, considers itself the leading player in the counterinsurgency campaign against AQIM, which is based in Algeria and is the backbone of the jihadist movement in North Africa.

Until September 2001, Washington and Algiers, which had fought a vicious war against Islamist militants, were greatly at odds, particularly over the Algerians’ ferocious tactics to crush the insurgents. These included battle-hardened Arab veterans of the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan against the Soviet army, from which al-Qaida emerged.

After the Americans also found themselves fighting jihadists, led by al-Qaida, they sought a rapprochement with Algiers. The Algerians remain deeply suspicious of the United States.

The current rift centers on the refusal of Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, the Algerian military’s chief of staff, to allow the United States to deploy U.S. Air Force and CIA surveillance drones in Algerian air space.

The Intelligence Online web site quoted a French general that the U.S.-Algeria friction was “a big black hole.” The bottom line is that the Algerians don’t want U.S. or other Western forces on their soil.

The Algerians set up a joint intelligence center at their air base at Tamanrasset, deep in the Sahara Desert, in 2010 with neighboring Mauritania, Niger and Mali.

The Americans have been using a Moroccan air force base in the Sahara to conduct counter-terrorism surveillance operations using drones.

The U.S. Africa Command is running a dozen counterinsurgency training missions, mostly involving Special Forces units, in several North African countries.

The French, who once ruled North Africa, are conducting similar operations. But they’ve also deployed combat forces that have carried out raids, primarily with forces from Mali, on jihadist bases in the region over the last two years. AQIM currently holds several French hostages.

Meantime, the fallout from the 2011 war in Libya continues to plague the region.

Islamist fighters and rogue mercenaries, including many North Africans hired by Moammar Gadhafi to defend his ill-fated regime, along with large amounts of plundered weapons, are worsening the security situation in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and further south in Mali, Niger and Mauritania.

“AQIM is solidly entrenched across the region and has now entered the arena of interstate politics,” Oxford Analytica reported in a Jan. 25 analysis.

Two to be tried for sex trafficking in Russia

AMURSK, Russia, Jan. 31 (UPI) — Two residents of Amursk, Russia, suspected of selling young women into sexual slavery, will stand trial, officials say.

Investigators tell ITAR-Tass the suspects recruited and sold 51 young women into slavery abroad. Initially, they were promised jobs as dancers and waitresses, comfortable accomodations and high salaries. They were taken to nightclubs in Israel, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, South Korea and China. Once abroad, their passports were taken from them and they were forced into prostitution, investigators said.

Suspects were paid about $1,000 for every girl they smuggled abroad.

Russia’s Far Eastern Federal District Police, in collaboration with Greek law-enforcement agencies, freed victims in Athens. In a special operation, 10 strip clubs were shut down, more than 180 people arraigned and 19 members of criminal organizations arrested.

Mexico drought worsened by cold

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 31 (UPI) — What officials call the most severe drought Mexico has ever faced has been worsened by a spate of cold weather.

This week, the government authorized $2.63 billion in aid for 19 of Mexico’s 31 states. With agriculture devastated in nearly half of the country, the money will go to potable water, food and temporary jobs for citizens displaced by the drought.

Freezing temperatures worsened the already rising prices of produce such as corn and beans, and may lead to inflation.

The New York Times reported Tuesday certain areas in need of aid are difficult to reach, delaying the flow of food and water to people in those regions.

The most severely affected are indigenous communities, particularly tribal areas of the Tarahumara community in the Sierra Madre, among Mexico’s poorest citizens.

Authorities say they expect the situation to worsen; however, they do not expect it to have an impact on export prices.